Our guest on the blog today is Isabelle Goddard, who writes for both HMB and the Wild Rose Press. Isabelle was born into an army family and most of her childhood was spent moving from place to place, school to school, including periods of living abroad in Egypt and Germany. Isabelle has had a varied career path, swiftly deciding that the role of secretary was not for her and moving on to work as a member of the cabin crew for an airline, which led to some encounters with interesting people and some great experiences – riding in the foothills of the Andes, walking by the shores of Lake Victoria, flying pilgrims from Kandahar to Mecca.
The arrival of marriage and children and cats meant a more settled life in the south of England where she’s lived ever since. Isabelle returned to study, eventually gaining a PhD, and for many years taught English at a number of universities – loving every minute of it. Having always felt an affinity with the 19th century and growing up reading Georgette Heyer, when Isabelle finally plucked up the courage to begin writing herself, her novels had to be Regency romances.
Isabelle was delighted when her first book was accepted by Harlequin, Mills and Boon just before Christmas 2009 and even more delighted to publish five more Regency romances over the next few years. Recently she has moved away from pure romance and begun writing more mainstream women’s fiction under the new name of Merryn Allingham. Isabelle is currently two-thirds of the way through a trilogy set in India during the 1930s and 1940s and though these novels still include some romance, they also offer elements of mystery and suspense.
Welcome to the blog Isabelle and thanks for agreeing to an interview. We’d like to begin by asking what is was that made you start writing, how many books have you written and if you see yourself ever stopping?
While I was working full time, I ‘tinkered’ with writing. Short stories mainly, simply because they were short and I could fit them into a busy schedule. It was only when my workload decreased and I gradually slid into retirement, that I had the time to tackle something more substantial. I’ve written nine novels in the last five or six years. Six have been published, one is in the process of being published, and the other two are part of a trilogy I’m currently working on. At the moment I love writing so much that I can’t imagine ever wanting to stop.
Do you write full time or have another job?
Apart from teaching the occasional creative writing course or workshop, I don’t have a job. For many years I worked as a university lecturer teaching English Literature, so it’s wonderful to focus on creating rather than analysing.
What genre of romance would you say you write in and have you thought about trying any other genres, either of romance or something else?
I’ve been writing historical romance for the last few years, but am gradually moving towards romantic suspense/mystery romance – still historical – but more mainstream women’s fiction.
How did you get your first break into publishing, how long did it take and what did ‘getting the call’ feel like?
I sold the first novel I wrote to Harlequin, Mills and Boon but it took an age before I actually ‘got the call’ – something like two years between original submission and acceptance! When HMB finally rang, I remember I was sitting on the sofa feeling doleful with a bout of December flu. But despite the coughs and splutters, it felt pretty special hearing an editor say I was being offered a two book contract.
What has been your greatest writing challenge and how have you overcome it, if you have?
The main challenge has come from the job I did. I spent years teaching some of the greatest prose ever written and that’s pretty daunting when you’re considering putting pen to paper yourself. I had this mocking voice in my head which kept telling me not to bother. It took time to banish it. In the end, I managed to accept that I was never going to be Virginia Woolf! Instead I could be me and that could be fun. It was tremendously liberating when I broke through that barrier and allowed the words to come. Some of them were pure rubbish, of course, but in the middle there was the occasional nugget of gold which made me want to go on trying.
What would you consider your greatest writing accomplishment to be?
This question got me scratching my head, mainly because ‘great accomplishment’ doesn’t seem to fit where I am at the moment. With every book I write, I try to do better but I’m a long way off from feeling satisfied.
How do you plan your stories and develop your characters and do you ever worry about repeating patterns or themes in your writing?
The genesis of each novel is different. The trilogy I’m currently writing, for instance, sprang from my own family. My mother sailed to Bombay in 1937 to marry my father, not having seen him for six years. It’s a story that has always amazed me, plus the fact that I love India and all things Indian. So I used it as a jumping off point for my heroine, Daisy’s, story, which unfortunately doesn’t work out quite as well as my mother’s did!
I know my main characters before I begin to write. I sketch out as many details about them as I can and I know where I want them to start and where I want them to end. But what happens to them in the middle seems to grow as I get to know them better, and the secondary characters emerge in response to the story that is developing. As for patterns in writing, I think every author tends to repeat some of the same ideas and themes. When you write, whatever your story, you’re expressing part of yourself so it’s bound to happen. But setting novels in different historical periods – I’ve done Regency, Victorian and now the 1930s/1940s – has given me the chance to deal with different cultures and different societal expectations, and hopefully that’s prevented too much repetition.
Do you alter your writing in any way to appeal to international readers and do you have to change your writing style to meet the differing needs of your two publishers?
No, I don’t deliberately alter my style for different publishers or different audiences. HMB always use English spelling and punctuation and they also keep intact the particularly British aspects of the ms. I think they feel the English setting and language is what attracts readers in the first place.
The US publisher, Wild Rose Press, required North American spelling and punctuation and that meant a little more work on my part. It’s a strange fact that though US spelling simplifies, their punctuation is more complicated. It’s the punctuation I was taught at school but which in the UK is now seen as unnecessary. I had sometimes to modify phrases the American editor queried, phrases that might not be easily understood by an American readership, but at other times she was happy with my request that the phrase stayed. Working with an editor is always about compromise and it can be a great learning experience – on both sides!
Have you ever considered self-publishing?
I did try and self publish once, a novel which is now being published by Digital First. My efforts weren’t a great success! Apart from the fact that I’m technologically challenged, I hadn’t a clue about marketing and how much ‘push’ self published books need to get off the ground.
What do you think helps most in getting your books noticed in a crowded market place and how involved are you in the marketing process?
I’m still struggling with this one! I’m sure that luck comes into being noticed but equally sure that it’s also down to astute marketing and making the right contacts. I’ve gradually been dragged more into the marketing side – I have a website, a blog, a facebook author page and a twitter address. But I’m pretty hopeless at keeping any/all of them going and like many writers, I’m not a ‘Buy my Book’ type of person. I just enjoy writing.
What are your plans, hopes, dreams and aspirations for the next stage in your writing career?
I’ve enjoyed writing category historical romance enormously and I’ve learnt lot in doing so, but I’m ready now to broaden the scope of my writing. I’m hoping to move into mainstream women’s fiction but since most of the major publishing houses don’t take unsolicited manuscripts, it means finding an agent. I’m not holding my breath but occasionally miracles do happen!
You can find the links to Isabelle’s books on Amazon at: http://tiny.cc/cnz8bx
Find out more about Isabelle on her website and blog at: http://www.isabellegoddard.com/
Or follow Isabelle on Twitter @isabellegoddard