Q&A with Annie Lyons, author of The Choir on Hope Street.

The best things in life happen when you least expect them.

Nat's husband has just said the six words no one wants to hear - 'I don't love you any more'.

Caroline's estranged mother has to move into her house turning her perfectly ordered world upside down.

Living on the same street there two women couldn't be more different. Until the beloved local community centre is threatened by closure. And when the only way to save it is to form a community choir - none of the Hope Street residents, least of all Nat and Caroline, expect the results...

This spring, Hope is coming!

Today on Hummingbird Reviews, I am completely thrilled to be welcoming author Annie Lyons to the blog for an author Q&A. Today also marks publication day for Annie Lyons as her latest wonderfully uplifting novel, The Choir on Hope Street, is released, so please join in me wishing Annie a fabulous publication day!
Please introduce yourself. Where are you from? What do you do? And what's your shoe size?
And thank you for inviting me, lovely Rebecca! My name is Annie Lyons. I was born in London. I write books which aim to make readers laugh and cry and my feet are a ridiculous size 8!

Tell us a little bit about your brand-new novel, The Choir on Hope Street.
It's about two very different women - chaotic Mum, Nat and PTA tiger mother, Caroline, who live on Hope Street and come together to form a choir when their beloved community hall is threatened with closure.

How do you hope readers will feel while reading The Choir on Hope Street?
I am hoping they will laugh, nod their heads knowingly, shed a tear and feel an insatiable urge to sing.

If you were to describe this book in the same way you'd describe the weather, what would you say?
Cloud giving way to warm sunshine but with the occasional thunderstorm along the way.

When did you first begin writing, and what was your first book about?
I took a creative writing course after my son was born and it inspired me to try and write a book. Those first jottings and ideas eventually became Not Quite Perfect! This is a story about two sisters, who have a nagging feeling that the grass is greener elsewhere but who are about to learn that you don't know what you've got until you're on the brink of losing it.

Do you have goals for your writing/writing career?
Day to day, I try to take a book at time and write the best one I can. Long-term, I want to have all my books made into films and become best mates with J.K. Rowling. It's just a matter of time...

Which authors inspire you?
Anne Tyler is my favourite author - I love everything about the way she writes. I also love David Nicholls for the way he combines humour with the sadder side of life. I'm lucky enough to be part of a brilliant community of writers and their support and talent is something which inspires me too.

Describe your writing style in three words.
Funny, touching, hopeful.

What themes do you usually focus on within your writing? Is it different with each book?
They are different in each book, but I do focus on themes which affect women and which interest me. Rachel in Not Quite Perfect is struggling with her role as a stay-at-home Mum and I struggled with that when my children were small. In The Secrets Between Sisters, Lizzie has to re-evaluate her relationship with her sister as she reads Bea's letters following her death. In Life or Something Like It, Cat is unapologetically childless and I wanted to consider the pressure women are often put under to become mothers. In The Choir on Hope Street, Nat has to deal with her husband telling her he doesn't love her anymore, whilst Caroline faces life as one of the sandwich generation - caring for a young family and her previously-estranged mother, who is suffering from Dementia. I try to write about current issues facing women and put my own spin on them.

Once you've an idea firmly in place, what is usually the next step for you?
I used to dive straight in but now I construct a draft chapter-by-chapter plan, pinned to my noticeboard, which can be easily adapted due to the wonder of small, square, multi-coloured post-it notes!

Do you have a favourite part of the writing process?
When I'm writing a scene, can feel the story coming to me as I type and get a buzz that it's going the way it should - it's like the road opening up in front of you and catching a glimpse of the sea.

Are there any techniques/methods you use when you're plotting?
I use coloured dot stickers on my draft plan to show the bombshells. This was after an editor told me I was dropping bombshells like an RAF fighter pilot during the final third of a book, so it was a ploy to make sure they're more spaced out!

Have you ever come face to face with writer's block? If so, how did you overcome it?
Yes and it's not a pleasant feeling. I think all you can do is walk away and do something else, like reading or getting out of the house. I haven't found a brilliant solution to this yet to be honest, so any ideas would be gratefully received!

Where do you find inspiration?
I'm a terrible snoop so avoid me in coffee shops as I do listen in on conversations and use the best bits in books! My children are a huge source of inspiration too. I love writing small-person characters - they come up with the best dialogue.

What does a typical day in your life look like?
Drop my son at school and come home. Fire up the laptop, make a huge pot of coffee and write until lunchtime. After lunch, I catch up on e-mails and social media before I'm off on the school run again!

Which part of the writing process do you find most difficult?
Revisions can be tough - it takes me a few days to get to grips with what's required. Once I'm in and on the right track, I find it ultimately very satisfying as I know a better book will be delivered at the end.

How do you come up with your titles?
I am ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE at this. My husband came up with Not Quite Perfect, which is still my favourite title. Luckily I have a brilliant editor, who is very good at this kind of thing - we throw a lot of ideas around but she always knows what to do. I love The Choir on Hope Street because it's straightforward and clear. Sometimes the best titles are the simple ones.

When it comes to creating your characters, what is normally the first step you take?
I have a little brown notebook, which I carry everywhere I go. I make copious notes about the character as and when they occur to me (often in the car so I have to keep it in my brain until I park!). Then I draw up a document on my laptop, transcribing all these details so that I can make sure I'm consistent as I start to write.

Have you ever taken a research trip? If so, where did you go and for which book?
Most of my books are set in and around London where I live. However, Life or Something Like It was partly set in the little seaside town in Suffolk where I go on holiday with my family every year. This research trip involved spending time on the beach, eating fish and chips and going to the pub - it was a real chore...

Do you ever set yourself word-count goals?
I try to write at least two thousand words a day when I'm writing my first draft. Often easier said than done.

What is your definition of 'success'?
Someone telling me that they've enjoyed one of my books - how it's made them laugh or how it's moved them.

What is your definition of 'happiness'?
Doing the crossword over coffee in the beach-hut in Suffolk with my husband and the kids.

Which do you find hardest? The beginning or the end?
Ooh, that's a good question. I want to say both but I think the beginning is harder because you need to get the reader hooked and that's tough. The ending takes a bit of writing and re-writing but it's there for the taking.

What's the best piece of advice you ever received?
Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and write the best book you can.

What one piece of advice would you pass on to another writer?
Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and write the best book you can.

Tell us an author who is on your auto-buy list.
I don't have an auto-buy list but my 'must buy new book' authors are Anne Tyler, David Nicholls, Kate Atkinson, Maggie O'Farrell and as of recently, Elizabeth Strout.

If you were to write in a genre entirely new to you, which would you pick and why?
Probably historical fiction but I would be absolutely terrified about getting facts straight! I've always wanted to write a sit-com too...

What are you working on at the moment?
The next Hope Street story - it's still in the early stages but I'm really excited about this one - that sounds suitably mysterious, doesn't it?

Now for some quick-fire questions:
Coffee or tea? Coffee in the morning and weirdy herbal tea in the afternoon.
Summer or winter? Summer - a nice long one please.
Bath or shower? Shower, provided the kids haven't nicked all the hot water. Again.
Sweet or savoury? Savoury.
Holiday in the city or countryside? Countryside, ideally not far from a beach.
Text or call? Text.
Facebook or Twitter? Twitter.
Sunrise or sunset? Sunset.
TV or movies? TV.
Wine or beer? I like wine but it doesn't always like me...
Cats or dogs? Dogs (please don't tell my cat).
Chinese or Indian food? Chinese.
Pasta or cheese? Can I have both please?

About the author.
Having worked in the worlds of book selling and publishing, Annie Lyons decided to have a go at book writing. Following a creative writing course, lots of reading and an extraordinary amount of coffee, she produced Not Quite Perfect, which went on to become a number one bestseller. Her second book The Secrets Between Sisters was nominated in the best eBook category at the 2014 Festival of Romance and Life or Something Like It was a top ten bestseller.
Her latest book, The Choir on Hope Street, is a story of power ballads, community, cake and hope. She tries to write stories which make people laugh and cry, although hopefully not at the same time. Annie lives in a shambolic money-pit of a house with her husband and two children plus a cat, who she pretends not to like. She enjoys channelling her inner Adele as part of her own beloved community choir and trying to grow cauliflower.

You can find Annie Lyons on Twitter.
You can purchase your copy of The Choir on Hope Street by Annie Lyons here.

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