Apr 1, 2015

Inspiring Interview: Rhoda Baxter

I'm so happy I've been given the chance to interview Rhoda Baxter and I love her replies. She talks about smart heroines and has great advice for aspiring writers and scientists who want to write literature. Find out what's important to her, why she mentions The Big Bang Theory and Desperate Housewives and why you should always choose to have that professional manuscript critique. 

 1) Could introduce yourself to my readers?

I’m Rhoda. I wanted to study English and become a writer, but my parents said I should study science and get a ‘real’ job  and write novels in my spare time. Being an obedient sort of girl, I did what they suggested. Now I work in Technology Transfer (which keeps around science, without having to do the hours in the lab) and write novels when my kids are asleep. So my parents were right all along. Which is annoying.

I live in East Yorkshire, with said kids and a husband. I don’t have much time for hobbies apart from 
 reading, writing and eating cake. I adore cake.

2)      You write about smart heroines, which I love. Could you tell a bit more about that?

Years ago, I used to commute From Oxfordshire to London by train – which meant I had a lot of time to read. I went through phases of reading different genres. I liked the light style of chick-lit, but I found it difficult to relate to most of the heroines. They seemed to belong to a skinny, fashionable alternate universe to the one I inhabited. They were like Rachel from Friends, who was cool and skinny and pretty and somehow managed to fund a lovely lifestyle whilst working as a waitress. Every so often, I’d find a book with a clever heroine who had a degree and a proper job – but they weren’t as funny and didn’t have the same level of escapism and romance. Also, the men were… well, they were all bit too much Mr Darcy and not enough Mr Bingley for my liking.
So I decided I would write about women who used their brains and cared about what they did for a living. Women who wanted a partner in life, not a man to look after them. Because you would in real life, wouldn’t you? I hadn’t realised this, but it also provided me with a great excuse to write about beta heroes – men who didn’t have to be the boss all the time and who were able to be funny and charming and caring without strutting about being a shaved gorilla.
If you like smart heroines, Choc Lit has a good selection of them. Choc Lit chooses books via a reader panel, rather than relying on ‘what’s selling right now’. It seems the readers on the panel are happy to read books written by Whedon watching, Pratchett reading, ever-so-slightly-cynical romance writers. Lucky for me, really.
3)      I like your blog feature InheritanceBooks very much, how did you get the idea?

I’m afraid I poached the idea from BBC Radio4’s Saturday Live, where they do a feature called Inheritance Tracks. I took the format and adjusted it to cover books instead. I’ve been running Inheritance Books for about 2 years now and I’ve found so many great books (especially old books) through people’s choices.
I also love the little insights into people’s lives. One of my favourites was someone who talked about how they used to have to accompany their granddad to the cinema because he needed someone to read the dialogue cards in the silent movies! Another lady posted her Dad’s memoirs as her inheritance book and the whole family came in and commented, including the man himself!

4)      Do you have any advice for women who would like to make a career 'move' from science to literature? How do you handle this situation?

Ah. I haven’t actually made a switch. I have a day job in Technology Transfer – where I look at new research to assess it for patentability and to see how it can be commercialised. This keeps me in contact with cutting edge science without having to be in the lab. In some ways, it’s the perfect job for me because I love new technology. This job exposes me to a broad range of scientific work at a shallow level, rather than being a full time researcher, which goes into great depth on a very narrow subject area.
I write in my spare time. When I say ‘spare’ time, I mean time I would otherwise spend on, say… having a social life or sleeping.

Advice – if you want to do it, go for it. Don’t waste your life saying things like ‘I’d love to do X if only I had the time’. Do it. Make a small promise to yourself that you’d indulge in your passion three hours a week. Then do it. I try to write an hour a day, every weekday. This means I can devote the weekends to my family without feeling guilty.

5)      Who's your target audience and why?

