Monday 10 October 2016

The Christmas Promise - an interview with Sue Moorcroft

Sue Moorcroft & I have known one another for a long time, meeting in 1999 when I joined the Kettering Writers group, of which she was already a member.  Quickly hitting it off (we were the only published writers in the group but because we wrote genre - romance, for her and horror, for me - we were like the naughty little kids at the back), our friendship developed over the years as we shared in various glories (more hers than mine), critiqued each others work and attended various creative events together (she’s a great Con-buddy).  I’ve also interviewed her twice before on the blog, the first time in 2013 and then last November.  Back in 2014, at one of our regular meetings at The Trading Post, she told me the bare bones of what she thought then was going to be a Christmas-themed novella.  As we talked, it became obvious she had more than enough material there and, sure enough, it turned into a novel.  After securing an agent, I was thrilled for Sue when Avon Books signed her up for a two-book deal, the first of which was going to be that Christmas novel.  It was announced in The Bookseller on October 21st 2015 (just before that year’s FantasyCon) and I’ve since read the second book in the deal, which is, in my opinion, even better than the first.
The Christmas Promise was released as an ebook last Thursday (6th October), with the paperback to follow on 1st December.  To help celebrate this tremendous occasion, I thought it’d be a good idea to ask Sue a few questions.

MW:   To some readers, since the Avon Books reach is going to be wide, this might seem like your first appearance in commercial fiction but I believe 2016 marks your 20th anniversary of being published?  What’s the road to this point been like?

SM:   Hi Mark and thanks for inviting me onto your blog again. As you know, I often read it, so it’s great to be featured.

You’re right, my first notice of sale arrived in 1996. It was from The People’s Friend and I received the letter on 1st April so I did wonder if it was a trick. Happily, it wasn’t, and I continued to write magazine fiction to get myself a track record, though my aim was always to be a published novelist. As I also needed to earn money along the way I’ve written serials, novellas, columns, articles, courses, writing ‘how to’, and done a lot of creative writing tutoring and competition judging. I’ve been both agented and unagented (I’m currently with Juliet Pickering of Blake Friedmann, and she is a mega star). I’d published nine novels with Transita, Robert Hale and Choc Lit when I decided I’d waited too long for the contract that would allow me to slough off everything but fiction so I did it the other way around – dropped most of the rest and concentrated on fiction. I was taken on by Juliet and she sold The Christmas Promise and Just for the Holidays at auction. I do still teach a little but I’m in the happy position of being able to accept fantastic engagements such as courses that take place in Dubai and Italy.

MW:   I remember our first discussions about the Twelve Dates Of Christmas novella.  Can you elaborate on how you opened up and expanded the idea to become a novel?

SM:   I began to suspect that there was enough meat on my idea to sustain a novel and Juliet liked my slant. Sam’s conflict was sufficiently high stakes, as his mum, Wendy, is spending Christmas in the elapse between surgery and chemotherapy and he’s trying to make the season special for her. The key to driving a novel was to find a more substantial conflict for Ava as her being skint and not liking Christmas was a bit too ordinary. So I began to search news features for ideas.

Discussing plot points at The Trading Post
MW:   As with most of your work, this is issue-based with the idea of revenge porn.  Where did that plot point come from?

SM:   I wanted an issue that was contemporary and emotive. I happened upon the misery wrought by those who make public intimate images of others, known as ‘revenge porn’ as so much of it concerns ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends trying to humiliate a former lover. The growth of social media and websites that use their content to attract advertising has spawned this horrible practice and I found myself getting incredibly angry with the perpetrators. I decided I wanted to shine a light on it so I gave Ava an ex-boyfriend, Harvey, who has some saucy images of her on his phone from when they were together and is not afraid to use them.

MW:   What made you decide to have Ava Blissham, our heroine, be a milliner and how much research did that involve?

SM:   I love being on the radio and I was lucky enough to have a fellow guest on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire who was a milliner – Abigail Crampton of Abigail Crampton Millinery. Handmaking high quality hats seemed exactly the right career for one of my heroines so I asked Abigail if I could call on her for research. She was amazing, inviting me to her studio on several occasions, answering email questions and reading the whole manuscript twice. She’s also to be involved in the promo. Ava’s business is called Ava Bliss Millinery because who doesn’t like a little bliss?

MW:   What more can you tell us about the novel, without giving everything away?

SM:   Because Sam wants to make this Christmas special for his mum he orders a special gift – a bespoke hat made by Ava. It involves Ava in a promise that she finds harder and harder to keep. As well as hats, revenge porn, Christmas, hard choices and a WAG called Booby Ruby, The Christmas Promise contains a viral marketing campaign of which I’m incredibly proud. Adrienne Vaughan of AVA PR helped me plan it.

