Friday, September 28, 2012

Author Interview with Julia Williams

Julia Williams grew up in North London, one of eight children. She studied English at Liverpool University, where she met her husband, Dave, a dentist. They have four children and live in Surrey. A Merry Little Christmas  is her sixth book, and a follow up to her bestselling book, Last Christmas.

Welcome to the blog Julia, please do describe your journey as a writer. How did it begin?

I think I’ve always been a writer, in that, from an early age, I made up stories in my head, and acted them out. But real life interfered for a very long time, and it was only when I stopped work after my second baby was born that I finally did something about it. I was lucky enough to have a career in children’s publishing before I became a writer, and, thanks to having edited some teenage romance, I found out about the RNA. I submitted my first ever manuscript to the New Writer’s Scheme in 1999. It took me a year to write and was truly dreadful, but I had the bug by then, and with a huge amount of help from Hilary Johnson knocked it into a good enough shape to get interest from an agent. Her welcome fax telling me that she wanted to take me on came a week before my third baby was due, so my putative writing career stalled for a bit! My agent, Dorothy Lumley, was immensely patient with me, as baby no 4 popped up before I had had a chance to complete another manuscript. Eventually, when my youngest baby was a year old, I thought, I’ve got to go for it. The second manuscript was still rejected, but helpful suggestions from the editor ensured that my third was eventually published as PASTURES NEW by Avon in 2007. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to publish four more books, and my sixth, A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS is coming out in October.

How would you describe your own books? And what do you enjoy most about writing them?

I try to write stories with romance, but based on reality. Write what you know, is what they say, so my stories are very family based, and deal a lot with the struggles of coping with children, and elderly parents, and keeping love alive in the middle of it all. At heart I’m an optimistic person, so I try to make them life affirming if I can.  I really enjoy getting into the hearts and minds of my characters, and certainly when I am writing, they are all real to me! I also love putting them through the mill, and have them come out the other side. And have even been known to cry when I’m writing sad scenes!

Has your childhood influenced you as a writer, if so in what way?

That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure if it has or not. Certainly, the reading I’ve done as a child has had a massive influence. I have always been a huge fantasy fan, so there are elements of magical realism in my books (and I am writing a teenage fantasy at the moment as well). I also have a keen love of history, fuelled by a teenage passion for Jean Plaidy, which is probably responsible for me writing romance in the first place.

What do you think is the most essential element of a good novel?

A gripping story and interesting characters. If I don’t care about the characters I read about , or what becomes of them, then I’m usually not interested in reading further.

Do you think writers should follow the latest hot fashion or write what they love?

I think they should do a bit of both. Keeping a weather eye on the zeitgeist is essential – there is simply no point producing work the market doesn’t want. However, that doesn’t mean you should indulge in copycat writing of the type that is going on with the Shades of Grey phenomenon at the moment. You should also write what you love too – if you don’t care about your story who else will? And despite my saying you should be aware of the zeitgeist, there’s nothing wrong with starting trends either. As my mother always  says, set the trend, don’t follow it!

Of all the characters you’ve created, which one holds a special place in your heart?

Harry, the elderly neighbour of my first heroine Amy, in Pastures New. I had been thinking about my father in law when I wrote him, but when it was finished, my sister told me I’d recreated my dad. And in part I had. A lot of Harry’s philosophy came from my father, who sadly died before I was writing. He was an English teacher and an immensely influential part of my life. So Harry makes me think of him, and I love him accordingly.

How do you relax when you’re not writing?

I’m a really busy mum of four, so when I’m not writing, I usually don’t have much time for relaxation! However, when I can, I do try to exercise as much as possible, and I find gardening a brilliant way to unwind, as it’s the one activity I can do which doesn’t involve thinking at all. Wine also helps, but not, usually, at the same time!

Which craft tip has helped you the most?

I’m not honestly sure. I came into writing after having been an editor, so I think I possibly started from a more informed base then a lot of newbie writers, and I’ve never been a huge fan of books on how to write. But the best advice I was ever given is to develop a tough skin, take the rejections and listen and learn from them. I thought I knew about writing when I started out. I was quickly disabused of that notion and feel I am still learning my craft.

What’s your favourite film adaptation of a book?

Last of the Mohicans. Which is probably cheating as I’ve never read the book, but I love the romance of the film. Would love to write something as good as that one day!

Can you tell us something of what you are working on now?

Yes. I’m working on a new book called Midsummer Magic, which is a bit of a riff on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It involves a young couple organizing a wedding, with their best man and bridesmaid, a fading soap star, a jealous ex, and a mischievous hypnotist, causing trouble for them all on Midsummer’s Eve…

A Merry Little Christmas is published on 25 October 2012

An absorbing novel about family, love and friendship from the bestselling author of LAST CHRISTMAS.

With four children, a Christmas cookbook to write, and her mum suffering from dementia, Cat Tinsall has plenty to juggle. When her eldest daughter, Mel, starts going off the rails, Cat has even more on her plate. Pippa Holliday adores her family, although often finds her hands full. When Dan is involved in a terrible accident, Pippa’s world is suddenly turned upside down. Balancing her job as a school teacher with twins and her step-son Steven isn’t easy for Marianne North. With her husband’s ex causing trouble, life is getting even trickier. As Cat, Pippa and Marianne help each other through a difficult year, they’re all hoping for a much brighter Christmas.

Thank for sparing the time to talk to us today Julia, and we wish you every success with this and future books.

For more information about Julia and her books, please go to:
And can be contacted on twitter @JCCWilliams

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Author interview with Viola Russell

A warm welcome to American author, Viola Russell, whose latest book THE DOCTOR AND THE WAR WIDOW was inspired by both her travels and life experience. Viola, tell us about your latest book and how you used your travels to inspire you.

I wrote THE DOCTOR AND THE WAR WIDOW by using experience from my travels and experience.  Harley, like me, is a teacher who has suffered a great loss.  Her mother has died, and she feels that loss acutely.  She also is a widow, and though I'm not married, I understood the grief she feels.  Her husband was taken from her while he served in Iraq.  I live in New Orleans, and my beloved NOLA is as much a character as any of my "real" characters.  London and Liverpool are two of my favourite cities.  I travelled to London as a student, a visitor, and a researcher on numerous occasions, and I first came to Liverpool after my mother died.  I'd heard about Julian Lennon's White Feather Exhibit, a tribute to his father, and I understood his need to connect to his dad.  I loved Liverpool. It reminded me of New Orleans with friendly but frank people.  The city is a port, rich in history and lore.  I'm a huge Beatle fan, but even if you aren't a fan, there's lots to love in Liverpool. The whole city throbs with history, lore, and passion.  As I wrote my novel, I started to think that a proposal and marriage in that city would be wonderful.  In THE DOCTOR AND THE WAR WIDOW, my protagonist's lover proposes to her at Strawberry Field.  
Which character from your book would you most like to trade lives with?

I don't know that I'd like to trade places with Harley, but I admire her ability to break from the chains that bind her to the past.  She has to let go of the past--not the good memories--but the ones that threaten to cripple her.  Only then can she start a new life.  

Setting a character are equally important.  In LOVE AT WAR, England, France, and Germany are important to the story, but the plot surrounding my protagonist Nuala and her friends is what gives the setting its pulse.  Ireland also is important to PIRATE WOMAN, but it is Grainne O'Malley who gives the story its flavour.  

 How long, on average, does it take you to write a book? How much editing do you do?

I write contemporary romance, mystery, and historical fiction.  My editing techniques and writing practices vary with the genre.  Historical fiction takes a long time to write. I research a great deal before I write, and my editing is also extensive.  The contemporary romances take a shorter time to write, but I'm still an obsessive editor.  

My instinct is to write by just that--"instinct," but I know that not plotting is a mistake.  I especially have to plot carefully with historical fiction and with mysteries.  Not plotting a mystery can be disaster, and I also plot when I write historicals.  Dates and facts should be accurate.  When I wrote LOVE AT WAR, I really outlined the story's chronology and the details that surrounded certain events.  I discarded some and wove others into my plot.  In PIRATE WOMAN, I had a very real responsibility.  Graine (Grace) was a real person. I had to find fact, fiction, and lore about her.  I also had to know about the period in Irish history.  

Viola outside John Lennon's former home.

I've never followed fashion.  When I wrote LOVE AT WAR, I wanted to tell the story of my mother's generation.  An agent who is a friend told me WWII wasn't selling. I didn't care.  Writing that novel after my mother's death was cathartic.  I didn't care what anyone told me.  Writing LOVE AT WAR was one of the best thing I ever did.  In PIRATE WOMAN, I wanted to tell the story of Grainne O'Malley. Some people warned me that others had written about her.  I didn't care.  The woman intrigued me.  That was another wonderful experience and transported me to 1500s Ireland. 

I go for the red wine and cheese.  Of course, I'm a good girl.  I work out first. 

 Thank you for talking to us, Viola. We wish you every success with Doctor and the War Widow.

Best wishes Kate.

To find out more about Viola’s work visit her website at

Friday, September 21, 2012

Interview with Elizabeth Hanbury

I’m delighted to welcome Elizabeth Hanbury to the blog today. Elizabeth says she loves to combine humour, emotion, great characters, engaging plots and historical detail in her work. She writes Regency-set novels and short stories that appeal to a wide range of readers. Her titles include The Paradise Will, Ice Angel, Midsummer Eve at Rookery End, Brief Encounters, A Bright Particular Star and The Cinderella Debutante. Elizabeth lives in a village in the heart of the English countryside and writes romance whenever she can sneak away to her desk. Does living in a typically English village in the heart of the countryside help you to write your delicious regencies?

Yes. Any small community provides a wealth of ideas for a writer. An English village may look sleepy but plenty of intrigue, absurdities, humour and dark deeds lurk just beneath the surface! Agatha Christie’s famous sleuth Miss Marple summed it up perfectly: “In an English village, you turn over a stone and have no idea what will crawl out.”

Humour is an important element of your style, what is your secret for making dialogue sparkle?

The tone of my writing is naturally light and that feeds into my characters and their dialogue. In my opinion a shared sense of humour is often at the heart of a romance. I try to write romances that are humorous and fast paced but have an undercurrent of emotion too. It’s a balancing act – darker themes can be included but they can’t overshadow the overall tone and there always has to be an emotional payoff for readers.

A secret for making dialogue sparkle? I don’t have one, but I often read scenes aloud during the final edit to check it sounds natural. Writing dialogue is the easiest part of the process for me.

Tell us about the first book you ever had published, and was it the first you ever wrote? 

My first published book was THE PARADISE WILL in 2008. It was the third full- length manuscript I’d completed but I decided to submit it to the RNA New Writers Scheme. I received some fabulous constructive feedback, edited again and sent it off to a publisher. When they wrote back and said they wanted to publish, I re-read the letter several times – I couldn’t quite believe it.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer wishing to break into the regency romance market? 

First - persevere. It takes time to produce a manuscript ready to submit to an agent or a publisher. Don’t be tempted to skimp on effort at this stage.

Second - be willing to learn and improve. Good writers don’t spring out of nowhere fully formed; they’ve usually taken years and thousands of words to get to that point.

Third - Have faith in your characters, your story and yourself but also be prepared to judge your work with a critical eye. And develop a thick skin for the inevitable rejections.

What is it about the Regency period that so excites you, and how do you set about your research?

I love the paradoxes of the era. The Regency is associated with elegance and refinement, but it was also a time when the country was at war, an age of innovation, extravagance, vulgarity and gambling. It was a society on the cusp of reform. A huge amount of energy was packed into a relatively brief period. The tone was set by the Prince Regent himself, who despite his procession of mistresses, increasing weight and high living, possessed a terrific sense of style – something the era came to reflect.

For research I use contemporary sources such as diaries, memoirs, letters, newspapers. I also have growing library of Georgian and Regency reference books. There’s the internet too, of course, and I usually spend far too much time surfing the web uncovering fascinating Regency facts. But research in historical romance should be like an iceberg – most of it should be hidden beneath the surface and not obvious to the reader.

With the increasing popularity of ebooks, how do you think digitisation has helped or changed your own career as a writer? Have you self published anything? 

Not yet, but I probably I will in the future. The publishing industry is undergoing exciting change and everyone needs to adapt. Ebooks and increased publishing options mean more choice, more flexibility and more opportunities for readers and for writers. Print books won’t die out any time soon but ebooks and digitisation have opened up new horizons and helped me reach more readers which is what every storyteller wants. But in the end how a book is published isn’t as important as it being a good book. Good books will continue to find an audience and stand the test of time.

Of all the characters you’ve created, which one holds a special place in your heart? 

I like aspects of them all but two of my characters developed in unexpected ways so they stand out for me: Sir Seymour Dinniscombe in ICE ANGEL was sketched out at the planning stage as a rich Regency fashionista but minor character only. He went on to have a pivotal role in the plot, his own romance and appear in the sequel, A Bright Particular Star. He may appear in future books too.

Luc Grey, one of the secondary characters in A BRIGHT PARTICULAR STAR, kept pushing his way to the front when I was writing. By the time I had finished, he had become a complex, fascinating man. And I can’t say more than that because it would be spoiler.

If you could slip into a time machine and meet a famous historical figure from the past, who would you choose and why? And what would you ask him or her?

I’d like to meet Sir Isaac Newton, often described as the father of modern science. I’d ask him if the famous story of the apple was true or a myth and show him my mobile phone to see what he thought of it!

What do you enjoy most about being a writer, and the least? 

Most – the feeling you get when ideas are flowing fast and furious and your fingers are struggling to keep up Least - staring at a blank screen.

Tell us about what you are writing now? 

I’m working on a novella entitled CHRISTMAS AT RAKEHELL MANOR. Along with some surprises, in the best traditions of Christmas it will feature love, warmth, mistletoe and a wily old gentleman with a white beard!

The Cinderella Debutante, published 24th September 2012 by E-scape Press Ltd 

Lucy Sinclair’s London Season was cut short by tragedy. Now, five years later, she is returning but only in the shadow of her lovely step-sister. Belinda is determined to catch a titled husband and Alex, Lord Devlyn fits the bill perfectly. Lucy finds Alex devastatingly attractive yet knows he will be dazzled by Belinda’s beauty. It seems her one chance of love is lost forever until an unlikely fairy godmother makes Lucy the belle of the ball... 
Thank you Elizabeth for sparing time to talk to us today. We wish you continuing success with the books. 

Kind regards, Freda 

Find about more about Elizabeth Hanbury and her books:

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Guest post from Nicky Wells

I am delighted to welcome new member Nicky Wells to the blog as she celebrates publication of her first book. Born in Germany, Nicky moved to the United Kingdom in 1993, and currently lives in Lincoln with her husband and their two boys. In a previous professional life, she worked as a researcher and project manager for an international Human Resources research firm based in London and Washington, D.C. Nicky writes fun and glamorous contemporary romance that rocks the world. When she is not writing, she's a wife, mother, and occasional teaching assistant.

I shall now hand over to you, Nicky, for your guest post... Titles and covers, and covers and titles… A tale of mutual interdependence! 

Sophie's Turn is my debut novel, a glamorous contemporary fairy tale featuring a rock star and the girl next door. Sophie's Turn is the perfect title, slightly enigmatic for those who haven't read the book, but suggestive, too: of turning this way or another, of having a turn, of turning. I'm deeply in love with it.

