Friday, 23 October 2009

Eleni-fest: chatting with Elizabeth Rolls

Today we have fellow SARA member, the charming Elizabeth Rolls as my special guest on Eleni-fest. Elizabeth writes regency historical romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon. Her book A Compromised Lady was nominated for the R*BY long category.

Welcome Elizabeth to Eleni’s Taverna and Eleni-fest!

Congratulations on being nominated for a R*BY award. This was your second nomination (the first being in 2006 for His Lady Mistress). How did you react to the news? 
Stunned. I didn't expect it. But I was very pleased. It was a difficult book to write, not just because of some of the content, but getting the structure right took ages. My editor was fantastic there. She pointed out that I needed to balance what the reader was finding out against what the hero, Richard, knew. If the reader knew or suspected stuff before Richard then it added to the impact as they waited for him to find out. 

What attracted you to the HM&B regencies?
It wasn't the HM&B Regencies as such, but Regencies generally. I've always enjoyed them. One thing I particularly like about Harlequin's Regencies is that they cater for readers who enjoy the strict comedy of manners type of Regency where there is very little sex, as well as those who prefer books with what you might refer to as a higher steam rating. I wasn't too sure of their requirements at first and submitted my first book with and without steam. I tend to write on the steamier side these days.

The Regency is a very popular period. Why do you think that is? 
I think Jane Austen's perennial popularity has a great deal to do with it, but Georgette Heyer's influence on the genre is enormous. She set the standard very high. However I am a firm believer in writers finding their own voice and creating their own world. Heyer's Regency world was very much influenced by her Edwardian upbringing and I think that people tend to forget that and believe that you have to stay within the perameters set in her books. Much as I love and admire Austen and Heyer, I don't want to write like them. I don't think that works. 

I love the title of your chapter in Heart & Craft – Tons of Romance in the Regency
Tell Valerie Parv! She came up with the titles. 
What was it like to be asked to be part of this book? 
I was honoured to be asked to contribute. All the other contributors are authors whose writing I admire. Some of them I have been admiring for a lot longer than I've been published. And of course Allen & Unwin are the publishers. Now I can say I'm published by Tolkien's publisher. That even impressed my sons. 
(EK: I'm sure they would be!)

You talk about how you research to enhance your story. How do you structure your research so you don’t get bogged down with it? 
Some things, basic history, anything that will have an impact on the plot - laws, wars etc, I prefer to check out first. That helps me get the story straight. Depending on the story I might need to spend a bit of time consulting maps. If I'm out in the countryside then a book on the natural history of that county or region is a must. I go location spotting on line too. Google Earth is brilliant. Sometimes fate takes I hand. I said something at last year's Roadshow about the revisions I was doing. My editor wanted to know if there really was a Blank Street in Bristol! Cue blushing author. I mentioned that I'd found this stepped alley in Bristol called Christmas Steps and this woman spoke up with a British accent and said she knew the street really well. What did I want to know? How lucky was that? Details of dress I tend to leave to the last rewrite. Or what I think is going to be the last rewrite. There's no point spending time kitting out your heroine for a scene if that scene is going to be cut. 

I've had some very odd things happen with research. The final scene of Lord Braybrook's Penniless Bride gave me a lot of trouble. I knew Julian had to convince Christy that he truly loved and accepted her and wouldn't change a thing, but couldn't think how he was going to show that. It wasn't a matter of the reader believing it; Christy had to believe that he wasn't just being kind. I tried several ideas and they all just felt contrived and in one case seriously melodramatic. Then I was in second-hand bookshop in Auckland with a friend and found a book on antique toys and another on antique nursery furniture. I'd been thinking for a while that I needed a book on toys but wasn't quite sure why. I'd barely left the shop with the books when the whole final scene flowered in my brain. I'd probably have walked into any number of people if Tessa Radley hadn't been with me. I knew what Julian had to say, what he needed to do and why it had to be that way. And anyone who has read Marjorie Williams's The Velveteen Rabbit is going to recognise the genesis of my Rocking Horse! 

What’s your favourite part of researching (btw – I love the way it is handled in your books)? 
Reading. Absolutely love being able to sit down with a book and a cup of tea and call it work. I do some research on line. What you might call reconnaissance. It's quick and easier than going to the State Library and not being quite sure what to ask for. I get a general idea from what I find on line and then go looking for print sources. 

What are you working on now?
I'm working on another Regency, this time with a murder mystery woven in.

And what’s in the near future for Elizabeth Rolls? 
A padded cell probably. This book is driving me insane. Plotting a mystery and weaving in the subplots and still keeping the focus on the developing relationship is a real juggling act. I keep dropping the balls and having to try again. Someone said: Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better.

Are there any other historical periods you want to write about? 
I have an idea for a Restoration story set right at the restoration of Charles II and involving the trials of the regicides. Lots of blood and guts but hopefully not too much mystery.

How long does it take you to write a book? 
Are you channelling my agent and editor? Next question. 
(EK: LOL!)

How many books do you produce a year? 
Not enough. 

Do you have any say in the titles of your books?
Well, I suggest a title. Then my editor suggests a title, or asks me to suggest other titles. 

Which of your books is your favourite? 
Usually the last one, so Lord Braybrook at the moment. I have this fond hope that my last one is my best one! 

What are your favourite books by other authors? 
I don't have single favourites. Usually if I enjoy an author, I enjoy an author. There may be odd exceptions where I don't like one book, so it's a little hard to pick favourites. 

Favourite author, book, tv show, movie? 
Again, I don't have absolute favourites. I love The Lord of the Rings, both book and movies. Love The Hobbit. Laura Kinsale, Jo Beverley, Anne Gracie, Anna Campbell, Liz Fielding, really enjoyed Kate Morton's The Shifting Fog and The Forgotten Garden. TFG did a lovely DARK riff on fairytales and reminded me of A.S Byatt's Possession and Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. Also favourites. Harry Potter. Rowling takes the prize for making me cry my eyes out in four consecutive books, and making me read all night.

What or who inspires your writing? 
I don't know. I love living in the country.

What was your ‘apprenticeship’(ie pre-pubbed years) like?
Busy. I taught full time, and then had two little boys. I was just writing for fun with no serious idea of publication. I started that first book because I was having some hassles and work and needed something to help me switch off in the evenings. Also I missed my Masters' thesis. Writing a romance seemed like a lot more fun than embarking on a Ph.D. 

What is the best thing you have done for your writing? 
Listened to the friend who persuaded me to send off that first book to Harlequin.

Many unpublished writers believe that once you get the call, you’re in. What is your experience with this?
It aint necessarily so. I've had a couple of rejections since. Both for contemporaries. I don't "get" contemporary. That is, I read it. No problems. But my characters don't have issues that fit into a contemporary scenario. Put simply, they keep turning up in period costume, so I go with that. Aside from that there's no guarantee that you will sell everything you write. Sometimes an editor may just not like what you've got in mind. Generally my editor has liked my historicals, she's flagged a few potential problems and we've thrashed those out, but she likes my writing and she's happy to let me go for it and tweak afterwards if necessary. This is not always the case. She and I are a good fit, but I've heard of editors who like to have a more "hands on" approach and want everything nailed down at the synopsis stage. This would be a major problem for me because my books always change radically between initial premise and full ms.

You went to the recent RWAus conference. As a published author, did you still get light bulb moments? What do you love about writing conferences?
You bet! I usually have several lightbulb moments at each conference. Anne Gracie has been responsible for a few. Mary Jo Putney's brainstorming workshop was great this year. Lightbulb moments generally refer specifically to the book I'm working on at the time, although Jenny Crusie gave me a few retrospective ones two years ago. Did Bob Dylan say that those who are not busy being born are busy dying? I think if you aren't constantly learning you might as well be dying.

