Meet best-selling author, Lorna Cook

Lorna Standing

Congratulations Lorna on winning the Joan Hessayon Award with your lovely novel The Forgotten Village. You must still be thrilled! When did you first decide to write fiction or have you always been a natural story-teller?

Thank you for the kind congratulations! I wrote my first (unpublished and never will be) novel in 2016. It was a pure historical romance and was very very bad. But I managed to learn so much from writing it and also from having it critiqued privately so I knew the silly mistakes I was making such as head-hopping, and knew not to transfer the same mistakes over to anything else I wrote. While I was writing the very bad novel, I had the idea for The Forgotten Village. I finished the very bad novel, just to prove to myself I could finish something, filed it away and prayed no one would ever find it and then after a bit of breathing space, in 2017 I began The Forgotten Village. I had just joined the RNA via the New Writers’ Scheme that January and so I was determined that I would have something to submit by the August deadline. I managed to finish it in time.

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Were you fortunate to gain publication of your first novel or has it taken a while to achieve your goal?

I have been very lucky. The Forgotten Village went out on submission to a handful of agents in February 2018 and I met with a couple of lovely agents before meeting Becky Ritchie at A.M. Heath. We worked together on the manuscript with a few key changes. Three months later Becky and her team had found me homes with publishers in the UK, Germany and Netherlands.

How long ago did you decide to write about the village of Tyneham and what inspired you about its history?

The village is utterly intriguing. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been entranced by the real story of Tyneham, the village requisitioned in entirety in WW2 and never given back. I stumbled across an article in a national newspaper about how the village looked now (decimated) compared to how it looked before it was requisitioned (thriving) and I fell down an internet research rabbit hole. Once I’d researched I just knew the story I had in mind – about a woman trying to leave her husband in the middle of the war and a modern-day heroine on a mission to discover what happened to the woman in the past – had to be set in Tyneham during the frenzy of requisition.

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Will you be writing more books in this genre?

Yes, my second novel The Forbidden Promise is out in March 2020 and is set in the Scottish Highlands. (It’s available to pre-order now, she says shamelessly.) It moves between WW2 and present day as the modern day heroine, Kate arrives at Invermoray House to find that a woman who lived there eighty years ago has been all-but removed from the family history.

Did you find it difficult to keep the story predominantly as a romance as there is a very strong mystery element?

Yes and No. I found lots of things difficult when writing The Forgotten Village! The key challenges in writing a book like this are that I adore it when a romance springs as a by-product of something else, especially a mystery. It’s a challenge to develop characters a reader will root for, develop a romance a reader will enjoy, create enough intrigue to keep them reading two timelines and then to give them a conclusion to all of it they’ll feel satisfied with. I have to do that for two timelines! And so essentially, with each section, the reader gets half the book so it’s quite condensed. I learnt to write succinctly because at 100,000 per book, it’s only really 50,000 words in the past and 50,000 words in the present. It’s a bit exhausting my end! A big glass of wine gets drunk in this house at the end of a writing day.

Are you very disciplined in the way you organise your project from research through to finished manuscript?

Yes. I plan the past section out intricately because it’s the past section that informs the mystery element of the present sections. I tend to plan the past sections and ‘pants’ my way through the present sections while knowing exactly what twists and turns there will be. See above comment about wine 😉

You obviously love historical fiction and research your chosen topic thoroughly. What advice would you give to anyone who was considering writing an historical or dual time novel?

I would echo some great advice I read by historical fiction authors, which is don’t get too wrapped up in the research in the early stages. Just write the story and if there’s a fact you don’t know just shove ‘XXXX’ into the manuscript. Then when you’ve finished your first draft and need to give yourself some breathing space, that’s when you can go off and start looking up all the facts you don’t know the answer to such as, ‘when did petrol go on the ration?’ or ‘what was the tape that criss-crossed the windows for air raids called?’ Also, researching all the nitty gritty afterwards means you won’t be tempted to put huge swathes of (probably rather boring) research into your manuscript that just slow it down. I can now tell you everything you want to know about requisition orders in WW2 but purposefully put very little of it into The Forgotten Village because…yawn.

What does being a member of the RNA mean to you?

It means so much. First and foremost, it’s friendship. After I finish writing this I’m off to see my buddies at the RNA Chelmsford Chapter for our monthly lunch. I’ve not been since January because I’ve been knee deep in writing The Forbidden Promise and on a very intense deadline and I’ve really really missed catching up with everyone.

Secondly, it’s the events and talks which have really educated and informed me these past couple of years. The conferences are so well thought out. The RNA gave me such a boost to my career via the NWS critique and then winning the Joan Hessayon Award has been phenomenal. The association is so well thought of in the industry and I’m incredibly proud to be a member.

What do you do to switch off from writing/researching/deadlines?

Reality TV! Isn’t that embarrassing. Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex. Often back to back. For hours! I’ve also just discovered Real Housewives of Cheshire and I am HOOKED! Glamour and drama and some fantastic dialogue. I do find myself listening to some great lines and wondering if I can pinch them for future novels, especially when the blokes apologise for cheating or when they try and hit on a girl. Marvelous stuff.
On a more healthier note, I walk the dog and listen to podcasts or audio books and I love swimming because I can really switch off. Also there’s nothing like curling up in bed and reading a good book.

Do you embrace social media or control the time spent on it carefully?

I’m pretty good at switching off from social media. I post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter a couple of times a week. I’m more of a social media voyeur though. I cruise in, look around at people’s posts, cruise back out and it was like I was never there.

What is next for Lorna?

Book 3! Oh the fear. This one is going to be a bit meatier, I think, than The Forgotten Village and the upcoming The Forbidden Promise. It’s set in a location quite close to a lot of people’s hearts and so I need to research to within an inch of my life beforehand, which is the very thing I recommended above that people don’t do! However, on this occasion, the timeline of events is something that I need to get absolutely right from the start and so I have covered the walls of my office with sheets of paper and am planning very intricately what happened on which dates as I prepare to weave a plot around it. I’m exhausted already but am determined that every book I write will be better than the last and so onwards we go!

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to complete the interview and best wishes for future success in your writing career, Lorna!

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