Jessie Martin thinks that when it comes to love there are three types of people: the skimmers, the bottom dwellers and the ones who dive for pearls. Jessie is a pearl diver. She had thought her husband William was a pearl diver too. But when William leaves her for a younger woman, it’s not just Jessie’s heart that is broken, her ability to trust is shattered too.
Refusing to retire from the battlefield of life, Jessie resolves to put her heartache behind her. She doesn’t want to be that woman who was too scared to love again. There has to be another pearl diver out there; all she has to do is find him.
Have I ever mentioned how much I love being a book blogger? And one of the things I love about it is how, every so often, just because of a chance encounter in this wonderful book-related world that we inhabit, it’s possible to come across a new author that give you a little frisson of excitement because you know you’ve discovered something special. The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes was published yesterday – 2nd June – for kindle and in paperback. And I thought it was quite wonderful – so well written, very different, and (if there’s any justice in this world…) the start of great things for its author.
I’m going to start this post with my review – I read the book before chatting with Ellie, so it’ll give a context for some of the things we talked about…
Hello Ellie, and welcome to Being Anne – would you like to introduce yourself?
Hi Anne, thank you so much for inviting me onto your wonderful blog. My name is Ellie Holmes and I write commercial women’s fiction. My debut novel The Flower Seller went on sale on 2nd June and so I am now adjusting to being a published author.
This really was quite a story – where did the idea come from?
Believe it or not it was supposed to be a short story about a woman stepping back into the dating pool after a long marriage but that very quickly morphed into something else. I also had an idea knocking around in my head about characters with hidden depths. It was sparked by someone I used to see years ago on my way into work. We’d nod and say hello to one another never anything more. One day I spotted them reading a French language newspaper. I didn’t know them well enough to ask them about it – like most writers I am intensely curious – so I spun a tale in my head instead and 100,000 words later The Flower Seller was born.
Tell me more about the setting. Where was Abbeyleigh and Stebbingsford based on? I feel so familiar with the Northey Hotel and Spike’s Bar that I feel like I’ve visited… did you draw maps to make sure you kept the geography right?
Thank you! I really wanted to capture the feel of a high street we’re all of us familiar with. Abbeyleigh and Stebbingsford aren’t based on just one place but several. There are elements of Colchester, Stansted and Chelmsford in Essex mixed in with Sudbury and Long Melford in Suffolk. It’s the same with the Northey Hotel. We’re really fortunate in my part of the world to have a lot of charming old buildings many of which have been turned into inns or hotels. The Northey is an amalgamation of those. As for Spike’s Bar, if that existed in real life it would be my local. I love Spike’s Bar. That has come completely from my imagination. There is no real equivalent that I have come across…yet!
I haven’t drawn a map but I’m beginning to think I probably should.
And is The Lodge a house you know – or was the vivid description of the home Jessie loves created from your imagination?
The Lodge plays a very big role in The Flower Seller and I wanted to paint a picture for people so they would realise how special the house is to Jessie in the book. That too came completely from my imagination – I’d love to say I live in a house just like The Lodge but I don’t. I am a big fan of magazines like The English Home and Country Living and they are a wonderful source of inspiration when I am thinking about the kinds of interiors my characters would have at home.
How about the legal world that features so heavily – is it an environment you’re familiar with?
Guilty as charged! I have worked in the law all my working life first as a legal secretary then a PA and now I’m a Partnership Administrator looking after all the back office stuff.
I love your description of your writing as “tales with heart and soul and a dash of danger”. Could you write a simple love story, do you think? Or would it take the fun away?
I’m not sure about simple. I think the temptation to add a few twists would get the better of me. I did write a romantic cosy mystery for My Weekly Pocket Novels earlier this year. At 50,000 words my novellas have less scope for me to start getting carried away with the plot.
Are you a plotter? Without giving anything away, this book took a few twists and turns I really wasn’t expecting – did the direction it took ever surprise you too?
Oh absolutely! When I start a book I know where I am going to start and where I am going to finish, the rest is a bit of a mystery. In The Flower Seller certain characters would do things and because it was paramount to keep the suspense building I’d think ‘How am I going to work with that’?! But I usually found a way. I often do my plotting while commuting to and from the day job.
Had you always wanted to write a novel? And when you decided to do so, did you simply sit at your keyboard and write?
I have always written. I started writing stories when I was a child and never stopped. I have abandoned manuscripts tucked away in my loft like most writers. The Flower Seller was where it all came together though. It was the first novel I had written that I thought was potentially publishable. As for the writing itself I have limited time in which to write so I have to be disciplined and make every second count so yes it was a case of sitting down at the keyboard and capturing the thoughts that were running around my head.
Was self publishing a difficult decision? Which bits have you enjoyed – and what have been the most difficult parts?
Very difficult. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly. My agent and I had chased a traditional deal for ten years and that was always where I saw my future going but then the world changed and self publishing became more mainstream and it was hard to ignore. In the end I took the view that if I didn’t believe in myself enough to put my work out there how could I expect other people to?
Unsurprisingly, I have enjoyed the creative bits – getting involved in the cover design, how I wanted my website to look, my Pinterest pages. That said ask me to write a bio or a blurb and I struggle – I’m a 100,000 word kind of girl. Give me 150 and it’s tough! The creation and implementation of a marketing strategy is another steep learning curve especially when you have to be your own PR agency. Front and centre is not a comfortable place for most authors to be.
How do you fit your writing around your life? What’s a typical writing day?
I’ve developed a routine through necessity that works well for me. I work a four day week in my day job so on those days I’ll plot on the commute, running through characters, dialogue, situations. Then in the evening I’ll put in 1,000 words. Because I’ve been turning that section over in my mind during the day I’m primed and ready to go when I sit down. I aim for 5,000 words a week.
On a writing day I’ll write for a bit but mostly now I find the day is taken up with the business of being a self published author. I’m still learning how to balance all the calls on my time. Often I’ll spend a couple of hours editing as well.
And what writers do you admire? if someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you really like them to mention?
My favourite writers are Daphne Du Maurier and Sidney Sheldon. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to say my writing was like either of them however. I suppose there are hints of Sidney Sheldon’s intricate plots and Du Maurier’s dark characters but in a very different way.
And what’s next for you? Is the next book already underway?
Oh yes. I have a novella coming out in September this year. It’s a romantic cosy mystery called The Tregelian Hoard set in Cornwall. It does have a love story at its heart but there is still a little something for people to get their teeth into. Then, next June, I will be publishing White Lies which is another full length commercial women’s fiction novel which tells the story of interior designer Sam Davenport as she struggles to reconcile herself to her husband Neil’s actions and we discover what happens when seemingly innocent white lies get out of control.
Ellie, I can’t wait! Thank you so much for joining me, and for providing the advance reading e-copy of The Flower Seller for my review. For the next couple of weeks, Ellie will be on a blog tour with Brook Cottage Books – I’m really looking forward to seeing those reviews…