Looking at your website your sense of fun comes through very strongly. Do you look on every task as a challenge to be enjoyed? Is this your approach to life?
Oh, I wish I had the optimism to approach life like this all the time. I definitely try to ascribe to the “brighter side of life” mentality, but I’ve had plenty of heartache and difficulties in which I struggled to see any reason to be happy. Many of the hardships my characters have gone through are directly influenced by my past, and there are definitely moments where I just need to wallow in my misery for a little bit.
However, I do believe that happiness in life isn’t due to circumstances but to outlook and attitude. It’s important to acknowledge that life sucks sometimes and sometimes you need to cry for a little bit, but I’ve found that there are always reason to be happy despite a crappy situation, if I just open my eyes.
Do you try to filter humour through your novels to lighten the darker moments?
To quote Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”
You work full time, love to travel, read extensively, paint and have a large family so how do you fit in writing? Do you have a set routine?
Whew. That’s a tricky question. I think one of the most difficult things in life is to find balance between all the things we need to do, all the things we want to do, and maintaining our physical and mental well-being.
One of the ways I try to maintain good balance is through schedules and to-do lists because if left to my own devices, I’d probably sit in front of the TV all day. Success isn’t something that happens by accident, so I try to plan and organize my time to be more efficient. In fact, I had to set a goal to read less the last couple of years because I found I spent too much time reading others’ books and not working on my own. Lol.
I empathise completely with the desire to become an Indie author, which you explain in detail on your website, but for those authors who are about to take their first Indie steps, what key advice would you give them?
There is no easy path to publishing success. While getting your book published is easier through indie publishing, it’s no guarantee that you’ll make any money. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t expect instant fame and riches. Your first books likely won’t do well, but successful indie authors don’t give up after those first flops. They keep putting out books and trying new things until something catches on.
My first two series have never done well. I spent two years building up those fantasy series, and nothing has ever come of them. Then I decided to publish a passion project — Flame and Ember — which was a historical romance. Not exactly the same fanbase. But I went for it, and the book took off. It was my fifth published book.
Don’t give up. Keep trying.
Has your knowledge of landscape management and landscape architecture into practical use in your writing?
Not really. I’ve used it for some descriptions, but that’s about it. I would say that it, along with my music and art background have given me a lot of training in the creative fields, which has helped me overall.
I loved Flame and Ember, what attracted you to Regency England?
I’ve been a fan of the sweet historical romance genre for a few years, and I’ve loved classic literature from the 1800s for most of my life. That century had so much upheaval and changes that are fascinating to explore.
Have you visited any of the UK cities linked to this period of history or the country houses around them: London, York, Harrogate, Bath?
Yes, and I plan to do a lot more. I’ve been to England three times now, and while the first two were purely for fun, the last time was for research purposes. I learned so much, and it was so inspiring. I came away with a notebook full of notes, several gigs of photos, and a lot of ideas to make my books more realistic.
I am hoping to return very soon. I had planned on visiting this fall, but of course, that’s not happening. Crossing my fingers for a spring trip instead!
You plan to write in the Regency, Victorian and eventually about the Wild West – How extensively do you research?
Researching is a never-ending process. Honestly, I dove into the Regency era with little background in it — other than a love of Jane Austen and having read a ton of novels set in the era. Now, I’m constantly reading some non-fiction book about the period, and each time I learn something new that will inform my future books.
The Wild West was a very popular market in my youth ( a short while ago ☺ ) Is it still a big market in the US?
I believe it is. I haven’t taken the dive into that subgenre yet, but I do love reading those types of books, so I will be writing some in the future. But I’m focused on my England-based novels right now.
Where, in a post pandemic world, would you like to travel to?
Right now, the highest priority is getting back to England. I’ve got a list of several hundred places I’d like to go for research purposes (museums, estates, etc.), and I’m desperate to make a dent in it. Every time I cross one off, I seem to add a dozen more!
But if we’re talking just for fun, Ireland has been high on my list for a few years now, and I was planning on a tour of the Dalmatian Coast with my brother and his family for this summer that has gotten pushed back.
Who or what has influenced you strongly in life and/or in your writing?
There are so many people and things. Seriously, this is a massive list that would take a long time to go through, but first and foremost, would be my parents. I grew up in a household where we loved literature. They taught me to love the written word and exposed me to so many different genres. Between the two of them, they read everything and gave me a love of all sorts of books.
My dad was the CEO of a company for most of his career, and he’s now a business consultant of sorts. He’s my sounding board and guide through all the business aspects. My mom is an artist and loves helping me with the creative side. She’s one of my best beta readers / critiquers. They both are massive cheerleaders and supports through the ups and downs of this publishing journey.
Please tell us about your latest release.
The Honorable Choice came out August 25th and is the second book in my Victorian Love series, which is a spin-off of my Regency books and follows the next generation. Conrad Ashbrook is the son of one of my previous couples, and when his brother ruins a young lady and refuses to save her good name, Conrad steps up and marries her.
A marriage they didn’t choose. A child conceived in a lie. Can they overcome their broken dreams and find happiness in a life forced upon them?
