Author: Caroline James talking about her new book, Coffee, Tea, The Caribbean & Me
Can you tell your readers something about why you chose this particular topic to write about? What appealed to you about it? Why do you think it is different and your approach is unique?
Coffee, Tea, The Caribbean & Me is a story about a friendship between two women. Jo and Hattie are like chalk and cheese but have been great friends for many years and finding themselves alone, without partners in mid-life, they embark on a holiday which changes their lives. I chose this subject because one in three people in the UK over the age of fifty live on their own, either through divorce, death or choice and I wanted to show that it is possible to have a second bite at the apple and begin life again no matter what your circumstances; age should not be a deterrent. My approach is to embrace these years, run down the road to happiness whatever it throws at you along the way. It is never too late to have fun and begin again. It is set in the Caribbean on the island of Barbados because I know the island well and think it the perfect setting for a novel.
How long do you think about a topic before deciding to write about it? Do you have a set of notes or a note book where you write down topics that appeal before making a decision as to which topic this time?
I know what I am going to write about, there isn’t a bucket list of topics, it is very specific. I’ve probably thought about the subject matter for some time or it is bubbling away as I come to the end of writing a novel. I have a big note book per novel that I section and gradually fill with notes, images and anything relevant and this becomes my bible as I write the book.
How long does it take to research a topic before you write? And for this book?
The research is a work in progress, as the book develops the research is done. I never know quite which route the characters will take and they often steer off the beaten track till I reign them back in so I’ll research as they take this course. I love research and can often go off-piste; far removed from the topic and then have to force myself to get back to the job in hand.
What resources do you use? In general and for the last book that you wrote?
I visit the place when the main scenes are set. I have to be able to walk around the area and really get a feel for the place. I talk to people and try to imagine the scene I am creating through the eyes of the locals. The internet is invaluable and so easy to gain information but I read too – any book I can get my hands on that has useful information.
How helpful do you find authority figures such as the police when you say you want to write about them? Is there a good way to approach them in your experience?
I don’t write crime so have never had to approach the police but my books usually have a festival or main event somewhere in the story and I contact organisers and people in authority who run these to ensure that I am accurate when describing what happens. For example, Coffee Tea The Gypsy & Me is set around an annual gypsy horse fair in Cumbria, England, and is the largest of its kind in the world. It was set up by a Charter under the reign of James II in 1685 and lasts for a week. The events there are centuries old traditions and have to be accurately described. Organisers are generally delighted to help as they know my books will give positive publicity.
Did you need to self-publish on e-books before a publisher took you up?
Yes – I had a zillion rejections with my debut novel before I took control and self-published. The book shot to #3 in Women’s Fiction on Amazon and was E-book of the Week in The Sun Newspaper. The press came out in force and the book was a big success. Suddenly publishers were interested.
Would you recommend self-publishing and building an audience before approaching a publisher? If so, what benefits do you see that it might have for the aspiring novelist?
Yes, I absolutely would. I would advise that the self-publisher is as professional as possible and does everything in their power to ensure a superb book. From cover design to proof-reading and editing, get professional help and make it the best you can. Providing you have written something that has a saleable market, remember that marketing is critical and if you don’t know how to do this pay someone who does – it will make or break your book. I have turned publishers down because I thought they weren’t a good fit or something didn’t quite resonate, self-publishing is very powerful now and cream rises to the top! You will get noticed if you write well and work hard.
Does writing provide sufficient income to live on? And how long did it take before this happened?
Does anyone really tell you what they earn from writing? In the UK the top 10% of professional authors make £60k plus per annum with the top 5% over £100k. Lower earning writers (possibly the majority) average around £11k. Writing is the icing on the cake for me not just from novels but articles, short stories and features and I know that you are only as good as your last book and have to keep on writing.
What is the funniest thing that happened to you on a book tour?
I was due to make a speech to a large audience and having been told by the host that she’d announce a ‘comfort break,’ then I was on stage. I was halfway to the ladies room when I heard over the mic, “I’d like you all to welcome Caroline James…” Flustered, I had to hurl myself back on stage and cross my legs for the next forty minutes…