Feature article

An Interview with Carole Matthews

There’s never a day I don’t look forward to going to work!

Friday 1 July 2016

Carole Matthews, recipient of an RNA Lifetime Achievement Award

RM: How long have you been writing and how many books have you written?

My first novel – Let’s Meet on Platform 8 – was published way back in 1997! So I’ve been kicking around the publishing industry for some time. My current book – The Chocolate Lovers’ Christmas – is my 27th published novel.

RM: How long does it take you to write a novel?

I’ve been writing two a year now for a while, writing one every six months ─ a big summer book and then a full-on Christmas novel.

RM: How do you work?

I’m lucky to live in a three-storey house, with the top floor dedicated to office space. Generally I work from 8am to 6pm, five days a week, trying very hard not to write at weekends, although I do a number of weekend events during the year. I’ve never been a great sleeper and often pull-in insomnia shifts; if my head’s buzzing with ideas at three am, may as well get up and write!
I start in January to deliver a book in July. Then I take August off to clear my brain and start again from September to deliver at the end of December. The second book is a very tight schedule. Christmas celebrations have a way of interfering, although I call that research now!

RM: Plotter or pantster?

Plot, plot, plot. I think people get into difficulties because they haven’t thoroughly planned the novel out. You wouldn’t set out on a car journey without a map, so why do it with a book? That’s my theory, anyway! Also, as I write two books a year, I don’t have the luxury of time to wander with my writing. If you plot thoroughly you can often spot flaws in an idea before you set off.

I keep a file and read a newspaper every lunchtime, snipping out useful plot ideas when I spot them.

I’m usually writing one novel and planning the next at the same time – as well as promoting my latest book; perhaps that’s why my brain refuses to turn off at night!

RM: What continues to inspire your work? Are you ever frightened the stories will stop itching to be told?

There are so many stories to be told, I never worry about running out. I do like telling a tale and besides I love a good gossip, so ideas keep coming. My partner, Lovely Kev, always says I never let the facts stand in the way of a good story and that’s something you either have or don’t. My mother tells a good tale too. I must have inherited it from her. Time is my biggest pressure, ideally I’d like a clone.

RM: How has the author/publisher role changed over the years? How do you manage the balancing act – marketing/writing?

The author/publisher role has changed dramatically since I started out. My first editor and I still laugh about the long, polite letters we used to send each other – no email then!
I’m more involved in the production and marketing of my books these days. I’ve a fantastic team at Little, Brown and we have great fun publishing my novels. I feel truly blessed. I’m very involved in the marketing because I love that side of it too and Little, Brown are keen for me to get my hands dirty and no one knows their readers better than the author.

I read a piece the other day claiming publishers have no idea how to sell books and never do research but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The big publishers are very switched on. I’m amazed what they know about the people who buy my books. It’s fashionable these days to think you can do better alone but working with a traditional publisher has definitely made me a better author and, quite probably, a better person. I had the most fantastic event for my summer book, The Cake Shop in the Garden. We created an edible garden in London’s Russell Square. It was incredible and the resulting sales were too. That’s something I certainly couldn’t have done alone.

Ebooks are fantastic, I never believed I’d see them when I started out. As a marketing tool, they allow us to offer free short stories as promotions and although I still love a paperback, my Kindle has a place in my heart when I’m travelling – no longer that terrible choice between shoes or books!

Social networking has changed things too. As an author, I’m more in touch with readers than ever before. I’ve a fantastic base of loyal readers, many of whom have been with me since book one and I admit I love Facebook and Twitter ─ the downside being they’re such time eaters.

And yet, the most important thing is still the writing. The day that I don’t enjoy that first and foremost is the day I hang up my hat. The story is key.

RM: What have been the highs and lows of your career? What still gives you a real boost?

A recent high was receiving the RNA’s Outstanding Achievement Award alongside the lovely Jill Mansell, who I’ve known for many years. It was presented by Barbara Taylor-Bradford and was a great event. It was nice to receive an award from my peers.

The other high was being chosen for a television book club in the USA. My book – For Better, For Worse ─ went to number three on Amazon.com and straight into the USA Today bestseller list. It was like lightning striking my career.

Lows – thankfully, there haven’t been too many. Changing agent and publisher a few years ago was very stressful, but it was the right thing to do. I loved my publisher, Headline, but felt a fresh look was needed. It was so hard to leave an editor who’d given me my first break. Thankfully, we’ve remained good friends. Little, Brown handled the transition perfectly and sensitively. I adore my new editor – she is steadfast, wise and the ultimate supporter of my books.

RM: Is there anything – career-wise – you would like to try and haven’t yet?

I’m desperate to write a really creepy ghost story. I’ve the most perfect tale based in truth. I just can’t find the time to do it!

RM: Words of wisdom to the novice Carole from the best-selling, award-winning Carole?

Say no more often. I’m too much of a people-pleaser and, even now, find myself stretched by agreeing to do everything. I also wish I’d bought a piece of jewellery to mark every book; I’d have quite the collection now. Also, stop and enjoy your success. Last year, my 25th novel – The Christmas Party ─ was published with lots of lovely celebrations planned. Yet I started to feel irritated about how much writing time I’d lose and then pulled myself up short. I realised I’d never get the chance to experience this again and wanted to enjoy it. So I stepped back, skipped a book so I had time to relish it all. I’m glad I did, I had the loveliest time.

RM: Is it still the best job in the world?

I love it. I believe I’ve found what I should be doing in life and feel very lucky because of it. There’s never a day I don’t look forward to going to work.

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It's a fact

Readers of romantic novels buy more books than adult fiction buyers in general and also borrow more from libraries.