Sophie Pembroke shares her desert island book choices…

This month on my desert island we have Sophie Pembroke…

Sophie writes very British women’s fiction novels for Orion, Avon and HQ, and short romances for Mills & Boon / Harlequin Romance. She has been dreaming, reading and writing romance ever since she read her first Mills & Boon as part of her English Literature degree at Lancaster University, so getting to write romantic fiction for a living really is a dream come true!

She lives in a little English market town with her scientist husband, wildly imaginative eleven year old daughter, and adorable four year old son. She spends her days writing, drinking tea and curling up with a good book. (Oh, and planning. There is a lot of planning.)

She also blogs about writing craft, productivity and life as an author at her Time to Write blog, hoping to pay forward all the support and help she got from the writing community when she was starting out.

In Sophie’s world, happy is for ever after, everything stops for tea, and there’s always time for just one more page…

Welcome to my desert island, Sophie!

Pull up a hammock…

Welcome to my desert island, Sophie! No need to be afraid. Like Prospero’s, my isle is full of “… Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.“ There will be a forest pool with a waterfall for bathing, fruit, coconuts and plenty of driftwood to build a fire. And of course, traditionally, castaways have the Bible and the complete work of Shakespeare – two books that I imagine the creator of the radio program, Roy Plumley, added to avoid his castaways feeling pressured to include them. Plus great stories!

You fell in love with romantic fiction when studying for your English Degree. What was it about the genre that so appealed to you?

Apart from the obvious – who doesn’t love a happy ever after? – I think it was the fact that the stories go so far inside the characters. It’s not just about the things that happen to them, it’s how it changes them, and how they see themselves. It’s about them moving past whatever has happened to them, and choosing how to move forward. Choosing the people they want to be – and finding true love because of it. I love the hope that fills every romance novel.

That is such a perfect answer. I had a reviewer, who’d never read a series romance, tell me that she thought it would just be a weekend romance, a bit of sizzle and so to bed. She was completely blown away by the complexity of the characters and their journey. With that in mind, you’re going to have to choose six books to take with you to your desert island. Will they be romance?

My first book is Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye. I discovered Kaye’s books on my parents’ bookshelf when I was a teenager, and read them under my desk in science class more than once (luckily I had a very understanding teacher). I was mesmerised by the descriptions of India, especially since my father was born there, and his mother’s family lived there for centuries before that.

When my grandmother died a few years ago, I inherited her hardback copies of Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavilions, and they’re some of my most prized possessions.

What a great choice. I remember the wonderful serialisation of The Far Pavilions on the television and heard it again, recently, on the radio. And I bought my daughter a copy of The Ordinary Princess when she was very young. We were talking about it only a few weeks ago.

The call story…

Sophie, the moment an editor or agent calls to tell you that your first book has been accepted is one that you will never forget. Where were you when it happened? How did you react?

I’d been working towards publication for a few years, and had submitted a sample to a romance blitz competition with Mills & Boon. They asked for the full manuscript (which I then had to write!) and later, I met with Charlotte Ledger at the Festival of Romance in Bedford to discuss it. She had some edits she’d like me to make, so I went off to make a start on those. But slowly, because I was also working on another book for my agent at the time.

But then, the day before my daughter’s fourth birthday, I got a call from Flo at Mills and Boon, asking me if the edits were done yet. They weren’t. But Flo told me that if I could get them to her by end of play the next day, they might be able to offer me a contract to fill a gap in their publishing schedule.

I was suffering with a nasty cold bug, I had a birthday party to arrange, and I’d barely even started the edits.

But I said I’d do it, of course.

I worked flat out for twenty-four hours, turned in the book, threw the birthday party, and two days later got a call from Charlotte offering me a two book contract! I was tired, emotional, and so incredibly happy. The first person I told was my daughter, Holly, who said ‘I’m proud of you all the way to the moon, Mummy.’ That’s why that book, Stranded with the Tycoon, is dedicated to her.

It’s extraordinary what we can achieve when a publishing contract is on the line., but that is heroic. And love Holly!

