Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Interview with June Francis

I have known June for many years as our careers have rather run in parallel, so it is with great pleasure that I feature her on the blog today. She was born in Blackpool after the local maternity hospital in Liverpool was blitzed. In 1946 her father returned from the war and it was he who introduced her to the joys of storytelling and taught her the alphabet from a sign-writer's book. The house had no running hot water, her mother cooked meals on an open fire and in the side oven, and the lavatory was down the yard. Until she was seven June would creep up in the dark to bed, as the family had no electricity. She shrugs all this off by saying it is all grist to the mill for a saga writer. You’ve come a long way from there, June, so tell us how you sold your first book, and if you had any rejections before getting that exciting call?

I actually had my first two books accepted at the same time and was offered a contract by letter from Judith Murdoch, now an agent, who was an editor at Mills & Boon in the late eighties. In my ignorance I had sent the first draft of one book and then the other three months later. Both were rejected but I rewrote them and sent them back at intervals. This went on for two years and would never happen today. Judith never said to me I don’t want to see these books again! They were set in medieval times and I remember several comments she made. First rejection - ‘we do not use archaic language’, second - ‘your characters are one dimensional’ - and the comment when I nearly gave up ‘We are increasing our word length from 60,000 to 80,000!’ But I persisted, not knowing that my published writer friend who wrote Medicals as Jenny Ash, and had introduced me to Judith at a Southport Writers’ seminar, told her not to give up on me because I would make it.

I was thrilled to bits when I received the letter because Judith also told me to telephone her secretary and make an appointment to have lunch in London. I had longed for over two years to be able to tell someone that I’m going down to London to have lunch with my editor.

Where is your favourite place to work?
We have an alcove in our bedroom where I have the desk my husband bought in a cruise liner sale when I first began writing. It is situated against a wall beneath a small hexagon window. Ideal for a writer because all I can see through it is a chimney pot, a bit of roof and patch of sky. I work on a flat screened Dell computer and have a calendar, a photo of my parents smiling at me pinned to the wall. On my desk I have a scented candle and a model of a fairy in a pea green boat with a pot of honey and a bee. I feel this is very much my place, although, since my husband retired as soon as I finish for the day, he asks can he use my computer despite he has his own little laptop.

To plot or not to plot? Are you a planner or do you just dive in?
I don’t plan the whole book but neither do I just dive in. I generally start thinking of the next book before I finish the one I’m working on. I generally know the where and when and an idea what the book is about. But I find I need to write myself in to get to know my characters and enter their world. Research is essential for that and helps with plot ideas.

What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?
The first draft and in particular the middle part when I have decided on the ending, but have to delay my characters getting there. Sometimes I don’t know how they’re going to get there. I find that introducing a new character isn’t a bad idea to get me over the hump. I enjoy doing the third draft because by then I know most of what’s going on.

How do you develop your characters? In historicals, how do you keep them in period yet sympathetic to readers?
I never forget what Judith Murdoch said about my characters being one dimensional, so I try to make sure they are rounded characters and that they are seen in different situations that bring out different aspects of their personality. I also call upon my own experience of people and my own life. I write two kinds of novels: Twentieth century sagas and historical romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon. My readers require different realities from the different genres. Sagas are supposed to present more realism in the depiction of the heroine and hero’s situation. My roots being Liverpool working class I don’t find that so difficult, although my heroines are generally fiesty and not victims. My heroes are kind, not overly handsome, bossy or rich, and sometimes truly heroic and sensitive.

My Mills & Boon stories need to fulfil a reader’s fantasies. When I write about a well-born, rich, kind, attractive hero, and a feisty heroine who can read and write and give as good as she gets in a era when women were very much under men’s thumb, I always think there were exceptions to the rule. E.g. Sir Thomas More’s daughter was very well educated. There were also women who ran businesses when their fathers died and there were no male heirs to take over. Women wrote books and composed music. I also believe that men and women did fall in love and would talk to each other and make love as we would today, despite the church rules of the day.

What do you think an editor is looking for in a good novel?
Page turning qualities that will hit the market at the right time and hopefully that the writer is capable of producing more of the same.

How do you relax? What interests do you have other than writing?
I swim, walk, and enjoy watching documentaries about ancient history. I also love old musicals and doing my ancestry.

What advice would you give a new writer?
Know what you want to write, listen to advice, don’t lose faith in yourself, persist but be realistic in your expectations.

Do you enjoy writing sequels or series? If so, what is the special appeal for you?
Yes, I do enjoy writing sequels because at the end of certain books I have felt there were still things I wanted to know about the characters, and I didn’t want to say goodbye to them. I’d created a world that I wasn’t ready to leave.

Are you into social networking, and in what way do you feel it helps your career?
I’m not really into internet social networking, and yet I do feel it might help my career. But I’d have to put a heck of a lot of time in. I have a website and I’m reluctantly on Face book. The difficulty is that at the end of a working day spent at the computer there is a limit to how much my eyes can cope with on screen. During twenty eight years of writing, and thirty books, I’ve done the signings in shops, the talks to libraries and various groups, been in the local press at least a couple of dozen times, on radio, even on telly once, and I’m still just a journeyman mid-list writer. I accept that there’s only room for so many people at the top and I’m not ambitious enough to go all out to get there.

What is your latest book?
My very latest book is a HMB set in 1520. My heroine Beth inherits her father’s printing business in London after he is murdered at what we now called The Field of the Cloth of Gold. My hero is Sir Gawain Raventon, who is married but whose wife is missing with his children, and he becomes Beth’s guardian. He has the task of finding not only a husband for her but a murderer, as well. The Unconventional Maiden is out in hardback in October and paperback, January.

Can you tell us something of your work in progress?
I have just finished a sequel to The Unconventional Maiden and it is now with my agent but I am also writing a saga that is a sequel to my last one: It Had to be You that was set in the Fifties. This one involves a family in Liverpool, where the father is a policeman and whose son and eldest daughter are also in the force. There is a tyrannical grandmother and a teenage daughter. The story opens with Jeanette who witnesses a violent crime and meets the hero who vanishes. She eventually leaves home and meets up with some of the characters from the last book. One of them is a married policeman who ends up having an affair with her sister. I have some other plot ideas but I’m waiting to see how it goes.

To find out more about June visit her website:

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

1 comment:

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Thanks for the interesting interview. I love June Francis's books and it was fascinating to find out more about her writing process.