This week, I’ve got the lovely Pippa Croft, whose recent books are spicy romances set in an fabulously glam version of Oxford.
Hi Pippa, welcome to Inheritance Books. Pull up a pew. Would you like a slice of cake?
Now that we’re comfy. Please, tell us a bit about yourself.
I write fun sexy, escapist romance for Penguin, Piatkus, Headline and various US publishers. When I’m not writing, I love to escape the office and go walking, swimming, running, cycling, and surfing. If I can do all that on a sunny day in the company of my husband and daughter, and combine it with shopping and a coffee shop, I’m in heaven. I don’t ask much.
I think if you can manage to do all that, you’ve earned your coffee and cake! Which book have you inherited from the generation above?
My Inheritance Book isn’t one left to me but it is one that changed my life completely. It’s also the one I’d like to leave to the next generation.
Oh okay, you can answer two questions in one then. So, why is this book special?
It’s the book that inspired me to start writing fiction – North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell.
Actually, with all respect to Mrs Gaskell, North & South isn’t one of my favourite 19th century novels but has become my gateway to a new world and has brought me laughter, tears, disappointment, excitement, joy, undreamed-of experiences and many wonderful friends.
In fact, it’s not so much the novel that started me writing – but the BBC TV adaptation of the book starring Richard Armitage as John Thornton and Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret Hale.
I read English at Oxford and I love period dramas so when I found that a new one was airing back in November 2004, I was keen to try it out. I must stress that at this point I had no intention, inkling or desire to write a novel, or any fiction. Although I worked as a copywriter and journalist, Other People wrote novels and I figured that if I was ever stupid enough to try, I’d be rubbish at it.
Now, anyone who has ever seen and read the North & South TV version, will know that it differs quite a bit from the novel. The opening episode casts Thornton in a pretty unsympathetic light – in fact Margaret first comes across him kicking a millworker whom he has caught smoking. Understandably, she’s not impressed. In fact, Thornton comes across as a bit of a monster and the very worst person that the educated, sensitive Margaret could fall in love with.
The tempestuous rollercoaster of their relationship continues throughout four episodes and never lets up. I didn’t know it at the time, but that series was introducing me to the vital elements of romance: strong conflict, unresolved sexual tension and The Alpha Male.
I was completely smitten with the story, with the characters and yes, with Thornton! At the time, there was no Facebook or Twitter so I headed to the BBC Drama message board to find out more about the series. To my delight and amazement, I found hundreds of other fans, all eager to share their love for the series and the book.
Many of those then-anonymous women are now personal friends and several have gone on to be published authors and RNA members.
Within a few weeks, the series had reached its climax and for some still-unknown reason, I decided to write a ‘fanfic’ speculating on what might happen in the last episode. It was rubbish, frankly, and I was so embarrassed by it, I shoved it in my knicker drawer so my husband and daughter wouldn’t find it.
Despite my shame, I was also hooked on writing.
I quickly realised I didn’t have a historical voice so started a modern version of the North & South story. I also realised that ‘my’ John and Margaret had taken on lives of their own and within a few months, I’d completed a 30K fanfic novella.
With experience, I can now see that my story didn’t really work but that didn’t matter. The fire had been lit and after being in denial for 40 years, I’d become A Writer.
I started my first full-length romantic novel in summer 2005, joined the RNA and found an agent. Decent Exposure was published by Headline Little Black Dress in October 2006 and went on to win the New Writers Award and be made into a US TV movie.
Now, here I am today, a decade after North & South came onto my radar, with my 13th novel about to be published by Penguin.
Thank you, Mrs Gaskell. Thank you for giving me legacy of North & South I hope it inspires more people to discover and reach for their dream.
You’ve made me want to watch North and South now. I believe it’s on Netflix right now.
Thank you for sharing your Inheritance Book with us, Pippa. Good luck with your Oxford Blue series.
Pippa’s latest books in her Oxford Blue series is Third Time Lucky, which is available to buy now. The first book in the series The First Time We Met is out in paperback too. You can find out more about Pippa on her website, or find her on Twitter (@PippaCroftBooks or @PhillipaAshley).