Here at Manchester Libraries we’re working as hard as ever to keep our wonderful book loving borrowers happy and fulfilled. We know how popular author sessions are so we’ve racked our brains about how we can maintain these virtually.

Welcome to the next edition of ‘Library Locals’. An occasional chat with our favourite Manchester based authors about their writing process, which books they have turned to during lockdown and what they love about Manchester!

Today we got to chat with the wonderful Samantha Tonge.

Samantha lives in Manchester with her husband and children. When not writing she passes her days cycling, baking and drinking coffee.

In 2013, Samantha landed a publishing deal for romantic comedy fiction with HQDigital at HarperCollins and in 2014, her bestselling debut, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award. In 2019 she was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association romantic comedy award. In 2020 she won the RNA’s Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award with her novel Knowing You.

Her new novel, ‘The Winter We Met’ is out on 8th October and is a heartwarming and emotive story about a community coming together to save those who need it most.

If you are yet to discover Samantha Tonge’s novels, you can read them for free on our Borrowbox service..

Hi Samantha, thanks so much for taking the time to be interviewed by us. First, how are you and how was lockdown for you?

During lockdown I had to write my Christmas 2020 novel, The Winter We Met, the bulk of it whilst the pandemic unfolded. I found this really challenging. Bobbing onto Twitter or the news app to find out the latest developments really distracted me, along with the kind of worries everyone has suffered at this difficult time. Somehow I managed to get the first draft down, but the manuscript has needed a lot of work to get it up to standard. I am now very happy with it!

I have to say, lockdown hasn’t really affected the way I work or my weekly routine too much. I work from home, full-time, only going out for essentials anyway… it’s food for thought when lockdown is actually your normal life!

How has Greater Manchester influenced your writing?

Having grown up down south I’ve lived in Manchester for nearly thirty years now and I love it – the humour, the diversity and inclusiveness, the wonderful rural sights along with the buzz of Manchester city centre. In 2016, after a difficult time, I moved away for a while from writing romantic comedies, and wrote Forgive Me Not, a dark women’s fiction novel set in Manchester. I loved writing this. It dealt with the issues of addiction and homelessness that us locals see all too clearly in town, and it was really rewarding when readers said it gave them insight into the themes I covered.

I am also brainstorming a different kind of story at the moment that once again will be set here. Manchester offers so much as a setting with its vibrancy and contrasting aspects.

What were you reading during lockdown….any recommendations?

One positive thing that has come out of lockdown is that I’ve rediscovered my love of reading, and on Kindle. I have found it difficult the last year or two and I think this is because I am screen, working with words, all day – in the evening all I feel like doing is chilling with Netflix. But during lockdown I wanted a real escape so tried a Jackie Collins’ novel, Deadly Embrace – the glamour, the eye-popping lifestyles, it was a fantastic read and I couldn’t put it down!  Since then I’ve really found my mojo and have loved reading many of my contemporaries novels – stories by Jessica Redland, Alison Sherlock and Katie Ginger, to mention a few.

What can our readers look forward to from you?

My next novel, The Winter We Met, is out in October from Aria Fiction and is about how a chance encounter can change everything. I find chance encounters fascinating – we all have them in our lives, for example the party went to where we met the love of our life… a spontaneous action can lead to a permanent change. I can’t wait to introduce readers to Jess who just happens to sit in the wrong seat on an aeroplane…

What do libraries mean to you?

Libraries are community hubs, as well as adventurous places for both children and adults, offering the key to new worlds. They’ve been a big part of my life. I recall getting my GCSE results and finding out I’d achieved the same grades for science and languages. I had a big decision to make regarding which direction my academic life would take thereafter. So I went to the library in my village and researched using their books – as we did before the internet. I recall, very clearly, standing in the middle of that building asking myself honest questions about what I wanted from my future and it was there I made the decision to follow the Arts. It felt like a safe, stable place to do that.

Libraries featured heavily in my children’s lives when they were small. For years we’d go every single week and return ten books and choose ten new ones. It was especially exciting at Christmas when there was a special box of festive reads and it was wonderful for me to watch their reading skills develop.

As an author it means a great deal that readers who, for whatever reason, don’t buy many books can get hold of them there and easily discover new writers.

Any pearls of lockdown wisdom to share with our borrowers?

I was ill in 2016 and my treatment taught me several things that have proved very useful during lockdown.

Accept what you can’t change – it’s happened, we have to get on with it, no point dwelling on the “If only”s.

Take life one day at a time – it serves no purpose to think ahead and worry about what might happen as the future is an unknown entity, especially at the moment. Live in the moment as much as you can.

Try not to catastrophize – the pandemic has been horrendous in many different ways, for many people, but there will be a recovery period, hard as it may be to believe that at the moment… in a few weeks, 6 months, a year, a couple of years, things will be different and easier for the world and you personally. Life is full of ups and downs and both pass.

What’s your preference – eBook or paperback?

I tend to go through phases. A couple of years ago it was paperbacks – the feel of them, the pretty covers, the smell!  Now it’s ebooks – I love the ease of reading with the ebook in one hand, leaving the other free for a drink or biscuit!

Most importantly! Lockdown hair! Are you growing, colouring or cropping?

Growing. I look like Rapunzel! I’ve had my first hair appointment and didn’t have much taken off. It’s great to be a *natural* blonde again and was very interesting during lockdown to discover exactly what colour my real hair is!

Thanks so much again Samantha for taking the time to be interviewed and supporting Manchester Libraries. We can’t wait to read ‘The Winter We Met’ when it is released in October!