Georgia Toffolo talks romantic fiction, heroines being in control of their own narrative and her important new book

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  • As Meet Me in Tahiti hits shelves today, we sat down with Georgia Toffolo to talk writing female heroines, Instagram book clubs and the joys of a good read…

    Georgia Toffolo’s name is synonymous with positivity. And from her celebrated TV presence to her social media activity, Toff’s infectiously sunny outlook is always at the core.

    Her new novel, Meet Me in Tahiti, is no exception.

    The third book in her Mill & Boon series hits shelves this week, centred around wheelchair user Zoe, and if a romantic fiction novel could give you an injection of Toff-like empowerment, this is it.

    These books are far more than your average romantic fiction, with Georgia committed to tackling important issues, ensuring representation and writing strong heroines that are in control of their own narrative and sexuality.

    In short, they are a must read.

    With Meet Me in Tahiti released today, MC’s Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot sat down with the wonderful Georgia Toffolo to talk Instagram book clubs, writing female heroines and her recommended summer reads

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    How do you feel about Meet Me in Tahiti’s release?

    I am nervously excited as with anything I have ever written, but this is by far the most important story I have told. With Zoe being a wheelchair user, my main priority was telling her story in a brilliant and fabulous way but also being sensitive. And I hope you agree that I don’t shy away from Zoe’s disability. We wanted to shine a light on Zoe’s story and the stories of lots of other wheelchair users, so we teamed up with Whizz-Kidz and they have been totally fab, I can’t even tell you. They seem to think that we have told Zoe’s story well so I am very excited.

    And with this being book number three, you’ve found a winning formula…

    Completely. I just feel so strongly that the winning formula of writing when you’re an author like me is shedding a light on some really important issues facing loads of women today, but obviously with a light dusting of fun, female friendship and a bit of bonking. It’s trying to find that happy mix and I do feel as though with this book, I’ve done it.

    Did you always know that you wanted to write a book?

    Always. But I never thought in a million years that I would get the opportunity. When I was in school I was an enormous book worm – it was always my number one, but I never had the confidence until I was about 21 to even let anyone read my writing. I always wonder what I would have ended up doing if I hadn’t slipped on a banana and ended up on the telly. I always wanted to study law, but when I actually look back and think about what I was really good at, I think it would have been this.

    What drew you to romance as a genre?

    At the beginning I think it was simply because that’s what I love to read myself – romantic fiction novels are right up my strasse. I grew up devouring Jilly Cooper, David Nicholls, Sarah Morgan – that type of vibe. So I think it was a total given that I would end up in romantic fiction. It would have been silly for me to venture out into anything else. However, I am quite ambitious with my writing and at some point in the future I would love a new challenge where I can write a different type of genre. I don’t know why but I keep on fancying writing crime. We will see where it goes and at the moment I am very happy.

    What do you want people to take from your heroines?

    I put a lot of emphasis on my heroines. There is so much planning that goes into these girls and they are so well thought out. I want people to come away and think that these really strong women are in control of their own narrative and they’re in control of their sexuality. I want people to see that that is wholly represented in a romantic novel. The age-old traditional love story trope is still immensely successful – it’s a corker. But I hope people can see that you can have that fairytale love story but also tackle really important subjects at the same time.

    Has your intention with writing always been pure escapism?

    Completely. Arm-chair travel is my thing and god doesn’t everyone need it?! And retrospectively with my books being a bit romantic at a time when we weren’t allowed to see anyone and featuring foreign lands at a time when overseas travel was banned, they were the perfect storm for a pandemic. Of course when I was pitching these ideas to Harper Collins and Mills & Boon, I had no idea that we would be living through this, so it has been serendipitous. The pandemic has of course been awful, but I hope that my books have given people a bit of a lift and taken them to wonderful foreign lands. They are, as you said, proper escapism.

    What role does reading play in your life?

    Oh it’s huge. It’s everything. Whether I’m feeling sad, anxious, over-excited, nervously excited, I always seem to turn to books for the comfort. It has always been my escape. When everyone else is binge-watching famous films and TV programmes, I seem to be reading. Whether it’s an overwhelming period of my life that I need to get through or some sad inevitable moments that we all have, books are my comfort blanket. I don’t know what I would do without them.

    Can we talk about your Instagram book club?

    I try to be as authentic as I can on Instagram and I just love reading. Books probably aren’t the coolest content to talk about but it’s me and I think people actually love the authenticity. Also, I have really felt that there has been an enormous shift around reading, even in the past couple of years. There seems to be a change of thought – it seems to be quite cool now and I am thrilled. You have Emma Watson, Reese Witherspoon, all these really cool people running book clubs and I just hope that we keep riding the wave of reading being bloody cool again.

    Did you find books to be a particular solace over lockdown?

    Oh god completely. In the first lockdown because like everyone else I found that particularly hard, I turned to Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger. I can’t put into words how special this book is. I always turn to it. It makes you cry with happiness, it makes you cry with sadness, and I’m one of those strange people who can’t even make toast but I love reading cook books. The way that Ella writes for me is so captivating and raw, and it sort of documented my whole experience of being in quarantine. She writes so wonderfully about depression and feelings of sadness, but also elation. When she starts off the depression is so raw for her. She looks in the kitchen at this chicken and she sort of says to herself, ‘you are incapable of doing anything right now other than roasting that chicken so get up and do it’. And she writes it all down. It’s just amazing and for me, it was my lockdown novel. There were just stark periods of loneliness for so many people and christ I can’t imagine what some people went through, but for me Midnight Chicken was my old faithful. It just always seems to get me through. Whether it’s passing the hours by or comforting you emotionally, books can be very powerful.

    Do you have any recent book recommendations?

    I found One Hundred Summers by Vanessa Branson at the beginning of this year and I really enjoyed it. I didn’t know it when I started reading the book but she’s Richard Branson’s sister. And I just think the reason why I enjoyed it so much was the diversity of topics. Not only are you hearing about a woman’s life right from the beginning, but because she’s a Branson you’re also hearing about the build of one of the biggest businesses in the world. You hear about her parents, different parenting types and how they parented the Bransons, her grandparents, their lives, wars etc. And I think for me I just loved the entrepreneurialism when she talked about her family and the reasons why the Bransons are so high achieving. It’s just such a brilliant book – I was really shocked at how much I enjoyed it. Another great book that I only read last month is The Marlow Murder Club. It’s by Robert Thorogood, the chap who writes the scripts for Death in Paradise, and it’s a real page-turner. I love British murder mysteries and this one’s set in Marlow so there’s lots of talk about the Thames. The main character is this most eclectic and insane older lady who goes skinny dipping in the river and walks around in this big old floor-length Barbour with nothing underneath – it’s just so totally bizarre and funny, but it’s a brilliant murder mystery.

    What message do you hope people will take from Meet Me In Tahiti?

    What I really want people to take from this book is the importance of the language that we all use about disability. It’s a way that we can all influence society as a whole and therefore get more respect for disabled people. I also want people to take away the message that it’s ok to get it wrong – that at least we’re trying to give more representation and visibility to people who do live with disabilities every day. As Whizz-Kidz would always say to me, ‘don’t worry if you say the wrong thing. You do not have a disability – you are learning. And it’s amazing that you are finding the right words to learn and raise the profile.’

    Meet Me in Tahiti by Georgia Toffolo is available now in paperback, eBook and audiobook, by Mills & Boon, priced £7.99.

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