Welcome back, Nicola!
Thank you very much! It’s a pleasure to be here.
What have you been doing since you stepped down from being chair of the RNA?
It was only after I stepped down at RNA Chair that I truly realised what an intense two years it had been so the first thing I did was to go on a long holiday, which was a wonderful break and also a way of marking the end of what had been a very important and significant part of my writing life. Then I came back and got stuck into my latest manuscript which is a dual time novel set in the 15th century with the mystery of the Princes in the Tower at its heart.
The role of RNA Chair was one I enjoyed enormously and I did all I could to further the cause of romantic fiction during my time on the committee, but I was very happy to hand it on to the next generation of romantic fiction writers. They are doing a truly stellar job during the most difficult and unpredictable situation that could have hit us all and I admire them so much for it, and all the member of the RNA who are making this 60th anniversary year very special despite the challenges.
What was it about the protagonist’s story that attracted you to the lady behind The Forgotten Sister?
My dual time fiction centres on women whom I think of as being in the footnotes of history, those characters whose stories have been told usually from a male perspective or not at all. In this instance I was drawn to Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley who was, of course the favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Both Elizabeth and Dudley are big characters whose love story tends to dominate the narrative and Amy is usually portrayed, if she’s mentioned at all, as a helpless victim who dies in mysterious circumstances. I wanted to give Amy some agency and tell the story of her life and death from her own perspective, and also to look at how the legend and myths about her grew after her death.
There’s a room at Lydiard House in Swindon, where I am a trustee that is devoted to Lady Diana Spencer and her artistic work. The very first time I stepped into the “blue closet” as it’s known, I was enchanted by her drawings and the designs she did for Wedgwood. I went away to read more about her and her life. It was intriguing to discover that not only was she an ancestor of the late Princess of Wales as well as her namesake, but that their personal lives had some uncanny parallels.
For me the challenges are huge, firstly because I’m not by nature a planner but a dual time novel really does need careful plotting in order to weave the two timelines together successfully. Then there’s the challenge of fitting what is essentially two stories into one book and giving them both sufficient depth. Also, there is the issue of making sure that the present and the historical strands are both equally compelling. Most authors have a preference for writing one over the other but it’s our job to make sure the readers enjoy them both equally.
What do you do to stay fit – physically and mentally in this lock down situation?
I find that my physical and mental health are connected even more closely than usual at the moment. We’re all under enormous stress and living through an unprecedented situation and we all have to find the means to cope. I make sure that I take a walk each day – I’m fortunate to have a dog so I always have a walking companion and we’ve been exploring all the walks in our local area. I also do a Pilates class each week via zoom and an additional workout each week. That’s about the best I can do as I have an auto-immune condition that varies considerably from day to day in its effects; if I’m not feeling great, I will still go out and sit in the garden so I get fresh air and sunshine.
Mentally I find that having a schedule each day helps me to concentrate and I also limit the number of times I watch or read the news. Keeping in touch with friends and family remotely and having the dog to cuddle are the other two essentials for me!
How has the current situation affected the voluntary work you do with the Guide Dogs?
We’ve had to put our work with Guide Dogs on hold at present as it isn’t possible to train puppies in all of the things that they need to do with shops, libraries and other venues closed and travel at a minimum. Fortunately, it’s still possible to do plenty of training in things like obedience, and to keep dogs entertained and interested with other games and activities! There’s going to be a lot of work to do when we’re all allowed to go out again!
I wish you, your new novel and hope that you and guide dog, Lucy, stay safe and have lots of hugs!