An Interview with Louise Allen

A photo of Louise Allen

When did you first decide to become a writer or discover your love for the written word?

I’ve always had a vivid imagination and loved fiction but I think academic work knocked the urge to actually write it out of me. Then I started for all the wrong reasons – I was a librarian and saw how popular Mills & Boon novels were. I thought it would be easy money – idiotic of me, of course. However, by the time I sorted myself out and took it seriously I was hooked.

What appealed to you about the romance genre?

It is a great genre for exploring relationships, which is always interesting, and when I discovered historical romance, there was no stopping me – two passions in one!

Your research is impeccably thorough. At what point do you take a step back from it and begin to write the book?

Walks Through Regency London Cover LARGE EBOOKThe story and the characters have to come first, always, although some plot lines can be sunk from the start if the historical premise is incorrect – 18thc characters getting an easy divorce, for example or a sub-plot that involves getting from London to York in a day. Generally I know what I don’t know and therefore what to research – politics, for example. I’ve got a huge personal reference library. But once I know I have a plot that will work in a particular historical context then I leave the research until afterwards and go back to it so it doesn’t take over. When I wrote a story set in AD410 during the Sack of Rome (Virgin Slave, Barbarian King) I just left questions in red for bits I needed to check and went back to them to be sure my characters left Rome by the right gate onto the right road and I’d got the layout of a bath house correct and so on.

I also write historical non-fiction – Walking Jane Austen’s London (Shire), Walks Through Regency London (Kindle), Stagecoach Travel (Shire, July) and I’m working on something on the Great North Road at the moment, so I can channel the hard facts somewhere they won’t take over.

You must have visited some fantastic locations and discovered some unusual facts during your research. Could you share some of the most memorable with us?

Finding three of the houses that Jane Austen stayed in when she was in London was a thrill. Only one, in Covent Garden has a Blue Plaque, but I discovered the other two when I found a pamphlet about research that was done after the war which revealed that her brother Henry’s homes in Sloane Street and Hans Place were not demolished by the late Victorians, but simply refaced and had new upper floors added. The originals are still there under the later shell.

Practical research is great too – I took carriage driving lessons, for example and I’m about to go on a practical osteoarchaeology course handling real skeletons. Goodness knows when that will come in useful…

Do you have a strict writing routine?

Yes, or I’d never get anything done! I write every afternoon until I have hit at least the minimum number of words I need to do to make sure I finish a week before the deadline, and hopefully a few more. That way I have some time in the bank for catching flu or unexpected commitments.

How do you balance the need of keeping your work accessible to contemporary readers against your desire for historical accuracy?

I won’t distort history but it is possible to use it to appeal to contemporary readers. For example I tend to write heroines who are older and who have the freedom to act in a more assertive, interesting way. They may be widows, or following one of the career paths open to women at the time. Where there are strong differences in beliefs and norms between the time I am writing about and the present – the fact that many wealthy families in the 18th century owed their fortunes to slavery in the West Indies, for example – I simply avoid putting my characters into those situations. On the other hand, the ‘long Regency’, which is the period I usually write about, saw the beginnings of many of the freedoms we are concerned about now, or at least the fight for them. Education for women, abolition of slavery, prison reform, concern for child welfare can all be woven in to some plots and engage the sympathy of readers.

As the New Writers’ Scheme Organiser for the RNA, what key advice would you give to someone who wanted to break into the romantic fiction market?

Read widely in the genre you are interested in and do so analytically as well as for pleasure. What works, what doesn’t? Why? Then work at developing your own voice – there is no substitute for practice!

Please tell us about your latest release?

UnlacingMy latest book is Unlacing Lady Thea (Harlequin Mills & Boon. April). I got the idea for it when we took a small-ship cruise down the eastern coast of Italy. My heroine is no great beauty, and thoroughly practical with it (and I had some fun with the fact that, unlike many romantic heroines, she doesn’t fool the hero for a moment when she disguises herself as a boy). My hero begins the book seriously the worse for drink and talking to the kitchen cat. He’s so drunk that he agrees it would be a good idea to allow Thea to accompany him on his Grand Tour so she can join her godmother in Venice. By the time he sobers up, it is too late and he is stuck with escorting his childhood friend for whom, of course, he has no amorous feelings… None at all, he tells himself.

What is next for Louise?

Scandal’s Virgin is out in June and Beguiled By Her Betrayer, which is set in Egypt in 1801, is released in August. Stagecoach Travel comes out in July.

