In a homage to the British radio programme, Desert Island Discs, which has been running for 70 years with guests as different as politicians, scientists, astronauts, actors, writers and musicians, and First Lady, Michelle Obama, – named by broadcasting experts as the “greatest radio programme of all time” – she’ll be “stranded” with six of her favourite books and a luxury of her own choosing.
Maybe I should give the island a name? Any suggestions?
Andrea has, it seems, always been fascinated by matters of the heart. In fact, she’s the one her girlfriends turn to for advice with their love lives. She can’t help but analyse people and imagine what goes on in their brains. A city mouse, she’s the one eavesdropping on you at a café or in the long line for the ladies’ room at a concert.
She grew up scribbling in notebooks with a poem here, a snippet of dialogue there, and an essay in between. Studying both creative and news writing in school, the first words Andrea ever got paid to write were procedure manuals for an insurance company. Not too sexy but, hey, she was off and running! Along the way she became a journalist and, after hundreds of articles and a couple of awards, she decided to pursue her lifelong dream of writing fiction.
I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Andrea a couple of years ago at an author lunch in a London hotel . She’d popped over from Paris for the day – what glamour! But, as at all these big events, there’s never enough time to just sit and chat so I’m delighted to welcome her to my desert island, where, before I leave her in peace to soak up the sun while she reads her books, we can catch up while we sip something delicious out of a coconut!
Welcome to my island, Andrea. Pull up a hammock and make yourself comfortable!
Hi Liz! I’m delighted to be here. Meeting you and the other Romance/True Love authors who were at that lunch was one of the greatest days of my life. It was a stroke of luck that we had planned a trip to Paris to tick the bucket list entry for my husband (I’d been there when I was uni age). When I found out the luncheon was during the week we’d be there, I decided I had to come for the day on the Eurostar. Hubs and Darling Daughter spent the time in London with friends. Delightful Kate Hardy met me at St. Pancras Station to ensure my safe passage to the luncheon. So, in a whoosh, the Los Angeles girl is in a pretty dress on the Tube with Kate Hardy! All of the cancellations of events that we’ve now faced makes me cherish that day even more.
(In the picture on the right, at the back from left to right, Ella Hayes, Andrea,Bolter, Fiona Harper. Ellie Darkins, Scarlet Wilson, Kate Hardy and Liz Fielding. At the front Nine Milne, Sophie Pembroke and Caroline Anderson.)
It was fun, especially that pause for tea with the very special group in the photograph before moving on to the evening cocktail party thrown by Mills and Boon. Not only do we all write for the wonderful True Love/Romance/Forever series, but we’re great friends, too. It’s been really hard to have an entire year without meeting up.
You and all of the other great True Love authors had a tremendous influence on me wanting to write those books specifically, Liz There’s an energy and uplift to that line that has always spoken to me. But, to back up, I wrote a literary novel in my late 20s. It made the rounds and EVERYONE said they loved it and NO ONE bought it! I mentally filed that experience away and when I decided later to try fiction again, I did want to have an eye to the market and something I stood a chance of selling.
I think we’ve all been there, Andrea! So now that I’ve settled you on the island we have to talk about the books you want to take with you. You already have the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible, by the way.
My first choice is Janet Evanovich’s Two for the Dough. She gave me a true understanding of genre writing. There’s a snubbed nose to that “category” in some circles but my response is just the opposite. I have to admit that I haven’t kept up with Stephanie Plum’s antics but I loved the the first dozen or so of this series, this one in particular. To balance a fast-paced story, snappy dialogue, whacky secondary characters, a love triangle and a metered plot reveal while being hilarious at the same time takes a lot of brilliance (and work).
I loved those early Stephanie Plum’s, too. High Five was published when I was in Washington and I grabbed a copy hot off the press!
You live on the west coast of the US, Andrea, so I’m not sure that the climate of my desert island will be very different, although I’ll promise you total peace and quiet on your beach. Tell us a bit about your home. Where do you write?
