The beautiful cobbled streets of Beverley, East Yorkshire, proved a little difficult on the icy winter’s day. It was such a nostalgic trip for me as we had visited some dear friends there over a decade ago. Amazingly, Cut-Price Bookshop was still there, and I hope Rhoda would direct me there later, as I had a great big pink bag ready. Although bracing, the cool air had brought a beautiful covering of snow to the ancient town. It was very tempting to stop and browse in the independent shops, but I was meeting Rhoda Baxter, romantic novelist, in ten minutes.
Wrapped in a long, dark coat, large colourful scarf and wearing my Ugg boots, I quickened my pace the tiny Bistro. Rhoda smiled, greeted me and organised a lovely array of tea and cakes. My favourite sweet treats were the double chocolate brownies. I removed my coat and sat on one of the bistro chairs. Rhoda was bundled up against the cold and had to remove several layers before she got down to hear practical jeans and sweater. She retrieved her book entitled Girl in Trouble from her multicoloured handbag. It was such a delight for me to be back in Yorkshire speaking with a fellow Yorkshire lass.
Jessie: It is wonderful to be back in Yorkshire. What do you like most about Yorkshire?
Rhoda: The people! Everyone is so friendly here and there so much less tension in the day to day interactions. I lived down south for a while and whenever we go back to visit friends, we feel the difference immediately. My youngest, who can’t remember living anywhere but here, is always surprised at how when she says hello to people in London, they ignore her!
Also, I’m a big fan of cake. Beverley and York have some amazing cake shops.
I retrieved a copy of Rhoda’s book, ‘Girl in Trouble’, from my handbag. It was easy to spot the familiar bright cover of a glamorous character on the jacket. As we waited for more tea to arrive we settled to discuss Rhoda’s work.
Jessie: Your romantic novels look great. Your characters look feisty and fun and Sue Moorcroft described them as ‘the real deal’. Tell me about your characters. Can you capture the essence of ‘Girl in Trouble’ in a few sentences?
Rhoda: My characters often just turn up in my head and start talking. I don’t know their stories, but I know their voices. I’ve had several readers say that my characters feel real to them. That’s the highest praise, as far as I’m concerned. My characters are real to me. They live in my head for the duration while I’m writing their book and I miss them when I finish the story.
One of the reasons I started writing was because in the early 2000s, I got into reading romances and I felt that only a certain type of person was represented in popular romance. All the women were likable and unobjectionable, and all the men were super confident, well-muscled and over bearing. Where were the nice guys? Or the women who were smart and career minded? Or even ones who were slightly hard edged?
Girl in Trouble is about two people who are a little different to what society expects. Olivia is a ladette and there isn’t much that will faze her. Walter is a nice guy and is scared of spiders. One of their first interactions is when Olivia has to rescue him from a spider. Olivia is adamant she doesn’t need a man in her life, even when things go horribly wrong. How can Walter persuade the most independent woman he’s ever met to accept his help, let alone his heart?
Jessie: I know you have been nominated for writing awards. What have the reviewers said about ‘Girl in Trouble’?
Rhoda gave a wry smile then scrolled through the reviews of her novel on Amazon.
Most people said it made them laugh and cry in equal measure. I love that!
” there was a real punch of emotional depth – one minute I’d be grinning at what the characters were saying or doing and the next I was fighting tears.” (Amazon review)
“This book with make you laugh out loud at times but will also frustrate you and make you cry. Everything you need for a great romance. ” (Amazon review)
“Baxter’s narrative sets up the sentimental situation only to send it spinning in entirely unexpected directions.” (Romance Novels for Feminists)
Jessie: ‘Girl in Trouble’ sounds like a romance with a strong character – perfect! Can you read a brief extract to tempt the reader?
Rhoda: He leaned back, flustered. Much as he found her attractive, the idea of being pounced on by her was a tiny bit scary. But, only a tiny bit. Which wasn’t all that scary, come to think of it.
Jessie: Wow! Your book sounds like fun! I can sense you enjoyed interacting with your characters. How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?
Rhoda: I missed the characters so much that I wrote a follow up novella! Olivia first appeared as a minor character in ‘Girl Having A Ball’ (which was nominated for a RoNA Romantic Novel of the Year award). She’s confident and independent and doesn’t take crap from anyone. I loved her so much that I had to write this book to see what happened to her. I wish I was more like Olivia really. Walter, the hero, is a nice guy. I like beta heroes because they usually have wit and charm (as well being attractive) and I know I’d like to spend time with a man like that!
Jessie: I love the way you present the characters you want to spend time with. It must be great to create the characters you are fond of. 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.
Rhoda: I’ve love for Emma Watson to read my book. ‘Girl In Trouble’ has a major theme of fathers and daughters, but underneath there’s quite a lot about gender stereotyping and the double standards that we apply to men and women. Boys don’t cry. Girls don’t climb trees (or whatever). I think it would chime with a lot of things Emma Watson raised in her He For She speech.
Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?
Because it will make you laugh and cry and, by the end, you’ll have met some people who feel like they are real friends.
Jessie: Tell me about your favourite handbag.
Rhoda: The bag is from a shop in Sri Lanka called Barefoot. They make wonderful things out of handloom fabrics. This bag has loads of little pockets inside, so that I can find what I’m looking for (I have two youngish kids – being able to find the packet of tissues at just the right moment is very important!). It’s a colourful, but sensible bag because I can fill it with useful things, sling it across me and run.
Jessie: What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
Rhoda: ‘beachwear and cocktail umbrellas?’ It’s a note to myself to figure out some details about my characters who are stranded on a tropical island with only a few bags they took on holiday. I liked the idea of them having a box of something that is completely useless – like cocktail umbrellas. They’re red, these cocktail umbrellas. They must be useful for something, right?
Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an author?
Rhoda: Keeping going. I write because I love it and I don’t know what else I’d do with these people who keep popping up in my head. Writing books is hard, but marketing is harder. Nowadays, authors are expected to do a lot of marketing themselves and really, most of us are very shy. I can’t think of anything worse that going up to a stranger and saying ‘hey, I’ve written a book, wanna buy a copy’… but that is exactly what I need to learn to do.
Jessie: Where is your favourite writing place?
Rhoda: My favourite writing place is really my bed – but you don’t want a picture of me in my scratty pyjamas. So here’s a picture of my shed instead. I often sit in there at the weekend and do my editing work. There’s a battered old sofa and a collection of blankets in there, so it’s lovely and cosy even when it’s not the sunniest of days.
Jessie: What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
Rhoda: Write. Edit. Submit. Repeat. Improve each time you go round the cycle.
Rhoda is very serious about girls being allowed to do whatever they feel a passion for. Rhoda is also serious about cake. she’d choose tea and cake over alcohol any day.
Rhoda likes to see the humour in a situation, she says it’s her way of dealing with the dark side of life.
It was wonderful to meet a fun, Yorkshire lass in Beverley. Rhoda adds feisty, independent women in her books and that is appealing. Rhoda’s lively, positive nature suggests her books will be a joy to read. Best of luck to Rhoda with ‘Girl in Trouble’.
Her book, ‘Girl Having a Ball’ was shortlisted for RoNA award (Best Romantic Comedy) 2017.