Interview: Author Katie Fforde

  • Katie Fforde

The best-selling Stroud-based novelist on her latest book, her career - and what makes a story really tick

Your latest book, A Rose Petal Summer, features the art of perfume-making. Where did this idea originate?

I’ve always wanted to write a book about perfume making but I thought it would be too difficult.  Then a friend of my son’s visited and he told me he learnt how to do it on the internet (it seems there is nothing you can’t learn from the internet!). I did a one day’s perfume course and loved it. Then I just had to think up a story.

You’ve released an incredible 26 books in 25 years. What’s the most valuable lesson about writing that you’ve learned during your career?

The most valuable thing I’ve learnt over the 26 books is to trust the process. There are ideas in the ether, relax and be open and you’ll pick them up - and another subject will float by, which will make you think: ‘I’d love to write a book about that.’

What, in your view, are the essential ingredients of a stand-out romance novel?

In my opinion, the essential ingredients for a good romantic novel are characters you can believe in and relate to. You must feel you’re spending time with a friend; someone you’d like in real life.  They can have traits you disapprove of but you must basically like them. You must have an interesting setting and your characters must be doing something interesting. A really attractive hero is important and you must feel that when they come together as a couple, they are truly suited.

Which of your books do you have the fondest memories of writing?

One of the books I had a lot of fun doing the research for was Flora’s Lot. Flora was blonde and glamorous and I’d never written about anyone like her before. I discovered those characteristics have disadvantages as well as advantages. I also really loved learning about auction houses.

What is your greatest challenge when beginning a new novel?

The greatest challenge when you’re starting a new book is finding out about your characters and getting them on the page. I always forget to tell my readers what people look like because I’m writing them from the inside looking out. Once everyone is there and we have some notion of their looks you only have to think about the story. I say only - this is the hardest part!

Which books have shaped you as an author?

I think the books that shaped me as an author are probably the novels of Georgette Heyer. I was a bit indignant when someone at a book signing asked me about it as I write contemporary fiction and Heyer’s are mostly historical. But it is true! I really envy her characterisation which is brilliant.  Now that I’m a writer myself, I’m a bit more critical about her plots and sometimes want to add scenes.

You’ve often said that getting ‘hands-on’ with your research is your favourite part of writing. Which unusual things has this led you to discover?

What I’ve learnt from doing research, apart from finding out so many things, is that the reality is always more interesting than anything you could have made up. There is always some little detail that brings a subject to life. But one of the strangest things I learnt is that unpasteurised cheese has less bacteria than pasteurised - who knew?

You launched your own homeware range last year. What’s it been like to fit that in alongside your writing?

With regard to the homeware, while everything is run past me and I do ‘have opinions’ (in an annoying way) this is all run by my family. My son-in-law and daughter have the homeware at their house but my daughter in law and son also do a lot. It’s a real family firm. But it was me who insisted on our mugs being made in England and we all want to use local firms and individuals as much as possible.

Find out more about Katie and her books at www.katiefforde.com