Author Katie Fforde
PUBLISHED: 18:49 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:35 20 February 2013
Best selling author Katie Fforde has gone from salad girl to salad days. She tells Katie Jarvis about her local loves. Pictures by Mike charity
She loves flamenco dancing and hates driving - or at least having to park in small spaces. She has her own personal trainer, (though is embarrassed about admitting to the fact) but still loves to roam farmers' markets in search of delicious and calorific local produce. It could be a character from one of Katie Fforde's best-selling romantic novels - in fact; it's a description of the author herself.
It's a long time since Katie worked in the kitchens of Stroud whole-food store Mother Nature, scribbling away in the evenings at home. She's now regularly in the top fiction lists, and has been translated into languages from Estonian to Swedish.
In demand at literary festivals and book readings all over the country, she's gradually getting used to being recognized - especially in Stroud. "I've lived here for so long, and I know lots of people for all sorts of strange reasons," Katie says. "I've been involved in Brownies, toddler and playgroup, school, Beavers and Cubs, and Weight Watchers, so when I'm recognized, I never assume it's because of my books."
She and husband Desmond, a marine consultant, have three grown-up children, Guy, Frank and Briony.
We live in Rodborough because it's perfectly situated (though I hate that word): an easy walk into Stroud and an easy walk to the Commons. I'm famous for not driving and not wanting to drive. For one thing, it's dangerous; and for another, it's not easy to park round here. You can find spaces but you have to be very clever to get into them.
Our house, which is part Georgian, used to be owned by two sisters, known as The Brown Miss Taylor and The Blue Miss Taylor. When they died, they left it to the church next door. It would have made an ideal rectory but the church didn't want it and sold it on.
It's built on the side of a hill, so we're elevated - like being in a tree house. We look onto the hills of Selsley across the valley and, in winter when the horse chestnut loses its leaves, we can see the river, the Forest of Dean, and the Welsh hills beyond that.
Two years ago, we had to decide whether to move or to do things to this house, and we ended up staying. One of the things we love is its position.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
For 26 years. Desmond and I started our married life on the water: for a while we had a couple of narrow boats, which we ran as a 'hotel' based at Stratford. But the urge for children propelled us to dry land. Technically, the reason we moved to Stroud was that it was equidistant between our two families. But once, when we were going back to our boat in Worcester from Oxford, the train took us through the Golden Valley with the sun on it. It was so exquisitely beautiful, it always stuck in my mind.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
I'd start with my flamenco class on a Saturday morning at The Space in Stroud. Although I find it difficult - the coordination and timing are a huge challenge to the brain - I just love it: watching it, doing it, listening to the music. It's also satisfyingly stampy and petulant, and you can look haughty much of the time. Interestingly, Frank has taken up salsa recently, and Briony jive, and they're both passionate about their dancing.
After that, Desmond and I would wander round the farmers' market before meeting our daughter for lunch, either at The Retreat or the Star Anise caf in Gloucester Street.
Then I'd come home for a nap, and in the evening we'd go to a flamenco show; we found one on the spur of the moment in Tewkesbury the other week.
On Sunday, I like going to church, and then cooking a traditional roast for the family. (Desmond will have done the potatoes before going to tennis.) In the evening, I'd ring up our neighbours, Jonathan and Louise, and we'd just go on picking over the left-over food together: that's my idea of perfect entertaining.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
I'd still live here, but I'd try to persuade Randall & Payne, the chartered accountants whose land adjoins ours, to sell me their lovely 19th century water garden, complete with fountains. I'd love to restore it.
To be honest, having money or success doesn't change you as much as you think it will. You don't spend all your time swanning about being a best-selling author; mostly, you're muddling around in your dressing gown, drinking cups of tea and trying to think of things to write: still your same old self.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
I wouldn't want to live the other side of the river because I do like hills better than flattish bits. I find the landscape an inspiration. After 26 years, I still say: Gosh! I can't believe we actually live here!
Where's the best pub in the area?
I'm very fond of the Prince Albert just up the hill in Rodborough, because it's local. And because it's run by a landlady, Lottie, it's very female-friendly.
In winter, I like the Old Fleece at Rooksmoor near Stroud because of the open fires. And The Weighbridge Inn in Nailsworth is good if you're very, very hungry; the cauliflower cheese is my favourite.
And the best place to eat?
I'm quite keen on HK House, the Chinese restaurant in Gloucester Street, Stroud. And I also enjoyed eating at 5 North Street in Winchcombe, when I interviewed the chef/owner, Gus Ashenford, for my book, Thyme Out. It was fascinating to talk to someone so passionate about food. Chefs are very obsessive people, very competitive and quite theatrical. Most of them work terribly hard for very little pay, so I always make a big effort to compliment the chef whenever I go out to eat.
