I recently read and LOVED Seven Steps to Happiness by Stella Newman, so I’m delighted to interview her today on Confessions of a Book Geek, AND host a giveaway for FIVE copies of the book (UK only). I’m also offering one eBook copy for all of my INT readers!
Click here to enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway!
R: Hi Stella, introduce yourself to Book Geek readers, and tell us a little about you – what do you do when you aren’t writing/blogging?
S: Hello fellow book lovers, and thank you, Rachel for having me. I’m Stella Newman, author of four novels including the best seller Pear-Shaped (woo hoo!) and two novellas.
I used to work in advertising, then at the BBC, then at The Observer newspaper; then I became a professional food taster and was paid to eat spaghetti (best job in the world, ever) and now I’m a full time novelist. When I’m not writing, I’m eating, reading or sleeping.
R: All my favourite things to do! So, what made you want to become a writer?
S: My grandma was a writer – not a famous one, but she instilled in me a deep love of books, as did my father. I grew up loving reading, writing and telling stories but never thought I could make a living as a writer, so instead pursued various alternative careers – some fun, some less so (looking after turkeys for a supermarket in the run up to Christmas being one of the latter.)
As I went through my thirties, I couldn’t shake the fear that if I never even tried to write a novel I’d regret it. So I tried, failed, tried again a little harder, and eventually signed my first book deal with Harper Collins.
R: I’m so glad you persevered! Seven Steps to Happiness is about the tumultuous lives and loves of two best friends, Juliet and Lenny. What was the inspiration behind the story?
S: As I moved through my thirties I saw my life and the lives of many friends, go in unexpected and often challenging directions – divorce, adultery, relationship disappointments, depression, career problems (I should mention this book IS a comedy however…).
I’m lucky I have brilliant friends who I’ve been able to count on when times were hard – and I wanted to explore the subject of friendship between two very different characters battling two very different crises.
R: A perfect explanation of the novel, and I can vouch for the humour! I rarely laugh out loud so often when reading! Food and cooking is an integral part of your writing, which really comes across in Seven Steps, but without it ever being too much. How do you strike that balance?
S: I probably cut out half the food I’ve written into the first draft. I’d happily write about food on every single page – it’s the love of my life – but I suspect that might be boring for everybody who’s not as greedy as I am.
R: You expertly manage to avoid many cliches in this novel, while still being hilariously funny. How difficult is that to achieve, and how did you go about planning the book?
S: Why thank you, that’s very kind of you to say so! The cliché-avoidance – well I try to write as honestly as possible about emotion – particularly the awkward, difficult, uncomfortable emotions we’re sometimes encouraged to suppress or deny.
Planning? Er, well, I’m pretty rubbish at planning. I tend to know my characters quite well before I put pen to paper. And broadly I know where they’ll end up, and some of the key events they’ll experience. But I juggle an awful lot of coloured post-it notes over the course of the first draft. It’s not that the characters write themselves –that’s not true, for me at least – it’s just that I change my mind as new / better / other ideas occur to me.
R: Yes! The awkward, difficult and uncomfortable emotions are some of the best aspects of the novel. It’s so refreshing to read about the nitty-gritty of life, but with food, and laughs! Lots of Book Geek readers are budding writers, so tell me, what is your favourite, and least favourite part of the writing process?
S: My favourite part is coming up with a sentence that really nails something you think is a universal experience, where you really connect to another human. (R: I love this!).
Least favourite – the self-loathing that comes on a day when you’ve written nothing, or when what you’ve written is rubbish. Actually – at least when you’ve written rubbish you’ve got something to improve upon – but writing nothing, through fear of failure – that’s a bad feeling.
R: And the reason many budding authors don’t put pen to paper, no doubt! Introduce Seven Steps to Happiness to Book Geek readers in one sentence.
S: Thelma and Louise meets Bridesmaids, with more cheese toasties.
R: Haha! Perfection. Now, for the Quick-Fire Round. Weigh in on the eternal debate – eBook or hard-copy?
S: Hard copy. I love paper, and I do love a good book cover – any cover by Chip Kidd is one I’d happily frame and hang on my wall.
R: They do that now, you know. Some Etsy sellers do great prints of book covers and quotes. I own too many of them for the wall space I have… What is your favourite word?
R: What is your favourite non-fiction book?
S: I recently read Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, which I found brilliant – sad, funny and honest. I’m currently trying to read Carlo Rovelli’s book on theoretical physics because I’m deeply terrible at physics, but it tends to make me feel even more stupid.
R: Tiny Beautiful Things has been added to my wishlist. However, I may dodge the physics one! Do you prefer the hero or the villain?
S: Villain, always.
R: I especially love a good villain backstory, like Maleficent. What are you currently working on that we can look forward to?
S: Book five. It’s a bittersweet story about food, love and loss. I’m trying to weave one of my grandma’s cook books from the 1950s into my latest novel. If I can pull it off I’ll be delighted. She lived to 100 but didn’t get to see me publish a book, but she was a huge inspiration for me. To be able to incorporate some of her ideas into something of mine would please me immensely.
R: Sounds like a very special book, and a beautiful idea. Can’t wait to read it (no pressure)!
Links for readers to find out more about Stella Newman and her work:
Massive thanks to Stella for agreeing to be interviewed. Have you read Seven Steps to Happiness yet? Share your thoughts in the comments, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway!