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Rachel Bowdler: A Sapphic Fiction February Interview

I am honoured to be the only person, I believe, to possess a signed and annotated copy of Rachel Bowdler’s Holding On To Bluebell Lodge. I won it in a giveaway last year and – like the rest of Rachel’s books – it is a wonderful book. Just like Rachel is a wonderful human being, as you can see in this interview!

Rachel, tell us a little bit about yourself! Who are you and what do you do?

I'm a romance author from the north west of the UK passionate about writing queer, often working class and plus size, characters. When I'm not working on my own projects, I'm a freelance ghostwriter and sometimes editor. I've been both self- and traditionally published and am currently represented by Clare Coombes at Liverpool Literary Agency, whose hard work brought me a now completed two-book deal with Embla in 2022.

How did you become an author?

Completely by chance! I immediately found a love of writing in English classes from a very young age and it never went away. Wattpad and aided me until I studied English lit and creative writing at uni, hoping that if nothing else, I would learn more about myself as a writer and where it might get me — but not quite believing anything would come of it. Luckily, after I graduated, I came across a post searching for romance authors for Scribd, and writing novellas for their publisher, Bryant Street Shorts, as a freelancer, allowed me to expand my catalogue and self-publish that work, which is what you see on my pages now. I was surrounded by wonderfully supportive friends in the same position as me at Scribd, and along with the online writing community, was eventually inspired to branch out and try a more traditional route — so I wrote Honeymoon for One, originally a 40k novella that was very lucky to get picked up by my agent, Clare. With lots of editing, it became a novel, found a home, and the rest is history!

Who’s your favourite character that you’ve ever written?

I have so many characters that this question feels evil! I always go back to Nora in Dance With Me, who is not sapphic but is probably the most personal to me. She is a plus size dancer who has always felt out of place in a world of athletic and slim bodies, which is something I experienced similarly growing up. Her journey of self-love felt like I was healing that part of myself, the part that always felt like it took up too much space. She develops a real connection with her body through this that I'm still working on, and I was so proud of her, and me, for that.

Robin from Honeymoon for One is a close second. She was so much fun to write, with all her puns and bubbliness, but also that sadness and insecurity beneath the surface. She was an adventure through and through, and I put a lot of my burnout and rejection sensitivity into her. While a lot of people don't resonate with her (probably because, though it's never mentioned, I am certain she is undiagnosed neurodivergent), so many readers have found a personal connection with her, and that makes her special.

Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?

I suffered through a terrible bout of writer's block in 2023, triggered by the rejection of one of my stories matched with being stuck in burnout by overworking on ghostwriting projects. I'm still coming out of it. Honestly, I just had to sit with it. I tried to write when I could. I didn't when I couldn't. I've been writing non-stop for at least four years and I think this was my body's way of saying: stop. Forcing myself has never worked with me - I have to wait it out. While I lost a lot of myself during that time, it always finds me again, and there is comfort in that. Luckily, I could lean on my agent and friends and eventually gave myself permission to play around with new ideas, even if they didn't feel "marketable" or likely to be picked up by publishers.

In more productive ways, rest, Pinterest boards, good music, a cosy workspace, inspiring books, and a fresh idea in a different genre than contemporary always helps. Sometimes, I have to wait for that idea to pop into my head (usually at the unlikeliest of times, like when I'm walking my dog, midway through showering, or about to fall asleep at 2 AM), and other times I already have it written down and have simply been waiting for the right time to explore it. I think people expect the overcoming part to be a quick fix, but I learned the hard way that it isn't. Writing can leave you, but it will find you again when it's ready. For me, writer's block is less a curse and more a sign that I need to focus on surviving for a while.

What do you consider to be the hardest part of writing?

