Friday, March 18, 2011

Author Interview with Imogen Howson

I’m delighted to be interviewing Imogen Howson, who knows the world of romantic fiction from both a writer’s and publisher’s perspective. She writes romantic fantasy for adults and young adults as well as working as an editorial assistant for Samhain publishing.

Imogen, can you tell me how you first got started?

I told stories to myself—and my little sister—my whole childhood. But I started writing seriously when I was twenty, just after I got married. I didn’t really understand genre definitions at that point—I initially thought I was writing an epic fantasy. It wasn’t until I’d finished writing it that I realised the developing relationship was absolutely central to the whole book, and that what I’d actually written was a romance. So I joined the online writers’ community Romance Divas, then later on the RNA, and found my true place in the literary world!

Where is your favourite place to work?

I work at the computer in the corner of my kitchen. The coffee pot is within easy reach, and the cat comes and sits on my knee while I type. I also love to take Erica the red laptop and go out to write in coffee shops—Costa for preference, but McDonalds will do.

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

I write most days—I feel horrid and grumpy if I don’t manage it. My usual schedule is to write for two to three hours first thing, once my family has left the house for the day. I work from home as well—I’m an editorial assistant for Samhain Publishing—so after I’ve got my word count down for the day I get on with my "day job". And sometimes I have to do some housework too. But if I don’t write first thing, while I’m fresh and alert, and then have to try catching up later on it’s like getting blood out of a stone.

Which authors have most influenced your work?

I grew up reading Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ursula le Guin and Ray Bradbury, and my writing—fantasy and science fiction—has been heavily influenced by all those authors. The best compliments I’ve ever had on my books have been those which compared me to any of them. I’ve collected comparisons to Zimmer Bradley, le Guin and Bradbury so far and remain hopeful of the others!

How do you develop your characters?

As far as I’m concerned, developing characters is the oh-my-goodness hardest part of writing. Sometimes I basically cheat and use a real person as a starter template for a character, letting them evolve throughout the book so they’re hopefully not recognisable by the time I’m done with them. I also find I get to know characters if I just throw them onto the page and let them talk to each other, so my early drafts tend to contain unreasonable amounts of dialogue.

Do you find time to have interests other than writing?

Books and food! I love to cook, and I’ve been very pleased to find that there are plenty of recipe books as well as fiction available for the Kindle—I got mine in September and love it. My husband and I run the local church youth group on Fridays, which is a fab thing to be involved with, and I also love shopping, cooking or watching Buffy DVDs with my two teenage and nearly-teenage daughters. They’re super-cool and loads of fun. One of my favourite things is hanging out with good food, wine and friends—preferably ones I can talk books or writing with. And, lucky me, the annual RNA conference is pretty good for doing all those things.

Do you enjoy writing sequels or series? If so what is the special appeal for you?

In general, I’ve felt that once I’ve told a story, there’s no reason for me to return to those characters or that world. However, when my fantasy romance Heart of the Volcano was published, I felt there was a lot more to tell. The story of the romance of that book was happily complete, but the story of the wider world of the book wasn’t over yet. So I returned to that world in my latest release, Blood of the Volcano. I found new romantic leads, but I also found myself visiting the characters from the previous book, and discovering how their happy-ever-after was working out.

How do you promote your books?

Samhain Publishing, for whom I work and who also publishes my books, gives the advice that the best promotion for a book is another book. Authors often see sales of their first book jump with the release of subsequent books, as readers discover them for the first time then go looking for their backlist. So that’s what I’m concentrating on at the moment—which is nice, because it’s so much more fun writing book than promoting them.
I’m also trying out the effect of providing free reads. I have a free short romance set in the same world as my Volcano books available both from my website and from the self-publishing website Smashwords. It’s been getting a lot of downloads—it’s fascinating seeing the numbers climb—and I’m hoping having it available for free will attract new readers to my other books.

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

The RNA is like a combined springboard, safety net and spider-web of useful connections. I’ve received so much encouragement just from being part of it—the conferences and chapter meetings leave me buzzing with a feeling of "I can do it". More specifically, my membership has led to me winning my first literary award—the 2008 Elizabeth Goudge Trophy—and to putting me in touch with other writers who’ve given me vital feedback on my work. Joining the RNA is, in my opinion, the single most useful thing any British romance writer can do.

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

My latest book, fantasy romance Blood of the Volcano, is the story of Maya, a temple maenad. When she’s sent to kill a runaway shape-shifter, whose unsanctioned, "unholy" powers condemn him to death, she ends up captured, helpless for the first time in her life, and forced to re-evaluate the rules she’s lived by.
The world of the Volcano books is heavily influenced by Greek mythology—something else I grew up reading. Maya is a maenad, an almost entirely insane, savage instrument of the god’s vengeance. I was interested in taking a heroine who’s had all her compassion wiped out of her, and forcing her into a place where she has to rediscover her humanity—and the vulnerability that comes with it.
In contrast to Maya, the hero of the book, Philos, is almost too human. As well as being a shape-shifter, he’s also an empath, and he has to fight to not give into that empathy, that compassion, so much that it makes him too vulnerable. 

