We are delighted to welcome back Carol Cooper, a long-time friend of the blog, to tell us all about how she decided on the setting for her second book. Carol is a doctor, journalist, and novelist. She writes for The Sun newspaper and teaches medical students at Imperial College.
After a string of trade-published non-fiction books and an award-winning medical text, she chose self-publishing for her fiction debut One Night at the Jacaranda. Her latest novel, Hampstead Fever, is out in June. Her novels are all about Londoners looking for love, and they’re laced with inside medical knowledge.
Like her fictional characters, Carol lives in leafy Hampstead, North London. Unlike them, she got married again in 2013. She loves a happy ending.
Over to Carol…
Why did I set Hampstead Fever in Hampstead?
Some fiction writers like to invent entire locations, but it’s not for me. I prefer to deploy my imagination on characters and plot rather than geography. It seems an unnecessary headache to make up a whole town. Besides, there’s always the risk that the street map in the author’s head is physically impossible.
Real places already have meaning for readers. Think of Liz Fenwick’s Cornish romances, or Glynis Smy’s choice of East London as the setting for Ripper, My Love.
In case you didn’t know, Hampstead is one of the most charming parts of London, and, logically, I also chose it for the title of my novel Hampstead Fever. The area is beautiful, trendy, and has a rich cultural heritage, although, on a Monday morning when Camden Council arrives to empty the bins in my street, you’d be forgiven for missing all of that. On bin day, a queue of irate drivers builds up, many of them turning the air blue because they can’t drop off their little darlings at school without walking a few extra yards.
The area is full of character, but it’s not edgy. Neither are my characters in Hampstead Fever. If you want edgy, you’d be better off reading Irvine Welsh or Chuck Palahniuk.
The people in my books have relatable problems, and Hampstead means different things to each one of them. For Harriet, the area is aspirational. She is a freelance journalist who finds it increasingly hard to pay her bills. Commissioning editors for the magazines she writes for don’t want well thought out features. They prefer pieces like “What’s My Bottom Line?” (the topic is literally pants). Harriet does her best but is overawed by all the successful authors and journalists in London NW3.
At 40, Laure is a first-time mum who panics every time her toddler develops a new symptom. Her partner works long hours and there’s no extended family, so Laure’s parenting guidance comes from books and the uber-competitive mothers at toddler group. Alas, Laure is so wound up in her child that she has little time to spare for her partner.
I think many readers will identify with single mum Karen. Her style is the opposite of helicoptering. I call it submarine parenting. She has four children ranging in age from six to 12 and is facing an early menopause, so energy is at a premium. No wonder Karen lacks the enthusiasm for a suitable relationship.
There are plenty of men in Hampstead Fever too, like Geoff who’s a doctor, and Sanjay who works as a fundraiser. Laure’s partner Dan is now an up-and-coming chef at a new restaurant in the heart of Hampstead Village. It’s the perfect place for a trendy bistro, but Dan complains he’s not paid enough, so, rather than use one of the existing restaurants as a setting, it seemed fairer to make up a new one. But I sited it in Flask Walk, a very real street.
A plus is that I live in Hampstead. Researching a location involves little more than a brisk walk, unlike, say, a writer in the UK who chose Venice as her setting.
I wanted my new author photo to fit in with the locale, but as I discovered you can’t always take one when and where you want. Hampstead Heath proved a little windy and wet on the day, which wouldn’t have been right for a book set in mid-summer.
My photographer got me to pose in the street near the Freud Museum. While the connotations may be a little heavy for my brand of contemporary fiction, the building is attractive. Alas, I hadn’t bargained on the crowds of people arriving to pay homage to the father of psycho-analysis. The Freud Museum doesn’t open till noon, so they were outside, waiting to be shown in to worship at the great man’s couch (yes, it’s still there in his study). One of the prospective visitors had even brought a suitcase, so there he was, on the pavement with his baggage. Now that would have been a great picture.
Hampstead Fever was released on June 30 and available on ebook platforms and in bookshops.