My target audience would be the sort of woman who liked chick lit well enough in its heyday, but would quite like something with a bit more depth. If shopaholic is too shallow for you, but Jodi Picoult drives you to drink, then my books are probably the right balance for you. (I don’t mean to disparage Sophie Kinsella or Jodi Picoult – I love books by both, mine just happen to fall in between them).
Oh, and if you watch Big Bang Theory, I’ll try and sneak in the odd in joke for you.

6)      You also give manuscript critiques, what's a mistake a lot of first time writers make? And do you have any good advice for them?

The thing I notice most often with first books is that they’re too long. It’s hard to tell what can be left out. Basically, if it’s not relevant to the plot, get rid of it. I always write about 100 thousand words and have to cut out about 50 thousand of those words and then add about 30 thousand new words before I end up with a finished book. Most structural editing is figuring out what the backbone of the story is, then fitting what you’ve written around it. Often, you’re too close to your own book to do that yourself – which is where a manuscript critique comes in handy!

The easiest books to fix are the ones where the author can write well, but they just need a bit of help editing. The difficult ones are when someone is missing a vital part to their writing armoury – like dialogue or characterisation. It’s not the end of the world. It just means the criticism is harder to take (believe me, I know! I had that problem with plot ten years ago). But knowing what the problem is takes you a long way towards working out how to fix it.

7)      Could you tell my readers a bit more about your book Dr. January?

I had a blast writing Dr. January. I spent many years working in a microbiology lab, so it was great being able to hang out in that atmosphere again. People have this idea that scientists don’t really talk to each other, but some labs can be wonderfully fun places to work.

Beth, Hibs and Vik form a tight knit group who are very fond of each other and I loved writing the interaction between them. It reflected that friendly atmosphere in the lab that I used to work.

There is a bit of science in Dr January. I tried to tone it down as much as I could, so that it didn’t put people off. I keep meaning to do some posts explaining some of the science, but I haven’t had the time (makes a note). 

8) Is there any new work we could expect from you in the near future? If so, what kind of book will it be?

My next book with Choc Lit (provisionally titled ‘Please Release Me’) is a paranormal rom com set in a hospice. It should be coming out in August 2015. Grace has been a carer for her late parents for so long that she’s forgotten what it’s like to have a normal social life. She falls in love with Peter, whose wife, Sally, has been in a coma since and accident on their wedding day. One night, during an electrical storm, Sally appears as a ghost. Grace is the only one who can see her and, well, Sally wants her husband back.
Since most of the action happens inside a hospice, there is quite a lot of stuff about living with grief and how all-consuming it is to be a carer to someone at the end of life, but there are also jokes because you can only wallow in sadness for so long.
I’m donating half of my royalties earned from that book to Martin House Children’s hospice. I was lucky enough to visit there and meet some of the parents and staff. The people there are inspiring.
I’m also hoping that the sequel to Girl On The Run will come out sometime this year. It was previously published as Having a Ball. That’s more of a light hearted rom com. No death or bullying in it.

9) Which authors will never cease to inspire you?

Oooh, let’s see. There are so many!
Enid Blyton, PG Wodehouse, Arthur C Clarke, Terry Pratchett, Meg Cabot, Julie Cohen, Joss Whedon, Marc Cherry (I learned a lot about plot from Desperate Housewives Series 1),  the list goes on… and on…
I’ve been a keen reader since I was a child. Every book I’ve read has sunk into my subconscious. Every idea I come up with will have been influenced by all of them in some way.

10) Dr. January is about abuse and lack of self confidence. Is there a special reason you've chosen this topic and is there any advice you have for women who find themselves in similar positions?

I started off wanting to write about how lack of self confidence can completely stymie a woman’s scientific career and the story somehow morphed into one about bullying. It’s not based on personal experience (my PhD supervisor was an inspiring lady), but I do know people who keep going back to relationships that are clearly not equal. They are otherwise outgoing, intelligent women who, for some reason, have a blind spot when it comes to the man they’re dating. I felt that books like Twilight perpetuated the myth that it was okay, or even desirable, for a man to be controlling.
I think the hardest thing is to realise if you’re in this position. Abuse isn’t always physical – so people can excuse their partner’s behaviour with ‘but they never hit me’. Sometimes, the lows are so low that the highs, by contrast, are very high and no ‘regular’ relationship can provide that same buzz as a good day with your difficult-to-please-man (or woman). Often, friends will try to tell you, but you just don’t want to know. If your partner is preventing you from seeing your friends and family, you have to question why. Seek help. You are not alone.

