Rowan Coleman: Happy ever after
PUBLISHED: 16:10 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:57 20 February 2013
Since publishing her first novel five years ago, Berkhamsted author Rowan Coleman has written a string of popular books for both adults and teenagers. Ruth Higgins caught up with the busy author
YOU have just had a baby - your first. Six weeks ago. You are living in a parallel universe. Your next challenge is to follow up your prize-winning debut novel with a second for publication within a year. Can't be done? Rowan Coleman, best-selling Hertfordshire author, not only managed it but has gone on to publish six more successful books since 2003.
Like many a first-time mother, after having her baby Rowan found 'half your brain goes missing and you spend all day crying.' That second book was difficult, she understates, 'I had to do a lot of work to knock it into shape.' The result, After Ever After, is set in Berkhamsted and paints a perceptive portrait of life in the town.
Rowan's local knowledge helped - she grew up in Berkhamsted in the 70s and now lives there with husband Erol and their six-year-old daughter.Rowan did badly at school at first and felt a failure. That changed when, aged 13, she showed a teacher something she'd written. 'She asked if I'd copied my poem out of a book and I indignantly denied it!' Rowan recalls.
A little later, another teacher at Ashlyns School, Richard Dalziel, spotted that she had something. 'He was inspiring and made me understand that writing is not about knowing where to put the punctuation, but about what's going on up here,' Rowan taps the side of her head with a forefinger. With Richard's encouragement she gained what she calls a 'freak' grade A in English at A-level.
One day, at a university lecture in Hull, she finally became convinced she had a brain. 'The girls on either side of me said 'What was that about?' and I thought, I got that - why didn't you get that?' she remembers.
Rowan followed her degree by building a career in publishing, starting in sales and going on to become editorial manager at Ebury Press, part of the Random House group. She was halfway through a part-time MA in creative writing when she won Company magazine's Young Writer of the Year award in 2001. Her confidence rocketed and she was able to select an agent, crucial to any successful author. Still cautious though, she submitted her first novel under a pseudonym, 'so that, if it was rejected, no one would know - and if it was accepted I'd know it was an objective decision.'
In fact, Growing Up Twice, published in 2002, was a WHS Fresh Talent winner. As publisher turned author, Rowan understands that a successful book is a team effort. 'I love my editors,' she states simply. Their support helped her to widen her range with teen novel Ruby Parker Hits The Small Time published in March this year.
Rowan says, 'I wanted to write about a girl who, despite all the benefits that fame had brought her, still had to go through the ups and downs of growing up, just like the rest of us.'
Ruby Parker: Hollywood Star is out now and will be followed in February 2008 by Ruby Parker: Stage Star, Rowan's fifth book for young teens. Her eighth title for adults, The Accidental Wife, is then due out in April 2008 and after that Rowan will explore new territory, science fiction, for a project due out in 2009.
While she's clearly an author at home in different genres, Rowan's back stiffens when the 'chicklit' word is mentioned. 'Popular books can be intelligent,' she declares. 'I hate the chicklit label; it's demeaning and sexist.'
If there's a common theme in her novels, it's how surprising and rich an apparently humdrum life can be. 'I like to write about people who are ordinary,' Rowan confirms. This doesn't please every reader though; one wrote a letter saying she wished one of the characters in Growing Up Twice (who was in telesales) had a more interesting job, 'say, in aromatherapy...'
Many readers get in touch. 'I love thinking that 50 to 100,000 people are out there reading my books. And then they tell me about it,' Rowan says with delight. One fan is a gentleman in his 80s who regularly corresponds. She is certain the portrait photo on her book covers has nothing to do with it.
In 2006 the book world affirmed Rowan's talent when she was selected as one of the authors in the 'Quick Reads' initiative launched on World Book Day. The aim was to attract reluctant readers with crisp, compelling page-turners. Rowan's Woman Walks Into A Bar fitted the bill, and she loved writing it. Her next book for adults, The Accidental Wife, will be out next April.
So what would she do with herself if she could no longer write for a living? Rowan's long dark hair falls across her face as she puts her head in her hands. 'I suppose I could go back into publishing,' she groans. 'Although that would feel like I was an alcoholic in an off-licence!'
With a series of book deals and commissions from high-profile magazines under her belt, she probably doesn't have to worry about ditching the keyboard just yet.