In conversation with Rhoda Baxter, romantic comedy writer

Today I’ll be shining the author spotlight on romantic comedy writer, Rhoda Baxter! 

Hi, please can you give a brief introduction of yourself?
Hi. I’m Rhoda. I write romantic comedies which are published by Choc Lit Publishing. I also write short fiction. In real life, I trained as a microbiologist but now work in university technology transfer (which is the most fun way to keep in touch with the science without having to do lab work). I drink far too much tea and am partial to a bit of cake.

When did you first start writing?
I’m not sure. Apparently I wrote a story about parrot when I was about seven. When I was in my early teens, the Sweet Dreams romance novels were incredibly popular. I wasn’t allowed to read them, in case they gave me ‘ideas’ and distracted me from my studies. So I started to write my own. I still have my early typescripts. They’re impossibly naive and cringeworthy, but they’re worth keeping for the scribbled notes from my friends (my early readers!) on the margins.

How would you describe your author brand in 5 words?
Smart, witty heartfelt romantic comedy.

What has your experience been of publishing with Choc Lit?
I love the way Choc Lit choose their books. They have a ‘tasting panel’ who check out the submissions. If enough people on the panel pass the book, they publish it. This means that they don’t have to second guess whether the readers would like a book, they know. They can also edit the book with actual market feedback. Choc Lit publishes a lot of unusual romances – ones that other publishers might turn down because they perceive them as too niche. For example, a romance with a non-white heroine (mine) or one with a hero with cerebral palsy (Jane Lovering) – both of which would be considered ‘risky’ in the normal run of things.
They also do fabulous covers!

What’s your opinion on diversity in the contemporary romance genre?
I’d like to see more of it. By this I mean real diversity – with people of different backgrounds (be it different by ethnicity, sexual orientation or ability) having a place in the genre.

I’ll use ethnicity as an example, because it’s what I’m more familiar with (I’m Sri Lankan by descent). There is a tendency to fetishise difference. You get books with Asian characters, but either the conflict of the book revolves around the Asian-ness of the character or the characters are over-the-top Asian. The day to day lives of most British Asians isn’t hugely different to the day-to-day life of other British people. Religious and cultural differences exist, sure, but on a basic everyday level, we live in the same sort of houses, eat lunch/tea at the same sort of time, watch the same sort of TV shows. But, if you look at romance novels, you’d be hard pressed to see that. The differences in culture are magnified. The familiar elements are ignored. So people see only how ‘they’ are different to ‘us’.

It’s important to change this. We absorb our world view from the books we read and the TV shows we watch. If we’ve only ever seen Asian women as downtrodden slaves to tradition, no wonder we’re surprised by Nadiya Hussein baking a fizzy pop flavoured cheesecake. I’m a big fan of GBBO and of Nadiya. When she won GBBO, the undertone of the commentary that followed was ‘oh my word, she wears a hijab, but… she and her family seem so Normal!’. Which, if you think about it, is just bonkers.

So, I’d like to see more romance novels with diverse characters falling in love – not falling in love in an Asian way, or in a gay way, or in a disabled way – just falling in love in their OWN way.

Describe your ideal fictional love interest
He’d be kind and clever and funny. Preferably, he’d be fit in a slim-built kind of way… and would definitely wear glasses. Most men look sexier in glasses. David Tennant in glasses… ooh…

Sorry, what was I talking about? Oh yes. Men. I much prefer beta males to alphas. I tried to write an alpha male hero once (because people kept telling me they were popular). I hated him so much that I had to stop after a few chapters and start again.

What are your writing goals for 2017?
I’m trying my hand at writing novellas at the moment. I’m hoping to write three novellas set in a fictional village in West Yorkshire. I’ve done one. Two more to do.

My next book Girl In Trouble – the sequel to Girl Having A Ball – should be coming out with Choc Lit later in the year. I’ll be editing that in the next few months.

What authors would you recommend for fans of contemporary romance?
There’s too many to mention. I like books with great dialogue (sharp, realistic and funny). I’m currently reading a lot of Courtney Milan, Jane Lovering, Jenny Holliday, Alison May, Kate Johnson, Mhairi McFarlane, Janet Gover, Julie Cohen. All of whom write great dialogue. Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head, there are many, many more.

What’s your opinion on self-publishing?
I have always kept an eye on self publishing. I was too insecure in my abilities to self publish (I have chronic impostor syndrome), so I needed the validation provided by having a traditional publisher, but I’ve always thought that Indies were the ones who knew how to market books. I follow a lot of Indie blogs because they are so clever in what they do. I think I’d like to end up with a combination of both. When I’ve finished my West Yorkshire novellas, I’d like to self publish those. [If you want a preview, you can get a short story set in that world for free by signing up for my reader group].

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to new writers?
Don’t give up. Write, submit, get feedback, edit, repeat. Eventually, good things will happen.

I started writing in my early teens. I’ve been writing in earnest since I was in my twenties. I wasn’t published until I was in my mid thirties. It takes time and effort, but it’s worth it.

Rhoda Baxter writes cheerful romantic comedies starring smart heroines and charming beta male heroes. She likes to write about people who make her laugh. Her books have been nominated for awards, so she must be doing something right. In real life, she’s a former scientist who works in technology transfer and a mum of two. Her latest book is Girl Having A Ball.

Website: http://www.rhodabaxter.com
Twitter: @rhodabaxter
Latest book: Girl Having A Ball 

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Book Review: ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a work of modern art. It’s radical, sophisticated and subversive in all the right ways. And, dammit, there’s just something really sexy about reading an intellectual book and learning new things without it feeling like extra work.

I’ve read ‘Half of a yellow sun’ by Adichie in the past, so I went in with high expectations, which were met and exceeded by this book. It follows two star-crossed lovers, Ifemelu and Obinze, from their upbringing in a middle-class neighbourhood in Nigeria. However their relationship is cut short when Ifemelu emigrates to America to continue her education and Obinze, failing to get a visa, starts a new undocumented life as an illegal immigrant in England instead.

In America, Ifemelu deals with success and failure, finds and ends new relationships and eventually gets a fellowship at Princeton. For the first time, she becomes aware of race as a concept, and how differently she is treated because of her skin. She starts to document her observations in the form of a blog about race, which quickly brings her newfound fame. However despite all the luxuries of her new life, something pulls her back home, back to the Nigeria she grew up in. When she returns she meets Obinze again, who is now a wealthy, married man. As the two former lovers reunite, old sparks are rekindled and the two are faced with some tough decisions about their futures.

I once heard someone on goodreads refer to this book as a ‘500 page commentary on race’ (it was meant as an insult, I think of it as a positive thing). It’s true that ‘Americanah’ is not subtle at all about the issues of racism it tackles, and very much focuses on Ifemelu’s experience of being black in America. However it doesn’t read like a text book, or a preachy rant, it reads like a very smart, very intellectual novel written by a world-renowned race academic. As Ifemelu herself says in the book, racism is not a subtle thing, and should not be dealt with in a subtle way. As it does for all African Americans, race is something that affects every aspect of the protagonist’s life, and therefore seeps into every part of her narrative. The point of the novel is to illuminate the pervasive, omnipresent shadow that race is for those living in the Western world, and also how race is not a fixed category as its definition is tied to shifting social values.

‘Americanah’ is not just another ‘book about race’. It’s brutally honest, heartbreaking and also fiercely hopeful. It analyses the very real, very damaging consequences that race can have, from racial stereotyping, to lack of representation, to alienation and loss of identity. It’s a book about overcoming hardship and succeeding in a country that is against you purely on the basis of your appearance. It’s about miscommunication, a lack of understanding, a lack of willingness to learn. It’s a story about love in many different forms and, ultimately, two people finding each other again.

This Really Happened: Excerpt

 

This really happened
POSTED ON FEBRUARY 24, 2014 / BY ERIN T / LEAVE A COMMENT / FACEBOOK

Have you ever wished you could go back and change something? Thought about all the things you would’ve done differently? Everyone has regrets, even the people who claim they don’t. The world is full of shit that could have been avoided with the power of hindsight. And it’s natural to wonder about the what-ifs, the could-have-beens, even though it won’t change anything. They’re just so much easier to believe in than reality.

I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a story about one night when everything changed, a night I go back to all the time, seeing my mistakes and wishing I could go back and change my own mind. Maybe if I could, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. Maybe if I could, the chain of events that followed wouldn’t have happened.

The story starts with Rita Ora: they were playing her in the club again that night, for the third week in a row. It wasn’t a bad song really, but it wasn’t my thing. The others didn’t seem too keen either; Allen was grimacing, Gabe had disappeared into the mass swarming the bar area long ago.

Through a haze of people, I spied Dan wrapped around a tall blonde girl, seemingly fused at the lips. Definitely his type. Ava was tottering around in her high heels, trying to simultaneously dance and stay upright. I was a happy medium; tipsy enough to feel that familiar warm buzz, sober enough to get myself home if I needed to. This was going to be a good night, I decided. Maybe one of the best. With everything that had happened, it’d been a while since all six of us had done something together and I’d really missed it.

Suddenly Charlotte appeared next to me, her whole face a bright, sweaty pink that complimented her fiery hair. “Selfie!” she demanded, throwing an arm around my shoulders and holding up a camera in front of us. We pressed our faces together and grinned stupidly up into the lens as it went click.

“You’ve got a bit of flush going on you know,” I laughed. “You’re completely red.”

She poked her cheeks in disbelief. “Really? Where?”

“Um, everywhere.”

She looked devastated. “But I don’t wanna look like a tomato.”

“Maybe you’ve just had a bit too much.”

She stumbled, nearly pulling me down with her. “Urgh…can we go outside for a bit? I need some air.”

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”

I half-carried, half-dragged her out of the club, past the main square until we found a more secluded set of steps to sit on. It was 2am in the morning and the campus was alive; all the lights were still on and students wandered around in groups, helping drunk friends back to their dorms. Friday night was always the most popular club night.

Charlotte immediately curled up and gripped her head in her hands, trailing ginger strands of hair through her fingers. She was shivering. I distantly realised that it must be freezing, even though the alcohol blanket had numbed me to it.

“Are you feeling okay?” I asked, tentatively placing a hand on her shoulder in what I hoped was a comforting gesture. “Do you think you might throw up?”

She shook her head but didn’t look up. “I-I’m just so cold,” she spoke through chattering teeth. Then she began to cry. It started out as a quiet sort of sniffling, but quickly turned into loud, messy sobbing. I was, understandably, alarmed.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, but she didn’t answer and only cried harder. Eventually, after ten minutes, she calmed down and sat up, looking at me through red-rimmed, watery eyes.

“Thank you,” she slurred.

I was beyond confused. “What for?”

“I’m not sure. Just thank you. For existing, I guess.”

“Um, you’re welcome?”

“I really like your existence,” she continued. “I think it’s great, honestly.”

“Charlotte, you’re really drunk right now.”

“I know, but I mean it. I want you to know that I appreciate you…being here. Does that make sense?”

I sighed and patted her shoulder. “Yeah. I like your existence, too.”

She smiled at me – a floaty, oblivious sort of smile that people only conjure up when they’re completely hammered. Then she leaned into my shoulder and I tentatively gave her a one-armed hug, feeling strangely protective of her. If I could redo that moment now, I wouldn’t have pulled away. I would have stayed there on those steps with her, holding her close. I would’ve made sure that nothing bad could happen to her. But I didn’t.

“Do you want to go home?” I asked, after a few minutes of comfortable silence. She shook her head. “Okay, water?” A small nod. “I’ll have to go buy some. Just wait here for me.”

I dragged myself up and crossed the road to get to the kebab van on the other side. I bought water for Charlotte and a burger for myself. Just as I was counting out the change I needed, I happened to glance in the direction of the road. I froze.

I felt like I was seeing it all in slow motion, an old black and white film on repeat.

Her stepping into the road. The car, sleek and black, careening around the corner. No. No, please god no –

The forever too-slow braking, the sound of wheels skidding. The car’s headlights illuminating her dazed expression for a moment like a spotlight as it made contact. Her lying on the ground. Too still, too still.

Then I heard screaming, distant and muffled, as if I was underwater. It took me a long time to realise that I was the one screaming.

This is an excerpt from my new New Adult novel ‘This Really Happened’ which will be released on Amazon March 1st! Read the blurb on my books page and follow for more sneak previews and updates coming soon. If you’re a book blogger and interested in getting an ARC review copy, get in contact at annmariemcqueen@aol.com