Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Interview with Pamela Hartshorne

After a varied career including stints as a foreign newsdesk secretary, outback cook and expedition interpreter, Pamela Hartshorne stumbled into writing as a way to fund a PhD in Medieval Studies. Over the past 20 years she has been able to combine her historical research with an award-winning career as a romance writer. As Jessica Hart, she has written 59 books for Harlequin Mills & Boon and is also a tutor and freelance project editor. Time’s Echo, published by Pan Macmillan on 30 August 2012, is her first mainstream novel. She lives in York.

You have published nearly 60 romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon, and enjoyed a very successful career, can you tell us how it all began. How did you get your first break? 

I feel a little embarrassed to admit this, but I never wanted to be a writer. My earliest dreams were about travelling, and my career, such as it was, was little more than a random series of short term jobs designed to get to me to steamy jungles or wide horizons. It was in Australia, where the horizons are as wide as they come, that I read Sharon Penman’s wonderful novel about Richard III, The Sunne in Splendour. A book really can change your life; when I got to the end I decided that what I wanted to do next was a PhD in medieval history.

Madness, but I’ve always talked a big talk and then felt obliged to follow through. So my next step was to find a way to fund a return to university. I know, I thought. I’ll write a Mills & Boon. Everybody knows they’re easy-peasy to write. I’ll knock out a book, they’ll give me a fat cheque and that will be that. Er, not quite. I sat down that November when I was dog-sitting in Scotland, dashed off 50,000 words and sat back and waited for the cheque to drop through my door. Instead I got a standard rejection. I had to write 12 books before I could afford to do first an MA and then that long-planned PhD. If I had known how long it would take, or how uncertain the whole business of making a living by writing is, I suspect I would never have started. I’m always impressed by how much research new writers do but sometimes there’s a danger in knowing too much …

Some writers need silence, others prefer the bustle of a coffee shop. What is your favourite mode of working?

You’ll often find me in a coffee shop most mornings, but I won’t be writing. Meeting a friend for coffee is one of my favourite things, and I justify it by claiming that talking through the plot IS working of a sort. But when it comes to writing itself, I need to be sitting at my iMac in my study, with the house to myself. Luckily I live on my own. I’d love to be able to take my laptop and write when I’m staying with my occasional other half or on holiday, but having anyone else around is too distracting for me.

Now you have a change of name, and a change of genre, do tell us what inspired you to write TIME’S ECHO.

It so happened that I turned 50 in the same year that my 50th romance was published (2008). Less excitingly, it coincided with a crash and burn on the relationship front. I needed a new start and it felt like the right time to change direction. I’m fascinated by the relationship between the past and the present, by what makes us the people we are and behave the way we do. That relationship was at the core of my thesis, just as it is central to every romance I write, where a character’s motivations and goals are rooted in their personal history. So when it came to a change of genre, a ‘time slip’ with a character slipping between past and present was the obvious choice for me. I’ve always admired Barbara Erskine’s novels and I’m intrigued by the idea of being able to go back in time and see what it was “really like”. The past really is a foreign country, and it’s one of my favourite places to travel, even if it is only in my imagination.

As a historian you clearly enjoy research, but which aspect did you find most interesting?

Time’s Echo is set in Elizabethan York, a time and place I ought to know well after researching a thesis on it. Want to know about rubbish disposal or mending the streets? I’m your gal. But what did they have for breakfast? What were they wearing? I quickly realised that actually I knew virtually nothing about day to day life then. I’ve loved finding out more about this, and especially reading contemporary accounts of the rituals of betrothal, marriage, birth and death.

You delve into the occult and post traumatic stress syndrome in the book. That too must have involved considerable research. How did you go about it?

I have a friend who runs courses helping people to recognize and deal with the symptoms of PTSD and it was really talking to her about the way apparently insignificant sounds or smells can act as triggers, making it seem to survivors as if they are re-experiencing past trauma, that made the story come together. I talked to a specialist in PTSD, and to a psychiatrist friend, and they were both very helpful in understanding not only PTSD itself but also how a psychiatrist would deal with a patient who claimed to be time travelling.

There is an extraordinary amount of information about any kind of occult practice you can imagine on the internet, and I have to admit I didn’t do any personal research there. But I did interview the Chancellor of York Minster himself about the Church of England’s ministry of deliverance, as exorcism is now known. I’ve been amazed by the generosity and willingness of busy people to give up their time to help me.

Do you plan the structure of the book before you start or let it emerge as you write? 

A bit of both. I write an outline, full of questions to myself, so I have a vague idea of where I’m going, but it’s only by writing that I get to know my characters, and as they come to life, so the story starts to head off in directions I’d never imagined when I started. The first full draft is hard labour, and usually precipitates a crisis (oh God, it’s awful/I’ll never be able to finish it/my career is over etc. etc.) about three quarters of the way through. Once I get over that, I struggle to the end and brace myself for a re-read. Sometimes it’s not as bad as I thought, sometimes it’s worse, but either way, this is the time for some brutal self-editing. My final draft is for rewriting, layering in character depth and texture, and tightening the pace – and usually more crises along the way!

Tell us what it is you love most about York.

It’s a very livable city, big enough to have lots going on and small enough to walk across in half an hour. I love the everydayness of history here: you can walk the dog under the city walls, and walk under the medieval gateway to have coffee in a 15th-century building, or a drink in a Tudor one. You can cycle past a Roman column and prop it up outside an elegant Georgian house, meet a friend outside the Minster or take a shortcut along lanes dating back to Viking Jorvik … This is a place where the line between past and present is not always very clear – which of course makes it the perfect setting for a time slip!

