Welcome back! It’s NaNoWriMo month and I’ve been busy the last few days trying to meet my daily word count goal. Hope it’s going well for all you fellow Wrimers! Let’s take a little NaNoWriMO break and get to know another writer. This time we’re sitting down with Carol Cooper. Carol is a British author, journalist, and doctor. She practices medicine in London and writes on health for The Sun, Britain’s best-selling newspaper. After a string of parenting books and an award-winning medical textbook, she turned to writing fiction. Her novels are all about 30-somethings looking for love, and they’re laced with inside medical knowledge. Carol’s latest novel, Hampstead Fever, follows the intertwined lives of six Londoners as emotions boil over one hot summer. You can find it at Amazon and other retailers, and in bookstores in Europe. So get comfortable, grab a cup of java or a glass of wine and let’s get to know Carol Cooper!
Carol, thanks for taking time to hang out with us. Let’s start off by talking about where you’re from. Now I’m a born and bred Philadelphia girl, but I think you mentioned that you’re from a little of everywhere.
My background is international as my mother had Lebanese and Syrian origins, and my father was British. I was born in London and lived in Egypt until I was eight years old, when my mother and I went to live in the USA. I was in Washington, DC, for more or less 10 years, though there were periods of time in Europe during my high school years. I then studied medicine at Cambridge University, and now live and work in London and Cambridge. The London apartment is in Hampstead, in the heart of the area where my novel Hampstead Fever is set. I don’t always find much time for leisure pursuits, but the riverbank always beckons.
I love London. It’s got to be one of my favorite places in the world–and Hampstead is such a beautiful area. And I love it that you set your novel in Hampstead. I haven’t had a chance to read Hampstead Fever yet. For readers who are new to Carol, I’m going to share the blurb now:
Chef Dan should be blissfully happy. He has the woman of his dreams and a job in a trendy Hampstead bistro. But his over-anxious partner, engrossed in their baby, has no time for him now.
Stressed doctor Geoff finds solace in the arms of a moody actress. Journalist Harriet’s long-term relationship with Sanjay hits the buffers, leaving each of them with serious questions to answer. Meanwhile single mother of four Karen misses the intimacy of marriage, but lacks the appetite for a proper relationship.
Passion and panic rise in the heat, but who can spot the danger signs?
Okay, you’ve got me hooked–I’ve one-clicked it on Amazon, so it should be in my Kindle now. Let’s talk a little about writing. I think I always knew I wanted to be a writer–what about you? When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
I was 100% sure by the time I was in my first year at university. As a child, I had wanted to own a button shop, and as a teenager my heart was set on becoming a nuclear physicist. Of course, when I first embarked on a novel at college, it never got off the ground because I knew nothing of life at the time, except how to pass exams.
I know what you mean about trying to write a novel in college and not having enough life experience. I never finished any of the novels I started in college. They just weren’t very good and it was mostly due to not having enough experience that the story or the characters even mattered.
That’s exactly what I mean. A writer needs life experience in order to write something that’s interesting.
Was there a particular author or book that inspired you to become a novelist?
I’ve read a lot of inspiring books, and have been lucky enough to meet some great authors, but it was the queen of British crime fiction, the late Ruth Rendell, who convinced me to stick at novel-writing. She was the tutor on a writing course that I attended in the mid-1990s. By then, I was doing a lot of health journalism and already had some non-fiction books in the pipeline, but I had a hankering to write novels. It was Ruth Rendell who pointed out my strong points as well as my weaknesses, and persuaded me to keep going.
I am in awe. I love Ruth Rendell’s novels. I would have loved to take a writing course with her. Her novel, A Dark Adapted Eye, is on my list of all-time favourite novels. Speaking of Ruth Rendell, she often tackled some very serious and controversial topics in her novels. Are there any subjects that are taboo for you when it comes to reading or writing?
I’m an animal lover, so I would say cruelty to animals. It’s not something I’m very interested in reading or writing about.
I totally agree with you. I have a hard time even reading newspaper articles about cruelty to animals. And I doubt I’ll ever feature it in any of my novels. So do you think fiction address topical social issues? Some readers say they only read to escape and don’t want to be reminded of racism, social inequality, etc when they open a book. What’s your take on this?
I believe it should. Books that ignore racism and other forms of injustice aren’t doing their thing, and they’re not realistic either. Even romantic novels need a toe-hold in the real world.
Yes! That’s how I feel too. Even when I read to escape, I want to feel that the world I am reading about it realistic. What about social media? Do you think today’s authors need it to survive?
Social media can take up a lot of time without necessarily selling any books. But today’s readers really do want to know more about authors and about the world around the books they read, so I think it’s almost essential for a writer to be busy on at least one social media platform, and to interact. I’m most active on Twitter and Facebook, and I dabble with Pinterest and Instagram.
Me too. I am a Pinterest junkie. I use it for inspiration. I have to rein myself in sometimes. It’s the same with Facebook. I have to make sure I focus and don’t get too sucked into it. Let’s talk writing spaces. Do you have a favourite place to write?
It’s not exactly a writing space, but I love to write beside the river Cam in Cambridge (the one in England). It’s a place with a rich literary heritage, and it’s also where I was a student. I find it uplifting to be by the banks of the river with a notebook and pencil, perhaps under a weeping willow. These days Cambridge plays host to hordes of tourists, but you can still find spots where there are just swans, geese, grazing cattle, and the occasional boat going by.
I don’t blame you. That is one stunning view. I could sit there and dream and plot… Now, I know most authors have a favourite character. Which of your characters is your favourite?
I love almost all my characters, though Laure and Geoff really stand out: Laure and Geoff. Laure, being half Lebanese, is insecure despite her career as a hot-shot lawyer, and she has a lot of uncertainty about her cultural identity. Geoff is special because, as a doctor, he finds it challenging to deal with the minutiae of present day medical practice that take up so much time when all he really wants to do is made people better. But there’s also Sanjay, who’s impulsive, inquisitive, loyal, and funny, and loves music…. Can I have three favourites?
Of course you can! 🙂 I think I have two or three who my favourites. It depends on my mood.
I’m always curious which authors other authors read. Who would you recommend to people looking for someone new to read?
Three British authors really stand out for me: JJ Marsh, Clare Flynn, and Jane Davis. These indie authors have an international flavor, especially Marsh and Flynn, and I think their stories will all resonate with a very wide readership. I’d especially recommend Human Rites which is a detective novel by JJ Marsh, The Green Ribbons by Clare Flynn, and Jane Davis’s I Stopped Time, or her latest title My Counterfeit Self.
I’m going to add those to my TBR List. Carol, it’s been so nice chatting with you. Before we finish off our session, what advice would you give to novice writers?
Keep writing, even when you don’t feel like it. Whatever shape your thoughts are in, get them down. You can refine a rough draft later, but it’s mighty hard to edit a blank page.
Thanks again for joining us today, Carol! Peeps, make sure you follow Carol so you can find out what she’s up to and stay up to date on when her next book is coming out.