We are delighted that you could join us to talk about your new release. Could you tell us a little more about it? The Little Board Game Café tells the story of Emily who manages to lose her home, fiancé and job within a short space of time and plucks up courage to pursue her life-long dream of running her own café in the small (fictional) town of Essendale in West Yorkshire. The only café she can afford is in a side street, a little way from the town centre, so doesn’t attract any passing trade. She needs a USP to bring in the customers or her dream will be over when it’s barely got started.
She meets Ludek, who’s the local GP, when she falls and hurts her ankle. He invites her along to a board game evening. This gives her the idea of launching her café as a board game café. As she gets more and more into the games, she grows closer to Ludek. I’m sure you can already guess the ending!
What was the inspiration behind your book? What prompted you to tell this story? I’d been doing online dating for 13 years and had pretty much given up on meeting Mr Right when I met a new man on the app OKCupid. He was very lovely but he also came with a lot of baggage. Not emotional baggage but an enormous collection of board games. They weren’t your usual Monopoly or Scrabble – in fact, I hadn’t ever heard of any of them, let alone played them. I was curious so after a few dates, he took me along to a board games evening. It was love at first sight. With the games! I also fell in love with him and he proposed a few months later.
Like many people, I started writing a novel as a hobby during the pandemic. Many of the novels I enjoyed reading – like Jenny Colgan’s Mure series, for example – had heroines who ran cafés or bakeries so I thought my heroine should do that too. I wanted to give Emily’s cafe a bit of a unique flavour and as I sat tapping away on my keyboard surrounded by shelves and shelves of board games, the idea of the board game café occurred to me.
How did you decide on the names for your characters and the setting for your book? I called the main character Emily because I love that name. Sadly I haven’t any children, but if I’d had a little girl, that’s what she would have been called. Ludek is my husband’s cousin’s name and felt fitting because the Latin for ‘to play’ is ‘ludere’ and of course, there’s a board game called Ludo. Emily’s best friend Kate is named after our lovely next-door neighbour, Mr B’s name just popped into my head – I have no idea how or why – and Florence is named after my auntie Florence who used to come round to my parents’ house to play Scrabble every Wednesday when I was growing up.
What kind of research did you do before beginning the book? I played loads of board games! I wanted a lot of the board games in the novel to feature food as Emily loves cooking and baking, so my husband Hermi went through his huge games collection and pulled out all the food ones and we played them so I could figure out how to describe them. Essendale and Hebbleswick are inspired by Hebden Bridge and Todmorden, towns near where I live. I know those towns very well, but still found it helpful to walk around, putting myself in Emily’s shoes and trying to conjure up ways of capturing the quirkiness an sense of community that both those places have. I also researched quite a lot online about how to buy a café – everything from getting planning permission to health and safety – and I talked to my sister who’s a chef in a café in Leeds.
What was your journey to publication? I had finished writing this book and another one – The Little Board Game Café was actually the second one I finished – and was wondering if I dared pluck up courage to start submitting to agents. I’m not a confident person, so decided I should do a lot more polishing first. Around that time, Phillipa Ashley tweeted about a feedback session with a professional editor that was up for grabs in the Books for Ukraine auction. I decided to bid. I won the auction and sent off my work, hoping to get a few helpful tips on how to improve my first three chapters. I was a bit surprised when the editor in question – Rachel Faulkner-Willcocks, editorial director at Head of Zeus – asked if she could see the rest of the book and anything else that I’d written. Naively, I thought she was being kind and didn’t think anything else would come of it. Two months later, she phoned me, saying that Aria would love to publish my first two novels, only they wanted the second one – The Little Board Game Café – to be first. It was a real dream come true moment. I put the phone down, ran to find Hermi and burst into tears!
Huge thank you to Phillipa. If she hadn’t sent that tweet, I’d probably still be sitting here, editing and re-editing, polishing a little bit more, and wondering if it would ever be good enough to send to an agent.
Who were your favourite childhood authors? Jill Ferguson. I loved the series which began with Jill’s Gymkhana; I read it over and over and pestered my parents to buy me a pony. They bought me a puppy – she was lovely but not too keen on jumping over fences in the garden or wearing rosettes.
A little later, I fell in love with the Flambards series by KM Peyton (still on the horsey theme!) and then graduated to her other books like The Beethoven Medal and Dear Fred.
What book do you wish you had written? There are so many that it’s hard to choose, but I’d have to go with Bridget Jones’ Diary. I loved that book when it first came out as I could relate to it. I’ve recently re-read it and I STILL love it; it reminds me very much of my younger days when I fell for unsuitable, unavailable men and ignored the really lovely ones. Thankfully, I woke up in time and didn’t ignore Hermi when he messaged me on that app. But I could choose so many other books. There are so many wonderful romance writers out there; whenever I read something by Jill Mansell, Jenny Colgan and Phillipa Ashley (to name but a few), I start off trying to focus on how they’re telling the story in the hope of learning something and improving my own writing, but within a few pages, I’m just completely absorbed by the characters and the fictional world they’ve created.
Can you tell us what you are working on now? I’m editing the second book which will be the second in the series. It takes place in Hebbleswick and features some of the characters from The Little Board Game Café. It also has a board game theme, but this time it revolves around one particular board game and it’s one that everyone will have heard of. I’m not sure I’m allowed to reveal which just yet! I’m just finishing a novella too, also set in Hebbleswick, which you’ll be able to read soon completely free if you sign up to my newsletter (visit my website if you’d like to do this) and I’m writing my third novel which will feature caravans and a narrowboat. We have a caravan which we absolutely love, and before I met Hermi, I used to live on a narrowboat (but we had to move to a house because the games wouldn’t all have fitted on board!)
About the Author
Jennifer Page lives near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire with her husband Hermi and his large collection of board games. Her debut novel, The Little Board Game Cafe will be published on 13th April 2022. Jennifer writes light-hearted, cosy romantic fiction which was initially inspired by her own dating adventures.
When she isn’t writing, Jennifer can usually be found playing board games; since she met Hermi, she’s become even more obsessed with them than he is! She also loves cooking (though she’d never claim to be any good at it!), caravan holidays and walking in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside.