Friday, April 22, 2011

Author Interview with Pia Fenton

A warm welcome to historical romance author Pia Fenton, who writes for Choc Lit as Christina Courtenay. Her Choc Lit debut novel, Trade Winds was shortlisted for the RNA’s 2011 Pure Passion Awards in the Historical Novel category.

Pia, can you tell us how you first got started?

I first decided to write when my older daughter was a baby because I wanted to stay at home with her, but still needed to earn some money. Like many others, I thought it would be easy to write a Mills & Boon so I wrote two and sent both off. They came back very quickly of course, but by then I'd realised how much I enjoyed writing, so I carried on trying. I finally got published a couple of weeks after my daughter left home, aged 21, with a D C Thomson, My Weekly Regency novella called "Marry in Haste", and I had three more published by them after that. Funnily enough it was a reworked and shortened version of that very first M & B novel I tried to write so I guess that just goes to show you should never throw anything away!

To plot or not to plot? How much of a planner are you?

Not much of one at all, at least not to begin with. Usually I start with a particular scene, which might have been triggered by something I’ve seen or heard and given me the idea for a story. That can be anywhere in the book, so then I work backwards or forwards from that point to build the novel around it. If I get stuck, I try to do a sort of outline to see where I’m going, but other than that, I just write. Very disorganised, I know, but it seems to work for me!

What do you think an editor is looking for in a good novel?

The kind of story you just can’t put down, where you fall in love with the characters and don’t want to leave them. Everything else comes second. Editors and agents never seem to be able to tell us exactly what kind of story they want, they just instinctively know it when they find it – not much help to authors really, we just have to hope what we’ve written is ‘the one’.

Do you write every day? What is your work schedule?

I try to write every day but don’t really stick to a schedule. If I’m in the middle of a story, I might write obsessively morning, noon and night, but if I’m just revising a manuscript or working on ideas, I can go for days without writing anything at all.

Which authors have most influenced your work?

Georgette Heyer, Elizabeth Chadwick, Barbara Erskine, Susanna Kearsley, Johanna Lindsey – those are just a few as I’m influenced by almost everything I read and not just romantic novels. I also like historical adventure stories like those created by Steve Berry and David Gibbins, and medieval sleuths like Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters.

What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?

Doing rewrites requested by the editor/copy editor. I know she/they can see things I don’t notice myself, but I don’t like tinkering with the story too much once I feel it’s finished. Also, it’s hard to maintain your own ‘voice’ if you add things other people have suggested.

How do you promote your books?

I try to grab whatever opportunity is offered to me – guest blogging, interviews and taking part in talks or workshops. I also try to post regularly on Facebook, Twitter and my blog, and I’m part of two group blogs – the Choc Lit Authors’ Corner and The Heroine Addicts

Do you find time to have interests other than writing?

Yes, I love history and archaeology (the armchair variety) and I’ve been doing genealogy for many years as a member of the Guild of One-Name Studies . I don’t have as much time for these as I would like, obviously, but I do it whenever I can. There are other things I like doing too – reading of course, gardening (which I’m rubbish at!), embroidery and DIY (painting mostly), and I’m hoping to learn how to do bricklaying one of these days as I’d love to be able to build a walled garden. Crazy, I know …

What advice would you give a new writer?

Find a writing buddy who is at the same stage as yourself. You can critique each other’s work and support each other when the writing feels like hard going and you want to give up. I have two and they’ve been invaluable to me.

Tell us about your latest book, and how you got the idea for it.

The Scarlet Kimono is the story of Hannah, a young English girl in the 17th century who envies her brother’s adventurous life. She decides to stow away on his merchant ship and ends up in Japan, but once there, she is abducted by a warlord, Taro, to whom she’s instantly attracted. He, in his turn, is fascinated by her, but there’s both a clash of cultures and wills and this of course stops them from admitting the attraction. With Hannah’s brother desperate to find her and a jealous rival equally desperate to kill her, she faces the greatest adventure of her life. And Taro has to choose between love and honour …

I was lucky enough to live in Japan for a few years when I was younger and as I found everything about that country intriguing, I started to read about its culture and history. I was especially interested in Japan’s reaction to the foreign traders and missionaries that arrived in the 16th and 17th centuries, but I was disappointed to find that they were all men.

It made me think though – what if a European woman had gone there? What would have been the reaction of the Japanese to a pretty female foreigner? Perhaps they would have viewed her differently to the somewhat coarse men who had come to their shores. And then I tried to imagine what it would be like for a young 17th century English girl to arrive in a country that was so completely different to anything she was used to. If she should happen to meet a powerful and handsome Japanese samurai warlord, how could she do anything other than fall in love? And so the story took shape in my mind.

In what way has the RNA helped you or your career?

I don’t think I would have kept on writing if I hadn’t joined the RNA. It was a revelation to find that there were so many other writers who were just like me and once I started sending manuscripts to the New Writers’ Scheme I found out what I’d been doing wrong. I also learned so much from all the wonderful talks, workshops and conferences, and have enjoyed the parties. I met my two writing buddies through the RNA and so many other lovely people – I definitely wouldn’t be published if it hadn’t been for the RNA.

Do you enjoy research and how do you set about it?

No, I actually don’t like research very much, mainly because I’m very impatient! I would prefer to just get on with the story, but of course with historicals, you have to know your facts as much as possible so research is essential. When I first get an idea for a story, I decide which year it’s set in and where. I do some general reading around that particular period in history, then I start to research specific things like clothes, food, attitudes and politics of that time. Once I have the basic knowledge I need, I start to write and then whenever I come across something else I need to know, I research that as and when necessary. Sometimes while researching one story, this sparks an idea for another though, which is great – I put that to one side until the next book.

Finally, can you tell us something of your work in progress?

I’ve just finished my third novel 'Highland Storms' (sequel to Trade Winds) but it will probably need revisions so that's what I'll be doing next.

Thank you, Pia. Your hard work and persistence has certainly paid off. I wish you every success with your latest novel.

If you want to know more about Pia and her writing, visit her website or

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Short List for the Joan Hessayon Award For New Writers

The Romantic Novelists' Association announced the shortlist today for the Joan Hessayon Award.

Kate Jackson SECOND CHANCE (DC Thompson)
Molly Hopkins IT HAPPENED IN PARIS (Little, Brown)
Sally Clements CATCH ME A CATCH (Wild Rose Press)
Charlotte Betts THE APOTHECARY'S DAUGHTER (Piatkus)
Paula Williams A PLACE OF HEALING (My Weekly Pocket Novel)

The winner of the award will be announced at One Birdcage Walk, London on Wednesday 18th May 2011

The New Writers' Scheme, which has been run by the RNA since 1962, is unique among professional writing associations. It aims to encourage fresh talent in the writing of romantic novels that reflect all aspects of love and life, contemporary or historical. Manuscripts submitted by unpublished writers are read by an experienced writer or editor who provides valuable feedback. Any manuscript that is subsequently published as a debut novel is eligible for the award. The eligible books are judged by a panel of experienced RNA members.

'I would advise any aspiring writer to join the scheme,' Lucy King, last year's winner declared. 'I found the depth and scope of the feedback to be invaluable. The encouraging comments I received really spurred me on.'

The award is generously sponsored by Dr David Hessayon, the gardening expert, in honour of his late wife Joan, who was a longstanding member of the RNA and a great supporter of the New Writers' Scheme.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Interview with Linda Gillard

Linda Gillard lives and writes full time on the Isle of Arran. She is a former actress, journalist and teacher and the author of four novels. Star Gazing was short-listed for Romantic Novel of the Year 2009 and the Robin Jenkins Literary Award. House of Silence was recently published as a Kindle e-book.

Welcome to the RNA Blog Linda, do tell us how you got interested in writing.
I became a novelist by accident. I’d been an actress, journalist and teacher before I took up writing fiction and I’d become very ill as a result of stress and overwork. When I was convalescing, I did a lot of reading. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find any commercial women’s fiction that reflected my life and interests. (This was 1999 and I was 47.) I couldn’t relate to chick lit, which was very big at the time. I couldn’t find any heroines over 40. Older women were always somebody’s mother or somebody’s wife and they never got the guy. So I started writing the sort of book I wanted to read. I made my heroine 47 – on principle! This was suicide in terms of finding a publisher, but I didn’t care. I was just writing to amuse myself.

I got the writing bug pretty badly and joined a writer’s e-group. The group encouraged me to try to get my novel published. I didn’t think I stood a chance. As well as being 47, my heroine also suffered from bipolar affective disorder (manic depression), but I found an agent who loved the book (actually I think she loved the hero) and eventually we found Transita who were looking for books aimed at mature women. That was 2005 and sadly Transita is no more, but the book I wrote for myself became my first novel, Emotional Geology. I was 53. So if you haven’t found a publisher yet, don’t despair!

To plot or not to plot? How much of a planner are you?
I hardly plot at all. I don’t really like knowing what happens. I write novels to find out what happens. In House of Silence, the e-book I’ve just published, I didn’t even know which man the heroine was going to end up with. I have a rough idea of the story, but usually I just write and see what happens. Sometimes my characters have other ideas! I like that uncertainty, although I used to find it scary. But now I find I’m able to trust my creative process. I think I write more bravely without the safety net of a synopsis. If you let it, the subconscious will write a better book than your conscious mind. The conscious mind tends to go for the obvious, the quick fix. My readers have often referred to my books as page-turners. Maybe it’s because I don’t know what’s going to happen next, so the reader can’t second-guess me. The outcome is a surprise to all of us!

