Author profile - Rachel Dove, Wakefield
PUBLISHED: 20:50 19 July 2016 | UPDATED: 20:50 19 July 2016
Joan Russell Photography
We rummage through the bookshelves of a debut West Yorkshire author.
Rachel Dove is flying high. Her debut novel has just hit the shops, she’s bubbling over with ideas for the next one (two, three, four), she’s finally ditched her day job to write full-time and, when the interview’s over, she’s off for lunch and a pedi with one of her best mates.
Life, in other words, is ridiculously good.
It’s impossible not to feel excited about books, the universe and everything in the company of this thirty-something, mum-of-two from Stanley in Wakefield. She might seem like an ordinary woman but her drive and enthusiasm is quite extraordinary.
‘I’m still at that stage where I can’t quite get my head around the fact that I’m a writer,’ she said, as we settled in for a long, animated chat over coffee. ‘It’s not just my hobby any more; it’s my job. It’s so exciting though. I really can’t tell you what a thrill it is to wake up every morning knowing this is my life now.’
Rachel is married to Peter, an electrician, and they have two sons, Jayden, eight, and Nathan, seven. Until recently, she taught adults with special educational needs, but now works as a full-time writer – a long-held dream stretching back to childhood.
‘My mum (a care home manager) and dad (an ex-miner) were never big readers, but mum always bought me a Ladybird book every week when I was little and we’d read it together,’ she said. ‘I could read fluently when I started nursery school, but the teachers told my mum to stop reading with me at home because I was getting too far ahead. Can you believe that?
‘Of course, my mum said no. And she did me a massive favour. I’ve read with my boys since before they knew what a book was. Jayden’s party piece when he was three was that he knew The Gruffalo from cover to cover. Now, he’s reading Beowulf.’
Rachel began writing her own – mainly very dark – stories when she was a child, a habit she continued through her teens and began to take more seriously in her twenties, when she started submitting short stories to magazines and anthologies and tried her hand at self-publishing.
Writing was her hobby, her creative outlet when life, kids, work and the daily grind became a bit too much. But now, thanks to a national magazine competition, she’s given up her teaching career and has committed herself to writing full-time.
It was with no particular hope of winning that Rachel entered the Mills & Boon Flirty Fiction competition in Prima magazine, but she swept aside 300 other entrants, pocketed the £500 prize money and, most exciting of all, saw her book, The Chic Boutique on Baker St, make it into print.
It’s a lively tale of love in the picturesque Yorkshire village of Westfield, where Amanda escapes the London rat race and finds romance with lonely vet Ben.
Mills & Boon editor Anna Bagley was obviously wowed by the West Yorkshire writer’s natural ability, saying: ‘She’s a real talent. She’s managed to combine all the vital elements needed to create a feelgood romance novel.
‘Her heart-warming, romantic story is set in an idyllic Yorkshire village and is full of lovable characters and laugh-out-loud moments. I’m sure it’ll be very popular indeed.’
Rachel, who used to work in law before qualifying as a teacher, has her fingers (toes and, very possibly, eyes) crossed for success too. Not least because she’s got big plans for Westfield and its inhabitants’ romantic entanglements.
‘I can see another two books in the series if I’m given the chance,’ she said. ‘I know some people can get a bit sniffy about romance novels and chick lit, but I’m not remotely embarrassed by the genre. I’ve read Mills & Boon books for years and I’m thrilled to be published by them.’
Her family is quietly thrilled too, even though her mum, dad and brother haven’t actually read her book and probably never will.
‘They’re just not readers,’ she said. ‘I gave a copy to my grandmother, Grace, though, because I named one of the character’s after her. She hated my previous self-published book because it had two, maybe three, swear words in it. But I’m fairly sure she likes this one because she’s shared it with her knitting group.’
As well as ideas for two more Westfield books, Rachel’s got a host of other writing plans, including a more serious, issue-led romance featuring an army veteran, a selection of horror short stories and, maybe, a dark foray into children’s books.
‘Occasionally, I have a real urge to kill a character,’ she said. ‘And you can’t really do that in romance – at least, not in a brutal way – so that’s when I turn to horror. But romance is my favourite genre and, whichever dark detour I take, I’ll always come back to it eventually.’
Her love of twisted tales can be traced back to her childhood, when she devoured Hans Christian Andersen (an expert in grim, tortuous deaths as well as ducklings) and Roald Dahl, who’s autobiographical book Boy she cites as a favourite.
‘I’ve always been attracted to the darker side of children’s fiction,’ said Rachel. ‘For me, RL Stine was always much better than Sweet Valley High.’
She was a precocious reader, jumping straight from Matilda to Wuthering Heights (which is one heck of a leap).
‘That for me is the best book of all time,’ she said of the Emily Bronte classic. ‘I first read it when I was about 11 and have re-read it every year since. The dark, all-consuming, destructive love was a complete revelation.
‘I also admire the way she made the Yorkshire landscape a character in its own right. It’s easy to take this place for granted, but she brings it into sharp focus.’
When it comes to epic romance, Rachel admits to having a brief but passionate fling with a popular classic. Early in her career she had a four-train commute every day. Her companion to while away the hours was an enormous library edition of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.
‘It was massive,’ she said. ‘I can still see the look on the other commuters’ faces now, clearly thinking “what on earth is she reading?”. But I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s engrossing and rousing and, honestly, so much better than the film.’
Also on her list of all-time favourites is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins which, at first, seems something of a surprise choice but, when you consider its central romance and dark themes, actually fits rather nicely with Rachel’s split reading personality.
‘It’s a really powerful book,’ she said. ‘I read and enjoyed the Twilight series (Stephenie Meyer) too, but Bella Swan puts feminism back about 100 years so it pales in comparison.
‘Katniss Everdeen (the protagonist and narrator of The Hunger Games trilogy) is such a strong and interesting character and hers is not a typical “happily ever after” story. That series does not end well for anyone, and that makes me like it all the more.’
So, what will make Rachel’s own story a ‘happily ever after’ affair? Would she be happy if Chic Boutique was her only hit?
‘Honestly? No,’ she said. ‘I’m determined to have more books published now because I know I can actually do it.’