‘The time to be happy is now…’ Jo remembers her late husband’s words but is struggling to face the lonely future that lies ahead. A heartbroken widow, Jo finds herself alone with ghostly memories at Kirkton House – a Cumbrian Manor that until recently, she ran as a thriving hotel. Her two sons have moved away, Jimmy to run a bar in Barbados, and Zach to London to pursue a career as a celebrity chef. Middle-age and widowhood loom frighteningly and Jo determines to sell up and start again, despite protestations from colourful friend, Hattie and erstwhile admirer Pete Parks.
Hattie convinces Jo to postpone any life-changing decisions by enjoying a Caribbean holiday but their holiday sets off a course of events that brings mayhem and madness to Jo and her family. Confused and anxious for her future, can life really begin again for Jo?
I’ve been wanting to read a book by Caroline James for such a long time – I’d read such great reviews of both So, You Think You’re A Celebrity… Chef? and Coffee Tea The Gypsy & Me, but they’re both still sitting neglected on my overloaded kindle. Once again, being part of a tour with Brook Cottage Books has given me the perfect reason to set other books aside and read one. And I’m so glad I did – I thoroughly enjoyed Coffee Tea The Caribbean & Me. My review and a giveaway follow below, but first I’m quite delighted to introduce you to the author, Caroline James…
Welcome to Being Anne, Caroline – I’m so pleased to have finally discovered your writing! For anyone who hasn’t yet, would you like to introduce yourself?
Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog Anne. My background is in the hospitality industry and there is little that I haven’t done from pot-washing and waiting tables to ultimately owning a country house hotel and restaurant. More recently I ran a business representing celebrity chefs. I started writing five years ago, having always wanted to write but never having the courage. It wasn’t easy to find the time to write but I was determined not to die wondering and somehow made myself free up time – usually late nights, very early mornings and weekends. My debut book did well and shot to #3 on Amazon and was just the boost I needed to continue writing.
I loved one description I’ve read of Coffee Tea The Caribbean & Me – that it sets out to prove it is fabulous to be fifty and that life really can begin again. Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
It is fabulous to be fifty – I can personally say that! So many people around me dread getting older and yet we have more opportunities than ever to embrace our middle years and do whatever we want. I did quite a bit of research on this subject and discovered that one in three people over the age of fifty live alone. The two main characters in the book are in this position and I thought it would be good to develop a story that shows that you can have a very good life as you age and maybe do things you might never have done before. Perhaps a partner has died or you are divorced and having lived as a couple for a great many years, how do you find the confidence to go on holiday or step out into the world as a single? For many, confidence fades as you get older and it is a daunting challenge. The book, I hope, shows that it is great to age and no challenge should be left undiscovered.
I’ve had a lovely time finding out more about you from your excellent website. I read one great description of Coffee Tea The Gypsy & Me – “rich and full, with just the right amount of sexy”. A good description of all three of your books, do you think?
That was an interesting description and I’d like to think that it is very apt. The books are all set in different places and I’d like the reader to get a real feel for the atmosphere that the characters are experiencing. So, You Think You’re A Celebrity… Chef? was written after I had visited an annual food festival in Kinsale, Southern Ireland. I had such a crazy and wonderful time there and the festival was full of so many wacky characters that I knew I had a good story. Similarly, Coffee Tea The Gypsy & Me was based around an annual gypsy horse fair in Cumbria – another pot rich and full with fascinating characters. Coffee Tea The Caribbean & Me is set in Barbados at the time of a rock concert so plenty of sex, booze and rock and roll to get my writers pen around.
Who do you have in mind as your reader as you write? A certain background, or age group? Is your reader always female?
No, not necessarily female, there are male readers too who tell me they enjoy my books. One of the best reviews I ever had for So, You Think You’re A Celebrity… Chef? was written by a well-known TV personality who happened to be male. I hope my books appeal to any age or background and I aim to write about all walks of life.
Was writing fiction something you’d always wanted to do? And when the moment came, did you just sit at your keyboard and write?
I always wanted to write and as a young girl I would make up stories and create ’play’ magazines. At school the only subjects I cared about were English and cookery. I hated school, an all-girl’s grammar school, and couldn’t wait to leave but those two subjects stayed with me. Cookery and an interest in food developed my career path and many years later English came back into my life. About five years ago I decided to put pen to paper and write about a story that had been going around in my head for some time. I had a bit of a ‘do or die’ epiphany about writing, having convinced myself that a poor time at school would render me useless and no one would want to read a word of my ramblings. But I glued my backside to a chair and wrote at stolen moments and the words flowed. My debut book was born and I never looked back.
Tell me a little about your path to publication as an author – what have been the most difficult parts?
