Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Interview with Kate Hardy

Kate Hardy has written for as long as she can remember, and persuaded her parents to buy her a typewriter for her sixth birthday because she was going to be an author some day. She lives in Norwich with her husband, two children, a soppy springer spaniel and too many books to count. This year is her 10th anniversary of ‘The Call’ from Mills & Boon; she writes for the Modern and Medical Romance lines. But did you have any rejections before getting that exciting call, Kate?

I’d had some short stories and erotic novels published in my 20s, but what I really wanted to do was write romance. My husband suggested that I tried writing medical romance, so when I was pregnant with my daughter I read absolutely tons. When she was six weeks old, she spent a week in hospital (over Christmas, too) with bronchiolitis. I started writing my first medical romance at her bedside as a way of helping me cope; my agent loved the outline and first three chapters, and so did Mills & Boon. I got the call on my daughter’s first birthday, and had the launch party at Ottaker’s on her second birthday – so it’s definitely something I’d never forget!

Where is your favourite place to work?
I write the first draft on a computer at my desk (in a room we converted from our garage), though in the summer I can be tempted to work outside on the patio with the iPad. For revisions, I’ve discovered that scribbling all over a printed manuscript works best for me, so I tend to steal the dining room table and spread papers everywhere.

Do you have to juggle writing with the day job? What is your work schedule?
I’m fortunate enough to be a full-time writer nowadays, but I still have to juggle work with the school run – my children’s schools are four miles apart (and our house is four miles away from both of them), so I’m very much governed by school pick-up times and the fact that, if you’re not at school 45 minutes before the end of lessons, you can’t get a parking space! I work in the morning as soon as I’m home (sorting the laundry and doing a bit of housework while the coffee’s brewing and the computer’s booting up) until about two, then email the file over to my iPad. I do a bit more on the iPad while I’m waiting for littlest to come out of school; and then I email to file to my desktop and work on it a bit more in the evening after dinner. If I’m on a really screaming deadline, I work weekends as well.

To plot or not to plot? Are you a planner or do you just dive in?
Absolutely a planner. I have tried ‘writing into the mist’ and ended up doing nothing but playing online word games for a fortnight. I’d rather start with a detailed outline, though I don’t necessarily stick to it – sometimes I find things develop in more interesting directions as I’m working.

Which authors have most influenced your work? And which do you choose to read for pleasure?
Sara Craven definitely influenced my early M&Bs – I read her as a teen, loved her books, and that made me realise that this was what I wanted to write. I’d dearly love to write a timeslip (Barbara Erskine’s ‘Lady of Hay’ was a huge influence in my early 20s). As for reading for pleasure… lots! If I’ve had a bad day, I always pick a Liz Fielding because her books are so warm and feel-good – they always make me smile for the right reasons. I also love Diana Norman’s ‘The Vizard Mask’ (and could kick myself now for being too shy to collar Barry Norman at an RNA lunch and tell him that his wife had written one of my all-time favourite books). New to me this year is Kristan Higgins – warm and witty writing with great characterisation. Other favourites include Judith Lennox, Susannah Kearsley, Nicola Cornick and Rachel Hore. What is the hardest part of the writing process for you? Waiting for my editor’s verdict, whether it’s on the polished first draft or subsequent revisions. That never gets any easier!

I love those authors too, so how do you develop your characters?
This is going to sound terrible, especially coming from a planner, but they tend to develop themselves – I normally wake up with the first scene of a book in my head, and I already ‘know’ the characters. (I also know that if a book gets stuck, it means I’m trying to make the characters do something they don’t want to do – and it would be lovely if I could remember that before I get stuck…)

Writing is a competitive business, what do you think an editor is looking for in a good novel? 
Strong characterisation, a page-turning story and a fresh voice. How do you relax? What interests do you have other than writing? I love fossicking around old houses, churches and ruins, and also walking on the beach (aka a day out with husband and children, and if it happens to coincide with some research I’m doing… all well and good!). I also love cooking, and I’m having great fun teaching my youngest – we pick recipes at random and experiment. My eldest loves the fact that we have a baking session when his friends come round, and they get to eat the lot!

What advice would you give a new writer? 
Read as much as you can in your target market – preferably the newest releases – so you have an idea of the kind of things editors are looking for. Write: it’s much easier to edit a page that doesn’t quite work than to stare at a blank page. Listen to advice (e.g. feedback from an editor, agent or the NWS) but don’t ask for advice from too many friends, or you’ll dilute your voice – and your voice is what’s going to sell your book.

What draws you to your particular genre? Are you a specialist or do you have another identity?
I like writing happy endings! And I’m also fascinated by what makes people tick – so romance works well for me. I also write local history books under my own name, though at the moment I’m taking a sabbatical from that and I’m playing with some new ideas.

Do you enjoy writing sequels or series? If so, what is the special appeal for you?
I like revisiting characters from previous books and showing that their happy endings continue, so I do have a habit of giving them walk-on parts in other books. I know it’s horribly self-indulgent, but I’ve had some very nice emails from readers saying that they noticed and they enjoy character-spotting, too. And sometimes secondary characters really demand that their story’s told.