How do you think your writing groups and associations have helped you in your writing?
They help keep me focused. Thinking about writing and discussing books and writing is always good. As an ex-teacher I've known for a long time that teaching or trying to help someone else understand something is a very good way to hone your own thoughts and ideas. 

How do you fit it all in – being a writer and having a family? Do you have a set routine?
I work while the kids are at school and after they go to bed. It's just about impossible working with them both around. It's just too noisy and it's not noise I can tune out easily. Sometimes I can get away with it if I use headphones and listen to music, but I tend to find music distracting.

What do you love about being a writer?
Not having to deal with office/staffroom politics and not having to deal with an Education Department . . . I also like having the flexibility, love being able to work at home surrounded by dogs. I actually like being alone, so that's a bonus. I do miss the teaching, but I go and hear reading at my sons' school to help out a bit and I'm a Cubs leader as well. I love the variety.

You use a pen name. Can you tell us why and how this came about? 
That was because I sold my first book when our younger son was about three months old. I was very conscious of the fact that there are some odd types out there and while I doubt I'll ever have what could even loosely be described as fame, I was keen to preserve our privacy as much as possible. I have one writing friend who actually had readers, total strangers, turn up on her doorstep expecting to be entertained, so I think I made the right decision for me.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? 
I do both. I plot madly and then start writing. By chapter three or four I'm writing a different book and have to replot it. It usually ends up being more layered and complex than I had originally envisaged which is probably good but does tend to slow me down. My early books were written much faster because I knew absolutely nothing about writing. Now I tend to think about things more. I know my first idea isn't necessarily my best idea and I know that even if I write a scene and absolutely love it, that it doesn't necessarily get a place in the final draft. But for some reason I still have to write those scenes. I usually end up chopping huge amounts out of the initial opening now. My editor calls this the "writing in" stage. She knows it's how I get to know my characters. Some people can do that with charts and lists of characteristics and traits. I have to write about them, see them together, before I know them.

What would be your ultimate research trip? ;)) 
A year or two in which I could wander at will around Britain, France, Spain and Ireland with an unlimited credit card someone else was going to pay off!

You now live in the Adelaide Hills. How do you find this and do you miss Melbourne?
I love being in the Hills and I wouldn't move back to Melbourne or any other city by choice. I miss friends and family, but we keep up with email and I take the kids back to visit once a year or so. It used to be more often to let my mother see them but since she died a couple of years ago we've been exploring South Australia a bit more. The only thing the Hills doesn't have that I love is the sea. I grew up on Port Phillip Bay and I do miss the sea.

What do you do in your ‘down time’? 
I read. This time of year is fabulous because I can read in the garden. Heck, I can even work in the garden with either a notepad or the laptop. Then it feels like down time. Walk the younger dog - the older dog is too old now for country walks. I don't get a lot of down time. Most of what would otherwise be down time gets swallowed up by driving the boys to soccer training and soccer matches. Even now when it's getting into summer sports they're having trials for next year's soccer teams. I swear, soccer is the invention of the devil, created especially to consume anything that looks like free time. I do quite a bit of reading during soccer training, or I might walk. I'm also a Cubs Leader but I'm not sure that counts as down time! It's a lot of fun though. You know, getting twenty kids thoroughly hot, tired and filthy and then handing them back to their parents!

Thanks Elizabeth for joining us at the fest! Elizabeth has kindly offered a copy of Lord Braybrook’s Penniless Bride as a give away. 

For your chance to win please answer to following question: 
Which of Elizabeth's previous books are linked to her current release, Lord Braybrook's Penniless Bride? 

(Hint: check out Elizabeth's website for details on her books)

Send an email to elenifest with Elizabeth Rolls in the subject line, and the answer in the body of the email. 

The contest will be open until the 28th October. 

Contest now closed. Congratulations Alison!

Good luck!

Thank you Elizabeth for your generosity.


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