Tonight’s guest is definitely someone who enjoys a good chat session over food and drink, as exhibited by her wonderful foodie-based romance novels. So I am delighted to be having Friday Night Drinks with author… Isabella May.
Welcome, Isabella and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?
As it’s Friday night and we’ve only just left summer behind, I’ve plumped for a goblet of Aperol Spritz in the hope of hanging onto the sunshine for a little longer…
If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?
I’d teleport you to Spain and we’d go to an amazing cocktail bar in Estepona, just down the coast from where I live, to enjoy refreshing drinks and a beach view – with the rock of Gibraltar and Morocco putting in an appearance in the distance if it’s not too hazy.
If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?
That would have to be Prince and Nigella.
So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?
It’s been quite a busy book year as I’ve released two novels in fairly quick succession. Bubblegum and Blazers was published in July, and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bar (my first Christmas novel) was published a couple of days ago. I also have my 9th book on the go: The Custard Tart Cafe launches on April 1st 2022, and I’m busy adding to my word count for that.
I was always writing funny little stories as a small child, accompanying them with quirky drawings, but growing up, I never perceived that as a sign that I’d go on to become a romcom author; I mean lots of children were doing the same thing at that age – if only at school during lessons!
In my late twenties, the storytelling bug began to bite at my heels again, and I invented a couple of children’s characters called Poodle and Noodle… and did nothing with them (in hindsight, they really weren’t all that innovative; I think I just got carried away after watching Toy Story at the cinema!). Then I had a few comedy script writing ideas which I sent off to TV production companies… only for them to be rejected.
A few years after escaping a very bad relationship, I knew I had to use my experience to help other people, and so the seed for my debut novel, Oh! What a Pavlova, was planted. But I wanted to write the book differently. I wanted it to reflect the double life I was living whilst working in international publishing at the time. I felt this two-tone aspect of domestic violence was rarely portrayed and that more awareness of it was needed. I was one very down-trodden person behind closed doors, and a whole other version of myself (the true version of myself, at least most of the time) from the moment I stepped out of my front door. That’s how Kate Clothier’s character was born. Essentially, ‘Pavlova’ is a cross-genre title as it had so many elements to it: romance, comedy, food and travel writing, and magical realism. It is as dark as it is light.
In other words, I took to breaking ‘the writing rules’ with book one like a duck to water… and I have never looked back. This has been as much a source of joy as it has disappointment.
On the one hand, I have a true USP, and I have built up a distinctive brand by remaining true to myself and refusing to tick the boxes required by most publishers. On the other hand, I have faced crushing rejection. The latter has been really hard to accept at times. I know I write well because my loyal and growing readership, and their fantastic reviews, reflect that back to me. And yet… whenever I try to take my books to a wider audience via an agent or a large digi publisher, I am met with the same old perceived problem of a dichotomy:
‘You write really well but you are trying to do too much and we just aren’t sure how we’d market you.’
In July 2020, fed up with the gate keeping, I decided to walk away from subbing for good and take my destiny in my own hands. I genuinely haven’t looked back, although it is very much a marathon, not a sprint.
I have a solid brand and so many more titles lined up, and I am super-charged and inspired by all of the indie and self-published trailblazers who are shaking up the industry in all of their various genres. It honestly feels like anything is possible and I am just excited to see where the journey takes me and my books.
Brave and exciting! What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?
I like to celebrate the little wins so there isn’t one defining moment – with the exception of getting that first novel out there, of course. That said, I do think, particularly as an indie, knowing your books are genuinely being loved and devoured by bookworms who aren’t just family and friends, is a huge turning point!
What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!
I spent 15 years working in foreign rights, selling children’s books all over the world in 45 languages – from Norwegian to Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese Simplified to Afrikaans, Thai to Basque. It was a fascinating job and knowing all of the hard work that goes into the sale and production of foreign rights, it would be an absolute dream to see my own books translated into just one foreign language! Don’t get me wrong, the NYT bestseller list and hitting the UK Amazon Kindle number 1 spot would be lovely… but as a linguist, I would take so much more joy from seeing my books out there on sale for readers in other countries. I hope those authors who are in such a situation view their good fortune as more than a ‘cherry on the cake’. It’s a huge privilege to see your novel ‘travel’.
What have you planned that you are really excited about?
I am very eager to become a fully-fledged indie author as of the end of this year. The rights for all 3 of my traditionally published books revert this year, with the final book of that trio, Costa del Churros (and a brand new and beautiful cover), returning to me at the very end of December. Then I plan to start the marketing of my Foodie Romance Journeys in earnest. Until then, things have been a little in limbo as it’s only really made sense to market organically. But once all of my books are in my hands as a self-published author, I plan to ramp the marketing up and treat this whole gig as a business.
I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?
I love to travel too! It’s been really disappointing to have to cancel so many trips over the past eighteen months, hasn’t it?
My obsession with travel, and the perks of my former career, have taken me to some amazing places, but nowhere was been quite as chocolate box beautiful as New Zealand – particularly its south island. I also have a huge soft spot for Italy. All of it! It’s just everything you could ever want from a travel destination, and so much more. I could never tire of Italy.
