On September 14th, Colette Caddle was at the ABC Treehut in The Hague for a writing workshop at the invitation of the Irish Club. Colette is the author of fourteen best-selling books, including First We Take Manhattan, Every Time We Say Goodbye and The Secrets We Keep. She very kindly agreed to be interviewed by me prior to the workshop, and she was just as lovely as can be.
Have you ever been to the Netherlands?
Only once before, on a day trip from Antwerp with my husband. Our train broke down, though, so in the end we only spent a few hours in central Amsterdam rather than the entire day. It’s so nice to have a few days in The Hague now. When we arrived you saw all the modern architecture, but there are so many nice older areas, too. And I just saw the rehearsal for Prinsjesdag!
Have you any favorite books featuring the Netherlands or Dutch people?
Not really, no, sorry. The problem is that there are so many books out there, and when I’m writing I can’t read. I get too distracted and I worry I start writing like whoever I’m reading, or I read something so great that I get disheartened and think “Why do I even bother?”. So I don’t read when I write, and when I do have the time to read there is always a great big pile of books to choose from already. And a lot of those are from friends that have books out, too.
Yes, speaking of which: what is in the Irish water that so many bestselling authors hail from there? (Only 6 million inhabitants!)
I’m not sure! It’s in the blood, I suppose. We are storytellers. I don’t call my books “novels”, but rather stories, and I love telling them. They can also be set anywhere, because we all have the same problems and issues. I just happen to really like living in Dublin and Ireland so they’re generally set there.
Your books focus on relationships and overcoming hardships. You also mention in the FAQs on your website that boredom inspired you to write your first book. I assume that, 14 books later, that’s not the case anymore. But what does inspire you to keep writing, then?
Well, I really didn’t like my job at the time, and reading for me has always been about escapism. So I was having a tough time at work, and I would sit on my own at lunch and read a book. Then I read a terrible one, and I thought “Well, I can do better than that!”. So I wrote a few chapters, and a friend knew Patricia Scanlan, and she told me to send it off to a publisher. I did, and two days later I got a call that they wanted to publish it. Nowadays you’re supposed to get an agent first who then goes to the publishers for you, but back then I did it backwards! I got the publisher first and the agent next.
I only had a few chapters, though, but the publisher had a wonderful editor who really helped me with the rest of the story. I would write something, she would read it and then say “Oh no, this is so out of character!”. She talked about the characters in the book as if they were real. We would meet up at her house, her husband would be cooking something and in the kitchen the three of us would discuss the book.
Halfway through that first book she died, however, and a week later my father died. It’s a miracle that book, Too Little, Too Late, was ever written. I really felt it was my duty to her to finish it.
As for inspiration for future books, well, I always get ideas everywhere I go. They generally go on the back burner. My books are contemporary, so they will reflect the times. I’ve seen, with the crisis going on, people who have lost the safety of their jobs, and who have gone on to find a career doing something they truly loved. That’s also the case with my latest book, First We Take Manhattan. The main characters start their own millinery business, and it’s tiny, but they are doing what they love. And with hard work and sheer luck they become successful. That’s a combination that’s also true for success in real life.
Have you ever considered writing in other genres? If so, what genre?
Yes! The past few books have been going steadily darker anyway, but I was asked to write a novella for an adult literacy program in Ireland, the Open Door series. I had to write a story that would appeal to both men and women, in somewhat simplified English, and it turned into a crime novella. The focus is still on relationships, but I got to write about the crime and the mystery, too.
If I do write in another genre I will write under a pseudonym, though. My name is tied to a particular genre now, and I owe it to my readers to keep writing those stories. They’ve supported me for so long!
You have some wonderful writing tips on your website (Don’t prevaricate; Be yourself; Show don’t tell; Plan the timeline; etc.). Which of your own tips do you find the hardest to follow?
Procrastination! (Or “Discipline” on my website.) It’s so hard to not get distracted! I will allow myself to change the decor of the room, or anything else I notice that needs changing, once I finish the book. My friends all tell me I’m happier when I’m writing a book, and I’ve noticed that too. So I should just keep writing.
Do you think self-publishing (for example, via the Espresso Book Machine) is the way to go, or should aspiring writers still submit their manuscripts to traditional publishing houses?
I think you should try the traditional publishers first, because they offer professional editors. There is nothing more important to me and my books than a good editor. They give truthful advice that your family, for example, can’t give. Your family will either be too kind or too cruel.
That’s not to say that self-publishing is a bad idea. But I do think that, when I read self-published books, parts are missing that an editor could help fill or take out. I highly recommend that, if you are self-publishing, you spend money on a good, professional editor.
Paper, digital or audio?
Definitely not audio, because that’s too much like TV to me. I prefer to hear the characters in my head. I think there’s room for both paper and digital. I’ve found that people who love a book on their ereader will buy the paper version to have in their bookcases.
Fiction or Non-Fiction?
Fiction, because real life is too horrible at the moment! If I do want to read non-fiction, it will generally be a biography.
Who is your literary crush? (Or was, when you were younger.)
Mr. Darcy! I loved that he seemed one way and turned out to be something else. And I loved the fact that Lizzie and he learned to accept their shortcomings and love each other.
Have you ever bought a book for its cover?
Gosh! I don’t think so. Because I know so many authors I usually buy a book because it was recommended to me by them or because I know the writer.
Hmmm, I don’t believe in a book changing your life. I will tell you the books that have touched me the most, though: The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. You read those stories and you think “that’s still going on in the world today.” It’s so easy to be humane from afar.
Have you ever faked reading a book?
Oh, gosh! I haven’t faked reading a book, but I have not been able to finish books. Classics or award-winning books that everyone claims are great, for example. If they are too filled with negativity I find it very off-putting, so I’d rather not finish it and read something else.
What are you reading now?
Nothing because I’m editing my latest book.