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Catherine with her dog, Carey

Romance Matters – no more sneering!

FeaturedRomance Matters – no more sneering!

Those of us who love romance – writing it, reading it, watching romantic TV shows or films – can sometimes feel rather ‘sneered at’. Romance often seems to generate snobbishness from some who prefer literary forms they consider more pure, more worthy, or simply ‘better’. Interestingly, this seems to happen not just to romance but to other perfectly valid genres such as science fiction and fantasy.

Does it, though, happen more often to genres read mostly by women? ‘Chick lit’, ‘women’s fiction’, and ‘romance’ are sometimes made to feel lesser, and without, in my view, any real justification. The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a bad book. A book may be well-written, or badly-written. It may be subjectively more enjoyable, meaningful, or interesting to a particular reader. That’s fine. My books have attracted a wide range of reviews, from “wonderful” to “didn’t enjoy this at all”. That’s also fine. [I do try not to read negative reviews though, as they do sometimes dent my confidence.]

Review of ‘A Waltz with the Outspoken Governess’. Click the image above to read the first few chapters for FREE

So when I was asked to take part in a BBC documentary exploring what it’s like to write for Mills & Boon, I hesitated. What would the tone be? I asked. They assured me that it would be interested, light, respectful, and that there was no intention to poke fun or criticise romance. So I agreed, as did my two fellow M&B writers from N Ireland – Lynne Graham and Karin Baine.

I was interviewed in the Lisburn Road Library in Belfast by the lovely Eithne Shortall, herself a published writer, with some follow up (socially distanced) filming at my home a week or so later. I was reassured by Eithne’s line of questioning. She did ask the feminism question but was respectful, genuinely interested, and I saw it as a chance to counter some of the inaccurate messages that are out there.

While the documentary was at the editing stage, the promo began. The Belfast Telegraph contacted all three of us for a feature piece, which was reassuringly positive (despite an assumption that romance writers must naturally be addicted to demonstrations of romance in their own relationships 😀 ).

Click the image above to read the Belfast Telegraph article online

BBC Radio Ulster then got in on the action, and I did a short interview with writer and comedian Nuala McKeever, who began by asserting that romance is often met with eye-rolling. This, naturally, fired me up, and we went on to have a great chat about it all.

Click the image above to listen to the interview

Finally, the documentary itself aired. I must say I thought they did a great job. Lynne Graham (legend) came across really well – humble and grounded despite her phenomenal success. My friend Karin Baine did a great job talking about her work, and the editing didn’t make me look totally foolish. I’d call that a win!
My thanks to Feargal O’Kane, Eithne Shortall, and the whole crew.

Click the image above to play the documentary – will only work in BBC jurisdictions!

It has now been announced that Bridgerton is the biggest ever new series on Netflix, with a staggering 82 million viewers so far. This is especially exciting to me as a writer of historical romance – and Regency Romance in particular. People like this stuff!

Bridgerton, December 25 on Netflix

Romance is one of the top genres in fiction. A Mills & Boon/Harlequin book is bought somewhere in the world every ten seconds. People like it. There is no formula to the writing, beyond a central love story and a happy ending. As I tried to say in all of the recent press work, people enjoy a story that helps them feel good, and there is nothing wrong with that. Yes, sometimes we want to read a book or listen to music or watch a film/show that makes us think, or cry, or learn. But sometimes we just want an engaging story that ends with the goodies winning, the baddies getting their comeuppance and the couple together. And what is wrong with that? Not. One. Thing.

The Earl’s Runaway Governess

Who knew living with an Earl…

…would lead to such temptation?

Marianne Grant’s new identity as a governess is meant to keep her safe. But then she meets her new employer, Ash, Earl of Kingswood, and she immediately knows his handsome good looks are a danger of their own! Brusque on first meeting, Ash quickly shows his compassionate side. Yet Marianne doesn’t dare reveal the truth! Unless Ash really could be the safe haven she’s been looking for…


Read the first two chapters for free at http://bit.ly/EarlsRunawayGovernessSample


Harlequin cover, The Earl’s Runaway Governess

#RWA18 – Fun, friendship, and parties! (Part 2)