I am really delighted to invite my fellow Sapere Books author, Elizabeth Bailey, as my guest this month.
My first question has to be where did your love of storytelling and writing begin?
My father read to us and my older sister made up stories for my brother and me, thus fostering an early interest in literature. I can’t remember when stories were not part of my life. Difficult to recall when I began to write them. In school, for festivals, and for pleasure.
My first fairy tale featured a hero who had to rid the lake of a plague of giant spiders in order to win the princess – hence romance. But the darker side was there too in an epic tragi-poem of a sailor who murders the mermaid who loves him. Shades of the future there?
There is a touch of horror in there for me too – spiders!
Do you find switching between the two very different genres of romance and crime keeps your writing fresh?
To be honest, I don’t switch much. I’m either writing romances one after another, or mysteries ditto, whatever happens to be driving the bread and butter. I contributed to anthologies with five other authors, producing a string of Regencies which became the Brides by Chance Regency Adventures. My Lady Fan mysteries had languished when I lost my first publisher. When Sapere picked them up, I began a feverish assault on those and haven’t swapped back yet. I write the occasional snippet of something completely different when the mood strikes.
You touch on the paranormal in some novels, is this an area of research that you find fascinating?
I am absolutely sold on the supernatural. Powers above the norm, which I believe we all possess if we can access them. Telepathy is everywhere. You think of someone out of the blue and then they ring you up. Magic. Saying which, I was hooked on the Harry Potter series and I’m a sucker for fairy tales. As for past lives, we have all lived many times before. Far too much proof for doubt. One of my paranormals is based on an incident from one of my own past lives. I have no truck with the prevalent one-life belief!
That is fascinating. I admire your certainty.
In the ‘Lady Fan Series’ your protagonist is a woman who has to overstep the conventions of a lady in her day. This is a difficult challenge for an author and is a factor I also try to balance. How do you enable her to complete her investigations in a credible way for the period?
This is why I gave her Lord Francis. He is both husband and champion, her protector, and he can go where Ottilia can’t. If she does venture where ladies don’t, she is always accompanied by a stout male guardian – Francis or her Barbadian steward. Nevertheless, she still gets into dangerous situations. Her medical lore is gained from helping her brother doctor Patrick, with whom she lived for years before her launch into solving murders.
Her background is “the middling sort” – genteel but not moving in the first circles. She observes the aristocratic milieu she is now in with an outsider’s eye, and she is free of the shibboleths governing the behaviour of ladies in that strata. That’s why she oversteps the bounds of convention, relying on her status for impunity. She has married into the elite where eccentricity is tolerated. In other words, she gets away with it!
Writing a series with recurring characters means that they have to continue to grow and develop with each new novel. How do you keep track of their biographies so that this development is consistent?
Wow, I have no idea! Every story has its own “bible” with cast, places, etc and snippets of potential plot, all of which I add to as I go along. The basics are copied into the new bible for a new book. If I’m missing one, I get it from an old bible. I probably ought to keep a spreadsheet, but I know I’d never manage to keep it up! I’ve always written this way – a cast/plot document and a text document, plus research docs, discarded text in a temp doc in case I need to retrieve it.
How I keep track is a mystery, but I do. So far. The characters who keep coming back are a fistful really. When other family members intrude, it’s usually in a minor way and about the only thing I have to figure out is how old they are now. Francis and Ottilia have developed without much help from me. They evolve story by story. I do enjoy their relationship. They have their ups and downs, but I find readers are engaged by their enduring love story.
When I began the series, I determined to marry them off after the first book because a personal bugbear of mine is those off/on romances that persist through a whole series. Why can’t they just get it together? Instead, I decided to give each story a secondary romance, but in the event, it turned out my hero and heroine are still very much the romantic couple in every story. I didn’t plan it. They just are, those two!
You have had some fascinating career roles to date: acting, directing, teaching and of course writing. Has each one contributed something to your current profession of being an author?
Absolutely. Theatre has shaped my writing. Dramatic structure parallels story structure in terms of build-up, highs and lows, climax and denouement, not forgetting cliff-hanger scene endings, “curtain” in drama. There’s also motivation, emotional journey, conflict (inner and external), character, dialogue, sub-text – the spaces between the words and character introspection. As an actress, these things became part of me. As a teacher, I had to dissect them. Ditto as a director, viewing my “staged drama” as a whole moving picture. The difference is that words encourage the reader to watch “the play” in their imagination.
You have been blessed with cross-cultural experience and travelled widely throughout your life. Do you agree that these aspects of life help to deepen an author’s ability to create engaging characters and plots?
I think it has given me a large tolerance of other cultures. Perhaps most telling, an understanding that human nature is pretty much the same, nation to nation. Such cultural differences as there are consist by and large of moral standards and artistic appreciation. But the human condition is what it is throughout. We all run the gamut of emotions and struggle with our personal demons as we try to survive. Observation enables you to engage as you mirror the inhabitants of the world around you.
Who or what would you say has had a strong influence on your life/work ethic?
