Have you noticed the number of "How To" books there are on the shelves these
days? Basically, you can buy an "Idiot Guide" for practically anything you
ever remotely considered undertaking like Triathlon Training (definitely not in
the stars for me!) and Fondues and Hot Dips (that's more like it!) Now think
about this.... Wouldn't it have been handy if about fifteen years ago there had
been a guide on how to be a romantic when we all were in the market for a
mate? (I guess I am kind of aging myself here!) Now there's a guide I
think would have potentially made it to The New York Times Best Seller
List. When it comes to romance, the more help you can get the better!! As
we so often hear, bring it on!
This month's jewel took that idea and ran with it. Gemma Townley's
novel, The Hopeless
Romantic's Handbook, is a hilarious story about a woman looking for
love and hopelessly striking out UNTIL she scores the ultimate guide. Then all
of a sudden, her life does a complete turn around and voilà! Things are
looking pretty good!! Of course, her lead character, Kate, has some mishaps
and problems to contend with (or else we wouldn't have a story), but reading
about her adventures is most certainly worth the trip!
As part of this interview, Gemma is giving away
five copies of her novel to my lucky
readers, so don't forget to look for the trivia question at the end. I hope
Please go treat yourself to a cup of tea in honor of
our British guest and get to know my friend,Gemma Townley.
Jen: Please tell us a little bit about your educational and professional
Gemma: Well, I always got in trouble at school for daydreaming, but now
I can look back and call it research--! No, seriously, I did philosophy at
university -- not the most practical of degrees, perhaps, but very interesting
and, I think a great workout for the brain. From there, I went on to be a
journalist, working on financial magazines by day and writing for music and
style magazines by night.
Jen: I read that your first book review was published when you were only
sixteen. How did that come about? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Gemma: My first review came about after doing work experience for
Harpers & Queen in London (now Harpers Bazaar, like its US
cousin). I had the
best time and I really didn't want to leave -- luckily, they kept in touch and
got me to review a book a few months later.
Jen: At what juncture in your life did you decide to finally take a stab
at it and write a book? What was the title of the book and was it ever
Gemma: My first book actually came about because my career seemed to be
taking off a bit (I'd just got a promotion) and my employers wanted me to do an
MBA. Having spent my life writing but never getting round to writing anything
longer than an article, I figured that if I didn't write a book right then I
never would, so I bought a lap top and that was that! I had a pretty busy time
of it over the next few months -- I remember spending Saturdays hunched over my
laptop and Sundays making my way through the heavy MBA reading list I'd been
sent, but it was completely worth it. The book was called When in Rome and I
never really expected anything to come of it, but I sent it to a wonderful
agent called Dorie Simmonds (now my agent) and the next thing I knew, I had a
Jen: From conception to completion, about how long does it take for you
to complete a novel? What is the most difficult part to write and why?
Gemma: I always tell people that for me, writing a book is like climbing
a mountain. Not that I've ever climbed a mountain, but let's not quibble, shall
we?! I start off all enthusiastic, with my map in front of me (my storyline),
plenty of supplies (cups of tea, chocolate biscuits), and an absolute
conviction that I'm going to get to the top. And initially, it all seems great.
Then, round about the half way mark the weather seems to change slightly.
Suddenly the top of the mountain isn't visible anymore and I start wondering if
I've chosen the right route. I get tired and cranky and sometimes I have to go
back to base camp and reconsider (in other words, I realize that my
plot/characters aren't entirely working and I need to rethink a few things).
There's usually another tricky moment about two thirds of the way through when
it's like the fog has descended and I suddenly can't remember why on earth I
thought that this route, or even this mountain, was a good idea (at this point,
I've learnt to walk away from my computer for a few days, otherwise I end up
pressing the 'delete' button very aggressively... !) I get convinced that the
whole climb is going to have to be aborted and that I'm never going to climb
another mountain in my whole life, EVER. Then, gradually, the sun starts coming
through and I realize that the top isn't actually that far away after all, and
that with one last push, I'm going to make it.
Phew, I'm tired just thinking about it! In terms of time, a book takes about a
year for me to write. Not all that time is spent writing -- a lot of time is
spent planning and then re-writing. Often, until something's down on paper, I
don't know if it's really going to work or not.
Jen: The Hopeless Romantic's Handbook is your latest release and I
absolutely loved it! How did you arrive at the premise?
Gemma: The idea for The Hopeless Romantic's
Handbook actually came from a lot of
places. I wanted to explore a character who has an idealized idea of what love
is, partly because I think we all have a bit of that in us -- we read romantic
novels, we fall in love with Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, and then we
have to try and reconcile that with real life. But I also wanted to write about
a makeover show and reality television because I think it's such an interesting
subject area. People are so fame-obsessed these days and the definition of
a ‘celebrity' is getting looser by the week, so I think it's a wonderful
backdrop for a novel.
Jen: How did you come up with the lead character, Kate Hetherington? In
what ways, if any, is she like you?
