During November I appeared at a number of literary festivals with my friend and co-author the Duchess of York to talk about our collaboration on HER HEART FOR A COMPASS. I’ve never attended a book festival before (I know, shocking) never mind made an appearance at one, and I must admit I was pretty nervous, with no real idea what to expect. I was very much looking forward to getting the opportunity to meet readers though, and to share with them the fun we had working together.
Appearing in public with the Duchess is always an amazing experience. She is such a genuine, fun and kind person who lights up the stage, quite literally with her presence. It’s a real privilege to watch her work her magic, casting her spell and entrancing the audience. It was also fantastic to share with those various audiences the rather unconventional approach we took to writing together, and the very real bond that has grown between us. Having a few friends and family in the audience on each occasion helped too, and I am very, very grateful to them all for making the effort to come along and to give me some moral support.
We were ‘in conversation’ at each event, with three lovely and very different interviewers. Daisy Buchanan presided in Henley, a fellow writer and, I later discovered, the eldest of six sisters – and she’s written an excellent book on the subject too. When we walked into the tent and I saw what felt like an ocean of faces, I was suddenly quite sick with nerves, so much so that while I was frantically studying the audience while the introductions were being made in search of my sister and my friend, I didn’t even see them sitting in the front row right under my nose. Daisy was charming, and her enthusiasm for the book made it a pleasure to talk about it, to share some insider secrets and to share a little detail of our second, upcoming book too, but it was the signing that I really enjoyed. Hearing so many people enthuse about the book and about my amazing co-author really brought home to me what an extraordinary collaboration this has been. I think of the Duchess as my friend and fellow author, I forget that she’s also extremely famous and has achieved such an enormous amount with her many charities, touching so many hearts in the process.
In Harrogate at the Raworths Literary Festival, we were interviewed by the journalist and author Mark Lawson, whose voice I know from the Radio Four arts programme Front Row. He allowed me to get on my soap box a little bit about the preconceptions many people have about Mills & Boon, which I enjoyed very much! Not a single male in my family has read any of my fifty-odd books, I said, until my brother, who was in the audience, read this one – and thoroughly engaged with it too. Interestingly, at each of the three signings, there were quite a number of men who had either read or planned to read the book. I count that as a major achievement.
Finally, in Yeovil, we were interviewed by another writer of woman’s fiction, Lulu Taylor. This event took place in a theatre, so my stage fright went up a serious notch as we walked on – my first time ever on a stage, since I was an angel in the background in a primary school nativity play. But Lulu, like the other two interviewers, made it obvious that she had loved the book and really wanted to dig deeper into certain aspects, and of course, there’s nothing that the Duchess and I like better to do that to share our love for writing and working together. Once again at the signing, the warmth of the audience, their enthusiasm for books and for the Duchess, really was heart-warming.
In-between Henley and Harrogate, Mills & Boon arranged for the Duchess and I to meet four readers who had entered a competition to meet us for afternoon tea, and that really brought home to me how vital books have been during lockdown. Escaping from the real world into a book is something I do myself all the time, and it might sound strange, but I forget that other people do that too, some of them with the romances I’ve written. I was genuinely humbled and truly thrilled to hear these four lovely ladies talking about our book, and what they’d taken from it. I wish we had the chance to sit down and talk to readers like this. I hope that the Historical Book Club that the Duchess of York has just launched with Mills&Boon will enable this (and can I just give a little shout out here, for my book THE EARL WHO SEES HER BEAUTY which was the first book of the month, yay!).
It’s been a whirlwind of a time, exciting and challenging, incredibly rewarding, but exhausting too, and at times a little bit scary. Like so many of us, I’ve been staying close to home and keeping away from busy places since the pandemic took hold. Being out and about in the world and meeting people, friends and strangers has been amazing but it’s impossible not to be always conscious of the virus lurking. No matter how much care the organisers take, you’re always on the alert. There are very different rules in England and Scotland – about face coverings, for example, so simply crossing the border from north to south in a train, with people taking their masks off as soon as we reach Carlisle, is very odd. I flew to Bristol for the Yeovil event, my first time on a plane for about three years. It wasn’t that I felt unsafe, but simply that I had the nagging feeling that I was doing something dangerous.
Back home, I have put all my posh home-made dresses that I’ve been showcasing at each event back in the wardrobe, to don my new favourite dungarees and fluffy socks. I’m settling into what I love more than anything, which is writing. But when I get stuck, or fed up, or think that nobody will ever read this, or want to read anything I’ve ever written again, I know that remembering all these lovely readers I’ve met will keep me going and sustain me!