My values echo my father’s. A true gentleman, he had wide tolerance, liberal ideals, intelligence. Articulate, funny, considerate and kind, he was a big teddy bear to me. As to work ethic, I imagine my mother’s bundle-of-energy personality must have rubbed off on me. Not that I could keep up! But I do have her drive to push through and get things done.
You have been published and self-published. What would you say are the main advantages or disadvantages of each?
Oh, this is a hard one. These days, you can’t talk of leaving promotion to others because both avenues require you to play your part in touting the books. I think traditional publishers help with visibility and take the burden off in terms of editing, proofing, formatting, book cover design and initial launch. On your own, you have to do it all and that’s tough. On the plus side, you have artistic control and personal satisfaction, even if sales are not as easy to promote.
What advice would you give your younger self if you could as you set out on a life as an author?
Well, this is interesting because I am constantly giving advice to new authors. I’m not sure I would give the same advice to my younger self because things were very different in publishing when I started out. I had also already struggled to make it as an actor so persistence was not new to me. I think I would say: “Just do it. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”
What is next for Elizabeth Bailey?
Here’s where I reveal the dream! If I get my dearest wish, it will be a TV series of Lady Fan. That would put the icing on the cake of my writing career.
Thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions and I wish you every success in your career and in life. I hope you realise your dream!
Class prejudice is inbuilt within our culture going back centuries. In In Sickness and In Health Sophia and Isaac are meant to be together, but like so many people whose love was thwarted within the early nineteenth century, propriety, social divisions, war and need prevented this from happening.
Survival of the under classes depended upon their good health and equally good fortune as there was no health care, and knowledge of the human condition was limited, superstition and trial and error were rife. Therefore, being healthy to provide a living was essential. Isaac can provide for Sophia through his good fortune and hard work, but will not be a ‘cripple’ and a burden to her.
He and Sophia are a love match. However, he would not have dared approach Sophia if she had not been so open and honest with her desire for him. Naivety and youthful passion resulted in Isaac being sent away; his father dies in his absence. Yet, Joshua was forever proud of his son and would only wish Isaac happiness with Sophia.
Love finds a way, but at a high cost.
I have always been fascinated by the major changes that happened in the early nineteenth century. It was a period of great conflict and change: a time of war, pressgangs, and extreme social, agricultural, religious and political changes. All these impacted on the ordinary people who were left behind, whilst the wars with Napoleon dragged on.
The countryside was changing as mills were being built and cottage industries suffered, along with their communities. The population gravitated to these places of work and life in the countryside changed.
The government taxed its people harshly, whilst still fearing the possibility of a revolution as had happened in France. It was hardly surprising then that smuggling and opportunists abounded, yet in plying the trade they gave coin to an enemy. Some gangs were known for their violence, others were less so and merely supplied a ready market that crossed over social rank and was often funded by a moneyed man.
With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Luddite activities and the growth of new money, lives were changing and the old money was feeling threatened.
In the cities ‘society’ had strict rules: influence and connections were so very important.
In my books the settings are more remote. These influences mean nothing when a character is dealing with survival, either their own or someone who they have met. So boundaries are crossed, rules of society are broken or are made irrelevant.
Most of my titles are set in an area of the country that I love: North Yorkshire, with its beautiful coast and moors.
My villages of Beckton and Gorebeck are based upon typical North Yorkshire market towns, such as: Guisborough, Yarm, Thirsk, Helmsley. By 1815 both have their own small mills situated just outside the towns.
Ebton is based on the well known Victorian town of Saltburn-by-Sea,only my version is as I imagine it to have been at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Love is a timeless essential of life. Throughout history, love in all its forms is a constant: be it passionate, caring, needy, manipulative, possessive or one that is strong enough to cross barriers of culture or faith. When two souls meet in a situation which takes them out of their normal social strata or into a shared danger, a relationship forms as the adventure unfolds.
If you have enjoyed reading any of my titles I would really appreciate it if you could take a moment to leave a review either on Amazon or Goodreads, or wherever you wish.
It is helpful to read feedback and I am always interested in what my readers think, or would like to read next.
Stay safe in these difficult times everyone wherever you are in the world!
If you are a new writer or need advice on a work-in-progress I also offer an independent manuscript appraisal service and/or mentoring, always aiming to give constructive and professional, honest feedback. I have worked as a creative writing tutor for over fifteen years. You can contact me here for information and fees.
I am delighted to welcome prolific romance writer Virginia Heath as my guest today.
When and where did your passion for writing begin?
Hard to say, as I think it’s always been there. As a child I loved to read and devoured books like they were going out of fashion. At school I had a talent for writing and secretly fancied myself as an author one day but never dared say that out loud because I came from a very working class, blue-collar background. Girls like me dreamed of working in an office, they most certainly didn’t write books! But I made up stories in my head instead so I suppose it spiralled from there.
When did inspiration strike for your successful Wild Warriners Quartet?
The old Hollywood musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers! I love it, especially the premise – seven down on their luck farmers living in the middle of nowhere, all in desperate want of a wife. The Wild Warriners is my homage to that glorious film – but I thought having seven brothers was a bit much so I settled on four. Like the original brothers, the series starts with them working their land themselves because they cannot afford to hire anyone to help them. Unlike the originals, the Warriners descend from the aristocracy, with the eldest brother Jack being an earl and they tend part of his sprawling but dilapidated country estate in deepest, darkest, dankest Nottinghamshire.
