If like me you loved ‘Stable Mates’, ‘Country Affairs’ and the delightful Christmas freebie, ‘A Very Country Christmas’ , you have been looking forward to today’s release of ‘Country Rivals’ from the lovely Zara Stoneley. I’ve already read this fab story and I will share my review later today but for now, enjoy my interview with this talented author and follow the Tippermere Trail with Zara .
How long have you been writing? Was there one event or person who inspired you to start writing? If so can you tell us about them?
I’ve always loved writing and reading, and submitted my first book (a thriller, to Michael Joseph – I aimed high!) when I was in my early teens. Mum always encouraged me to write (she wanted me to write a James Herriot style novel – and lent me her old typewriter to do so!), which is why Stable Mates is dedicated to her. My Grandad also inspired me when I was younger. He was sure that we are related to Elizabeth Gaskell, an author who lived very close to where I do now.
Are you a full time writer? How important is writing in your life?
I’m lucky enough to write full time now, until recently though I juggled writing with a day job. I love writing, and can’t imagine not doing it. Practically every day I see or hear something that I have to jot down as I think it will be wonderful material for a book – so I’d probably explode with frustration if I wasn’t allowed to write!
You write erotic romance and more recently bonkbuster novels, which do you prefer writing and why?
I never set out to write erotic romance, but Accent press ran a competition to write an erotic novel, with a publication contract as the prize. I entered, and as a result ‘Forfeit’ was published in 2012. It was great fun to write the books, but my current publisher (HarperCollins) then suggested I write more of a ‘bonkbuster’.
My natural voice probably lends itself more to romcom, I like to see the funny side of life, which doesn’t always sit well in an erotic romance. I really love the books I’m writing now (which my editor originally suggested) – they’ve been likened to Jilly Cooper and Fiona Walker, but they’re a lighter version. Funny, true to life, with quirky characters and great animals, and set in our wonderful Cheshire countryside – all the things I love, which I hope shines through in the stories. They still have some sexy, steamy scenes, but aren’t as intense as my erotic romances were – and so probably more ‘me’ – I like my ‘naughty’ with a laugh on the side.
Zara Stoneley is your penname. How did you decide on your penname and why do you use one?
I originally wrote contemporary romance as Susie Medwell, but decided I needed an alternative for my erotic novels to avoid confusion.
I love the name Zara, and Stoneley was derived from the name of the village I grew up in. When I started to write my current books for HarperCollins they said they loved the name Zara Stoneley and asked if I could stick with it – so Susie (after one book) seems to have been ditched!
Can you describe your writing process if you have one?
A ‘what if’ usually is normally my starting point (more about this below!), I then need a very clear picture of my characters – I jot down notes (on cards) so that I can visualise them and understand what makes them tick.
I then often crash ahead and write the first couple of chapters, because I know how the story will start, how it will end, and the key points.
At the start of each day I plan out the scenes very roughly, and then write. I’ve always found that I need some sort of plan, but I don’t like to be too rigid – more often than not, as my characters develop the story will change – but the broad outline stays the same.
The world building in your Tippermere series is wonderful. Can you tell us what inspired you to create Tippermere and its residents?
Thank you! I love Tippermere – I want to live there! My editor originally asked me if I could write a modern take on a Jilly Cooper type novel, as most of my books had dogs, horses and the countryside featured in them. I jumped at the chance – and Tippermere is a mix of all the best bits of the villages around and about where I live in Cheshire. Having ridden and kept horses for a large chunk of my life, and had dogs (and run a dog grooming business), I’ve come across lots of funny incidents, and met masses of wonderful country people. The residents of Tippermere aren’t based on individuals I’ve known, but I have stolen some characteristics and events from real life. I’ll be very sad the day I have to leave Tippermere for good!
‘Country Rivals’ is the third book in your Tippermere series, can you tell us a little about it? Is ‘Country Rivals’ the end of the Tippermere adventures?
Country Rivals has been great fun to write. If you’ve read the other Tippermere books, you will know that Lottie runs a wedding business from her home, Tipping House, as a way of providing income to maintain the estate.
A few years ago, an irate wedding guest at a wedding venue near to where I live set fire to it, and I thought ‘what if this happened to Lottie?’ How would she cope, could she find a solution – or risk losing her inheritance?
When a film crew asks if they can use Tipping House as a location, Lottie feels she has little choice. There are a few twists and turns, a very hunky polo player and a scheming, nasty actress, plus a lot of laughs and some tragedy – as Lottie risks losing her husband and her home.
I can’t possibly drag myself away from Tippermere yet – it’s got a mention in my next book, The Holiday Swap (but with new characters) – and I would love to write about Lottie and the gang again.
It’s vital for authors to have a social media presence. Is this something you enjoy? Do you have a favourite social media platform and why?
I have met lots of lovely people on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but I have to admit the downside is that it can be too easy to chat, which can be a great distraction. At the end of the day, writing has to be my priority.
