Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Author Spotlight - Jessica Hart

Today the Minxes are pleased to welcome RITA award winning author, Jessica Hart to blog with us.

The Minxes caught some hugely exciting news, announced towards the end of last year, that Jessica mentions in her interview. Read the details on Jessica's blog here.

1.Where were you in your writing career 5 years ago?

Funny how long ago 5 years seems now … I had to really stop and think about this question! I know I’d written over 40 books by then. Christmas Eve Marriage won a RITA® in 2005, and in 2006 Contracted: Corporate Wife won the UK’s coveted Romance Prize, so I was feeling more established and confident as a romance writer. At the same time, I felt as if I’d reached a point of change. I’d finished my PhD at the end of 2004, and I was missing the contrast between my research (into environmental regulation in C15th and C16th York – much more interesting than it sounds, I promise!) and romance writing. It’s taken me a while to actually make that change, but I did get there eventually!

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

I usually start with a hook, but in the case of Juggling Briefcase & Baby, the idea was easy. This book is the sequel to Oh-So-Sensible Secretary in which Lex appeared as Phin’s workaholic brother. Lex was so reserved and stiff and focused on the company, he was the perfect contrast to the relaxed and charming Phin, and I started to wonder what would make two brothers so different. I’ve always had a soft spot for the gruff, reserved hero, too, and it seemed to me that Lex was just as attractive as Phin but in a very different way. Even while I was writing Oh-So-Sensible Secretary I was wondering what it would take to break down Lex’s famous reserve and reach that carefully guarded heart …

3. Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

I’ve spent the last few years building up what I grandly call a ‘portfolio’ career, although this makes it sound a lot more grown up than it actually is! I work as a freelance editor for illustrated books about institutions like Lincoln Cathedral or York Minster – a wonderful job where I get to tell other people what to write instead of writing myself! - and I teach writing classes here in York and in Tuscany. The more I write, the more interested I am in how and why romance works, so I love teaching too.

I’ve also been writing a mainstream women’s fiction novel that has just been bought by Pan Macmillan as part of a two book deal. It’s a project that has taken me wa-a-a-ay out of my comfort zone, but the challenge has been good for me, I think. Finishing the first book and writing another 150,000 word novel is going to keep me very busy for the next couple of years, and of course I’m hoping that parallel writing career will have taken off in 5 years’ time.

Last, but absolutely not least, I’d like to continue writing for Harlequin Mills & Boon. I’ve been a Mills & Boon author for 20 years now, and it’s part of who I am. I don’t want to give that up. Romances are fun to write – or perhaps I should say fun to plot and fun to have written? The pesky business of actually writing the story can be harder work!

So in 5 years’ time I think I’d like to still be juggling all four strands of my career – and still standing!

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

Lord Perfect by Loretta Chase. What a great writer she is – warm, funny, intelligent, and very, very sexy.

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

The honest truth is that I never wanted to be a writer. I decided that I wanted to do a PhD in Medieval Studies after reading The Sunne in Splendour (about Richard III), but I had to find a way of funding a return to university, so I thought, ‘I know, I’ll write a Mills & Boon …’ I always feel a bit guilty about having stumbled into a writing career, but I suppose I owe it all to Sharon Penman!

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

Falling in love at first sight. I didn’t believe in it until it happened to me.

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

I had no idea just how much information and support is out there – although I don’t know how much of that was available 20 years ago when I started writing. I’m constantly impressed nowadays by how friendly and supportive romance writers are. I wish I’d known about the need for self-promotion too – I might not have been so hesitant to get involved with technology. Websites, blogs, Facebook … I’m always the last to get there, and it feels like a constant race to catch up. If I was just getting published now, I’d try and be clued up about promotion right from the start.

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

I heard the late wonderful Blake Snyder talking about his book on screenwriting, Save the Cat! and was very struck by his advice to “Embrace the formula”. Or then there’s my mother’s advice, which goes for life as well as for writing: “Just get ON with it!” (said in a Scottish accent for maximum effect!)

9. What does the new Riva imprint mean for you.

The editors at M&B have encouraged us to try something different with this new imprint, and you can see from the covers that they’re hoping to attract a new, perhaps younger, audience who might not realize that romances don’t have to be as old-fashioned as they’re often portrayed. I’ve always thought of my heroines as contemporary women with contemporary attitudes, so I have to be honest and say that Juggling Briefcase & Baby isn’t actually that different from most of my other stories. But I love knowing that there’s scope now to play around with new ideas and approaches, so while these stories will still be first and foremost romances, the new sense of editorial freedom is very exciting.

10. Tell us about your Riva launch release.

Only once has Lex Gibson ever let his guard down, and he’s vowed never to make himself that vulnerable again. But now, 12 years later, Romy is back – and she’s not alone. Romy has a baby daughter, Freya, and between them they throw Lex’s carefully ordered world into chaos!

