Author Q&A: Cressida McLaughlin

It's an utter deeeelight to be welcoming the wonderful author that is Cressida McLaughlin to Becca's Books today, for an author Q&A.

First of all, could you introduce yourself to readers? Tell us a little bit about you and the books that you write.
I am Cressida – Cressy – McLaughlin, I’m 34 years old and I live in a little house in Norwich with my husband David, an unexpectedly large garden and a whole heap of books.   I have always been a huge bookworm, and to see my own stories turned into beautiful eBooks and paperbacks - and have people read them - is a dream come true.  I write heart-warming, romantic women’s fiction, and I like to include a few loveable, furry friends among my characters.  My first series – the Primrose Terrace series – was about a dog walker called Cat, allowing me to fill the pages with lots of adorable pooches.

In which genre/genres do you write?
I write romantic women’s fiction that is – hopefully – sometimes funny, always cosy, and with a strong sense of place.  I love creating a world for my characters to live in that the readers can get wrapped up in too.

Tell us about your most recent book, and where can we find it?
My latest book is The Canal Boat Café.  The main character, Summer Freeman, has to decide whether to take over her mum’s café, on board a narrow boat in the sleepy, riverside village of Willowbeck, eight months after her untimely death.  It was first published in four separate parts, All Aboard, Casting Off, Cabin Fever and Land Ahoy! and then as a full eBook and paperback here.

Are there any particular themes which you try to incorporate within your books?
I want my books to be romantic.  I love a good love story, and the tension and anticipation of will-they-won’t-they, so that’s always central to my stories.  I also love creating a world, a community, which is what I’ve done with the Primrose Terrace series and The Canal Boat Café.  Communities have wonderful potential when it comes to characters and intrigue.  And while this probably doesn’t count as a theme, I always like having pets in my books.  So far they’ve mostly been dogs, there are some cats, and there are lots of ways I could branch out in future stories – goldfish, rabbits, snakes.

How do you hope to make readers feel while reading your books?
I want my readers to feel warm and cosy in the most part – though of course it would be dull if there wasn’t any conflict, so I want them to feel that tension, too.  But mainly I want them to be completely immersed in my setting, rooting for the heroine, a little bit in love with the hero and desperate for a happy ending.

If you had to choose three words to describe your most recent book, what would they be?
Cosy, romantic, delicious.

When it comes to creating your characters, are they completely fictional or do you gather ideas from the people you know in real life?
I think every writer picks up personality traits, looks or sayings from the people around them, and uses them for their characters, whether they’re doing it consciously or unconsciously.  I can’t match a character trait in my existing books to anyone I know, but I do often notice or overhear something and think “I must use that”.  Often, I get physical descriptions from celebrities, so that I can perfectly picture my hero or heroine as I start to write about them.  But as soon as I start writing about them, they take on unique features and personalities of their own.

How do you choose the settings of your books?
Settings are very important to me, and are quite often the starting point for my books.  I think of my heroine, and then where I’d like to put her.  I want them to be idyllic or picturesque, unique or intriguing, and with an interesting community.  Basically, somewhere I want to write about.

Have you visited any of the areas which you’ve written about?
So far I’ve written about the south coast, near Brighton, and the fenland waterways.  While the central villages are fictional, I’ve visited Brighton and different places along the south coast on lots of occasions, and also the area around Cambridge and Ely where The Canal Boat Café is set.  I want to make my settings as authentic as possible, and often it’s visiting a place that will inspire me to write about it.

Who are some of your favourite authors?
Oh, so many!  Harriet Evans, Lucy Robinson, Kirsty Greenwood, Jane Austen, Alex Brown.  For crime I love Elly Griffiths, Sharon Bolton and Alex Grecian.

Do you like to plan strategically, or do you let the characters lead the way?
I do a lot of planning because of the way my books are published – often I’m still writing part four when part one is published, but I also think you can’t control your characters completely, and they will always surprise you in one way or another. I’m always excited to see what they want to do!

If you could sit down and have lunch with any author, who would you choose and why?
I really want to have lunch with Lucy Robinson! Her books are amazing, so funny and romantic and heart-breaking.  She seems like such a lovely person - as well as being a huge inspiration - and I think we’d have fun.