But I have to confess, I loved my working title as well. For Sophie's Turn wasn't born thus. My working title was Full Circle. (Actually, the working title before that was Star-Struck but I abandoned that early on as misleading). So, Full Circle. To come full circle. To end up where you began, in a manner of speaking. Probably not quite in the same place. Certainly older, and wiser. And definitely for a good reason. Yes, it appeared to be a powerful title, and for the best part of six years, that was how I referred to my first masterpiece. I had even made myself a nifty little logo, a kind of dynamic circle incorporating an arrow, almost but not quite making a spiral. It graced the spine of the folder that housed my manuscript, as well as the front page, and I had always assumed I was going to make a fancy design with it for the book cover.

Ah yes, that brings me to the crux. The cover. You see, that was when it all fell apart. I was trying to come up with a concept for the cover, and I was working with rings and bracelets and champagne flutes and backstage passes… I was going all out on glitz and glamour and suggestion. However, it wasn't working. No, not at all. How very frustrating. Naturally, I spent the obligatory time agonizing over a million iterations of my cover, right down to a fancy font for my title, Full Circle. It was all- consuming and frustrating, and it was going nowhere.

It was my husband who broke my mental deadlock. “This isn't working,” he observed drily. “What are you actually trying to show here?”

“You've read the book. You know,” I snapped back (for I was in a thoroughly snappy mood by then).

“Spell it out for me again,” he persisted. So I took a deep breath and homed in on the core conundrum. “All right,” I muttered, drawing a stick figure. “Here's Sophie and she's kind of at a crossroads. Should she choose her fiancĂ©, dependable if slightly boring Tim, or Dan, the rock star, who also wants to marry her? Which way should she turn?”

At this stage, I had added thought bubbles and love hearts to the stick figure, and it was a riot of scribbles and colours. My adorable other half, however, read this better than I, focusing on the key word. Turn. He swiftly reconfigured my scribbles into a nifty design involving a signpost at a crossroads. Brilliant. I was electrified and we got carried away building out the concept. Except… bother. The signpost was distinctly… straight, and vertical. Talk about conflicting imagery and metaphors on your cover page.

“It'll have to go,” husband concluded on my behalf, as I was still resisting the obvious conclusion. “Huh?” was my not-so-eloquent response. “The title. You need a different title.”

I bristled… and caved in a microsecond. It was apparent that he was right. So we used the new cover design for a brainstorming session and hit upon Sophie’s Turn. I think we uttered it at the same time, and it stuck. It was just so perfectly… right. I've never looked back.

Oh, but hang on, you say. What signpost? I see no signpost on your cover. It features the Eiffel Tower and a carousel. That's right! Because you're looking at the cover redesign that came a little later in the process, when I wanted to move away from my original hand-drawn cover, beautiful as it was. What's on the cover now gives you a glimpse of the story, has a more glamorous, grown-up feel, it has more panache… yet it still connects with the turning imagery, and the combo is absolutely perfect.


So let me introduce Sophie's Turn to you:

Sophie's dream of marrying lead singer Dan could be within reach…if she could just figure out what to do about her engagement to Tim. 

Slapper. Slut. Adulteress. These are hardly words that Sophie Penhalligan would normally use to describe herself. Yet this is exactly how she is behaving, all things considered, even if she isn't quite married to Tim yet. And it's all happening because her past is coming to tempt her! Nine years ago, she met her teenage idol and rock star extraordinaire, Dan, up close and personal. Well, almost. Now Dan has crash-landed back in her life. How could Tim ever stand a chance against the charming, handsome singer? How could she? 

Sophie, now twenty-eight and a budding newspaper journalist, is happily embroiled in a relationship with Tim, her boyfriend of two years. Until recently, she was confident that Tim would eventually propose—probably as soon as he could get his act together. But just as Tim's persistent inaction is beginning to cast a cloud over their relationship, Dan's sudden reappearance turns Sophie's world upside down. Thus unfolds a roller-coaster of events including an ill-fated trip to Paris with Tim, a night of unfulfilled romance with Dan, Sophie and Tim's engagement party gate-crashed by Dan, and Sophie's professional secondment to accompany Dan's band on their revival tour—at Dan's special request and very much against her will. 

And then, one fine day in Paris, Sophie suddenly finds herself engaged to Dan while her erstwhile fiancé Tim is... well, doing whatever it is Tim does back in London.

Sophie's Turn is available from Sapphire Star Publishing

You can find out more about Nicky on:

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Interview with Liz Harris

I’m delighted to welcome Liz Harris to the blog today. Born in London, after graduating from university with a Law degree, Liz moved to California where she led a varied life, from waitressing on Sunset Strip to working as secretary for the CEO of a large Japanese trading company. Upon her return, she gained a degree in English and taught for a number of years, contributing weekly articles on education to a local newspaper. In addition to novels, short stories, and a novella published by DC Thomson, she also organises the RNA's Oxford Chapter, and is on the committee of the HNS Conference 2012. 

I see that your new novel takes place in the 1950s and in 1995, set partly in London and in Ladakh, a country north of the Himalayas and west of Tibet. I’d love to hear how you were inspired to choose such an unusual setting. 

Three years ago, my cousin, who now lives in Australia, asked me to help her to find a home for an album that her father, my late uncle, had compiled after a visit he made to Ladakh in the mid 1940s during the time he’d been stationed with the army in North India. His album is now in the Indian Room of the British Library, on Euston Road. When I read it, I fell in love with Ladakh, and knew that I had to set a novel there. At that point, I began to research the country in depth.