Where is your favourite place to work?
I live on the Isle of Arran, off the West coast of Scotland and I have a desk in front of a window overlooking Brodick Bay and Goat Fell, the tallest mountain on Arran. My PC is actually in a corner of the room, not facing the view, but I usually draft in longhand, sitting at my desk.

Which authors have most influenced your work? And which do you choose to read now?
The answer to both questions is much the same because I tend to re-read fiction. Most of my reading matter nowadays is research for novels, so to relax or console myself, I tend to re-read old favourites, but I’m working my way through all Georgette Heyer’s historical fiction (only a few to go now) and Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series. I prefer to read historical fiction for pleasure because I don’t write it. If I read authors who write books similar to mine and they’re good, I get depressed and feel like giving up. Historical fiction allows me to focus on the story, not the writing.

Authors who have perhaps influenced me and whom I still read with pleasure are Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Dickens, Daphne du Maurier, Dorothy Dunnett, Margaret Forster, Georgette Heyer, Patrick O’ Brian, Mary Renault, Shakespeare and Mary Stewart. Perhaps the biggest influence on me was the romantic suspense novels of Mary Stewart (which I see have just been reprinted with pretty “retro” covers.)

What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?
Waiting. Waiting until the story is ready to write. I’m a great believer in self-discipline and writing regularly, even if it’s just “spreading ink” (which is what I call it on a day when the book’s going badly) but sometimes you just have to wait. This isn’t necessarily procrastination. Over the years I’ve learned I need to psyche myself up like an athlete to write ambitious or emotional scenes. There’s usually one big scene in every book that I’m terrified of writing, that I don’t think I’m going to be able to write (e.g: blind Marianne getting lost in the snow in Star Gazing, or Rory’s accident in A Lifetime Burning.) If I don’t feel ready to write, I don’t. I choose my moment. But the waiting can be nerve-wracking, especially if you feel your confidence ebbing away.

What advice would you give a new writer?
Novelist Robertson Davies said, “There is no point in sitting down to write a book unless you feel that you must write that book, or else go mad, or die.” That’s the only reason to do it. Because you have to. Writing professionally is hard work, emotionally, mentally and physically and the financial rewards are generally pitiful. Being constantly rejected is very depressing and you put on weight sitting at a PC all day. In the winter you get cold, regardless of the number of layers you wear. Don’t think of becoming a professional writer unless you actually like the idea of spending part of your working day promoting yourself and your work in a decidedly un-British way. That’s what you have to do now. It’s no longer optional. If you must write, then write for writing’s sake. Don’t expect publication or financial reward – you’re unlikely to get either. When you feel angry about your unsolicited manuscript being rejected, just remember nobody asked you to submit it.

But remember also that rejection might have nothing at all to do with the quality of your work. (Star Gazing was rejected by six publishers before it was picked up by Piatkus.) An author is selling her story to readers; publishers are largely selling their books to retailers. There’s a big difference. Readers aren’t bothered about genre issues, but, my goodness, publishers and retailers are.

How do you promote your books, and how much time do you give to it?
I give up a lot of writing time to promote my books, but I have mixed feelings about it. I’d much rather be writing. You have to find a balance. I’ve worked hard to promote my novels with guest blogs and interviews and I’ve joined in discussions on many book forums. Participating in those took a lot of time, but it was great for building up a following. It was also very enjoyable.

About 90% of what you do in terms of self-promotion is a waste of time – sending out press releases no one reads, doing library or bookshop events attended by a mere handful of people. (I travelled from Skye to Inverness to do a book signing at Ottakars where I sold one book. To a friend.) The trouble is about 10% of what you do is really valuable. You just don’t know in advance which 10%! So I’ve been generous with my time when there appeared to be no immediate reward for me in terms of sales, because one thing often leads to another. Readers who are active on one book forum tend to be active on several. I got chatting (as an author) with someone on the Read It, Swap It forum and she turned out to be a moderator for the Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) Book Club forum. She invited me to join in as a participating author in their Book of the Month discussion. They’ve done two of my books now and will do a third later this year.

I believe in casting your bread upon the waters. I’ve given away a lot of books but I have faith in my product. I know from experience that if people read one of my novels, they’ll want to read the others, so promoting one is actually promoting all of them.

In what way has the RNA helped you or your career?
Katie Fforde advised me to join if my wip had the slightest romantic element. I did and went through the NWS and my reader gave me a helpful and encouraging report. Because Emotional Geology found a publisher, I was up for the Joan Hessayon award, and short-listed for the first Pure Passion award. Then Star Gazing was short-listed for the main award. I was beginning to get used to losing, but finally SG was the winner of the RNA’s Golden Poll award for Favourite Novel 1960 – 2010.

