Recently I read the fantastic contemporary romance novel called A Room at the Manor and I was fortunate enough to interview the author, Julie Shackman! So please have a read of my brief review to see just how romantic and elegant this novel is, and then continue on to learn more about the novel from the author herself.
Publication Date: 1 July 2018
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genre: Contemporary Romance
When her Maltese love affair turns sour, Lara McDonald returns to her quiet Scottish hometown of Fairview heart broken, yet determined – instead of looking for another PR position, she decides to follow her dream of baking. She impulsively takes the first job offered and finds herself working for local dragon Kitty Walker in her tea room True Brew.
Lara’s life is full of surprises, however, not the least being an unlikely friendship forged with one of Kitty’s elderly customers, the Laird Hugo Carmichael. The Carmichael family has lived at the beautiful Glenlovatt Manor for almost 300 years and, although in need of renovation, Hugo, his son and grandson currently make it their home.
There’s something about Lara that Hugo likes, and when Hugo suddenly passes away, Lara is stunned to discover she is mentioned in his will. But not everyone is happy with the old Laird’s faith in Lara.
A story of love, family, hope and trust, A Room at the Manor will delight every reader keen to find their place.
A Room at the Manor is the first romance novel I have read set in Scotland and it was the perfect introduction. Most of the novel is set in a manor that is owned by Laird Hugo Carmichael, which is then inherited by his son and grandson when he suddenly passes away. Although Lara and Hugo did not know each other for long, he included her in his will by giving her an enticing opportunity.
In the beginning, the readers see Lara working with Kitty, who is the harsh owner of the tea shop True Brew. I liked this part because it set the scene for Lara and showed how much she deserved to get out of her tense working environment. This is where Lara met Hugo, who quickly grew on me as he continued to show kindness for Lara. It was also fascinating to briefly read more about Hugo’s life in a few scenes from the past.
The story successfully combines tradition with the modern world – Lara is a fierce, independent business woman who puts her work first. This was admirable to see in a romance novel and it was also great to see her dominant attitude with the love interest. Although Vaughan comes across as mean-spirited, the dynamic that he shares with Lara is like a hate-to-love trope, which is my favourite trope. I loved how their relationship progressed because Lara clearly was more focused on her business, but was still interested in the arrogant grandson of the manor.
The setting and description of cakes and pastries is what made the novel. I enjoyed the simplicity of the plot because it made the events easy to follow, which makes it the perfect vacation read. I am big on desserts and love high tea, so reading about what goes into the specifics of maintaining a tea shop was very fun.
The secondary characters added a bit of spice to this already delicious read. Lara’s mother was quirky and Lara’s friend, Morven, was her hilarious sidekick. Lara’s mother’s boyfriend, Wolf, was also very interesting, as even he added some intrigue into the novel.
A Room at the Manor is the perfect contemporary romance novel. I would recommend it to those who likes romance novels with unique settings.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the advanced reader copy that I received unsolicited in exchange for an honest review.
Interview with Julie Shackman
Thank for interviewing with me, Julie! How did you come up with the idea for A Room at the Manor?
When I started to come up with the idea for A Room at the Manor, it was a combination of the plot and characters which started forming first, followed by the setting. The idea itself stemmed from sitting writing in my favourite tea shop and from there, Thistles was born.
For me, it’s the excitement of coming up with my characters and an imaginative setting, that really helps to kick off my writing process.
I love to read books where I become totally absorbed, visualising what the people and places look like, as well as savouring the colours, sights and sounds.
I hope readers will feel I have achieved that with A Room at the Manor.
Who is your favourite character from the novel?
I think I identified most with Lara. She’s creative; passionate and isn’t afraid to show how she feels but suffers from pangs of self-doubt like we all do from time to time. She worries that she isn’t up to the challenges she faces, but she is much stronger than she thinks.
Your other two books, Rock My World and Hero or Zero, are also part of the romance genre. Is romance your favourite genre to write in, and if so, why?
Most definitely, yes. The romance genre is so diverse and so imaginative, that’s why it’s my favourite to read and write. When you consider all the varied characters and settings they feature (everything from time travel to historical) it really does take you on a journey.
I completely agree, it’s so much fun to write in! Speaking of writing, what is your writing process like?
I have tried to write at home but it never works. I get far too distracted by housework (sad, I know!) and social media – mainly social media…!
So, I gather up my notebook and pens and take myself off every weekday morning to my favourite tea shop to write.
I find it easier to write in long-hand first and then type it onto the PC when I get home. I’m definitely not a Plotter and am far more of a Panster by nature. I usually start off with characters and setting and work from there.
I love music too and seem to write far better when there are songs playing in the background. I listen to the lyrics and they can be very inspiring.
The only down side is being surrounded by such delicious baking, so I make sure I also exercise every day to compensate for any temptations there might be!
I loved the setting in A Room at the Manor. What inspired you to write a story set in a manor in Scotland?
I live here in Scotland and it has such gorgeous scenery and magical stately homes. There’s such an air of mystery and charisma about these places and it just felt right to set my story here.
Who are some of your favourite romance authors?
I am inspired by so many writers but the stand-out ones for me, are Jenny Colgan; Trisha Ashley; Wendy Holden and Sophie Kinsella. They create such loveable characters and their settings are so real, you think you can taste, feel and touch them.
There are a lot of different desserts and pastries mentioned in the story! Do you enjoy baking like the protagonist or did you need to do some prior research about baking?
Oh yes! For my research, I had to spend longer than normal in my favourite tea shop, The Honeybee Bakery – purely for research purposes of course…!
It was tough but someone had to do it…!
Seriously though, The Honeybee is my inspiration for my tea shop in the book, Thistles, so I asked Vittoria the owner, and the lovely staff all sorts of questions about how she got the business started; her baking process; health and safety implications… the list was endless but they were very patient and helpful.
I also got a tour of their kitchen and worked for a couple of hours in there as a waitress.
It was all so helpful to give Lara my protagonist, more grounding as a character.
Regarding Vaughan, my moody sculptor, I read up a lot about this art form and studied pictures of famous pieces of sculpture, as well as reading interviews with well-known artists and looking up photographs of sculptor’s studios. It was fascinating to see how demanding yet rewarding and beautiful this particular form of art is.
Are you currently writing anything?
All I can say about my next two novels, is that the first is about it never being too late to fall in love and accept yourself for who you are; the other addresses the importance of never judging people on face value and for sticking with your beliefs…!