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With an insatiable appetite for other people's business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing. She finds it the best way to write authentic characters for her novels, although her two grown-up sons claim they will never recover from a childhood spent in a perpetual state of embarrassment at their mother's compulsion.
The author of many bestselling novels, including Gardens of Delight which won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, and her recent Sunday Times top ten bestseller, Promises, Promises. Erica now divides her time between Cheshire and Lake Como in Italy, where she strikes up conversation with unsuspecting Italians.
Author photo © Rebecca Braund
Below is a Q&A with this author.
Who’s your favourite author?
My favourite author is currently Anne Tyler. I love the way she writes about the complexities of family life and relationships. Her writing is always penetrating and incisive and pared right back to the essentials. In my opinion, she’s a classic example of less being more.
What’s the first book you remember reading?
The first book I remember reading was a library book and I was probably about four years old. I have a vague memory that the story was about a mouse. Funnily enough, it’s not the words I remember, but the pictures, especially those of the mouse trekking through the snow in the night beneath a starry, moonlit sky to reach whatever destination he was heading for.
Where do you live? And why?
I live in Cheshire in a small rural hamlet. Moreover, I actually live in a converted barn which I used as the setting for my novel A Sense of Belonging. It’s purely by coincidence that I’ve ended up living here, and it certainly felt a little surreal in the first few weeks of moving in – every time I opened my front door, I kept expecting to bump into my characters.
Typewriter, Word Processor, or pen?
I use a computer to write my novels and because I can touch type, I find this by far the easiest way to go about things. My only problem is that if there’s a problem with the computer then I’m stuck. I haven’t a clue how it works and doubt I ever will. In my defence(and it’s a pretty poor defence, I admit), I’ve managed all these years to drive a car without knowing what goes on under the bonnet so I’m happy to apply the same logic.
Name your favourite literary hero and villain
Without doubt, my favourite literary hero is Reggie Perrin from David Nobbs’ novels. I love the wit of the man, and his quiet desperation to beat the system. The man is a legend!
Would it be very crass of me to say that my favourite literary villain is of my own creation? If it’s allowed, I’d like to name and shame Dominic McKendrick from Love and Devotion. He’s the archetypal misunderstood man!
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Surrey but grew up on Hayling Island in Hampshire after moving there at the age of four. As a teenager I lived in a flat directly opposite the beach and next to a funfair. During the summer months I would go to sleep to the sound of music blaring and the smell of fish and chips wafting through the window. Growing up by the sea has left its mark on me – a holiday isn’t a holiday unless I’m a stone’s throw from the water.
Did you enjoy school? What is your most vivid memory of your school years? School for me was a secondary modern that morphed into a comprehensive. I did CSEs (I wasn’t smart enough to do O levels) and whilst I was content enough at school, puttering along in my happy ignorance, I’m appalled now when I think just how little I actually learned. The teachers’ expectations for us were non-existent, so surprise, surprise, few of us did well.
My most vivid memory of school was when I was at primary school. I was about six years old and together with a girl I didn’t really know that well, we took it upon ourselves to flood the outside toilets by stuffing yards and yards of slippery toilet paper down the pan and then yanking on the chain until the water level rose and cascaded over the seat and down onto the ground. We’d successfully flooded three cubicles when another girl – the horrible sneak! – went and fetched a teacher. I should imagine the teacher is no longer with us, but the ‘horrible sneak’ became my best friend, and still is to this day.
Name your top 5 pieces of music.
I have an eclectic taste in music but if forced to choose my top five pieces of music they would be as follows:
R.E.M.’s Find The River.
Nanci Griffith’s Waiting For Love.
Kathleen Ferrier singing What is Life? from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.
Michael Nyman’s Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds.
Judy Garland singing It’s Yourself.
Who do you most admire and why?
The people I admire most are my sons, Edward and Samuel. And why? For putting up with me!
What jobs did you have before you started writing?
Compared to most other writers, my CV is extraordinarily dull and reads something like this:
Aged 13 chalet maid in a holiday camp.
Aged 14 - 16 ice cream and burger vendor in a beach kiosk.
Aged 18 secretarial work in an Oxford college.
Aged 19 - 24 a series of secretarial jobs ranging from a mining explosives company to a firm of estate agents.
Aged 24 - 35 mother and general bossy-boots.
Aged 36 - ta-daar! - published author.
If your house was burning down what would you save?
If my house was burning down and I could save only one thing (assuming the obvious, that no one needed rescuing), it would be the manuscript of the current book I was working on. The thought of all that hard work going up in smoke would be too awful.
Tell us about your best or worst holiday experience.