The novel has been described as ‘a sumptuous tale of love and adventure … which throws together two people from radically different cultures with explosive results.’ Tell us more about how you devised your hero and heroine. 

From the outset, I knew that my heroine, Patricia, was born in the 1950s and brought up in Belsize Park, a part of London I know well. I saw her as a lonely child, living with parents who’d been torn apart by grief over a tragedy that had happened to the family in the past. I didn’t yet know anything about my hero, Kalden, beyond the fact that he was born and brought up in a Ladakhi village in the Buddhist part of the country. Whilst I waited to ’see’ him clearly, I continued to learn about the country. And then one day, I read a very interesting fact about life in Ladakh. From that moment on, I could ‘see’ Kalden and I had my story.

The research must have created particularly challenging problems. How did you set about it? 

Ironically, it was considerably easier to research THE ROAD BACK than the novel I’m writing at present, which is set in Wyoming in 1887. Having a very low blood pressure, visiting a country of the altitude of Ladakh was never a possibility, so my uncle’s album was the starting point for my research. After that, I had to rely upon my computer, and on the books I could find. They proved to be rich sources of information and through them I became familiar with Ladakh’s geography and traditions. By the time I started to write the novel, I was able to see Ladakh in my head as if I had been there. Happily, Wyoming is at a lower altitude than Ladakh, and my husband and I went there this summer for a combination of research and holiday. Guess whose idea the location was?

Have you always wanted to be a writer or did it come about by chance? Tell us about the thrill of getting that first call. 

It was many years before I thought about trying to make money from writing, although I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember. I loved writing essays and stories at school and at home, and even enjoyed writing the essays for both of my degrees. My career choices changed over the years. First I wanted to be a farm hand, then a journalist, teacher, and a nun. The desire to be a nun lasted for ages as the memory of rugged Peter Finch as Dr. Fortunati in The Nun’s Story lingered long in my mind.

However, one night when my young sons were in bed – yes, I’d ditched my plan to become a nun - and my husband was out, I found myself staring at my typewriter. I suddenly pulled it towards me, checked that I had a packet of tippex paper to hand, and started to type. At that moment, I found my vocation, and I’ve never looked back.

When did you hear about the RNA, and how has it benefited your career? 

The RNA has helped me in so many different ways: teaching me about the publishing industry, thus equipping me better for my attempts to become a part of it; the NWS critiques which offered invaluable advice; the workshops, in and out of the conference, which gave me a chance to learn new skills and hone older ones, and above all, being part of such a warm, friendly community, which is unfailingly generous in its support to everyone, published and unpublished alike. Writing may be a solitary occupation, but when you’re part of a community like the RNA, it isn’t a lonely one.

Can you work anywhere, or do you have a favourite place to hideaway and write? 

I can work anywhere – on the Oxford Tube, in a bus, Starbucks, a library - but the place I like to work in most of all is in my study. It’s my little piece of paradise, although it’s all too often an untidy paradise. Which did you find the hardest part of the novel to write, and how did you overcome any problems? I can’t point to a specific area that was difficult to write – at all times I knew where I was going. But as a general point, I had to be continually aware that whilst I found the culture of Buddhist Ladakh absolutely fascinating, and whilst I’d fallen in love with the dramatic beauty of the country, I must never allow either to come between the reader and the story of Patricia and Kalden. It’s their love story that lies at the heart of the novel.

Have you ever suffered rejections, and if so, what made this book a success?

I’ve definitely had my share of rejection letters. I think a combination of things helped me to be successful with THE ROAD BACK. I’d written for seven years, had each of my novels critiqued and then carefully edited the novel, thereby improving my writing. The background of the novel is original - just as I hadn’t heard of Ladakh until three years ago, most of the people I meet haven’t heard of it. It’s interesting (I hope!) to read a novel set in a place that’s different from familiar locations. And then there’s luck. Luck is tremendously important. I was so very, very lucky that my manuscript arrived on the right desk at the right time.

How do you relax when you’re not writing? 

I read a lot. I can’t imagine any writer who doesn’t read a great deal. Apart from the sheer pleasure of being transported into the world of the fiction, it’s a great learning tool. In addition, those who follow me on twitter know that I regularly go to the London theatre. Being the daughter of an actress, I was given a love of the theatre at an early age, and one of my greatest thrills is the moment before the lights are lowered and you wait for the start of the story that’s about to unfold before your eyes. I also love cryptic crosswords, especially the Daily Telegraph cryptic.

So what next? Where do you go from here? Will it be another unusual setting?

Wyoming, 1887. I should really say ‘Wyoming Territory’ because Wyoming wasn’t admitted into the union until 1890, when it became the 44th state of the USA. My husband and I went to Wyoming in August. We stayed first on a working ranch just north of the Colorado border, set amid stunning scenery, and there I was able to put to the ranch owners and wranglers the many questions that my research hadn’t been able to answer. Surprisingly little is known about second generation homesteaders in the late 1880s. We then drove to Cheyenne, Lander, Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, Cody and back to Cheyenne. The museums I visited on the way, and the local people I met, supplied the rest of the answers I needed.