I’ve made a lot of friends in the RNA and have met many helpful, generous and talented people. For the last ten years I’ve lived in fairly remote areas of Scotland and contact with other writers has been important to me. Membership of the RNA hasn’t just been a positive force in my career, it’s been a terrific morale boost and a great source of companionship.

Do you enjoy research, and how do you set about it?
Yes, I do enjoy it, but I don’t do much before I start writing. I think research can get in the way. There’s an almost irresistible temptation to use the fascinating stuff you’ve spent hours collecting. I’m currently writing a contemporary paranormal and it has a ghost soldier-hero who died in WWI. I now know all sorts of riveting stuff about life in the trenches that I cannot and must not use, because it’s irrelevant! It will hold up the story, distract me, distract the reader. (I always try to follow Elmore Leonard’s excellent advice: “Leave out the boring bits.”) But I’m glad I did the research. I hope at some level it will add depth to my ghost hero. The funny thing is, I usually find that what I’ve imagined is confirmed by research.

Readers assume I did lots of research to write from a congenitally blind “point of view” in Star Gazing. Some have assumed I have a blind family member, or at least a friend. I don’t. I made it all up, based on a modicum of research (mostly on Google.) Then I checked that what I’d imagined was possible/likely and then I got someone who was visually impaired to read the manuscript. I didn’t have to change a thing.

Tell us about your latest book, and how you got the idea for it.
My fourth novel, House of Silence has just been published as an e-book for Kindle on Amazon (£1.90.) It's a mystery romance about an eccentric family with secrets. The original idea was a poignant story my mother told me many years ago about her own mother. To go into more detail would spoil some of the surprises, but that story lodged in my memory and, many years later, I began to wonder, "What if...?" and a plot gradually formed itself around that original family story. I wanted to try my hand at writing an English country house mystery, something like Rebecca with an element of rom-com... And a touch of Gothic... Something like Cold Comfort Farm. Well, as you can see, House of Silence belonged to no single genre and that proved a stumbling block for editors who liked the novel but said they couldn't see how to market it. After numerous rejections and a couple of protracted near-misses, I decided to go it alone. I had lots of fans asking me for a new book and I knew a mixed-genre novel wouldn’t be a problem for them.

As I write, House of Silence has been on sale for 4 days. It’s currently ranked at No. 75 in Romance e-books and No. 19 in Women’s Fiction. And that’s before it’s reviewed. I believe those rankings demonstrate the value of using blogs, forums and social networking to promote your work. I’m determined to prove I don’t actually need a marketing department, because I have a following.

Can you tell us something of your work in progress?
I'm now working on a contemporary paranormal love story. (It's a vampire-free zone. As I mentioned earlier, my hero is a ghost.) The book is set on Skye where I lived for six years and the heroine is 42, so it’s familiar Gillard territory, except that the hero’s a ghost. The book is actually proving very challenging to write because I’m not able to create a fictitious world with its own rules and rationale, as other paranormal authors do. My story is set in the real known world, but the heroine can see a ghost. The trick is to keep it all believable. Easier said than done! If I can find an editor who likes it, I will of course have to publish under a pseudonym. Changing genres is even more of a literary crime than mixing genres!

Fascinating stuff, Linda. Persistence obviously pays. To find out more about Linda and her books go to:

Interviews on the RNA Blog are conducted by Freda Lightfoot and Kate Jackson. If you would like an interview, please contact me at:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Interview with Margaret Moundson

Margaret Moundson is a short story writer and novelist and long time member of the RNA. Welcome to the blog Margaret. Do tell us how you got started as a writer.

I joined the RNA way back in 1989 as a probationer as we were called then and in those days you only had three years to make it to publication. Someone, to whom I shall forever be grateful, had that scrapped which was just as well as I didn't make it until 2001 when Sue Curran, editor of the now defunct Heartline Books, took my NWS submission Never Say Goodbye which was published in June 2001. I then had another Heartline book published, The Peacock House, followed by numerous People's Friend and My Weekly novellas, all of which have gone into Large Print and some of the older ones I have submitted for consideration for ebooks. I'm delighted to say Mimosa Summer is scheduled for epubliction during the summer. I've also had short stories published in Woman's Weekly, My Weekly, People's Friend, The Lady and That's Life Fast Fiction (Australia). Some of my short stories have been published in Norway, Sweden, South Africa and New Zealand.

To Plot Or Not To Plot? How Much Of A Planner Are You?
I plot, then I change it around and shuffle bits all over the place, then cut, then shuffle again. I am a poor example of how not to plot but it all comes together in the end. I plan but in my own way.

