I’m very pleased to welcome author Heather King to my blog. Heather writes historical novels set in the Regency period. Also, under the name of Vandalia Black, she writes fantasy novels.
Hi Heather, please tell us a little about yourself.
Hello Carol, it is lovely to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
I live in a beautiful rural part of the UK and share my home with various life forms, including two ponies, three cats, a rescued ‘Staffie’ X and a newly acquired, goofy black Labrador. I have a passion for dressage, words and stately homes; I love adverbs, am a bookworm, paperholic, grammar warden and picture straightener. I am never happier than in my wellies and can have a warped sense of humour at times. I write traditional stories, sweeping my readers into another world where they can walk beside my characters and experience events as they happen. My aim is always flowing prose, witty dialogue, engaging characters and bags of emotion – only my readers can say if I succeed!
Have you always wanted to be a writer or was it something that came to you later in life?
Even as a small child I loved to write – and dream. My bedroom had flower-edged squares on the wallpaper and it was perfect for writing my ‘news’. Although I used pencil, I pressed on rather hard! I don’t think my mother was very impressed, but I don’t recall any major repercussions. Perhaps, secretly, she was amused. There were always books to read, yet while I loved all kinds of stories, strangely, I never had ambitions to be a writer. I wanted to be a vet – until I realized I wasn’t tough enough or academic enough! I always wanted to work with animals.
What attracted you to the Regency period?
I’ve always liked history. When I was aged about eleven, I discovered Georgette Heyer’s Regency and Georgian novels. I became instantly hooked on that era, although I didn’t dare to write one for a very long time. I knew I could never come close to Georgette Heyer’s brilliance and did not want to set myself up to fail. Now I know no-one can match her and all the rest of we poor mortals can do is our very best.
I love the elegance, the courtesy (even when insulting someone!), the architecture and furniture, the horses and – above all – men in breeches and neckcloths!
How much research do you find you need to do?
It varies. Because I spend most of my life in the nineteenth century <grin> I am fairly well versed in the day to day information. It is when my characters decide to throw me a googly and alter my plans for them that I can suddenly find myself burning the midnight oil as I follow a rabbit warren of paths to find an elusive piece of information.
In fact, I spend a fair amount of time down research rabbit holes at times like that. A classic example was for the novel I released in August last year. The Missing Duke centres upon the title character’s brother, who works for the Duke of Wellington in a secret, information-gathering capacity. (The book is a stand-alone story, yet part of the Heart of a Hero series with other authors). The story is set around the world of ballooning, so I had to do an enormous amount of research about that. My hero set off on a mission to Dover, so I had to research the town in the 1800s, along with suitable hotels and people in authority at the time, since permission was required for an unexpected trip to France. My hero took it into his head to send his secretary (my heroine in disguise) to Paris. Thus, having researched balloon flights, wind speeds, times and distances etc. across the Channel, I suddenly found I needed information on the road, hotels, distances and travel requirements to Paris, to say nothing of the city itself. I rather felt like a mole after that lot!
When do you find the best time to write?
When the muse takes me! No, being serious, morning is usually the best, although it isn’t always possible. Between the proper job, editing (which I also do) and looking after the animals, it is often a case of fitting it in when I can. I usually find anything I’ve written late in the evening has to be heavily reworked or discarded, though. Tiredness obviously clouds my judgement!
Are you a planner or a pantser?
I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t plot the whole book because I would never get started. I’m not able to produce ideas that way. I will have a rough idea of where the story is going when I start and then I leave it to the characters to tell me what will happen next. As I said before, they often cause me headaches by deciding to do something I hadn’t foreseen. I do think too much plotting can steal the freshness from a story. (All your plotters will now be up in arms!) The thing is, there is no right way. Every writer should write in the way which suits them, not to some formula designated by others.
The Historical Supper Club is one of the many Facebook sites you host. What gave you the idea for it?
“I wouldn’t say many,” she riposted, chuckling.
My friend Susana Ellis was involved in a weekly Facebook event set around the Regency custom of inviting people to take tea. She asked me to be a guest author and I thought it was a great idea, rather than a promo-fest which so many of the parties are. I asked her if she minded my appropriating the idea and received the go-ahead.
In the late eighteenth century in particular, gentlemen were fond of literary and similar clubs where they would meet on a regular basis, often discussing topics over dinner. I thought it would be different to have a Facebook club on similar lines, my original idea being to base it on two to three hour ‘meetings’. The inaugural event was a success, so we decided to do another at Christmas. We went all out and celebrated the Twelve Hours of Christmas, starting here in the UK, moving to the US for three hours and then continuing in Australasia while in Europe we all slept. It was a wonderful event. We did a second one at the end of January, but then I became very busy releasing Chains of Fear, (see excerpt below) so we had a little hiatus until the Midsummer Ball in July. The next one is to be a masquerade – coming soon! – and then, hopefully, we will do some shorter events through the winter.
Perhaps you’d tell us a little about the other Facebook sites?
Aside from my author page and editing/proof-reading page, I have a VIP Readers’ group for people who enjoy my books – Heather’s Ballroom Heroes – and the Historical Supper Club Authors’ group for the planning of events. I also run a new group for Creative Writing called Chapter & Verse. I wanted to give something back, since I have been lucky enough to have been given a great deal of help when I needed it. It is my belief there are people who would love to try their hand at writing but are too embarrassed to go to a writing workshop. I want to encourage those people to have a go. Equally, established authors might like new exercises to refresh their ideas, or feedback on a piece, or to do some brainstorming. Others might need help with equestrian or Regency queries.
Which books do you like to read? Who is your favourite author?
Sadly, I don’t seem to find time for reading these days, except when editing. However, I love a book in which I can get lost; a story which sweeps you away and completely absorbs you. Unfortunately, being an editor makes it hard to switch off and not critique.
Probably my all-time favourite author is still Georgette Heyer, although I love Elizabeth Chadwick’s books along with many others. I adore Regency Romances, but they have to be historical fiction and well written, not those which could be set in any time. I enjoy medieval stories of derring-do and crime mysteries such as the Cadfael stories; I also like some modern paranormal/fantasy novels.
Do you have a favourite character from your own books and/or from another author?
I will admit to a very soft spot for the hero of my debut novel, A Sense of the Ridiculous, Richard Cowley. He does have opposition, though, in the hero of my newest release, Julian Templeton from Chains of Fear. As to other authors, there are just so many! From William Marshal, Britain’s forgotten Regent, to Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes; Robin Hood to the Four Musketeers; Georgette Heyer’s sprightly heroines and debonair heroes to Darcy and Elizabeth… I don’t think I can choose one there, although one of the most memorable has to be GH’s Leonie from These Old Shades. Bah!
Tell us a little about Vandalia Black and why your write for a genre so far removed from the Regency novels.
It all began when I attended Sue Johnson’s writing workshops in Pershore. At the time, I was reading a lot of vampire and other paranormal romance novels from the library, so it was a natural progression to write similar pieces in her exercises. Sue encouraged me to write short stories and submit them. It is a wonderful way to learn discipline and the skill of writing to a word count. The stories mounted up and she suggested I publish a collection – and so Vandalia Black was born. I am now considering, with the exception of the anthology, publishing everything I write under my own name, but I do have a considerable affection for Vandalia.
There is a freedom in writing something contemporary, especially in a fantasy world the author controls. It helps to refresh my creative juices for the historical novels, as well as allowing me to be a teensy bit steamier than I am in my Regency stories.
If time permits, what do you do to relax?
What is relaxing??? I usually seem to have a list of things to do! When I’m not writing, I enjoy grooming my ponies, taking long walks with the dogs, wandering around Country Houses (I never want to leave), watching costume dramas and, of course, curling up with a good book. Oh, and watching Hugh Jackman in just about anything!!
Finally, do you have any tips or advice for someone just starting out on their writing journey?
Read, read, read. Read good quality books by renowned authors in the genre you want to write in. If it’s historical, learn about the era. Immerse yourself in the mores of the time, the fashions, dialogue and manner of speaking, the architecture, food and customs. An historical novel without any historical content is not worth the paper it’s printed on or the digital space it occupies – and it has to be correct.
Write every day, even if it is only for a few minutes. The writing muscle needs exercising, the same as any other. Keep going even if you think it is rubbish. Within the fluff there may be a thread of gold you can use. Besides, eventually it will build into something. You can’t edit a blank page!
Write what you like to read and what you know. Write the story you are burning to tell.
Write in the way that suits you. We are all different. The usual advice is to get the story down as fast as you can and then edit afterwards. This does not suit everyone. Some people can plot a whole novel, with all their characters’ obstacles listed chapter by chapter. If I tried to do that I would not write anything. My books evolve as I get to know my characters and they tell me what comes next.
If possible, join a writing group, preferably with a published author or qualified teacher. If you are embarrassed to share your work in public, Sue Johnson does online courses via her website at http://www.writers-toolkit.co.uk/about.html or you can join me at Chapter & Verse Creative Writing https://www.facebook.com/groups/1063760537127282/
Never give up! Keep trying – and always carry a notebook with you.
Use the senses in your writing to give the reader a fuller picture.
An excerpt from Chains of Fear
When diplomat Sir Julian Templeton falls over a stricken gentlewoman, he little expects to end up marrying her. Neither does he anticipate the pitfalls he must negotiate, nor the shifts he must make, in order to win his bride’s love and trust.
Impoverished and desperate, Miss Helena Dorking reluctantly accepts the handsome stranger’s offer of help after she is left for dead in the snow. When, on finding his mother unexpectedly from home, Sir Julian honourably offers marriage to save Helena from ruin, she has little choice but to accept him. Yet how can she be the wife he wants and needs? How can she overcome her fears and allow herself to love him?
