Colette Dartford

Colette writes contemporary fiction for adults.  Her books evoke a strong sense of place: the sun-drenched Napa Valley in Northern California; the fertile vineyards of South West France; England’s vibrant capital and its windswept countryside. Her debut novel, Learning To Speak American, was published as an e-book in November 2015 and was an Amazon top 100 bestseller, reaching number 5 in Romance. The paperback version of Learning To Speak American was published in July 2016. Colette’s second novel, An Unsuitable Marriage, was published by Bonnier Zaffre in March 2017 and is a kindle bestseller. Colette is represented by Robert Kirby at United Agents and published by Bonnier Zaffre.


School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family? 

My husband is Trevor – a youthful snappy dresser in his early 60s.

I have three children – a daughter in her mid-30s, a son in his early 30s and another in his late 20s. Two live and work abroad (one in Dubai and one in China) so I’ve accrued an awful lot of air miles. Despite geography, we’re a very close family.

Writing has always been a major part of your career, can you tell us what career roles you’ve had that include this?

Following a generous scholarship from the Economic & Social Research Council I undertook a doctorate in political science. This led to a career in policy and research, which involved a good deal of writing. The style was factual and evidential—reports and papers on specific issues—which is very different to the creative writing skills required to produce a novel.

How did you make the shift from non-fiction to fiction, and why?

I had the opportunity to live in California and the terms of my visa meant I wasn’t allowed to work. With time on my hands, and inspired by the beauty of the Napa Valley, I began to write a story. The more I wrote, the more immersed I became. That story eventually became my debut novel, Learning To Speak American.

Who are your typical readers?

My agent describes my books as ‘commercial women’s fiction,’ and because I write about relationships—marriages, love affairs, friendships—I suppose my typical readers are women with a degree of life experience behind them. That having been said, men read my books too and a few have even posted positive reviews on Amazon.

What is about the Napa Valley that so inspired you to write “Learning to Speak American”?

The physical beauty of the place, the abundant sunshine, the warm, welcoming people, and of course the delicious food and wine. I began with the premise that if you couldn’t be happy there, maybe you couldn’t be happy anywhere. So I took an affluent couple, devastated by the loss of their only child two years before, and put them in the Napa Valley to see if it would heal their broken hearts and mend their broken marriage.

What was the significance of finding out you were quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award?

It was a huge shock! I naïvely entered my first draft, not realizing that first drafts are notoriously dreadful, especially when written by a complete novice like me. I have no background or training in creative writing and wrote from the heart without reference to rules, but when I got an email from the ABNA I realized two things. Firstly, maybe I was onto something with this whole story-telling thing, and secondly, I needed help if I was to learn how to do it better.

Before “Learning to Speak American” was published by Bonnier Publishing you worked with Wanda Whitely, how did you work together?

Wanda runs a literary consultancy called the Manuscript Doctor. With over twenty years experience in publishing, she has a wealth of knowledge which she willingly shares with her clients. I sent Wanda Learning To Speak American and she suggested that rather than self-publish, I should make a few changes to the first chapter and then send it back to her. Once I had made those revisions, she forwarded the manuscript to a literary agent who now represents me. Wanda also gave me substantial feedback on my second novel—An Unsuitable Marriage. I value her advice greatly and find her so easy to work with. Without her I may never have got a publishing deal.

How do you handle the competitive elements of publishing?

This is a difficult question. I don’t think of myself as competitive because, although I am driven to do well, I’m happy for others to do well too. Of course I feel a tinge of ‘I wish it was me’ when I read the Sunday Times bestseller list, but I’m genuinely delighted for those authors because I know how hard they have worked to get there.

What are the challenges of self-promotion for women writers? How does this affect you personally?

Self-promotion is absolutely essential for authors but it doesn’t sit easily with me. I wasn’t brought up in the digital age and am acutely aware that the image we portray on social media is a once-removed representation of ourselves. It’s useful of course, because it enables us to reach such a wide and diverse audience, but I much prefer the personal touch—visiting book clubs and participating in bookshop events, especially the Q&A element. I love meeting readers and hearing what they have to say.

Your second novel “An Unsuitable Marriage” has recently been published, in what ways have you grown as a writer between books?

