In 2014 I had the pleasure of reviewing Carol Cooper’s debut fiction novel, One Night at the Jacaranda (you can see my review here) together with a Q&A with Carol here. Carol’s new book, Hampstead Fever was published on June 30 and will be available online and in bookstores. It has some of the same characters as the earlier novel, and is set in North London.
I’m delighted to welcome Carol back to the blog with a guest post on her experience of writing both fact and fiction.
A Leap from Fact to Fiction
My novels appeared after a string of non-fiction books and about twenty years of medical journalism.
What took me so long? After all, I’d always wanted to be a novelist. I even had a stab at it when I was a student, though at the time I knew nothing of the world and my only talent was passing exams.
Well, life got in the way. I didn’t get much writing done when I was a junior doctor on duty for over 100 hours a week. Then, when I had children and became a family doctor, I began penning droll articles for other medics, followed by books on parenting and child health for the general public.
I started writing for The Sun newspaper. It’s a great gig, because I get to have my say on the big health topics of the day, from radiation spills to corset training.
Still keen to try my hand at fiction, I went to a creative writing class at London’s City Lit, then a novel-writing course.
It was thrilling when the tutor – Ruth Rendell, no less – complimented me on a few things I’d written. But then she delivered the killer question: “Carol, could you handle a strong plot?”
Actually, I couldn’t at the time. There were children’s books about railways in East Anglia, missing Royal teddy bears, and a fourteen-year old in a wheelchair. I also wrote half a novel about a female surgeon before it fizzled out.
On the plus side, I’ve always made things up. Raised as an only child, I had a large imaginary family of sisters, all with Spanish names. Together we ran away to the circus and had adventures.
The storyline for my first novel came to me out of the blue, on a flight to the USA. I began jotting ideas for a story about dating. My scribbled notes on a paper napkin eventually grew into One Night at the Jacaranda. People bought the book and said lovely things about it, so I began a second novel called Hampstead Fever.
Fiction satisfies my creative instincts, but it’s different to write. I must weed out journalese, expand abbreviations, and make the facts serve the story, not the other way round. Pages crammed with information are what readers buy non-fiction for, but in fiction that kills the narrative and sends readers into a coma.
Novel-writing also demands concentration. While I’m now a part-time doctor and those 106-hour weeks are firmly in the past, it’s still a challenge finding the time.
And yet, what an apprenticeship medicine is. Patients have opened my eyes and let me into their lives, a huge privilege. While I can’t put them (or colleagues) into a book, they never fail to amaze and inspire me.
In my first novel One Night at the Jacaranda there’s a stressed GP, and a young patient diagnosed with terminal cancer. Out in June, Hampstead Fever follows some of the same characters and also has a few medical touches.
Being a doctor, the very thing that slows my writing down, is also what gives my fiction life.
About the book:
A heatwave brings emotions to boiling point…
It is high summer in London and trouble is brewing.
Chef Dan should be blissfully happy. He has the woman of his dreams and a job in a trendy Hampstead bistro. But his over-anxious partner, engrossed in their baby, has no time for him.
Stressed doctor Geoff finds solace in the arms of a mercurial actress. Journalist Harriet’s long-term relationship with Sanjay hits the buffers, leaving each of them with serious questions to answer. Meanwhile single mother of four Karen lacks the appetite for a suitable relationship.
Passion and panic rise in the heatwave. Who can spot the danger signs?
About the author:
Carol Cooper is a doctor, journalist, and novelist. She also teaches medical students at Imperial College.
After a range of non-fiction books and an award-winning medical text, she chose self-publishing for her novels, which are all about Londoners looking for love.
Like her fictional characters, Carol lives in leafy Hampstead, North London. Unlike them, she got married again in 2013. She loves a happy ending.