Today we are joined by Kate Mills, Erica James’ editor at Orion, for a chat about Erica’s amazing career and novels so far. Erica’s 20th published novel, Song of the Skylark is out in hardback and ebook in June.
I’m a compulsive archiver so when I was asked to write about working with Erica, it was easy for me to flick back and find that actually, twelve years ago this month, I was working on my first book with her.
I’d been at Orion two years and I’d commissioned a few books, but the chance to work with Erica was hugely exciting – and a leap of faith on behalf of my boss. Erica had published nine bestsellers and was a real jewel in the Orion Fiction list. I remember the excitement of reading Erica’s latest manuscript, Love and Devotion, and then the unexpected twist that made me gulp back a sob halfway through. If Erica were here now, she’d smile and say I always had a soft spot for that book. It’s true; I do. But that’s because a) it’s a very good book, and b) it was one of those moments editors have when they’re suddenly aware that their job involves reading something new and exciting from an author loved by thousands and thousands of readers. And that’s always thrilling when we actually stop to think about it.
Erica’s career as an author has been fascinating. She came out of the same WHS Fresh Talent promotion that launched Marian Keyes – and both them have gone on to weather the ups and downs in the fiction market, retaining and growing their readerships over two decades. But the thing that stands out about Erica is that even now she’s willing to try something just a bit different with each book.
My notes on Gardens of Delight, the book that followed Love and Devotion, said ‘it’s quite different in tone from L+D… In many ways, it shows how versatile you are as a writer…’ And I’m still saying that a decade later.
Two years ago, with Summer at the Lake, Erica again tried something she’d never done before. She set a significant part of the story in the 1950s, at the Italian Lakes. It’s not always easy for an author to make that switch, but reading that book, Erica’s love for the period and the place shine from the page. She’d enjoyed doing the research but she wore it very lightly in her writing. It resulted in a brilliant book. Her latest novel, Song of the Skylark, is partially set pre- and during WW2, juxtaposing a contemporary story of a young woman who’s lost her way with that of a young woman in the 1940s who had no option but to dig in and push forward in a time of uncertainly and grief. That’s the interesting thing; Erica hasn’t just hit on a bestselling formula and clung to it, she’s evolved as a writer, pushing herself to try new things, and her readers love her for it.