BBC Weather's Carol Kirkwood's debut novel takes us on a Greek holiday
BBC Weather presenter Carol Kirkwood's debut novel takes us on a Greek holiday
The forecast is for sun, romance, travel, glamour and golden sunsets and if Scottish BBC TV weather presenter Carol Kirkwood says so, you better believe it. With her sunny disposition she brightens our mornings on BBC Breakfast with the daily forecast, along with appearances on Strictly Come Dancing, Wimbledon Tennis Fortnight and Zoe Ball’s Radio 2 Breakfast Show and now that she’s turned her talents to writing with her debut novel out this week, the future looks bright.
In a year where we can only dream of Greek islands with their long hot days, sapphire seas, sandy beaches and bleached white houses trailing bougainvillea, Kirkwood serves them up along with romance, Hollywood glamour and a smattering of royalty. Along the way there are clouds of suspense, secrets and uncertainty, all leading up to a perfect sunset by the end of a tale that is the book equivalent of the summer of escape we wish we were having.
Thrilled to be seeing her first book published this week, Kirkwood speaks to me from her home in Berkshire, where she tells me the rain is “stoating”, slipping into vernacular in the accent she has never lost, keen to tell me how her new parallel career came about.
“If you had said to me one day you will be a published author I wouldn’t have believed you, because I would never have thought I would have been able to do it. But it has come from my imagination. It’s not ghost written. I did it,” she says, sounding surprised and delighted, as well as modestly proud, a throwback to her Scottish roots.
“In my family we were always always told that self-praise is no honour and I don’t think that’s a bad way to lead your life,” she says.
Under A Greek Moon is the story of Irish actor Shauna Jackson who has made it big in Hollywood and escapes a media frenzy over her scandal ridden private life by returning to the Greek Island she visited 20 years before as a teenager. Without ruining the plot, which involves handsome shipping tycoons, film stars, royalty, spoilt daughters and secrets that just won’t stay in the past, it’s definitely a page turner that is perfect for lying back on a sunlounger whether in Glasgow or Greece. There are shades of Kirkwood’s favourite writers Penny Vincenzi, Jackie Collins and Jilly Cooper and shadows of Richard Osman and Tom Clancy, all writers Kirkwood admires.
One of eight children, the weather presenter and now author was born in Morar, Invernesshire where her parents were hoteliers. After school she went to the then Napier College of Commerce and Technology then joined the BBC secretarial reserve and moved into presenting radio before a spell in recruitment and management consultancy. She rejoined the BBC and trained under the guidance of the Met Office in 1998 and has become a fixture with her weather forecast ever since.
She might be a long time Berkshire resident, but Kirkwood has always been a frequent visitor to Scotland until lockdown prevented it. Working full time as usual throughout the pandemic, it’s something she’s missed.
“I usually go back whenever I can, but it’s been ages. I still regard Scotland as home even though I've lived down here longer than I’ve lived there now and I've never tried to keep or lose my accent. Everyone says I’m still as Scottish as the heather, and I’m happy with that.”
Back at Lochaber High School when she was a teenager, her incipient writing skills were already apparent in her enthusiasm for English classes.
“I had a teacher called Mr Cox who was brilliant. I loved writing essays and we might be set one every two weeks, but I would write maybe three or four a week and he would always mark them. He was always encouraging, making suggestions for the next one, bless his heart.”
Kirkwood had been asked to write a book before now, firstly her life story, which she declined on the grounds “it’s not that interesting” and a weather book, “but there are so many of them out there”. Then came the suggestion she write fiction.
“That is the one that intrigued me the most but I didn't have the confidence,” she says. But meeting publishing agent Kerr MacRae changed all that.
“He asked me what kind of books I like and I said things with a bit of romance, a lot of romance, with film premiers and movie stars and flashing lights and a bit of travel, exotic locations that we can dream about, as well as a plotline that has twists and turns. He said: ‘Great. Write me a draft of things you would put in and before I knew it I was writing a book!” She laughs. “It’s bonkers!”
“I’d say to everyone, if you’ve never written a book, try it! It’s so exciting and interesting to do.”
The plot came to Kirkwood when she was out walking with her partner who is not, as the tabloids like to scream, her “secret lover”.
“No, my partner not secret,” she says, “but my private life is private. I put myself in this position because I chose this job but my partner and my family and friends haven’t put themselves in the public eye so I’m not going to do it for them. It’s very rarely you get any change out of me on that subject. What I say is yes, I do have a partner and he’s very lovely and very handsome as well.” She laughs.
Back to the book and Kirkwood and her very lovely and handsome partner are out walking and chatting and he asks her what she’s thinking about for a book.
“I said the main character is going to be Irish because I’m a sucker for an accent. I deliberately deliberately didn't make her Scottish because I didn't want anybody to think this was based on my life. Nothing about this is based anywhere around my life!” she emphasises and laughs. “My mum is a sweetheart! Nothing like my lead character Shauna’s, and will be the first person to get a copy,” she says, and continues.
“So on my walk this story started formulating in my head and as soon as we got home I got my iPad and dictated it, so I had screeds of the first bit of my book written in 15 minutes, rather than typing it or trying to write it longhand. Then you just get into it and develop your characters, some feisty, some placid, get to know how they would behave and then the twists and turns and red herrings come in, as well as the romance, the glamour, the locations. It might be the closest we’re going to get to Greece this year!” she says.