I do live in the middle of enormous Los Angeles, a cultural melting pot where there is always much to do. So will you visit me quite a lot on the desert island, Liz, and bring news of the day? Of course sadly with Covid, it’s been a year of a different kind of isolation. But I am fortunate to have a beautiful view from my desk when the weather is clear. I look out onto a balcony and this photo is a good example of how the city is such a hodge-podge of flora and urban.
Oh, you have palm trees! And that blue sky. We have snow as I’m writing, which looks pretty, but I am not good in the cold. The island is looking very tempting right now!
Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities is a big, thick book that I read during one weekend when I was home with the flu. I can’t even remember who recommended it to me. But I couldn’t put it down, the intensity and urgency and insight had me turning the pages as fast as I could. I believe that’s the book that really pushed me over into wanting to write a novel.
And you wrote the book! That has to have been some read. Tell us about it – and your call story.
I was in Manhattan on a trip and walking down a residential block that has those brownstone apartment buildings, one after the next, with the big street-facing windows. And the thought hit me that there were dramas unfolding behind each one of those windows. What if I (figuratively speaking) peeked into one? Which led me to imagine that two strangers each thought they had use of that apartment. Which they discovered late at night during a storm so they had to both stay there with the intention of solving the problem in the morning. And thus, Ethan and Holly’s story was born as Her New York Billionaire.
My call story is funny in retrospect. First off, my phone battery had run out, which I hardly ever let happen. When I plugged back in there was a voicemail from Editorial at Mills & Boon, providing an email address to respond to. Which would have been a simple reply had my hands not been shaking so much that I typed it wrong and the email got returned as undeliverable. Second time around I got it right. After being offered a two-book deal with plans to later fill in the details, I called my husband who couldn’t understand what I was saying because I was talking so fast and breathlessly. And when I called my oldest friend who was living across the country at the time, we jumped up and down together.
I just love that! The shaking fingers, the garbled explanation… It’s a life changing moment and those are perfectly normal reactions to a life changing moment. I hope, when you calmed down, you took a moment to congratulate yourself. Maybe opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
Life changing. Absolutely. I really enjoyed being a journalist, especially interviewing interesting people who are passionate about what they do, but I’d have always felt unfulfilled if I hadn’t pursued storytelling.
And the one thing that writers like to do is read. What’s your next “must have” book?
I’m cheating and calling Nora Roberts’s Chesapeake Bay Saga one book. I have yet to write a family series like that but when I do, I’ll look no further for inspiration. I cared so much about those characters it was as if they were my own family. Really nothing less than a masterclass.
You are not the first castaway to choose this series, Andrea, which is not surprising as Nora is amazing. And oh, look, I found you a download with all the books! But back to the island. You’re a city mouse, Andrea, so how are you going to manage on a desert island? Will you be able to build a shelter, find food? How are you with a fishing rod?
Wait a minute Liz, you mean I won’t have a lavishly appointed “shelter” with a cushy bed, fluffy towels, high-speed wifi and a ship delivering gourmet food once a week? How ever would I survive?
No, I’m kidding, although I might manage to live only on leaves.
Time to pull on your big girl hunter-gatherer pants. Or maybe just lie back in your hammock and wait for the coconuts to drop from the trees while you’re reading your next book.
That would be The Great Gatsby. I’ve been reading that book since I was a teenager and revisit it every few years. The absolute poetry of Fitzgerald’s language. The ending when the Nick character reflects on hopes and myths and dreams just blows me away every time.
He is one of the greats. Since you got the call and your first book was published in 2017, you’ve written eight books, which is pretty amazing. What inspires you? And I know it’s a cliche question, but it’s something everyone wants to know, where do you find your ideas?
I’m very influenced by movies. For example, in my current WIP I was sensing that each scene wasn’t leading well into the next. And I happened to watch The Godfather. Yes, that story is about a good man turned bad, and the lines being blurred as to what is good and what is evil in the name of duty, nothing directly to do with my book. But the flow of one action or revelation prompting the next is brilliant in that film. It was really instructive to me. In general, I’ve always been interested in exploring relationships. I usually have an idea for the hero character first.
