Friday, September 27, 2013

Interview with Viola Russell

Viola Russell is the pen name for Susan Weaver, a native New Orleanian. She loves creating fiction with her dog by her side and is happiest at her computer. Welcome back Viola, good to see you again.

Do tell us which part of the writing process you most love? 

I love it when the energy is really pulsing—when I have a great idea and it all comes together. Dialogue flows and description is effortless. My writing was like that when I wrote sections of Love at War and the new book From Ice Wagon to Club House: The Life of Jude Mooney. I’m certain that a special spirit guided my hand as I wrote sections of those books. I’d researched the eras, and I easily envisioned scenarios in which my characters would play a part. My hands raced across the keyboard. I was on fire, and I’ve had moments like this in all of my books. Some people think I’m insane, but I also love the research. The research itself gives me ideas, and even as a kid, I loved reading about different times, places, and eras. I loved researching old New Orleans for Ice Wagon and for Love at War. Reading about 1500s Ireland was enlightening and challenging for Pirate Woman, but I love a challenge.

Which of your ancestors would you most like to meet?

My ancestry is German and Irish. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t ask my grandmother and my parents more about the past—my grandmother, the original Viola Russell, in particular. Probably my most intriguing relative is one I never actually knew. My great-grandmother Katherine Eschemann Russell was a German immigrant, my grandmother’s mother. She came from Baden-Baden, Germany when she was ten-years-old. There were no child labor laws then, and Katherine went to work in a butcher shop. She was so small she had to stand on a box to wait on customers. I’d love to know about her life in Germany and what brought her family to the United States. Why did her parents leave? What brought them to New Orleans? They obviously were poor. Were they running from something? My mother said she never heard her grandmother speak German. Why? Was she afraid of discrimination?

Does your lovely dog help in your writing? 

My little mixed breed dog is now elderly but still sweet. She sits by me when I work, and I’ll miss her when she goes. She’s been my best friend and constant companion since she was a puppy. I always had dogs growing up, and a dog plays an important part in The Doctor and the War Widow. Nico saves Harley’s life in the book and is her constant companion.

Are you ever driven to write by hand?

I often write by hand. That’s how I take my research notes, and I often write monologues as one of my characters. That helps me find my character’s voice, point of view, and helps me develop back-story. I’ve posted some of my monologues on my blog,

What tricks do you have for coping when things got tough?

Things are never easy for me on a personal level. My father died when I was twelve. We had to leave our home, starting a new life in a less affluent neighborhood. Consequently, when things get tough, I channel my parents. My mother worked hard all of her life. She’d grown up in Mid-City in New Orleans, a working-class but proud area of town. She experienced many ups and downs in her fortunes, but she always carried on. My father also grew up in Mid-City. He was a young man in the Depression. (My mother was a child at that time.) When his first wife died of tuberculosis during the Depression, my father and his best friend decided to bootleg. They and their families were starving, and then they entered the world of boxing and later of booking. My father made a lot of money and lost a lot. Four wives can do that to a man. When he died, we lost everything. My mother refused to sink into self-pity. She went back to work and made me study hard. I worked my way through graduate school, but I’m still not reveling in my riches. I carry on.

Prohibition? No booze? What?

Jude Mooney, the man who began his working career on a horse, is building an empire--but at what cost to his life, soul, and love? 

Jude Mooney, the son of poor but proud Irish immigrants, is delivering ice on a horse-drawn cart to New Orleans families with his friend Pete when the novel opens in 1914. When his brother James commits suicide after a banking scandal, a devastated Jude looks for easy money and good times in the notorious Storyville, but his time there is marked by disillusionment an tragedy. When he flees Storyville and the disapproval of his parents, Jude finds himself in his family's native Ireland. It is there that he meets the fiery revolutionary Maeve, the young woman who will set him on fire and change his life. When he then flees Ireland with a young family, circumstances force Jude to enter the world of bootlegging and horse-racing. Thank you for sparing the time to talk to us today Viola, as always it was a delight. 

What a fascinating background you have Viola. We wish you continuing success with your books. Best wishes, Freda 

Find out more about Viola Russell: 

Interviews on the RNA Blog are carried out by Freda, Henri and Livvie. They are for RNA full members only. If you are interested in an interview, please contact: 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Interview with Jill Barry

Jill Barry was born in Wales. She swapped secretarial work for aviation and was a trolley dolly before they used trolleys. Later, marriage and family went hand in hand with running a Wiltshire guesthouse. 
A big life change brought her back to Wales where she studied for her MA in Creative Writing and successfully submitted short stories before tackling a novel. Jill Barry has had two novels published, with two more currently under revision. 

