Eloise is still coming to terms with the death of her mother two years previously when she takes a job as a waitress in a tearoom while she is home from university to spend the summer in Guernsey. There she meets regular customer, Josephine, whose hobby is writing short stories. English student, Eloise, offers to read some of the stories and is surprised by how good they are. She organises a special ninetieth birthday treat for Josephine but when the elderly lady doesn't show up for her usual Wednesday morning elevenses, Eloise gets a feeling that something is terribly wrong.
Where is Josephine? And will she ever find out about Eloise's extraordinary act of kindness?
Today is my turn on the Blog Tour for Julia Roberts' "Time for a Short Story". This is indeed a short story - about 38 pages long and easily read in one sitting. I was delighted when Julia said she would also answer a few questions for me about her writing as part of my blog post today.
So without further ado, I'll hand over to Julia!
In "Time for a Short Story" Josephine says, "The best university, if you're serious about being a writer, is life." Is this also your opinion? What would be your top tip to any aspiring writer?
Not necessarily, although to quote Ernest Hemingway; "To write about life, first you must live it." Josephine is ninety so, like my mum, believes that there are things in life that school and university can't teach. My tip to any aspiring writer would be to start putting your ideas down on paper and see what develops.
At the end of this book, you explain that the inspiration for this short story is your mum. Did she influence your passion for writing? Do you ever read each other's work-in-progress or bounce ideas around together?
I wouldn't say Mum influenced my passion for writing but both she and my dad were very supportive of my desire to write. Twelve years ago they bought me a gold Caran d'Ache pen and I still have the accompanying note; "Hope this pen will inspire you to write happy notes, cheery letters and - perhaps - a novel!" Unfortunately, my dad didn't live to see my work in print but I like to believe he knows. With regard to reading each others work-in-progress, I don't share my with Mum until it is finished. She and my twenty-eight year old daughter, Sophie, are always the first two people to read my work. Mum likes to read her stories to me when she is still working on them and asks for suggestions if a piece of the plot is proving tricky.
There are several characters in "Time for a Short Story"; all of them have back stories and all of them probably deserve a longer story of their own. Will we be meeting any of them again in a future novel?
I'm not sure, but probably not. Funnily enough, my copy editor asked me why I didn't make "Time for a Short Story" into a full length novel as she also wanted to know more about the characters - I think Josephine may well have led quite a colourful life!
Tell me a bit about your "Liberty Sands" trilogy.
I had the idea for the trilogy while I was on holiday in Mauritius, recuperating from a year of quite intense medication. The protagonist, who we meet at the beginning of "Life's a Beach and Then...", is single mum, Holly Wilson, who has recently landed herself a job as an undercover travel blogger, travelling to luxury resorts around the world. She hasn't had a boyfriend in the twenty years, since the father of her child deserted her when she was pregnant, choosing instead to devote her life to bringing up her son, Harry. In Mauritius she is introduced to writer, Philippe, by a British couple she has met, whose lives are set to be devastated by terminal illness. Holly falls in love with Philippe and he pledges to join her in England when he has finished writing his book. A series of misunderstandings cause Holly to break off their relationship before discovering she is pregnant with his child. The second book, If He Really Loved Me..., brings Harry in to the story more as he begins searching for the father he has never known, after finding out his mum is pregnant again. His search, aided by one of his university friends, Amy, who is secretly in love with him despite being his best friend's girlfriend, takes him to Los Angeles where he meets his grandparents and discovers the real reason that his father, Gareth, abandoned his mother. I also introduce 'knight in shining armour, Nick, towards the end of the book, posing the question who will Holly choose to spend the rest of her life with. It's Never Too Late To Say... is the conclusion of the trilogy. In it, we finally meet Holly's estranged mother, Carol, who we have heard about in the previous two books. She is an alcoholic suffering from liver cirrhosis and alcohol-induced dementia. It is a darker storyline in places but we do end up back on the beach in Mauritius for a wedding. The question is, who is marrying who?
I see from your back catalogue that you have written an autobiographical book, "One Hundred Lengths of the Pool." You have led a very varied and fascinating life. What one thing from your life so far do you think has had the most impact on you as a writer?
I feel very blessed to have led such a full life and, like most people, assumed I had many years ahead of me to 'eventually' write the novel I had always wanted to. Shortly before "One Hundred Lengths of the Pool" was due to be published, I was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia. I remember walking out of University College Hospital in London in a state of shock. I had cancer and at that point I had no idea if the drug therapy was going to work for me. I think that may have been the catalyst for me to start writing fiction, once I was feeling well enough, just as losing my dad was the catalyst for me writing "One Hundred Lengths of the Pool."
What would you say were the main differences between writing a non fiction book and a fictional one?
"One Hundred Lengths of the Pool" was about remembering special moments in my life, whereas my novels are using my imagination to create story-lines, although, in truth, elements of my novels have their basis in real life.
What do you think are the main differences between writing a short story and a longer novel?
The obvious answer is that it doesn't take as long. This is my first attempt at a short story and it started off as an exercise to see if I could do it. I hadn't plotted it out at all, I just sat down and started to write. Award-winning novelist, Sue Moorcroft, had very kindly forwarded me some notes from a talk she had given at a meeting of the London chapter of the Romantic Novelists' Association that I had been unable to attend. The most important thing I learned from those was that you still need to tell the whole story but in a condensed way, with fewer characters and locations.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I have plotted my next full length novel which I hope to make a start on writing in my next break from QVC in a couple of weeks time. I'm also intending to write another short story in the next six weeks or so, and a Christmas novella for which I have a great title but as yet a very 'sketchy' plot - maybe that will have to be for Christmas 2017!
The title "Time for a Short Story" has a double meaning in this instance. What one ambition do you want to make time for in the future?
I'm glad you picked up on the double meaning. Honestly, I feel very fortunate to have done the things I have in my life so I'm not sure I can apply the word 'ambition' to anything I would still like to achieve. If I can stay healthy, and keep writing books and stories I will be happy, especially if one day I can share my writing with grandchildren.
What are you currently reading?
I'm currently reading Sue Fortin's "The Girl Who Lied" although I must confess I'm only a couple of chapters in - so far it's really good.
And now, my review of "Time for a Short Story"!
"Time for a Short Story" is a charming book; a gentle easy read that nicely accompanies a slice of toasted teacake and frothy coffee, just like one of the main protagonists, Josephine, likes to enjoy once a week at her favourite café!
Roberts' story is less than 40 pages long and can be read in one sitting in your local café while eating homebaked goods – and believe me, with all the description of cakes, sponges and café ambience, that is the only place you really can sit to read it!
There are a handful of interesting characters, all with a back story and all well established in the brief time Roberts has within these mere 8000 words. The pages are packed full of characters, mini stories and touches on lots of themes. There is a great balance struck between developing enough complexity to carry an enjoyable plot, without things becoming too unnecessary complicated or convoluted.
This is a comfortable, comforting read about realizing dreams, rebuilding relationships and the power of storytelling.
If you are looking for something to nudge you along your creative journey, then read this. Or, if you just fancy an extra slice of something one afternoon, help yourself to this satisfyingly light morsel!
"Time for a Short Story" was published on Monday 12th September 2016.