Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Author Spotlight - Kate Walker

Today we welcome 'Queen Kate' as she is affectionately known in romance writing circles. Kate Walker has published more than fifty novels for Harlequin Mills & Boon, and is the author of the must-have book for all aspiring writers, 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. Thanks for joining us here today Kate.

Where were you in your writing career 5 years ago?

I had to go to my web site to check on this! 2005 was an interesting year for me – I had a couple of new projects. One was my trilogy, The Alcolar Family. The came from an on-line read I wrote for eHarlequin, called Wife For Real. When that went live in 2004, the hero had two brothers and a sister. The readers wanted to know their stories and so I wrote The Alcolar Family (The Twelve-Month Mistress, The Spaniard’s Inconvenient Wife and Bound by Blackmail) was the result. The Twelve Month Mistress was short-listed for Best Harlequin Presents by Romantic Times that year.

I also did a project with the would-be writers on eHarlequin which was a Writing Round Robin where I wrote the first chapter of a story, members of the community wrote the next one and sent in their entries. The winner’s chapter was published on line, and then after four episodes, I rounded the story off. This story has been made into a free download on eHarlequin and apparently it has been on of their most downloaded titles ever since.

I remember I also had a change of editor in that year – one of many! I’ve lost count how many editors I’ve had but I think it’s about 15. And I was celebrating 20 years as a published author.

Where did you get the idea from for this particular book?

My editor rang me up with the idea they had had for a mini series. ‘It’s a bit different,’ she said, ‘. . .a bit of a challenge.’ Well, I’m always ready for a challenge, and when I heard about this one I was really intrigued. It was a mini-series of books based on the ancient Classic Greek Myths, updating them to fit into the Modern Romance line.

I wasn’t sure what story to Modernize, but then I remembered the story of Odysseus. A man who goes missing for years and whose wife waits at home, never knowing if he is coming back or not. That was just the inspiration I needed. It was the sort of story that fitted perfectly into the Modern Romance line–up. Of course there were some things I needed to change slightly. Odysseus was a King who had gone off to the Trojan Wars and he didn’t return for over ten years. That might have worked in ancient times, but would be more difficult today.

Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

Still writing romance ! Five years ago, I was counting down(or do I mean counting up?) to my 50th title. Now I’m looking at my 60th – in 5 years time it would be great to be looking at my 70th or even 75th! But no matter how many titles I’ve published I will be really happy if my books are still selling in as many countries worldwide as they are now, still being reprinted and still being enjoyed by readers. I’m celebrating 25 years published now so hopefully I’ll be celebrating 30 years then.

Which was the last book you read that you wish you'd written?

The last one? I can’t recall a recent title– except that whenever I read a romance by Michelle Reid, Liz Fielding or Anne McAllister I often wish I’d written that! I also wish I’d written The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart (one of my great inspirations – see below) or Dorothy Dunnett’s Game of Kings series.

Was there any particular author or book that made you want to be a writer?

As a child I lived near Haworth where the Bronte sisters lived and where they wrote their books. I read "Wuthering Heights", very early, when I was about 13. I probably didn’t understand all of it but the power and the intensity of the story, the passion and the emotion swept me away and I’ve always wanted to write that sort of story ever since.

When I was growing up, my mother had a friend (Marguerite Lees) who wrote romances for Mills & Boon. She was the only published author I knew and she was one of the very few people who encouraged me by telling me that I could write and I should try for it. She had brought up two children as a single mother by writing and I thought she was a wonderful example.

My writing inspirations have been authors like Mary Stewart whose books got me hooked on romantic stories about dark, ambiguous heroes and Dorothy Dunnett whose Game of Kings series would have to be my desert island book – I can read it over and over again. And when I was a child an old book (even then) called Simona’s Jewel had that dark, ambiguous hero that I fell for – even is he was only 14!

Do you find writing love scenes giggle-worthy or cringe-worthy – or neither?

Neither. They are important to the emotional journey of my characters – part and parcel of their love story. No one would ever believe that my hero and heroine loved each other passionately if there wasn’t sexual passion between them too.