Is Regency your favourite period of history or are there others you want to set your future work in?
I’m a proper history nerd – I used to be a history teacher – so I love most periods of history. However, thanks to Mr Darcy, I do have a particular soft spot for the Regency. I think it’s the tight breeches and boots.
Your historical research is impeccable. However, you keep the hero and heroine attractive and the dialogue accessible, whilst giving a flavour that is true to the period. How do you achieve this?
It’s a delicate balance writing a historical. Purists want you to keep everything strictly within the period. Modern readers want characters they can relate to. I figure, no matter what the historical backdrop, people are people so my characters think a lot like we do now. My heroes aren’t misogynists and my heroines aren’t subservient doormats. That said, if you are going to write history you have to get it right. The world my characters live in is completely accurate and although I don’t write hither and thither, I make sure my characters don’t say modern phrases which will pull readers out of the story.
You are a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association – what does the organisation mean to you?
When I first started writing, the only writer I knew was me. I had nobody to talk shop with. Nobody to guide me through the confusing world of publishing and all it entails. Joining the Romantic Novelists Association was a godsend! I’ve made so many friends and learned so many things. It truly is one of the most supportive and nurturing institutions which champions romantic fiction in all its forms and I cannot say enough good things about it.
What key advice would you share with aspiring writers?
Write the book! Forget manuals on how to write, don’t get bogged down in everything else to do with publishing; if you want to be a published writer it starts with a completed book. Join a writing group, allow other writers to critique your manuscript. Take their advice on board and be prepared to revise and revise those words until they are perfect. Oh yes – and develop a thick skin! If you are determined to be a writer, you’ll need it.
Each author has their own favoured way of working – would you share yours with us?
My books run between 80K and 90K words – that’s a pretty standard sized novel. If I want to publish four a year it means I have to be semi-disciplined. I don’t have the luxury of waiting for the elusive muse to show up. I’m not entirely sure I believe in the muse anyway because it’s my brain thinking stuff up, so I just need to make sure I get my brain in gear. I do that by having a routine. It starts with a cup of tea and a dog walk, I do about 30 minutes of social media or admin, then I take myself up to my office and read only the words I wrote the day before, editing as I go to get me back into the zone. Then I pick up where I left off. There is no magic to it really. I work every day, Monday to Friday from around 8am till 4ish with regular breaks and a long lunch. I stop when the alarm goes off on my computer regardless of where I am in a sentence. In fact, finishing mid-sentence really feeds the muse overnight and ensures I’m raring to go the next morning. I try not to work evenings or weekends unless I am up against a deadline. I also try not to write on holidays or breaks. It’s important to recharge the batteries.
What has been the highlight of your writing career to date?
My RONA (Romantic Novel of the Year) nomination in 2017. To be shortlisted was the most amazing feeling in the world. That said, seeing each book on the shelves in a bookshop never gets old either. I always go and visit a new book on publication day.
What project are you working on next?
I’ve just finished my second series – The King’s Elite. It’s a quartet featuring four Regency spies, which has been huge fun to write. It’s been fascinating researching all the smuggling and shenanigans which went on and then weaving some of that into stories which are best described as romantic suspense with a dash of comedy here and there. I can’t ever seem to write a book without a dash of funny. The final book, The Determined Lord Hadleigh, comes out in June. Then, just for a change, I have a Victorian romance coming out early next year involving my first older hero and heroine. It’s called Lilian and the Irresistible Duke and it’s set mostly in one of my favourite cities – Rome. But this has Renaissance art and the Vatican as a backdrop rather than all the high jinks of smuggling. Right now, I am working on a new standalone story about a nerdy heroine who likes to dig up ruins, and a reclusive earl who is all done with life. It’s a RomCom Beauty-and-the-Beast meets Indiana Jones story. Or at least I think it is. I can’t plot, so I have no idea how it is going to turn out yet! As per usual, I really won’t know what sort of story it truly is until I write the words ‘the end’.
Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to answer my questions.
The first conflict in For Richer, For Poorer occurs when heroine Miss Parthena Munro ‘borrows’ a coin purse from Mr Jerome Fender.
I used the term ‘coin purse’ rather than wallet because, unlike the pre-plastic card society where paper money had been the norm it was not so commonly used in Regency England.
Banknotes outside of London were not guaranteed by the Bank of England until 1826 when its first branch outside the City was opened in Gloucester. Privately owned regional banks in England and Ireland had unique notes that were signed by their own chief cashiers and therefore their continued validity depended on the success of the issuing bank. This meant that banknotes were not as secure as they are today, should a run on such an establishment occur, it could wipe out a person’s assets.
Coins had immediate and standardised values and so, although weighty, were accepted everywhere.
The golden guinea had a value of 1 sovereign and 1 shilling making it the highest denomination.
Next was the sovereign (1 pound) worth 20 shillings.
