Dinner party topics – or interrogations – often lead to a little book inspiration, says Sophie King.
‘What kind of books do you write?’ someone asked me the other day at a dinner party.
I hesitated slightly. You could call them love stories but at the same time, they are also family dramas. I’ve had a few of those in my time, I can tell you. The plus side is that, after the dust has settled (and even during) my writer side can’t help thinking it would make a good novel. After all, the best stories come from real events.
‘Actually, they’re romance mixed with every day domestic life,’ I replied. My interlocutor raised a quizzical eyebrow. ‘Is that possible?’ He shot a glance across the table at his wife who had been ignoring him all evening. I couldn’t help feeling that any flames of burning lust between them had burned out long ago.
‘Love doesn’t have to be romance,’ I tried to say manfully. (Why does that sound more courageous than ‘womanly’?). ‘It can mean all sorts of things.’
Another raise of an eyebrow. This time, the other one. How does he do that? I make a mental note to get one of my characters to follow suit.
‘What kind of things?’
Oh dear. As a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, I often find myself obliged to defend my genre. So here goes. ‘Well,’ I began, thinking of a recent conversation with my sister. ‘Love can mean a relationship with someone in the family.’
Both eyebrows shot up this time. ‘Like incest, you mean?’ Wow. I hadn’t thought of that one. Maybe that’s what I need to push the current plot forward.
‘Not exactly. More like a close friendship or a tricky one because you’re too close to see the wood for the trees.’
My neighbour slurped noisily out of his wine glass. It was almost enough to make me wish I drank too if only for a bit of Dutch courage. (I lost my taste for the stuff after a general anaesthetic although that’s another story.)
‘I knew someone who went off with his brother’s wife once.’
‘Really?’ My ears pricked up. As a novelist, you always keep your ears and eyes open.
‘Actually, she was his half-sister once removed.’ I didn’t bother to try and work that one out. Maths has never been my strong point.
‘Then there’s the love between friends,’ I pointed out. ‘Platonic love.’ There was a sniff. ‘Don’t believe in it, myself. If someone of the opposite sex is a friend, you’ve got to fancy them deep down.’ ‘Not necessarily,’ I retorted, looking at my husband who was having a right old chin wag with another mum whom I’ve known for years. ‘Prove it to me.’(This last sentence was said while my new ‘friend’ was shovelling in a mouthful of spinach. I resisted the temptation to tell him that he had a large green globule on his right cheek.)
‘Look around the table and tell me which of these people do or don’t fancy each other.’ Oh dear. This was beginning to feel like one of my books.
YOUR PLACE OR MINE is about a group of friends who meet up regularly to have meals at each others’ homes. All kinds of dramas happen as a result and by the final dinner party, life is never quite the same for any of them. ‘Right,’ announced our hostess. ‘Change places everyone!’ Yes! It was one of those ‘suppers’ where we all moved around the table after each course. It meant you could talk to different people and – in my case – make a graceful escape from others.
‘I saw you struggling a bit during your second course,’ said my husband on the way home.
‘I was,’ I admitted. We’re both enough on the same wavelength to know that we weren’t discussing the food.
‘Rubbish.’ If he hadn’t been driving, I’d have given him a playful dig.
‘You were flirting.’
‘No I wasn’t.’
‘Absolutely. There’s only one person for me.’ That’s a relief. ‘Apart from the dog of course.’
There are some rivals you can never beat. ‘Mind you,’ said my husband as we pulled up outside the home and the prospect of a cosy hot chocolate and warm bed beckoned. ‘I did hear some interesting scandal. Something to do with someone going off with his half-wife’s sister, three times removed…’
Half-wife? Surely that’s a stretch too far. Mind you, it’s amazing what you learn about love, fiction and families. Especially at dinner parties. The next one, by the way, is at our house. Watch this space. Do you have any good dinner party stories? If so, tweet me!
Second Time Lucky:
Meet the residents of Bridgewater House, once a grand stately home, but now converted into apartments which house a host of colourful characters, each with their own desires and secrets. Louise thought she had everything, then suddenly finds herself as a single mum with an uncertain future. Can she build a new life for her and her children? And has real happiness been right under her nose all along? Roddy was once the heir to Bridgewater House, but now he’s a drunken lord who’s fallen on hard times. Can he prove to his ex-wife that he has cleaned up his act, or is he about to risk everything in a desperate scheme to show how much he loves his kids? Molly is a famous actress, coming to terms with retirement and the recent death of her actor husband Gideon. But dare she tell anyone that Gideon still comes to visit her? And how will she react to some unexpected messages from beyond the grave? American Marcie always fantasised about marrying an English gentleman, just like one of her Jane Austen heroines. But will two resentful stepchildren, and failed attempts to have a baby of her own, get in the way of her dream happy ending? And what would her husband David make of her secret shame from the past? As each of these neighbours faces their own challenges, their lives are about to become entwined in ways they never could have expected. Second Time Lucky – doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance?
Love is a Secret:
Caroline is finding it difficult to trust her husband Roger. Can a marriage really survive an affair? Then a chance meeting makes her wonder if it’s time for a fresh start…. Susan is struggling to bring up her disabled daughter Tabitha on her own, and dreams of a better life for them both. But just when it seems things can’t get any worse, a knock at the door changes everything. Mark is learning how to be a single dad while his wife Hilary is away. But as he wrestles with the secrets he is keeping from his family, he’s blissfully unaware of the secrets they’re keeping from him. Lisa is looking forward to the birth of her child. Will a new baby help her get over the past? Whatever that is… Sometimes you have to keep a secret from the one you love – and sometimes you have to keep the one you love a secret.
The School Run:
Meet Harriet, Pippa, Evie, Nick, Kitty and Martine as they battle the daily school run. Share their ups and downs during one life-changing week, as they face relationship dilemmas, family dramas, secrets and lies … all leading to surprise events which cause their lives to collide. Harriet doesn’t know whether she’ll still have a marriage by the end of the week. But as she waits for her husband’s decision about their relationship, does Harriet have more choices of her own than she realised? Pippa is waiting too – for the results of medical tests that could bring devastating news about her health and future. But could it be Pippa’s own actions that threaten all she holds dear? Evie is struggling with her high-pressure job on a magazine and dealing with two step-daughters who hate her. But when her husband disappears can she rise to her biggest challenge yet? Widower Nick worries about his teenage daughter, Julie, as they approach the anniversary of her mother’s death. Can Nick keep his guilty secret about how she died? School teacher Kitty needs a man. At least that’s what her friend Mandy tells her. Can she win Mandy’s bet to find one by the end of the week? Martine is unhappy as the au pair for a famous TV couple. Will she find her escape with a married man? Meanwhile, Betty watches on, determined to find the hit and run driver who killed her young son… Seven people living different lives, but their paths are destined to cross in ways they could never have imagined.
Sophie King is the author of six novels and a collection of short stories about families, friends and lovers. Her first novel, The School Run, was a bestseller when first published in 2005, and it was a bestseller for the second time when republished by Corazon Books in 2012. Sophie also supports new romance writing through her annual writing competition The Sophie King Prize. In between novels, Sophie writes short stories and has had hundreds published in magazines. She also gives regular talks/workshops at bookshops and literary festivals. For three years, she was writer in residence at HMP Grendon, a high-security male prison. Sophie lives by the sea, in Devon, England. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association; Women in Journalism; the Society of Women Writers and Journalists and the National Union of Journalists.