Collage RITAThursday evening, and time for the RITA® awards ceremony. This is the glitzy highlight of the RWA conference. Everywhere I looked, there were writers, publishers, editors, and agents, all done up in their finery. My first stop was at Harlequin’s Toast – a drinks reception before the main event. Harlequin Mills & Boon were well represented – here I am with some of the gang!

collage rita prep

From top: me with Bryony Green and Jo Grant from Harlequin Mills & Boon. Bottom: Me with Jo Grant; me with Karen Kincy (my roommate)

We had VIP tickets (they really go all out to make you feel special) and were seated near the front. The ceremony was slick and professional, and the winner announcements were punctuated by videos from members highlighting how important RWA was to them, and how members help each other through difficult times. Karen and I had a great time just simply being there.

collage ritas table

The lifetime achievement award went to Suzanne Brockmann, and she made a wonderful, impassioned speech about pushing the boundaries in romantic fiction. She herself was responsible for many groundbreaking moments, though met with resistance along the way. “How are readers ever going to expand their world view if they don’t get to meet characters like my adorable gay sheriff?” she said to her then editor. Love is love is love is love! was her conclusion. Powerful stuff.

Finally, it was time for the award for Best Historical Romance (short). Just beforehand, my heart suddenly began to race, as for the first time I contemplated the possibility of actually winning. They had advised us to prepare a speech regardless, but with seven finalists in my category, I honestly hadn’t anticipated it.

The winner was announced by Kelly Bowen, my buddy from the day before (she won the category last year, and won the Best Historical Romance (long) this year). It seemed to take ages to read out all the finalists, and then when Waltzing was announced as the winner, I was genuinely stunned!

Eventually I got it together enough to stand up, grab my notes and reading glasses, and head for the stage. Bryony Green from Harlequin came with me, as the editor of the winning book also gets and award. My own editor, the wonderful Julia Williams, wasn’t able to be there, so Bryony went on stage in her place.

I got through my speech ok, then Kelly gave me the award. It’s really heavy! I can’t quite express the sense of numb delight and incredulity that threatened to overcome me. I mean, a RITA! Seriously!

Here’s the link to the announcement and my speech:

screenshot announcement

Afterwards, there was a sense of unreality as I accepted congratulations from dozens of people, all the while with a stupid grin on my face! Both Kelly and Kait Nolan won their categories too, which was lovely.

kait nolan

Me with Kait Nolan

And then, heartstoppingly, Tessa Dare (yes, the Tessa Dare) came up to me to congratulate me and ask for a selfie! Seriously!

IMG_1770

I was chatting afterwards to Jess Russell, who was also a RITA finalist this year, and she was wearing the most amazing dress. It included the covers of every one of the RITA finalists!

Collage Jess Russell dress

The afterparty was fab – those romance writers certainly enjoy the dancing and the craic!

I chatted with some wonderful librarians, and danced away with a bunch of women I’d never met before. It was fab! Oh, and yes, by this time I’d changed into flat sandals.

librarians

Here’s Farrah Rochon’s clip of some of the dancing. Yup, that’s me!

This whole, marvellous experience wasn’t over yet. The next day I had meetings with agents (yes, I know, most writers have agents. I don’t – yet! But I will), then all the Harlequin Historical authors, plus some of the lovely Harlequin team, got together for lunch.

collage HH lunch

Top row: Bronwyn Scott, Julia Justiss, Flo Nicholl, Christine Merrill, Sheila Hodgson,
Middle row: all of us together
Bottom row: Bryony Green, Liz Tyner, me, Vic Briton, Blythe Gifford

The partying wasn’t over yet. Friday night was the time for the (apparently famous) Harlequin party. Even more exciting, the Harlequin RITA winners & finalists, and authors celebrating a landmark book, were invited to a VIP reception beforehand. This was such fun! Fabulous food (risotto to die for!), free makeup artists and hairdressers, and the chance to mingle with Harlequin’s top executives!

collage HMB VIP reception

Then it was time to party! Harlequin thoughtfully provided soft blue socks to dance in, and you can see lots of partygoers wearing them. The dancefloor filled as soon as the music began, and didn’t empty all night. I likened it to an Irish wedding in that sense – and also the feeling that you could dance with anyone, whether you’d spoken to them before or not. My particular dancing buddies included Abby Green, Katherine Garbera, Stacy Boyd, Kimberley Troutte, Scarlet Wilson, and Joss Wood.

