Hello everyone and thank you for dropping in at the Virtual Book Festival. We’re now into the final week of the festival and, to round it off in style, there will be an event every day – from today until Friday.
Today it’s event number 22 and I’m happy to welcome author of contemporary romantic fiction, Heidi Swain.
Heidi: Thank you so much Anne, for inviting me to take part in your virtual book festival. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
Anne: And it’s a pleasure to have you here. Thank you for agreeing to take part. So let’s start with you telling us why and how you became a writer?
I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember and even though I have had other jobs, nothing gave the same satisfaction as writing. However, it wasn’t until I was almost forty that I plucked up the courage to take my ambitions seriously and go public. The speedy passing of time was a massive motivator for me and I realised that even though I still had the crippling fear of failure, if I didn’t make a start before the big 40, then I would never see my books on the supermarket shelves.
Having written The Cherry Tree Café I joined the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme and then, once the book had been critiqued, submitted it to The Books and The City #OneDay #DigitalOriginals call for unsolicited manuscripts. They offered me a two book deal a few months later and four years on, I’ve written and had published eight books under contract to Simon and Schuster – so far.
Anne: Well done for taking the leap and wow, haven’t you been successful!
What genre do you write in and why does that hold a particular appeal for you?
I write commercial fiction, although I personally prefer to call it Feel Good Fiction with Heart. I write the sort of books I enjoy reading. I love offering escapism and strong leading characters who grasp the nettle and have the strength, courage and determination to change their lives. I also enjoy whisking my readers away to wonderful settings, whether that be town or country, tiny cottages, café’s or grand country piles. When I pick up a book, I want to be transported to a life that’s different to my own and that’s why writing commercial fiction appeals to me.
Anne: Oh, I like that ‘Feel Good Fiction with Heart’ – it perfectly describes your lovely books.
You told us you’ve had eight books published so far so tell us a bit about them and any new ones on the horizon.
Yes, eight books published and I have recently signed a new contact to write another three. Six of the books have been set in and around the fictitious Fenland town of Wynbridge, (two in the town, two in the country and two at Wynthorpe Hall). The other two are set in Norwich and based around a community garden in Nightingale Square. Each of the books features a different main character, but they all pop up in each other’s stories. It’s a very friendly and sociable affair!
Anne: Yes, I love the settings of your books and the way characters lives overlap.
Tell us about a typical writing day?
If I’m writing a first draft, I have a very strict routine. Publishing two books a year – one in the Summer and one at Christmas – means there isn’t an awful lot of wriggle room. I’ll be in front of the keyboard by 6.30 am and stay there either until I’ve hit the word count (around the 2,500 mark) or have come to a natural halt. As long as I maintain that level of output, I can produce a first draft I’m happy with in around twelve weeks and I never end a writing session without knowing how I’ll carry on the next time I sit down.
The rest of the day is generally taken up with admin, updating my blog and of course, keeping up to date with social media friends and attending events, signings and the occasional glamourous publishing party. It’s always busy!
Anne: It sounds it! I admire that level of output.
Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?
Yes, I always plan before embarking on a new writing project. I write a synopsis for each title for my publisher and agent and I have more detailed planning to work from myself. This is mostly put together while waiting for copy edits or proof pages to come back. So even though I publish a book every six months, each book has lived with me for a much longer time than that. Plots take months, even years, to develop before I am ready to write them.
That said, I’m not so bound by my planning that I’m not prepared to make changes as I go along. When the characters begin to come to life and start making a few demands of their own and insisting they know better than I do, then I know I’m on the right track.
Anne: It sounds like you have a good balance there and yes, characters can get quite pushy, can’t they?
What comes first for you characters or plot?
More often than not it’s the setting for me. I’ll visualise somewhere in Wynbridge or Nightingale Square and then see who walks in and what they want to tell me about themselves. Three of my books have main characters who previously had a supporting role in someone else’s book and wouldn’t stop nagging until they’d had a chance to enter the spotlight! I’m afraid I can’t explain why my process works that way, it just does.
