Kate has now written 14 novels (including The Chalet Girl and Gypsy Wedding) and two non-fiction books. She’s a former chairman of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, a quiz supremo and the best company I know. Her latest book, Cox, is a scintillating summer read about two rival rowers and is out on July 5 (review coming next month). The book promises “hot men in Lycra, thrilling races and plenty of steamy sex” – and yes, it delivers all three in classic Kate Lace style.
Kate kindly agreed to talk to House With No Name about writing, her favourite books and Cox.
Did you write as a child and did you always want to write novels?
Kate: Absolutely not! Never had any idea I could write and thought all creative writing at school was intensely boring and pointless. I did keep an excruciatingly awful teenage diary, which thankfully got lost in a house move.
You were a captain in the army before becoming a novelist. Did your army training give you the discipline to write?
Kate: I don’t know about the army giving me discipline but it gave me a huge fund of experiences and stories. I lived in loads of different places, including Cyprus and Germany and I learned how to do a bunch of weird and wonderful things from firing a heavy artillery piece to flying gliders. But I’ve always been quite self-disciplined. I was a terrible swot at school so parking my bum on a chair and just doing the work is something I’ve always be able to do.
Your first novel, Army Wives, was published in 1998. Can you tell me about the road to publication?
Kate: Actually, Army Wives was my third book although it was my first novel. I co-wrote my first book, about being a career officer’s wife, with a fellow army wife. For a self-published book, before the days of viral-marketing, Kindle and the internet, it did extraordinarily well. My co-author and I then co-edited a book all about getting on in other professions. It was all going terribly well but then the army posted her husband to Alabama and mine to Northern Ireland, and that was the end of that. So I decided to write a novel about army wives. It took me over a year to write and almost another two to find a publisher, but in this industry, luck plays an awfully big part. My book just happened to land up with an independent publisher starting a new mass-market paperback line. Right desk, right day, right book.
Your new book, Cox, is a brilliant portrayal of the rowing world. How did you go about researching the novel?
Kate: Again, luck played a huge role. I’m friends with a family whose son rowed for Cambridge and I also happened to know a whole heap of army rowers. And even luckier, one guy used to cox for the army eight and is now a rowing coach. Between them they managed to straighten me out about the wonderful world of rowing. I expect I’ve still managed to get stuff wrong – but if I have, it wasn’t their fault
Cox has got a racy title and an even racier cover. What reaction have you had so far?
Kate: My mother is scandalised. (Wait till she reads it!) Almost everyone else thinks the whole thing is a hoot and most of my female friends seem to spend a rather long time staring at the cover model. I can’t imagine why. But I think I am sensationally lucky to have such a fab cover. I absolutely adore it.
How and where do you write?
Kate: It depends how hard I’m finding the writing. On days when it isn’t going well, the gardening beckons, the ironing pile looks inviting, I’ll even resort to housework. But on really good days I start at about nine and work through to five quite easily with just the odd pitstop for food, tea, emails and Twitter. When I have a deadline I try to do a minimum of at least 1,000 words a day and hope to achieve 1,500. My writing space is a revoltingly messy study – it’s total chaos – but I look out of a big window on to the front garden so I can see what’s going on. Now the kids are grown up I’m quite often alone in the house, which is bliss. When I started my first novel, I was having to move house six times in five years, with three children under five. Life is much calmer these days.
Do you have any tips for writers working on their debut novels right now?
Kate: Yes, write it, put it in a drawer for several months, leave it completely alone and then read it. All the continuity errors, all those cups of coffee, pointless conversations, boring bits, plot flaws will shout at you.
What is your favourite novel? And are there any particular novelists who have inspired you?
Kate: Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. There are some spooky similarities with my upbringing (mainly a totally barking family background) and it makes me laugh and cry. If I ever get picked for Desert Island Discs, that’s my choice. As for inspirational novelists – I am totally in awe of Jojo Moyes.
Cox by Kate Lace (Arrow, £6.99)