I recently joined an online book-group and our first book up for discussion on the 29th of December is A Proper Family Christmas by Chrissie Manby. In anticipation of our first meeting I asked Chrissie if I could ask her a few questions to introduce her to the group and to break the ice a little. I will of course be posting my review on here after the book group meeting and sharing with you the thoughts of the other group members.
An Interview Chrissie Manby
- Tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Chrissie Manby. I grew up in Gloucester but have been living in London for the past twenty-two years. I have been writing full-time for about fifteen years now. Before that, I had a variety of temp jobs, including abridging erotic novels for audio-books and typing up town-planning applications. When I’m not writing, I love drawing and dancing. I hate doing Pilates but I try to practice that regularly because otherwise my back would seize up (a side-effect of typing all day). I love London but I love Florence even more and one of my dreams is to live there.
- How and why did you get into writing?
When I was fourteen, my English teacher at secondary school encouraged me to send one of my short stories to Just Seventeen. The fiction editor, Jacqui Deevoy, gave me my first break and published the story in a summer fiction special. Jacqui was incredibly encouraging and I published around twenty stories in Just Seventeen while I was at school and college. That early success gave me the confidence to write my first novel (as Stephanie Ash) aged twenty-two. I’ve had plenty of rejections over the years but that early success made me believe I could make a leaving from writing.
- If you weren’t a writer what would your dream job be?
I’d love to be a fashion designer. In fact, that’s what I always wanted to be. Unfortunately, I went to the type of school that prioritised academic subjects over the arts, so instead of A-Level Art and a foundation course, I did English, French, History and a degree in Experimental Psychology. I’m revisiting my childhood dream next year though. I’m starting a fashion styling course in January.
- Describe a typical day in the life of Chrissie Manby the author.
No such thing as a typical day for me! I don’t have set writing hours but I do always try to get around 2000 words done. At the moment, I get around three months to write a novel so anything less than 2000 words a day would mean I missed my deadline. Sometimes 2000 words is easy and they can be done before lunchtime (at the beginning of the book, especially). Sometimes it feels like pulling teeth and I can only write ten words before I need to look at Facebook. My New Year’s resolution is to stay off-line until I’ve got my word count done. I’m hoping it will make me much more productive.
- You’ve also written under a pseudonym - tell us about that?
I’ve written under four pseudonyms! Stephanie Ash, Olivia Darling, Stella Knightley and Chris Byman. My first five novels, which were erotic, were Stephanie Ash books. They were recently rereleased in the frenzy surrounding fifty shades. The Chris Byman book was a companion guide to a TV series called ‘Dark Skies’. The Olivia Darling books are Jackie Collins style bonkbusters. And the Stella Knightley books, my favourites, are historical erotica, set in Venice, Paris and Berlin.
- Do you read and write in the same genre?
I do read in my genre but I also read non-fiction, history, books about fashion and horror. Adam Nevill’s horror novels are my secret vice. I love them. He is such a great writer. I have to read them in the daytime though. They are that scary.
- Tell us about your current book
A Proper Family Christmas is the second in a series of books about the Bensons, an ordinary family from Coventry. It’s very hard to talk about this book without spoiling the ending of A Proper Family Holiday, so I will just say that PFC touches on themes of adoption, organ transplants and family secrets. It doesn’t sound very jolly but there is some comedy in there, courtesy of six-year-old Jack, Doctor Who fanatic, and his great-Granddad Bill.
I can also tell you that this was a very difficult book to write as it touches on issues that are very close to my heart. I was terribly nervous before the first reviews came in and I was absolutely sick with worry when I gave a copy to Mum! When she told me that she had enjoyed the book, it meant more to me than a million five-star Amazon reviews. Hopefully, if you’ve read the book yourself, you’ll understand why.
- Is there a message for your readers in your books and what do you hope they take from them?
I don’t consciously include ‘messages’ in my books but if someone finds something I write resonates with them or gives an answer to a question they’ve always wanted to write, I’m happy. I’ve had quite a few emails about A Proper Family Christmas, from people who say that it’s helped them to understand a bit about how adoption feels from the adult adoptee’s point of view.
- What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m busy writing two more books starring the Bensons. One to be released in the summer, the other next November. The summer one is set on a Mediterranean cruise. The winter book, which is set around a wedding, will be much more ‘Christmassy’ than A Proper Family Christmas, I promise.
Now for a little fun, a glimpse at the real
Are you prepared for Christmas or on the last minute?
This year I’ve prepared for Christmas with military precision as I’ve been doing a German language course this month and I’ve had lots of homework. There’s bound to be something I’ve forgotten though.
I don’t have a working chimney, otherwise I would definitely send a letter to Santa / my New Year wishes up in smoke! That’s one of my favourite childhood memories: Dad taking our letters to Santa and ‘posting’ them up the chimney on the heat from the fire. He told us they went straight to the North Pole. I was terribly disappointed when, one year, the chimney was being cleaned and I saw fragments of letters my sister and I had sent the previous Christmas in the coal dust.
With my parents on the South Coast. My sister and her husband live nearby. They’ve got two fantastic children – my nephews – and I love spending time with them around Christmas. Their excitement is infectious! I had an early Christmas treat last weekend when I looked after the boys for a whole weekend while their parents went shopping in London. We went ice-skating. Their first time ever and my first time in almost twenty-five years. A brass-band was playing carols as we skated. It was wonderful.
Who cooks the Christmas dinner in your house?
I’m generally at my sister’s and I’m afraid to say I leave it to her and Mum. They’re both excellent cooks. I can burn water.
What’s your favourite Christmas tipple?
Champagne! I love champagne and would drink it in preference to anything else all year round. But at Christmas you’ve got to have Bailey’s, haven’t you? Very cold. Over ice. Over ice-cream, even better!
Do you prefer savoury or sweet things?
Both! I love savoury snacks. Pigs in blankets! Sausage rolls. Lovely. But I could also eat a family sized trifle in one sitting. Hmmm. This year I’ve been revisiting lots of things I did / wanted to do as a child. Maybe I should just buy a trifle and go for it.
A co-ordinated tree or an explosion of colour?
My tree is pretty coordinated. I started from scratch about seven years ago with a dash round the Christmas decorations at B and Q. The theme is silver and gold. It’s easy to coordinate if you do it all at once. But I have collected other baubles on my travels over the years and I love getting them out each year and remembering where I bought them.
Friends coming round for nibbles - home-made or shop bought?
Ha! Shop bought every time. I am a legendarily bad cook.
Play games or watch the Christmas movies/specials?
Hmmmm. I’m not a big fan of games since they always seem to end up with someone in tears! Especially Monopoly. But I can very rarely find anything I want to watch on the TV at Christmas either. I’m afraid I just don’t get Doctor Who and Downton has completely passed me by. But my favourite Christmas film is White Christmas so a DVD of that would be most welcome.
In an ideal world your perfect Christmas would be….?
Spent with my family, with snow outside and good news from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan on the TV.