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.
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.
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.
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.
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org