Andrew Bennett has an idyllic life in Magnolia Creek, Australia. He runs a chocolate business he adores, is married to Gemma, the love of his life, and has a close relationship with his father, Louis. But when Andrew receives a message from his high school sweetheart, it sends his world into a spiral, and the relationships he holds dear will never be the same again.
In this story of love, family ties and forgiveness, will past mistakes be the obstacle to a Happy Ever After?
I always enjoy featuring an author on Being Anne when I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them. I’ve chatted with Helen Rolfe at a few meet-ups and parties – I’ve even run a spotlight, on her first book set in Magnolia Creek, What Rosie Found Next – but, until now, I haven’t read one of her books. The Chocolatier’s Secret – the second in the Magnolia Creek series, but happily read as a stand-alone – was published on 28th June in paperback and for kindle, and I’m so pleased to report that I really enjoyed it.
My review follows, but first I’m delighted to be able to introduce you to Helen Rolfe…
Hello Helen, and welcome to Being Anne – would you like to introduce yourself to everyone?
Hi, It’s lovely to be a guest on your blog today, Anne.
I’m one of those authors who started out in a different career entirely. I studied business at University and went on to become a computer programmer. The job enabled me to move over to Australia and work and live there for fourteen years before I returned to the UK. It’s a country I absolutely adore and miss very much, so I often revisit it in my fiction.
I’ve been writing women’s fiction for over five years now and have four books published. I couldn’t imagine being in the world of I.T. now!
This is my first visit to Magnolia Creek, and I love it there – pure invention, or based on somewhere you know?
Magnolia Creek is a fictitious town but I think the main street is loosely based on my travels around the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria, Australia. Quaint towns like Emerald and Sassafras were beautiful so I think in my mind Magnolia Creek mirrored them quite well.
For someone with a confessed passion for chocolate, the research for this one must have been wonderful – tell me more about it…
Oh it was terrible…awful… Just kidding! As you imagine, this was a fabulous part of putting the book together. I spent the day with a chocolatier at Creighton’s Chocolaterie in Leighton Buzzard and chatting with them I picked up all the information I needed to make one of my main character’s, Andrew, as authentic as possible. I watched techniques, learned about chocolate, and of course I brought home a fair few samples. For research purposes only you understand!
I know you lived in Australia for fourteen years – what, if anything, do you miss about it?
Oh my goodness, where do I start! I miss my friends for sure and I miss the endless summer days which seem to go on forever. I miss the seafood restaurants too and the wide, open spaces.
You made that leap from I.T. to journalism and then novel writing – did you always have a secret hankering to write fiction?
I wrote my first ‘book’ in my teens and I wish I’d kept it, if only to laugh at how bad it was! My teacher at school told me to stick with my dream of being a journalist but one thing led to another and I fell into an I.T. job – long story. But fiction found me again once I’d had my two children and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else now.
How do you manage to fit your writing around real life? What does a typical writing day look like?
I’m lucky enough to be able to write full time although I balance that around having a family too. When it’s school holidays I snatch whatever moments I can, but in term time, my usual day starts after school drop off through until 3pm. Then I usually head back to my desk for another couple of hours once the kids are home, unless I have to take them to their activities.
Does the writing get easier with each novel, or does the pressure of expectation make it more difficult?
I think there is a bit of pressure but at the same time you have confidence because you can tell yourself you’ve done this before. Some days the words come easier than others…you just need to power through the harder days or sometimes taking a break works wonders!
Would you always want to write contemporary fiction with a happy ending? Would you maybe like to try something different at some point?
I’m one of those people who hates seeing the news…there’s so much doom and gloom that I don’t seem to be able to write anything other than books that have either a Happy Ever After or a Happy For Now. I like to tackle some heavy themes in my books – adoption, grief, cancer – and I like my characters to battle through those things. I love the journey and how they can triumph over adversity.
I know you’re one of that lovely group, the Write Romantics. How has that been a help to you?
You know, I really can’t imagine being without these ladies now! We’ve been a group since 2013, so three years, and while we don’t see much of each other, the online support is irreplaceable. Only today I was asking for opinions on book covers, another member wanted feedback on a blurb. It’s a great group for sharing knowledge, encouraging and congratulating each other, and I feel like we’ve made a solid friendship. Now all we need to do is have a Write Romantics get together one year. We’re thinking New York. Could you imagine?!?
What writers do you particularly admire? If someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you really like them to mention?
Oh that’s a tough question as there are so many writers I love but I’d love to be compared to Jane Green in particular. Her first book was very chick-lit but over the years her writing has developed into women’s fiction which tackles heavy themes and sees characters battle and triumph.
And what’s next for you? Please tell me we’re going back to Magnolia Creek… or are you working on something new?
Next for me will be two Christmas novels this year, both set in the Northern Hemisphere! Then I have a summer novel planned which is set in Australia but by the beach. I’ve planned another Magnolia Creek novel though so don’t despair! I’m hoping to get it to readers some time in 2017 ☺
Thanks so much for having me on the blog today, Anne. I’ve enjoyed every second!
And I’ve really enjoyed having you as my guest Helen, and as for reading your lovely book (and thanks for providing my reading copy)… well, let me tell everyone…
This book was such a lovely surprise – strong characters, a wonderful sense of place, such excellent dialogue and a story that grabbed me from the very beginning. There was a lot more substance to the book than I ever expected – big issues around families, parenthood, identity, relationships, infertility and severe illness handled well and suitably seriously, but with a lightness of touch that means the book never really gets “heavy” at any stage.
I did find I got very involved with the characters and their issues. Andrew – the chocolatier – and his wife Gemma are wrestling with their problems of starting a family and the illness of Andrew’s father Louis when they’re hit by an issue that threatens to dwarf everything else. Enter Molly, a thoroughly likeable young midwife who flies to Australia – overcoming her fear of flying with the help of a Facebook group and the lovely Ben – to lay to rest some issues of her own. The characters are remarkably real, reacting to the twists and turns of the story in a believable way, and it felt like watching friends working their way through the difficulties facing them. I loved the relationships – Molly and Ben, Andrew and Gemma, Louis and his family – and found them totally convincing and really well described and developed. The story is very emotionally engaging too – I had a tear in my eye at a few points in the story, but a smile was never very far away. And the community of Magnolia Creek was simply wonderful – beautifully described, full of the detail that I love and that brings a location to life. And as for the detail around the chocolate making – this really isn’t a book to read when you’re feeling hungry!
I very rarely make comparisons when reading, but this book reminded me a lot of earlier books by Diane Chamberlain (particularly the Kiss River series) and Barbara Delinsky – authors I’ve really enjoyed – but with an added vivid Australian setting and perhaps a slightly lighter touch. The author writes quite beautifully, and creates a lovely feel-good read – Helen Rolfe is most definitely added to my list of authors that I’d really like to read again.
Helen J Rolfe writes contemporary women’s fiction with an emphasis on relationships and love. She enjoys weaving stories about family, friendship, secrets, and characters who face challenges and fight to overcome them. Helen enjoys creating strong female lead characters and although her stories often deal with serious issues, they always have a happy ending.