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?
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 rejected...it’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?
How do you promote your books, and what tips can you offer other writers?
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: http://louisearmstrongwrites.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:firstname.lastname@example.org