Hello Helen, it’s great to have you visit my blog – especially as you are a fellow fan of fifties diners. As you know I adored your debut book Milkshakes and Heartbreaks at the Starlight Diner. It’s a 5* from me and at a great price of only 99p!
I wrote my novella How to Get Hitched in Ten Days after visiting Cornwall and am thrilled that today it goes FREE for a limited time today (readers take note!) Cornwall is home to so many roadside diners and I just couldn’t resist using one of them as inspiration. What inspired you to set you Starlight series in such a restaurant?
I was a waitress for a long time myself and although that was in a Yorkshire tea-room, rather than in a New York diner, I think the writer in me always felt an eatery would be a great place to set a story. These places are a community unto themselves brimming with regular customers, complete strangers and people who visit only every so often whenever they’re in town. They may be small in terms of physical size but their doors are open to the world and thus they present endless possibilities as a setting.
Moreover, unlike in your wonderful novella where you start from a point of relationship crisis, I was keen to write the opening to a reluctant romance and I thought a waitress would be an ideal candidate for a protagonist on that score. As a waitress, you have to speak to every customer so it was quite a lot of fun putting my central character in a position where she was avoiding relationships but was obliged to speak to the hot actor who was paying her more than an average amount of attention. I’m kind to my characters like that.
A community – yes, I think that sums up exactly how I feel about fifties diners. And as for their menu…My favourite diner food has to be pie and ice cream. I’m not a massive fan of burgers or hotdogs as the only meat I eat is chicken – although some places do amazing veggie burgers nowadays. What is your all-time favourite diner food?
Wow, you’re asking me all of the hard questions today, haha. To be honest if I’ve got a plate of buttermilk pancakes in front of me, complete with maple syrup, I am a happy woman. I hadn’t even tried them before I first visited New York about a decade ago but as soon as I took my first bite I was hooked.
If you could run your own diner, what would you call it?
I’d simply call it Zinone’s after Stephanie Zinone – Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in Grease 2. Take away what you will about me based on this decision.
Ha, that’s a great name! In my novella, the restaurant is called The Polka Dot Diner and a lovely warm guy called Mikey runs it, whereas in your book the owner, Bernie, is quite the grump! I feel there is more to his story – will we learn more about him in the sequel, Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner? I see from the blurb that he offers the new main character, Bonnie, a job and is described as “kindly” . Do we see him mellow?
Haha. Yes, poor Bernie. Esther doesn’t have a lot of time for his attitude does she? In her defence – he’s no Mikey!
Bernie is probably one of the most special characters in the series to me. Although he’s really only on the periphery of the full-length stories, there’s an overarching journey for him that ties all the books, and their respective messages, together. I wrote a free short story called Hot and Cold at the Starlight Diner in which Bernie features more heavily. It tells the tale of how and why the Starlight Diner opened and readers wanting to know more about the man behind Bernie’s disgruntled persona should definitely check that out.
Ooh – will Bernie mellow?
Well, let’s just say my new protagonist, Bonnie is perhaps more interested in palling up to Bernie than Esther and Mona ever have been.
Out of all the characters in your book, whom would you invite to dinner?
That’s a very good question and there are lots of different reasons I could choose other characters but I think I’d have to go with Walt. I have no grandparents left alive now and I miss them very much. I think there’s a lot of my paternal grandfather in Walt – he’s unafraid to make cheeky comments whenever the mood takes him.
Yes, I love how older people seem to reach a stage where they just speak their mind. Um, I think I might have hit that phase rather early!
Now I ADORE the movie Grease, having seen it ten times as a child! Which character would you like to be out of that film? I secretly admired tough Rizzo but was more like reserved Sandy as a young woman (yes, things have changed!) .
Well, as most of my followers know I’m more of a Grease 2 kinda gal, and by that I mean I’ve watched it more 300 times in my life at the age of 34. But one character I do love from Grease, who also appears in Grease 2, is the school secretary Blanche. I know she’s only a secondary character but Blanche cracks me up in every single scene she’s in whether it’s the original or the sequel. She’s a bit scatty, a bit high-pitched but boy oh boy can she ever play that xylophone…
300 times?! Helen! Well your Starlight Diner doesn’t have a xylophone, but it is, of course, home to a fifties jukebox – does it play any favourite songs of yours from that era?
Oh very much so. I could listen to Dinah Washington’s voice on an endless loop with ‘Mad About the Boy’ being a personal favourite. I also like a song she sang called ‘Rockin’ Good Way.’ It was later covered by Shakin’ Stevens and Bonnie Tyler in 1984. I don’t normally admit this without being tortured first, so this is a Helen Cox exclusive, but I really like that version too.
Finally, are there any more books planned in this series after the sequel, Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner? What does Helen Cox writer hope to achieve in 2017?
There is a synopsis all written up for a third Starlight Diner book which includes just as many unexpected twists and turns as the first two books, especially for Bernie. Whether or not that book goes ahead will, like everything in publishing, be subject to all that sexy contract stuff that my agent understands far better than I do.
Most of my friends will tell you it’s very difficult to get me to look further than next week never mind next year but, amongst other fiction plans, I am working on a proposal for a narrative non-fiction book that has links with a certain famous nanny, known for flying across the London rooftops. This is all just in the schematic phase at present but, after the excitement of having two books published in 2016, who knows what’s in store for 2017?
Well thanks so much for joining me and I wish you continued success!
You’d be made to miss Helen’s delicious debut , folks, and it’s just One-Click away!
Helen Cox is a book-devouring, photo-taking, film-obsessed novelist. If forced to choose one, Helen’s Mastermind specialism would be Grease 2. To this day, she still adheres to the Pink Lady pledge and when somebody asks her if she is a god she says ‘yes.’ She currently lives in York and writes novels.