The Final Straight
by Charlotte Howard
April Miller works for her best-friend, Max Knight on his livery and competition yard. Their friendship has withstood many turbulent times, and while April is deeply in love with Max, she is also aware of his womanising ways and has refused to succumb to his flirtatious charms. When her ex, AJ, suddenly comes back with a business proposal, April finds herself torn between the two men.
Name: Charlotte Howard
Age: 29 with experience.
Patricia: From whence do you hale?
Haha! Well, I grew up on the Nottingham/Lincoln border, but I live in Somerset. I’ve been here 12 years now and am still classed as an outsider!
Patricia: Please tell us about yourself.
I’m married with two human sproglings and numerous fur-babies. I spent my days running around after children, and my nights living in my deepest fantasies. Or studying for an English degree. Whichever has the closest deadline.
Patricia: Tell us your latest news?
The Final Straight has been released! It’s been a long time coming, as this was actually the first contemporary romance I wrote, but it kept being rejected so I kept editing and re-writing, and it’s finally been accepted and published!
Patricia: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I started off with poetry, short stories, and then wrote a crime / romance novella. I will admit, that it wasn’t until I read a certain trilogy that I realized contemporary / erotic romance was where I belonged.
Patricia: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I still don’t! I freelanced for a long time before settling on fiction, writing articles for websites and magazines, with the occasional advertisement thrown in to pay the rent, but even when it was a steady paying job, I didn’t consider myself to be a writer – I was a freelancer, who was getting paid to do what I love.
Patricia: What inspired you to write your first book?
**Technically** The Final Straight is my first book, because I wrote it before Seven Dirty Words. I grew up surrounded by horses, so they had to feature somewhere (they’re in The Final Straight, Seven Dirty Words and Four Letter Words). I suppose I was inspired and influenced by the titles I was reading at the time – when I first started stepping away from crime fiction and heading more into romance.
Patricia: Do you have a specific writing style?
Hmm… Not sure, you’d have to ask my editor! I suppose every writer has a certain ‘voice’. I know that at my local writers’ group, if you tossed all of our short stories into the middle and picked out a random one to read, you would still know exactly who wrote it. I’m just not sure what my style is.
Patricia: How did you come up with the title?
It took a very long time. The Final Straight has had several titles – April’s Baby and A Month of April being two that stuck for a while. In the end we (my editor, publisher and I) decided it had to have a hint of horsiness in it. I came up with The Final Straight (a racing term) because that’s how it feels towards the end of the book – April is racing down a metaphorical final straight, deciding between her past and her future.
Patricia: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Sometimes what you need and want is right in front of you.
Patricia: How much of the book is realistic?
I think it could be realistic in the right circumstances, I’m sure there is an element of April’s life that most will be able to relate to – the bad ex, the best-friend zone, mixing business and pleasure…
Patricia: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I suppose a bit of both, with a lot of fantasy and what-ifs thrown in. There was a time when I REALLY REALLY fancied someone I worked with, but he was a good friend and we had a good work dynamic – I didn’t want to ruin that, so I didn’t pursue it. He ended up dating my flat mate for a while (another girl we worked with) and it hurt. A lot. There are times when I think “what if?”
Patricia: What books have most influenced your life most?
I am a big Tami Hoag fan, and although she writes crime fiction, some of the scenes do get steamy, and it was reading those books that made me realize it’s okay to write sex into a story, even if it’s not in the romance genre.
Patricia: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I’m not sure. Probably Lucy Felthouse. I met her at the Romance Festival in 2013, and since then she’s been my editor for three books. She’s also the one who encouraged me to write One Night in Edinburgh, which I wouldn’t have considered if she hadn’t pushed.
Patricia: What book are you reading now?
At the moment I’m reading Grace Marshall’s Identity Crisis – Part Two of the Executive Decision trilogy.
Patricia: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
To be honest, I’ve been so selfish recently – trying to get the next novel finished – that I haven’t spent much time looking! I’m sure I’ve probably read some books by new authors and just not realized how new they are. Sorry!!
Patricia: What are your current projects?
I’m writing another standalone novel at the moment, although after editing it might end up being a novella, and then I’m going to concentrate on the trilogy idea I have. Saying that, I have two more standalone novels in my head and I’ll probably end up writing them first.
Patricia: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Yeovil Creative Writers. They are an amazing group of people and an eclectic bunch. We have actresses, teachers, students, and even a prison officer who are all inspiring and encouraging.
Patricia: Do you see writing as a career?
I’d like to, but I think I need to sell a few more books first!
Patricia: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I might have ramped up the sex scenes and made it more erotica than contemporary, but I’m happy with how it is.
Patricia: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
My grandma. She used to write short stories and plays, and when I was 10 I wrote a poem that she read out to her group. Four years later she sent it off to a competition, and it got published in an anthology.
Patricia: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
“You up there?” she called. The thud of footsteps grew louder as she made her way up the stairs. It wasn’t long before she was in the doorway, hands on hips, surrounded by a halo of curls the same colour as her temper.
The dog had followed and was panting by her leg. April batted her away, and Max rolled his eyes at the anger and frustration that exuded from her every pore, turning his back on her and dropping the towel.
“What the hell, Max?” she exclaimed, but it wasn’t because of his nudity. She’d seen him naked more times than any other woman.
He stepped into a pair of tight boxer shorts and turned around, preparing himself for the grief he been hoping to avoid. “What have I done now?” he asked, walking towards the wardrobe and pulling out a pair of dark, shredded jeans.
“What’s the point? Do you even remember her name?”
He didn’t answer. She wasn’t expecting him to; she never did. Fastening the button on his waistband, he went to the chest of drawers and took out a clean T-shirt.
“Well, I’ll tell you what her name was,” April said, walking into the room. “Mellie Banks. Ring a bell?”
“It should,” she snapped. “Her father has three horses on this yard, or did until he turned up this morning and took them off.”
He moved behind her and started to massage at the knot of tension that had built at the base of her neck.
“Don’t try to appease me, Max,” she said, but he could tell that her anger was waning. He continued to press into her muscles, letting his thumbs make small circles either side of her spine. Bending his head to the curve of her shoulder, he placed his forehead on the sleeve of her polo T-shirt and took a deep breath, inhaling the dusty scent of straw and shavings.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured into her back.
She shrugged out of his touch and turned to face him. “You’re hopeless,” she sighed. The corners of her lips flickered into the smallest of smiles.
“We could just hide in bed all day,” he said, taking her hands and tugging her forwards. “Forget about Mellie Banks. Forget about the yard…”
“And who’s going to pay my bills when this place falls on its arse?”
The edge of the mattress connected with his knees and he fell backwards, pulling her with him. “You know I’ll always take care of you.”
She landed on top of him, inches away from his face. He lifted a hand and tucked a stray red curl behind her ear. With a frustrated groan, she rolled off of him and lay on her side.
“As much as I would like to be the next notch on your bedpost, we have a business to run.” She shoved herself up.
He watched as she straightened her clothes and ran her fingers through her hair.
“Anyway,” she said, glancing over her shoulder. “I’m not your type. I have a brain.” She flashed him a smile before bending down to pick up the towel and tossing it in his direction.
“Ouch.” He feigned a hurt expression before getting up to follow her. Bracken panted around his ankles.
“I’ll make you a coffee, and then if you need me I’ll be saving your business.”
Patricia: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Editing. I hate it. It’s so depressing when a Beta reader comes back and says “It’s good but…” It’s usually a gaping plot hole I need to fill in.
Patricia: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I don’t have a favourite author, but as I said earlier, I am a big Tami Hoag fan. I love the way she is able to keep the reader hooked right from page one to the end. I find it very difficult to put her books down.
Patricia: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I have been to Bedford and Scarborough for events, but that’s it. I’d like to do a world book signing one day, but I’m not quite on the best sellers list yet!
Patricia: Who designed the covers?
Cora Graphics – http://www.coragraphics.it/. Cora is amazingly talented! She did my cover for One Night in Edinburgh as well.
Patricia: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Trying not to get too attached to my characters. I really didn’t want to end my relationship with Max.
Patricia: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
That characters never behave. I’d start off with a firm plot in mind, knowing exactly how I wanted it to go and where it would end up, and they all decided to do their own thing and take me in a completely different direction.
Patricia: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Keep writing, join your local writers’ group, and grow a thick skin. You’ll need it. Criticism isn’t easy to take, and you will upset someone at some point and get a negative review. You need to let that roll off your back.
Patricia: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Buy my books? Haha! Only that I hope they enjoy reading The Final Straight as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Patricia: Do you remember the first book you read?
It was probably a Roald Dahl one. I was obsessed with Roald Dahl when I was younger!
Patricia: What makes you laugh/cry?
My children make me laugh all the time. Especially my 6 year old son who has been a werewolf for about three years now… Cry? Everything. I’m the worst person for bursting into tears at the slightest thing. Especially TV programms – Bones is the main culprit. Before it even starts, my husband hands me a box of tissues!
Patricia: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
I’d love to meet Alex O’Loughlin of Hawaii Five-O. Just so I can stroke his arms… Pervvy I know.
Patricia: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
Here lies Charlotte, aged 102. The good die young.
It says everything about me.
Patricia: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Apart from reading? I don’t suppose tea-drinking counts… I enjoy watching films and shoe-shopping.
Patricia: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Too many to list. Haha! Bones, Grimm, Castle, Hawaii Five-O, NCIS: Los Angeles, Sherlock, Elementary… The list really is endless. My husband hates our Sky planner.
Patricia: Favorite foods/Colors/Music
Curry without a doubt. Purple, black and turquoise. And I listen to rock – anything from Guns n Roses to Papa Roach. At the same time I’m a huge Will Smith fan, so a bit of hip hop every now and then.
Patricia: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I was training to be a veterinary nurse before I met my husband, but if I could go back to being 18, I would go to uni and become an English teacher.
Patricia: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Charlotte lives in Somerset with her husband, two children, and growing menagerie of pets and can always be found with a cup of tea in her hand. When she’s not writing or running around after small people and animals, she loves to eat curry and watch action films.
Charlotte is an active (and vocal) member of the Yeovil Creative Writers.