Today 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.
When Virginia Heath was a little girl it took her ages to fall asleep, so she made up stories in her head to help pass the time while she was staring at the ceiling. As she got older, the stories became more complicated, sometimes taking weeks to get to the happy ending. Then one day, she decided to embrace the insomnia and start writing them down. But it still takes her ages to fall asleep.
❤️ Lilian And The Irresistible Duke
A reunion in Rome…
Sparks an affair to remember!
Part of Secrets of a Victorian Household. Responsible widow Lilian Fairclough is persuaded to travel to Rome for a hard-earned break and to let down her hair! She’s surprised to be reunited with passionate, cynical Italian duke, Pietro Venturi. He reawakens her sensual side and intrigues her with glimpses of pain beneath his rakish surface. Enticed into a secret and temporary affair – what will happen once she returns home?
Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey, please?
I used to be the Head of History at an outer London Secondary school, and I was forever telling my students I was going to write a book one day. I’ve been a bookworm since I could read, but coming from a working-class family, my parents always laughed at the idea of a girl like me becoming a writer. Then again, they never aspired for me to be a teacher either. Their biggest ambition for me was to do a secretarial course so that I would never have to do menial jobs like they did. Whilst I don’t blame them for their lack of encouragement, because they meant well, I could never shake the dream of writing. The older I got, the more I longed to do it. Unfortunately, thanks to the heavy workload of a teacher, I never had the time. Eventually, I realised I would have to do something drastic to make my dreams come true- so I did. I quit my job!
To make ends meet, I did supply teaching for three days a week and wrote for the other two. It took me four months to finish that first book and I was so proud of myself I was so proud of myself I immediately sent it to publishers and agents everywhere. I think I sent it to 46 people in total and only 6 bothered getting back to me with very uninspiring ‘don’t call us— we’ll call you’ type letters. I cannot deny, that really knocked my confidence, but as I had dreamed of writing books since I was a little girl, I picked myself up and continued. Everybody claims they want to write a book, but it takes persistence, dedication and a very thick skin to actually do it! I wrote two more books, neither of which I dared send anywhere. I treated them like a training course, learning from my mistakes and finding my voice. Then one day whilst vacuuming, a title popped into my head— That Despicable Rogue— and I liked it so much I started to write the book. From the outset it felt different to my previous efforts, it flowed and I wrote the entire thing in just six weeks. I entered it into the Harlequin So You Think You Can Write Competition, which meant uploading it onto a free book portal called Wattpad for the general public to vote on. Within a week, over a thousand people had read it and voted for it. My little book was really doing well. Then I read the T&Cs and discovered the book couldn’t be sent elsewhere- but if I had already submitted it to them outside of the competition, that would be fine. Being a belt and braces sort of girl, I decided to submit it separately to the editorial team where somebody picked it up out of the slush pile and bought it! Not only that, they offered me a two-book contract. All in all, it took 18 months for my lifelong dream to finally come true. Since then, there has been no stopping me. I am currently writing book 18. Seeing my books on the shelves in shops and libraries never gets old.
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 originally tried to sign up for the wonderful New Writers’ Scheme in 2015 but was a day too late, so had to wait till the September of that same year when I got my first publishing contract to join as a full member. The RNA was a revelation to me because up to that point, the only writer I knew was me. Suddenly, I was part of a vibrant, friendly and supportive organisation filled with people just like me. I’m a joiner-inner at heart and threw myself into it, attending Chapter meetings in both London and Chelmsford, and then my first conference which also coincided with the publication of my debut novel. Then, the cherry on the cake was being shortlisted for the RNA’s Romantic Novel of the Year award in 2017 for The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide. That meant a lot. Four years on from my first contract and I am on the RNA committee and I organise all of their big social events. I also present regular workshops at the annual conference. Its nice to be able to give something back.
What was the inspiration behind your latest release?
Rome! I love the city and always wanted to set a book there. However, as the book is set in the 1840s I had to do quite a bit of research to make sure the Rome in my story was correct for the tie period. Thankfully, it has such a long, rich history, many of the iconic sights had been there for millennia. I made my Italian hero an expert on the Renaissance artists- Michelangelo in particular. My heroine is English and, because I adore the social history of my native London, she runs an institute for destitute women back home but has been sent on a well-earned adventure by her family to see the art and history she has always dreamed of.
Do you find it hard to let your characters go when you finish writing the book?
Sometimes. Although its more the side characters which niggle than the main protagonists of the last story. They already have their happily ever after. A classic case of this evolved out of my Wild Warriners series. In two books, there were two characters who had never met but who I knew would be perfect for one another. She was a confident and spoiled society beauty, on the surface at least, and he was a shy spy who was absolutely useless with women. I decided to throw them together and, unwittingly, my King’s Elite series was born.
What was your favourite read of 2019?
The Warrior’s Bride Prize by Jenni Fletcher. I should confess here she is also a friend but I adore her writing. And clearly so do others as the book went on to be shortlisted for the RNA’s prestigious Romantic Novel of the Year Award too.
Do you read other romance authors and who would you recommend?
Where to start? I adore Nora Roberts. She is my writing idol. Her plots and characters are always so absorbing. Julia Quinn because its thanks to her Regency romantic comedies that I became hooked on the genre and began writing them myself. Tessa Dare, Sabrina Jeffries, Janice Preston, Lara temple. Jackie Collins obviously, alongside Penny Vincenzi. They were staples in my formative years. Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold series. Julie Anne Long’s pennyroyal Green series. Medieval and Viking authors Nicole Locke, Harper St George and Elisabeth Hobbes. Regency authors Laurie Benson, Connie Brockway, Janna Macgregor and Catherine Tinley. And Susan Elizabeth Phillips. She always makes me laugh.
Was there a point in your life that a book helped you get through, if so which one?
Books have always been my stress reliever and my most stressful job was teaching. Not because of the kids who I loved— but the politics, admin and crushing workload you have to also negotiate. Therefore, school holidays always began with several days of decompressing binge reading. If I had to pick one book— then it would have to be The Moon’s a Balloon by Hollywood actor David Niven. Its such a good book and has become an old friend. If I’m down in the dumps, I reach for that one and it never fails to make me smile.
Is there anyone that you would like to mention and thank for their support of your writing?
My lovely publishers Harlequin Mills & Boon. They have been so supportive, especially my editor Linda Fildew. It is thanks to them my stories are published all over the world.
If you had the power to give everyone in the world one book, what would it be and why?
Montana Sky by Nora Roberts. It’s a masterpiece. 3 simultaneous romances, 1 crazy serial killer and a twist you won’t see coming.
What are you working on now?
A Regency Christmas story for December, then who knows. Ideas tend to just come to me out of the blue once a book is finished and before I know it I’m off again. I can’t plot. I tend to see the story like a film live as a type. I’m weird like that. However, there are two more releases coming out in 2020. Redeeming the Reclusive Earl involves a genius heroine with a penchant for archaeology and a tortured hero who is hiding from the world. It’s out in April. Then in the Summer The Scoundrel’s Bartered Bride revolves around a returned Botany Bay convict and a forbidden first love. Both very different stories but I thoroughly enjoyed writing them!
Lastly, do you have any questions for your readers?
If you could only recommend one book to the world, which would it be and why?
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❤️ Final Thoughts
Thank you to Virginia for taking part in my special feature.
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