Then a half sovereign worth 10 shillings
A Crown equalled 5 shillings
1 shilling equalled 12d (old pennies)
1/2 shilling was known as a six pence piece.
A groat was 4d
A farthing was 1/4d
However, not everyone in Regency England was expected to pay their bills immediately. The aristocracy, upper and middle classes lived on credit to a large extent. This seems a strange inequality to us today, but it was the lower classes who were expected to pay coin for their goods and services on demand.
This created a highly unfair society. It also led to a number of Debtors’ prisons such as York prison, Marshalsea and The Fleet. Charles Dickens’ father was in the former under the Insolvent Debtor’s Act of 1813, when he failed to pay his debts to a trader. It was a hard system to break free from even though there was the chance of day-release to go and work, but debts continued to mount.
This period marks the beginning of change in what had previously been the norm because of the inability of debtors to pay their cumulative debts to their creditors, which could then bring these companies down as they also had creditors too. Therefore, the system had to change and settlement by cash was being favoured, yet the debtors still kept these prisons throughout Dickensian times.
What Parthena did could have cost her liberty, her life or seen her transported to the . It was just as well that it was Jerome she borrowed the coin from!
I am delighted to welcome back Nicola as chair of the RNA.
What can the organisation offer romance writers in 2018?
‘The RNA is the professional organisation that supports and promotes romantic fiction in the UK. Membership of the RNA offers authors the chance to strengthen their career through developing their craft at our workshops and conferences and to build a network with other authors who understand the challenges we face and can offer advice and support. We are also building strong links with the industry and our events give authors the chance to meet a wide range of agents, publishers, booksellers, librarians and other professionals.’
That seems to present a broad spectrum of activities and opportunities to support your members.
‘In addition, members receive Romance Matters, our quarterly journal covering all aspects of writing romantic fiction from the craft to industry issues, discounted tickets to all our events and the opportunity to join regional groups. So the benefits are both professional and social.’
Nicola stresses that although the emphasis is on the professional advice, events and networking a friendly and welcoming atmosphere is nurtured. So how does a writer become a member?
‘The RNA welcomes traditionally and independently published authors. Membership is in different bands: A full or independent Author Member is currently £50 (£57 for non EU based) and £60 for Associate Members (£67 for non EU based). All the details can be found online at or by contacting the membership secretary, Gill Stewart, on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The organisation also welcomes and encourages as yet unpublished writers into its ranks. The New Writers’ Scheme is unique as Nicola explains.
‘We’re very proud of the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS), which provides the opportunity for aspiring authors to submit a manuscript for critique by an experienced writer in the genre. Not only is it a great way for new writers to improve their craft, it also gives encouragement and support. As the RNA has close links with publishers and agents the NWS can provide a route for them to make those connections. Unsurprisingly it is hugely popular and each year a number of NWS members go on to achieve publishing contracts.’
The scheme is open to writers interested in submitting an unpublished romantic novel (or partial) and this year the membership fee cost was £135 (£145 for members outside the EU). This also allows unpublished authors to take part in all RNA activities as well as submitting a manuscript of a full-length novel for appraisal. More details are available by email to: NWS@romanticnovelistsassociation.org There is a cap on the number of submissions that can be accepted each year and acceptance into the scheme is therefore on a ‘first come first served’ basis. The entry slot for submissions closes at the end of August each year.
Today’s publishing environment seems to be becoming more challenging, but Nicola is very optimistic about the present market for the romance genre.
‘I think the romantic fiction genre is changing all the time to reflect both modern life and the changing publishing world. The genre is a broad one. You can find strong romantic elements in many different sorts of novels where people are writing about relationships, whether this is contemporary fiction or epic historicals or books for young adults. Our membership reflects all of these different threads. We also see the books reflecting the concerns of contemporary society, whether it is issues such as work life balance, infidelity or health. The recent return to popularity of Gothic romance perhaps reflects the idea that spooky stories resonate in uncertain times. And of course romantic fiction also continues to provide its readership with the wonderful feel-good stories that readers love.’
Looking forward, I asked Niocla if she thought that the scope for romantic fiction will narrow as lines in the market place are redefined, or do she saw it flourishing as it has done in the past?
‘I see a lot in the press about how the genre is being more and more tightly defined and categorised into sub-genres, but actually at the genre level, in the UK at least, I see it continuing to broaden out. There are romantic relationships represented in a whole range of novels from crime and sci fi to literary fiction. The RNA’s membership reflects that and our awards and events will continue to embrace that wider focus.’
How would Nicola like to see the organisation evolve under your tenure?
‘I’d like to see the RNA continue to provide great support for its membership whilst looking outward a bit more in our promotion of excellence within the genre. We would particularly like to build our relationships within the industry, with booksellers and librarians as well as with publishers and agents. We’d also like to put romantic fiction even more firmly on the map by reminding people what a very successful and dynamic genre it is in business terms.’
Nicola’s natural energy and enthusiasm for the genre shines through her vision, but can romance remain genre specific if there is a need or desire for a more open working relationship within the industry?
