We are delighted that you could join us to talk about your new release. Could you tell us a little more about it? Thank you for asking me, and yes, I’d love to tell you about my new book. Recipe for Mr Christmas is the sixth book in my Recipes for Love series and was published by Choc Lit/Joffe Books on 31st October this year. It is a romantic comedy, another standalone book, but this is the story of two minor characters from a previous book (Recipe for Mr Ideal) who meet again, a month after they first met at Bob’s son’s wedding, at a Lorry Park café following Susie, the main character’s first pole dancing class. That’s the lovely thing about writing a series, I often find, as I write, that there are minor characters in one book, who I want to explore further, and this gave me this gave me the perfect opportunity to give Bob and Susie (spoiler alert! – look away now if you don’t want to know) – their Happy Ever After.
What was the inspiration behind your book? What prompted you to tell this story? The book follows the main characters over the course of a year, as Susie determines to write a more exciting Christmas letter than the Baileys and seeks to try her hand at all sorts of exciting things. So, the prompt for me was my mother’s cousin, Mary’s annual Christmas letters. They were always such fun, she and her husband John throughout their lives travelled to the most amazing places, but they were always written in the third person. They were both painters and sculptors, so their letters were peppered not with photographs, but pictures they had either drawn or painted en-route. Mary, sadly died last year at the ripe old age of 90, so this book felt like a fitting tribute.
How did you decide on the names for your characters and the setting for your book? All my current books are set in the fictional town of Redford, and it is a combination of the bits I like from several different towns. It’s not a huge place and still has lots of individual shops rather than chain and is a centre for life. A lot of the shops, or businesses, appear in more than one book, and I have a tatty looking map that at some point appears to have been used as a coffee mat. I’ve now photographed it and have it on my computer, so I can refer to it whenever I’m writing. It gets bigger with each book as more and more characters are added to the series.
Character names are difficult too, I think it JK Rowling who said she used to use place names as surnames, and I always start this way, so if I’m out somewhere, I try and note down any names I like, but as I get into the story sometimes, they don’t feel right, and get changed. I need to care about my characters, and that means for me, their names must be right. I try to keep them fairly different from book to book, so readers who do follow the series don’t find themselves thinking they have heard the name before unless it is a character who has appeared before and is in the new book for a reason.
I had to promote one couple because I had similar sounding names to another couple from a previous book. They would have met in Recipe for Mr Christmas, so it wouldn’t have worked, but it’s okay. Now they’re managing a new residential complex some distance away. Every good town has a family solicitor, and mine, Norman Fairchild, appears in a few of the books, because there is a limit to the number of solicitors you can have in a town the size of Redford, although he has just taken on a partner!
Character names do require a lot of thought, because in the same way I have expressions and words I tend to use overuse names too. I have in the past got a couple of chapters through a draft before I realise, I have used the same name for a different character before. Also there have been times when I get some way through and find one character changes his or her name. In my first book I had a Darren, who by the end of the first draft had become a Daniel. I couldn’t tell you when it happened, but Daniel was a name I liked better, and it felt much more in keeping with the character’s age and personality, so I went back and changed all earlier mentions of Darren.
What kind of research did you do before beginning the book? Oh, I threw myself into research for this book, although without giving too much away I should say that there was absolutely no point me trying pole-dancing. I couldn’t climb a rope, let alone a pole at school and really, I haven’t found it any easier since. However, this year I have been on a viennoiserie course and have learnt how to make the most perfect samosas. I’ve tried the ultimate zip wire experience in Wales – can highly recommend it – loved every minute. Felting workshop – not my finest hour – but I do have a felted March hare. And yes, I did book on to an introduction to mediumship course – which was cancelled, but nobody thought to tell me. I relentlessly picked people’s brains on subjects I had little knowledge of, like the motorbike training courses, but I did attempt all the practice theory and hazard perception tests – they’re really tricky. I have tickets to see Donny Osmond in concert later this year and a long list of fun things to try next year too. For my current WIP, I’ve been to a yarn-bombing workshop and ordered my first ever kebab – I went for the mixed one, with mayo and mint sauce. Then there was the best Wuthering Heights experience ever down on Folkestone Harbour arm this year – so much fun!
When did you realise you wanted to be an author? I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write. Writing is my happy place. It was as a child, it still is. My holiday books from the age of five upwards, still get brought out every Christmas to the amusement of our young nephews. Until recently I thought one of my first complete works was the ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’ – I know it is around in the office somewhere, but clearing out a drawer about a month ago, I found a story I had written and won second prize in a school writing competition – I would have been about eight at the time. I must have sent the original story to my Aunt Meg, because she had illustrated it and turned it into a sort of book, by stapling the sheets together, which I think probably pre-dates the Killer Tomatoes. Neither work has ever been published – but who knows – one day.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors? You need to write, enjoy writing, and make sure you make time to write regularly. Don’t think about what the result might be, write for yourself, no one else. I’m in a small group of writers, who last time we met in person, all had issues with our current manuscript that meant it wasn’t moving as quickly as we would have liked. So, we committed to writing for at least 15 minutes a day. Obviously, there are days, when we write for a lot longer, which is easy to do, if you’ve taken that first step and sat down in front of your computer or your notepad and decided to ignore social media for fifteen minutes. Isn’t that just the worst time waster? But there will be days when the fifteen minutes feels like just the longest time in the world. We have set up a WhatsApp group so when we’ve done our 15 minutes, we send a message to the others that just says “Done”. If you don’t send a message, you get chased. We’ve been doing it for over three months now and all of us have stuck to it. It is easy to give yourself permission to step away from daily life for 15 minutes – any longer might be a struggle to commit too on such a regular basis, but if writing is something that’s important to you, then you can do it, even if it means dusting might take a back seat for a day. By opening my work in progress and reminding myself each day of the story I am writing, I find really helps and not just because it progresses the word count, it gives me time to escape into a world I’ve created, and one I love – a safe place for me.
Can you tell us what you are working on now? I’m writing the first draft of Book 7 in the Recipes for Love series, which is set around a music festival. The singer scheduled for the headline spot has gone missing, believed to be in a rehabilitation clinic or on a celebrity’s private island somewhere in the Caribbean, depending on who you speak to. However a bearded stranger has turned up in Redford and is now living on a caravan in the artists’ cooperative. My heroine, the festival events organiser is at a particularly low point in her life, she made a drunken decision to get married in Las Vegas last Christmas to a man she barely knew. He had been awarded the contract for managing the festival this year. She’s not seen much of him since then and spent the money he gave her for a wedding ring on a rescue dog, but a chance encounter in a supermarket, makes her realise she has far more feelings for the new stranger than she ever has had for her husband. I won’t tell you the ending, but let’s just say they both get their Happy Ever After.
About the Author
Anni was born and raised in Berkshire, she emigrated to Wiltshire eight years ago, where she now lives with her husband, sister and two dogs. As a child, she loved writing fiction, producing reams of stories, most thankfully lost over the years. On leaving school, the need to earn a living sort of got in the way of any creative ambitions and she became an accountant where her only published work apart from regular financial reports was the employees’ handbook. A local writing course and an encouraging group of writing friends re-ignited the fiction flame many years later and she went on to win or be short listed in a number of writing competitions and had short stories published in Writers Forum, My Weekly and Sophie King’s ‘How to Write your Life Story’. These days she would describe her writing as contemporary romances with a healthy dollop of humour thrown in. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and was delighted to have been signed by Choc Lit. in 2020. Away from writing she can usually be found either walking the dogs, on horseback, behind a camera, or enjoying one of her husband’s curries or sister’s bakery treats.
Buy Recipe for Mr Christmas here.