Today is the start of another busy week on the blog, first up it's my pleasure to welcome Choc Lit author Rhoda Baxter back to the blog to talk about her latest book Please Release Me.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hello! I’m Rhoda and I haven’t had a cake for… oh hang on. Wrong group. Ha Ha I could also be a founding member of this group ;-)
Let’s try again.
I’m a former scientist who now writes romance with humour and a touch of cynicism for Choc Lit. I’m still a geek at heart and can witter on about science and Dr Who for hours. I’m a big fan of The Big Bang Theory, Firefly and The Octonauts. I firmly believe that toilet roll should be fed over the top of the roll.
I’m a bit of a cake fiend, although I am trying to quit ... well, cut down anyway … oh who am I kidding, pass the Battenberg.
Although I have interviewed you about Please Release Me before, can you give us a little refresher as to what the book is about?
It’s about Grace, who is slowly recovering from losing her parents, Peter, who is living from day to day while he waits for his wife to wake up from a coma (he doesn’t know IF she will ever wake up, or even if she’ll be the same person if that happens) and Sally, who is in a coma, but can hear what’s going on. I once read a book where the hero had a wife in a coma, but it was totally okay for him to sleep with the heroine because the wife didn’t really love him and trapped him by pretending she was pregnant etc etc. He seemed to have no remorse about sleeping with someone other than his wife. This struck me as a bit weird. Surely, you’d feel bad.
So Peter feels terrible when he realises he has feelings for Grace. Sally isn’t a nice person, but when Peter comes to visit, she has no choice but to listen to him talk to her and she slowly starts to get to know this man she married and by degrees really does come to love him, in her own way. Then she comes back as a ghost that only Grace can see. Both women are lonely and they need each other. I started off writing a rom com set in a hospice and ended up writing a book about friendship, grief and betrayal. Go figure.
What inspired you to set this story in a hospice and how much research did you have to do to enable you to portray the realities of living and working in a hospice?
I visited Martin House Children’s hospice and spoke to staff and families there. Actually, it was going to the open day there that made me think about using a hospice as a setting. The actual hospice in the book is made up. In my head, it looks a bit like the old Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford - from the outside at least. I did a lot of desk research on comas. In order to sense check what I’d written, I spoke to @ZGoodacre, who works in the NHS. She gave me a few pointers about palliative care and intensive care in hospitals vs hospices. I made a few changes to Sally’s condition based on her feedback.
The best thing about using a made up private hospice was that I could have them provide different levels of care which would not always be found in the same place. So, the floor that Sally is on is quiet and has patients who need long term specialist care. Further up there is a floor for people like Grace’s Mum and Margaret who need a bit more care than a care home can offer, but not full medical support.
There are three main characters in Please Release Me, Peter, Sally and Grace, which character did you have the most fun creating?
Oh, Sally, definitely. She was borderline psychotic. I loved writing her scenes. She swore an awful lot too, which was weird because I rarely swear. Sally clearly tapped into a seam of expletives that I didn’t even know I had!
I tend to get fairly deep into the characters’ heads, so I feel how they feel and that’s hard to shake off. It was difficult to keep up with the level of anger that drives Sally, so writing Grace’s scenes was a relief. Grace is so kind and gentle that she made a lovely counterpoint. Peter was hard to write in a different way. At the beginning of the book, Peter is insulated from the world by how sad he is. Being inside his head was quite draining at times. He got better as the book went on though!
When are you most productive with writing, mornings, afternoons or evenings?
Left to myself, I’d probably be most productive in the mornings, but I have to fit the writing around my day job and the kids, so I only really get chance to write in the evenings, when the kids have gone to bed!
Do you write longhand or electronically?
Electronically, always. Technically, I never learned to touch type - if I stop to think about it, I can’t do it - but I’ve got to the point where there is a sort of connection between my brain and my hands, so that I can type at almost the same speed as I think. Or maybe my thinking slows down to the speed at which I type. I don’t know.
I write sitting in bed, with my laptop balanced on my knees.
If you get a plot block during the initial writing phase, how do you work your way through it?
I usually complain at length to my writing partner, Jen, for a while. Then I sit down with pencil (I love a good sharp pencil!) and paper and draw mind maps of what the main conflicts are for each of the characters. At some point, things start to make sense again.
I write out of sequence, so my first draft is always all over the place and the themes never map out properly. The second draft always involves moving scenes around, taking bits out and adding other bits in. I know it’s ready, when the story looks nothing like the first draft anymore!
Finally what can we expect from you next?
After writing Please Release Me, I needed to write something light and funny or I would have broken down in tears. I had written two light hearted rom coms before - the first was Girl on The Run and Girl Having a Ball (which will be published by Choc Lit later this year). I wrote the third book in that series, provisionally titled Girl in Trouble when I finished Please Release Me. It features a ladette heroine and a hero who is scared of spiders. Choc Lit will be publishing that sometime next year.
At the moment I’m working on something Christmassy. I can’t tell you any more because I haven’t plotted it yet. All I know is that the heroine is a computer geek with a straight bob (with a streak of red in the front) and geek glasses. She’s spending Christmas in a pub in a village called Trewton Royd in West Yorkshire. I’ve written short stories in Trewton Royd before and I love that place. It’s the sort of place where everyone calls you ‘love’ all the time.
Please Release Me is out now in paperback and can be ordered from all good book stockists. For more on Rhoda Baxter, follow her on Twitter: @RhodaBaxter
What if you could only watch as your bright future slipped away from you?
Sally Cummings has had it tougher than most but, if nothing else, it's taught her to grab opportunity with both hands. And, when she stands looking into the eyes of her new husband Peter on her perfect wedding day, it seems her life is finally on the up.
That is until the car crash that puts her in a coma and throws her entire future into question.
In the following months, a small part of Sally's consciousness begins to return, allowing her to listen in on the world around her - although she has no way to communicate.
But Sally was never going to let a little thing like a coma get in the way of her happily ever after...