Gemma: I love Kate! I think we all have a little bit of her in us,
actually -- she's an optimist who wants to make the world a better place and
can't understand why everyone doesn't share her world view. I'm quite like her,
actually -- I can get quite carried away with enthusiasm at times and whilst I
try to be realistic, I'm not very good at being cynical. I like to see the best
Jen: In the novel, Kate works on a make-over show similar to Extreme
Make-over here in the U.S. Are you a big fan of make-over shows or are you
just interested in interior design? Is that why you chose it as Kate's career?
Gemma: I love interior design, and that was definitely one reason I
chose it as Kate's career. Having said that, whilst I love all the color charts
and developing themes, I am absolutely terrible at anything practical, so I
would say that the interior design world is definitely a better place without
In terms of reality television, I'm part-fascinated and part-horrified by it-- I
ended up on a show myself a couple of years ago because a friend from school
had become a mini-celebrity here in the UK; she invited me and some other old
friends to help her refurbish a house in London so that the parents of children
at the nearby specialist cancer hospital could have somewhere to stay whilst
their children underwent treatment. I agreed to take part in the show because
it seemed like a really important project, but it really opened my eyes to the
world of television -- stroppy presenters, builders doing all the work behind
the scenes, cover-up jobs to make things ‘presentable', and the way people
change when they're on camera. I had fun doing the program, but I've never
looked at reality television in the same way since.
Jen: A question I just have to ask-- Are you a Hopeless Romantic?
Gemma: Romantic, yes. Hopeless? Not entirely. But I did definitely
always have Kate's approach to relationships in that I would rather have stayed
single than settle for someone who wasn't just right. It wasn't like I had a
tick list; I just wanted someone who I couldn't bear to be apart from. And when
I first met my husband, it was definitely love at first sight -- in fact, apart
from George Clooney, I haven't looked at another man since!!
Jen: Besides Kate, who is your favorite character in the book and why?
Gemma: Oh, that's like asking a mother to choose between her children! I
love all the characters -- the good ones because I like them and the bad ones
because they are just so wonderfully mean! The great thing about writing is
that you can dive into different people's heads and pretend to be them for a
day. I loved writing Penny and Joe's scenes, but I also loved writing from Tom
and Sal's perspectives, too. The hard thing is saying goodbye when the book is
Jen: In relation to your craft, how have you grown as a writer comparing
your first novel, When in Rome, compared to your latest release? What has been
your greatest accomplishment?
Gemma: Now that's a difficult question, and probably one that my readers
should answer instead of me! I've certainly enjoyed the process of writing and
re-writing my books -- each one has taught me something about writing, about
myself, about characterization and plot. But what I don't think has changed is
my love of a good storyline. At the end of the day, I want readers to really
want to turn the page -- I love that feeling when I'm reading a book myself and
I just don't want to put it down. If I achieve that, then I consider it a
Jen: In your opinion, what is the major difference in the publishing
business comparing Great Britain to the U.S.? Also, what has surprised you
most about the publishing business in general?
Gemma: That's an interesting question. I think there are a lot of
similarities -- at the end of the day it's about bringing books to market and
convincing people that they want to read them. The marketing of books can be
quite different, though -- in the UK, we're seeing more and more television ads
for books which is quite an interesting development, I think; in the US, book
groups are enormous so there's obviously a great deal of focus on that side of
things. In terms of surprise, I guess it's the sheer volume of books that are
published. But that's a great thing, too. I love books -- I think the world is a
better place because of them.
Jen: I read that you are an accomplished singer, cellist, and bassist
and that you are in a band called Blueboy! An author as well as a musician!
WOW!!! I'm impressed! Do you mind telling us a little bit about your band?
Gemma: Hey, I never said I was accomplished--! The band was great fun,
actually. My whole family is quite musical -- I played cello and piano when I
was at school and was always in the orchestra. So when I went to university, I
thought I'd like to branch out a bit and that's when I joined Blueboy. We got
signed to a very small independent label in the UK, and at first I sang and
played keyboards, then when the bassist left, I decided that I'd teach myself
to play. I have to say, playing the bass feels very rock'n'roll and I loved
walking around the stage with it slung over my neck! But all good things come
to an end -- and I always knew that writing was my real passion.
Jen: Are you currently at work on another novel? If so, what can you
tell us about it?
Gemma: I'm working on the first of a trilogy at the moment -- I'm also
pregnant and expecting my first child this summer, actually any minute now, so
my husband's taking bets on which I deliver first...!
Jen: Do you have a website? Blog? Mailing list?
Gemma: Not right now, but I'm working on it-- and on getting myself on
MySpace. Books and bumps keep getting in the way, but I'm onto it, honestly...
Jen: Any public appearances scheduled for the U.S.?
Gemma: Nothing planned at the moment, but I'll definitely keep you
Jen: Gemma, thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed. It has been
a pleasure getting to know you better. I love your books and I can't wait for
the next one! Best of luck in your future and please keep in touch!
Gemma: Thank you so much and I will!
I hope you enjoyed my interview with Gemma. Okay--five readers to
correctly answer the following question will win their own copy of her book:
What is the name of Gemma's
Next month, I will be bringing to you an interview with Michael Gates Gill,
author of How Starbucks
Saved My Life. You really won't want to miss it!
Until next month...Jen
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