Thank you Imogen, and I wish you every success with your latest novel.

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

Follow her blog at and on twitter

Friday, March 11, 2011

Author Interview with Anna Jacobs

I’m delighted today to be interviewing fellow Lancastrian Anna Jacobs. Anna’s main home is in Australia, but she was born and bred in the cotton towns. With 53 novels published, both historical and modern novels, Anna, I know you claim to be addicted to writing, so do tell us, how did you get started?

My favourite author (Georgette Heyer) died and I tried to write books like hers - regency romances. In the end I had two of them published, but my ‘voice’ as a writer developed in another direction. As part of training myself, I did a university unit in history covering my period. I’d sworn when I got my Master of Business degree that I wasn’t doing any formal studying again, but there you are - I wanted to be sure I had the skills and knowledge to write historical fiction.

To plot or not to plot? How much of a planner are you?
I’m not a planner as to details of plot. However, I do the main background research before I start. After that I develop the characters and walk with them through the events of the story. It’s often random research that interests me in something and gives me a plot idea. Years ago I found out that 60 Lancashire cotton lasses were sent to Western Australia (my main home) in 1863 because they had no work due to the American Civil War cutting off supplies of cotton. Western Australia was short of maids, because young women sent out there would keep getting married. With 10 men to every woman, how could they resist? I added four more imaginary cotton lasses to the group and started my Swan River Saga with ‘Farewell to Lancashire’.

What do you think an editor is looking for in a good novel?
In my sort of fiction (non-gruesome, no graphic sex or violence) they’re looking for ‘heart’ ie a story that touches your heart, whether it’s historical or modern. Or so one excellent editor told me. This applies to both my modern and historical novels. I’m not an expert in other genres, so will not try to cover them.

Do you write every day? What is your work schedule?
I write most days, probably averaging six and a half days a week. What can I say? I’m addicted to story-telling. I get up at 5.30 am because that’s when I wake, and go to answer my emails, half of which are business emails. Then I have breakfast and shower, before returning to my office. The mornings and early afternoons are my best creative times. I never write after teatime. My creativity vanishes with the sun - and anyway, I like to spend time with my husband, who is also my best friend.

How do you develop your characters?
I choose hair colour, height and a name. I can’t start until I get a name. Then I begin to write. I rewrite the first two or three chapters several times and that helps me get to know my main characters. Once I’ve finished a story, I know them much better, so I go back to the beginning and polish the story and add all sorts of details. I don’t consciously work out what they’re like, I just . . . get to know them by writing. That’s the only way I can explain. And I think of them as people, not characters.

Do you find time to have interests other than writing?
Of course I do. You’d not get enough experience of life to write if you just sat in your office writing. I have a lovely husband, daughters, grandson, friends. And as I live in England for part of the year, I have friends and relatives in both countries. I’m interested in archaeology (Time Team), health issues, reading, watching documentaries that extend my knowledge of the world, meeting people, visiting ancient monuments and lovely old English villages - all sorts of things. I have a bad back, so I can’t do vigorous physical activities, though I do walk on a treadmill most days to help my back and because I want to keep healthy.

Do you enjoy writing sequels or series, If so what is the special appeal for you?
Yes, I do. And readers enjoy them too. They write such lovely letters about the characters that it makes me write more series. However, I don’t like to leave things too unfinished in any book of a series. Readers must be able to read each book on their own, as it’s not always possible to start with Book 1, and work steadily through a series.

They appeal because like my readers, I enjoy finding out what happens to my characters afterwards. In a series, I usually have a different hero and heroine each time, with former heroes and heroines as minor characters. In the Swan River Saga a minor character in Book 3 was so vivid, I’ve written a spin-off book about his story, still with the other major characters popping in and out. I’m not sure yet what to call this new series. We’ll see. ‘The Trader’s Wife’ comes out in September in hardback, a novel set partly in 1860s Singapore and partly in Western Australia. I’m writing the sequel ‘The Trader’s Sister’ now and have ‘gone back’ to Singapore for a visit.

How do you promote your books?
Any way I can, within reason. I have a brand new web site, which gives a huge amount of information, not only about the books, but from behind the scenes, what made me write them and how I did the research. This information is only available on my website. My earlier fantasy novels (written as Shannah Jay) are for sale there as electronic books, as are my earlier historical romances, and of course they’re also for sale on other Internet sites, like Amazon.

