Reading a Katie Fforde book is like sipping on champagne cocktails–they’re effervescent and bubbly, and above all, fun. Much like Katie herself. A wickedly delightful sense of humor must run in the Fforde family (cousin Jasper, author of the popular Thursday Next books, was interviewed by me in June), because Katie’s novels on the trials and tribulations of women trying to find love manage to straddle the line between whimsy and heartache. Mostly her books are just plain funny, and Fforde’s prose, laced with the deadpan delivery that the British are so good at, made me laugh out loud. And long for a cup of properly brewed Yorkshire tea.
A prolific bestselling author in the UK, Fforde is also the founder of the Katie Fforde Bursary, a stipend awarded to aspiring UK romance writers who have yet to land a contract, but who are slogging away toward publication.
Fforde’s latest book, GOING DUTCH, has hit the US market and is doing well.
We are pleased to present our interview with Katie Fforde.
Q: Your cousin Jasper had a tough slog before he was first published. Was your experience as difficult as his?
KF: I think mine was probably just as tough. I tried to write for Mills and Boon (fyi: Harlequin Romance in the US–Kathleen) for eight years before I realised I couldn’t do it and tried something else. I got very used to being rejected but I did learn my craft. I expect Jasper would say he learnt his craft too. It’s tough at the time but the experience makes it easier to write a book a year now though, I think. (After all, I don’t want to think those years were wasted!
Q: You started writing “chick-lit” romances, and now I’ve just read a reviewer call your books “hen-lit”. Do these terms annoy you, or do you regard them as marketing tools?
KF: How do I feel about these descriptions? I don’t mind how people describe my books really, as long as they sell. Miserable-old-bag-lit might upset me a bit….
Q: You’re known for breezy fun reads, but I find the settings and milieu of your books deeply researched. Do you decide on setting and place first, then the story and characters, or do you let the story evolve out of the setting?
KF: I do research the background for my books thoroughly. (Thank you for noticing!) I find a subject I really want to write, or may be a couple, and think, who would be doing this job and why? I take it from there.
Q: What is your writing process? Do you plot extensively first, or “fly in the mist?”
KF: Well, a bit of both. In many ways I prefer to just write but if it stalls on me I’ll write a backwards-synopsis. I think, how do I want this to end? How do they get to Tahiti so they can kiss in the sunset? What did they think they were going for? That usually sorts it. When I’m up against a deadline I’ll plot more carefully, to keep myself on track.
Q: With 14 books under your belt, do you ever suffer from burn-out? How do you keep the creative juices flowing?
KF: I do wish there were more months in a year sometimes, but I still have lots of books I want to write. I’m one of those people who want to apply for almost all the jobs they see advertised, just to see what its like. Writing about jobs is actually better than doing them, so I think it’s this that keeps the juices flowing.
Q: One of the things I love about your books is that you capture the male psyche to perfection and their dialogue is really authentic. What are some tips for writing about the opposite sex?
KF: I’m glad you like my male characters. I’m never sure I have caught their psyche, really, but do try! I try to think of how my husband would be or feel, or my sons, and work from there.
Q: Your characters are basically nice people caught in wacky scenarios that are mostly due to their own frailties and quirks. How do you create tension in likable characters?
KF: It is quite hard to create tension in likeable characters but life (or the plot) will often do it. I worry about my characters becoming bland but I reassure myself that I know lots of very nice people who are anything but bland.
Q: How have you evolved as a writer?
KF: Honestly, I don’t know if I have! I do know now that I can write a whole book but otherwise, it seems like the first time every time, except that you’ve used up all your best jokes etc. I have to have faith that I’ve learned something.
Q: Do you find that there are differences between the UK romance market and the US romance market?
KF: Sadly I don’t know enough about the differences between the UK and the US markets. I really hope to get over the NYC next year, or sooner, and find out more. I’d love to be more widely read in The States – I just need to know how to reach my small, but perfectly formed, market!
Q: Tell us about GOING DUTCH, your latest release.
KF: Going Dutch is about two women, one of fifty, and one in her early twenties. I wanted to have an older heroine for various reasons. One, I wanted to examine what it would be like if your husband ran off with a younger model BUT NOT AT FIRST HAND! And I also wanted to give an older woman a really lovely, sexy romance. It does happen! The younger woman is running away from her wedding. They learn a lot over the course of the book and I hope, come out stronger.
Q: You’ve been active in the UK’s Romantic Novelists Association and you’ve reached out to the writing community by creating the Katie Fforde Bursary to give unpublished authors a boost. You also teach writing courses. Do you feel that it’s important to give back?
KF: Yes I do. Lots of people helped and supported me when I was learning to write (which took a long time.) I was rejected a lot and had to learn how to carry on. The Katie Fforde Bursary is for ‘almost there’s – that’s the time when you could give up if you didn’t have people saying, ‘go on, you can do it.’
Q: What’s the riskiest decision you’ve ever made as a writer?
KF: Hard to say. Every book is a risk, really. I’m currently planning a bit of a sequel to my current work-in-progress. That will be a first and it might turn out to be desperately difficult.
Q: What’s next for you?
KF: I’d love to try doing a film script or something, but I have no idea how. I’d need to take time off to learn the technique and that would be hard.
Katie’s books are widely available at online retailers; for US consumers, finding her backlist may be a bit hit or miss, but well worth the effort.