I will need to save up for the place that is probably top of my future travel list (overlooking my burning desire to get back to the UK to see my family!), and that’s Melbourne, Australia. Since becoming an author, I have made a number of really good author friends in the city, and I really want to visit them and hang out at all of the trendy eateries they have on their doorstep! Coinciding it with the tennis would be amazing.
I love Italy too, I’m hoping I can get over there for my big 5-0 birthday trip as planned next year. (Well, I’m hoping it’s planned, maybe this will give my OH another nudge. I’ve been dropping hints since I planned EXACTLY what he wanted for his fiftieth three years ago!)
Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.
I speak four languages: English (well, sometimes that’s a little more Somerset, a little less Queen’s BBC… especially after all these cocktails!), French, German, and Spanish.
I understand written Italian and Portuguese too.
Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?
My favourite book (so far) this year has to be The Orange Grove by Rosanna Ley. Rosanna is a very well-established author, but a new author to me. TOG is superbly written, emotional, sensual, life-affirming, thought-provoking, and full of the sights, sounds and smells of Seville. An absolute page-turner of a romance. One of those novels that will stay with me for a long time. I’d highly recommend it!
Holly loves making marmalade. Now she has a chance to leave her stressful city job and pursue her dream – of returning to the Dorset landscape of her childhood to open Bitter Orange, a shop celebrating the fruit that first inspired her.
Holly’s mother Ella has always loved Seville. So why is she reluctant to go back there with Holly to source products for the shop? What is she frightened of – and does it have anything to do with the old Spanish recipe for Seville orange and almond cake that Ella keeps hidden from her family?
In Seville, where she was once forced to make the hardest decision of her life, Ella must finally face up to the past, while Holly meets someone who poses a threat to all her plans. Seville is a city full of sunshine and oranges. But it can also be bittersweet.
Will love survive the secrets of the orange grove?
So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?
I try to make sure I have a glass of water in-between each cocktail! If this hasn’t worked and I’m feeling ropey the next day, then there is always CAKE 😉
After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?
Seeing as we’re in Spain, we’d have a late breakfast of churros (books in hand), hit the beach (books still in hand!) and brave the sea for a quick dip, then take ourselves into Gibraltar for afternoon tea on the Sunborn Yacht and a spot of tax-free shopping, before driving back into Spain and inland to Ronda for dinner overlooking the glorious and ancient Puente Nuevo bridge which is built into the cliffs of a dramatic gorge.
The next day we’d pop down to Malaga city for arty-farty sightseeing, Antonio Banderas spotting and tapas, finishing up with a champagne sunset cruise setting off from nearby Marbella. The perfect way to finish reading our books!
That sounds amazing, I’m jumping on a plane as soon as I can! Thank you so much for chatting with me this evening, I have had the best time.
Isabella’s latest book, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bar, is her 8th novel and it was published on 21 September. You can buy a copy here.
River and Alice miss Somerset. Christmas isn’t Christmas without family and friends, even when you live in quaint Cornwall.
When River’s Aunt Sheba dies unexpectedly, leaving him her ancient VW campervan, nostalgia nudges him and Alice back to Glastonbury – and the surrounding villages – to rediscover their roots whilst serving the most decadent hot chocolate and delectable gingerbread from their renovated ‘bar on wheels’.
A bar on wheels complete with a fold-up stage to host local talent competitions rivaling anything Simon Cowell could dream up, even if he’d gorged on a truckle of Cheddar cheese!
As the villagers sip their cocoa and ice their gingerbread houses amidst the festive backdrop of song, dance, and slightly more unconventional talents, River and Alice find themselves in an unexpected race against time:
Zara, their chocolate supplier is leaving Glastonbury on the twelfth day of Christmas, keen to put a string of disastrous relationships behind her to make a fresh start.
Bruno, their gregarious and gorgeous baking supplier is secretly smitten with Zara – ticking every box on her New Year’s wish list.
If only they can get them together for one experimental kiss under the mistletoe…
They’ve even enlisted their customers’ help in their mission to wrap this budding romance up in all the jingle bells and whistles. How hard can it be?
So, ho, ho VERY tricky, as it turns out…
Isabella May lives in (mostly) sunny Andalusia, Spain with her husband, daughter and son, creatively inspired by the mountains and the sea. Having grown up on Glastonbury’s ley lines however, she’s unable to completely shake off her spiritual inner child, and is a Law of Attraction fanatic, as well as a Pranic Healer.
After a degree in Modern Languages and European Studies at UWE, Bristol (and a year working abroad in Bordeaux and Stuttgart), Isabella bagged an extremely jammy and fascinating job in children’s publishing… selling foreign rights for novelty, board, pop-up and non-fiction books all over the world; in every language from Icelandic to Korean, Bahasa Indonesian to Papiamento!
All of which has fuelled her curiosity and love of international food and travel – both feature extensively in her cross-genre novels, fused with a dollop of romcom, and a sprinkle of magical realism.
You can find out more about Isabella and her books on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.