Tell us about your second book.

It’s  Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie. I picked this up on a whim in a 3-for-2 paperback offer in Waterstones, just before I left for a month travelling in Australia. I read the other books once, but this one I read over and over on that trip. And then I bought everything else I could find by her in the bookshops over there. I love Crusie’s writing voice, her humour, but most of all I love the communities she creates. The way groups of people in her books come together to form families by choice, rather than blood, has definitely influenced my own writing – especially in my women’s fiction novels. 

I am a huge fan of Jennifer Cruise. I rarely buy hardback books, but pre-ordered her first mainstream, Tell Me Lies, as soon as I heard about it. She’d certainly be on my desert island list! And, like Jennifer, you don’t just write short romance. I loved your longer book, Summer at Seashell Island, published this summer. The characters were great. Where did they come from?

The idea for Seashell Island actually came to me when my parents were away travelling. We have a family WhatsApp group, so my brothers and I stayed in close contact with them. But before they left, my dad gave me the details of all their accounts and policies, just in case. It got me thinking about how, as the oldest, if anything happened while they were away, I’d be responsible for sorting it. And that was how Miranda was born.

I’m one of three, and I knew I wanted to write about brothers and sisters this time, so that fitted nicely. And once I knew I wanted three siblings, all coming home for the summer, it was just a matter of dreaming up the different personalities that would most get on the others’ nerves! Isn’t that what family is all about?

I’m not surprised to hear that. The book had a personal ring to it. That whole “write what you know” feel. Lovely. So, what next?

My third book is Pendragon, by Catherine Christian. My father and I both have a deep and abiding love for all things Arthurian, and Dark Ages Britain in general, and this is one of our favourite shared books. It’s on my bookcase at the moment, but now he’s thinking about writing a book of his own I fully expect him to steal it back next time he visits. I love all books Arthurian, but this is always the one I turn to for a real comfort read.

What about inspiration?

There’s something about Arthur that calls to all of us – and I’m half Welsh so it’s in the DNA! You took an English Degree, Sophie. Did you always want to write? Which authors grabbed your imagination as a child. Who inspired you?

I have written stories since I was small, and it’s honestly the only career I ever dreamed about having – even when I thought it was impossible. I always believed that writing would be a hobby, something I did on the side while working other jobs, until I took maternity leave with Holly and decided to give it a real go.

As a child, I read a lot of fantasy (I still do, actually), and I loved the worlds and magic those authors created. One of my very favourite authors as a teen was Tamora Pierce – who wrote my fourth book.

Actually it’s a series of four books – but I’m certain you can buy them as an all-in-one edition, so that counts, right? It’s the Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce.

The story of Alanna of Trebond, who disguises herself as a boy in order to train to be a knight, and later turns her world on its head by forging her own path as a Lady Knight, has stayed with me now for decades. I still re-read them occasionally, when I need the fire and inspiration to take on the world and do my own thing.

(If I really had to narrow it down to one, it would probably be Lioness Rampant, the last book in the series, mostly because it’s the longest. But special mention has to go to the second book, In The Hand of the Goddess, which I borrowed from the school library when I was twelve, and read fourteen and a half times in the two weeks before I had to return it.)

That is cheating a bit, but I’m feeling generous and that kind of passion deserves a reward. I see that you have another of your Island books, The Wedding on Mistletoe Island out in the US early in the new year. Is that connected to Summer at Seashell Island?

The Wedding on Mistletoe Island is actually a standalone book that came out here in the UK last Christmas – and is currently available in paperback at The Works if you’re looking for a festive bargain! It’s the story of six university friends reunited on the island where they celebrated after their graduation, this time for a wedding. There’s Christmas karaoke, romantic reunions, and an awful lot of secrets. Basically it’s a book about growing up, taking responsibility, and choosing who we want to be. 

Bother. I was in The Works the day before the second lock down, feeding my notebook habit. But I’m sure I can download it to my kindle. Tell us about your next choice.