MW:   The second novel in the deal, Just For The Holidays, is a great read and very different from The Christmas Promise. Was that a conscious decision, or something that ‘just happened’?

SM:   Just happened. A friend told me a story of her holiday (she said she only got through it by beginning her wine intake by 9.30am each day) and I asked if I could use it as the premise for the book. It’s only the premise that’s the same – that the heroine’s sister’s marriage ends and she’s asked to join her sister and children on holiday to support them. And then the husband goes with them after all! I took the story on its own path from that point, making my heroine, Leah, a happily single woman who’s made the conscious decision not to have children, end up looking after her sister’s husband and children in France. I made the hero a grounded helicopter pilot and, in the best piece of research I’ve done to date, was taken up in a helicopter and given a demonstration of how you land safely when the engine cuts out at 2,000 feet.

Sue & I at our KettFest 2016 event at Kettering library (see here)
MW:   One of the things I find fascinating about you is your ability to concentrate on so many different projects at once.  The Christmas Promise is about to be released, you’re editing Just For The Holidays and you’ve started work on a new novel.

SM:   That’s exactly the situation I’m in as I write this blog post (today I’m giving myself a break from editing specifically to write guest posts and my newsletter). But most jobs mean one has to fulfil more than one role. When I worked in a bank it wasn’t possible to concentrate only on one customer or even one boss at a time. I do find it hard when I’m pulled out of a novel for a significant amount of time, though, and have to read myself back into the story.

MW:   Another fascinating thing is your working practice, in terms of starting a novel off.  Could you elaborate on your process a little?

SM:   I begin with the two main characters and, often, the premise, ie the starting situation or underlying story. I like to plan a novel with pen and paper and I begin with character bios. I like to look at each major character from various angles – let’s take the hero of The Christmas Promise, Sam, as an example. I begin with basic facts about age, employment, appearance, some likes and dislikes. Then I ‘become’ the heroine and see what she thinks of him. Then maybe I’ll look at him from the perspective of someone who works for him, what his mum thinks, why his aunt’s so fond of him, how his best mates view him and I get his thoughts on himself and those around him. I believe that this gives me a multi-faceted character. I like to know character dynamics, too, such as where characters fit in their families, and, most importantly, I like to know something (usually a lot) of their backstory as a) an adult can’t be born on page 1 and b) it helps me know how they’ll react to given situations (a person who has been brought up in poverty might have a different relationship with money to one who had wealthy parents, for example). As there’s always a strong romantic relationship in my books I find it crucial to know what the conflicts, goals and obstacles are for both hero and heroine and how hers might impact on his and vice versa. How am I going to get them together? Or keep them apart? How are they going to solve their conflicts?

MW:   I’m very proud of you, getting the Avon deal and feel it’s very much deserved.  How did getting this make you feel and did it change your ideas of the novels you would write for it?

SM:   Thank you very much! You’ve been incredibly supportive of my career and I deeply appreciate it (and you being a great Con-buddy). I have to admit that getting the Avon deal felt euphoric. A big stride like this had been predicted for me earlier but, for various reasons, some nothing to do with writing, it didn’t happen. I’m very happy to say that the members of the Avon team don’t seem to see a need to ‘make me over’ and they’ve so far liked my ideas. Their support is immense. The Christmas Promise is their lead Christmas title for 2016 and there’s a national PR campaign around it, which makes me very happy.

MW:   So, beyond the novel you’re working on now, what’s next?

SM:   More novels! A few short stories or even serials. Working hard to develop my career.

MW:   Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions Sue.

SM:   You’re very welcome. Thanks for inviting me along.
Award-winning author Sue Moorcroft writes contemporary women’s fiction with occasionally unexpected themes. A past vice chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and editor of its two anthologies, Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a creative writing tutor. She’s won a Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award and the Katie Fforde Bursary.

Sue’s latest book is The Christmas Promise (Avon Books UK, HarperCollins)

I wrote about the launch of The Christmas Promise (and took plenty of pictures), which you can read here

Facebook: sue.moorcroft.3
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Twitter: @suemoorcroft
Instagram: suemoorcroftauthor
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  1. Thanks for inviting me to chat, Mark! I look forward to seeing you at the launch. 😊

    1. You're welcome - and yes, looking forward to Nottingham! :)

  2. Fabulous interview! I've had the great pleasure of meeting you both and find myself inspired just being in your company. Congratulations, Sue x