When Patricia accompanies her father, Major George Carstairs, on a trip to Ladakh, north of the Himalayas, in the early 1960s, she sees it as a chance to finally win his love. What she could never have foreseen is meeting Kalden - a local man destined by circumstances beyond his control to be a monk, but fated to be the love of her life. Despite her father's fury, the lovers are determined to be together, but can their forbidden love survive? A wonderful story about a passion that crosses cultures, a love that endures for a lifetime, and the hope that can only come from revisiting the past. 

Thank you Liz for sparing the time to talk to us today. We wish you continuing success in your career.

Kind regards, 

To find out more about Liz visit her website: 

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me: 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Interview with Jenny Barden

Jenny Barden is an artist-turned-lawyer-turned-writer who I am delighted to welcome to the blog today. She claims to have had a love of history and adventure ever since an encounter in infancy with a suit of armour at Tamworth Castle. Jenny has four children and lives in Hertfordshire with her long suffering husband, a loving Labrador and a deadly Bengal cat. 

I believe Mistress of the Sea is your first novel. Do tell us what inspired you to write it.

Travels in South and Central America led me to Francis Drake and his little known first great enterprise: the attack on the Spanish 'Silver Train' in Panama. This episode was so fascinating I thought it would make a terrific backdrop for a novel. It has all the classic ingredients for a great adventure: an exotic setting, a leader who rose from obscurity to achieve great fame. To my mind, the one ingredient this true story lacked to make it utterly compelling was a love interest, and I provided that by introducing my fictional characters, and in particular my heroine, Ellyn. It was great fun imagining how this episode might have played out had a woman been involved.

What is it about historical fiction, and this period in particular which grips you?

I love historical fiction because it doesn't date. This might sound strange, but consider the constraints upon those who write contemporary fiction. They must always be bang up to the minute with the latest fashions, idioms, technology and trends - almost anticipating what will happen because when their work is eventually published, probably a year or more after it's actually written, it has to seem just right to the readers of the future, happening in the 'here and now' and relevant to what's going on; that's very hard in a world that's changing ever faster. There are no such difficulties with historical fiction. The history provides a wonderful framework upon which to hang stories that have the potential to be timeless.

What particularly attracts me to the Elizabethan period is that it was our Renaissance, the time when England began to become a significant player on the world stage, one which saw a flowering of art and culture: the age of Shakespeare and Bacon, Raleigh and Hilliard.

Do you research before you start, as you write, or both?

The relationship between research and storytelling in my work is symbiotic. A huge amount of research comes first - I would not dream of writing a story and then trying to tack that back into the past retrospectively. For me, the story evolves from a consideration of what actually happened, but then writing the story helps me better understand the research!

Before I begin writing, I like to read all the key texts, do as much investigation on the ground as I can, plan carefully, and draw up a detailed outline in which the relevant history is summarised alongside my ideas for the story. But as I write I invariably find that more research is needed of a more detailed nature and that will usually send me back to the texts again - or on another journey!

My bookshelves are full of reference material for this purpose, some of it quite obscure. (An example is: Ships' Bilge Pumps - A History of their Development, 1500-1900 - I shouldn't think that appears in many bookcases!)

Is this fiction based on fact? Are there any real historical figures in your story and if so, did this create any problems?

My fiction is based on fact featuring real historical characters, but I made the decision early on that my central characters would be invented to give me greater freedom to tell a good story rather then limit myself to retelling the history. Francis Drake is a key character in Mistress of the Sea, but the core romantic adventure does not revolve around him. I've been careful to be true to Drake, the man, as I found him in the contemporary accounts, often using his actual words in dialogue. But I've also had the luxury of being able to tell the story of Will and Ellyn without having my hands tied.

It's good to see not everyone works in an office. Do you have a critique partner, or share your work with anyone before you submit to an editor or agent? 

I had two good critique partners (male and female) who helped me hugely in getting MISTRESS OF THE SEA to a presentable state before submission to my agent. I've also had the benefit of an excellent writers’ circle - Verulam Writers. I was also very fortunate in getting two incisive reports under the NWS and, while Mistress of the Sea never made it to a second read, I did have the benefit of these critiques and I was very careful to take on board the points made.

I love this picture of you signing books on board The Golden Hinde. I also know that you are very involved with the Historical Novel Society, can you tell us something of that? 

The HNS is a wonderfully helpful global organisation, with around 1000 members, that exists for all those who love historical fiction, both writers and readers. And it has an open door policy, being completely non-selective. My involvement came about due to my co-ordination of the Get Writing conferences for Verulam Writers and, having seen my work there, Richard Lee, founder and chairman of the HNS, asked whether I'd help co-ordinate the next UK HNS conference. Together with the team of sixteen (amongst whom are many RNA members) I've helped set up HNS London 2012. The conference will be held over the weekend of 28-30 September in Regent Street, London, and will feature some of the leading names in HF internationally (including Philippa Gregory, Lindsey Davis, Bernard Cornwell, Margaret George, Elizabeth Chadwick and CW Gortner amongst many other great authors and industry leaders). There are already over 270 booked to attend so the conference looks set to be a stomping success! 

Are you inspired by music when creating your fictional world?

Music is very important to me but, alas, I find I cannot write with music playing (though, oddly enough, I can paint while listening to music and find it almost essential to that process). So I listen to music while I'm doing other things and thinking about my writing - typically driving, gardening or just doing the housework - and while I'm listening I can really get myself into the mood of a particular scene. Sometimes the music is in period (Tallis and Dowland are favourites) but quite often it will only be indirectly related.