My best holiday experience is a recurring one and does wonders to bolster up my ego. People often mistake me for either my sons’ sister, or a girlfriend of theirs. We’ve been on several holidays recently when hotel staff or other guests have asked what the relationship is between the three of us. If it wasn’t so embarrassing for my sons (aged 18 and 20), I’d say we were a nice little ménage a trois!
What do you do when you are not writing? How do you relax? What are your hobbies? When I’m not writing I relax by reading (I try to read a book a week), going to the gym (in an effort to stave off the dreaded writer’s bum!), gardening and travelling. Ever since I was 16 years old and travelled to Paris on my own to stay with a friend, I’ve had the travel bug. I love going somewhere new, but am equally happy to return to a favourite place, such as Corfu or Venice. But I’m afraid I’m not one of those adventurous types who enjoy roughing it – a trekking holiday across the Sahara wouldn’t be for me!
What single thing might people be surprised to learn about you?
I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that I’m such a big fan of the band R.E.M. I travelled all the way to New York to see them last year. It was a very extravagant and impulsive thing to do, and I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to get on a plane as I was that day, but it was worth every penny.
A cherished home, a circle of friends and a summer that will change everything... Linston End has been the summer holiday home for three families for many years. A rambling thatched house nestled on the water's edge on the Norfolk Broads, it's a haven of long, lazy picnics on the river, gin and tonics in the garden; a place to spend time together. But this year, the friends are rocked by unexpected news, and it seems that Linston End will never be the same again. For some, this summer feels like the end. For others, it might just be the beginning. . .
'Someone had made a perfect job of creating a place in which to hide a notebook ...there was no address, only a date: September 1943 ...' Ashcombe was the most beautiful house Saskia had ever seen as a little girl. A rambling cottage on the edge of a Suffolk village, it provided a perfect sanctuary to hide from the tragedy which shattered her childhood. Now an adult, Saskia is still living at Ashcombe and as a book restorer devotes her days tending to broken and battered books, daydreaming about the people who had once turned their pages. When she discovers a hidden notebook - and realises someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to hide a story of their own - Saskia finds herself drawn into a heart-rending tale of wartime love.
Winner of The Romantic Novel of the Year 2006. Warm, romantic fiction with the Italian Lakes and a love of gardening thrown in. She’s a delight!Similar this month: Fiona Walker, Rebecca HorsfallComparison: Maeve Binchy, Isla Dewar, Amanda Brookfield.
March 2014 Book of the Month. A hit-and-run accident knocking Floriana off her bicycle introduces her to two saviours, one old lady Esme, one young man Adam. These are our three main characters in a charming tale of reflection, past trauma and regrets as the newfound friends find comfort in each other. A trip to Italy digging up the past climaxes the plot in a lovely warm read with great descriptions of the lakes and some well portrayed characters. It is a lovely read.
With characters just leaping off the page you can’t help but get lost in this well-written, sharply observed and bittersweet story of a middle-aged mother’s realisation that the life she has, while great on the surface, isn’t really making her happy. Having spent all her life supporting her husband and family and always compromising herself for the sake of family harmony, Mia Channing is frankly emotionally exhausted - even though on the surface it looks as if she pretty much has it all. One argument too many and the arrival of a newcomer in the village tips Mia’s life on to a new, uncharted course that will take real courage to navigate.Perfect for readers of Maeve Binchy or Cathy Kelly.
July 2012 Book of the Month. A lovely warm and witty tale of unexpected inheritance, family, background and life. Katie Lavender gets a request to visit a solicitor where she receives a letter from her deceased mother that literally changes everything she ever knew about herself...All good fun from the bestselling author Erica James.
September 2011 Book of the Month. Let yourself get swept away by Erica James’ new novel. Three women’s lives intertwine and they are all faced with big decisions to take to hopefully find happiness. Yes it’s romantic chick lit but its realistic characters and easy writing style make it very enjoyable.
Warm, witty and wise storytelling with a lovely, feel-good factor and a charming, intriguing plot. When Alice arrives at Cuckoo House to help out a friend by cooking and cleaning for its occupant, an author with writer’s block, he is so rude that she decides to pretend to be Latvian and not really understand anything he says, a lovely scenario. It turns out they both have something to hide. The interplay between them is beautifully handled in a fast-paced, light read with a dark centre, just like a fine chocolate. Comparison: Amanda Brookfield, Carole Matthews, Marian Keyes.
This is an unabridged audiobook title. Fans of Erica James will notice she has stepped up a league with this one. It’s faster, lighter and more amusing than her norm and it’s very good. It concerns two people each with something to hide and the interplay between them is ace. Comparison: Amanda Brookfield, Carole Matthews, Marian Keyes. This is an Unabridged audiobook title, which includes every word that you would otherwise find in the printed edition. Don’t forget, if the story was meant to be shorter the author would have written less! Click here to take a peek at our selection of Unabridged audiobooks.
