It gives me great pleasure to be interviewing award winning writer, Carol Cooper, today. Carol’s latest novel Hampstead Fever is just published by Hardwick Press in e-book and paperback. Hampstead Fever is available for purchase on Amazon.
A heatwave brings emotions to boiling point…
It is high summer in London and trouble is brewing.
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.
Stressed doctor Geoff finds solace in the arms of a mercurial 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 lacks the appetite for a suitable relationship.
Passion and panic rise in the heatwave. Who can spot the danger signs?
An Interview with Carol Cooper
Hi Carol. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and your latest book Hampstead Fever.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I try to write every day, but that doesn’t always happen. Although I was bashing at my mother’s typewriter when I was three, I still like to write my first draft with paper and pencil. It’s usually on the sofa, with the cat sitting at my feet, but it could be almost anywhere. That’s the beauty of writing. It is completely portable. When I’ve got a good few pages, I then go to my laptop and transfer it into Word.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I like contemporary novelists like Maggie O’Farrell, Tony Parsons, Kate Atkinson, Nick Hornby, Alaa El-Aswany, and Jane Davis (if you don’t know her books, you’ve been missing out). Of the more romantic writers, I enjoy books by Jojo Moyes and Sue Moorcroft. Detective and crime fiction also gives me great pleasure, especially if it’s by PD James, Ruth Rendell, Harlan Coben, or JJ Marsh. I don’t read much non-fiction, except for work.
Hampstead Fever is your thirteenth book and you were initially known for non-fiction. How easy or difficult was it to make the transition to fiction?
It was a challenge. While I’ve always had a fertile imagination, fiction demands a different way of writing. A page loaded with facts, for instance, is considered a good thing in non-fiction, but in a novel it could send readers into a coma. There are also different rules for full-length fiction, and there’s the little matter of a plot…
To what extent do you think your background in medial journalism has impacted on the relationships you write about in Hampstead Fever?
I’ve relied a lot on my experience of journalism to create the character of Harriet who’s a struggling freelance feature writer. She’s living hand to mouth at the moment, and no wonder. So much more is written in-house these days, and old publications are closing down. New titles that sprout up may have no budget, so they expect writers to work for nothing – or, as they put it, for ‘exposure’. There aren’t many other professionals who are expected to work for no reward at all, so I don’t know how they have the nerve to ask journalists to do so. These days I turn down such requests, unless it’s for charity. But you might be surprised how often I get asked to write a few paragraphs or give a medical opinion to a newspaper, magazine, or radio programme for no fee at all.
How did you go about balancing the humour in Hampstead Fever?
I think it’s just the way I write. Some readers of this blog may remember the iconic British magazine Punch which launched in 1841. Until it folded in 2002, it was a by-word for wit. My first piece for Punch in 1988 was on “The 10 Most Disgusting Diseases in the World (and how to catch them)”. I think it taught me how to handle deadly serious topics with a light touch.
Hampstead Fever has been described as ‘steamy’. What drew you to writing this type of book?
If a book is going to follow characters around, I reckon the story shouldn’t stop at the bedroom door. Besides, sex can say so much about a relationship: the love, the trust, the conflicts, and the balance of power. It can also contain pathos and humour. So that’s why it’s there in my novels. But Hampstead Fever isn’t primarily about sex in the same way as erotic novels are. There’s plenty of other action too.
In both Hampstead Fever and your novel One Night at the Jacaranda, your plots are fast paced. How conscious are you of writing in this way and what techniques would you advise other writers to use to maintain pace in their writing?
Well, nobody wants readers to get bored. One way to keep up the pace is to keep scenes short. I do a lot of cross-cutting from one character’s point of view in one scene to another’s viewpoint in the next. This may be the result of years of practising medicine, where I see patient after patient in quick succession. If I want to slow the pace down, I may stay longer with one character and prolong the scene, or have a flashback (I’m quite fond of flashbacks). To speed things up, I write ultra-short scenes with very short sentences. For a really masterly tutorial in pacing, I’d recommend reading Dick Francis novels.
You are also very well known for your radio and television appearances. How much of the stories you’ve covered in those genres has made its way into your fictional writing?
I’m not sure the stories I’m covered have been that useful in my fiction, but my broadcast experience has made their way into my novel. Being in the spotlight isn’t as glamorous as people imagine, and I think that comes out in Hampstead Fever, when Dan is interviewed on radio, and Geoff makes a TV programme.
The face of the woman on the cover of Hampstead Fever is partly obscured. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
And to think that woman’s face was nearly a pair of shoes! I wanted something red, but neither my cover designer nor I could find the right kind of shoes. Book covers are so important. I learned that lesson with an early edition of my first novel, One Night at the Jacaranda, which looked frankly amateurish. The image on the cover of Hampstead Fever is meant to convey a woman who could be thirty-something, hot weather, and a sense of promise or intrigue. We don’t need to see her face.
If Hampstead Fever became a film, who would you like to play Dan and Geoff?
It’s easy to pick an actor to play Sanjay. That’s Armaan Kirmani (more about him here). As my character Harriet notes in chapter two, there is a physical resemblance. The role of Dan should go to Jason Statham.
I’m in quandary over the choice of actor for Geoff. In many ways, he is the character I am closest to, yet I have no idea as to who should play him.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Hampstead Fever should be their next read, what would you say?
It’s a witty look at London life, peopled with compelling characters.
Thanks so much, Carol, for taking the time to answer my questions.
About Carol Cooper