Friday, November 11, 2011

Interview with Louise Armstrong

Louise Armstrong has written for People’s Friend and Linford Large Print, and is now writing regencies while publishing her backlist of 15 romances and 1 Western as ebooks. She teaches English Literature part time at a local college and says she enjoys writing stories featuring fun and adventure, and the expected happy ending. The first story she ever submitted won the 1993 Crystal Heart Award from the Guild of Romance Writers,and has been writing sweet romantic comedies ever since. So, Louise, tell us how you sold your first book, and if you had any rejections before getting that exciting call?

My first published book was an erotic romance for Black Lace. I heard the editor on Radio 4 saying that she wasn’t getting enough submissions, so I wrote three chapters and a synopsis in a week and sent them off at once. Everything changes once you’ve been published, because at last you have proof that you can write to a publishable standard. I got lots of rejections, in fact, I still do! People seem to think that once you’ve had a book accepted then you have got it made, but in some ways, nothing changes: you are only as good as your last book. And even if your new book is good, the goalposts change all the time. Genres come in and out of fashion; editors move and the new broom wants to develop her own authors; publishing companies go bankrupt ... all these reversals have happened to me. The only answer is to make sure that you enjoy what you are writing, so at least enjoy yourself during the process, and keep looking out for new opportunities such as self-publishing e-books.

Do you have to juggle writing with the day job? What is your work schedule?

This issue truly resonates with me because I constantly struggle to find time to write. Some writers seem to have superhuman strength, don’t they? You read about people getting up at five in the morning to write before rushing off to start their busy and often high-flying day. If I get up at five, I fall over at tea time. I’ve NEVER had enough time to write. Another problem is that so many jobs pitchfork you into an environment that drains your creativity. In an effort to solve this problem I trained as an English teacher a couple of years ago. This does mean that I get to talk about books at work, but, even though I’m part time, it also means a whole lot of responsibility and paperwork, so it’s only partially solved the problem. My ideal writing environment is the beach. I can write a book in a month if I can lie dreaming in the sun all day, thinking about what to write next.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you cope with it? 

I suffer from dreadful writer’s block. Sometimes I don’t write for years. There’s always an excuse (see above) but I sometimes wonder if I manufacture things-I-simply-must-do in order to cover up the fact that I’m not writing. I am having hypnotherapy, and it is helping. I’m beginning to feel that my writer’s block stems from a lack of confidence. I’m afraid that what I have to offer isn’t what people want, so I try to second-guess what I think they want; but this means that my work is no longer authentic, so it gets rejected; so I try even harder to be fashionable and marketable, so my books are even less true than they were, so they get’s a vicious circle. Self publishing on the internet is a great opportunity for development because it means that you can’t fail. Write what you love and you’ll produce a Marmite book: other people might still ignore it, or hate it, but at least it won’t languish in a drawer, and there’s always the chance that a few people might love it.

What craft tip helped you the most? 

One deceptively simple piece of advice comes from Jilly Cooper who says: ‘Just try to say what it was like to be there.’ I have a row of A4 hard-backed exercise books on my shelf, filled with notes from all the writing books I’ve read. I also went to night school to study for a degree in English, but she’s right: if you can make the reader feel as if they are there with you, it doesn’t matter what craft techniques you use.

To plot or not to plot? Are you a planner or do you just dive in? 

I had a big clear out this summer, and I found the notes I’d made for a romantic thriller. Boy, how I planned that book! There were charts, mind maps and notes for every single scene. And you know what? It got turned down! A couple of years later, I can see why. I’d worked so hard on the plot that I’d neglected the mood and emotional atmosphere. It’s tight, tense and no fun at all. Books require that difficult balance between planning and flow. I do think an author needs to understand plot, but I also think we need to take good care that the scaffolding doesn’t show. The best books are plotted like a Swiss watch mechanism, but they need a pretty gold face and some diamonds as well.

Is there a particular period of history that you enjoy writing about? Why is that?

It was one of those Road to Damascus moments. I’d put a couple of my old books onto Kindle and I was looking at the (miniscule) sales figures. The most popular title by far was my single Regency. Now, I’d stopped writing Regencies because they are difficult to sell in the UK, but the big white light came on and I thought: I should never have stopped trying! The genre is absolutely perfect for me. I prefer sweet romances. I love stories with lots of action and a rattling good plot. I adore frocks, country houses and dancing. I vastly prefer comedies to serious fiction, and I’m slightly old-fashioned. Why I ever thought I could write books about teenage vampires or Greek trillionaires is beyond me.

Tell us about your latest book, and how you got the idea for it. 
On a beach, of course! All my best ideas come when I’m warm, unstressed and watching the waves. It’s definitely going to be a Marmite book. I was dreaming (as I so often do) about how gorgeous life would be if I didn’t have to go to the office and REGENCY FORTUNE was born. It’s what I call a princess story, because the handsome prince falls in love with the heroine when he sees how she blossoms in her new life. I finished the whole outline draft in two weeks. Progress has slowed down since I got back to real life, but because the scaffolding is there, it’s great fun to write and polish.

Do you enjoy research, and how do you set about it? 

As soon as I come out of my creative state and measure my work against the real world, I tend to lose confidence and start to worry that I need to read more or study more before I could possibly do something as ambitious as writing a book. But I didn’t have access to a library or to an internet connection when I wrote the draft for REGENCY FORTUNE, so I couldn’t stop to check anything. So, I wrote, ‘the hero was in the army in Spain or somewhere’ and carried on with the story. What astonished me when I got home was how easy it was to find information on a Spanish campaign that fitted the plot exactly. All the research was so easy. I had several visits from the library angel as well, who made sure that exactly the books I needed fell off various shelves and into my hand. From now on, I’m always going to write the book first and add the underpinning research later.

How do you promote your books, and what tips can you offer other writers? 

I spent all summer researching ways to promote books on the internet. It’s interesting to see that more or less the same rules apply to selling books as to selling baked beans or chocolate, and I definitely think that promotion can boost your sales, but I also think that writers have to be careful: time spent on promotion is time not spent on writing. I made a list of all the promotional ideas that I’d tried, and next to them wrote how many book sales could be directly tracked back to each activity. I now try to work with the most effective ideas. For example, giving up a whole day to travel to the BBC to be interviewed by my local radio station led to zero sales. Spending about an hour an month organising giveaways (via the book site Goodreads) leads to a steady trickle of sales, plus it increases visibility among book lovers. Having all your titles available also helps your profile.
I’ve made one,  KINGFISHER DAYS,available as a free download.

It’s not realistic to expect a huge return from old books. Their job is to act as a platform for new titles such as REGENCY FORTUNE which will be available next year.

To find out more about Louise, visit her Blog:

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


Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Great interview, thanks.

Jen Black said...

Hi Louise. Good to know you're still writing!