Romantic Novelists' Association

Sue Cook – Tara’s African Adventure

12 October 2022

Picture of Tara's African adventure book, antelope on velt with sunriseWe are delighted that you could join us to talk about your new release. Could you tell us a little more about it? Tara’s African Adventure started life as a My Weekly pocket novel, so it’s a little difficult to categorise exactly, but I’d say it’s a romance with elements of suspense and intrigue. It’s not full of gun-toting FBI agents, for sure, but there’s still lots of peril, baddies to be thwarted, and hearts to be won (or do I mean lost?).

Tara is an award-winning journalist who’s been stranded in the African bush. Peter, a superficially hapless safari guide, is her ticket home, but he looks like the handsome conman who emptied her bank accounts. Can she trust him to keep her safe from lions and whoever is trying to sabotage his mobile safari outfit? Can Tara identify and stop the man behind the attacks? And then tear herself away to go back home…

It’s now in large print with Ulverscroft’s Linford Romance range and I will be self-publishing soon, too.

What was the inspiration behind your book? What prompted you to tell this story?

In 2018, I went on my one and only safari and was utterly terrified. Tents pitched in the middle of the bush? An open-sided vehicle? Was the guide mad? No, but I had the best time once I accepted that the top predators saw just a vehicle, not lunch. And our guide always knew where the animals capable of mauling us to death were.

It was a fabulous setting for romance and intrigue – a small group of people spending 10 days together miles from anywhere, with unrivalled game viewings and dreamy sunrises and sunsets. And then there were all those drinks around the campfire…

Without giving too much away, what was the hardest part of the book to write?

My brain doesn’t handle intangibles, so identifying the theme is always difficult. I have to write the full story, then as I’m editing, I eventually start to notice patterns and repeats. As I did this, I realised Peter and Tara had very different but important relationships with their fathers, and so the underlying theme became family relationships, which helped provide that extra layer of depth.

What kind of research did you do before beginning the book?

I already had most of the information I needed from being on holiday, as our guide was very chatty and knowledgeable about his country. He told us all about how family structures and tribal norms work in Botswana (and how he had two birthdates: one as an estimate of his age when he was entered for a school sports contest, and another that came from I remember not where, but it made perfect sense at the time). But I had some facts to check, such as visa requirements for Botswana, and who is allowed to practice law there. These were easily found online. But it was a great excuse to get my picture book out again and enjoy those wonderful memories.

What was your journey to publication?

My first acceptances were non-fiction pieces, some for doctors’ magazines (I am a retired GP) plus a couple for Lancashire Magazine in my 30s. Then children happened and writing stopped. I am deeply in awe of the authors who manage to write as well as work and look after a family.

It took me an awfully long time getting my first fiction acceptance. That was a short story for The People’s Friend.

I read nothing but People’s Friend stories for a month, then honed and honed a short story which had come from a strong emotional trigger. Eventually the story brought a lump to my throat every time I read it, and I knew it was time to submit again.

Hey presto, I got a yes.

My heart is in novels, though, and it’s only through networking with other writers that I started to make inroads into crafting a saleable book. I put three manuscripts through the NWS scheme with, it seemed, worse feedback each time. But I learned valuable lessons each time, too.

Tara was my first novella sale and did not go through the NWS scheme. I’ve now sold five, including my third NWS manuscript, which drew eight pages of ‘well, it’s okay but…’ The reader was right. I put it right and it was published in July.

Who were your favourite childhood authors?

Enid Blyton – the Secret Seven and Famous Five! The circumstances of the stories and the children themselves were beyond my experience, but the mysteries were so gripping that I didn’t care. Did I actually read anything else? Little Women is the only other book I can remember liking. I remember not liking Heidi and the Mallory Towers books. Is it any wonder my romances are wrapped around a core of crime?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Network and make friends with other writers in your genre, learn from them and give back in return. As a deep introvert, I resisted this for ages and wasted years in the process. Now I really enjoy being part of the writing community and helping those coming along behind.

All about Sue

Sue writes short stories and novellas for the women’s fiction market. Originally a valleys girl, she currently lives up north, in the last century and with a husband, five runner ducks and many, many bees. Her work features romance laced with crime, suspense, or peril, and often a touch of humour too. Oh, and ducks. Or bees.

Purchase link for Tara’s African Adventure

Twitter – @popsytops