What event in history would you most like to have witnessed in person? 

Being with Francis Drake, on the Golden Hinde, when he returned to England after his circumnavigation of the globe. I would love to have been amongst the privileged few at that time to sail right around the world. Not only did Drake and his crew know that they'd achieved something truly remarkable, but they had a ship stuffed full of treasure to boot. They were made men both in fame and fortune, and they would have seen things that no one else had before and few would ever see again (sounds like rich material for another book!).

So what next? Can you tell us a little about your work in progress?

My next novel is about the first English attempt to found a permanent settlement in the New World, one involving women and children that had the potential to be self-perpetuating. It's another fabulous true story around which I'm weaving a fictional romantic adventure.

Plymouth 1570
Ellyn Cooksley fears for her elderly father's health when he declares his intention to sail with Drake on an expedition he has been backing. Already yearning for escape from the loveless marriage planned for her, Ellyn boards the expedition ship as a stowaway. Also aboard the Swan is Will Doonan, Ellyn's charming but socially inferior neighbour. Will has courted Ellyn playfully without any real hope of winning her, but when she is discovered aboard ship, dressed in the garb of a cabin boy, he is furious. 

To Will's mind, Drake's secret plot to attack the Spanish bullion supply in the New World is a means to the kind of wealth with which he might win a girl like Ellyn, but first and foremost it is an opportunity to avenge his brother Kit, taken hostage and likely tortured to death by the Spanish. For the sake of the mission he supports Drake's plan to abandon Ellyn and her father on an island in the Caribbean until their mission is completed. But will love prove more important than revenge or gold? Published by Ebury Press, Random House, and released in hardback on 30 August 2012 with the paperback to follow.

Thank you for sparing the time to talk to us today, Jenny, and we wish you every success with the book. 

Best wishes, 

To find out more about Jenny and her books visit her website : 
Twitter @jennywilldoit 

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me: 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

September Releases

Choc Lit
7th September, 2012
When Patricia accompanies her father, Major George Carstairs, on a trip to Ladakh, north of the Himalayas, in the early 1960s, she sees it as a chance to finally win his love. What she could never have foreseen is meeting Kalden - a local man destined by circumstances beyond his control to be a monk, but fated to be the love of her life. Despite her father's fury, the lovers are determined to stay together, but can their forbidden love survive?

Rowan Coleman DEAREST ROSE
27 Sep 2012
 'You are a remarkable woman and you deserve all the happiness, contentment and love in the world. I, for one, know that I have never met anyone quite like you.'
When Rose Pritchard turns up on the doorstep of a Cumbrian B&B it is her last resort. She and her seven-year-old daughter Maddie have left everything behind. And they have come to the village of Millthwaite in search of the person who once offered Rose hope.
Almost immediately Rose wonders if she's made a terrible mistake - if she's chasing a dream - but she knows in her heart that she cannot go back. She's been given a second chance - at life, and love - but will she have the courage to take it?

Amanda Grange DEAR MR DARCY
6th September 2012
In this imaginative retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Amanda Grange now tells the classic story through the eyes of its compelling romantic hero, Fitzwilliam Darcy, in a series of revealing letters covering the life-changing events that defined him—from the death of his father, to his control of his Derbyshire estate of Pemberley to his conflicted courtship with the lively, intelligent, and delightfully willful Elizabeth Bennet. Try as he may, he cannot deny his attraction to this woman with fine eyes, a playful spirit, a mind of her own… and an embarrassing family that is frankly, and utterly, beneath him. But it is Elizabeth who controls both their destinies, and whose surprises will change Darcy’s life yet again.

Mills and Boon
7 September 2012
Yesterday John Carter and Lily Grayson were strangers.  Now, following an IVF mix up, their genes are bound together forever - only someone else is carrying their child!  John's only thought is to get his baby back...until he realises that Lily is the person he truly needs to complete his life.

Accent Press
Free until Sept 5th then £1.97
Sept 1st
No longer welcome in her uncle's home, twenty-year-old Phoebe Dymond, a trained herbalist and midwife, boards the packet ship Providence bound for Jamaica and a forced marriage. Incidents on board provoke clashes between Phoebe and ship's doctor, Jowan Crossley. But professional antagonism turns to mutual respect and a deepening attraction neither dare acknowledge.  Following a skirmish with a French privateer they eventually arrive in Kingston to find the town in the grip of a slave revolt.  Terrifying events on the plantation of which she will be mistress force Phoebe to relinquish all hope of the happiness she has glimpsed. But fate has one more trick to play.

Accent Press
Sept 1st
Nineteen-year-old Susanna Elliot rebels against her strict Quaker background which alienates her from her family and community. Rejected by the doctor she admires and refused permission to take her dead brother's place in the family business, she flees to join her two cousins on their mission to China. All three leave Falmouth for Shanghai aboard a schooner owned by Lowell Hawke.  
Hawke’s daring exploits have made him a legend along the China coast and Susanna finds herself involved in terrible danger – and love...

