I think I can safely say that we all love a romantic novel, especially one that is set in a rather grand house at Christmas. There are lots of Christmas-set stories on the bookshops’ shelves right now, but how can I not mention this one to you, written by a dear friend who just happens to be an excellent novelist and who has written a heart-warming story set not only in a beautiful house but also one set on a promontory overlooking the sea here in Torbay?
I am about half-way through this novel, devouring each page with as much relish as I do a rich fruit cake; indeed, once I’ve done my work this morning (I’ve still the Christmas cake to bake, still have cards to write and presents to wrap and post) I will settle down on the sofa this afternoon and read yet more chapters of this book.
Linda Mitchelmore in her home here in Torbay
And so I thought it might be interesting for you to hear what Linda herself has to say about her writing and about this book in particular:
What inspired you to write this novel? Was it characters that sprung to mind or location? Or even both?
Most of my books have been set in summer and my first novel for HarperCollins – SUMMER AT 23 THE STRAND – was, as the title tells us, set in summer. They then asked for a Christmas book. As a short story writer I’m used to writing ‘out of season’ as it were so while the UK baked in summer 2018 I was thinking all things snow. The Strand House of the title was the leaping off point for me – based on the very large, and beautiful, Devon home of a friend. That house is deep in the countryside and I merely relocated it in my mind to the seaside. I then thought about what Christmas could be like in a house like that, but also the fact not everyone has family to share Christmas with, so off I went on a flight of fancy.
Although set in Torbay, can readers who are clever actually find Strand House or it is purely imaginary?
No, readers won’t find Strand House as I’ve already explained. Those who know the area well might be able to work out that I’ve plonked Strand House down on what is a piece of wild and common land …. and that’s all I’m saying!
An area of the coastline not far from where the fictional Strand House has been built
When writing your novels, do you plot them carefully, or do you allow them to grow organically? Do you have an ending in mind and then find that the characters dictate a different ending?
I’m what’s known in the trade as a ‘seat-of-the-pants’ writer. Plot I do not! I start with a problem for my main character – as all novels must – and in this book the underlying problem for Lissy is that she knows she needs to change her life but hasn’t yet worked out how. She is also lonely at Christmas, so loneliness is also a theme running through this book. When she generously invites three friends who will also be alone at Christmas to share Christmas with her in the house she has been left by her late godmother, everything changes for them all. But those characters told their own stories as the book went along.
Have you written since you were a child or perhaps you started writing as an adult?
I can remember, when I was at junior school, making books by stitching pieces of paper together and drawing a cover and then filling the pages with my rather large and loopy writing. But I never had any burning ambition to become a writer. Losing my hearing through viral damage was the catalyst to that. When music, TV, radio, cinema, theatre, and group activities became no-go areas for me I retreated into magazines and books. And then I thought I’d have a go at writing a short story and sold the first one I ever wrote which was more than encouraging. My late aunt then gave me the money to do a postal writing course and, well, I’ve never looked back. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good and all that.
What were your favourite books as a child? And your favourite authors?
Anything that gripped me, pulled me in with the first sentence, was my favourite. I was given a lot of books as Sunday School prizes and if I had to choose one above all others it would be BROWNIE by Amy Le Feuvre.
And your favourite writer as an adult?
I’ve read just about everything by American Writer, Elizabeth Berg. I like that she writes about ordinary people in an ordinary setting and yet manages to make me want to be in their world. I’d say her writing has been the biggest influence on my own.
What would be your number one writing tip for aspiring writers?
Stop talking about the book that everyone says we have in us and just get on and write one!
Under the pier
Thank you, Linda, for answering my questions, and I hope readers of my blog will investigate your Christmas novel and also your previous novels, both contemporary and historical.
Christmas at Strand House (and with my tea and cake in my sitting room! )
Until next time.