It’s a great book and movie. The library and the movie theatre are universities for writers. I always tell my students who are struggling with openings to read their favourite authors and see how they do it.
Where do you see your career going from here? With Bridgerton storming the airwaves, do you have any plans to write historical fiction?
Not historical fiction but I would like to write romantic comedy. Romantic movies are probably the number one way I’m inspired. When Harry Met Sally is my all-time favourite piece of rom-com writing. Nora Ephron, sigh.
Nora is one of my writing heroes. I love her work and frequently use her famous quote from her dying mother whenever things get bent out of shape. “You should be taking notes, Nora. Everything is copy…” Don’t forget that when you’re on your desert island! I had a lot of fun stranding one of my heroines on an island in Trouble in Paradise!
If I’m going to make it on a desert island I have to have lots of laughs so, speaking of rom com, I’d choose Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary (edging out Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and Fever Pitch). Bridget is an expertly rendered character that we can all relate to. Also, the mere mention brings an image of Colin Firth to mind and that’s got to be a desert-island staple as well.
Interestingly, I was listening to Helen Fielding talking about this book very recently. How it came about – starting as weekly newspaper pieces. She didn’t think, with so much sex in the office, it could be published in these much more PC times and I’m sure she’s right.
I have seen a huge shift in genre romance since I started writing – before BJ was published! I remember heroes who smoked cheroots and some pretty dodgy behaviour! One of my own heroes kept my heroine a prisoner – not by locking her up, but by taking something of hers that she desperately needed and couldn’t leave without. Of course he had, in his head, a good reason. Would I do that now? No.
Anne Weale, one of the great Mills and Boon authors, who I was lucky enough to know, wrote a book with a black hero and a mixed race heroine more than thirty years ago. They were just a bit suntanned on the cover. That wouldn’t happen today, either. BAME (POC) characters are now welcome and given their full due in cover art. I absolutely love the cover of your latest book, Wedding Date With the Billionaire. It has a young, vibrant feel. Will you tell us about it?
It’s my favourite book yet. And I agree, the M&B art department couldn’t have given me a better cover model! Kento Yamamoto is to stand as Best Man at a luxury Seattle wedding opposite his ex Erin Barclay as Maid of Honor. Secrets and lies broke them apart and he arrives with scores to settle and axes to grind, which made him fun to write. Once all the truths come out, in Seattle and later in Tokyo, it’s a big question as to whether it’s too late for Kento and Erin to rekindle what circumstances took away from them.
I love those second chance romances and have it on my Kindle, but right now, it’s time to hear about your final book.
For variety, I think I’d choose a book of short stories. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway is another book that’s been with me for as long as I can remember. He wrote about worlds of people that are nothing like those in my life, yet they resonate.
Ah, now you’ve stumbled on my bottom-of-the-draw writing stash. Short stories in the style of… Sigh. Never going to see the light of day!
I have to ask you now, Andrea, if you could only save one of your books from the waves, which would you grab?
I’ll take the Hemingway, again for variety. I could base stories off of his stories.
And you are allowed a luxury.
I must have music. So if you’re going to deprive me of electricity, I’ll take some sort of radio with an enormous box of batteries that I’ll ration wisely.
I can do better than that. I can offer you the wind up radio invented by Trevor Baylis in the 80s which transformed so many lives in the third world. They have them with solar power, too, these days so no batteries needed. But you can only listen to music. My island is a news free zone!
It’s been lovely chatting with you, Andrea and hearing about your book choices. We should play out to the radio programme’s signature tune “Sailing By” as we learn more about your latest book. Can’t wait to read it.
WEDDING DATE WITH THE BILLIONAIRE
Best man Kento Yamamoto and maid of honour Erin Barclay are thrown together at a luxury wedding years after their heart-breaking split. Now the fire between them is set ablaze once more. Tech billionaire Kento’s no longer the penniless student Erin’s controlling parents snubbed. Can she finally find the courage to break free from their hold? And could a cunning recoupling of convenience pave the way to something unexpected but breathtakingly real?