Have you a favourite tearoom?
I wouldn't go out to tea; I'd make scones at home. They're one of the few things I'm good at. The secret is putting an egg in, which makes them much lighter. And don't roll them out - shape them and cut them into triangles with a knife. Above all, don't squash them down.
What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?
The scenery; and the people. You can find nice people everywhere, but I do think it's much easier to be nice when you live in a beautiful place.
... and the worst?
Desmond would say that he's too far from the sea; he has to go to Devon at least once a year. He knew right from being a little boy that he wanted to be a sailor, and he joined the Merchant Navy at 17; he finally gave up for good in his 40s. When we first married, I went with him to America on his container ship, which was grim because I was desperately shy and sea sick. Two years later, I went with him on a cargo ship, which was much more fun. It didn't have air conditioning so everyone left their doors open and were much more sociable.
Which shop could you not live without?
James & Owen, the stationery shop in Stroud.
What's the most under-rated thing about the Cotswolds?
People think the Cotswolds are unreal and chocolate boxy, and they're not; it's not all antique shops. There are a lot of people working hard and doing great things here.
What would be a three course Cotswold meal?
I would hope it would be asparagus season, in which case I'd buy some from Stroud Farmers' Market or from Malcolm who's in The Shambles on a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. I'd serve it with melted butter - less phaff than Hollandaise sauce.
That would be followed by rack of lamb from Taylor's, the butcher in Minchinhampton, served with purple sprouting broccoli and peas - possibly from our organic 'veg' box.
Then I'd make a crumble. I couldn't have asparagus and fresh plums at the same time, so perhaps it would be made with bottled fruit or stored apples.
What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
From the window of my conservatory, particularly in winter or spring when the leaves are off the trees and you sometimes get lovely mists; you feel as if you're in the sky. I love the shape of the horse chestnut when it's bare of foliage.
What's your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
I'm very fond of Woodchester with its church and two pubs. There are actually two Woodchesters - south and north - though I'm never know which is which. They have lots of parkland with grazing animals, and they're the site of the famous Roman villa, which is now covered up, so they don't tend to get many tourists.
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds...
The three elements I've taken for three of my books are:
Farmers' markets in Paradise Fields;
Art galleries in Artistic Licence, which was based on Stroud House Gallery;
And whole-food cafes in Living Dangerously.
I didn't need to research whole-food cafs as, prior to being published, I worked for five years in the kitchen of Mother Nature in Stroud as a 'salad girl'. I took the summers off to write, mainly because I couldn't afford the childcare through the school holidays.
What's your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
Rodborough Endowed Schools, which is close to me on Walkley Hill. It's the oldest building in Rodborough, originally built as a wool store. The community has somehow got to raise 100,000 to replace the roof.
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
I'd never write carelessly about people I know. If I am going to write about people who might recognize themselves, I always ask them first if it's OK - and I make them very wonderful! I worried desperately about my first and most autobiographical novel, Living Dangerously, because it was so close to home. I had thought to change my name but somehow never got round to it. One of the characters was based on a real person, Mac, whose hobbies were Appalachian clog dancing and cruise-missile watching. I asked if I could include him and he agreed - as long as I used his real name.
Starter homes or executive properties?
I've got three children aged 29, 27 and 24 and only one of them has a property. I'd rather have a few more starter homes than plush executive houses.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
I'm rubbish geographically. The actual Cotswold spine goes up to Lincolnshire.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
I hate the thought of living abroad!
What would you change about the Cotswolds or banish from the area?
Any more supermarkets.
What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Sign on with Mac at Elite Personal Fitness in Cirencester. I hate saying I have a personal trainer but I do have to admit to being very dependent on him. He used to be Anne Robinson's trainer and she wrote about him in the Daily Mail.
And which book should they read?
Miss Read's. She was more Oxfordshire than Cotswolds, but she evokes a lovely old-fashioned rural feeling.
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
One of them is from Baker's Mill in Chalford up to the Daneway. If you hit the right day, when the kingcups are out, you just think: This is heaven. It's amazing to think we don't have to drive miles; we can do a walk like this whenever we like.
Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I'd go and see what they've done to Rosemary Verey's garden in Barnsley. I'd have to be invisible because it would cost me a fortune, otherwise. I do love gardening, and I'm slightly anxious about it: I hope it's in good hands.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
Laurie Lee, whom I didn't know, but everyone else seems to. It's strange there isn't a memorial to him. There's one to Thomas the Tank Engine in the form of a window in our local church. The books were written by the Reverend W Awdry who once lived just below us.
The Cotswolds - aspic or asphalt?
They should be preserved.
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
Katie Fforde's next book, Going Dutch, is published this month by Century, priced 9.99. For more information, visit www.katiefforde.com