Today I’m celebrating a huge personal milestone – the official release of my 50th book for Harlequin Mills&Boon. Just in case you’ve missed the song and dance I’ve been making here and on my other social media this week (seriously, where have you been?), A Wife Worth Investing In is out now in print and digital, in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia.
I’ve covered the story behind how I came to write my first book, The Wicked Lord Rasenby, in an earlier blog. By sheer coincidence, it was actually published in the UK exactly ten years ago this month. As you can see, the Mills&Boon covers have changed just a little bit since then! That first book and indeed the second (The Rake and the Heiress) were what I’d call classic ‘old school’ Regency stories, but I very quickly realised that I liked to apply my own twist to the genre, and that I enjoyed experimenting too. Like the covers of my books, my writing has evolved significantly in the last decade.
A massive influence and a hidden star in my firmament is my editor, Flo Nicoll. Ours is, in my book (ha!) a marriage made in heaven. We get each other. We know each other well enough to be frank, and that mutual trust is something I value more than anything. Flo tells me when something isn’t working, she pushes me to make something already good even better, and very often what happens is that in unravelling something, I come up with ways to improve it even further. The result is the best book it can be. Flo has also been instrumental in giving me so many opportunities to experiment, from on-line reads to writing so many varied shorts for the now sadly defunct Undone series. I’ve written shape-shifters and a Regency vampire, two 1920s talking heads, a Scottish witch, and a romance set on board the Titanic amongst others for that series, learning an enormous amount about making every word a prisoner, and enjoying it all hugely too.
Through Flo, I had the opportunity to work on the Castonbury Park series, writing one of eight stories with seven other authors. All were set in the same grand house featuring the same family. We authors never met, we lived and worked in several different time zones, so you can imagine this series was quite a challenge. Through it, I ‘met’ Bronwyn Scott, and we discovered that our writing and thinking was very much in tune. We’ve gone on to collaborate on the Brockmore Parties series, and had such fun working together, we’ve recently completed a new duet, An Invitation to a Cornish Christmas, which will be released in October this year.
‘Write what you know’ is certainly something I’ve embraced, incorporating favourite places, favourite history and some of my own passions such as cooking and dressmaking into my stories. But I’ve also ventured into writing what I don’t know – reluctantly at first, I have to admit – when it came to my romances set in Sheikh-land (which I’ve blogged about recently here). To my astonishment, I discovered I loved the world-building aspect, and as an added bonus, I found that far from having to team up a subservient heroine with a domineering sheikh, what I had to do was fiest-up my heroines in those stories so that they could stand up for themselves and hold their ground in order to see the real man behind the cloak.
My heroines have become more and more fiercely independent as the books have passed, and I can’t imagine now, writing one who didn’t fight for the right to live life her way. My recent Procurer series, Matches Made in Scandal, takes this to a whole new level, with four extremely independent women who are not only determined to earn a living for themselves, but who are each in their own way outcasts from society.
Ah, society! I have not exactly left it behind, but it makes more and more fleeting appearances in my stories these days. I have a penchant for a self-made hero as well as an independent heroine, and even the princely sheikhs in my Hot Arabian Nights series were men who would rather not rule a kingdom, thank you very much, but would much prefer to stick to their own chosen paths. I loved writing Iain Hunter, a man from the Glasgow slums and hero of Unwed and Unrepentant. I had great fun with his colourful Weegie dialect, and set myself a challenge to see how much of it I could work into the story. (Quite a lot, including eejit and arse!) The ultimate accolade was an email from a Glaswegian reader telling me I’d nailed it.
Hearing from readers is one of the great and wonderful rewards of being a writer – even when the feedback is not so good, as long as they tell me why they thought so. Out of all the books I’ve written, the trilogy of First World War stories, Never Forget Me, is, I think, the one that I’m most proud of (and which has my very favourite cover). Writing romance set against the backdrop of such a conflict was a huge challenge. I didn’t want to sideline the conflict, there was no way I could make it anything other than the tragic global horror that it was, but I did want to show that good things can come out of bad. I still have the letter (a real letter!) a reader from New York sent me, and it still touches my heart when I read it. To be told that what you’ve written of the experiences of one character was so reminiscent of a real life person, and to be told that you did what you set out to do, write a romance that still told the story of the pity of war, to use the historian Niall Ferguson’s phrase, is something I’ll never forget.
Writing this, and reviewing the last decade as I write, I’m a bit stunned, to be honest. There’s a bit of me that doesn’t quite believe it has all happened to me. I’m a published author. I’ve written fifty books. And people still actually want to read them too! In the author note at the front of book fifty, I say that my chef heroine Phoebe is living my dream of cooking for a living. It’s true, that’s what I set out to do more than ten years ago when I quit the rat race and set out on a belated gap year. But in fact Phoebe isn’t living my dream, I’m living it myself, writing Phoebe’s story and then her sister Estelle’s story and now her Aunt Kate’s.
So a huge thank you to Flo for being the most fabulous editor in the world. But maybe even more importantly, a huge thank you to you, for reading, for reviewing, for chatting on social media and for helping to pick me up on the days when I think I simply can’t do it. Thank you for your support and your criticisms, for your help in naming characters, and for just being around to keep me company. I’ve met some of you in person. I hope I’ll meet lots more of you in the next ten years and the next fifty books too!
To celebrate the release of A Wife Worth Investing In, I have two giveaways running from today, one here and one over on my Facebook author page. Both open to all, and you can enter one or both.
On this particular giveaway, I’m offering a first prize of matching tea and coffee cosies made by my own fair hands, and a signed print copy of A Wife Worth Investing In. Two runners up will win a digital copy of the book.
How to enter? I’ve talked a lot about how my writing has evolved in the last ten years. All you have to do to enter is to tell me what changes you’d like to see in the next ten years, either in Romanceland generally or from me.
(Please note, if you’ve not commented here before I will have to authorise you. If your comment doesn’t appear, don’t worry, it just needs me to okay it.)
I’ll announce the winners here on Monday 3rd June. Good luck.