Where do you get your ideas?
It varies. Sometimes I might have an idea for another book while I’m already writing one, sometimes an overheard conversation or a news headline can create the spark. The Nightingale Square books are set around a community garden because I wanted to subtly draw my readers attention to the benefits of gardening for mental health and working together with their neighbours to create something wonderful.
I often find myself scribbling down a few words as an idea pops into my head or, if I only have my phone with me, I’ll email the idea to myself so I don’t forget it. I also have a habit of writing things down in the middle of the night!
Have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created or is it too hard to pick just one?
It really is an impossible task, but if there is one who stands out from all the others it’s Jemma who owns The Cherry Tree Café in Wynbridge. She is the baking queen while Lizzie Dixon (who the Cherry Tree Café was about), runs the crafting and sewing classes.
Jemma has never had a book of her own and I don’t think she ever will, however, she pops up in practically everyone else’s books. She’s an ambitious business woman, firm friend and confidante. An all-round Superwoman really and having worked with her for so long, she’s also incredibly easy to write. Writing dialogue and scenes with her in them seem to flow from my fingers far more easily than for some of the other characters.
Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers?
I’ve had so many wonderful reviews – The Cherry Tree Café has over 600 on Amazon now – and the vast majority have been glowing. Every week I receive messages from readers telling me they wish they could visit the places I have created or that they’ve taken up a new skill after becoming immersed in the books – or both. It’s a huge privilege.
One of the most touching messages I received was from a lady who had been widowed a few years ago, just before Christmas. She said that she hadn’t decorated since her loss, but having read Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells, her former love of the season had been re-ignited and she had put up a tree and dressed it. It was a very moving moment.
You have a new novel coming soon – what’s it called and please, tell us a bit about it.
The next book I have coming out will be my ninth. It is my fourth Christmas title and will be hitting the shelves on what will be the busiest publishing day of the year – October 3rd. It is set in my beloved Wynbridge and is called The Christmas Wish List.
Here’s the blurb from the back cover:
After being let go from her job in a swanky hotel just weeks before Christmas, Hattie is feeling lost. Even more so when her high-flying boyfriend announces he’s landed his dream job in Abu Dhabi and asks her to move with him. Luckily, Hattie’s long-time friend Dolly is on hand to help and invites Hattie to spend one last holiday in the small, festive town of Wynbridge, determined to give her a Christmas to remember . . .
Upon Hattie’s arrival, holiday preparations are in full swing. But for Hattie, whose Christmas cheer has long since run out, it’ll take more than mince pies and mistletoe to open her heart to the season once more. Relishing the task of reigniting Hattie’s Christmas spirit, Dolly suggests they create a wish list of all the things the season can offer, and with the helpful hands of Wynbridge’s resident handyman, Beamish, Hattie finds her frosty exterior is starting to thaw.
As Wynbridge prepares for its most spectacular Christmas yet, will Hattie leave snowy England behind for life in a sunnier clime, or will she in fact realise that her heart’s desire lies much closer to home?
Heidi: It’s a full-on festive treat and I hope everyone enjoys it!
The Christmas Wish List can be bought online here
More about Heidi Swain:
Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in Literature, flirted briefly with a newspaper career, married and had two children before she plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.
A lover of vintage paraphernalia and the odd bottle of fizz, she now writes feel good fiction with heart for Simon and Schuster.
Her debut novel, The Chery Tree Café was published in July 2015 and since then she has had a further six books published, becoming a Sunday Times Bestseller in 2017. She is currently preparing to celebrate the release of her 2019 summer title, Poppy’s Recipe for Life while working on her next project.
Heidi is represented by Amanda Preston and lives in Norfolk with her wonderful family and a mischievous cat called Storm.
You can connect with Heidi online at the following links: