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Ascot Author Nicola May On Her Books And Berkshire Favourites

As Ascot author Nicola May prepares to publish her 15th rom-com in April, she talks to Rebecca Pitcairn about love, loss and laughter

As I prepare to interview bestselling Ascot author Nicola May, while heavily pregnant with my first child, I try to imagine the heartbreak she must have gone through losing her unborn twins back in 2010. But I can’t. This was a tragedy that not only left May grieving for the lives that could have been, but for a future with children at all. Writing became her coping mechanism and, she says, her books became her babies.

“It was very cathartic,” she reflects. “I tried to turn all the sadness into something positive, into words that would make people laugh but also might help people going through similar experiences. I wrote about infertility, bereavement and heartbreak. It was really hard at times, but also incredibly therapeutic.”

Nicola May And Stan Photo By Dominic Martin
Nicola May (and Stan), photo by Dominic Martin

May, now 55, began writing four years earlier in a bid to document her preparation for the Reading Half Marathon. “I wasn’t particularly fit and so I thought it could be quite funny to write a diary about how I got on with training,” she says. “I finished the half marathon, but didn’t quite finish the diary, although it did give me the writing bug. Bridget Jones was around and popular at that time, so there was a real appetite for romantic comedy and I was also dating so would get inspiration from that.”

She landed an agent and her first manuscript, a book about a woman who decides to date her way through the 12 signs of the zodiac, was sent to a number of publishers. However, like many first-time authors, her work was met with a barrage of rejection.

Undeterred, she carried on writing while she worked full time in PR & Marketing, and soon enough had four more books under her belt, as well as a seven-book deal from a small publishing house. “I thought it was the most amazing thing, I thought I’d be rich and I’d be able to be a full-time writer, but it didn’t happen like that,” she explains. “I was engaged to be married, pregnant with twins and then I lost it all, including my relationship and the prospect of having any more children in the future.”

As life-changing as that loss was, May decided to pour everything into her writing using her personal experience to help shape many of her storylines. “If I wasn’t going to be able to have children then I wanted my legacy to be my books,” she says. “The Women of Wimbledon Commonis about a woman who lost twins and starts up a club for women with fertility issues. I cried my eyes out writing that.”  

Her other books include The School Gates about the friendships parents make when dropping off and picking their kids up from school (“Not having children I was really worried about getting that one right, but I have three beautiful nieces and a nephew so that helped lots,” she says); Working it Out, about a woman who tries 12 jobs in 12 months to find her dream career; and Love me Tinder, which explores the intricacies of internet dating. 

However, it was in 2019 that her ‘chick-lit with a kick’, as May describes it, shot to fame with her ninth novel, The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay, climbing to the top of the Kindle book charts.

Nicola May Photo By Dominic Martin
She is well known for her Cockleberry Bay books, photo by Dominic Martin

While the book, about Rosa, a London girl who inherits a near-derelict corner shop in a quaint coastal village, is set in Devon, the idea came about thanks to a local Berkshire connection. “My father, John Meech, was formerly a Royal Berks Fire & Rescue Service fireman. He’s 85 now and also an artist and paints all the covers of my books,” explains May. “One day he brought me this painting of a corner shop in Sunningdale. It’s not there anymore, but I remembered it being a sweet shop as a kid. My books had been doing well, but I was yet to have that big hit so I’d been looking for new ideas. A lot of the chick lit that was in the bestsellers lists at the time was about bookshops in cute villages or beach huts by the sea and so I decided I’d just have to write to type.”

And it worked. The book has sold over 100,000 copies and has been translated into 14 different languages. May now has three more Cockleberry Bay books under her belt and in April Rainbows End in Ferry Lane Market, the third instalment of her Ferry Lane Market series, will be released.

“People keep asking me to write more Cockleberry Bay books, but I did tie it up quite nicely in the last book so I’m not sure if I will write more,” says May. “However, there is a nod to the coffee shop in Rainbows End in Ferry Lane Market so who knows? Never say never.”

This summer will see May – who over the past 20 years has adopted a hybrid publishing model, switching between the traditional and self-publishing routes to give her more control over her writing – publish her 16th book. The new story, called The Hub, is loosely based on a new co-working space she regularly uses at Ascot Racecourse, just a stones’ throw from where she lives with black-and-white rescue cat, Stan.

“I find I can go there and really focus on my writing,” she says. “This whole collaborative way of working is becoming a real thing now and so I think we’ll see more and more storylines emerging around the topic. Having made it to the Number 1 spot with Cockleberry Bay, my next goal is to get TV rights signed for one of my books, so who knows – this could be the one. Watch this space.”

Rainbows End in Ferry Lane Market is published on 14 April – see more at nicolamay.com

Berkshire’s Best Bits

Nicola May’s top picks

How long have you lived in Berkshire?

I was born and bred in Ascot, so all my life!

What are your favourite things to do in the county?

I love a curry so I like going to Ascot Spices. I also love a cream tea and went to Easthampsted Park for one recently, which was lovely. I like going shopping at The Lexicon in Bracknell too, the Fenwick there is great.

Other favourite spots?

I love going horseracing, it’s a real passion of mine, so I’m very lucky to live not that far from Ascot Racecourse. I used to work there as the sales manager, but it’s much more fun going there now that it’s not my place of work. I often just go walking around there, and at Great Windsor Park, which isn’t far, too.

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