I do guest blogs, I give talks, I do interviews on the radio, I write short stories for women’s magazines, I do all sorts of things. And they benefit me in many ways. I meet readers at talks and get feedback from them, which is always interesting and useful. I have a readers’ email newsletter, which people can sign up for by sending an email to Many of the readers receiving it write back to me at intervals.

I am not prepared to stand on my head to attract attention, though!

Are you a specialist of one genre or do you have another identity?
I thought I was writing women’s fiction, both historical and modern as Anna Jacobs, but I regularly get letters from men, and it’s gradually become clear that I’m not writing just for women. So I don’t know what to call my Anna Jacobs books, maybe family/relationships stories. I also write fantasy and science fiction as Shannah Jay, but only as a minor interest these days. My Shannah Jay books are out of print, but I’m selling them from my website and from other Internet sites. And I’m putting up new ones that I’ve written for a hobby, to ‘find out what happens’. Publishers don’t want authors who aren’t focused on their genre.

Do you enjoy research and how do you set about it?
I love research. I did a university History unit to start me off correctly. I have a wall of research books, and I use the Internet. I also write to experts whom I find on the Internet and they’ve been very generous in helping me. I enjoy the history of ordinary people most of all, not political stuff or wars. I like to find out how people lived. Amateur autobiographies are very helpful for this and I buy them from tourist shops or anywhere I find them. They give the picture without it being filtered through a historian’s mind. Even good historians are bound to have their own biases.

Tell us about your latest book and how you got the idea for it.
It’s Book 3 of the Swan River Sage, a series which I’ve already mentioned. The series is about four sisters, one for ‘Farewell to Lancashire’ one for ‘Beyond the Sunset’ and the twins’ stories are in ‘Destiny’s Path. I wanted to use the Suez route from Australia to England in this series. Before the Suez Canal, passengers disembarked and crossed the isthmus to Alexandria by train, then got on a ship again, stopping to change ships at Galle in Ceylon. One twin goes back to England on her own and the other stays in Australia with the man she loves but can’t marry. It’s very poignant at times.

I have a second new book coming out in April, a modern story ‘Moving On’ about a woman who is sidelined at her own daughter’s wedding for her ex’s new wife and it’s the final straw. She finds the courage to move on and make a new life for herself, which isn’t easy for a gentle person.

Can you tell us something of your work in progress?
I’m writing ‘The Trader’s Sister’, Book 2 in my new spin-off series, which hasn’t yet got a name. I’m so enjoying going back to Singapore. I’ve had some wonderful help about schooners and Suez, and found a great book about the P&O shipping line. A Chinese friend is helping me with the family stuff in Singapore. It’s fascinating to research and write.

Anna lives in both Australia and the UK. No prizes for guessing where she is during the UK winters! But as she spends the summers in England we hope to meet up with you at RNA events at some point. Thank you Anna for sparing the time to talk to us. I wish you continued success.

You can read samples of all Anna’s books on her website and find out background information about them that is available nowhere else. You can also buy some of her out of print books as ebooks there.

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

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

RNA Pure Passion Awards - The Pics

In the glamorous setting of the Gladstone Library, One Whitehall Place the attendees sipped champange and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon into evening...(apologies for the funny layout - blogger and jet lag don't seem to work together)

Broo Doherty and Evelyn Ryle
Short listed author Sarah Duncan
Judy Astley and Lyn McCulloch
Short listed author Jan Jones
Liz Fenwick and Penny Jordan
Julie Cohen and Karin Stoecker

Tim Bentinck (alias David Archer) and Jane Wenham-Jones
Katie Fforde
The Gladstone Library
Enjoying the atmosphere before the announcements
Awaiting the start
Penny Jordan receiving a lifetime achievement award
Tim and Jane
Louise Allen receiving the Love Story of the Year Award
Elizabeth Chadwick receiving the Historical Novel Award
Jill Mansell reeiving the Romantic Comedy award
Josephine Cox receiving a lifetime achievement award
JoJo Moyes receiving Romantic Novel of the Year award
Penny Jordan with her award and friends
The Flaming Meringues 
Roger Sanderson congratulating Josephine Cox
Sue Morrcroft
Bring on the pudding
The table of short listed author Tom Gamble
Sophie Kinsella and JoJo Moyes
Jane Judd and Jill Mansell
Broo Doherty and short listed author Christina Jones
Elizabeth Chadwick with her award
Liz Fenwick and Carole Blake
Louise Allen
Short listed author Ruth Saberton (centre)
Julie Cohen and Cat Cobain
The portrait that watched over the event
JoJo with fabulous handbag and shoes
Enjoying the champagne
Jill's gorgeous handbag
The Churchill Bar
Short listed author Christina Courtenay
The fireplace in the ladies loo
Carole Blake's purple suede shoes
The amazing free standing staircase