Summer is in the air and I hope that as you read through this week’s A Cup of Conversation you will be truly transported to summer with Sunday Times BestSeller author Heidi Swain. In this wonderful interview she tells me how she loves to talk all things books and loves how supportive the writing community is. She also shares her love of the free flowing prose of authors Trisha Ashley and Milly Johnson and lots more. So welcome and I hope you enjoy this week’s interview.
1. When did you start writing creatively?
I think I was around fifteen when I started to tentatively write for pleasure. It was a clandestine pastime and I wrote in pencil on lined A4 rather than in any of my pretty notebooks. I didn’t want to ruin them!
2. You say you attended creative writing classes…what impact did the classes have on you as a writer?
The classes not only gave me the confidence to share my efforts, but also the opportunity to explore different writing styles and genres. The structure, routine and writing exercises (homework), helped me develop a committed writing routine and I was able to discover what I enjoyed writing and what I wanted to develop as well as what I didn’t want to write.
3. Which author has most influenced your own writing style and how?
That’s an interesting question. I think to a certain extent every author you read has an influence. At school I enjoyed Dickens and his ability to capture the minutiae in great detail. Setting is incredibly important to me so perhaps he has influenced my desire to capture and set the scene. I also love the free flowing prose of Trisha Ashley and Milly Johnson, so they have also most likely played a part.
4. In your own words, you write “feel-good fiction with heart” – can you tell us more about your genre of writing.
I love to tell a story which has the ability to whisk the reader away. I don’t just want them to meet and make friends with an interesting cast of characters, I want them to really feel that they are sitting in The Cherry Tree Café tucking into a cake or that they’re collecting eggs at Cuckoo Cottage. In short, I want the person sitting down with one of my books to feel as though they’ve had a little getaway, even if it only lasts for as long as their lunch hour, holiday or coffee break.
5. What is your favourite reading genre?
I love to read the sort of books I write and I’m very fortunate that editors are always getting in touch to ask if they can send me a manuscript or three. It’s the best job in the world!
6. How do you choose the title of your books?
With great difficulty! Occasionally a fully formed title will land without too much searching, but it is a rare and much prized thing! It took my publishing team and I forever to decide on the title for my latest release, Sunshine and Sweet Peas in Nightingale Square. I’m very strict about including things in the title which will actually feature in the book, especially the Christmas ones. I often hear readers bemoaning the fact that the festive book they are reading, which has Christmas in the title, barely touches on the season.
7. Huge congratulations on your new release! Can you tell us a bit about it?
My new book, which hit the shelves and e-readers yesterday, is called Sunshine and Sweet Peas in Nightingale Square. Set in Norwich, it tells the story of almost-divorced Kate who moves to the city with the intention of living a quiet life, but her neighbours have other plans. Kate is a Wynbridge girl so the town and some familiar faces do feature but ultimately the book is about friendship, new beginnings, gardening and finding new love.
8. Where do you write and do you have a writing routine?
That very much depends on where I am on the Book Writing Journey. As a rule, if I’m working on my laptop, I’ll be perched at the end of the dining table but if I’m writing longhand that can happen anywhere. I love to write in the garden at this time of year, if it isn’t too hot. If I’m writing a first draft or editing I tend to start early, around 6.30 am and write until lunchtime. Afternoons are for catching up on social media, writing blog posts, checking emails and thinking. That said, if I’m ‘between books’ it all goes awry. I’m pretty rubbish when I’m between projects and have a tendency to clear clutter, wash curtains, vacuum the cat, anything to keep me busy. I’m not great at sitting still, so it might just look like I’m scrubbing the bath but actually I’m creating characters and working through plot problems in my head!
9. How do you “build” your characters?
All of the books I have written so far feature characters which pop up in someone else’s tale. Quite often I’ll introduce a character into the book I’m writing, someone who has a minor role, and before I know it they’re off and running, clamouring for me to tell their story. I love it when that happens! To help me get to know them better I have a set of character questions which ask impertinent things such as ‘it’s ten o’clock on Saturday morning, what is your character doing?’ or ‘what’s in their fridge and on their nightstand?’ The answers can be most enlightening.
10. What steps do you take to ensure your book is ready for release?
If the words are flowing a first draft (approx. 95,000 words) will take around 12 – 16 weeks to write. It is then sent to my agent and editor who will make suggestions for the second draft. After that there will be editing, proof reading and reading again before it is ready to be printed. Reading out loud really helps and switching between screen and paper is also helpful.
11. I know you like galaxy bars. What else is your go-to snack when writing?
To tell you the truth, I don’t really do snacks. I’ll have a banana mid-morning but it doesn’t get more exciting than that.
12. Tell me about becoming a Sunday Times Bestseller, which is truly amazing and I’m sure the dream of so many writers. What does it mean and how does it happen?
Basically, to become a Sunday Times Bestseller you have to sell a certain number of books to make the list. It was my ambition to see my name there, but I didn’t expect it to happen quite so soon! When my 2017 Christmas title, Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the The Christmas Fair was released, I had high hopes that it would sell well, but receiving the phone call from my editor, Emma Capron, to tell me that it had jumped from number 13 one week to number 5 the next was phenomenal. For me, it was proof that readers really wanted to read my books.
13. Do you enjoy face-to-face events?
I absolutely love face-to-face events! Social media is fabulous, but for me, nothing beats the opportunity to catch up with bloggers, chat with readers and meet other industry professionals face-to-face. I’m a sociable person so any chance to chat, especially about the business of books, is grabbed with both hands. Our tribe (as I like to call it), is wonderfully supportive and that includes publishers and other authors as well as bloggers and readers, so getting together is always a pleasure. I consider myself very lucky to be a part of it.
14.What two things frustrate you the most about the writing industry and how would you change these?
I know I’m running the risk of sounding infuriatingly smug but (so far) I’ve had a wonderfully smooth run. I don’t want to change anything. Ask me again next year!
15.Can you share what’s on your current “to-do” list right now?
Well, as I type this I’m between writing projects so it’s a pretty varied list. Don’t you just love lists? I have a daily one, another in my week to view diary, another on my phone and pointers on the wall calendar. Sorry, I digress. OK. The current list…
Prepare content for the Nightingale Square blog tour
Email my contact at BBC Radio Norfolk to request a publication day spot
Clear clutter in the sitting room – aka new novel thinking time
Water the sunflowers in the conservatory
Crikey, that’s it! A quiet day!
Huge thanks to Heidi for sharing her writing life and her books and of course to you for reading!
Until next time, Happy Writing, Happy Reading, Happy You!
If you would like to keep in touch with Heidi or buy any of her books these are her links: