F. E. Greene loves coffee, castles, crumpets, and the cat next door almost as much as she loves writing. She is the bestselling author of multiple fiction series, all of which are based in Britain. Her novels blend feel-good romances in picturesque settings with a hint of whimsy and a dash of adventure.
Please briefly describe your latest book.
My most recent fiction book – In the Sweet Midwinter – focuses on two teachers, one who has just been fired from her job and another who is estranged from his family. They meet in Oxford, England, at a Victorian Christmas event where he is working, and she is one of the guests. I love “Across the Pond” romances where Americans and Brits connect. This is definitely one of those! I also enjoy mistaken first impressions, so there’s a bit of that as well.
What motivated you to write it?
I always wanted to write a Christmastime romance. I also wanted to write a book where one of the characters is a songwriter because that’s another interest of mine. This is my first book where a character writes a song based on the romance as it’s actually unfolding. In the Sweet Midwinter is the fourth book in its series, but because of the season and the songwriting, it felt fresh and unique while I was writing it.
Tell us about the setting. What motivated this choice? What do you think is important when choosing a setting?
Settings are extremely important to me as an author. I often think of them as another character, one that deserves to be introduced and then explored in a purposeful way. I chose Oxford, England, for In the Sweet Midwinter because I had already set the other books in the series in London, the Lake District, and Stratford-upon-Avon. Oxford is one of my favorite places in the U.K., and it is magical at Christmastime.
When choosing a setting, I either pick a place I know well or create my own setting based on a familiar place. Even in my fantasy novels, I anchor my settings in real locations because it lends authenticity to my description. When I lived in England, Kenilworth Castle was my favorite spot to hang out, so I used it as the primary setting for my By Eyes Unseen series (even though I don’t mention the castle by name).
What is the central theme? What motivated you to explore this?
The theme of In the Sweet Midwinter centers around family and the influence it has on our lives. The heroine has a chance to follow her dreams, but she is afraid of disappointing her parents who are conventional small-town folks. The hero has already disappointed his parents who cut all ties with him years before. Now, his extended family members (all of whom are featured in other books in the series) have invited him to a Christmas event in hopes of restoring their relationships with him. Both characters deal with their separate dilemmas while growing closer to each other because of them.
Because family has such a massive impact on our lives, it is always a key motivator and shaper for my characters. Family dynamics often play heavily into the development of my heroes. One of the big character arcs in Love Across Londons, my time travel romance series, is the hero’s gradual reconciliation with his absent father which happens slowly over all three books. Family issues are real, and for me, they make characters feel more real, too.
How has your background influenced your writing? To what extent does your own life influence your writing?
I constantly draw from my own life experiences as I write. Places I’ve lived or often visited factor heavily into my stories. My characters usually have jobs that I’ve also held (or know enough about to portray correctly). In college, I majored in history and journalism, and I find both those skill sets incredibly useful for writing fiction.
I write about Americans visiting or living in the UK because I did that, too. Many of my own quirky cross-cultural moments have ended up in my books. I also shine a light on places I love, and I borrow names from my UK friends. Charlie, the dog in Some Place Like Home, is a Westie who really existed. I used to take him for walks in Warwickshire on summer evenings. I love slipping details like those into my books, even if I’m the only one who knows their significance.
Can you take us through the process of writing a book? What do you do first?
When I start a new project, I like to prepare – although not too much. I leave plenty of creative space for the plot to evolve as I write. If I’m writing romance, I concentrate first on the two main characters. I create a detailed profile for each, making sure there are interests to connect them and personal goals to create dilemmas for each of them. I craft a general plot for the story from beginning to end, knowing it could shift while I’m writing. I also decide where the majority of their story will take place. If it’s in a town that doesn’t exist, I create a map including streets, shops, names of owners, etc.
For my fantasy series, I do much more world-building than with romance. I draw maps, create dialect and jargon, write a basic history of the place and detailed backstories of the characters. If I’m writing in a realm with multiple regions, I list how each region differs in terms of culture, clothing, jargon, and business (farms, markets, industries, etc.). I still concentrate on detailed character profiles as well as a solid plot outline. Although it takes me much longer to write a fantasy series, I always enjoy the process.
What was the most challenging part of writing your latest book?
In the Sweet Midwinter wasn’t challenging at all, just fun. I like writing contemporary romance partly because it’s so much easier than time travel or fantasy. There’s a lot less fact-checking and world-building. And I’ve been to all the locations in my contemporary books (whereas I haven’t been to London in 1854 or a fairy-tale realm that doesn’t exist).
For me, time travel is the hardest to write because every historical detail can be verified, so I must be meticulous with my research. If I’m creating my own fantasy world, no one can tell me I’m wrong. But if a character visits the British Museum in 1813, I have to make sure my facts are solid.
How did you come up with the title?
All of the titles in my Richer in Love series are twists on well-known idioms or song titles. In the Sweet Midwinter plays off the lovely poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti. Since my book is a sweet romance, not a bleak one, this title fits perfectly. Sometimes I struggle to find the right title, but this one showed up early in the process.
What other books and authors have inspired you?
There are so many, it’s impossible to list them all. I’ve been an avid reader since I first learned to read. In romance, Jane Austen is my hero. I love all her books and marvel at when and how she wrote them. I also read the historical romances of Courtney Milan and Lynn Messina over and over. They are both such intelligent writers, and they craft fascinating characters who feel genuine and distinctive.
In fantasy, the list is also long, and I read many of them during my teenage years. I started with The Hobbit and Dune, then moved on to Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, Robert Jordan, Raymond E. Feist… the list goes on and on. Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is a favorite, especially since it takes place in London.
C. S. Lewis is another inspiration for me, although I prefer his nonfiction. On one of my visits to Oxford, I took a guided tour of all the places where Lewis worked and lived. We even dropped by J.R.R. Tolkien’s house as a bonus. The man who led the tour had actually known C. S. Lewis. I was in total awe of that fact!
Which of your books are you most proud of?
The Never List for certain. It is my first published novel and remains a consistent bestseller among all my books. Writing that novel felt both magical and deeply meaningful since I’ve spent so much time in London. It is a celebration of everything I love about the city – its people, its history, its energy, and its spirit.