Today’s RONA short-listed author is nominated in the Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel category for her novel, Two Metres From You. It’s… Heidi Stephens
Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?
Since we’re celebrating, a very cold glass of Woodchester Valley Cotswold Classic 2018. I’m a big fan of English sparkling wine and this vineyard isn’t far from where I live. I did a tour there last autumn and stocked up!
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?
The Dark Horse in Bath. It’s an underground cocktail bar full of gorgeous artwork and handmade furniture. Fully seated, table service only, a proper grown-up drinking den. I love it.
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?
Hmm, tough one. I’m going to go with two people who I think would be the MOST fun on a night out – Johannes Radebe from Strictly Come Dancing and Nigella Lawson. I think we’d laugh a LOT.
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?
I’m currently writing Book Four, which is part of my deal with Headline. I’m about 50k words in so lots still to do, but my deadline isn’t until September so I’m pretty happy with where it’s at. Would love to finish it by June so I can have the summer off! (from writing, anyway – I still have a proper job). It’s a romantic comedy that features a girls’ trip away, a stray dog and a really hot tennis coach.
What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?
My kids went to London a couple of weeks ago and sent me a picture of my debut novel on the shelf in Waterstones Victoria. Everything has happened quite quickly for me – I started writing my first novel less than two years ago. But that really felt like a really proud moment.
The biggest challenge has been remembering to take a breath and enjoy the process, rather than continually moving the goalposts and focusing on what I haven’t achieved yet.
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 think like a lot of writers, I’d like to make a decent living out of it one day. You don’t realise how difficult that is until you get into the small print of how this industry works. Right now I’m really happy to juggle my day job with freelance journalism and writing novels, but at some point it would be nice to put one of those balls down.
What are have planned that you are really excited about?
One of my journalistic sidelines is working for Eurovision.tv every year, liveblogging the full two weeks of the Eurovision Song Contest from first rehearsals to the Grand Final. I’m a huge Eurovision fan and it’s such a privilege to hang out backstage and chat to all the artists. It also means I’ll be spending two weeks in Turin, Italy in May, which I can’t WAIT for.
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’d always take a big sky and lots of trees over a city break – a few years ago my partner and I spent a couple of weeks hiking/driving around Andalucia in Spain and it was one of the most fabulous (and cheapest) trips I’ve ever been on. On my bucket list: a driving holiday in Canada. Skies and trees don’t get much bigger.
Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.
I really wanted to be an actor as a teenager, to the point where I applied for and was accepted into drama school. I dropped out after one term, having decided that other actors were shallow and self-absorbed, and thus by proxy I was also probably shallow and self-absorbed. Self-awareness is a terrible trait for a budding thespian.
Q10. 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’?
I’m a huge fan of Dreams Of Leaving by Rupert Thomson. It’s a spectacular debut, part adventure, part satire, party dystopian mystery. It also features a fictional English village where nobody is allowed to leave, to the point that it has its own police force to stop people escaping. I’ve thought about this (really quite dark) concept a thousand times in the past twenty years since I first read the book, wondering how you could write a fun, uplifting romance based a village where (for some obscure reason that I’ve never been able to define), nobody could leave. And then Covid happened, and I had the makings of my first book.
New Egypt is a village somewhere in the south of England. A village that nobody has ever left. Peach, the sadistic chief of police, makes sure of that. Then, one misty morning, a young couple secretly set their baby son Moses afloat on the river, in a basket made of rushes. Years later, Moses is living above a nightclub, mixing with drug-dealers, thieves and topless waitresses. He knows nothing about his past – but it is catching up with him nevertheless, and it threatens to put his life in danger. Terror, magic and farce all have a part to play as the worlds of Peach and Moses slowly converge.
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?
Before you go out, put a pint of water and two paracetamol beside your bed. Take the pills and drink ALL the water before you pass out, even though you won’t want to. You will thank me tomorrow.
If you forget/fall asleep in a gutter or someone else’s bed, you can’t beat a soft white roll stuffed with sausage and a fried egg, with your sauce of choice. And tea. SO much tea.
After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?
Curled up on the sofa with a good book and my dog Mabel, with someone to bring you unlimited tea and toast.
Thank you so much for chatting to me this evening, Heidi, I have enjoyed it very much and I wish you great luck with your nomination in the awards.
Heidi’s RONA-nominated novel, Two Metres From You is out now in all formats and you can buy a coy here.
Love might be closer than you think…
Gemma isn’t sure what upsets her more. The fact she just caught her boyfriend cheating, or that he did it on her brand-newHeal’s cushions.
All she knows is she needs to put as many miles between her and Fraser as humanly possible. So, when her best friend suggests a restorative few days in the West Country, it seems like the perfect solution.
That is, until the country enters a national lockdown that leaves her stranded. All she has for company is her dog, Mabel. And the mysterious (and handsome!) stranger living at the bottom of her garden . . .
Heidi’s new book, Never Gonna Happen will be published on 26 May and you can pre-order a copy here.
Emily Wilkinson has lost everything. Literally. In a hair straightener fire, which has sent her entire flat up in flames. Oh, and her boyfriend (and, incidentally, boss) has just announced he’s going back to his wife. So, she needs a new job, a new wardrobe and somewhere to live that isn’t her former childhood bedroom, which is experiencing a hostile takeover by the entire contents of Hobbycraft.
Early dotcom millionaire Charles Hunter is looking for a live-in PA to help run Bowford Manor and it seems Emily may be the perfect fit. Well, she’s spent ten years propping up demanding men, so it’s not like she’s not qualified. And, most importantly, it’s tucked away in the Norfolk countryside, so there’s little to no chance of a blossoming romance . . .
She is quickly sucked into the whirlwind of the Hunter family and finds herself fending off a difficult housekeeper and Leon, Mr Hunter’s driver, who has a crush on her the size of East Anglia. Not to mention Charles’s eldest son, Adam, who seems set on turning the estate into a theme park the second his father pops his clogs.
But no one mentioned the dashing stable hand, Jamie, who just so happens to be the youngest Hunter. But she’s not about to make that mistake again. Definitely not. No, really.
Heidi Stephens is an exciting new contemporary fiction author. Her stunning debut novel, Two Metres From You (Headline) – a story about romance, village life, and mandatory dog exercise – has been shortlisted for the 2022 Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award.
Heidi’s second book Never Gonna Happen (Headline) publishes in May 2022. A hugely uplifting and totally irresistible romantic comedy that will make you snort with laughter. If you love Sophie Kinsella, Mhairi McFarlane and Sophie Ranald, you don’t want to miss this unforgettable page-turner.
Heidi writes The Guardian’s wildly successful Strictly liveblog and regularly appears on Breakfast TV to talk about Strictly. Lockdown gave her the opportunity to fulfil her lifetime ambition of writing a novel. In her career she has worked as a freelance journalist and in advertising and marketing; some of her early writing work includes instruction manuals for vacuum cleaners, saucepans and sex toys. She lives in Wiltshire with her partner and their Labrador, Mabel.
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