Back in May 2017, Cristina Hodgson released her debut novel, A Little of Chantelle Rosewhich was met with positive reviews all round. Now, a little over a year later, she’s releasing the second in the series, Valentina. It’s such an honour to bring this exclusive interview and excerpt to you now. But, I do, it’s time we get to know the woman behind the words! Without further ado, here’s welcoming the lovely Cristina to Caffeine Addled Ramblings:
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Let’s start you off with some warm up questions, Cristina: When did you realise you wanted to become a writer and how did that evolve into a career?
Thank you for your kind words!
I've always enjoyed reading. When I was younger, I could easily read two to three books a week, so I guess, in my case, from the reader the writer was born. But it's only been recently that I've made a conscious decision to take my writing seriously and turn it into a career.
The first time I wrote those magical words “THE END” I couldn’t quite believe I'd been capable of writing a full length novel, but amazingly for some and especially for me I had. There is something divine about those two simple words, they are only six letters long but they are the sealing of a mystical world which you have created. Words that have breathed out through your fingers, or should I say bled and sweated out through your fingers. You step into a scene in your mind and you let it drip from your fingertips. I imagine that every writer has their own way of getting their story down on paper, but believe me, there is no glamour in the process, just hard work.
My debut novel A Little of Chantelle Rosewas written in three months. It was over a summer and at the time I wasn't working so I could dedicate all my time to the novel's development. It seemed easy, and it was. It was just a bit of a game, there was no pressure and the words just flowed. I told no one I was writing a novel, it was my own little secret. I didn't even imagine that one day I wouldn't just tell people about it, I would pretty much beg them to buy it!
Did you have any odd part time jobs while you were writing or did you dedicate your life to the written word from the onset?
With Book II (Valentina) I was working full time at the day job (Head administrator in the Export department of a winery). This time, unlike with A Little of Chantelle Rosethere was no leisurely sitting down at the computer with perhaps just a bit of Mozart in the background as soothing, inspirational composition. I usually have the house filled with kids (only two are actually mine, but the neighbours kids have adopted my house, so there is always background noise when I write now and believe me, it's a far cry from Mozart's symphony nº 40)
Then of course there's always the dreaded house work, homework (not mine, but when a toddler gets asked to make a space ship out of toilet roll and tin foil, it suddenly becomes a NASA project for all concerned, especially for me however much I try to suppress my competitive side) and the list goes on...
Essentially, this is how I wrote my second novel. I had a basic idea and just started writing. 400 words every day from Monday to Friday for a year. I would take Saturdays and Sundays off to enjoy time with my family. And voilà400 words x 260 (days in the year excluding weekends) = 104,000 words. My second novel is actually just under 90,000 words long, which calculates as even less than 400 words a day, five days a week. Easy!
What does your writing schedule look like? I’m guessing, like myself, it’s not a conventional ‘9-to-5’ job?
Now, with Book III, I'm writing full time and I can easily clock a 60 plus hour week. So quite a bit more than the conventional 9-to-5 job I'm afraid. The main difference however is that it doesn't feel like work. Half of my time is taking up by writing / editing. The other half is taken up by marketing work, keeping my social media networking active and reading and researching on how to improve my writing skill as well as researching for my novels. I usually wake up at 6 am and get an hour or so of work done before the school run. The once I've dropped my kids off at school I resume my position in front of the computer until 3pm, which is when I have to collect my kids again. The afternoon is taken up by homework supervision and after-school activities, etc. Once my kids have gone to bed, I'll write again until about 11 pm. After that hour, I'm so tired that any ideas that come out of my head I have to scrap because they're total nonsense.
And what do you do on your days off?
Days off? I'm not quite sure I understand?! lol! At the moment I'm afraid to say I don't have much time off. But I do try to get out with my family at the weekends, nothing more adventurous than going to the cinema or popping to the beach for the day mind. But that's more than enough for me. I do enjoy running also, it does wonders to relieve stress and some of my best writing ideas have come when running.
Writers rarely do know what a ‘day off’ is! HaHa! Moving onto Chantelle Rose: A Little of Chantelle Rose, did so well, how was it returning on this second novel?