Writing a love scene shows my characters in a way that no other scene can do – they are ‘naked’in more ways than one. A love scene should not be just put into a book because sex sells or the demands of the line but to show the way that the relationship is changing/has changed between them. And what leads up to it, as well as what follows from it (the ‘before and after’) is even more vital to that development.

Having said that, sometimes I do think that it’s very hard to be different or original and a love scene can often be a very cold-blooded scene to write, rather than getting hot and bothered about it. And I have an embarrassing record for being at the stage of writing such scenes when there are workmen in the house and they have seen what’s on my computer!

What's the most romantic moment of your life so far?

I’m often asked if I’m romantic and I think that people expect the answer that yes, I’d love to be showered with diamonds and roses and chocolates. But those are clich├ęs and the commercial idea of romance. I believe that romance is caring for someone so much that you will want them to have what they need and love even if it isn’t what you’d think of as important – or romantic. So the big dramatic gestures aren’t the really romantic ones unless they have this very personal touch – and go with real romance which is real love.

So in those terms, I’d have to say that I’m truly lucky in that every day of my life has that sort of romance in it when I know that my husband is with me as he has been for almost 40 years! He’s loved all the different people I’ve been – from the student he met, through my being a librarian and a mother and now as a writer. Having said that. We’ve had some lovely special romantic days – the obvious ones like our wedding day (we didn’t have a penny between us but we didn’t care) the birth of our son, our silver wedding . . . A couple of years ago, when I had had two of my beloved cats die in just 3 months, knowing I had always wanted a Maine Coon cat, he bought me Flora, a Maine Coon kitten for Christmas – even though he personally didn’t want any more cats – or so he said – but since she arrived, she has had him wrapped round her paws! There are lots of other moments – some big, some small – like I said, I’m lucky!

What do you wish you'd known about being an author before you were pubbed?

I wish not just that I’d known about the internet etc but that it had existed when I was first published! My early books had very little publicity that I could do as I was here in the UK and they were going out across the world and there was no way I could go with them! If I had a first book out now, the advantages of having a web site, a blog, being able to talk to readers through other web sites etc are amazing and so very different from the few local talks I managed in my early years. New authors today are at a great advantage with that. But somehow I’ve managed to survive for 25 years, for many of which I didn’t even have a computer.

Nothing ever happens quickly in publishing! Editors take ages to read submissions, when a book is scheduled it’s usually a year or so before it comes out, and the royalties from that book are only paid out every six months – if they’ve been collected in. If not, you’re waiting again for the next six months. Everyone thought that being published by Harlequin Mills & Boon I was on the fast track to a fortune . . .er- no.

And I wish I’d realized how valuable having ‘thinking time is’. When I was writing around caring for my son etc, I had more time to think when I wasn’t actually sitting in front of the computer. Now I feel the need to keep putting words down on the screen when in fact I should let my mind wander and create the story.

What's the best writing advice you've ever been given?

Early on in my career, I was lucky enough to meet the fabulous Elizabeth Oldfield who sadly died in May this year. We were talking about revisions and she said ‘Oh, I always do half of them exactly the way they’ve asked to prove that I am co-operative and easy to work with. And I do the other half completely differently – to prove that I am the creative person around here!’ That advice is always in my head when I’m looking at a revision letter and wondering where to start!

One thing I always say is – read, read, read. I know that a mistake I made when I started out was that I didn’t read enough romance and so I didn’t have a true sense of what sort of books were being written. The only way to get a real taste of the line is to read extensively – and read as many different authors as you can.And when you write, write from the heart. I keep saying that romance is all about emotion and I think you have to feel those emotions with your characters. Get deeply involved with them and know what’s in their hearts – and then write it from your own heart too.

Tell us about your latest release.

As I said, this is a book that’s based on a Greek Myth, turning the story into a Modern Romance. The story of Odysseus.

