You won’t find happiness without breaking a few eggs …
Miriam Ryan was the MD of a successful events and catering company, but these days even the thought of chopping an onion sends her stress levels sky rocketing. A retreat to the Welsh village of her childhood holidays seems to offer the escape she’s craving – just peace, quiet, no people, a generous supply of ready meals … did she mention no people?
Enter a cheery pub landlord, a lovesick letting agent, a grumpy astronomer with a fridge raiding habit – not to mention a surprise supper club that requires the chopping of many onions – and Miriam realises her escape has turned into exactly what she was trying to get away from, but could that be just the thing she needs to allow a little bit of summer happiness into her life?
Did or do you like to read comic books/graphic novels? Which ones?
I did enjoy reading comics when I was a child and myself and my brother used to have some delivered. I still remember the excitement when a Bunty or Jackie dropped through the letterbox.
Whom did you inherit your love for books/reading from?
My family always read books, and were great supporters of the local library, so it was part of my childhood. My aunt once gave me the three What Katy Did books for my birthday and I was thrilled to have them – I absolutely loved them and used to escape into the stories all the time. I still love that feeling of opening a book and disappearing into its world for a while and want as many people as possible to feel it too.
When you need a murder victim or someone you can diagnose with a serious disease or someone who is involved in a fatal accident do you sometimes picture someone nasty you have met in real life and think ‘got you’ LOL?
So far, I’ve written contemporary romance and there’s been no bloodshed at all! However, I do read crime novels so who knows – I may try my hand and something a bit grittier in the future. However, it’s safe to say that the more unpleasant characters in my novels are based on some things I have experienced from people in the past although not in the context of my personal life – its more historic things from individuals I didn’t know very well who displayed certain behaviours towards me and others. I’m thinking Adam, Antonio and Marcella in the first novel. They are an amalgamation of one or two people, though, so I think cleverly disguised….
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
I am a lover of a Meg Ryan Rom Com. I can watch You’ve Got Mail on a Loop and When Harry Met Sally is in my top five favourite films. So, my main character in Finding Summer Happiness – Miriam Ryan – was named in homage to that. Alan the Astronomer’s surname is Thomas which is my maiden name. There are so many people in Wales with the surname Thomas that my mother’s maiden name was Thomas before she got married at which point her surname name changed to Thomas as that was my father’s surname. So, for the purposes of accuracy, there had to be at least one person with that surname name in the book.
In my Portuguese Paradise Books – The House That Alice Built and New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun – Alice is slightly based on the idea of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. When Alice flees to Cascais from her rather grey and mundane life in London she arrives in this colourful, vibrant world and she doesn’t know which way to turn. Also, there is a bit of strange tea left in her kitchen cupboards served in bottles with rather odd labels on them. Luis Simal, the charismatic male lead is named after Luis de Camoes, a Portuguese poet, and also the name of the square where a lot of the action takes place in the centre of the town.
Do you write other things beside books (and shopping lists 😉 )?
I have written quite a lot of articles in the past for local magazines and papers, as well as website content. Years ago I tried my hand at a film script……..which never saw the light of day. I also entered a BBC Writing Talent competition in 2001 or 2002 with a script for Casualty, for which I got to the last 100 and received a lot of helpful feedback. I’d love to write a film script actually…
If a movie or series would be made from your books, would you be happy with the ‘based on’ version or would you rather like they showed it exactly the way you created it?
That’s a difficult one because when a novel is made into a tv series of film because it’s a different medium it will inevitably change. I’d love whatever I wrote to be exactly how I created it, but with other people’s input it would evolve into something else. So, I’d like it to be as close as possible to my version but with the understanding it wouldn’t be exactly the same at all. I’d love my books to made into films or tv series…just putting it out there!
Who would you like/have liked to interview?
There are absolutely loads of people I’d love to interview. Marian Keyes and Helen Fielding for a start as I love their books. Tom Hanks would be brilliant to interview, too. I could write a long, long list, and keep adding more people. I just like talking to people to be honest as I like to find out about everyone!
Do you have certain people you contact while doing research to pick their brains? What are they specialized in?
So far everything I’ve written is based on things that I know. The books are set in Portugal and Wales which are places I know very well. Alice is very creative, and I have friends who paint and make jewellery and are very creative so just being around them helped with the development of her character as she finds her way. Miriam ran an events and catering company, and I have been involved in organising some events during my time working for BBC Essex, so I brought some of that knowledge to the character. As far as the cooking is concerned, I am merely passable, so I made that bit up!
Is there someone you sometimes discuss a dilemma with?
I have a few friends I’ll chat to about plot points when I’m in the middle of something. It’s very helpful to have people who are interested in books to talk about things to.
What is more important to you: a rating in stars with no comments or a reviewer who explains what the comments they give are based on (without spoilers of course)
I think both are really helpful. I appreciate the fact that someone who has read a book will take the time to make a positive comment or a star rating. Sometimes you can like a book and don’t know why, so a star rating is perfect for that. It’s lovely to read reviews that actually say what the reader loved, too – brings a real smile to my face.
Thank you, Chris Penhall and Rachel’s Random Resources
About the author
Chris Penhall won the 2019 Choc-Lit Search for a Star competition, sponsored by Your Cat Magazine, for her debut novel, The House That Alice Built. The sequel, New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun was published in August 2020. Her short story, Lily McKee’s Seven Days of Christmas appears in Choc Lit and Ruby Fiction’s Cosy Christmas Treats anthology.
Her new novel, Finding Summer Happiness, which is set in Pembrokeshire in South West Wales was published in May 2021.
Chris is an author and freelance radio producer for BBC Local Radio.
She also has her own podcast – The Talking to My Friends About Book Podcast in which she chats to her friends about books. Good title!
Born in Neath in South Wales, she has also lived in London and in Portugal, which is where The House That Alice Built is set. It was whilst living in Cascais near Lisbon that she began to dabble in writing fiction, but it was many years later that she was confident enough to start writing her first novel, and many years after that she finally finished it!
A lover of books, music and cats, she is also an enthusiastic salsa dancer, a keen cook, and loves to travel. She is never happier than when she is gazing at the sea.