Sophie Ranald talks about groomzillas and writing that ‘difficult second novel’.
Can you tell us about your latest book, A Groom with a View, and where the inspiration for it came from?
A Groom with a View is about planning a wedding. Obviously when couples become engaged, they’re loved up to the max – but wedding planning is horrendously stressful too. It puts unique strains on relationships and can actually make people behave in ways that are quite out of character.
I wanted to explore that period in a relationship: the problems couples encounter, the obsessiveness that can develop around every detail, and the hilarious loopiness that can result! It’s also about how the blending of families can expose deep-seated differences in the couple tying the knot.
I was originally inspired to write it by a friend’s lovely proposal story. Her wedding went ahead with minimal hitches, but her now husband’s initial response when she proposed to him made me think about overturning the gender roles we expect couples to adopt, and wonder what could happen if it was the man who became the “groomzilla”.
Were there any particular challenges in writing this book?
The cliche of the “difficult second novel” exists for a reason. My first book, It Would Be Wrong to Steal My Sister’s Boyfriend (Wouldn’t it?) seemed to write itself; this one was more like pulling teeth at times! There were many moments of self-doubt, and I am so thankful that my lovely partner was there to talk sense into me when I felt as if I was doing it all wrong.
What are you most proud of with this book?
A Groom with a View is chick lit. It’s a genre I love to read and write but it’s prone to stereotyping. I think it’s important to depict male and female characters in surprising ways, and I hope I’ve included some challenging issues in this novel alongside the stuff about fashion, friendship and romance we all enjoy so much.
What is your hope for the novel?
I’m absolutely thrilled with how It Would Be Wrong has done, and if A Groom with a View does as well I will be over the moon. When I started writing fiction, I hoped that people would love my books, escape into them, laugh and maybe shed a few tears. I don’t think a writer can ask for much more than that!
How will you be celebrating the launch of A Groom with a View?
That’s something I hadn’t thought about yet … The launch day is a Friday, and I’ll be at work all day so I’ll be hoping that there’s enough on to prevent me from hitting the refresh button on Amazon every five minutes! Once I’m home in the evening, I’ll succumb to the urge and watch my rankings obsessively, then either open some fizz to celebrate with my partner or spend the weekend sunk in deepest gloom.
What did you learn first time round that you took into this novel?
The lovely Tracy Bloom, who is also represented by Peta Nightingale at LAW and whose novel No-one Ever Has Sex on a Tuesday was one of the stand-out hits of 2013, has some excellent advice. She says that you need to think like a writer when you’re writing, and then turn off your writing head and think like a marketer. She is absolutely right, and marketing is not one of my strengths, so I have made a real effort to think about publishing this book with a business head on my shoulders.
You had some great feedback on It Would be Wrong to Steal My Sister’s Boyfriend (Wouldn’t It?), but what was the best feedback you received?
All feedback, good and bad, is hugely valuable for a writer. Obviously, though, we welcome the good a bit more enthusiastically than the bad! One of the loveliest reviews I had for It Would be Wrong came from a 17-year-old girl whose mum had given her the book for Christmas. She said it made her laugh out loud on the train, and that comment still makes me smile.
When did you start to think that you could be a writer and how did you make the leap?
I didn’t leap, I was pushed! I’ve always written for a living, as a journalist and editor, and nurtured dreams of writing a novel some day. But I found it impossible to write while working full time (although many people do, and I am in awe of them). So when I was made redundant in 2011, once I’d finished sobbing and imagining a life of penury, I saw it as an opportunity to make the dream a reality.
How has your experience of getting published been and what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I suspect most aspiring writers imagine, as I did, going down the traditional route of finding an agent, then in due course being offered a fat advance by a mainstream publisher. The reality, though, is that self-publishing is becoming an increasingly common and successful route to market. I was so lucky to be taken on by my wonderful agent, Peta Nightingale at LAW, who encouraged me to publish through Amazon’s White Glove programme. It offers promotional opportunities that aren’t available to writers without agent representation, and Amazon’s marketing muscle and Peta’s support and expertise have contributed immeasurably to my publishing journey.
So I would say that, even if you intend to self-publish, do so with an agent to hold your hand and offer reality checks when they’re needed (often!).
And finally, I love the title A Groom with a View, how important do you think titles are and what’s your favourite ever book title?￼
Thank you! Titles are hugely important: they need to be catchy and intriguing, but at the same time, especially in a crowded marketplace like Amazon, give the prospective reader a fairly clear idea of what to expect from the book. That said, the novels of Dorothy Whipple, which have been republished by Persephone Books, have brilliant titles. Who could fail to be fascinated by low-key, subtle titles like, “They Knew Mr Knight”, “They Were Sisters” and “Someone at a Distance”?
When you’re tying the knot, you can end up in a tangle… Nick and Pippa have been an item since forever, but they’ve always said marriage isn’t for them. That’s until, in a moment of mad romance, they find themselves engaged. Pippa knows she’s no bridezilla – and she’s definitely not expecting Nick to get swept off his feet by plans for floral centrepieces, vintage cake-stands and colour coordinated everything. Then Nick’s mum gets involved, secrets from Pippa’s past threaten to surface, and planning their perfect day begins to tear Nick and Pippa apart. This eagerly anticipated second novel from Sophie Ranald is a funny and poignant romantic romp.
Sophie Ranald is the youngest of five sisters. She was born in Zimbabwe and lived in South Africa until an acute case of itchy feet brought her to London in her mid-20s. As an editor for a customer publishing agency, Sophie developed her fiction-writing skills describing holidays to places she’d never visited. In 2011, she decided to disregard all the good advice given to aspiring novelists and attempt to write full-time. After one false start, It Would Be Wrong to Steal My Sister’s Boyfriend (Wouldn’t It?) seemed to write itself. Sophie also writes for magazines and online about food, fashion and running. She lives in south-east London with her amazing partner Hopi and Purrs, their adorable little cat.