Noelene Jenkinson WOMBAT CREEK
Linford large print romance
1 September 2012
*Wombat Creek, Australia*
The heart of the lush pastoral country and stud merino sheep flocks in Western Victoria.
The story of two people’s longing to learn from the past and create a better future for themselves, together.
*Ethan Bourke* owns /Karingal Park/ sheep station, fighting personal demons, torn between a long term comfortable relationship and his instant attraction for a radical newcomer to the district.
Single mother *SUMMER DALTON* inherits the small 100 acre farmlet, /Greenbanks/, and arrives in the Western District to investigate the viability of settling on her grandfather’s property. The daughter of hippy parents banished for their free-loving morals decades before, the scandal of her family’s past lingers in people’s memories.
Initially prejudiced, Ethan offers to buy Summer out. Planning to stay, she rejects his bid, hoping to succeed and become part of the local community. Can they resolve their attraction against the odds of a jealous old flame and Ethan’s snobbish disapproving mother who throws down the ultimate vindictive challenge?

Margaret Mounsdon  MY SECRET LOVE
Large Print paperback
ISBN 978 1444812541
Tamara Cameron receives the shock of her life when Phyllis Morton appears on her doorstep. She is the great aunt of Adam Penrose, a man whose marriage proposal Tamara turned down years earlier before she became a super model

Magna Large Print
Hard Cover
Family Saga
August 2012
It is war-time Britain and seduced by her brother-in-law, Frances, 16, becomes pregnant and is banished to a lonely farm.
She gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl, whom her mother heartlessly wrenches from her.
And when told her baby daughter has died, Frances is overcome with grief.
After years of loneliness, Frances is reunited  with her son, Michael, and yearns to tell him the truth of his birth.
Michael however, has grown up believing Frances’s sister is his mother. She has taken him to live in Australia along with her new husband.
Could Frances shatter her son’s joy?

Mills & Boon Historical
Paperback - 7th September £4.67
ebook - 1st September £3.99
As a renowned ravelling player - with a dangerous sideline career in political intrigue - no one understands better than Philip Hurst the masks that people wear.
But the effort it takse to school his reactions to Rebecca Clifton tests even his theatrical expertise as he is drawn into the tangled web of her family affairs.

Paintbox Publishing
7th September 2012
When aspiring writer, Sophie Elliot receives the keys to the family townhouse in Bath, it's an invitation she can't turn down, especially when she learns that she will be living next door to the house Jane Austen lived in. On discovering that an ancient glove belonging to her mysterious neighbour, Josh Strafford, will transport her back in time to Regency Bath, she questions her sanity, but Sophie is soon caught up in two dimensions, each reality as certain as the other. Torn between her life in the modern world and that of her ancestor Sophie's story travels two hundred years across time, and back again, to unite this modern heroine with her own Captain Wentworth. Blending fact and fiction together, the tale of Jane Austen's own quest for happiness weaves alongside, creating a believable world of new possibilities for the inspiration behind the beloved novel, Persuasion.

Freda Lightfoot MY LADY DECEIVER

Allison & Busby
24 September
£19.99 (RRP)
 1905. Rosie Belsfield feels as if her life has ended when she is rejected from Ellis Island and put on the next boat back to England, leaving her family behind. But fate gives her a second chance when she befriends Lady Rosalind, a pregnant widow on her way to the home of her late husband's father, the wealthy Sir Ralph Tregowan. Having boarded the ship with one identity, fate decrees that Rosie leave it with another...As Rosie arrives in Cornwall as 'Rosalind', she must fend for herself amongst a new and bitterly resentful family. Rosie becomes increasingly trapped by her deception and the cruelty of those around her - the only light at the end of the tunnel seems to be the enigmatic Bryce Tregowan. With him the promise of a new life beckons, one of riches and even a title in beautiful Cornwall, but it is also one fraught with danger should her deceit be discovered. As she falls deeper into love and lies, can Rosie keep up the act, or will her secrets reveal themselves? And to what consequences?

Freda Lightfoot THE PROMISE
Allison & Busby
26 September
£.7.99 (RRP)
San Francisco, 1904. Georgia Briscoe, a young woman from a good family, is unwillingly betrothed to businessman Drew Kemp when she falls for handsome British sailor Ellis Cowper. Drew had the charm to dazzle everyone around him, but when the couple are married, it soon transpires that Drew's charm is only skin-deep, and that he is in fact a greedy gambling addict with a penchant for other women, including Georgia's maid Maura and jealous sister Prudence. When Georgia and Maura fall pregnant, both women decide to escape to be with the men they love, providing Prudence with an opportunity to seize Drew - and much more besides. London, 1948. When Chrissie Kemp travels to the Lake District to visit her grandmother Georgia, she is not prepared for the shocking revelation that is about to throw her family into turmoil. As a last act of vengeance on her death bed, Prudence claims that Chrissie's mother Vanessa and her late father Aaran are brother and sister. As the truth unfurls, the passion, emotion and astounding love that occurred in San Francisco forty years ago is revealed, and three generations of the family are tested to their limits.

Hachette Digital
Ebook novella
Period upstairs downstairs romance.

Cobblestone Press-Blue Line
electronic short story
99 cents
Ashley James thought stepping in for her friend Shannon and teaching the Introduction to Baking at night school was going to be routine...and boring. However, when Andy Logan decides to sign up, the class is anything but that. Ashley learns that doing a friend a favor has its many rewards.