The block I mentioned above was definitely the hardest period of my writing life so far. But of course, the struggles remain once the words are on the page. It was hard for me to relinquish control with my books last year. Traditional publishing comes with margins and expectations, and I don't always feel understood by industry professionals who are not quite as familiar with queer audiences. When you rely on a publishing house to find your readers, nobody warns you that those readers don't always find you, and I experienced a lot of disappointment when I realised I couldn't control that. With self-publishing, I can be content knowing I do everything I can to promote, but with a broken traditional system where everyone is overworked and underpaid, there isn't that same reassurance and not nearly as many resources as you'd expect. Even if I am doing enough, are they? Should there be more? How do I start the conversation, and when do I put my foot down and ask for more?

And how about the most rewarding?

I always feel proudest when the story is complete, even as a first draft. I told a new tale with growth and grace. Giving my characters a found family and a happy ending as a lonely hopeless romantic makes me feel good, powerful, especially since I'm still waiting for mine. Of course, like everyone, I also love to see it out in the world. I want my books to find readers, and I'm so grateful when they do. More so when my words resonate and I receive passionate, positive feedback. I think it makes a nice balance - I write first for me, and then when I have done that to the best of my ability, it becomes theirs. Both are rewarding in different ways.

What is one piece of advice you wish you had listened to, either in life or with regards to being an author?

This is a difficult one! I feel like there is more advice floating around that you shouldn't take. For instance, I remember my first creative writing tutor at university introducing himself with a message of complete discouragement. He told us that it was unlikely any of us would earn money as authors. While I understand that the industry is difficult, he was wrong. Dulling students' spirits isn't teaching. I went into this journey prepared for failure and I didn't have to, although it meant every accomplishment was extra wonderful.

In that vein, I suppose I wish I'd taken the advice to believe in myself and keep pushing, which I suppose I did - but 20-year-old Rach deserved to have more confidence in herself. 18-year-old Rach needs to know that all those words that feel silly are worth something. 26-year-old Rach is still working on it, even now.

You’re putting together a party. Which characters from the Sapphic Fiction genre would you invite?

Andy from Merlina Garance's The Flourishing! She is my ultimate book girlfriend and I adore her whole-heartedly. We would sit in the corner eating pasta together while everyone socialises. Also, Effie from Lillian Barry's The Santa Pageant, as she displays the same chaotic ADHD traits as me and would likely be the warm-hearted lesbian giving out pep talks in the bathroom. I'd love to meet the Gatsby-esque Emmeline from Wild and Wicked Things, and the Witch from Bitterthorn, although I'm not sure how much fun these traumatised witch babies would have after the events of their books! But what would be the point in a party without the supernatural?

If I wanted lots of fun, I'd invite Louisa and Ada from Sarah Bell's The Murder Next Door. They're a perfect couple with a wonderful, fun dynamic, and they would host a great murder mystery game (and win) I bet!

Is there anyone you’d like to highlight, while you’re here?

I always have to shout out the wonderful Indie Book Spotlight/Rebecca Crunden, who really made diving into the community a loving and joyful experience. She's also super kind and an insanely talented author! I'd also love to endlessly thank Hayley Anderton, who simply will not rest until all of the indie authors are succeeding (trust me, I have tried to make her!). Her seasonal indie events are always a lot of fun and she puts in a ridiculous amount of hard work on top of her job and writing to boost our voices and help the community grow, while also putting our books into the hands of readers.

I am just very grateful for every person who has supported me, in a big or small way. Writing can be a lonely, uncertain experience, but I have found so many people to make it the opposite. My agent, Clare from Liverpool Lit, being a big one, but also every reader and RT'er and sapphic enthusiast. And people like you, Katherine, who offer these exciting opportunities!

Why thank you!

How can people connect with you?

I'm everywhere! My website is but all of my links are here.

Finally a light-hearted one. What ice cream flavours and toppings would you put together in your ultimate sundae?

Ooh! Honeycomb, fudge, mint choc chip, cookies and cream, brownies... all of the yummy sweet ones!

If you enjoyed this interview, then make sure you’re following my social media accounts (@kblakemanwriter on Twitter and @katherineblakemanwriter on Instagram) to get all the latest updates! And if you want to support my own Sapphic Fiction journey while you’re here, The Summer We’ve Had is available now, and Love You However is coming on March 22nd!



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