Currently I’m working on book three in a trilogy, provisionally called Battlefield Brides. Book one is by Sarah Mallory and book two by Annie Burrows. The three books are set before, during and just after the battle of Waterloo and will be released to coincide with the bicentenary of the battle in 2015.

More from Louise

Website: louiseallenregency.com
Blog: janeaustenslondon.com
Twitter: @LouiseRegency

An interview with Gwen Kirkwood

Welcome, Gwen!

Your warm-hearted family sagas are based in rural Scotland. When and where did your love affair with Scotland’s beautiful country and history begin?

I have three Scottish grandparents so I had a yearning to see Scotland for myself. I came to Dumfriesshire to work as a milk officer, inspecting dairy farms. The work was not as I had expected but the people were very friendly and I loved the warmth of the red sandstone buildings and the beautiful landscapes with fresh green hills and glens and lots of trees. I have never wanted to leave, especially not after I met and married my husband, a Scottish dairy farmer.

Are any of your wonderful characters based on real people or are they all purely of your own creation?

My characters are all fictional but I think writers must be influenced by people they have met, even if it is only subconsciously. I had a wonderful mother-in-law so a few of my older characters may have some of her kindness and wisdom. We can read of bad characters every day in the newspapers. I have three adult children who keep me up to date with the opinions of their generation. My grandchildren are of varying ages and I often include children. Writers keep on learning and developing and so do the characters but I have never written about a real person.

You took a six year career break. When you returned to your writing did you feel as if your work had changed at all?

I don’t think my writing changed. I still wrote another series of four in a family saga following the generations. My books are shorter, 100,000 words or less now, but that is due to the policy of different publishers.

To date, what has been the most memorable or significant event within your writing career?

I had written four short romances but it was a tremendous boost to my confidence when an agent sold my first long saga to Headline in a very short time. A good editor can have a big influence and Jane Morpeth helped me a lot.

Secondly, I rarely enter competitions but after a long gap from writing it was a lovely surprise to win the Elizabeth Goudge trophy in 2000 when it was resurrected by the RNA for the millennium. It was judged by Richard Lee of the Historical Novel Society.

What top tip would you give new writers wanting to become published writers in today’s market place?

Persevere. Try to write a little every day, even if it is only a couple of sentences. Keep a notepad handy. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of your characters, or improve your plot, while you are travelling, ironing, peeling the vegetables. Thinking time is important too. Listen to the advice of agents and editors, not friends. If you do self-publish pay a reputable copy-editor to check your work first.

You have seen many changes within the publishing industry. What do you think of the new emphasis on social networking and Internet presence?

Honestly? I hate it – well some of the time! I want to be left in peace to write, BUT writing used to be an isolated occupation so I am pleased we now have opportunities for keeping in touch with other writers, getting and giving help, as well as marketing. Networking has become essential so I do my best, but it can take up a lot of time.

Your new book Darkest Before the Dawn has a very strong cover. Can you tell us something about this novel and what inspired you to write it?

This is the fifth in a series of 5 novels beginning with Dreams of Home at the end of World War II. Darkest Before the Dawn brings the series up to present day with the third generation of the Caraford family. Two of the characters are quite young with problems belonging to their generation so it could almost be a young adult novel, although I did not set out to make it that way. However, it also brings farming up to date with robots for milking cows, arguments between the generations about changes, as well as an unexpected and rather satisfying love affair for two of the older characters.

Darkest Before the Dawn

Joe Lennox becomes bitter and deranged and blames Billy Caraford when his son is killed in a car accident, but Billy has lost his best friend and is badly injured himself. Despite the misgivings of his parents he is still determined to be a farmer. He summons his courage to go to university but privately he regards himself as a cripple now. He is convinced no woman could love him or want to be his wife.

Kimberley is orphaned when her father dies. She moves to Scotland with her aunt but she is nervous about changing schools until Billy helps her find new friends. Both Kim and her aunt become involved in the affairs of the Caraford family and as Kim grows into a lovely young woman she finds the strength of character to confront problems and fight for the life and the love she craves.

What is next for Gwen Kirkwood?

I am going back to the 1800’s and this will be a single novel rather than a series. It has less emphasis on farming but is still set in Scotland. No title yet.

My thanks for taking the time to answer the questions in such an honest and open way. I shall look forward to reading Darkest Before the Dawn when it is available later this month!

More by Gwen: