I’m delighted to have another Ruby Fiction author visit the blog this week. Chris Penhall’s latest book, New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun, was published on Tuesday. You can find buying options on the Ruby Fiction website here
Welcome Chris. First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
Thank you for inviting me onto your blog.
I’ve got two grown up daughters, am an author – I love saying that! – and a freelance producer for BBC local radio. I’m originally from south Wales but have lived in London and Portugal and now live in the Essex countryside with a cat and a few pairs of dance shoes as I’m an enthusiastic salsa and tap dancer.
What inspired you to start writing?
I have always wanted to be a writer, but when I was younger always found reasons not to try. When I moved to Cascais in Portugal many years ago with my late husband and two young children I finally had the time and head space to start, so I wrote a short story, a screenplay and a novel. They weren’t very good at all, but I look back and realise it was as much about actually putting words on a page and finishing the projects as writing something that was suitable for publishing. I was inspired by the beauty and vibrancy around me, even though the stories were not about Portugal. Many years later after moving back to the UK I started writing again.
Tell me about your journey to publication
I began to write The House That Alice Built about 9 years ago, and would pick it up and work on it off and on in my spare time. Because I was writing so sporadically I lost the sense of what it was about and enrolled on an online romantic novel writing course. It was really helpful as, with the help of my tutor I was able to develop the storyline, the characters, and actually finish it! I sent it out and received many very kind rejections until one day I got a note that said that I should keep at it as I definitely had something worth working on. It arrived at the right time as I was about to give up. So I brushed myself off, dusted myself down and started all over again…I got myself a mentor who encouraged me to change the structure so it was only from the main characters point of view, worked on it for another 18 months and started sending it out again. I entered the Choc-Lit Search for a Star Competition in 2019 and much to my delight, I won. The moral of that story is never give up on your dreams.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun is the sequel to The House That Alice Built. In the first novel, we follow Alice Matthews who runs off to stay with her friend near Lisbon as she has just lost her job and her ex wants to sell her beloved house. Unable to deal with any of it, she decides to disappear for a while, and in so doing finds a part of her that got lost over the years, falls in love, and begins to imagine a new kind of life.
New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun picks up the story as she is formally starting her new life in Portugal, full of hopes and dreams for a magical future. But as we all know, the road to true happiness always has a few unexpected trips along the way, and she finds that a few setbacks and secrets from the past make her re-think what she really wants. If you’ve read the first novel, then rest assured there’s a lot of fun and laughter plus a return of Mary’s strange tea, Aphrodite the cat, Elvis the dog and a bit more of a starring role for Ignacio’s yellow Rolls Royce.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
The working title was What Alice Did Next – that was partly because I loved reading What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next when I was a child, and partly because the novel is about what Alice did next! But I knew I needed something else when it came to publication. So the lovely folk at Choc-Lit came up with a few ideas, which we tweaked and chatted about and that’s how New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun came about. That’s what Alice wants anyway. But is it what she actually gets?
How do you plan to celebrate publication day?
Last year I celebrated the publication of The House That Alice Built in Lagos in Portugal, where I spend a lot of time. I went with some friends to a lovely restaurant called The Garden, which is full of fairy lights, flowers and little sculptures hidden behind the plants. It’s very Alice! This year I was intending to celebrate the publication of New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun exactly the same way but possibly in another restaurant in Lagos, but the current situation means that’s unlikely to happen. So, I think I’m going to be somewhere in South Wales instead, probably gazing at the sea, and definitely toasting Alice with a gin and tonic.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I’m working on a novel set in the UK about Miriam, who sells her business and rents a house by the sea in a place she used to spend holidays as a child. She needs a complete rest, some relaxation, no responsibility, and definitely as few people around her as possible. Due to a mix up with the paperwork she gets anything but.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
Like a lot of people over the past few months I’ve been reading even more than I normally do. One of my favourites is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, which is beautiful, evocative, and very different to anything I’ve read for a while.
I also enjoyed Normal People by Sally Rooney
Also How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran.
I’ve also got a lot of Choc-Lit and Ruby Fiction books on my to-read list too.
What are you reading just now?
I’m reading Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid which tells the story of a US band in the 1970s and their rise to fame.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
That is such a difficult question! It would definitely change on a day to day basis. Today it could be…Pride and Prejudice, or The God of Small Things, or Where the Crawdad Sings. But actually I think I’ll choose Bridget Jones Diary as I remember laughing out loud when I first read it, and if I’m stuck on a desert island I think a bit of laughter would go a long way.
Is there a book you’d love to see made into a film?
Well, I’d just like to say that What Alice Did Next and New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun would make excellent films. If anyone from Tom Hanks’ production company is reading, maybe you could have a look?! If I’m not allowed to plug my own novels, Where the Crawdads Sing is so very visual I would love to see it brought to life in a film.
Your wish is my command! Well, okay maybe not under my control but apparently there is a film of Crawdads planned. It’s a fabulous book isn’t it? One of my favourites of this year. There’s a bit about it here.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
You can follow me on Twitter @ChrisPenhall
Instagram : christinepenhall
Facebook is https://www.facebook.com/ChrisPenhallWriter
And my website is http://www.chrispenhall.co.uk
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
I’d always say Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice – feisty, intelligent, far from perfect and learns from her mistakes.