‘I think we can do both if we don’t constrain the genre too tightly. Our core role is to support our membership and as this is drawn from a broad range of romantic fiction this fits with the idea of needing a more open working relationship within the industry. With this in mind we are planning a series of joint events with the Crime Writers’ Association and the Historical Writers’ Association, amongst others, where we can explore the things we have in common and the support we give each other as writers more generally.’
Nicola Cornick is the author of dual-time gothic novels House of Shadows and The Phantom Tree (HQ) and also forty plus Regency romances. She is a former trustee of the Wantage Literary Festival and a historian and speaker specialising in public history.
In 1809 Elizabeth Matthews shares many a childhood adventure with her soul-mate, Thomas Lamb, son of the estate’s handyman.
Elizabeth is entrusted with the safe keeping of a tin box by her Mama but instead, leaves the task to Thomas’s father Joseph. However, life in the windswept north-east coastal village of Alunby is left behind when she is promptly sent away to be schooled in the city of York.
Risking her reputation, and a possible marriage match, Elizabeth dreams of the day when the secret inside the tin box will be revealed to her, and goes on a journey of rediscovery to find Thomas and seek out the stolen treasure.
Some secrets were intended to stay buried, however, what Elizabeth discovers is of greater value than she could ever have imagined.
Ellie has recurring nightmares of a child surrounded by early nineteenth century luxury who is kidnapped. When Ellie wakes it is to the normal sparse surroundings of her attic room and a life devoid of love. Yet, haunted by the child’s fear, she still dares to dream that one day she will be happy and find love.
Living in the old hall with her Aunt Gertrude and cousins Cybil and Jane, she feels as if she neither belongs to the family nor the ranks of the few servants. Her aunt frequently reminds Ellie that she is the child of shame – her mother had eloped with a Frenchman. The scandal, apparently, cast a long shadow over Ellie and the family.
However, when Aunt Gertrude announces that a suitor has been found for her Ellie’s initial excitement quickly turns to dread and humiliation.
Mr William Cookson’s unwelcome presence shines a light onto her past, but how can Ellie escape from her aunt’s plan for her future?
It is with great sadness and total shock that I have learnt that Carole died last night. She was an amazing lady and inspiration to many, myself included. My sincere condolences to her family, her many friends, colleagues and authors that she represented and respected so much. She will be greatly missed.
My guest this month is Carole Blake, a lady whose amazing career has taken her from working as a secretary in a packaging company to forming the incredibly successful London literary agency, Blake Friedmann. This journey involved becoming the first Rights Manager for Michael Joseph, then Marketing Director at Sphere, before starting up her own agency in 1977. Five years later she merged with Julian Friedmann’s Agency.
Throughout this time Carole has worked tirelessly to develop the careers of her authors and yet still found time to serve on many boards and institutions to contribute to the industry she loves so much. In 2013 Carole was the recipient of the Pandora Award for her ‘significant and sustained contribution to the publishing industry’.
Welcome, Carole! Did your childhood inspire and nurture your love of books?
My childhood home didn’t have many books, but I was always focussed on them & asked for them as presents. I can remember my first ever rag-books (made of a linen-like material) that I used to ‘read’ in the bath before I could actually read. I loved turning the pages and pretending. Once I could read, my early favourites were the Rupert books, which I still have, with my parents’ messages & dates written inside. When I was 8 I asked for a bookcase for my Christmas present. I got it (& only relinquished it when I moved house 8 years ago). I then set out to catalogue and categorise all the books I owned. I worked out a complicated system of letters and numbers and wrote them inside each book, then listed them all against their titles and authors. Very proud of it. Some years later when I discovered the Dewey System I was crushed. I had thought I was being entirely original!
Was it challenging for a woman in your early career to progress in the industry as you did?
I don’t remember it as difficult. I answered an advert in the Evening Standard, went for an interview & got the job. I commuted from Mitcham in Surrey to Marble Arch, & found myself – a working class girl, in a cotton dress and a white cardigan – working as a secretary to a team of university-educated art experts working on a multi-volume art encyclopedia. I kept a low profile, soaked up information like a sponge (including which pieces of cutlery to use when we went out to restaurants) and made friends there (50+ years ago) that I am still in touch with. It was literally a life-changing experience.
Who inspired you the most to keep moving forward? Are you naturally self-motivated to achieve?
The lovely people I worked with at Rainbirds, in my first job, were extremely encouraging. Working there for 8 years kick-started my life-long love of art. It introduced me to the classics (I compiled a company-wide order of Penguin paperbacks every few months. We could get a discount if we ordered 30 or more. Soon I stopped asking anyone else to mark up the Penguin stocklists, because I was ordering 30 at a time myself. I read my way through all the Russian and French novelists, and I remember crying on the no 16 bus as it went round Marble Arch because I finished Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot and found it unbearably sad. How nerdish is that for a teenager in the swinging 60s?