Dramatically. As I mentioned earlier, I have no background or training in creative writing, so am essentially self-taught. Throughout the writing process I have therefore actively sought out constructive criticism and acted upon it. It was the tenth draft of Learning To Speak American that was published, and the sixth of An Unsuitable Marriage. With my novel-in-progress, I’m hoping to nail it in four!

How does the double-edged sword of perfectionism impact you?

I set myself high standards in all aspects of life, and am hard on myself if I fail to achieve them. Being a professional author shines a particularly bright light on the pursuit of perfection because you open yourself to rejection, criticism and bad reviews. It comes with the territory so you have to find a way to deal with it. Many of us have a negative, censorious voice in our head telling us we’re not good enough, and the trick is to silence or ignore it.

How do you measure success at this point in your career?

When I was working on my first novel, success was finishing it. Once I had finished it, success was getting an agent. Once I got an agent, success was getting a publishing deal. Once a got a publishing deal, success was getting good reviews and selling lots of books. Now I suppose it’s getting better reviews, selling more books. Maybe it’s winning prizes, or making lots of money, or maybe it’s just being happy with yourself and your work.

What’s the pressure like when you’ve a book deal, advance and deadlines?

Because of my background, I’m good with deadlines. I don’t think I’ve ever missed one (see earlier comment about perfectionism). Authors don’t have much say in their advance which is negotiated by their agent, and for me a book deal is a source of security rather than pressure. I do get quite stressed out during the editing process, but so far my publisher hasn’t asked for major changes to my books.

Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In suggests “The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry”, how far do you agree with this sentiment?

I certainly wouldn’t argue with Sheryl Sandberg—the woman is an inspiration. And yes, of course having a supportive spouse is a huge bonus, not just in terms of your career, but in all aspects of life. I have been married for almost thirty-seven years and have three grown-up children. I didn’t start my writing career until my fifties and my husband has been there for me in every possible way. We make a good team.

In what ways do you draw inspiration from your own happy marriage of almost four decades?

Interestingly, although I am fortunate to have had a long and happy marriage, I write about relationships in crisis. At the heart of my first two novels are marriages tested to breaking point, although my novel-in-progress is about a love affair between an older man and a much younger man. Love in all its complexity fascinates me, not least because people fascinate me. The notion of two people committing to each other for life, without knowing what challenges that life will bring, is an extraordinary leap of faith. I took that leap and landed in just the right place.

How do you deal with the tyranny of the blank page or screen?

I write! You can’t edit a blank page so you have to put words on it. Lots of words. Don’t worry about them being ‘right’, just get something down. It’s amazing how, once you start writing, inspiration follows.

In Stephen King’s classic book On Writing he writes about tortured genius, how do you fit with this ‘wild side’ of creativity?

I loved ‘On Writing’ and while I’m not a fan of horror, I have nothing but admiration for Stephen King. From an early age he knew he wanted to be a writer and his dogged determination and devoted wife propelled him toward success. He freely admits to having been addicted to drink and drugs, and claims he doesn’t even remember writing some of his books. King is not alone of course—many authors have sought inspiration or solace this way. Sometimes it resulted in great novels but often it resulted in the destruction of great talent.

What is your 5 word memoir?

Laughed loudly and loved deeply

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)

This is a difficult question and one which I have given a lot of thought to. Beyond the issue of biology—that we are female and have given birth—I’m not sure there is a common denominator. Mothers are a hugely diverse group, spanning the whole of the social spectrum. I think it’s easy to romanticize motherhood and of course it is wonderful to create and nurture new life. The rewards can be great but not every mother has that experience. There are mothers who struggle with their role, and those who do it so badly that they inflict damage on their children, intentionally or otherwise. Society judges these women harshly because they appear to have gone against nature. But what about women who have chosen not to be mothers—have they gone against nature? Or those who wanted children but couldn’t have them—has nature gone against them?

It’s such a complex and emotive subject that I can’t possibly do it justice here. But I would say that although my two novels entail very different versions of motherhood, the common denominator is their unconditional love for their children. Perhaps that would be a good place to start…..


Click the links below to connect with Collette on social media:

Twitter

Facebook

55 thoughts on “Colette Dartford

  1. Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but
    after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.

    Anyways, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll
    be bookmarking and checking back frequently!

  2. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my
    comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing
    all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

  3. We’re a gaggle of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community.
    Your website offered us with useful information to work on. You have performed a formidable task and our whole community
    might be thankful to you.

  4. I every time used to study piece of writing in news papers
    but now as I am a user of web so from now I am using net for content, thanks to
    web.

  5. This paragraph provides clear idea designed for the new visitors
    of blogging, that actually how to do running a blog.

  6. My spouse and I stumbled over here coming from a
    different web address and thought I might as well check things out.

    I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to finding
    out about your web page yet again.

  7. I do not know if it’s just me or if perhaps everyone else experiencing issues with your website.

    It appears as if some of the text on your posts are running
    off the screen. Can somebody else please provide feedback and let me
    know if this is happening to them as well? This could be a issue with my internet browser
    because I’ve had this happen previously. Cheers

  8. I do not even understand how I finished up here, but I believed this publish was good.

    I don’t recognise who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger should you aren’t already.
    Cheers!

  9. Hey there I am so happy I found your webpage, I really found you by
    error, while I was looking on Askjeeve for something else,
    Regardless I am here now and would just like to say thanks a lot for a remarkable post
    and a all round interesting blog (I also love the theme/design), I
    don’t have time to browse it all at the moment but I have
    book-marked it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will
    be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the fantastic b.

  10. I am really inspired along with your writing skills as neatly
    as with the structure in your weblog. Is that this a paid subject matter
    or did you modify it your self? Anyway stay up the excellent high quality writing, it is rare to see a nice weblog like this one
    these days..

  11. I blog quite often and I really appreciate your content.
    This great article has really peaked my interest. I will take
    a note of your site and keep checking for new information about once per week.
    I opted in for your Feed too.

  12. Link exchange is nothing else however it is just
    placing the other person’s web site link on your page at proper place and
    other person will also do same in favor of you.

  13. With havin so much content and articles do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or
    copyright violation? My blog has a lot of completely unique content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of
    it is popping it up all over the internet without my permission. Do you
    know any ways to help stop content from being ripped off?

    I’d really appreciate it.

  14. Hello there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it
    is really informative. I’m gonna watch out for brussels. I’ll appreciate if you continue this in future.
    Many people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  15. Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have really
    loved browsing your weblog posts. In any case I will be subscribing
    in your rss feed and I’m hoping you write again very soon!

  16. Wonderful blog! I found it while searching on Yahoo News. Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Thank you

  17. Great work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on Google for not positioning this post higher! Come on over and visit my site . Thanks =)

  18. We are a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your web site offered us with valuable information to work on. You have done a formidable job and our whole community will be thankful to you.

  19. Wonderful website. Lots of useful information here. I¦m sending it to some friends ans also sharing in delicious. And of course, thank you on your effort!

  20. Awsome info and straight to the point. I don’t know if this is really the best place to ask but do you guys have any thoughts on where to get some professional writers? Thank you 🙂

  21. Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me out much. I hope to give something back and aid others like you aided me.

  22. Hi there! I know this is kinda off topic however I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest writing a blog article or vice-versa? My website addresses a lot of the same topics as yours and I think we could greatly benefit from each other. If you happen to be interested feel free to send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Wonderful blog by the way!

  23. I’ve read some good stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how much effort you put to make such a magnificent informative site.

  24. Thank you for another informative blog. Where else could I get that kind of information written in such a perfect way? I have a project that I am just now working on, and I have been on the look out for such info.

  25. I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz reply as I’m looking to create my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. thanks a lot

  26. It is perfect time to make a few plans for the long run and it is time to be happy. I’ve read this publish and if I could I want to recommend you few fascinating issues or advice. Perhaps you can write next articles relating to this article. I wish to read more issues about it!

  27. I really like what you guys tend to be up too. This sort of clever work and coverage! Keep up the awesome works guys I’ve added you guys to my blogroll.

  28. It¦s really a great and helpful piece of info. I am glad that you shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  29. Today, while I was at work, my cousin stole my apple ipad and tested to see if it can survive a 30 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My iPad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is totally off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  30. I have been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this web site. Thank you, I¦ll try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your web site?

  31. Thank you for sharing excellent informations. Your site is so cool. I am impressed by the details that you have on this blog. It reveals how nicely you perceive this subject. Bookmarked this web page, will come back for more articles. You, my pal, ROCK! I found just the information I already searched all over the place and simply could not come across. What an ideal web site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.