Cataromance is delighted to welcome brand new Mills and Boon Riva/Harlequin Kiss author Charlotte Phillips!
Thank you so much for joining us here at Cataromance, Charlotte! It’s wonderful to have you here. Your first novel for Mills and Boon Riva, Secrets of the Rich and Famous, was published in December. Could you please tell us what the book is about and what sparked off the original idea for the book?
I’m so happy to be here at Cataromance, thanks so much for inviting me!
Secrets of the Rich and Famous is about village journalist, Jen, who has big career ambitions and is pitching an article to a top womens’ magazine. Her article is a hands-on investigation into whether an ordinary girl with bills and a high street wardrobe can land a Chelsea millionaire. Since a man like that would immediately think gold-digger, she needs a budget makeover and a fictional new life. She’s housesitting in a luxury Chelsea apartment, passing it off as her own, when the real owner, film producer Alex, returns. He needs the property back to use as a bolthole from the media frenzy over a casting-couch scandal. Having flown halfway around the world to escape the press, he isn’t impressed to find one of them has moved in with him. Jen realises he is the perfect source of information for her article and when she ropes him into helping her, sparks begin to fly.
So far my stories have started with an idea for an interesting situation and the rest of the plot and character details have developed from there. With this book I saw a news item about executive housesitters – people who live in fabulous expensive houses for a fraction of the normal rent in return for keeping them occupied and secure. I wondered what would happen if you were using a posh place like that as a cover story and then the real owner reappeared, wanting it back. From there I began to think about what the cover story might be and the plot took shape from there.
What attracted you to writing category romance and to the Mills and Boon Riva line in particular?
I’ve been reading category romance since my teens – I’ve always just loved the escapism and happy-ever-afterness of them. I like the focus on hero and heroine, it’s quite a disciplined way of writing a story and that streamlining can be a real challenge.
The Riva line in particular was suggested to me by the editor I was working with because she thought it would be a good fit for me. I love the modern, flirty feel of the stories in the line and I like the range of heat levels on offer. I am thrilled to find myself among such a talented and experienced group of authors.
What are the challenges of writing fun, fast-paced and flirty contemporary romances?
I read lots of author interviews where people say the initial ideas are the easy bit and that they have a constant stream of them. I wish that were true for me! I find the ideas stage the hardest part – I have a tendency not to think globally enough and I’ve had quite a few knocked back by my editors. I am a plotter – I use endless lists and sticky notes and I have a plotboard, so once I have an idea approved the real fun starts for me.
I also have a tendency to identify more with my heroines. I find them easier to write and I feel like I’m living their journey and cheering them on. I have to work much harder to nail the hero and keep him strong. It’s a conscious effort for me to keep in mind that it’s a 50-50 story of two people that converges.
You took part in Mills and Boon’s New Voices competition. What was that like? And do you think that this experience helped to improve your writing and strengthen your authorial voice?
New Voices was a wonderful experience. I was completely immersed in it at the time – I listened to all the podcasts, read all the articles and read and commented on tons of entries. No one could have been more surprised than me when I ended up in the final four. I made some great friends and I got to work with Liz Fielding as my mentor, which really was a prize in itself.
There is no question that my writing improved enormously as a result of the experience. I learned more from Liz in a few days than I had in months of reading books and internet articles. She was terrific to work with – so knowledgeable and experienced but able to highlight my weaknesses without making me feel like a moron. Her advice on how to build characters was particularly invaluable and she also helped me with plotting and brainstorming.
I would say the experience emphasised how important authorial voice is. That uniqueness is what sets you apart from the many other authors out there and it is important to stay true to that and not lose sight of your voice by getting bogged down in craft advice and tips. Harlequin Mills & Boon are always on the lookout for a fresh new approach.
Do you have any writing tips for aspiring authors?
The tip I found most valuable was to write one thousand words a day. For a while I really struggled with my productivity. Balancing my writing with the demands of family life was difficult. I would have days where I could produce two or three thousand words and I would feel brilliant, then come crashing down when I couldn’t keep up that standard. I ended up feeling I wasn’t doing anything well. 1K a day enables me to lose the guilt. I am productive, but not at the expense of everything else, and I can keep it consistent.
I would also suggest reading as much of the line you are targeting as you can, especially the current output, and concentrate on building real, believable characters and making sure their behaviour is consistent throughout the story.
And keep tabs on the many opportunities Harlequin Mills & Boon offer to aspiring writers, such as SYTYCW, editor pitches and the fast-track submissions. Just because you don’t win, it doesn’t mean you won’t be noticed. It’s all about getting your work in front of an editor and these are all great chances to do that.
What’s a typical day for Charlotte Phillips like?
I write mainly during the week, although I might put in some extra time at the weekend, especially if I have revisions or a deadline looming. Mornings are crazy until my three children are at school, then I write until twelve or one. If I’m putting down a first draft I will keep at it until I have my thousand words as a minimum and if it’s flowing particularly well I will keep going. I fit blogging and any publicity stuff in where I can, and then the afternoons are for housework and family stuff.
Who are your favourite authors?
I enjoy a mix of authors and genres depending on my mood. I love Sue Townsend – I think the Adrian Mole diaries are so poignant and funny. I’m also a big fan of Stephen King, especially his early work. He is such a brilliant storyteller. In the romance genre I like fun, relatable stories. I adore pretty much everything by Jill Mansell. In category romance I would have to pick Ally Blake, Heidi Rice or Fiona Harper.
What’s your all time favourite romantic novel and romantic film?
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I read this for my A-Level English, ready to be bored witless, and I was completely swept away by it. I have devoured it countless times since.
My favourite romantic film is When Harry Met Sally. I’ve seen it so many times but it never bores me.
If you weren’t a romance writer, what would you be?
I would probably still be inhabiting my former life as a Helpdesk Administrator for the National Health Service. Even then I was writing in whatever spare time I could grab. Whatever I end up doing I think I will always be writing – I enjoy it so much and if I have a break from it for a few days I can’t wait to get back to it.
What’s next for Charlotte Phillips?
My second book, The Proposal Plan, was a UK-only release published in April 2013 which I am so excited about because it’s the first book I ever finished, a story I picked up and put down over many years and which was revised and then rejected by Mills & Boon just before I entered New Voices. Since offering me a contract, they have had a second look at that story and finally accepted it for publication. I’ve also just handed in the final revisions for my third book.
Thanks again for chatting to us, Charlotte! If you want to find out more about Charlotte and her books, visit her website at www.charlottephillipsbooks.com/
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