Relatively Strange is probably best described as a slow-burn thriller, it’s Stella’s journey of discovery which is, admittedly, somewhat bumpier than the norm. We all make the assumption that everyone hears and sees what we do, so it’s a bit of a shock for Stella to discover that’s not quite true in her case. And of course, the flying was always going to be problematic.
Please tell us a bit more about the character of Stella.
Stella wants the best of both worlds. She’s certainly not averse to using her unusual talents to suit herself, but really doesn’t want to get involved in anything ‘unpleasant’. The fact that that’s exactly what does happen doesn’t please her at all – she absolutely doesn’t want to be a hero, but she does have a conscience, which is a darn nuisance. She’s also, unfortunately, someone whos irreverent sense of humour gets immediately up the nose of anyone who doesn’t share it. So when it comes to keeping a low profile, she’s not always hugely successful.
You have written all your life; at what point did this book spark your imagination?
I originally started writing it about eight years ago when it simply flowed; maybe it’d been germinating unsuspected for some time. I ended up with something like the love child of Gone With The Wind and War And Peace – a tad over-wordy. Even I, as an eager author, could see it needed immediate editing. So, being a woman of action and strong resolve, I put it away in a drawer where it languished until resurrected at the beginning of last year.
Can you tell us a little bit about the fiction you wrote for national magazines?
It was years ago, when my children were small – I used to write short stories – I suppose nowadays they’d fall into the chick-lit category of romantic humour. The best thing about the writing was the wonderful letters that were passed on from readers who enjoyed the stories and took time and trouble to write in and say so. I also wrote a diary series for several years for Mother & Baby, on the ups and downs of life with a baby and then with a toddler and a baby.
Please tell us about your first business – the children’s party shop.
It started as a from-home operation but grew, both exponentially and unexpectedly. My husband said if he opened one more cupboard and had a pack of Mr Men paper plates hit him on the head, he was leaving. So in the interests of marital harmony I took first one shop and then a year or so later opened a second one.
You researched country hotels at one stage; at what point did Thomas Cook approach you about your annual guide?
I had about ten years’ experience of working with country hotels in the USA and had published an annual guide for the latter five years. However, there’d been a sea change in the world of information. I’d started the business in 1989 but by 1999 the internet was really taking off. I assumed, in a year or so, hotels would be spending their marketing budget on their own websites and not on coming into a guide book, so the writing was on the wall. When Thomas Cook wanted to buy me out, I felt it was then or never.
How did you become involved in the copywriting business?
After I sold the guide, my daughter had twins and I spent a year or so helping her and then probably another couple of months lying in a darkened room because I’d never been so tired in all my life. But then I had to decide which career direction I’d go in next. As I’d always done all the writing and ads for my own businesses, I thought I might be able to do it successfully for others.
What do you do when your inspiration is completely AWOL?
Generally descend into a fit of the vapours – leading to a loosening of the corsets, collapse onto a convenient chaise longue and a whole lot of moaning and wailing. Of course that’s OK only when deadlines aren’t involved. If I’m putting together something for a copywriting client, I just have to pull myself together, act like a grown up and, with a hefty dose of caffeine, usually claw inspiration back from wherever it’s slunk off to.
What is next for you?
I’m several chapters into the sequel to Relatively Strange and also halfway through another book on a slightly different subject – also, oddly enough, with a pretty stroppy main female character.