Congratulations to Pamela Hart who is a finalists in the 2017 RUBY Awards, nominated for her book, The War Bride! We chat with Pamela about her nominated book, how she reacted when she found out she was a finalist, and her advice for aspiring authors.
Congratulations, you’re a finalist in the 2017 RUBY Awards! How did you react when you found out you were a finalist?
I sat in shock for a moment, and then did the happy dance! Then I called my husband and told him and he did the happy dance at work.
Please tell us about the story you’ve been nominated for. Did you have a secret alternative title while you were writing it?
No, it was always called The War Bride. When I was doing the research for The Soldier’s Wife, I found the story of a woman who had married an ANZAC soldier in England during WWI, but when she arrived in Australia it turned out he had lied to her and was already married. As soon as I read about it, I knew I’d found my next book. But then, of course, I had to make it more complicated – Margaret believes that Frank lied to her, but really there was a (historically accurate) mix-up with the ship she was coming on, and he came a week early and went away believing that she had decided not to leave her home in England. (This isn’t spoilers, by the way – it all happens in the first chapter!)
So both Margaret and Frank have to make new lives for themselves. And for Margaret, that includes falling in love with someone else…
Do you write romance books in secret, or are you loud and proud?
Honestly, I didn’t know I was writing romances until this book started getting nominated for awards! If you’d asked me, I would have said ‘I write historical fiction and there’s usually a love story in there’, but because I’ve primarily been a children’s writer, I’m new to the whole romance-writing scene. But of course I’m proud of it! Why wouldn’t I be proud to write about the deepest and most important part of human life?
Headless washboard abs, a torrid embrace, the sprawling homestead, an elegantly dressed décolletage, or a vaguely kinky object against a dark background – what’s your favourite type of romance cover and why?
Hmmm….I have to confess, I read mostly on my phone, so covers are less important to me. I don’t chose books by their covers, but by their author (and recommendations from friends). I’m not a fan of the washboard abs, though (maybe because I used to go to a body building gym, and all the guys with washboard abs there were gay, so I associate that look with gay men…) I guess I like covers which emphasise the woman more than the man, especially those which show the woman’s face.
What is the secret life of a romance writer? What goes on between you and your keyboard (or quill) behind closed doors?
I wish I did have a secret life! (Maybe I should start one, so I can be mysterious and intriguing…) I try to write every day, or research, when I’m in the early stages of a project. Historical fiction takes a lot of researching!
It is true that you have to feel the emotions of your character as you write, so you will find me laughing or crying or having to fan myself down (after a bedroom scene).
But I’m also a mum, and do all the things that mums do. Being a writer is maybe the very best job for a mother, as it is so flexible.
Do you remember the first romance you read, the one that inspired you to continue reading and writing in this genre?
My first would almost certainly have been a Georgette Heyer novel when I was still in primary school. I still love her work (we have all her books – I knew I’d found my soulmate when I discovered my husband had a collection of Heyer!). I think it was These Old Shades. That’s the one I remember most vividly (and have reread many times).
What I loved about her was her characters and the sense of time and place she so brilliantly recreated. And her heroes! They all had a sense of humour, and that was very beguiling.
Do you hide any secrets in your plot line that only a few people will find?
I have some Easter Eggs for regular readers. Some characters appear in more than one book, and there are (almost unseen) connections between others across books. So the more of my books you have read, the richer the reading experience should be, as minor characters will be more vivid for you and you will understand the relationships just a little better than the new reader.
For example, Margaret in The War Bride goes to see a lawyer, Valentine Quinn. My newest book, A Letter from Italy, is about Mr Quinn’s daughter-in-law. He doesn’t appear in the book, but if you have read The War Bride you should pick up on the references.
How you differentiate between romance fiction, erotica and porn. Are romance readers getting naughtier?
I think the level of naughtiness in the reader remains the same – but publishers are getting braver! For me, the difference is: romance fiction is about the relationship, and may not need any physical contact at all (although it probably has some, even if the curtains are drawn over it). Erotica is about relationships which are expressed physically, and that physical expression is a metaphor for the emotions of the protagonists – that is, the romance is made flesh. Porn doesn’t care about the relationship at all, only the body parts.
More women read romance than men, but some men do. What do you know of your male audience? And why do they read you?
I have quite a few male readers. I think because my first book in this genre was called The Soldier’s Wife, it attracted more men than most romances. I was surprised by the number of ex-soldiers (mostly Vietnam vets) who have contacted me about that book. It deals in small part with how hard it is for soldiers to readjust when they come back home, and I’ve been very touched by emails from them thanking me for writing it and saying that I ‘got it right’.
Generally, though, I think more men read historical romantic fiction than some other romance genres, as they are interested in the history (which is a big element in my work) as well as the romance.
What advice would you give aspiring romance writers?
Join the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) and two, just do it! As Pat Walsh says, the number one reason your book won’t be published is that you haven’t written it. The second reason is that it’s not good enough – which is why you have to workshop and redraft it until it is.
The RWA has a fantastic program for aspiring writers, where you will find all the help, support and technical expertise you could need. I wish I’d found it when I first started to write!
And thirdly, read. Read a lot – not just romance. Read non-fiction as well as fiction. Read award winning books. Read popular books. Read poetry. The more you read, the better a writer you will be.
The War Bride
January 1920. Young Englishwoman Margaret Dalton arrives in Sydney full of excitement for what her new life will bring. She leaves behind the horrors of WWI and can't wait to see her husband, Frank, after two years' separation. But when Margaret's ship docks, Frank isn't there to greet her and Margaret is informed that he already has a wife... Devastated, Margaret must swap her hopes and dreams for the reality of living and working in a strange new city. And just as a growing friendship with army sergeant Tom McBride gives her a steady person to rely on, news arrives that will have far-reaching consequences. Where should Margaret's loyalties lie: with the old life or with the new?...