Where is Your Favourite Place To Work?
I work upstairs in a spare room which I have made into a den. About a year ago we had new windows put in so even on a cold day it's quite cosy.

Do You Write Every Day? What Is Your Work Schedule?
I work every day if I can or do something writing related like this interview. As there is only my husband and myself at home and we are both retired it is not too difficult to find the time. I don't have a set writing schedule as such because we do go out and about. I treat those occasions as research, but during the cold weather, for example, when we were stuck indoors, I can write all the time, seven days a week. I love it. Luckily my husband has his own interests.

How Do You Develop Your Characters?
I make them into believable human beings. Even the most saintly of us has a downside. The good guys have a guilty secret and I give the bad ones a redeeming quality. I cut pictures from magazines then I do a biog. I always give them a star sign. Gradually they turn into people I love - sometimes even the bad guys when I've worked out what motivates them.

What Is The Hardest Part Of The Writing Process For You?
The first draft. Every time I sit down I make myself do at least a thousand words because at least it's something I can tweak even if it's sub standard. You can't do anything with a blank page.

How Do You Promote Your Books?
My website, which is about to be updated. I blog and twitter. I use bookmarks and postcards. I tell writing friends and the details are published on romna.

Do You Have Interests Other Than Writing?
I practise yoga and I can sit in lotus. I love entertaining and last year for our twenty fifth wedding anniversary we gave a garden party. It was huge fun because we had a lovely sunny day when down the road they had a thunderstorm. I also love travelling, a legacy from my customer relation days at Gatwick Airport. These days we mainly do Europe. I like looking at art. Bruges, Paris and Italy are wonderful places to explore.

What Advice Would You Give A New Writer?
Never give up - see above answer to question 1. Believe in yourself. Be professional right from the start. If you don't know how to set out a manuscript go on courses. Subscribe to writers' magazines. Network. Go to the RNA conference. Talk to people. Writers are incredibly generous people. They give of their time. Jilly Cooper was once so thrilled when I babbled away about my attempts to get published. Penny Vincenzi too. Neither of them discouraged me at all or made me feel inferior.

Tell Us About Your Latest Book And How You Got The Idea For It?
The heroine in Written In The Stars, Sophie Blaze, is a private detective. She wanted to go into the police but suffers mild colour blindness. I read about the condition in an article and remembered a friend at school with a similar problem and the idea for the story evolved. I also had a Large Print book out on 1 March 2011 F A Thorpe - Hold Me Close - ISBN 978 144 480 6069 - - It's about a resting actress Sara Armitage who accepts a job as a nanny only to discover the child's father is an old flame of hers. The idea of that one came by thinking about chance circumstances throwing old friends together and the subsequent complications it could cause.

Can You Tell Us Something Of Your Work In Progress?
It's a romance set in Tuscany. Very much in the planning stages at the moment.

One final question, do you find it easy to switch from writing short stories to novels, and how would you say the skills differ?
I don't find it difficult to switch from short stories to a novel. I actually like the change because I feel it exercises different parts of my writing brain. The skills differ because a short story can be a moment in time, whereas a novel can span a generation or longer. In a short story you have to be concise because you have to use a certain number of words to get your story across. In a novel you can write at a different pace because although the story is of equal importance the stress on the number of words used in any particular scene can be your decision.

Thank you Margaret for a very interesting interview. You can find out more about Margaret and her books:

Interviews on the RNA Blog are conducted by Freda Lightfoot and Kate Jackson. If you would like an interview, please contact me at:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kate Lord Brown Talks About Change

The only certain thing about life is change, and when you live as an expatriate it is a constant parade of greetings and goodbyes, to houses, countries and friends. Someone said to me the other day that she wished just once she could have a conversation with a person without having to explain who she was, and what she did.

‘What do you do?’ can be a tricky one when you are a writer, a parent, a trailing spouse. Now my debut novel has been published, at last I have a rejoinder to the inevitable ‘oh? What have you published?’ question that follows quickly on the heels of ‘what do you do?’ If you’re a writer – putting in all those years of work into a book before you get a deal, that glazed look of boredom/disbelief (is she a fantasist?) that comes over people’s faces when you say you haven’t published anything – yet – can be tricky. You know you’re a writer. You just haven’t got the book yet to prove it.

‘What do you write?’ is usually the next question, assuming the person you are talking to reads at all. It’s amazing how many times you get: ‘Oh, really? A writer.’ He/she steps away from you, as if reading is catching. ‘Well. I haven’t read a book since school, don’t have the time …’

Sometimes there’s snobbery if you’re not aiming for the next Booker. I remember being introduced to a lawyer (female), at a kid’s birthday party. She asked what I wrote – I said ‘well, it’s been called quality women’s fiction.’ I may as well have told her I had the plague – her face crumpled into a moue of pity: ‘Oh dear …’ she said.