I tried to video us all joining in with the chorus of ‘Living on a Prayer’ but facebook has muted half of it for copyright reasons. Skip forward to the last 20 seconds to hear us singing!

What a night! What a week! And what an experience! It was a-ma-zing! I will never forget it.

To other writers – if you ever get the chance to go to this conference, do it! Such a warm, welcoming community of (mostly) women. Although the RITA experience will probably never happen again, still the conference itself is worth it. Next year it’s in New York, in the last week in August. I’ll be there, dancing shoes at the ready!

#RWA18 – Fun, friendship, and parties! (Part 1)

RWA18 badge (2)Hi All,

I’ve recently returned home from #RWA18 – The Romance Writers of America annual conference. What a wonderful event! Almost 2000 delegates, plus RWA staff, and associates including publishers, editors, marketing experts, and agents.

There is so much to say that I plan to write two blog posts – Part 1 is BR (Before the RITA® awards) and Part 2 is AR (After the RITAs) 😀

I confess, the fact that Waltzing with the Earl was a double finalist in the awards was the motivation for me to be brave and fly to Denver, Colorado from Ireland. I didn’t know any of the writers who would be there, had no roommate, and hadn’t travelled to the USA since 1993.

I found a roommate – Karen Kincy – via the event forum, and we hit it off really well. (Check out her work via www.karenkincy.com)

The workshops were amazing – I learned so much! The AGM was really interesting – I totally agree that we need to ensure diversity in the genre, and that we need to continually find the most effective ways of supporting all romance writers – including unpublished writers.

Along with all the other RITA® finalists, I was treated like royalty all week! People were constantly spotting my silver RITA pins and ‘RITA Finalist 2018‘ badge, and congratulating me. It was just wonderful.

On the Wednesday I attended a special reception for the RITA and Golden Heart finalists. [The Golden Heart awards are for unpublished writers.] We all got special certificates to recognise our achievement. I buddied up with two other RITA finalists – Kelly Bowen and Kait Nolan. We were all in different categories.

cert collage 2018

That evening, there was a free party – Harlequin were launching a new initiative called ReadBliss – an online video forum for all things Romance. It isn’t yet live, but it sounds exciting! They videoed us answering a series of questions about romance – should be interesting to see when it’s all edited together. At the party, as well as food, drink, and lots of chat, they had a Wheel of Fortune to win Read Bliss goodies, and two therapists were on hand offering free massages!

On to Thursday, and the Harlequin book signing. I met lots of other Harlequin Historical authors for breakfast, and just before the signing we did two facebook live videos, which was great fun!

HH breakfast
  L to R: Bronwyn Scott, Catherine Tinley, Julia Justiss, Blythe Gifford, Liz Tyner, Christine Merrill

Here are the links to the live videos: facebook live 1 facebook live 2

collage hqn signing

At 3pm we had the rehearsal for the RITA awards ceremony. We managed to grab a quick photo with most of the finalists in my category (Historical Romance – short). They had told us all to prepare a speech but I don’t think any of us were even thinking about who might win – being a finalist was awesome enough already!

rehearsal

It was now 4pm, and I had to be at the Harlequin drinks reception by six. So being smart (or so I thought), I had booked an appointment at a local hairdressers, feeling that going to a major awards ceremony as a finalist justified the treat!

Unfortunately, I was just getting my hair washed when the fire alarm went off! My hairdresser rinsed off the conditioner quickly, then we all stood in the street for twenty minutes while the Denver Fire Department checked the building. Eventually we got the all clear, but by the time I was done I was a) late and b) unhappy with what the hairdresser had done. I’m not particularly fussy, but honestly, I’d done a better job when I’d blow-dried my own hair the day before.

So there I was, stressed and rushing. I got back to the hotel at 6:05pm, and of course the foyer was full of beautiful women in gorgeous evening dresses! I slunk upstairs, and got ready in double quick time. Dress, necklace, a little make-up, stuck a fancy clip in my hair to disguise the mess, then the shoes. Or, more accurately, stilts. I took a deep breath and headed downstairs, my roommate Karen with me as my plus one. It was 6:15pm.

Time for the RITAs ceremony!

 

 

To be continued…