Like the rest of us, Kirkwood has been confined to the UK so there was no research trip to Greece involved. It was more walking in the Berkshire countryside that set the juices flowing, an activity she feels is conducive to creativity.
“When you’re relaxed and taking everything in around you - I think the relaxed bit is very much the salient bit - ideas enter the flow,” she says. “But I had been to Greece back in the days before booking on the internet when you just went into travel shops and said what have you got for £100? And I can still visualise the very gentle lapping of the waves of the Mediterranean and the strong sunshine sparkling on them like diamonds. The blinding white houses and terracotta floors and bougainvillea. All that is indelibly etched on my mind,” she says. “It’s my imagination, on overdrive,” which is apt as along with loving books, singing and dancing, she also has a thing about fast cars.
“I think there’s nothing more powerful than an unleashed imagination. Just let your imagination go.”
With the first drafts written Kirkwood met Kate Bradley, an editor at HarperCollins with whom she worked on the book. “We talked a lot and things changed. She reins me in if I’m going too far, or pushes me if I’m not, and really makes you think. She knows what works.”
So for Under A Greek Moon, out was the idea of a cliffhanger ending and in was a happy one, a resolution that makes Kirkwood smile.
“I like happy endings. It makes us feel awwww. For example Gone With the Wind is a brilliant book but you think, awwww, why did they not get back together? Because they’ve been through so much and finally Scarlett O’Hara had come to her senses, and Rhett Butler too, and it’s ‘oh no… a sad ending.”
At 59, Kirkwood has life experience and wisdom, which feeds into the confidence she has as a successful broadcaster and also comes to play in her writing. Does she think she had to be the age she is now to write this book?
“Possibly I have more confidence in my abilities than when I was younger. And I’ve been to Monaco, Los Angeles, Greece and Ireland, so I’m better travelled.”
She’s also had the chance to meet her heroes, something her character does with Princess Grace of Monaco, while for Kirkwood it was Bryan Adams that saw her starstruck when Chris Evens asked her to introduce the singer at the CarFest festival which fundraises for children’s charities.
“Just before Bryan came on, Chris was on stage saying I’m not going to introduce Bryan, Carol is, but I just want to say Bryan has given his time freely then said everything I was going to, so alI could do was introduce him using all of his song titles, ‘cos I’m a big fan.”
She’s also very good at ad libbing, often having to do the weather from memory when shooting on location without an autocue.
“So I said ‘with each Brand New Day, when I Get Up, oh It Cuts Like a Knife, especially after (Let’s Make It A) Night to Remember, and so on’. Then he came onto the stage and said ‘Carol, that’s the best introduction I’ve ever had’. Whether he was just being polite I don’t know, but it made my day!”
Does Kirkwood think her Scottish accent is a factor in her popularity with viewers, bringing her awards and crossover opportunities such as Strictly (which saw her banned from smiling or giggling during the paso doble back in 2015).
“I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe it’s because the forecasts are right. I would like to believe that.” She laughs.
“I take everything with a pinch of salt to be honest, good or bad, because on my Twitter I get a lot of stuff I’d rather not see. Sometimes I see something and it's being personal, ‘you’re too old to be on television’ or ‘you’re too fat’ or ‘too ugly’ or whatever and you think that’s a bit uncalled for and hurtful. I immediately mute them so I don’t see it again, it’s gone from my timeline and I move on and forget about it.”
Whether it’s the accent or the sunny disposition, Kirkwood is a viewers’ favourite whatever the trolls say, or the tabloids with rumours of a retirement.
“I think that’s just clickbait,” she says. “For years I worked Monday to Friday, and then a couple of years ago gave up Fridays because getting up at quarter to three is getting harder as I get older. I don’t read about myself, but my friends told me about this stuff: ‘Carol Kirkwood replaced on BBC’. It’s absolute fiction. I love this job, and I’m OK about getting older; it’s better than the alternative. I’ve got loads of laughter lines round my eyes. Should I do anything about it? No, because I’ve lived.”
Another question that exercises viewers’ opinions is Kirkwood’s clothes, what she wears to read the forecasts. At the moment she’s doing her own hair and make up and it turns out her outfits are all bought and paid for by Kirkwood herself. So for those who like to comment about repeat viewings of particular dresses, no-nonsense Kirkwood thinks ‘re-wearing’ is a no-brainer.
“I buy all my clothes. There’s no wardrobe for weather. I got an email from one woman who said she and her husband lie in bed in the morning trying to guess which of my dresses I will wear again and I thought, how rude, would you go up to someone in the street and say that? Of course I wear them more than once!” she says. You can take the girl out of Scotland...
With Under a Greek Moon out this week and the sun setting on Kirkwood’s debut uplit novel, it’s still rising on her new parallel career, with a second book already being written.
“At this ripe old age, I did not think I would have what will hopefully become a parallel career to my television career. If you’d said to me a couple of years ago before I wrote this book, do you think you’ll be an author I would have said ‘No! Of course not!’. I just hope that it carries on. And even if it doesn’t, it’s still been a wonderful experience.”
Under a Greek Moon is published by HarperCollins, 8 July, in hardback, £12.99
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