Odysseus was a King who had gone off to the Trojan Wars and he didn’t return for over ten years. My 'Odysseus' - Zarek Michaelis – is a Greek shipping magnate who went missing for two years after an attack on his boat (the Troy). And like the original, when he returns he find that his wife(whose name is Penny, after Odysseus’s wife who was Penelope) has new suitors, all wanting to take over the kingdom (or in this case the company) he owned. They had problems before he went missing so he’s not sure whether to trust her, and she doesn’t know if he really loves her. So he has to prove himself to his wife and she has to prove that she has stayed faithful and loving all the time he has been missing. They have to get to know each other all over again and rediscover the love that had brought them together in the first place.

What’s next for you?

Writing – I have a book that I’m writing as part of another mini series – this time Modernising some classics of English Literature. My book is based on Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, so after my answer to question 5, you’ll know that that is a real thrill for me.. And then . . . another book – but at the moment I have no idea what!And there’s a reprint of the 12 Point Guide coming up in autumn.

Teaching etc – I’ve just come back from the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference in London where I taught a workshop on Conflict. Then I ran a course on Writing Romance at Caerleon Writers’. Coming up next are some workshops for Mills and Boon because of a new contest they’re planning (more details when I can tell you). The National Association of Writers’ Groups conference in Durham in September, Writers’ Roadshow in Yorkshire, Novel-Writing Weekend (teaching a new course Romance Writing – Moving it On) in Fishguard, Wales . . phew! That will keep me busy until the end of February next year.

You can visit Kate's website at http://www.kate-walker.com/ or her blog at http://kate-walker.blogspot.com/. You can buy The Good Greek Wife on Amazon, or direct from Mills & Boon.

25 comments:

Lorraine said...

Thank you so much Kate for answering our questions, your answers made interesting reading.
I'd say there's on thing worse than having someone read your sex scenes over your shoulder and that's having to use speech to text software and being caught dictating them! Needless to say I am never looking my gardener in the eye again ;-)

Kate Walker said...

Thanks to all the Minxes for inviting me over here. And Lorraine, I think that's one of the reasons I have never tried speech to text software! I can just imagine your gardener's reaction.

Maya said...

Thanks for a brilliant interview, Kate. I loved The Twelve Month Mistress and I'm not surprised it was nominated for an award!

Elizabeth Oldfield sounds like a real character and I was sad to hear of her death, too, but what great advice. I love the premise of The Good Greek Wife and can't wait to read it.

Thanks so much for the wonderful advice, and say hi to Steve!

Sally Clements said...

Thank you for joining the Minxes for the day, Kate, you're interview made great reading!
I love the idea of taking classic stories and updating them, lovely to read, and great to write too, I suspect!

Rachel Lyndhurst said...

Fascinating and insightful as always,Kate.

You are so right about the internet stuff as well, it makes everything happen so much faster doesn't it? Except perhaps the M&B slush pile!

Don't think I'm as brave as you on the revisions front though, maybe in time!

Lots of love,
Rach. (who has a couple of very well thumbed editions of The 12 Point Guide)
XXXXXXX

Joanne Coles said...

Love reading more about my fave authors with these 'interview' questions.

Thanks for the insights and advice, Kate.

And a Greek hero next? I think they might be my current faves :-)

jenny wilson said...

ANOTHER GREAT INTERVIEWXX

susanwilson44 said...

It's lovely to see you here Kate and like I told you at the RNA conference I think the idea behind this line of stories was fabulous, just wished M & B had given it a little more publicity. It got me so interested I even bought my kids a book about the Greek Heroes and yes, they hate going shopping with mum!

Maisey said...

Kate, I feel like I just learned a whole lot in the five minutes it took me to read the interview. That you!

I was cheering at what you said about love scenes. I so totally agree. They're essential to the characters and the progression of the story, and if not...well....why do them at all?

And I love what you said about your husband. That's the definition of true romance.

Kate Walker said...

Hi Maya

AI'm thrilled you enjoyed 12 Month Mistress - there seems to have been a rivalry between the brothers in The Alcolar Family trilogy - somepeople loved Joaquin in 12 Month Mistress and others preferred Ramon in The Spaniard's Inconvenient Wife. I just loved wsriting about them both! Elizabeth Oldfield was one of my personal favourite authors and then I was honoured to have her as a personal friend - a very special lady.