But later when I was marketing director of Sphere, Edmund Fisher fired me, quite rightly. I was running the marketing, publicity, rights and contracts departments and wasn’t juggling them very well. We were having a row – we had a very volatile relationship over the three companies and 12 years that I worked with him – and I was in the middle of resigning. When I realised he was firing me I withdrew my resignation and sued for wrongful dismissal. I knew he hadn’t followed all the right procedures (indeed he hadn’t followed any procedures at all!) and as I was a director, I was employed by Sphere’s then owners, Thomson Newspapers, so he didn’t actually have the right to fire me at all. I won, they settled out of court, and I discovered I had a list of authors who wanted to be represented by me if I started an agency. So I did. The fact that Edmund fired me was the best thing ever to happen to me. I would never have had the courage to ask someone to stop paying me if he hadn’t. No one in my family had ever started a company. If I hadn’t been out of work for 6 months, dealing with lawyers it would never have occurred to me to do so.
You are also encouraging new blood into the publishing industry through your associations with UCLA postgraduate publishing course. Is this something you feel passionate about as much as discovering new writing talent?
Given my start in the industry, remembering how kind people were, and aware that it’s a much more difficult area to get work in now I think the least I can do is to encourage and help others into a business that has given me such a wonderfully satisfying lifestyle. I’ve been associated with other postgraduate publishing courses as well, and am always happy to talk to people wanting to get into the book world.
I am the only person in my company who doesn’t have a degree; many of my staff have several. I didn’t have to go through the purgatory of unpaid internships, which I think are morally indefensible: we pay our interns properly.
Whenever I can I try to introduce people to others in the industry who can be of use to them. We have actually employed more than a dozen of our interns over the years – it’s so much more successful than a 40 minute interview. We also have an annual get-together of all our past staff, past interns. It’s officially known as networking but we all know it’s a great gossip-fest. So great to see where people have moved on to. You might have heard of the singer Dido? She was my assistant for 4 years and was an ace at selling serial rights!
Her parents were both publishers. I work with her mother at Rainbirds in the 60s, sold books to her father when he was running Sidgwick decades later. He and I used to lunch together and regarded ourselves as in-laws while she was working for me. When she resigned ‘to spend more time on her music’ I gave her a very motherly speech. ‘Can’t guarantee to keep your job open Dido.’ I don’t think she’s ever wanted to come back to publishing again …
I do quite a lot of public speaking – at literary festivals, conferences (I’m an honorary vice-president of the RNA, a member of the HNS) and I teach a course on how to sell rights. I’ve been a board member of The Book Trade Charity, and its Chairman, and President over many years and am now a Patron.
Your guide ‘From Pitch to Publication’ is widely used throughout the publishing industry. How much of a challenge has it been to update it?
An extreme challenge, as you can tell from the fact that I’ve not managed to deliver it yet. It took Boxtree (later to become an imprint of Macmillan) several years to persuade me to agree to write it in the first place. And then I renegotiated the delivery date several times, in order not to be in breach of contract (how embarrassing would that have been for a literary agent?). Same has happened with the contracted update/new edition. My agency is SO much bigger & busier than it was when I delivered the original manuscript – 20 years ago! – and so much has changed. I now know what I want to write, what I need to update, what I need to add … but time is the enemy. My editor at Macmillan (a friend) is understanding … up to a point. I now so want to have this new manuscript behind me. There are so very many more ways to promote a book now (social media?!) and I am now writing it but in such small spaces of time.
You represent many of my favourite authors, but two especially. Could you share with us what it was that you loved so much about ‘Lady of Hay’ and the amazing Barbara Erskine? Likewise, when Elizabeth Chadwick’s first manuscript arrived on your desk did you instantly realise that you had found gold?
Two authors very close to my heart: both are good friends.
Barbara Erskine: I was already representing her short stories. She wrote many, and magazine editors around the world would line up for them. We had talked about an unusual novel she was thinking about writing. Two time periods, linked. We talked about it for a long time: years. I remember saying at the outset that it would be vital that every time, at the end of each chapter, the reader was required to move from present to past, from past to present, it must be a wrench. Each time period must be equally compelling, and hard to leave or the novel would be broken backed. Oh my … did she deliver. But although publishers and editors always ask for something new, a fresh voice – they always actually want something that is recognisable. I submitted the partial manuscript for 4 years. ‘I don’t know if it’s a contemporary novel, or a historical?’ Me: it’s both. ‘I don’t know if it’s a love story or a mystery?’ Me: it’s both. Every editor who arrived in a new job found the manuscript on their desk. When Maggie Pringle arrived at Michael Joseph in 1983, she read it, loved it, & recognised it as something fresh and new and exciting, and she was allowed to buy it even though it had been rejected twice by other Michael Joseph editors over the years. They auctioned paperback rights back then and it set a record for the highest paperback advance for a British first novel. This summer it celebrated 30 years continuously in print – quite something for a commercial novel. And it’s in print in many other languages too. In 2017 it will be celebrated for its 30th anniversary in German.
Barbara and I are friends. We’ve worked together for so long: we have even been on holiday together. That Nile cruise will never be forgotten. The only holiday that I’ve ever got a holiday-tie-in best-seller novel from – ‘Whispers in the Sand’! Barbara always stays with me at home when she’s in London overnight.