Is there a particular part of the writing process which you enjoy more than others?
I love all parts of the writing process – planning, writing, editing – but I think the first draft is the most enjoyable.  When you know your story and you’re writing all the scenes you’ve planned, and it’s new and fresh and magical, and you’re waiting to see where the characters will take you.

When it comes to the cover of a book, how important do you feel they are?
I think covers are incredibly important.  When I’m browsing in a bookshop, I will often be drawn by the cover of a book.  And where there’s so much competition online, and people are searching really quickly for something to read – to buy or download onto their Kindle – I think the covers really need to stand out.

How do you keep track of your writing progress? Do you use daily word goals? Do you aim to get a set number of chapters written?
Working to deadlines is really good motivation!  I work out how long I have to write a certain number of words, and then set myself goals as I go along – increasing or decreasing the target depending on the progress I’m making.  If I’ve got a whole day to write, I always aim for a whole chapter, which for me is about 4,000 words, but I like to keep things fairly flexible too, so I’m not putting myself under extra pressure.

Tell us the top three books you’ve read so far in 2016.
The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts by Annie Darling
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
My Map of You by Isabelle Broom.

When did your love of writing first begin to blossom?
I’ve always loved reading, and I did an English Literature degree at university, but I didn’t have the urge to write anything of my own until about ten years ago.  I had the opportunity to do a creative writing class where I worked, and thought I’d give it a try, then once the bug had bit, that was it – I can’t ever imagine not writing now.

How did you celebrate your most recent publication day?
Part four of The Canal Boat Café came out at the end of May, and I was lucky enough to celebrate it with lots of lovely authors and readers at Romance in the Court, at Goldsboro books in London, which was brilliant. Sunshine, pink fizz and lots of book chat – what could be better?

What are your thoughts on the book-blogging community?
I love the book blogging community!  I have done lots of reviews and blogging for Novelicious, and have always found bloggers to be very supportive and encouraging, and even more so now I’m an author.  Bloggers really spread the word about books, and help authors reach new readers.

Which, if any, other genre would you like to try and write in?
I would love to write a truly terrifying ghost story.  I’m fascinated by ghosts, and I love reading ghost stories - MR James and Susan Hill are masters of the craft.  I’ve tried a couple of short stories, and would love to have a go at something longer.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far in your writing career?
Definitely getting my deal with HarperCollins, because it made my dreams come true and changes everything.

Are you working on anything at the moment? If so, tell us a little bit about it.
I’m working on a new story right now. It’s about a guesthouse and it’s set by the sea.  I love everything about the sea, and I’m really enjoying writing it!

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
It’s such an obvious one, but don’t give up.  If you love writing, and you believe in yourself, then let that belief spur you onwards.

What do you class as a successful writing day?
Just spending time with my characters.  There are so many stages to writing a book, plotting, thinking, editing, so progress isn’t always about word count.  Success is making progress with whatever part you’re working on, and feeling happy with the result, even if it’s just unknotting a single, difficult scene.

Writing in an apartment in New York City or writing in a cottage in the English countryside?
Cottage in the English countryside – more inspiration for the type of books I write.

Writing with a cup of tea or writing with a cup of coffee?
Tea – preferably Earl Grey.

Writing with a sandwich or writing with a cupcake?
Sandwich – cupcakes are a bit sweet for me, and very messy to eat.

Writing with music or writing in silence?
I love having music in the background when I write.

Writing outside in the sunshine or writing inside as the snow falls?
I’m writing this outside in glorious sunshine in the garden, but for the atmosphere, and for not getting too distracted, inside as snow falls. Super cosy.

And lastly, if someone told you that they wanted to be a writer, what would you tell them?
Write a story you truly believe in.  Don’t think about trying to get published at this stage, or what other people think or want, just sit down and write something you’re passionate about, and see where it takes you.

About the author
Cressy was born in South East London surrounded by books and with a cat named after Lawrence of Arabia. She studied English at the University of East Anglia and now lives in Norwich with her husband David.

Cressy's favourite things - other than writing - include terrifying ghost stories, lava lamps and romantic heroes, though not necessarily at the same time. 

When she isn't writing, Cressy spends her spare time reading, returning to London or exploring the beautiful and romantic Norfolk coastline.

You can find Cressida McLaughlin on Facebook | Twitter

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