What can you tell us about your new book Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop?
It’s a summery, feel-good novel about two sisters, Anna and Imogen, who inherit their beloved grandmother Vivien’s shop. It falls to them to make the 1950s relic a commercial success – and they soon realise it’s a far bigger challenge than they'd expected. Their relationships, family bonds and even their faith in themselves is tested along the way. It’s mainly set in Brighton, but Anna travels to Florence to train up in gourmet ice-cream making, so while the drizzle falls in the UK there is plenty of fun (and romance) over in Italy.
What made you want to set the book in Brighton?
Brighton jumped out to me as a setting, as while its full of life and young people, there is always a tie to the past, whether it’s the historic piers or the old ladies gossiping in tea shops. This coexistence of past and present is something I wanted Vivien’s Heavenly Ice Cream Shop to be about – even though Vivien has died, she’s very much alive in the spirit of her granddaughters, who dedicate themselves to revamping her business. Brighton’s also a place that’s close to my heart as I studied down there for three years – it was great to have the opportunity to go on a research trip there (ice cream included, of course).
Why did you decide to give Imogen and Anna an inheritance of an ice cream parlour?
There’s something timeless about ice cream and the way it signals the start of summer - from my writing desk I can hear the ice cream van arrive and the kids nearby flocking to it. But beyond that classic appeal, there’s something very exciting going on in the UK at the moment, I think. There’s a new wave of gourmet ice cream shops and vans opening up all over the country, as well as a dedicated ice cream festival in Kings Cross – and there are some fantastic flavours coming out of those inventive new businesses. I wanted to capture that spirit of experimentation and passion for what good food can bring to people's lives.
In terms of the characters, the ice cream shop was the perfect business for them to run in the novel. Anna is a genuine foodie, someone who’s always loved to cook for friends and family but never believed she could make a career out of her hobby – I wanted to give her a chance to prove herself. Her sister Imogen, on the other hand, is a bit of a walking disaster when it comes to the kitchen, and I couldn’t resist letting her loose on the business too.
You used to work in book publishing so what was your role in this profession?
I worked as an editor for Random House, and Little, Brown – starting out as an editorial assistant and then working my way up to commissioning fiction. I loved the buzz of the publishing world, the people, all the reading, and was lucky enough to work with some really inspiring authors. Seeing what works, and what doesn’t, in all the novels I read – published and unpublished – feeds into my writing every day.
This is your second novel so what can you tell us about your first, Meet Me Under the Mistletoe?
Meet Me Under the Mistletoe is a Christmassy novel with two female leads that was great fun to write. It’s about childhood friends, Rachel and Laurie, who, over the years, have drifted apart. Since leaving school their lives have gone in very different directions -- Rachel got pregnant at nineteen and now lives in a picturesque village in the Yorkshire dales, dedicating her time to her two young children and her husband – while Laurie is single, a high-flying fashion designer with a hectic schedule. They don’t have much in common these days, or so they think.
But one Christmas they agree to swap homes -- a London bachelorette pad for a pretty country cottage -- and the experience changes them in ways they never could have imagined.
At what point did you decide to leave publishing and become a writer?
A landmark birthday has a bit to answer for here… I loved editing, but I felt there were stories I wanted to tell myself. When I turned thirty I looked again at what I really wanted from life, picked up my pen (OK, laptop) and got writing.
You have had glowing reviews from authors such as Victoria Fox, so how does it feel to have such praise from other famous authors?
I know how busy authors are writing and publicising their own books, so I’m always really touched when a writer takes the time to read one of mine – and even more so if they enjoy it and say something nice. Having said that it’s pretty amazing hearing positive feedback from other people, too – one reader told me she’d enjoyed my last novel and shared it with her grandma, who’d liked it too, and that felt like a huge compliment. If I’ve cheered up a reader’s day, commute, or given them something to talk about with friends, then I’m happy.
Did you have to visit an ice cream factory for the Anna storyline of going to Italy?
In the novel, Anna trains up in gourmet ice-cream making in Florence, and I wanted that part of the storyline to ring true, so I studied ice-cream making too. I went to a day-long course at the Artisan School of Food, which is in a beautiful stately home not far from Sheffield and studied with Kitty Travers of La Grotta Ices, who was an inspiration. We made fresh quince ice cream, a host of different types of vanilla, and a pear and ginger sorbet I can still taste if I think about it hard enough! I went on a separate research trip to Florence which was romantic and beautiful – I have to admit that the emphasis there was on ice cream tasting rather than making.
What is your writing process?
There’s so much in writing that’s difficult to plan and predict, so I do try to have some structure to my working day – it gives me an illusion of control, at least! I start each weekday with a cup of coffee and twenty minutes of free writing - for three notebook pages I write down, using a pen and paper, anything on my mind – hopes, doubts, frustrations, plot-niggles, jobs to do. It gets the ink flowing and declutters your mind, leaving room for more useful, creative thoughts.
After that, I go out to a café in Crouch End, where I live, or to the library, and write for most of the morning. I set myself a target, usually around 2000 words a day, and stick to that – whether it’s a good writing day or not. I don’t read over what I’ve written until the next day. When the first draft's complete, I'm very tough with myself, but up to that point I resist editing and just let the story happen.
In the afternoon I usually give my mind a rest. I do some admin, publicity or have a wander round some of the second-hand shops in my area. I’m always on the look out for nick-nacks with a history – old black and white photos; postcards can be great writing prompts.
What is next for you?
My next novel, which will come out in the autumn, is called Amelia Grey’s Fireside Dream. It’s about a couple, Amelia and Jack, who uproot from their flat in Hackney and buy a thatched cottage in the country – room by room they transform the house. Amelia dreams of a relaxing living room in winter, her and Jack toasting chestnuts by their fire - but in reality the renovation starts to take its toll on their relationship, and the results are quite heart-breaking. It’s the first novel I’ve written with just one lead character, and it’s been a really interesting challenge. I hope this is one that readers will want to cosy up by their own fires with.
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