Tag Archives: Historical Romance

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Writing Tips from Mary Balogh, author of Someone to Hold

We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing!

Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? 

Yes. As a child, when people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say I wanted to be an authoress (that word certainly dates me, doesn’t it?). I used to fill notebooks with stories. When I grew up, of course, I discovered that I needed to eat so became a high school English teacher. Then I got married and had children. There was no time to write. I took a year’s leave of absence following the birth of my third child and worked my way through a suggested Grade XI reading list. It included Georgette Heyer’s Frederica. I was enchanted, perhaps more than I have been with any book before or since. I read everything she had written and then went into mourning because there was nothing else. I decided that I must write books of my own set in the same historical period. I wrote my first Regency (A Masked Deception) longhand at the kitchen table during the evenings and then typed it out and sent it off to a Canadian address I found inside the cover of a Signet Regency romance. It was a distribution centre! However, someone there read it, liked it, and sent in on to New York. Two weeks later I was offered a two-book contract.

What’s the best piece of advice you have received?

 Someone (I can’t even remember who) at a convention I attended once advised writers who sometimes sat down to work with a blank mind and no idea how or where to start to write anyway. It sounded absurd, but I have tried it. Nonsense may spill out, but somehow the thought processes get into gear and soon enough I know if what I have written really is nonsense. Sometimes it isn’t. But even if it is, by then I know exactly how I ought to have started, and I delete the nonsense and get going. I have never suffered from writers’ block, but almost every day I sit down with my laptop and a blank mind.

What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? 

You don’t have to know everything before you start. You don’t have to know the whole plot or every nuance of your characters in great depth. You don’t have to have done exhaustive research. All three things are necessary, but if you wait until you know everything there is to know, you will probably never get started. Get going and the knowledge will come—or at least the knowledge of what exact research you need to do.

Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not?

Never consciously. I wouldn’t want anyone to recognize himself or herself in my books. However, I have spent a longish lifetime living with people and interacting with them and observing them. I like my characters to be authentic, so I suppose I must take all sorts of character traits from people around me. And sometime yes, I suddenly think “Oh, this is so-and-so.”

What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you?

All the books of Georgette Heyer would fit here. She was thorough in her research and was awesomely accurate in her portrayal of Georgian and Regency England. At the same time she made those periods her own. She had her own very distinctive voice and vision. When I began to write books set in the same period, I had to learn to do the same thing—to find my own voice and vision so that I was not merely trying to imitate her (something that never works anyway).

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Anna Bradley, author of A Season of Ruin on her favorite Scottish Romance novels

One Hot Scot, Please What do you get when you take a wicked smolder, a sexy Scottish burr, and an unruly mass of tousled red curls and roll it up in a kilt? This is not a trick question. Every romance-lover with a kilt fetish knows Jamie Fraser is the hottest thing to roam the Highlands since Mel Gibson’s William Wallace. But even though he may have seduced us all with that muscled chest and the adorable way he says Sassenach, we were all onto the sexy Scot well before Jamie swept us off our feet. Readers have been clamoring for Celts for years, and romance writers have obliged with a clans’ worth of kilted heroes, from Rowan Keats’ brawny Bran MacLean in What a Lass Wants to Julie Garwood’s sexy Alec Kincaid in The Bride. And that’s just the tip of the crag. There’s a hot Scot out there for every reader. How about a mad chase across the moors with Tracy Ann Warren’s Daniel MacKinnon, the devastating laird in Her Highness and the Highlander? If you fancy some espionage, there’s Teri Brisbin’s fearless William de Brus, the daring knight who takes on the forces of good and evil and earns the everlasting love of his fire-magic heroine in Rising Fire. Is time-travelling romance your thing? Take it old school with Lynn Kurland’s hero Jake Kilchurn in Dreams of Stardust. My personal weakness is mad, decadent Scots with dark scandals in their past. Jennifer Ashley’s Lord Ian from The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie is one of my all-time favorite Scottish heroes, but all of the Mackenzie brothers make ruination look enticing. Now that’s my idea of a clan! Lovers and Fighters Whether they’re mad earls, spies, ghost-hunters or a princess’s bodyguard, the Scottish hero is a man of action. He doesn’t just wear that sword because it looks great with his kilt. He’s a lover and a fighter, and that’s a hero we can get behind. And let’s be honest—who doesn’t want to get behind a man wearing a kilt? But if it takes a real man to pull off a skirt, it also takes a real heroine to pull a skirt off her Scot. Every romance novel needs an unforgettable hero, but it also needs a remarkable heroine to keep him in line, even if it means she has to blacken his eye, as Hannah Howard does in Kimberly Bell’s A Convenient Engagement (if you haven’t read this one yet, a hint: he deserves it!). It takes a strong-willed lass to tame these pirates of the Highlands, but the Scottish romance heroine can handle her man. Don’t Mess with Scotland But the hot heroes are only part of the recipe for a sizzling Scottish historical. These epic love stories are set against a backdrop of sweeping moors, rugged crags and crumbling stone castles. In other words, Scotland herself is as untamed as her heroes. The wildly romantic settings are a perfect fit for tales of enduring love, and our warrior rebels give their country the same fierce love they give their heroines. Scotland may have a few downsides (damp weather and mashed turnips and haggis come to mind), but it’s difficult to focus on her shortcomings when there’s a plaid-clad hero waiting to share sips of whiskey from his flask and give you a peek up his kilt. Celts in Kilts Who could have imagined a few yards of thick wool could be so sexy? But though the kilt may be to women what black lace lingerie is to men, it isn’t the only thing at the heart of our fascination with Scottish heroes. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that a blessedly bare-assed Jamie Fraser proved once and for all in Season 1 of Outlander that a true Scot really does go commando, but our lust for Celts goes deeper than that. The Scottish clans are the ultimate alpha male group, and the Scottish romance novel hero is the wicked London rake, the arrogant CEO, and the ferocious Navy Seal all rolled into one tempting package. And if that package happens to be wrapped in a kilt? Well, so much the better. Anna Bradley writes sexy, steamy Regency romance. Her book A Season of Ruin, the second book in the Sutherland Scandals series, is out from Berkley on August 2, 2016.