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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Coffee and cookies with Laura E James

Today, I’m delighted to invite Laura E James into my parlour to share coffee and cookies and also to tell us all her secrets. I’m betting there are quite a few…

So, Laura – let’s start with how you came to be a writer of fiction.  What kick-started the process?

Hi Margaret, and thank you for inviting me into your lovely parlour. It’s so peaceful – just the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece and the occasional snap of a ginger nut.

I am one of those people who has always loved to write. I still have copies of books I wrote in my youth. They include how to care for cats, a novel about a dinoragon, and a hand-drawn comic strip introducing Bionic Baby to the world. I think my desire stems from a pathological need to use stationery. I love all stationery.

On a deeper level, my mum was an avid reader and passed on her love of books to both my brother and me.

If anyone said you write love stories without the fluffy bits, would you be annoyed or flattered? I’ve read several of your short stories and they’re definitely non-fluffy! Does non-fluffy describe your novels, too?

My writer tag is ‘Romance without the soft edges’. I’ve borrowed the line from a friend’s review of ‘Truth or Dare?’. I thought it summed up my style in a succinct and honest way. I write romantic fiction but tackle issues not always associated with the genre. For instance, my second novel, ‘Follow Me, Follow You’, takes a look at child attachment disorder, and book three examines particular problems facing today’s older and younger generations, but in both novels the romance is central. 

The issues cause conflict within the relationships, but are ultimately responsible for bringing the characters together.

I would love one day to become the British equivalent of Jodi Picoult, but with a guaranteed happy ending.

You have quite a few health problems, but you still get your head down and write all those stories.  How do you cope on a daily basis?  Do you have any advice for other writers who are similarly challenged?

For me it’s about pace, energy and pain levels. As a person with rheumatoid arthritis, I have both good and bad days. I take advantage of the good days to sit at my desk and write, and I take advantage of the bad days, when I collapse, albeit very gently, onto the sofa and dream or read. 

Writing, reading and dreaming are excellent forms of distraction, which in turn is a known technique for managing pain. Living vicariously through fictional characters is a great way of spending time. As is staring at pictures of Johnny Depp.

I don’t believe my situation is that different to other writers ‒ we all face challenges and find methods of dealing with them. We adapt to our circumstances.

Let’s talk about your books now. Who or what was the starting point for Truth or Dare?

Ah. Now, this is the part where I tell you about Jodi Picoult, Jill Mansell and my fused wrist. I’m a big fan of both authors. I enjoy the moral conundrums Jodi Picoult poses in her books, and I love the warmth, humour and emotion of Jill’s books. While reading, devouring and loving Jill’s ‘Good At Games’, I discovered her reference to the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the New Writers’ Scheme. Being a right-handed person who believes there’s a novel in everyone, and with my left arm in plaster following a wrist fusion, I was inspired to try my hand at writing ‒ the good hand, not the one in a back-slab cast the weight of a pregnant polar bear, which incidentally really hurts when it lands on your forehead in the middle of the night. Or any time, for that matter.

Fascinated by moral dilemmas, I asked the question, ‘Is it ever acceptable to do the wrong thing for the right reason?’ and that was the seed for ‘Truth or Dare?’.

Did a specific event in your own life or that of a friend or relation inspire Follow Me, Follow you?

Having corresponded with the wonderful writer, Carole Mathews, on social media, I was looking forward to meeting her at the inaugural Festival of Romance in 2011 (now the Festival of Romantic Fiction). Upon seeing her in real life, I stuck out my hand and introduced myself with the words, ‘Hi, I’m Laura James. I promise, I’m not a stalker.’ That evening, as I mulled over and winced a little at my zealous enthusiasm, ‘Follow Me, Follow You’ was born.

I read somewhere that everything which writers of fiction experience ends up in their stories.  I wouldn’t entirely agree with that – there are certain things in my own life I know I shall never write about – but does your own life inspire your work?

There’s a conversation for another day, Margaret …

I’ve discovered I write family relationship stories. I say ‘discovered’ because I didn’t realise this until I was some way through writing my second novel, ‘Follow Me, Follow You’. I like exploring the dynamics within families and it’s possible that comes from my experience of the family set-up. I was very close to my mum and I adored my step-dad. We used to live next door.

In ‘Truth or Dare?’, I gave my heroine, Kate, a job similar to mine at her age. I also gave her my old house in Leighton Buzzard. Using a familiar place allowed me to visualise the rooms and the routes Kate took through the house, thus ensuring good continuity. I had to draw maps for the other properties that appear in the novel.
I now know why I’m not an architect.
My recent years have definitely inspired my work-in-progress, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’. This will be my most personal book to date, but it is not ‘my’ story. The idea stems from my experience of being my mum’s carer while I had two young children to raise. The book looks at the sandwich generation and the pressures each person faces within that structure. Of course, there are many positives, too.

Choc Lit heroes have to be irresistible. What adds up to an irresistible hero for you?

My heroes must have a gentle nature, care passionately about their beliefs, animals and children, be strong and capable, and possess the ability to see the funny side of life, even in the darkest hour. A hero over 6’ with good arms will always turn my head. Sorry, I meant will always make me turn the page.

Do you ever have such a thing as a typical writing day?

No day in our house is typical. In my imaginary world, I start the day tending to admin, followed with no more than an hour on social media, with the remaining daylight hours centred on writing. In my imaginary world.

Five Quick Questions:

Who or what makes you happiest?
Being with my family, including our pets, and spending time with my friends. Writing, reading, singing and music also feature strongly.
What’s next for you, writing-wise?
I’m writing book 3, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’, and looking forward to the release of the next Choc Lit anthology.
Do you have any non-writing ambitions?
To watch my children fly.
Where do you want to be five years from now?
On Chesil Beach watching Johnny Depp (because he ages very slowly) playing Chris Frampton, the Genesis-loving, tall, dark and gorgeous Hollywood stunt actor, in the film version of ‘Follow Me, Follow You’. Wouldn’t that be great? Chesil and Johnny on the big screen. *sigh*
When your fairy godmother finally gets round to visiting you in your kitchen, what will you ask her to do for you?
Would it be rude to ask for her to help around the house? If Gajitman’s not here, guests often have to make their own tea. Sometimes cook, too. I have amazing friends.

Laura has a blog at: www.lauraejames.co.uk


  1. Thank you so much for inviting me into your beautiful parlour, Margaret :-)

  2. Looking at pictures of Johnny Depp works for me too! Looking forward to reading your new book.

  3. Thanks, Angela. I spent many hours staring into his eyes ...

  4. A great interview - so looking forward to reading FMFY! Have only been there once but loved Chesil beach :-)

  5. Thank you, Christina. I'm a little partial to it ... :D

  6. Can I fight you for Johnny as a leading man? No? Oh, all right then, I'll stick to Tony.. Lovely interview, Laura. x

  7. Thanks, Jane. I'll share Hobnobs with you ... :-) x

  8. Fascinating interview. Look forward to FMFY!