My fifth book is Your Best Year Yet by Jinny Ditzler. I bought this book in around 2002, when I was living in London, working my first proper job, and deciding what to do with my life after university. I remember reading it on the tube, and realising that what I did with my life was entirely my responsibility – and my choice. That’s something I’ve never forgotten.

I love setting goals – and I really love meeting them. I like planning my time and how I spend it. And I like reflecting on the year gone by and putting time and effort into thinking about what I want to do next. I read a lot of books on time management, goal setting and self improvement. But this is the only one I read every year – in fact, I’m re-reading it right now, ready to make my plans and set my goals for 2021.

You have an extraordinary output, Sophie. You have three Christmas related books out over the holiday season. Clearly this is a book I need!

It’s nearly Christmas…

Tell us how you and your family celebrate Christmas. Do you have any special traditions, or recipes?

Christmas is a HUGE deal in my family (December 25th is actually my mum’s birthday). We have a lot of big family events and traditions – most of which we will sadly have to miss this year. But my favourite event – Boat Sunday – is going online instead.

Usually, we all meet – about 50 of us some years – at the hotel where I got married, for a proper Christmas dinner, on the Sunday before Christmas. There’s cracker hats and stupid jokes, and the kids race around an empty ballroom playing games and putting on shows, and they all get a special early present in the family secret Santa. Then the guitars come out and we sing all the old family favourites, over coffee and mince pies. It’s my favourite day of the year.

So this year, we’ll have a Zoom gathering. We’ll make sure the kids have something special to open early. We’ll dress up in our fancy clothes, like normal. We’ll all talk at once and it’ll be chaos, as always. And I’m hoping my uncle, my brother and my mum will get their guitars out at some point (even if we all have to mute ourselves to sing along because of the zoom time lag!)

Oh, and I’ll definitely be making my mum’s mince pies. (If you want to make them too, you can find the recipe on my website here: https://www.sophiepembroke.com/for-readers/advent-calendar/nains-mince-pies/

Fabulous! I hope you all have amazing time. But sadly, it’s time for your final book.

My final book is the classic romance – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I’ve loved the story since I studied it in school, loved rushing home from Sunday dinner at my grandparents’ house to watch the BBC adaptation, loved re-reading it over the year, loved the movie, and I can’t wait to introduce my daughter to it very soon.

Who can argue with that? And while you read you can dream about Colin Firth in that wet shirt…

(Liz pulls herself together…)

If you could only save one book from the waves which would you choose.

If I could only save one, I think it would have to be Shadow of the Moon, especially my Gran’s copy.

And your luxury?

I think it would have to be moisturiser, with SPF factor 50, as I have stupidly dry skin and I burn very easily! 

A bottomless pot is all yours. Thank you so much for sharing your book love with us, Sophie. Have a wonderful Christmas with your family.

The Cinderellas in the Spotlight Duet

Could their Prince Charmings be waiting underneath the mistletoe?

It all started so innocently at a TV studio… but what happens next will become the start of a Christmas neither Celeste nor her best friend, Rachel, will ever forget!
Because when Rachel is asked to make up the numbers for the filming of a New Year’s Eve party, a pretend midnight kiss with Celeste’s delectable brother, Damon, feels anything but fake!
While next door, when Celeste clashes with TV quiz host Theo, she can’t help but wonder if the sparks flying between them could mean something more than television banter…

What’s clear is now is the time for these two heroines to stand in the spotlight while they discover they are worthy of meeting their perfect princes!

Can a festive flirtation last…
After the final cracker has been pulled?

Damon knows Rachel’s always prioritised her family’s needs above her own and it’s time for her to step out of her comfort zone! Damon usually steers clear of commitment, but neither can resist indulging in a very temporary affair! Only when the time comes, can he walk away…?

The start of something magical…
this New Year’s Eve!

TV heartthrob Theo Montgomery and historian Celeste Hunter are at the centre of a media disaster! Could a fake relationship save their reputations? With the world watching, they must convince the public they’re the real deal. But, if they’re relationship is just pretend, why do they never want it to end…?