What do you find the most fun part in writing?

It’s amazing when the characters begin to write the story and the action cracks along. Which character from your book would you most like to trade lives with? My main character’s best friend is married to a gorgeous Spanish architect called Rafa. They have a son plus a babe on the way and Kirsty is a lovely, warm friend to Andrea and second mum to young Josh.

Fictional characters have flaws. Do you have a flaw you would like to be rid of?

Ooh yes, please! I wish I wasn’t so picky about apostrophes and grammatical errors in real life. Having said that, a certain tourist brochure I picked up states, ‘Many fine houses in Penarth were once homes of ship owners and coal magnets.’ It would be sad to miss such a gem as this.

Where’s the craziest place you ever sat down to write? 

I tend to be conventional: writing room, train, museum … but on one occasion in the National Portrait Gallery, after I’d put away my notebook to await my son’s arrival, I got chatting to Rosa Branson, artist and sister-in-law of Richard. She asked me what I did and when I confessed I was a writer she told me I ‘looked artistic.’ I wouldn’t have recognised her but had recently read a newspaper feature about her work. Serendipity.

What would your most indulgent day consist of?

I’d get together with my three closest friends plus my two nieces who are like sisters. That perfect 24 hours would begin with a ride on the London Eye, complete with glass of bubbly, followed by a Thames Clipper trip to a riverside restaurant. We’d be chauffeured to a west end matinee (Miss Saigon’s coming) followed by a gossipy dinner at our luxury hotel looking out at the city by night. Next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, there’d be time for a spot of shopping before we all turned into pumpkins.

What kind of music most inspires you?

Bizet’s Pearl Fishers’ Duet sends tingles down my spine, yet calms me. The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations makes we want to dance. But I like absolute quiet when I’m writing.

Dr Andrea Palmer, young widow of a military hero, juggles a demanding job and family. Colleagues on a clinical trial, Andrea and Dr Keir Harrison, prowl round each other until, at a Montreal conference, she lets down her defences. But, heading home, she makes clear her worry about letting him into her life. He’s persistent but a spiteful nurse makes trouble and Keir contemplates moving to Canada.


Thank you Jill, for sparing the time to talk to us today. We wish you every success with your books. Best wishes, Freda

Interviews on the RNA Blog are carried out by Freda, Henri and Livvie. They are for RNA full members only. If you are interested in an interview, please contact: 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Interview with Marie Laval

Born and brought up near Lyon in France, Marie Laval moved to England a few years ago and now lives in a village in Lancashire. Her two historical romances, ANGEL HEART and THE LION'S EMBRACE are published by MuseitUp Publishing. She is currently working on her third novel. 

What is the mantra that helps you maintain faith in yourself? 

My mother used to tell my sisters and I that it was no use waiting for things to happen and that if you wanted something, you had to go out and get it. 'Take the bull by the horns', she used to say (in French, of course!).When I feel a little insecure, or overwhelmed, this is what I tell myself and it usually gets me going.

What event in history would you like to have witnessed in person?

I always dreamed of travelling back in time and being a guest at one of Louis XIV's balls or 'fêtes galantes' at the palace of Versailles, watch a play by Molière and then dance or listen to music by Lully. Versailles is such a beautiful, magical place and I would love seeing it in all its splendour.

Have you ever found yourself in an unlikely hobby or activity? 

I can think of a few, but undoubtedly the most ridiculous thing I ever attempted was to pose as a rock climber to impress a boyfriend I was very much in love with, and who was himself a seasoned climber. One weekend he suggested we went climbing together in Provence, and I found myself at the bottom of a very steep cliff, harnessed in rock climbing gear, with my boyfriend staring at me expectantly. I inserted my fingers and my toes into tiny holes, tried desperately to push myself off the ground...and failed miserably. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

Is there some treasured item from the past you've lost and still long for?

I wish I could find the novel my best friend Nathalie and I wrote when we were teenagers - a steamy story taking place in the African jungle, full of adventure and romance! To this day I can still remember the opening line. 'In the silence of the jungle, a man hurries back to his tree top hut...'

Which song most inspires you? 

I tend to listen to different kinds of music with every project I work on. For The Lion's Embrace one song in particular captured my imagination and I played it over and over again. It’s a modern song and I have no idea what it's about, but I find the melody poignant and haunting, especially the monochord violin, the imzad - a traditional Tuareg instrument - which can be heard throughout. Here is the link to the song: I also discovered the great guitarist Bombino, and the Tuareg band Tinariwen. For my current wip, I am listening to a lot of Scottish music!

Has there been a happy event that changed the course or your life? 