How do you promote your books, and what tips can you offer other writers?
I was always brought up not to show off, so I find self-promotion hard. M&B ask me to do workshops for them every so often, and that usually means an interview with the local paper; the journalists there are lovely and occasionally ask me to do features with them (e.g. putting together a Valentine’s menu from the recipes in my books – we ended up having a photographer there as I cooked, and that was enormous fun). Other than that, I have a website and blog, and I’m on Facebook (though I avoid Twitter because I know it’ll be a timesuck and I’ll spend too much time chatting and not enough time working).

Tips for other writers? Keep your website up to date; make sure you have a printable booklist that includes ISBNs for readers; and if you’re on an online community, try to join in rather than just running in and shouting, “I have a new book out – go and buy it”.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you cope with it?
Touching wood – no. In what way has the RNA helped you or your career? I’ve made some really good friends through the RNA, and it’s nice to be able to talk to other people who understand my work (as opposed to people who think that writing a book means dictating from a chaise-longue while scoffing chocolates, or that “working from home” means that you’re available for a chat at any time). Winning the RNA Romance Prize in 2008 also gave me a higher profile and a lot more confidence in my work, which I’m hoping to build on.

Do you enjoy research, and how do you set about it?
I *love* research! It’s my absolute favourite bit of writing. I might start with books, but there’s nothing like hands-on research – so when I wrote CHAMPAGNE WITH A CELEBRITY (about a parfumier) I went on a course to learn how to blend perfume, which was absolutely fascinating. When I wrote a book with a firefighter heroine, I visited my local fire station and they took me through everything, including a practice call. I’m currently planning a book about a chocolatier, so I’ll be forced to take a course from my local chocolate shop…

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

My latest book is A MOMENT ON THE LIPS. It’s set in an ice-cream empire in Naples – I spent a week in Sorrento with my husband and children, and thought it one of the most romantic places in the world, so the setting was irresistible. The ice-cream was another obvious thing for me, as my family adores the stuff; I’d bought an ice-cream maker that summer and we’d been experimenting. And then I woke up with the characters in my head – a reformed bad girl and a self-made workaholic. Add in the magic of Paris (which we visited just as the book was starting in my head).

Can you tell us something of your work in progress?
It’s actually my 50th Mills & Boon, so I’m really hoping that my editor likes it! Given that I love baking, I wanted to write a book with a heroine who’s a sugar-paste artist. It’s set in Rome – a city I’d always wanted to visit (just like my heroine, who falls in love with the city as much as I did when we spent a week there in the Easter holidays). And my hero is a man who’s used to people wanting him for what he can do for them, rather than loving him for himself.

You can find out more about Kate by visiting her website: http://www.katehardy.com/ or her blog:  http://katehardy.blogspot.com/

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


Shirley Wells said...

Lovely interview, Kate. I love the idea of hands-on research, especially when it involves taking a course from the local chocolate shop. :)

I've just finished A MOMENT ON THE LIPS and I loved everything about it. The characters are so real and I loved revisiting Italy. Can't wait for #50 now!

Scarlet Wilson said...

Fab interview Kate! Can't wait to see the pictures on your blog when you start experimenting with the sugar paste!

Kate Hardy said...

Shirley, hands-on research is absolutely the best :o) (My writer-in-training says that I have to take her on the chocolate course, too...)

Thanks so much for the compliment about "A Moment on the Lips" - I loved writing that book. (And guess where #50 is set, LOL?)

Kate Hardy said...

Scarlet - thank you :o) I did post a pic of the infamous cupcakes. (Very, very showy-offy as they were dead simple to make!)

Liz Fielding said...

Your research always sounds so much more fun than mine, Kate! And I loved A Moment on the Lips!

Unknown said...

Kate that was a great interview, inspiring, there were so many moments when I smiled -I could just see how plots grew from your experiences.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Fascinating interview and so much inspiration for those of us nearer the beginning of the author's road.

Nas said...

Lovely interview, Kate! I enjoyed reading A MOMENT ON THE LIPS and loved all the atmospheric details of Italy and Paris!

I felt like I was walking all over, experiencing the location with your hero and heroine!

Kate Hardy said...

Liz - I love research!

Kate Hardy said...

Elaine - glad you enjoyed it. And I admit that I'm a terrible magpie! (I think there's a T-shirt somewhere that says "Careful what you say - it might end up in my book." Soooo true!)

Kate Hardy said...

Rosemary - glad it helped :) I think that new writers also have a lot to share, and established writers can learn from them; sharing ideas is always worthwhile. (And if said sharing comes with tea and cake, too... then I'm a very happy bunny!)

Kate Hardy said...

Nas - so glad you enjoyed it, and thank you for your lovely review.

I loved doing the research that meant I got the location details right - and so did my research crew! ;o)

Lizzie Lamb said...

Kate, Loved "The Fireman and Nurse Loveday" and am very much looking forward to reading a "Moment on the Lips". It has all the things I like in a novel: Italy, a fiesty heroine, a hunky hero and icecream. Indeed, what more could a reader want? Smiled when I read your path to publication and how receiving a typewriter at an early age and reading Sara Craven set you off down the writing path. SNAP! Your novels are tightly written and the research is so seamless that (as a member of the NWS) I'm learning as I read and enjoy them. Good luck with this one and your 50th (!)Lizzie Lamb