Then, if you tell people you write romantic fiction, the reactions become really interesting. Often you can see the change of expression on people’s faces as they mentally adjust their picture of you towards pink chiffon and chaises longues. From the chaps there’s often a twinkle of interest, images of ripped bodices in their mind. Women normally relax and tell you about their favourite authors, (‘are your books anything like ..?’)

Universally, there seems to be an assumption that writing romantic fiction is easy. Which, maybe you’ll agree, is amusing. A friend who is thinking of going back to work told me the other day that her husband had suggested she ‘knock out a novel like Kate’. Another settled down on the old Chinese day bed I bought to brighten up our staff accommodation on the compound. ‘So is this where you lounge around wafting out your novels?’ she said, clearly not seeing the piles of files and cluttered desk in the corner of the room.

I don’t think I want to disillusion people. If they knew, as we know, that writing novels has less to do with fairy dust than months or years of solitary work, maybe romantic fiction would seem less – romantic. But where I live now, surrounded by desert, by people who come and go, I have never felt luckier to do what I do. Each day I get to lose myself in the Technicolor world of my story, in characters I know as well as my best friends. That’s why I love it, and why I’m proud to say I’m a romantic novelist.

Kate's Book THE BEAUTY CHORUS is out now...
Corvus, Atlantic
1st April 2011
Hardback: £16.99
Perfect Paperback: £12.99
Kindle: £7.99

Romance, glamour and adventure in the skies: an enthralling debut inspired by female pilots in World War Two.  166 women signed up to fly Spitfires and bombers from factories to airfields across the country. It was an adventure that would cost many their lives. To the fighter pilots, they are ‘the beauty chorus’.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Interview with Kate Johnson

How did you get started?
I started out by writing not-very-good stories when I was a teenager. There was quite a learning process for me, but I knew writing was what I wanted to do, so I persevered. I started to go online in my search for more information, more contacts, more opportunities, and eventually it paid off as one of the friends I’d made started selling her work to e-publishers, and recommended I try the same. While I was still trying to get my mainstream and paranormal romance published, I started writing erotic romance and unexpectedly did quite well with it! But it’s a slow process: I think we all would like to start with a bang and a huge book deal, and the reality, at least for me, was selling a few short stories here and there, building up to slightly bigger e-publishers, getting books in print, making a name for yourself. It was another five years before I sold my first book to a British publisher.

To plot or not to plot? How much of a planner are you?
I’m not much of a planner at all. I try to let stories percolate in my head for a good long while, get to know my characters and my world, let a few scenarios unfold. Otherwise I’m a bit of a lemming, just aiming myself at the end of the book and hurling myself off the cliff. I find that the better I know my characters, the more they write themselves, and I have room this way for unexpected things to happen. For instance, in the book I’m working on now, I decided someone should break into my hero’s flat to have a look around. And once he’d confronted the intruder, I realised there was going to be a showdown, and he ended up getting shot. I hadn’t really planned for that to happen, but once I’d started down that path it became inevitable!

How do you develop your characters?
It’s different for every one. Sometimes I have really clear influences on them and I know before I write just how the character is going to be. This was the case for Major Harker in The Untied Kingdom: I knew I was going to be writing a world-weary, put-upon man who had been a soldier for so long he’d forgotten what it was like to wear civvies, who had to put up with idiots every day, who was loyal quite literally to a fault, who had no concept of not doing the right thing, who had a massive chip on his shoulder about his humble beginnings and liked to annoy posh people, who was scruffy and tired and flawed and stubborn and brilliant. He pretty much turned up, fully-formed, and patiently waited for me to write about him.

On the other hand his heroine Eve was harder to pin down. I knew she’d been a teenage popstar who’d fallen on hard times, but her background and her outlook and the way she spoke and reacted were things that turned up when I needed them. I didn’t know that her father had died when she was young until another character asked her about her family, and I didn’t know she played the guitar to comfort herself when her mood was low. I got to know Eve better simply by writing her.

What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?
Probably edits. I know they’re there to make the book better, and my editor isn’t really a sadistic torturer, but up until I get that email I can still fool myself the book is perfect as it is!

Do you find time to have interests other than writing?
I sing, not very well, and I’ve recently taken up salsa dancing, but I don’t think the Strictly Come Dancing team have anything to fear from me! I’m otherwise quite averse to exercise, but I do like walking in the lovely fields and woods near my house, so I go out with my Demon Puppy for rambles in the mud occasionally.

What advice would you give a new writer?
Write. Write a lot, it’s the only way you’ll improve. Maybe you’ll get lucky and your first book will become a bestseller, but don’t expect fame and fortune immediately. And read. Read everything, whether it’s in your genre or not. And, honestly? Find a career that’s not as mental as this one!

What draws you to your particular genre?
It’s funny, but I actually never really set out to write romance. I wanted to write fantasy, but whenever I did, my characters kept falling in love. Eventually, I gave in to the inevitable and declared myself a romance writer, but I kept the fantasy and paranormal aspect. I’m honestly not sure what draws me to it, perhaps the realms of possibility that come with being able to write outside the boundaries of real life. And when I face the frustration of not being able to find the answer I want in response to a research query, I can of course just make it up. And I suppose I rather like the ego trip of creating entire worlds!

Do you enjoy writing sequels or series? If so, what is the special appeal for you?
Yes, I do. I always have, and I think the reason why I like it is a purely selfish one: when I’ve finished a book, I miss my characters. I want to know what happens next. What follows the happy ever after? Do they get married? What’s the ceremony like? What does she wear and what do they dance to? Will they move into his house or hers or buy a new one? What about children? And so on. Of course, I don’t necessarily put all these things into a sequel, but I think about them, and I like to revisit my characters, see how their relationship is developing. However, I do try to steer clear of just revisiting previous characters in related sequels just for the sake of it - you know, where the hero’s brother and his bride happen to turn up for a gratuitous scene or two, during which we’ll inevitably find out she’s pregnant and he’s got a promotion and everything is nauseatingly wonderful. I don’t need that. If they’re going to be there, they’re going to be part of the plot.

In what way has the RNA helped you or your career?
The RNA has kept me sane! Writing is such a solitary profession, but even with the Internet, with email loops and Facebook and Twitter and all the rest, I need to stay in contact with other people who also hear the voices in their heads. People who understand my frustrations when I don’t know how to fix my giant, gaping plot holes, or my elation when a scene goes right. My non-writing friends and family are sympathetic, but after a while I can see them thinking: It’s just a scene, what’s she so stressed about? Plus, of course, through the RNA and the friends I’ve made here, I’ve made some utterly invaluable contacts. I’m pretty sure I’d never have signed with Choc Lit were it not for several of my RNA friends having done the same.

Are you a specialist of one genre or do you have another identity?
I have a naughty alter-ego! I write contemporary and paranormal romance as Kate Johnson, but with my Cat Marsters hat on I write erotic romance. It makes a nice change sometimes, and it’s a lot of fun to let my hair down! In fact, Mad Bad & Dangerous, one of my erotic romances, just won an ebook award from EPIC, which I’m rather proud of.

Do you enjoy research and how do you set about it?
I do enjoy research, especially finding out something unexpected that takes me off in a new direction. Quite often I can be researching something for one book and find something so interesting it sends me off on a new tangent. Sometimes I can work that tangent in and sometimes not, in which case it often becomes the basis for a new book.

For instance, in The Untied Kingdom I was looking at old maps and views of London for an idea of what the city would look like if the Great Fire and the Blitz had never happened, and I came across a few pictures of Old London Bridge. It looked so wonderful that I knew I had to include it, so I researched further, and one little snippet caught my eye particularly: that the arches under the bridge were so narrow that the tide rushed through at incredible speeds, making the river terribly dangerous for anyone in a boat, and absolutely lethal for a swimmer. So I decided to throw my heroine into the water not far from the bridge, giving my hero a wonderful opportunity to be heroic!
Tell us about your latest book and how you got the idea for it.
My latest book is The Untied Kingdom, available now from Choc Lit. It’s a paranormal romance set in an alternate world - a version of England where everything has gone wrong: there’s no industry, no trade, no empire and no hope. The country is in a state of civil war and my hero is fighting on the losing side. And into this world of mud and blood and army boots falls my heroine, who belongs in our own world, and thinks she must have gone a bit mad when she wakes up to be told she’s a suspected spy.

The idea came from a ‘what if’ game I was playing with a Texan friend of mine. She’d just found out that the routine BCG injection we were all given at school in Britain was considered by the Americans to be a drug only given in third world countries. “Did you know you live in a third world country?” she asked. “Well, it’d explain the public transport,” I replied. We began just messing around with the idea, and then it turned into something a lot bigger!

Can you tell us something of your work in progress?
I’m currently finishing up some rewrites to the fifth book in my chick-noir series, the Sophie Green Mysteries. It’s going to be a bit different to the first four, the most obvious example being that instead of a first person narrative from Sophie, we also get to see the point of view of her long-suffering boyfriend, Luke. It’s also a lot darker and more dangerous, as Sophie has been framed for murder and is on the run from the police, from the secret services, and from a deranged killer. I have an inordinate amount of fun writing about deranged killers!

After that I have another couple of paranormal stories in mind, one set in a total fantasy universe, about a warlord and a slave girl with incredible powers, and the other in contemporary England, about ghosts and the aftermath of a suicide bomb. Oh, that all sounds terribly gloomy. I promise jokes a-plenty!

Thank you Kate, that was fascinating. If you want to know more about Kate, check out her website and blog.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Releases

14 April 2011
£5.99 Paperback
£4.99 Kindle

As the thirties lead into the Second World War, four siblings face an uncertain future in this novel of love, loss and the enduring strength of family.

Look inside and read an extract:

Lesley Cookman MURDER TO MUSIC
Accent Press
April 11th
£6.99 paper

The eighth in the Libby Sarjeant series.

Anna Jacobs MOVING ON
Severn House
28 April

Molly Peel lacks confidence after years of put-downs by her husband. But when she's ignored at her own daughter's wedding and no one visits her in hospital, she finds the courage to make a new start.

Arrow Books
14 April 2011
£5.99 paperback

Convinced that the man she had hoped to marry has been killed in battle, Belinda is forced into an arranged marriage and made to give her precious baby to a foster mother.

Dales Large Print
1 April 2011
£11.99 (soft cover)

World War II is over and Ellen about to marry her sweetheart when an alarming telegram sends her racing home to the faraway Dow Hills, where she faces a choice that could break her heart . . . 

F. A. Thorpe
April 2011
Paperback price - £8.99

Forced to work as a servant after her father's financial ruin, Emily's dream of marrying her sweetheart was destroyed - until a chance meeting with a friend from her schooldays brings hope of a future.

Thorpe Large Print
April 2011
£18.99 hardback

Exiled from Society after a shocking experience with a rebuffed suitor, Lucy encounters the notorious Lord Rockhaven - but why is he in hiding? Should she run whilst she can - or stay to help him?

Allison and Busby
Hardback £19.99

Nov 1920, Russia is in the grip of Civil War. Four-year-old Lydia Kirillova is separated from her family and the only clue to her identity is the opulent jewel concealed in her petticoat. Struck by her plight, diplomat, Sir Edward Stoneleigh takes her to England and adopts her. But can her past be put behind her?

Mills & Boon
1 April 2011
£3.30, paperback

Can shy nurse Flora help fireman Tom bond with his orphaned nephew? And can Tom awaken the passion that Flora tries to hide?

Charlie Cochrane LESSONS IN TRUST
5th April 2011
£8.65 paper

When Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith witness the suspicious death of a young man at the White City exhibition in London, they’re keen to investigate - especially after the cause of death proves to be murder.

Freda Lightfoot HOUSE OF ANGELS
Allison & Busby
12 April 2011
£4.79 ebook

The Lake District, 1908. It seems as though Livia, Ella and Maggie Angel lead a charmed life on a large country estate. But since the death of their mother, their family home has been far from a quiet haven as their bullying father is determined
to marry off the girls to his greatest advantage.

W. F. Howes
£19.50 Large Print

Meg Turner is at last doing the job she loves. But life as a sheep farmer - unusual for a woman even in war time - proves tougher at times than she expected.

(Second in the Luckpenny Land series.)

Mills & Boon
1st April 2011
Paperback: £3.99

Craving respectability, Aimee Peters applies for a job as a governess. But she soon discovers men can be as devious and dangerous in the wilds of Yorkshire as they were in London's seedy underworld.

$4.99  e-book
15th April 2011
ISBN tba

Will Lady Eleanor's happiness survive the revelation of her secret?

12th April
ebook -price to be confirmed

Jerome Mayer is tall, dark and dangerous to know. Normally Gemma would run a mile, but with a freshly broken heart maybe it’s time for this good girl to take a walk on the wild side.

Victoria Connelly THE PERFECT HERO
Avon, HarperCollins
21 April
Paperback: £6.99

When a new version of Jane Austen's 'Persuasion' is being filmed in Lyme Regis, Kay Ashton can't help but fall in love with the actor playing Captain Wentworth. But is the really her perfect hero?

Corvus, Atlantic
1st April 2011
Hardback: £16.99
Perfect Paperback: £12.99
Kindle: £7.99

Romance, glamour and adventure in the skies: an enthralling debut inspired by female pilots in World War Two.  166 women signed up to fly Spitfires and bombers from factories to airfields across the country. It was an adventure that would cost many their lives.  To the fighter pilots, they are ‘the beauty chorus’.

Short Stories:

Victoria Connelly PARIS IN APRIL
My Weekly
16th April

Will a holiday in Paris mean a long-awaited proposal?

Lesbian Cops Anthology
Cleis Press
1 April 2011
RRP £10.99

Single mum Carla calls the police to help out her elderly neighbour - and ends up making a connection she hadn't expected with the WPC who comes to her aid.