If you could clone yourself, what job would you hand over? 

Ooh, that’s such a tempting idea! Can I clone myself twice? I’d have one me to deal with promotion, social media and all that goes with that, and another me to get on with pesky writing, while I’d be left to have a lovely time doing research ...

So what next? Can you tell us a little about your work in progress? 

 I’m at the self-editing stage of another time slip novel (working title The Memory of Midnight) which should be out next year. This story is also set in Elizabethan York, but is darker than TIME’S ECHO. When it’s done, I’ll be switching hats for my 60th light-hearted romance for Mills & Boon RIVA, so I’m looking forward to a complete change of tone there.

HITCHED! my 59th book for HM&B, is released in November, and WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS is being re-released in the autumn, when I will also be self-publishing five of my very early romances.. Having two completely separate writing identities can get confusing, but I don’t want to give up my life as Jessica Hart. There’s a bit of me that will always be a romantic novelist – and proud member of the RNA – so I’ll carry on juggling identities for as long as I can.

To celebrate my new identity, I have a signed copy of Time’s Echo to give away. All you need to do is answer the question below in the comments, and I will pick a winner using my tried and tested eeny-meeny-miny-mo system:

If you could travel back in time and had a chance to see what life was really like in the past, which period would you choose to visit?

Time's Echo – published by Pan Macmillan 30 August 2012

What if you could go back in time and live your life again? Would you know the moment you’d made the wrong decision, the tiny choice that had changed everything? York 1577: Hawise Aske smiles at a stranger in the market and sets in train a story of obsession and jealousy, of love and hate and warped desire. Hawise pays a high price for that smile, but for a girl like her in Elizabethan York, there is nowhere to go, and nowhere to hide. Over 400 years later, Grace Trewe is still trying to outrun her memories of the Boxing Day tsunami. Her stay in York is meant to be a brief one. But in York Grace discovers that time can twist and turn in ways she never imagined, and as she is drawn into Hawise’s life, she discovers just how powerful the past can be.

Thank you for sparing the time to talk to us today Pamela, we wish you every success with your new identity. 
Best wishes,

To find out more about Pamela:

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me: freda@fredalightfoot.co.uk 


Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Great interview, Pam, and well done for your perseverance! Time's Echo sounds fascinating - lovely title, too! - I can't wait to read it.

Lesley Cookman said...

Fascinating, Pam. I love Time Slip novels, but feel faint at the amount of research needed. I'd like to go back - briefly - to all sorts of eras, but in particular the 1930s to 1950s (avoiding the war...?) I've been toying with a "Golden Age" style detective story for a long time.

Congratulations on both careers.

Scarlet Wilson said...

Your time slip novel sounds great! And whilst I love the sound of York, I'm sorry but I'm going to have to go ancient Egypt. I also want an invisibility cloak to sneak around though!

Alexandra said...

I would quite like to have been witness in the time when the notorious Wolf of Badenoch, son of Scottish King Robert II, was on the rampage back in 1390 and set fire to the cathedral and other significant buildings in our local area.

Good luck with Time's Echo. I'm looking forward to its release.

Jessica Hart said...

Yes, an invisibility cloak would be handy, Scarlet. I'm not sure I'd want to eat very much in the past either ...

I'd love to see the ancient world, too: Egypt, Greece, Rome. Love novels set in those periods. And then there's prehistory ... too many fascinating times to choose from!

Jessica Hart said...

Wolf of Badenoch ... they don't make names like that now, do they, Alexandra? The 14th century is on my list as it's such an interesting period, but I would definitely want to be invisible when all the rampaging was going on!

Jessica Hart said...

Thanks, Lesley and Sarah! When I was growing up, the war was everywhere in comics and films etc, and I couldn't understand why everyone wanted to go on about it the whole time. But the older I get, the more interesting I find that period and the sheer logistics of the war. Get going on that Golden Age detective!

Gail Mallin said...

Lovely interview, Pamela. I enjoy time-slips and will definitely look out for "Time's Echo". If I could time travel it would be so hard to chose just one period or place, but I think I'd have to start with ancient Macedon as I love the idea of being able to meet Alexander the Great.

Julie B. said...

As a huge Jessica Hart fan, Time's Echo is already on my list of must-buys!

If I could go back in time, I'd go back to the Regency period. Wouldn't it be fun to meet strict dowagers, real Regency scoundrels and Mr. Darcys in skin tight breeches?

Caroline said...

Massive congratulations on your new novel Time's Echo, Pamela. If I could sneak back in time it would have to be the Roman era. Such a fascinating era to be sure. Caroline x

Jessica Hart said...

Thank you all! The ancient world seems to be a popular choice but I wondered if anyone would mention the Regency period, Julie. It does sound as if they were good at partying but I'd want to be a lady, preferably with a very large dowry!

LindyLouMac said...

I admit I have never read any of this authors many titles as Jessica Hart but I was delighted to read of her mainstream d├ębut as Pamela Hartshorne. Time's Echo has gone straight on my wishlist.

Jessica Hart said...

That's great to hear - thanks, LindyLou!

Jessica Hart said...

Eeny-meeny-miny ... Caroline!

Caroline, could you email your address to me at jessica@jessicahart.co.uk and I'll put a copy of TIME'S ECHO in the post to you. (NB am holiday from tomorrow so won't get to post office until early September, but there's a book here with your name on it)

Caroline said...

WOW! Thanks so much Pamela. I'll send an e-mail asap. And have a GREAT holiday! Caroline x