Today it's the turn of Cressida McLaughlin to take part in the foodie Q&A's for this feature month. As Emma has already read The Canal Boat Cafe when each installment was published, whereas I wanted to wait to buy the paperback which was published last month (I had hoped to review alongside this interview but I'm ashamed to admit is still sat in my TBR pile), she asked Cressida a few questions about the series to run alongside the foodie questions.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing journey?
I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. I did English Literature at university and I was much more interested in reading books than writing them, but then a few years later I had the opportunity to try a creative writing course for free, and I thought I’d give it a go. It only took a few weeks for me to properly get the writing bug, and after I’d gone on to do a couple more courses, I sat down to try and write my first novel.
Inspired by Sophie Kinsella and Harriet Evans books, I wanted to write a romantic story that people would read and love the way I had loved theirs. It didn’t turn out to be straightforward, and about six years, three unpublished novels and lots of rejection letters later I met a wonderful HarperCollins editor called Kate, at an event I was attending on behalf of the website Novelicious. I sent her my novel, we met up to discuss some ideas and The Primrose Terrace series was born. Getting my book deal with HarperCollins, and going on to see my first book published, made all the years and the heartache so worthwhile. Now I squirrel away in my little office in the Norwich house where I live with my husband David, and feel so lucky that I get to write stories that people read and enjoy.
Where did your inspiration for the community of Willowbeck come from? I think you did such a wonderful job of creating a place where everyone looked out for each other through the good times and the bad.
Thank you! I’m so glad you like Willowbeck – I love it too. The sense of place and community is a really important part of all my stories, because I love the interaction between the different characters, and the dynamic that’s created when they live close together. I live in Norwich, and while there are no narrowboats because the rivers and Norfolk broads aren’t suited to them, there are a lot of boats. I walk home past a stretch of the river with permanent moorings, and in the evenings you can see the lights on inside the boats, and it always looks so cosy. You don’t have as much of your own space as you do in a house or flat – the walls don’t seem as solid – so it makes sense that there would be a strong sense of community, with people living so close together. The narrowboat trips I’ve been on always have that feeling too – helmsmen waving and chatting to each other as their boats pass - so despite the rivers and canals stretching for miles, it always seems a very tight-knit community.
Who was your favourite character to write about and who was the most challenging?
Oh, this is so hard to answer! Well, apart from my heroine Summer I loved writing about Mason. I always fall a little bit in love with my heroes, and I particularly like him because he’s so relaxed, a little bit disorganised and has such a love of nature and wildlife. I think Ross was probably the hardest to write about. He’s not a villain – he’s someone who Summer is friends with, who she trusts, but who gets the wrong idea and ends up making some bad decisions. Getting that just right was quite tricky – I didn’t want him to come across as a caricature.
I love that there are always canine characters in your books who really take on personality’s of their own like Latte and Pocket. Will we be seeing more in future books?
Yes! I can’t imagine not writing some dogs into my books now, though I might branch out a little bit – I love cats too, and I could always include some unusual animal companions – horses, rabbits, snakes. I think pets add something really lovely to a story; they can be a sounding board for a character, sympathetic but unable to answer back, and they can add a cute or comedy element, as well as – as you say – have personalities of their own. I think that most people know a cat or a dog, even if they don’t have a pet of their own, and often have very personal love or hate relationships with them, so it’s something lots of people can relate to.
Your books have first been published as as serials and then full length novels, do you write the entire book first or just in parts and is this difficult to do if so?
I write my books in parts, and quite often the first part is published before I’ve written the last one! I love writing in this way, though it has its good and bad points. I have to really plan the book out, so I know what’s going to happen in each part, and don’t tie myself in knots at the end. But then I get to do the whole process in stages too – writing, editing, copy edits etc. – so I never have a 100,000 word book to tackle all at once. I love having four covers – five if you count the paperback – and five publication days, and the ability to build the buzz and interest in the book over several months.
Describe your cooking style, follow recipes religiously or wing it and see how it turns out?
I really enjoy cooking, but I don’t know if I’m that good at it. My husband, David, is a wonderful cook and makes some really delicious things. I’m quite good at a few standard recipes – Bolognese, green Thai chicken curry, Mediterranean chicken. I mostly follow recipes, because I think if I just went with the flow I’d get into all kinds of trouble. David makes dishes up as he goes along and they’re always delicious. If I did that, it would probably seem like the contents of the fridge had just fallen out onto the plate.
If you were going to apply to be a contestant on a cooking show, would it be Masterchef or Great British Bake Off?
Masterchef, but only because it’s the lesser of two evils. I can make brownies, but I’m not sure Paul Hollywood would be impressed if I did that in every round. The thought of going on either breaks me out in a cold sweat. I’d be hopeless cooking anything under pressure – I’m not great at getting the timings right, and that’s a really big part of it.
You're planning a dinner party, which 5 people (dead or alive) would you invite?
Oooooh. Jane Austen, Lucy Robinson, Aidan Turner, Stella Gibbons and James Norton. That would be a laugh, wouldn’t it?
It's your last day on earth, what 3 course meal would you choose?
I’d have scallops and pancetta to start, spaghetti Bolognese as a main course, with lots of black pepper and Parmesan cheese on top, and a huge fudge sundae with salted caramel ice-cream, honeycomb pieces and butterscotch sauce for pudding – with some of those little nuts sprinkled on top too. Calories wouldn’t be an issue, would they?
What's your favourite dish to cook?
Spaghetti Bolognese. It’s so simple, but it’s sooooooooooo delicious. I don’t think anyone needs my recipe because it’s quite a standard thing, but one tip I’ve learnt is that if you add a spoonful of marmite it really brings out the flavours, and that really seems to work.
And now for a few quickfire questions to finish ;-)
Gordon Ramsay or Marco Pierre White? Marco Pierre White, only because Gordon Ramsay makes me really cross.
Paul Hollywood or Mary Berry? Paul Hollywood.
Sweet or Savoury? Savoury.
Steak or Lobster? Surf and Turf? ☺ Steak, if I have to pick.
Profiteroles or Crumble? Crumble – but only if there’s custard.
Smoothie or Prosecco? No brainer. Prosecco. ☺