Author Bio and Links for Dr January

Rhoda Baxter always wanted to be a writer, but her parents told her she needed to get a ‘real’ job and write in her spare time. So she became a scientist and now works in technology transfer. She now writes contemporary romantic comedies in whatever spare time she can find around her day job and her family. Which means her parents were right all along. How irritating.

Rhoda can be found wittering on about science, comedy and cake on her website www.rhodabaxter.com,  Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/rhoda.baxter.5), Google+  or on Twitter (@rhodabaxter).


  1. I really enjoyed this Suzanne and Rhoda! A fabulous insight into your background Rhoda and to your writing. I look forward to reading Dr January.

    1. You will love Dr January, it's a fantastic book! I'm glad you like the interview, thank you for your lovely comment.

  2. I really enjoyed this Suzanne and Rhoda! A fabulous insight into your background Rhoda and to your writing. I look forward to reading Dr January.

  3. Thanks Karen. I really enjoyed doing this interview.

  4. Great interview! I especially appreciate the writing advise. I tend to write too much and then feel like I've wasted time when I end up cutting out a lot. Which effects how I write altogether because I begin asking myself "Will I end up deleting this later anyways?" Personally, I think it has a lot to do with patience. Writing the first draft of anything is a huge sigh of relief and once that part is over I just want to be done with it! Thanks Rhoda for your advise! and thanks L Lavender for posting this interview!!

    1. Glad the post was helpful. Keep writing. You'll find you worry less about the words you cut out after a while.

  5. Fab interview, ladies. I think my reading progressed from 'shaved gorillas' (love that) to Mr Bingleys, Rhoda. Experience in life and relationships means you want to read about more relatable to characters, in my opinion anyway. I like the point about abuse in a relationship not always having to be physical. So often self-esteem can be reduced to nil, along with it the power to walk away. That's why it's so important, I think, to know you are not alone. Thanks for sharing, Suzanne! :) xx

    1. Thanks Sheryl. I find the rise of the controlling and creepy hero very disturbing. So I write about nicer men.

  6. An enjoyable interview, Rhoda and Lavender. Thank you for it.

    Like you, I really enjoy books with smart heroines - Elizabeth Bennet is one of my favourite characters in literature, and it was her wit and intelligence that were among the characteristics that captivated Mr. Darcy.

    1. Ha! Who doesn't love Lizzie! I love that it takes her so long to fall in love with Mr D.

  7. Great interview - thank you :) I, too, like feisty heroines and have been inspired by Joss Whedon's slant on 'life.' I also agree that Bella (Twilight) is one of the most annoying heroines in modern literature. A really bad example to young YA readers.I loved Dr January and fell just a little bit in love with Hibs :) I'm sure everyone else will too when they read the book. xx

    1. You can't have Hibs, Berni. He's mine. All miiiiine. Mwahahaha.

  8. Great interview with lots of interesting insights – thank you. I thought Dr January was a brilliant book, and look forward to reading Please Release Me.

  9. What a great interview! I share your frustrations with traditional chick-lit heroines (I couldn't tell a pair of designer shoes from a pair of Clarks!). And, although I confess to preferring Darcy to Bingley, I'm not a huge fan of the Alpha Male hero either. ;) I'm really looking forward to reading Dr. January, it's so rare to have a heroine who's a scientist - I suppose because many writers lack a scientific background and don't understand that world at all. Thanks for the great post, ladies!

    1. Clarks. Now those are comfortable shoes. I don't think designer shoes are much about comfort. But then, what do I know!

      I hope you like Dr January.

  10. I LOVED Doctor January. Happy sigh. x

  11. Fun interview! Your writing always brings a smile to my face, Rhoda.


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