The first book was the hardest. You send it out into the world with hope and prayers and wait for someone to respond. Rejection after rejection from agents and publishers is so demoralising and it would have been easy to give up. But I realised at that time that the world was waking up to self-publishing and although I hadn’t a clue what I was doing I gave it ago. The book sold by the bucket-load in the first week and shot to #3 on Amazon. I never looked back and have enjoyed both the self-publishing process and the traditional ever since.
And how do you write? You seem be fitting it round an incredibly busy life…
If you want something done, ask a busy person… I don’t know who said that but it is true. If you really want to do something you find time. Even if it means dragging yourself out of bed at some unholy hour or turning down a social occasion to get your words down on a page. I’d love the luxury of writing full-time but wonder if I would be as disciplined.
What writers do you admire? If someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you like them to mention?
I’ve always admired the great Maeve Binchy as a writer; her characters were so warm and memorable. I’d like to think I write like that. Mary Wesley too is a favourite – I love how (like Maeve Binchy) she weaves characters into all her books, letting them sublimely pop up when you least expect them to – like meeting a favourite family member or friend that you haven’t seen for a long time.
Thank you so much for that Caroline…
My thoughts on Coffee Tea The Caribbean & Me
I’ve written a few times recently about how I really enjoy books that feature rather more mature characters, people I can actually identify with. When I saw this book described as setting out to prove it can be fabulous to be fifty, I was immediately engaged – and the book didn’t disappoint one bit.
Caroline writes quite beautifully – very readable conversational style, great descriptions, vividly drawn characters, sparkling humour, a touch of real sadness – and this book was the quite perfect escape from a wet couple of days in Yorkshire. The Barbados setting is wonderfully done – I really felt I’d been on my holidays too, drinking (in Hattie’s case, too many!) cocktails on the beach, swaying to the reggae rhythms, swimming with turtles, eating fresh caught fish, with a bit of romance on the side – wonderful stuff.
But this book is a great deal more than “what I did on my holidays”. The two main characters are quite excellent – Jo trying to move on after a time of great sadness and loss, Hattie the perfect friend to lift her spirits. I loved Jo, and really felt for her – but I developed a really soft spot for Hattie, straight talking, earthy, exceptionally entertaining and the best friend anyone could wish for. There were little touches I loved throughout this book, many involving Hatty, mostly involving her appetite for food and other things – I can picture her so vividly, in her many unsuitable outfits.
But the other characters are really engaging too – I’d like a Pete of my own please, Tom was much more complex than he first appeared, and I really enjoyed everyone involved in the parallel story of Jo’s son and his developing career as a TV chef. Even the characters that appear very briefly are wonderful – especially Poppy in her body stocking and tutu (and unsuitable t-shirt) and the barmaid making Pete offers he can only too easily refuse. And can a dog be described as a character? Meg certainly is, and captured my heart.
The main story isn’t all Barbados and its swaying palms – if Kirkton House had a website I’d be on there tomorrow, making my booking. It’s described quite perfectly – I’d like a seat somewhere between the gypsy caravan and the croquet lawn please – and becomes another character in this thoroughly enjoyable book.
I really enjoyed this book – well done Caroline for making me laugh so much, making me cry, and letting me escape from real life between the pages of this lovely read. Highly recommended. (And I really should mention that although I haven’t read Caroline’s other books, this one worked quite perfectly as a stand-alone – but if you have her others on your kindle too, why deny yourself the pleasure?).
With thanks to Caroline and tour organiser Brook Cottage Books, I’m pleased to offer one lucky reader the chance to win a copy of the book – paperback in the UK, ecopy if outside the UK. Here’s the rafflecopter for entry:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Caroline James was born in Cheshire and wanted to be a writer from an early age. She trained, however, in the catering trade and worked and travelled both at home and abroad. Caroline’s debut novel, Coffee Tea The Gypsy & Me shot to #3 on Amazon and was E-book of the Week in The Sun newspaper. Her second novel, So, You Think You’re A Celebrity… Chef? has been described as wickedly funny: ‘AbFab meets MasterChef in a Soap…’ The manuscript for Coffee Tea The Caribbean & Me was a Finalist at The Write Stuff, London Book Fair 2015 and the judge’s comments included: “Caroline is a natural story-teller with a gift for humour in her writing.” Her next novel, Coffee Tea The Boomers & Me will be published autumn 2016.
Caroline has owned and run many catering related businesses and cookery is a passion alongside her writing, combining the two with her love of the hospitality industry and romantic fiction. As a media agent, Caroline represented many well-known chefs and is currently writing a TV script and accompanying book about the life of a celebrity chef. She has published short stories and is a member of the RNA. Caroline writes articles on food and celebrity based interviews and is Feature Editor for an online lifestyle magazine. When she’s not running her hospitality business and writing, Caroline can generally be found with her nose in a book and her hand in a box of chocolates, she also likes to climb mountains and contemplate life.
Follow Caroline on Twitter – and she also has an excellent website.