What a prolific career British author Katie Fforde is having. Since her first book Living Dangerously in 1995 to her latest, A Country Escape, she has released a novel almost every year.
Doesn’t she ever encounter writer’s block?
“I’m very lucky in that I’ve never really had that problem,” replies Fforde in an e-mail interview. “But if I have a bad day when nothing much is happening, I go for a walk, talk to a friend or just take the day off. That sorts it!”
Fforde, 65, is a romance novelist whose books are set in modern-day Britain.
“All of my books have a romantic thread. This is important to me; I love writing romantic novels because I think falling in love is the best thing in the world.
“Fortunately, I don’t fall in love in real life very often – probably once – I have been married a long time. But I think falling in love is great, so if I can write about it, that’s nearly as good as actually doing it.”
She was born on Sept 27, 1952, in Wimbledon, London, to Shirley Barbara Laub and Michael Willoughby Gordon-Cumming. Her sister is fellow writer Jane Gordon-Cumming.
In 1972, she married Desmond Fforde and they have three children: Guy, Francis and Briony. Interestingly enough, Fforde – who writes under her married name – did not start writing until after the birth of her third child.
“I didn’t know I wanted to be an author until my late 20s. Before that, I ran a narrowboat hotel business with my husband and then had babies – but I would have liked to be a counsellor if I wasn’t a writer.”
Fforde has lived near Stroud, Gloucestershire, for over 20 years.
“I was born and brought up in London but I am basically a country girl. While I love London and visit it frequently, I don’t think I could actually live there.”
Her latest work A Country Escape sees protagonist Fran moving from London to a run-down farm in the Cotswolds (an area in south central England renowned for its bucolic charm).
“The inspiration for this novel came from two places,” explains Fforde.
“The first was my daughter Briony’s farming guru saying to her that I should write a book about farming. The second was a series on television that followed several Scottish farms over the year. I found it so inspiring I had to write about it.”
Many of Fforde’s own experiences end up in her books. She takes her research seriously.
“I remember a writer friend saying to me: ‘But you write contemporaries, you don’t need to do research,’ but that is very far from the truth.
“My early books were set around my own life. Working in a café, living on a narrow boat, being a cleaning lady – all these things were things I’d actually done.
“I never write about anything that doesn’t really interest me.”
With each novel featuring different professions and backgrounds, Fforde uses a “method acting” style process using experiences such as being a porter in an auction house, making pottery, refurbishing furniture and examining the processes behind a dating website. She even went on a survival course once. “This sent my family into hysterics because I don’t do camping. However, I had the best time and even put up my own tent!”
For A Country Escape, though, she didn’t visit any actual farms. (See review here.)
“I talked to Briony’s farming friend a lot and watched many YouTube videos. Sadly, I discovered that although I love them, I am a bit frightened of cows!” (This is a peculiarity shared by the book’s heroine, Fran.)
Asked about her next book, Fforde answers: “My next novel is still a work in progress, but it has perfume as a background. I’m very much enjoying the research!”
Fforde was for many years a committee member of the Romance Novelists’ Association (RNA) in Britain and was elected its 25th chairman (2009–2011) and later its fourth president.
She is also the founder of the Katie Fforde Bursary for writers who have yet to secure a publishing contract. On the reasoning behind this bursary, she explains: “It took me a long time to get published, but for almost all of that time I was ‘nearly there’.
“There is always a lot of fuss about first-time novelists who get published and that’s lovely for them, but I wanted to encourage the ‘nearly there’s’. The prize is a year’s subscription to the RNA including entry into the New Writers’ scheme and a place at the conference.
“What is more important than the prize is the huge encouragement it gives writers. A great many of my winners went on to be published very soon after winning,” adds Fforde.
Away from writing, what are Fforde’s other passions? “I love the countryside, watching television – especially programmes about other people’s lives – and I am a member of a choir.”
She also enjoys reading, obviously. What was the last good book she enjoyed?
“I really like books in my own genre but can’t mention any individuals as they are all my friends! However, a new writer I like is A.J. Pearce who has written Dear Mrs. Bird. This is a wonderful, funny, sad, uplifting book I thoroughly recommend. I also loved The Curious Heart Of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland.”
The greatest satisfaction of being an author, according to Fforde, is knowing that a book she’s written has gotten someone through a tough patch.
“I see my books as safe places to go when times are hard. Learning that they have done the trick for someone makes it seem like a proper job.”