The story of two couples who survived the Boxing Day tsunami and how their lives changed in the following four years. It’s touching, perceptive and well-rounded. As an author I feel she has ‘grown up’, her books are now deeper, more mature and very good indeed. Comparison: Joanna Trollope, Anita Shreve, Amanda Brookfield.
Erica cannot put a foot wrong, her novels get stronger with each. Wringing the emotion through laughter and tears she is the ideal companion to sit down with and enjoy. This concerns a single woman taking on the horrendous responsibility of looking after her deceased sister’s children, coping with her own parents and eventually linking with a man also in pain. It is a wholly satisfying read. Comparison: Maeve Binchy, Sara MacDonald, Susan Sallis.
A compelling, emotional roller-coaster of a novel about love and forgiveness from the bestselling author of TELL IT TO THE SKIES.
Another blockbuster from bestseller Erica James - set beside the sea in idyllic Pembrokeshire.
After tragedy, how do you find love again? The brilliant first novel from the SUNDAY TIMES bestselling author.
Bestselling Erica James explores the stories of a potent mix of characters who meet at a creative writers' group.
*Includes an exclusive extract of Erica's moving and life-affirming new novel, publishing in 2018!* Set in the beautiful city of Venice, a captivating novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author of Summer at the Lake. Venice has been Lydia's home for many years, a place where she has found peace and fulfilment. Then one day she glimpses a young man's face in the crowd that threatens to change everything. He's a heart-stopping reminder of a dreadful secret she believed she had banished to the past... As a young child, Lydia and her sister were sent to live with grandparents they'd never even met before. It was a cruel and loveless new world for them and it forced Lydia to grow up fast. She learned to keep secrets and to trust sparingly, and through it all she was shadowed by grief and guilt. Now, twenty-eight years later, Lydia is persuaded to leave behind the safe new life she has created for herself and return to England to face the past. And maybe her future. The perfect escapist read for fans of Santa Montefiore and Katie Fforde.
A long summer holiday on the beautiful island of Corfu is just what Izzy Jordan needs, but is she prepared for the romance and drama? From the SUNDAY TIMES bestselling author of SUMMER AT THE LAKE Torn between struggling to live up to the expectations of being a Modern Woman and ridding herself of the effect of a repressed upbringing, Izzy Jordan would be the first to admit that it's time to take stock of her life. She's thirty-one, with a teaching career on the skids - not surprising, really, given that she harbours a strong desire to lock her pupils in the art room cupboard and throw away the key. She also has a manipulative mother and an ex-boyfriend whose parting shot was to tell her she was boring in bed! So when she's invited to spend the summer on Corfu and is offered the chance of a no-strings holiday romance with the irresistible Theo, what should she do? Go for it, or listen to the voice of Modern Woman and tell him to sling his hook? Just as she thinks she's made up her mind, along comes Mark, whose turbulent past sets in motion a series of dramatic events...
This summer, escape to Lake Como - where the scene is set for romance, fate and second chances... For Floriana, it is the place where the love of her life is getting married to another woman. And she's been invited to the wedding. Esme fell in love there for the first time - over sixty years ago. But what happened to the man who stole her heart, and changed the course of her life? Adam has buried himself in work to distract from his broken heart. A trip to Lake Como might just be the fresh start he needs... Even in the dazzling summer sun, the past casts a poignant shadow... But can the magic of the Italian lake finally set them all free? Let Erica James sweep you away... 'Glorious escapism' Sunday Express Magazine 'Joyously readable' Woman & Home 'I wanted it to go on forever' Cathy Bramley
From Erica James, bestselling author of Summer at the Lake, comes an enchanting tale of one family coming together and finding their way. It's the summer of 1939, and after touring an unsettled Europe to promote her latest book, Romily Temple returns home to Island House and the love of her life, the charismatic Jack Devereux. But when Jack falls ill, his estranged family are called home and given seven days to find a way to bury their resentments and come together. With war now declared, each member of the family is reluctantly forced to accept their new stepmother and confront their own shortcomings. But can the habits of a lifetime be changed in one week? And can Romily, a woman who thrives on adventure, cope with the life that has been so unexpectedly thrust upon her? Readers are captivated by Coming Home to Island House: 'Erica James at her very best...a fulfilling, hugely enjoyable read' 'This book felt like a luxurious treat' 'A wonderful thread of love, grace, loss and forgiveness... Highly recommended' 'One of those glorious stories where you don't want to put the book down!' 'I feel completely in love with all aspects of this books - the characters, the setting and the writing. I absolutely adored it' 'A captivating and thoroughly enjoyable read. If you enjoy superbly written character-driven stories this this one is a must-read' 'A beautiful story about family and friendship...a gorgeous heartwarming style'