Today, I’m welcoming CF White to my blog. Author of six m/m romances across three series of novels, she writes love stories with humour, drama and heat set in often gritty urban landscapes. So join me as I find out more about CF White – her characters, her influences, and more.
- How long have you been writing? Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Since a very young age I wrote stories and novels. I used to rush home from school to write and whenever I’d go on holiday with my folks I always had to have a pen and paper to write on the beach instead of building sandcastles. By the time I was around 14 I’d written two novels. My parents were super supportive and did send off to a couple to publishers. Rejection is hard at any age but at that time, the rejection kinda stopped me in my tracks. Then, as is inevitable, life took over for a while (or I should probably say teenage social life). I went off to uni, studied film production and switched to writing scripts. Then the pressures to get a paid job on graduation thwarted any chance of writing for a living, so I got a job, I got a husband, kids followed and writing all but stopped.
Then a few years back, an idea I’d had roaming in my head for years came back to haunt me – it was about a footballer and his path from the academy to the professional playing field all while discovering his sexuality and falling in love with a man he couldn’t hide in the shadows. I had no idea about mm romance then, but a burning desire to write the story. So I did some research and found the mm community. I devoured books and suddenly became an instant fan. Knowing there was a market for gay romance novels, I slowly started to write my first book in fifteen years – The District Line. I was guided to the online platform Wattpad and plucked up the courage to post my chapters on there, just to see if there was anyone even vaguely interested in my book and if I had any talent at all. Cutting a long story short, The District Line became quite successful on the site. It was featured by the platform staff, excerpts taken up in Cosmopolitan magazine and suddenly I had a decent following. I came up with a few more ideas and posted more regularly. It was after a year or so of doing that, that I looked into publishing for real.
- Where do your ideas come from? Do you overhear conversations in supermarkets or see someone in the street and imagine their backstory? Or do your novels and characters spring out of thin air?
Pretty much they spring out of thin air. The idea for The District Line had been bouncing around inside my head for a good ten years before I put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard). I grew up in a massive footballing family. My dad was a referee (even ran the line at Wembley during an England match) and so the idea of writing about a footballer was always appealing. It wasn’t until I started working at a university where I was involved in the sports scholarship programme and met a couple of ex-professional academy footballers who had lost their contracts at some of the top major clubs in the premier league, that the District Line found its legs.
With my Responsible Adult series, the idea just one day popped in my head. I have a son with a rare condition called Williams Syndrome, and part of his condition makes him overly social and extremely friendly and upbeat. The idea that he could be the little brother, and sole responsibility, of a bloke who came from the wrong side of the tracks, well, I just found that really interesting and something that I needed to explore.
All other stories have come from somewhere. My St Cross series is based in a children’s hospital and as I spend an awful lot of time in one, I just knew I had to write a few books based on the characters within that setting.
I have a few other ideas that kinda just found me one day that I still haven’t put into note form, but I still hear the characters talk to me from time to time (I realise that makes me sound a bit nuts…) [If that makes you nuts, then I am too! – EH]
- You write gritty books – why are you drawn to those urban settings? Is there something about the contrast of love with the rawness of difficult everyday life which sets off your imagination?
I think I am drawn to the urban setting but without really realising it! I have written a few fluffy light, by the seaside, stories (one I hope to publish next year) and whilst I enjoyed writing it, I get really tightly into the more urban, street, gritty and raw stuff. Some if it is because of my own upbringing and where I currently live. Responsible Adult, for example, I set in my home town and I could probably tell you that his circle of friends are very much based on people I grew up with. I worked at the supermarket that Dan and Micky do (name changed for legal reasons) with the employees all kinda based on the people I worked with back then. It’s a very personal story to me – not only due to it having a little boy with Williams Syndrome in it, but because I threw everything I knew at it. I was brought up in a council estate in a small town where no-one ever leaves (I amazingly did), where if you are considered the rough kid you’ll always be the rough kid. People hardly ever mingle over social groups, so it was interesting to put Micky and Dan together in that respect.
Then I came to live and work east London, and my previous job was working in widening participation actively encouraging underrepresented groups into higher education, so that street, urban way of life hasn’t left me. I guess I like changing perceptions of the people who come from these areas. There’s a stigma about east London, and I wanted to challenge it with Jay in the District Line like I tried to with Micky in Responsible Adult. You could probably say I love an underdog story.
- I really enjoyed your Responsible Adult trilogy, particularly the presence in the novel of two characters who have disabilities. I came away from the books feeling that I’d learnt something about Williams’ Syndrome – a condition I knew very little about before. Were there challenges in representing their disabilities while keeping them realistic? My brother has Down’s and I’m conscious of the perception that people with Down’s are untroubled and always ready with a smile, when they have the potential to be quite naughty, and aren’t necessarily full of joy all the time. Was one of the reasons for including a character with Williams’ in the novel to raise awareness of the condition among readers? (if that’s the case, it worked – at least for me!).
To be wholeheartedly honest, the reason I wrote the story was because I needed an outlet for what I was dealing with. My little boy was around two when I started to write again. He’d been diagnosed at 3 months and I pretty much had two years of absolute hell that followed. I’d never heard of his condition either – it’s exceptionally rare. I had three months from his birth to diagnosis of trying to get people to take me seriously that there was something wrong with my baby.
Then since diagnosis, he’s been through life-saving heart surgery, various hospital stays, appointments after appointments and I’ve had to come to terms with the fact my baby is and will always be different. But then I got to know him, and the delightful little boy he is. He’s overly social. He’ll hug complete strangers, tell them he loves them, would rather sit with a random family in a restaurant than his own, he’s always on the go, his energy is relentless and he has to be medicated to sleep or he’ll just keep bouncing off the walls. But he’s a unique and amazing character, as all with WS are, and I needed to write about it, I needed to show his endearing personality. Not just to raise awareness for a relatively unknown and unique syndrome, but about parenting special needs children in general and how that can ultimately affect the relationships you have with people – from family, to friends, to lovers. I just wasn’t ready to do it in the first person. So I let Micky do it for me.
Micky was the perfect character to give a WS little brother to―a juvenile delinquent, a rough and tough teen, a cheater. I kinda saw giving Micky a Flynn, a little boy with a huge heart and love for all, like giving a guide dog to a blind person. Like the dog can aid the blind man to see, Flynn enables Micky to believe in love and affection.
I also wanted to show the no frills version of special needs parenting, which I hope I’ve done with a delicate balance of romance. And yes, that was difficult to do, to keep to the reality of it all without losing what is essentially a love story. I’ve met many special needs parents since becoming one myself, and many have become my very good friends, from those who have children with Autism, Downs, Cerebral Palsy, Angelmans and other rare conditions, and one thing that we all agree on is often parenting special children can affect our relationships with other people. Just like it affects Micky and Dan’s. They can be difficult, challenging, and naughty, and how we parent them is scrutinised daily. It’s a difficult job!
- Your novel Won’t Feel a Thing is out in July. Am I right in recognising Ollie from one of the Responsible Adult novels? Was he one of those small characters that stayed with you and demanded his own story? Is there a wrong-side-of-the-tracks theme to this novel too?
Ollie does feature in Reformed, yes! Well spotted. But actually I was writing Won’t Feel a Thing alongside Reformed and then suddenly realised there was a great opportunity to overlap the books. There’s a bit of a nudge nudge wink wink moment in Reformed where Ollie says he can’t flirt with patient families due to nurse ethics…. lo and behold, in Won’t Feel a Thing, that’s exactly what happens!
I don’t think there is a ‘wrong side of the tracks’ theme to this one. It’s not street or urban, but the characters are flawed. Whilst I couldn’t really say that Ollie is a troubled character (certainly not like Micky, Jay or Seb) but he has made choices in his life that were, let’s say, self destructive and he’s trying to overcome them in this book whilst also making another shed load of bad choices.
- Do you have writing habits – such as always getting up early to write, or writing in the evening? Or do you write when the mood takes you? Are you a plotter or a “pantser”?
I wish I had writing habits! But no, I write as and when I can. A mum to two small children, plus I work part time for a charity, I don’t have a huge amount of time. So I squeeze writing in where I can. I probably stay up far later than I should just to get a few more words in. I probably rely on Peppa Pig when I have an idea I must get down, and I’m a little ashamed to say I have utilised the waiting area in many a hospital to get a few words down on the phone!
And I am a complete pantser. I hate planning. I don’t do it. I don’t even write notes. Everything is in my head. The most I’ll do is write a line or two on the next chapter as to what might happen, but that could probably change when my fingers do the typing. I find when I have had to write a plan, or a synopsis mid way through the book, I lose interest. I like to be as surprised as the reader will be.
- Do you have a particular place where you like to write, or do you happily write anywhere?
Mostly I write at home on my dining table. I recently purchased a decent chair due to the amount of time spent there. But I always have a copy of my latest WIP on my phone so I can edit, write, anywhere the mood takes me.
- Which authors do you read?
In mm romance I love J L Merrow, Avylinn Winter, and I recently discovered these amazing authors called Catherine Curzon and Eleanor Harkstead, perhaps you’ve heard of them? I love their stuff and I plan to devour every new release. Mostly though, it’s the blurb and story that draw me in rather than a particular author.
Prior to writing romance and discovering the mm genre, I was big time into Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, and the Russian urban fantasy The Night Watch series, and The Hunger Games. My first big book love was Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. So a bit of a mix there!
My husband is and has always been a major reader. He gets all these ARC books sent to him to review from new authors, and I’ve dipped into a few. It’s like I always discover something new rather than having favourite go-to authors.
Brought up in a relatively small town in Hertfordshire, C F White managed to do what most other residents try to do and fail—leave.
Studying at a West London university, she realised there was a whole city out there waiting to be discovered, so, much like Dick Whittington before her, she never made it back home and still endlessly search for the streets paved with gold, slowly coming to the realisation they’re mostly paved with chewing gum. And the odd bit of graffiti. And those little circles of yellow spray paint where the council point out the pot holes to someone who is supposedly meant to fix them instead of staring at them vacantly whilst holding a polystyrene cup of watered-down coffee.
She eventually moved West to East along that vast District Line and settled for pie and mash, cockles and winkles and a bit of Knees Up Mother Brown to live in the East End of London; securing a job and creating a life, a home and a family.
After her second son was born with a rare disability, C F White’s life changed and brought pen back to paper having written stories as a child but never the confidence to show them to the world. Now, having embarked on this writing journey, she can’t stop. So strap in, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Responsible Adult series: Misdemeanor, Hard Time, Reformed (published by Pride)
St. Cross series: Won’t Feel a Thing (published by Pride)