Day six on my month-long Romantic Novelists Association feature. Each day in February I will have a different author on the blog, talking to me about their books. It is to help celebrate the sixtieth birthday of the RNA and to raise awareness of how it might be a great fit for you if you are an author. I hope you enjoy the features over the next few weeks. Be sure to give the authors a follow on social media and add the books you fancy from the selection of great authors to your own TBR.
💫Romantic Novelists Association
The Romantic Novelists’ Association was founded in 1960 to both celebrate, and demand respect for, romantic fiction. Founder members included Denise Robins, Barbara Cartland, Elizabeth Goudge, Netta Muskett, Catherine Cookson and Rosamunde Pilcher. The first President of the Association, Denise Robins, noted that although romantic fiction gave great pleasure to many readers, the writers almost felt they had to apologise for what they did. The RNA was going to put a stop to those apologies and, instead, celebrate and promote romantic authorship.
In 1966, an early Vice President of the association, Elizabeth Goudge, commented that ‘As this world becomes increasingly ugly, callous and materialistic it needs to be reminded that the old fairy stories are rooted in truth, that imagination is of value, that happy endings do, in fact, occur, and that the blue spring mist that makes and ugly street look beautiful is just as real a thing as the street itself.’
Today, the RNA continues to support and champion the authorship of romantic fiction that shows the value of imagination and the possibility of a happy ending and also celebrates the broader spectrum of romantic fiction that explores the more challenging aspects of relationships and human experience.
Vivien originally trained in finance and banking, but later spent many years working with young children and their families in libraries and children’s centres, providing storytimes and other fun reading experiences and leading parental training sessions on the importance of reading with children. She has had three women’s contemporary novels, ‘Lily Alone’ , ‘Five Unforgivable Things’ and ‘No Sister of Mine’ published by One More Chapter, all with domestic drama/ family relationship themes. Vivien lives in Middlesex with her husband and two cats. She has IVF twin daughters, now grown-up, and two young granddaughters who keep her busy and entertained. When not writing she loves reading, watching TV quizzes, hospital shows and period dramas, and tackling and compiling tricky crosswords, many with personalised clues which clients commission as gifts. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a fellow of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ) for whom she administers the members’ competition programme and social media feeds.
💫 No Sister of Mine
Two sisters, both emerging into womanhood … But they couldn’t be more different.
While Eve is the mature and sensible one, Sarah is headstrong and desperate for a taste of real life.
When Eve brings a new face home for the holidays, Sarah does something that will change both of their lives forever. Something that Eve can never forget – or forgive.
But life won’t keep them apart forever and decades later, one of them will have to choose whether to put the past behind her, or to hold on to hate forever…
This is an enthralling novel of searing domestic suspense and family secrets, perfect for readers of Sally Hepworth, Liane Moriarty, and Adele Parks.
Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey, please?
I started my writing career while still working full-time. Using my then name of Vivien Hampshire, I wrote a 150-word paragraph that won the Mail on Sunday ‘Best Opening to a Novel’ competition in 1993 and I came second in the same competition three years later. I met the judges, Fay Weldon, Sue Townsend and James Herbert, and although I finished both novels, neither was ever published. Since then I have sold more than 140 short stories to UK women’s magazines and 250 articles about working with children to professional nursery and childcare magazines, and had two novels and a pocket novel published as Vivien Hampshire, along with a non-fiction book on how to ‘crack’ cryptic crosswords. Once my children had left home I wanted to have another go at full-length fiction and started writing novels again, using my new married name of Vivien Brown.
Can you tell us how you became involved with the Romantic Novelists Association and what it means for you to be part of it?
I had heard a lot about the RNA’s scheme for new writers and joined in 2012. My first NWS critique was for a ‘partial’ and was very discouraging and disappointing, so I asked for another reader to take a look. Luckily she liked it much better than the first, so I decided not to give up. It was at the 2016 conference that I pitched two completed novels to two different editors in one-to-one sessions, and both were taken up – although funnily each sold to the ‘other’ editor, so I was not a very good judge of who might like what! I graduated from the NWS in January 2017, as soon as the first of those novels (a romcom) was published in ebook by HQ. But it is the local chapter meetings, friendships with other writers, and attending the weekend conferences that have been the most enjoyable and useful things about RNA membership for me.
What was the inspiration behind your latest release?
No Sister of Mine is about the relationship and rivalry between two sisters. I enjoy exploring family dynamics, and come from a family packed with girls – every generation seems to produce pairs of sisters, with no brothers in sight, so I had a lot of experience to base my story on.
Do you find it hard to let your characters go when you finish writing the book?
Their story has been told, so I have always been happy to start again with a clean sheet and create new characters. That makes the first ‘spark’ of a new book quite exciting as I get to know these new people and what makes them tick, but in recent weeks I have been thinking about picking up some of the characters from Lily Alone and seeing what has happened to them in the last three or four years since that book ended.
What was your favourite read of 2019?
The Swap by Fiona Mitchell. IVF is a very important subject for me as I went through several cycles of it to have my own children, and wrote about a fictional IVF/multiple birth scenario in Five Unforgivable Things. The moral dilemma of Fiona’s book, where two babies end up with the wrong parents after a mix-up with the embryos at the clinic, really intrigued me. Would I swap the baby I had taken home and cared for if I found out three years later that it was not my biological child? Knowing that my own child was out there somewhere, with another family? It’s a tricky one!
Do you read other romance authors and who would you recommend?
I read huge numbers of other romance and women’s fiction authors, many of them now my friends. It helps me to keep on top of what is popular, what is being written and sold, but also I love that kind of book, so reading them is a great pleasure too. I love books by Milly Johnson, Elaine Everest, Paige Toon, Lindsey Kelk, Iona Grey, Veronica Henry, Jean Fullerton… so many I can’t list them all.
Was there a point in your life that a book helped you get through, if so which one?
In times of teenaged angst and all the ups and downs of early love, I always turned to Leonard Cohen – his songs, his poetry collections and his novels. The words seemed to resonate with me, and still do. His death a couple of years ago hit me hard, knowing there would be no more, as if an old friend had been lost.
Is there anyone that you would like to mention and thank for their support of your writing?
My GCE English teacher, Mr Shearn, who encouraged my writing, gave me high marks that helped build my confidence as a writer and awoke the flame! He is probably long dead and will never know how fondly he is remembered, but thanks anyway.
If you had the power to give everyone in the world one book, what would it be and why?
A really good dictionary! I love words, discovering their meanings and origins, and everyone should have access to the richness of their own language and a way to ensure they use correct spelling.
What are you working on now?
I am at the editing stage of my fourth book for One More Chapter, which still doesn’t have a title but should be published later in 2020. It’s about two women who swap homes for a month which puts one of them, unwittingly, in great danger.
Lastly, do you have any questions for your readers?
Not a question, but a thank you, for picking up my books when there are so many thousands to choose from, and for the lovely reviews. We writers would not have the career we love without our readers.
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💫 Final Thoughts
Thank you to Vivien for taking part in my special feature.