Gossip, giggles and gourmet goodies: afternoon tea with Carole Matthews
Queen of romantic comedy fiction Carole Matthews may be an internationally bestselling author but when she isn’t penning her page-turners she loves nothing more than to have a good old gossip with the girls, often over afternoon tea.
Carole’s posts and updates on Facebook and Twitter are always sure to raise a smile. In fact, her popularity has meant she has had to resort to having two Facebook profiles to accommodate a rapidly growing friendship network. Bonding over social media is one thing – and I am fortunate to have stayed in touch with Carole, since first meeting her in person in 2009, through my work for the Milton Keynes Citizen (also Carole’s local newspaper) – but there really is no substitute for being in the same room as someone.
Imagine her readers’ delight, then, to be given the opportunity to take afternoon tea with the woman herself. Those invited to attend – including this lucky writer! – had a wonderful time with Carole and her partner ‘Lovely Kev’ (and yes, he really is lovely).
On Saturday – three days after Carole learned that her newly-released paperback, A Place to Call Home has entered the Sunday Times Bestseller List at number 17 – the selected readers each made their way to Birmingham for afternoon tea at Hotel La Tour. The striking, contemporary building is all clean lines and sleek, dark glass and located just minutes away from the station and The Bullring Shopping Centre.
Having hopped off the train at Birmingham New Street, I weaved my way past weekend shoppers and arrived (a little windswept but thankfully having avoided being caught in an April shower) right on time.
The hotel had reserved the VIP area at the end of the swanky Alvar Bar for the twenty of us.
If I had had any doubts that I was in the right place, they were soon quashed when I glimpsed the unmistakable outline of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
Yes, you read that correctly. Madge does in fact make an appearance with surprising regularity on Carole’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
The life-sized cardboard cut-out was purchased for a Diamond Jubilee party and has since become a permanent resident in the conservatory at Matthews’ Towers and a welcome guest at reader events. For instance, on Wednesday evening, Her Majesty was enjoying a drink in Carole’s local as part of World Book Night festivities.*
Anyway, confident I was soon to find Carole, I made my way further down the bar. Here, I was greeted with a hug and kisses by a beaming Carole, welcomed with a glass of Prosecco and introduced to my companions for the afternoon.
I shared a table with bubbly book reviewer Kim and the lovely Karen (who lives not far from Milton Keynes and worked with Carole before Ms Matthews’ career as an author beckoned). As we chatted and took photographs – and perfect host Carole flitted from table to table making sure everyone was having a wonderful time – unassuming waiters prepared our afternoon tea.
The very English ritual of afternoon tea remains popular in hotels across the country and Hotel La Tour laid on a scrumptious spread. Dainty finger sandwiches with an assortment of fillings, homemade scones with jam (accompanied by clotted cream, if desired) and a platter of delicious deserts were presented and shared around. This mouth-watering array of edible delights was served with a selection of delicate blends of tea.
Appetites satiated, there was plenty of time for photographs and conversation. Topics discussed included books (very sensible). Carole’s next Christmas book is The Christmas Party (out in hardback in August, of course!). Her 2015 Christmas book is the one she is currently writing and it will revisit the characters from The Chocolate Lovers’ Club and The Chocolate Lovers’ Diet.
Holidays (which are, in Carole’s case, bona-fide research trips and prove invaluable to her stories), films, television, radio and theatre also came up in conversation. As did hilarious anecdotes about embarrassing situations with hunky firemen (not pointing any fingers, Carole…) and suggestions for cocktail recipes. Ideas include Sloe Gin, Amaretto and Southern Comfort with 7Up or try Vodka, Archers, Malibu and Blue Bols topped up with orange juice for a green-hued ‘Sarah’s Special’ – which she promised tastes of sunshine.
Lovely Kev spent time with everyone, more than lived up to his moniker and took on the role of photographer. And, of course, there was plenty of time for me to catch up with Carole. We bonded over shorthand (merits of Pitman as mastered by Carole in her secretarial days versus the Teeline outlines journalists learn now); talked all things ballet and theatre; and generally did a spectacular job of promoting Milton Keynes (“the Costa del Keynes” as Carole would say) when others asked about where we lived.
Each guest received a personally-signed copy of Carole’s latest paperback A Place to Call Home and promised to stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Taking a couple of minutes to “be a reporter”, I asked Carole – who grew up in St Helen’s, Merseyside, but now resides in Milton Keynes – what makes a place ‘home’ for her.
She said: “It’s the people that make a place home for me and that is really what A Place to Call Home is about. Home is somewhere safe and full of love.”
To buy A Place to Call Home, or to find out more about it, visit Carole’s website.
I also wrote about this reader outing for Total MK.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.