Carol Cooper is a doctor, journalist, and author who turned to fiction after writing a string of popular health books. Her second novel, Hampstead Fever, was chosen for a prestigious promotion in WH Smith travel bookshops. She lives in Hampstead and Cambridge, and has three grownup sons.
As Dr Cooper, Carol is a frequent face on Five News, Sky News and other TV channels, as well as on radio, where she often comments on a range of topical health matters. I was excited about meeting this celebrity author with such a wealth of experience.
Carol had been invited to speak at Cardiff University, and we managed to grab some time in Cardiff Bay to chat about her second novel.
I waited for her in my favourite coffee shop, Cadawaladers, in Cardiff Bay. Cadawaladers sits above the water, on a jetty, and is accessed via a small bridge. Carol hurried over the bridge and was wearing a red dress. She joined me at a table, located on the balcony, overlooking the water. We ordered coffee and some muffins. It was Graduation Day, in Cardiff, and a constant stream of chattering graduates walked past. We took our time to absorb the vibrant atmosphere before beginning the chat about Carol’s new book.
Jessie: Can you capture the essence of your new novel, Hampstead Fever, in a couple of sentences?
Instantly, she retrieved a copy of her novel from her large blue handbag.
Carol: Hampstead Fever is about six Londoners grappling with life’s problems in the sweltering summer of 2013. Emotions are already at boiling point when a mysterious actress arrives on the scene, upsetting those around her and forcing decisions they may later regret.
Jessie: It sound like another great read. Read me an extract that will tempt the reader.
Carol flicked through the book and winked as she restrained a mischievous grin.
Carol: “What are you going to do about this?” complained Geoff.
“Do about what?” said Daisy, even though it must have been blindingly obvious.
He threw the sheet back dramatically, hoping to amuse her. “This.”
Carol’s fun manner is infectious. It was clear that the women on the neighbouring table were straining to catch a glance of the new novel. Carol left the book peeking out of her blue bag, and it was impossible to miss the tempting front cover. One of the ladies searched for the book on her phone.
Mischief lit up Carol’s face again as she read out a review so that the ladies could hear.
Carol: I’ve had some great reviews for Hampstead Fever, but these three are my favourites so far:
“Wow! With its racy storylines, dovetailing plots, fascinating characters and a well-known but equally interesting setting, Hampstead Fever is one of those books you just can’t put down.”
“Fast-paced and sharply observed. I whipped through this in one sitting!”
“Cooper just makes these characters come alive. Why can’t all love stories be like this?”
Jessie: How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?
Carol: My characters have become very special to me, even the less likeable ones, so I did miss them when I stopped writing. There are six main characters in Hampstead Fever, and I’d like to spend more time with some of them, so I’ll be taking them into another book to have new adventures.
Jessie: Who would you like to read your book and why? This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.
Carol: As I’m sure most authors say, it would just be nice if lots of people read and enjoyed my novel. Having said that, I’d quite like my English teacher from school to see it as I think she’d be proud of me (and hopefully not too shocked by the racier passages).
Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?
Carol: While Hampstead Fever has some important themes like parental anxiety, ageing relatives, and sick children, it’s also an easy and entertaining read with fairly short chapters. That makes it a good book to pick up while you’re waiting, or whenever you find you have a moment to read.
Jessie: What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
Carol: It’s for the novel I’m currently writing. The story is set in Egypt, where I grew up, and many scenes are from a child’s viewpoint.
‘Tante Zahra was famed throughout Alexandria for her burping, a habit she blamed on swallowing air with her meals. She wore a towelling turban to hide the fact that she was too old to have any hair left.’
Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an author?
Carol: I think it’s making your work visible. You could write the most wonderful book ever, but nobody will buy it if they don’t know it exists. There are over two million new books published every year, nearly 200,000 of them in the UK. So, even with the backing of a big publisher, most authors have to work very hard (and need a bit of luck) to get their book noticed.
Jessie: What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
The best advice I ever had is to keep my writing simple. When writers start out, they often use flowery words, and far more of them than they need. As Somerset Maugham put it, “The best style is the style you don’t notice.”
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