If I have very little time to spare, then Twitter is great as you can pop in and out (and Instagram can be inspirational), but the interaction on Facebook can be more rewarding.
Have you a favourite author, book or genre that you like to read?
I read all kinds – whatever suits my mood, and love to discover new authors. I’m really looking forward to Jilly Cooper’s next book Mount, and Fiona Walker is a must-read author for me. I enjoy a thriller (if it’s cleverly written), and nothing can beat a good romcom when I’m on holiday.
What’s next for Zara Stoneley?
I am really excited about my next book, The Holiday Swap! It’s due out later in the year, and if you like the film The Holiday, then this could be a book you’ll enjoy. It’s brilliant fun for me, because I get to visit Tippermere again, plus I’ve got a second setting of Barcelona – a city I spend a lot of time in, and absolutely love. It’s already up for pre-order on Amazon, but for now the cover is being kept under wraps (it’s gorgeous!).
My top 7 favourite places to visit in Cheshire
Tippermere, the setting for Country Rivals, is actually a fictitious place (sorry), but I’ve drawn inspiration from some of the best spots in Cheshire.
Follow my ‘Tippermere Trail’ and check out some of my favourite places – and you’ll be a fair way to knowing exactly how it looks in my head!
Don’t miss the fabulous Lyme Park – the estate was used as the setting for Pemberley in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I’ve often wandered down to the lake and waited for Mr Darcy to emerge – but I’ve not had any luck yet! The inspiration for the Tipping House Estate started here – I have no problem at all imagining Rory and Lottie strolling by the water, or Pandora and the crew (in Country Rivals) filming in this wonderful place.
Cheshire Polo Club – take a picnic, drink champagne and tread in the divots. You don’t need to know anything at all about polo, or even horses, to enjoy a fun and romantic afternoon (and it’s a great excuse to dress up). I still don’t quite understand all the rules, but the action can be fast and furious, and the riders incredibly brave.
Enjoy tea at The Belle Epoque in Knutsford – this is a stunning hotel with Art Nouveau fireplaces and a Mediterranean roof garden, and the champagne afternoon tea is delicious! A stroll in Tatton Park (Brideshead Revisited and Cold Feet have used this as a location) could be the perfect end to the day.
The Lovell Quinta Arboretum is at Swettenham, just outside Congleton. Park your car at the Swettenham Arms and wander through 12.5 acres of meadows filled with wild flowers, and a wonderful arboretum filled with more than 2500 trees and shrubs. It is very much off the beaten track and wonderfully peaceful.
Cholmondeley (pronounced chum-ly) Castle is one of those hidden treasures, and I love this romantic gothic castle with its beautiful gardens. It has an intimate atmosphere and you can take your picnic down to the lake and feel like you’re a lady for the day. (There’s also a fabulous pub just outside the estate, The Cholmondeley Arms if you forget to pack the sandwiches). Time your visit right and you could see Jazz in the Garden, the Power and Speed Festival, Horse Trials, or annual celebrity cricket match (remember that cricket match in Stable Mates? Now you know where I got the idea!).
Alderley Edge – is a gorgeous village, and the main inspiration for Kitterly Heath (this place is SO Sam). Whenever I visit I just have to buy something from the G. Wienholt Bakery, there’s also a fabulous butchers shop, lovely boutiques and even the charity shops are well known for designer wear. Do some window shopping, sit outside one of the many restaurants or café’s and celebrity watch (several actors and premiership footballers live in the area), then go for a stroll on…
The Edge – this was the setting for Alan Garner’s novels The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and offers a panoramic view across Cheshire and the Peak District. It has inspired scenes in more than one of my books, and is where Mick takes Pip in ‘Stable Mates’ when he’s decided to get to know her better!
Dashing eventer Rory is ready to button up his breeches and settle down. His gorgeous wife, Lottie, wants a bank balance in the black so she can protect the beautiful family estate for future generations.
But with the wedding business at Tipping House going up in flames, and rumours that it was arson not accident, Lottie begins to wonder who she can trust with her future.
Tranquil Tippermere is under siege as movies moguls and insurance investigators invade the countryside, and as events gather pace rescue plans start to look too good to be true, and intentions may not be as honourable as they seem.
As a moody, but definitely marvellous, polo player enters the fray and squares up to the eventing hero of Tippermere, does Lottie stand to lose her husband as well as her home?
Zara was born in a small village in Staffordshire, educated in Cheshire, and went on to study at Liverpool University. After a successful career as an IT consultant, she decided to follow her heart and ran a dog grooming business for several years before becoming a full-time writer.
Her fun, romantic, romps draw on her experiences of village life, and her various love affairs with dogs, cats and horses. These days if she’s not at her laptop, you can usually find her trudging across fields on foot, or sat on the back of a horse.
Zara divides her time between a country cottage in Cheshire and an apartment in Barcelona. Her most recent novels include the popular Stable Mates, Country Affairs and Country Rivals.