Yes actually, there have been three wonderful events - the birth of my children. I am actually quite bereft right now because my eldest son just moved into a shared student house. I know it's for the best and you can't keep your children at home forever, but it is hard to see his room empty and tidy (for once!) and to realise that he has now flown the nest.

Algiers, 1845 Arrogant, selfish and dangerous, Lucas Saintclair is everything Harriet Montague dislikes in a man. He is also the best guide in the whole of the Barbary States, the only man who can rescue her archaeologist father from the gang of Tuareg fighters that has kidnapped him. As they travelled across Algeria, she discovered a brutal and bewitching land where nothing is what it seems. Soon, dangerous passions, secrets of lost treasures, rebel fighters and a sinister criminal brotherhood threaten her life and the life of the man she has come to love.

The Lion’s Embrace is available from
Museitup Publishing
Amazon USA
Amazon UK

What fascinating stories, Marie. Thank you for sparing the time to talk to us today. We wish you every success with your books.
Best wishes, Freda

Find Marie at

Interviews on the RNA Blog are carried out by Freda, Henri and Livvie. They are for RNA full members only. If you are interested in an interview, please contact:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Liesel Schwarz - Costumes and Conferences – A baby author’s first brush with mega fandom

It was with a squeal of excitement that I received my confirmation email: I was going to San Diego Comic Con - the biggest tribute to fandom in the world. But even I did not appreciate the full impact of 130,000 fans all gathered in one place. This is Fandom with a big capital F. And it runs like clockwork – right down to which entrance you are allowed to use, depending on your ticket.

San Diego Comic Con. Four words that would make the face of any fan of popular culture light up. What started off as a small gathering of about 100 comic book enthusiasts in the 1970’s has become four days and five nights of non-stop geekdom.

For many people who go to San Diego for Comic Con it is a pilgrimage. It is an expression of self which one finds nowhere else and the attention to detail when it comes to costumes is astonishing. Zombies, Iron men, Zeldas, Hobbits complete with mechanical ponies. You name a character and I can guarantee you that someone will have come dressed up in just such a costume. Even the Brits were represented and I lost count of all the Daleks and girls in Tardis dresses I saw.

For others it is about meeting their heroes and fans will literally queue for days, in full costume, in the blazing hot sun for a glimpse of their favourite television star or author. It is one huge big swirling mass of everything and the only place of refuge – the professional lounge, hidden behind an unmarked door in one of the corridors. The only sign that it existed, a burly guard checking pass tags. Inside, they served cool lemonade and when I looked up, I saw a number of huge name authors sipping coffee and typing at their laptops. It was all rather surreal.

I was even luckier to have been given a place on a panel. My publicists had pitched me and they had managed to win a spot. We were discussing Urban Fantasy with big names like Jim Butcher and Kevin Hearne. More than nine hundred people showed up at the venue and some had to be turned away.  Sitting at the table in front of the famous icon backdrop I was terrified and sweating. Blinded by the lights and trembling at the sheer adrenaline rush of being in front of so many people, I remember thinking, ‘Never mind, these people are here to see the famous authors. You are just here to fill a seat.’

Then one of my fellow panellists poked me in the ribs and whispered ‘look’. I squinted and when looked closely at the crowd. Then I saw them: A girl with red hair, in a leather corset and a pair of jodhpurs; A man in a top hat and a frock coat. They were dressed up as characters of my books. My heart started racing. In fact, they were dressed exactly like the covers of my books. They were only a few, but they had come here to see me. My fans had come all the way to San Diego to see me.

In the midst of the chaotic celebrity soup, that moment of recognition was the one that will remain with me forever and I was humbled. It made me realise why we, as authors do what we do. We are here to tell stories to people.

Also, I got to say hello to E L James. She’s a really lovely lady and she made the effort to be nice to me, a nobody; and so I shall always be a fan. Here is a slightly dark and under-exposed picture of us.

Liesel is the award-winning author of steampunk novel A Conspiracy of Alchemists (book one in the Chronicles of Light and Shadow series), which won the RNA’s Joan Hessayon award in May this year.  The second novel in this series, A Clockwork Heart, is out now.
Liesel is a life-long fan of Gothic literature, a hopeless romantic who loves Victorians, Steampunk, fairies and fantasy monsters. For more information about Liesel please check out her website at

Twitter: @Liesel_S

Friday, September 6, 2013

Interview with Liz Harris

Liz was born in London. After graduating with a Law degree, she moved to California where she led a varied life, from waitressing on Sunset Strip to working as secretary to the CEO of a large Japanese trading company.

Real life intervened and she returned to the UK, completed a degree in English and taught for a number of years.