I actually wrote A Little of Chantelle Roseabout 14 years ago, so I was concerned that I wouldn't have it in me to write a second novel with this somewhat singular character I'd created. So I was surprised that the idea for the second novel came quite naturally and easily. I really enjoyed writing this second novel.
Had you always planned for it to be a series? If yes, did you start the first with the second in mind?
No never. Even though the ending of the first novel is a cliff hanger, I never thought I'd actually write the second part. I just thought readers could make up in their own minds to which path Chantelle would choose. However it seems that Chantelle had her own ideas about what she wanted and I've been more than happy at getting them down on paper for her.
How long had you been trying to get A Little of Chantelle Rosepublished and was the process easier with Valentina?
Fourteen years ago, the publishing industry was still largely virgin to e-books. It was all print and the Big Five book publishing houses only accepted manuscripts through agents. And agents only accepted printed copies of the first three chapters that had to be sent with a query letter and a S.A.E. I was living in Spain and the postal cost to send my work to the UK was quite expensive. I carefully went through a list of agents accepting fiction in my genre, contemporary women's romantic comedy and selected just a handful to send my work to. I remember excitedly posting off my work in the innocent belief that I'd get accepted straight away.
What I didn't know is that most agents and publishers can receive up to 40 + query letters per day. Now, I’ve never been a whiz at arithmetic, but this is pretty basic maths: 40 x 5 (let’s make it a 5 day working week) = 200 manuscripts per week. Your basic agent's staff will be working a 40 hour week. That’s 5 query letters to get through per hour. Dedicating an average of 12 minutes (not counting "wee" stops) per letter, (opening/ reading and deciding a course of action). It takes me longer just trying to decide which shoes to wear in the mornings! So it’s quite a feat to get through all those submissions on a daily basis! And of course all the agents that I had so painstakingly selected, rejected me. I was disheartened to say the least and gave up, pushing from my mind all thoughts of getting my work published.
The years went by and the manuscript sat in a corner collecting dust. Until a couple of years ago, when my dad, who'd read the original manuscript and loved it (as only dads can of course) encouraged me try to get it published again. I now found myself in a full time job, with two young children to look after, never mind the house work / cooking and trying to keep up some sort of social life, etc. etc. and it took me over a year to re-edit and up-date it.
This time I sent it straight to several small independent publishers who accepted non-solicited and non-agented work. With the emergence of e-books, the book market and the publication process had changed and developed. The up-front cost to produce an e-book is minimum and most paperback books are printed on demand. This in turn has led to the the growth of smaller Independent publishers more willing to give authors that golden chance.
So after months of e-mail torture and nail-biting web searching, I received the e-mail of my dreams; that my work has been accepted for publication! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is without a doubt one of the most magical and incredible moments that any author will feel in the road to publication.
Ironically, on the 6th month anniversary of A Little of Chantelle Rose, the very day I wrote “The End” to book II (Valentina) and the very weekA Little of Chantelle Rosegot to nº 2 in Amazon.com, under its respective category, British humour, my publisher told me they were closing. I think it took me over a week to get over the shock, but I tend to be positive and realised that during the year I had been with my publisher I had learnt so much about the publishing world, that I could take the publication process on myself. Valentinawill be self-published. Only time will tell if I decide to look for another publisher, but right now I'm quite happy to keep learning about the publishing world and be my own publisher.
No writer is ever a stranger to rejection: what are your top tips for dealing with it?
Don't take it personally!! As I've already said, most agents, publishers receive hundreds of manuscripts a day. Most writers (if not all) have been rejected at some point. I always like to refer to J.K. Rowling as an example of success after a rejection. The best have been turned down. So don't take it to heart. You have to have tough skin in this business, take every rejection as a learning experience to help you improve your skill.
What’s the plot for Valentina, and how does it tie into its predecessor?
Without giving too much away, we find out who Robbie and Lionel really are. What happened and if they really are twins. And Chantelle, on learning the truth, will be given the chance to discover her destiny, but more importantly, the fidelity in her own heart? You'll have to read Valentinato find out!
What was the overall inspiration for the Chantelle Rose?