If you do pick up The Good Greek Wife? I hope you enjoy it. It was a challenge to write - but I loved that!

Kate Walker said...

Hello Sally

I'm glad you enjoyed reading the interview - I think there were some great questions to answer. The challenge to updating the classic stories is one I'm woking on again right now - the Wuthering Heights one - and that's meant I've had a lot of fun watching all the old films of the book.

Kate Walker said...

Hi Rachel - oh dear, yes - that slush pile. Unfortunately nothing can help an editor read faster than they already do. I'm amazed that they read as many books anywya. And then analyse and comment on them. It's a special skill.

Revisions? Between you an me- there's no one else listening is there? ;o) - I hate them - but they are part of the job and so you just have to get on with them.

Congratulations on your success - and thank you for buying the 12 Pont Guide. I'm hoping it will continue to help you

Kate Walker said...

Hello again Joanne - your favourite heroes are Greeks? There's a lot of people think the same. They're always fun to writre - Zarek in The Good Greek Wife? was intriguing because he had 'lost' two years . I have to admit I fell in love with him - but then I fell in love with the Sicilian hero I wrote next . . . and now I'm in love with my 'Heathcliff' - I'm fickle!¬

Kate Walker said...

Jenny - thank you. I followed your link to your blog and fell in love with your beautiful cat Angel. She's gorgeous.

Kate Walker said...

Hi Susan - great to 'see' you again. I loved meeting you at RNA and was thrilled by your success. Have you heard anything about that Medical submission yet?
Like you, I wished that the Greek myth books had had some special flash on them or something that would show people which books were in the mini series. In America they are just in the Presents Extra line up as The Greek Tycoons.

I hope your kid enjoyed the Greek Myths stories

Kate Walker said...

Hello Maisey - and congratulations on your very first book. I read your Virgin Acquisition and enjoyed it.

We're in real agreement over the love scenes in a book. They are not just put there because sex sells but because of what they mean and how they affect the characters - after all that's why we put in anything in a book!

And yes, I reckon my husband's a keeper! When people tell me it's unrealistic to write about love at first sight, I tell them how he met me, then told his family he'd met the girl he wanted to marry. . .mind you, he didn't tell me for another couple of months! ;o)

Lacey Devlin said...

Another fantastic interview! It was really special to get some advice from Elizabeth too, she's another all time favorite author. Thanks Kate!

Maisey said...

Thank you re His Virgin Acquisition, Kate! That means absolutely a lot coming from you.

joanne pibworth said...

Thanks for such a great post Kate, such a lot of info packed into it!
I have a much cherished copy of your 12 point guide, it really is a bit of a bible to me.

Thanks for joining the minxes today.
x

Suzanne Jones said...

Apologies - arriving late, but thank you for joining the Minxes and answering our questions. Terrific answers and thank you for the advice.

Kate Walker said...

Thanks Lacey - Since I mentioned about Elizabeth Oldfield a lot of people have said how they remember her and her boks. She was a lovely lady and a good writer

Kate Walker said...

You're welcome Maisey - good luck with your first book

Kate Walker said...

Hi Joanne and thank you. I'm sorry about your rejection - good luck for your next submission. You are going to try again, aren't you? Each R is like another class or workshop - you learn a little more with each one. No one can guarantee success - but youi can guarantee failure by never trying again

And I hope the 12 Point Guide helps with that

Kate Walker said...

Hello Suzanne - nice to 'see' you here. No worries about being 'late' there isn't a timetable for this! I'm really happy you found the advice helpful

Romy said...

Once again, thank you so much for giving us your time here, Kate.

I love the idea of bringing classic myths and legends into contemporary romance. I'm so excited by all the ways in which HMB (and its authors, of course!) are 'pushing the envelope' these days. And this is why I love Romance - it is universal across cultures and time, as Joanna Trollope pointed out in her key note speech at the RNA conference.