1. Tell us about your latest book and what inspired you to write it.

A Bargain Struck is set in Wyoming, 1887. Widower Conn Maguire sends for mail-order bride, Ellen O’Sullivan, assuming - as anyone would - that she’ll have been completely honest in their initial exchange of letters. But sometimes, it’s wiser not to make assumptions.

A year ago, thinking about what would make a good book to follow The Road Back, I heard the words ‘mail-order bride’ on the radio as I was driving to meet a friend for lunch. I sat up - I’ve always thought that a romantic concept.

The radio article was about Russia, but by the time I’d reached the restaurant, I’d located my developing story line to a time and a place where mail-order brides were relatively commonplace - to the wide open plains of Wyoming in the 1880s.

2. What’s the first thing you do when you start a new novel?

I think about the principle characters. A story develops from the nature of the characters, as well as from conflict, so I have to understand my characters.

I get to know them in my head by thinking about their background and how it would have affected them. We’re all products of our environment and socialisation, and this determines the characterisation.

3. How important is a sense of place to you in your work?

Extremely important. I go to the location where I’ve set my novel, if at all possible. It was easy with Evie Undercover – I often go to Umbria - but I had to drag my sun-hating husband to Wyoming in August last year to finish researching A Bargain Struck because I couldn’t find answers to all my questions, and I
On horseback at the foot of the Rockies in Wyoming
wanted to avoid educated guesses. A bonus was that we had an interesting and unusual holiday.

4. Have you ever based one of your characters on a real historical person?

No. (That must be the shortest answer I’ve ever given.)

5. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer wishing to break into the historical romance market?

Read as many books of the genre as possible, particularly those set in the period in which you’re interested.

Research your period thoroughly. You need to know the customs of the time and the constraints upon the characters if you’re to avoid your character thinking and acting in a way they would never done in the period in which they lived.

People who choose to read historical novels want to lose themselves in the period and be carried away by both the romance of the time and the romantic action between the characters. They don’t want to be jarred out of the mood by modern thoughts and actions.

6. If you could travel back in time who would you most like to meet?

I’d like to meet George Stevens, who died in 1975. He produced and directed the American Western film Shane (1953). I love the film, and I really would like to know whether he thinks Shane lived or died at the end. (No, that’s not a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t seen it – you’ve got to do one thing or the other!)

7. How does chocolate help you in your writing?

Is there anything that chocolate can’t help you with? If there is, I don’t think I know it.

Apart from being associated with romance, owing to its silky smooth richness, chocolate boosts your energy level and gives you a massive surge of creativity.

Talking of chocolate …

Thank you for sparing time to talk to us today, Liz. We wish you continuing success with your books.
Best wishes, Henri

Interviews on the RNA Blog are carried out by Freda, Henri and Livvie. They are for RNA members only. If you are interested in an interview, please contact:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What's so funny? - asks Margaret James

I recently made my first foray into romantic comedy with The Wedding Diary and at the moment I am well into my current work-in-progress which is also a romantic comedy, even though it’s much darker this time. 

So I have been thinking (perhaps rather belatedly) about what makes a romantic comedy work and what makes a comedy romantic.

I’ve come up with the following and would love to know what other people think.

  • The set-up/conflict/motivating incident in a rom com can be the opposite of funny.  The hero and heroine usually start off in a bad place.  One or both of them might have been jilted, hurt, sacked, abandoned, have lost something very precious or even have a serious and/or possibly terminal illness.  The reader will want to watch these people walking back to happiness.
  • The secondary characters – for example, best friends, bosses, siblings, parents, wise old grannies – often offer the reader the most laughs.  Manic, man-chasing sisters (like Lydia in Pride and Prejudice), crazy mothers (like Bridget Jones’s in Bridget Jones’s Diary) are so over-the-top they’re hilarious.
  • Who should I marry is usually the big question – the bad (but gorgeous) boy, the good (but dull) boy, the bad (but sexy) girl, the good (but ordinary) girl? The reader will want to see the characters end up with the right people, so can falling in love allow the good boy to become gorgeous and the good girl to become sexy?  Let’s hope so!
  • The hero and heroine need to discover the truth about themselves and about other people. 
  • At the start of the story, the hero and heroine don’t need to have a clue about what they really, really want.  But the reader must know and be hoping they’ll get it.
  • There will need to be a point at which everything goes horribly wrong and it looks as if the hero and heroine have no chance of achieving their happy-ever-after because there are just too many obstacles in their way.
  • The hero and heroine must give each other gifts.  Luxury mansions and diamond rings are lovely, but gifts can also include self-respect, self-confidence, faith in the future, and of course the best gift of all – love. 
Links for Margaret:-

What do you think makes a romantic comedy funny and what makes it romantic?