All these books are based around the main character Chantelle Rose, my inspiration for this character came after graduating from Loughborough University with a degree in PE and Sports Science, I travelled and worked in various jobs. One of which was as an extra in a British produced gangster film which was filmed in Nerja, Spain. It goes without saying that my sport mechanics and kinetic energy knowledge wasn't put to maximum potential in this part-time job. But it was certainly a fun and unique experience, but most importantly it gave me an idea.
A year later I sat down and within three months Chantelle Rose was born.
With the exception of the titular character, who’s your favourite character in the book and why?
After Chantelle and Valentina, I would have to go with Rafael. I think that more than one of my readers would like to meet him! lol. I guess you'll just have to read the novel to find out why. ; )
Imagine you’re the casting director for the film adaptation of your book. Who would you hire to play your protagonists?
I was asked this for A Little of Chantelle Rose, so I'll keep the original cast which consists of:
Selena Gomez as Chantelle Rose.
Matt Bromer as Lionel.
Henry Cavill as Robbie
New to this story:
Olga Kurylenko as Valentina
Justice Joslin as Rafael
And finally, some quick-fire questions: What book do you wish you could have written and why?
Rebeccaby Daphne du Maurier. Such an amazing story. Written in 1938 and still hasn't gone out of print!
If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Hans Christian Andersen, I would just ask him to read or make-up a bed-time story to my kids, every night!!
What do you do when you’re procrastinating?
Facebook, I usually just check it to see what my friends are up to, but then end up reading all the crap that is on there too and wasting loads of time!
I'll find myself tidying up the house too! Anything than edit!
How do you beat writer’s block?
Step away from the computer. Do something that doesn't require thinking, like going for a walk, watching a sunset or listen to music.
If you weren’t a writer, what career would you have?
I have worked in many different types of jobs. But if I would choose to have any career, apart from writing, I would have love to have worked as a National Geographic explorer. I find all their documentaries fascinating. Though I think it's easier to be a writer than to get a position with National Geographic.
Pitch us your book. Why should people read it?
I'll pitch using the words of a very talented author who has been generous to endorse my work:
“One of those rare books that will make you both laugh and cry...often at the same time. Valentina is a story of love, loss, learning and yearning, with two stories about two courageous women cleverly crafted into one hugely entertaining tale.”
Heidi Catherine. Award winning and Bestselling author of "The Soulweaver”
What’s the one piece of advice you wish you had been given before you started writing?
Believe in yourself and don't give up, (I gave up for over ten years). Luckily I found my way again.
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Want a sneak peek?
Scroll down for an exclusive excerpt from the Prologue!
The sun was setting leaving a golden hue all around, like fairy dust colouring a magical twilight. It would be autumn soon, and the leaves would fall russet and gold onto the ground below. Crisp autumn leaves that would twirl in the wind as they gently fall, to lie motionless on the floor until the wind blew and took them again. Mother Nature would whisper and do with them as she pleased.
He stood there, looking for one last time at the swirling water in front of him, then closed his eyes and sighed deeply. He could hear the water softly splashing as it followed its own path, the wind rustling the leaves and the evening song of a wood-lark nearby. Everything has a calling, everything has a moment, but he was lost. Lost to the enchantment, to the magic of nightfall, lost to her.
He turned to go, and with a heavy heart made his way back home. He walked this time, blind to the setting sun and the cool breeze that now caressed his whole being, gently blowing back his hair, like a lover tenderly caressing his handsome face as he moved along.
It was over. Downhearted he continued his way home.
Home? Could he call it a home when there was nothing to keep him there? Could there be a home without a heart?
He stepped through the front door. His mother was waiting for him, and stood quickly on seeing him enter. She wrung her hands together nervously then wiped them down the front of her dress in a habitual gesture of anxiety, stalling for time as she looked at him. He knew he had changed these last few months; the alteration wasn’t physical, it wasn’t even clearly emotional, it went deeper than that. Without a word his mother disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a dust-covered box, a little larger than a shoebox, and handed it over.
There was no need for words; he guessed what was inside. He nodded and tried to smile. It was time, he realised. Time to find his way, his identity.
First thing the following morning, before anyone stirred, he departed...
Valentina is available as an e-Book and in Paperback as of 4th May 2018.
For more updates from Cristina Hodgson, follow her:
on Facebook at: Hodgson Christina
on Twitter at: @HodgsonCristina
and at www.cristinahodgson.com