Somehow Julian must find a way to cut the chains which bind Helena to her fear so he can win her heart.
Julian narrowed his eyes. Was the girl a common thief? True enough, she was dressed in little more than rags, yet her voice had been cultured and had contained a ring of pride, of authority. He fixed his gaze on the sorry specimen in front of him, knowing full well who held the reins in this establishment. Mrs. Perry was famed in the locality for ruling both her husband and her business with an iron hand, and for her inflexible views on anyone or anything she considered immoral. One look at the girl’s poor clothing would have been enough to damn her, he was sure.
“Did she eat the ham?” he asked, his low voice holding a current of steel the man could not mistake.
“Well, as to that, sir,” blustered the innkeeper, avoiding Julian’s sharp perusal and looking uncomfortable, “I believe she had already gone when my wife brought it to her.”
If the woman had delivered it at all, Julian thought cynically.
“So she has naught to pay for and you have no reason to refuse to proffer her assistance now.” His tone brooked no argument.
“I shall see to it right away, sir.”
“Good. See that you do. Oh, and Perry?” The landlord turned back again, one hand tugging at his ear and his forehead puckered. He shuffled his feet and tried to avoid Julian’s stern gaze. “Tell Mrs. Perry, if she has any further doubts on the matter, I shall stand the nonsense.”
“Oh, ah… very good, sir. As you wish, sir.”
The hotelier bowed and scuttled away, leaving Julian once more eyeing the prone figure. For some absurd reason he could not fathom, he had a notion she was in need of his protection – and that was a circumstance he preferred not to contemplate. This situation was already fraught with sufficient pitfalls to induce terror in a stronger man than he.
Murmuring an apology, he took back his greatcoat, endeavouring not to notice the girl’s long, slender limbs where the thin gown hugged them, nor remember the pitiful lack of flesh on her bones. His gaze shuddered unwillingly to the swell of her bodice, surprised to find the curves of a woman, not the child he had thought her. A wave of something indefinable squeezed his chest, as unexpected as it was unwanted. He was a fool. She could be anybody. She could be a beggar, a thief, a fallen woman – even, mayhap, with an illegitimate child secreted somewhere nearby. So why, when he could have had his pick of the fashionable ladies in Vienna and yet had felt nothing, did he feel such a reaction now?
Interrupting his thoughts, the girl chose that moment to stir. Her lashes fluttered against her alabaster cheek. Then her eyes opened; the wealth of sadness in their emerald depths speared his heart. Like a moth, her gaze flitted back and forth. When, at length, it settled on him, a flicker of alarm crossed her face and with a tiny mewl, she scuttled back against the chair arm farthest from him. Wincing at the movement, she raised one hand to her head, the other reaching out in supplication.
“Keep away from me!” Her voice was a thin reed of fear.
With a calmness he was far from feeling, Julian stepped backwards, both hands aloft in placatory fashion.
“Rest assured, you are quite safe,” he soothed. “Indeed, I mean you no harm. I found you in difficulty without.” He gestured towards the doorway. “I have sent for the landlady; she will see you to a bedchamber and attend your injury.”
Instead of showing relief at his words, the girl’s eyes widened and she shook her head. She seemed terrified.
“No… no, sir, I cannot,” she stuttered, her voice cracking in a manner far removed from her previous assurance. With a wild look around the room, she swung her feet to the floor and began to rise. “I cannot remain here.”
No sooner had she gained her feet than she turned the colour of whey and swooned, her body collapsing forward in a limp tangle of grey fabric. Dropping his coat, Julian caught her mere inches from the floor. It was as he was rising with her cradled against his broad chest that Mrs. Perry entered the room. Wearing a white apron over a brown wool gown, and an expression of outrage, she paused on the threshold, her arms folded beneath her ample bosom and her starched cap quivering with indignation.
“Well! I said from the start that young woman was no better than she ought to be. Arriving on foot as she did, without escort or luggage and, I’ll warrant, barely a penny to her name. She’ll have been dismissed, that’s what, and as I told Perry, I’ll not have such as her in this house. You’ll not set her up as your fancy-piece here, Sir Julian, no matter how much of the nonsense you plan to stand for! I will thank you to—”
“She is not my—”
“—I will thank you to remove yourself and the young woman from these premises forthwith. Such goings-on as I never thought to see – and in my own coffee room! I confess to being surprised in you, Sir Julian, I always considered you a gentleman of high moral fibre.”
“Mrs. Perry, if I might explain. The young lady swooned.”
“Ay, I daresay she did,” the incensed lady uttered darkly. “Well, she may do it elsewhere. This is a respectable establishment, Sir Julian. She is not welcome here and, I am sorry to say, neither are you whilst you keep such dubious company. Good evening.” In high dudgeon, she swept from the room.
Julian swore softly and glanced down at the woeful figure in his arms. “Now, what the Good Lord am I to do with you?” he muttered. “I cannot just abandon you.”
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00I04PYPE
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