Elizabeth Chadwick: the early chapters of ‘The Wild Hunt’ arrived in the late 80s in a brown envelope – back in the days when submissions were made on paper, via snailmail. And back in the days when I opened my own mail every morning at my desk. I read it as soon as I opened the envelope and knew there was something very special in my hand. A few weeks later I had sold it, via auction, to hardback and paperback publishers (back in the days before publishers always published in both formats themselves.)
‘The Wild Hunt’ won a Betty Trask award, and Prince Charles was the person giving out the prizes for The Society of Authors that year. That was quite a memorable evening!
As with Barbara, this led to publishing success and a long and on-going friendship. Elizabeth stays with me when she’s in London too, and we often talk into the small hours.
I think it is unfair to ask you which are your favourite books or authors, but of all the novels you have read are there a few characters that really stayed with you? If so, why?
There’s no way I could choose between novels by my clients – I represent them all because they are so original, and so special. It would be like asking a mother to choose between her children! Not that I think of my best-selling authors are children for one moment. But the novels – apart from those written by my clients – that always stay with me are Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot (I finished it on a no 16 bus going round Marble Arch roundabout in the late 60s, crying my eyes out), and Alain Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes. A haunting work.
You have travelled extensively in your work, but where do you enjoy going to relax and explore?
Italy, always Italy. I go for art, music, food (and Negronis!), shopping. Venice, in particular if I had to pin it down more narrowly. I was lucky enough to take a sabbatical earlier this year and I spent 5 weeks in Italy: Florence, Siena, Padua, Mantua, Venice. Absolutely heaven.
Is it your love of detail that first led you to becoming a collector of dolls’ houses and miniatures (OOAK)? Where did this begin? How is the collection growing?
I’ve always loved houses, furniture, interior decoration. My home is full now so miniatures are the way I buy furniture. I dare not add up the number of miniatures I own … they are stored in many boxes, and I’ve had to forbid myself to buy more until I’ve finished building the 5 floor Regency house which will be taller than me. And I’m forbidden to do any more work on that until I’ve delivered my next book. In addition to that house, I have a Georgian hand made one that I bought already finished. That is fully furnished. I also own an antiquarian bookshop which I made from a kit. Every book is real; they can be opened and read (with a magnifying glass). Most of them are miniature copies of real antique illustrated books that I buy from a particular maker whose work I really admire. I have more than 1000. And I have two more kits to build – they are going to become a row of shops. And then there is the greenhouse, and a conservatory, both full of flowers. My favourite collection though is mouth-blown cranberry glass. Five (miniature) cabinets full so far. The most satisfying thing I achieved myself, was laying a floor of terracotta tiles. Real tiles, 1:12 scale. Laying the tiles was easy: the grouting was murder, the air blue!
What other interests do you enjoy away from the world of publishing?
Early music – I still buy cds because I enjoy the booklets. I’ve got about 5000, all stored on a hard drive and easy to find. But I also like Meat Loaf (that’s Elizabeth Chadwick’s fault!). Art – I always make time to go to exhibitions. I find cooking very therapeutic, and always have freezers-full of home cooked food. I enjoy a variety of crafts – I make greetings cards, keep scrapbooks, make jewellery (I have 1000s of beads, and like to buy them on my travels), and I love taking photographs (check out my 56 Pinterest boards, and my Instagram posts!). I took 8000 photographs during the 5 weeks in Italy. And of course reading. I read a lot of non-fiction for relaxation as a change from the fiction that I work with. I love history, memoir, African wildlife (I’ve been to Africa on safari many times). And I collect books about the publishing industry. I’ve recently taken up knitting and crochet again. But there’s not a lot of time to fit these in around work!
You have achieved a great deal in your career, but what is next for Carole Blake?
I’ve got to make time to finish the new book. Then I can get back to (miniature) house building …
Thank you for the fascinating insight into your career and for sharing some personal photographs of your lovely miniature worlds!
London barrister and gentleman, Jerome Fender, has just returned to England after five years as a Captain in the killing fields of the Napoleonic Wars.
With the harrowing scenes of battle still haunting his every thought, he sets out to start a new life and to find a wife who will share it with him.
Meanwhile recently orphaned 21-year-old Miss Parthena Munro has also arrived at a North Yorkshire market town.
She has been sent away by her scheming sole relative, cousin Bertram, to be governess to a local family, only to find that the family has already moved away from the area.
Left stranded far from home with no job and no place to stay, Parthena encounters Mr Fender outside an inn, where she takes a chance to steal his money in a witless moment of desperation.
She whispers a promise to return the money one day and makes off across the wild Yorkshire moors.
But it’s not long before Fender catches up with her.
However, on learning of her plight they set out on a plan to seek justice against the wrongs plotted by Bertram.
With Jerome’s help, Parthena returns to her home to the great surprise of Bertram, who, thinking that Parthena, the rightful heir to the estate, was now out of the way, was about to clear his debts by selling the family estate.
Jerome endeavours to hatch a new plan to thwart Bertram, but Parthena’s rightful inheritance can only fall to her if she marries within the month.
Parthena and Jerome discover the flame of love has been kindled between them, but is it already too late?