Juggling Briefcase & Baby is a reunion story, with a baby and an office setting thrown into the mix. I like it when the hero and heroine have to confront the problems between them in the present while still tangled up in the feelings they shared in the past. There’s something very appealing about the idea of a second chance to get things right, after you’ve made a mess of them first time round, and I really enjoyed giving Lex his own happy ending at last!

11. What’s next for you?

Convenient Engagements, a 3-in-1 re-released by Mills & Boon in their By Request series, is out in January 2011 in the UK. Later in the year, my royal duet will be out. I’ve never played with the royal theme before, so that’s been fun. Ordinary Girl in a Tiara will be out in June 2011 in North America and the UK – I was rather hoping William and Kate would opt for a classic June wedding to tie in with its release, but they have selfishly decided on April instead! - and The Secret Princess later in the year.

Jessica's debut RIVA is available at Mills & Boon & Amazon now!
The Minxes would like to know when on earth Jessica will have time to sleep given her commitments for the next few years, we're in awe!!


Romy Sommer said...

Thank you so much for visiting us here today. Juggling Briefcase and Baby is on my TBR pile, not yet read, but already I know it's one for my keeper shelf. Mostly because it's not often I come across a book where the heroine has my name, but also because Oh So Sensible Secretary is one of my favourite romances (ever!) so I know I'm going to love this one.

I enjoyed Sharon Penman's books, but for me the historical novels that really hooked me were Edith Pargeter's The Brothers of Gwynedd quartet.

Jessica Hart said...

And a very glamorous name it is, too, Romy! I'm so pleased you liked Oh-So-Sensible Secretary, which is one of my own favourites.

I'll have to try Edith Pargeter. A really good historical novel is hard to find, I think. I'm a very critical reader, but now I've tried it for myself I realise just how hard it is to get the balance between characters that are engaging to the modern reader and a feeling of authenticity.

I'm wondering about the sleep issue too! Must work on my time management ...

Sally Clements said...

Great post, Jessica! Its very inspiring to have you here being minxy for the day, especially your answer to the first question - where were you 5 years ago. Your answer - I'd written over 40 books by then, is awe inspiring in its own right, and the interview just gets better! Dying to read your new one...

Maya Blake said...

Lovely, lovely post, Jessica. Romy raved about Oh-So-Sensible Secretary after she read it and it's now on my TBR pile, so I'm really happy there's a sequel; makes the reading doubly pleasurable. I'm in awe of your writing career and wish you all the best in bringing us readers more joy through your books!

Jessica Hart said...

Thank you Sally and Maya! I've always wanted to be a minx so am delighted to be an honorary one for the day.

What do you all feel about sequels? For some reason I think linked books work better in historicals. I got into Mary Balogh through the 'Slightly' series, and Anne Gracie's Perfect series works really well like that too. I love following the characters and plunging straight back into a world that's familiar, but don't usually get the same feeling with contemporary stories.

On the other hand, I really like writing linked books where you have the backstory already there and you know your characters before you start. Juggling and OSSS were fun to write because of that and - ooh, just spotted a chance for a plug! - a trilogy of 'city girl' books just re-released by M&B as Convenient Engagements.

Romy Sommer said...

I enjoy reading series books. Kelly Hunter's linked Bennett family series was great fun, and I really enjoyed the recent Balfour Legacy series (though I'm only half way through them). What was that about time management ...?

I'd love to know what others think about linked books too.

Sutton Fox said...

Wonderful post, Jessica. I love reunion stories, and have added Juggling to my TBR list.

Finished the Balfour Legacy books a while back and enjoyed them very much. I like linked books. When you get cameo appearances from characters who've had their own stories, it's like visiting old friends.

Caroline said...

Great post Jessica! Like the others I'm in awe of your versatility! As someone who loves history I'm sure the research for your phD was more a labour of love than "work". Caroline x

Nas said...

Hi Jessica, Hello Minxes,

Great to know a bit more about you, Jessica.
Congratulations on the Riva release. I love the unexpected baby and uninvited ex hook in "Juggling Briefcase & Baby" and it would be fun to read all the twists and turns in this story.

Jessica Hart said...

Great to meet you here, Sutton and Nas! And yes, Caroline, you're right about my research. I loved, loved, loved looking at the records I studied for my PhD. I have used some of what I knew in my 'time slip' but as I've learnt, it is harder than it looks to combine an authentic sense of the period with engaging characters.

Joanne Coles said...

Thanks for joining us today, Jessica. It's fab that you get to write both genres that you enjoy so much.

If you find the answer to the time management/sleep thing--please share with us all!!

Am so looking forward to getting my WIP finished so I can get to my tbr pile--Juggling is teetering near the top :-)