"A truly riveting read for anyone interested in, or believing in, past life. This really is a tumultuous journey back and forth between 1577 and the present day" – The Press, Dewsbury (Amazon Reviews).
I've been looking forward to bringing you this interview for ages – Pam Hartshorne has a PhD in medieval studies, lives in York, and runs writing classes.
She is also known as Jessica Hart, one of Harlequin's stars, and the author I've read the most. She's also the lovely mentor from my romance writing week in Tuscany three whole years ago, where my own creative journey began.
Her new book is 'Time's Echo', and it's a 'timeslip'. With lots of snippets about how life was lived in Elizabethan England, and a truly spooky ghost story too, it comes high on the list of recommendations. If anyone's read it, do leave a comment below – you may win a goody bag and a signed copy for a friend. And how fitting with Hallowe'en just around the corner!
Q. Pam, 'Time's Echo' is a real departure from the nearly 60 romances you’ve successfully written for Mills and Boon. What compelled you to change genres and try something different? And what's a 'timeslip'?!
A. The truth? I was dumped! My relationship fell apart, and by the time I started to get over it I was turning 50 and my 50th romance was being published. I just felt that I needed to change something about my life, and I'd been missing the history side of it since completing my PhD a few years earlier.
I've always been fascinated by the relationship between the past and the present, and have admired Barbara Erskine's books since reading the fabulous 'Lady of Hay' back in the 80s, so I thought I would have a go at writing something similar using my own research.
A 'time slip' was a natural choice for me. It's often used to describe novels with parallel stories in the past or the present, but my book, like Barbara Erskine's, is about a character who literally slips back through time to experience another life. (By the way, that relationship has since been repaired after a four-year break, and now he takes the credit for getting 'Time's Echo' off the ground!)
Q. One write up says 'When Grace Trewe becomes haunted by a 16th century woman drowned as a witch, powerful forces from the past threaten to consume her life in the present…' Can we expect to be scared? Or thrilled? And tell us about some of the characters in the book.
A. I didn't set out to scare readers, but several people have told me that they found the book really spooky, and my neighbour said she had to stop reading because she found it too frightening – I wasn't sure whether I should take that as a compliment or not!
Like Grace, I find the idea of losing control of my life and having someone else in my head a terrifying one. Although I'm fascinated by the idea of going back and seeing what life was 'really like', if it actually happened to me, as it does to Grace, I'm sure I'd be petrified. There are two main characters in the book, Hawise (Ha-WEE-za) from Elizabethan times, and Grace.
They are both young, both curious and drawn to the wider world beyond York. But Hawise has only ever lived in York, while Grace has been working in Indonesia – at the time of the Tsunami. Hawise's only choice is marriage to an older man she barely knows, while Grace is free to make her own decisions.
But which is easier, an arranged marriage, or taking responsibility for finding someone yourself and making your own relationship? The premise in both stories is one that fascinates me: what if we could turn back time and relive our lives? Would we be able to identify the moment, the tiny choice that changed everything? And if we could, would we be able to do it differently? It's part ghost story, part historical novel and part psychological thriller with, as you might expect, a dash of romance. (Remember how I told you to pick one specific genre and stick to it? Do as I say, not as I do!)
A. Although my PhD is technically in medieval studies, in fact most of my research was on Elizabethan York. I worked on the records of local courts (called wardmote courts) that dealt largely with broken paving and blocked gutters, dung heaps and piles of timber blocking the streets, nuisance neighbours and so on.
I worked on them for so long that the people began to seem familiar, almost like friends. In fact one of the entries, about a miller's dog biting Nicholas Ellis on the leg, became the starting point for 'Time's Echo'.
I felt that I had a very clear idea of what the city was like in the 16th century and I loved slipping in references to people who really existed. However, I soon realised that knowing about paving and sewers wasn't going to be enough and I had to a lot of research about other aspects of daily life in the Elizabethan city that I'd never come across in my thesis: what they wore under their clothes, what they had for breakfast, how they would have coped with sickness, Tudor weddings and childbirth rituals and so on. I absolutely LOVED doing that research and there's still so much to read.
A. Both Hawise and Grace find love, in neither case where they expect it, but the romance isn't the most important element of the book. Having said that, I personally love stories which have at least a hint of romance. I'm one of those people who reads the last page first, just to make sure the book is going to have a happy ending!
Q. You teach romance writing – our course in Tuscany was thoroughly enjoyable! Any other courses on the horizon? Can you recommend any books for someone who wants to write a novel?
A. We had fun, didn't we? (DF- yes we did! Go here to see a funny vid I shot there!) I've had another great week in Tuscany since, and have run courses on writing popular fiction and romance for the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York but I was feeling a bit over-extended last year, so have cut back on my teaching commitments for now.
I do like teaching though, so would like to do some more some time soon (my whole life runs on the refrain: When this book is finished…) There's nothing like face to face contact with a good tutor, so I'd recommend tracking down a course where possible if you're serious about writing to get you kick started. Julie Cohen runs some brilliant ones, I know. (www.julie-cohen.com) (Yes I'm going on one of Julie's this weekend in Reading! Lol DF)
But short of that, there are some excellent books out there. The one I find most useful is by Elizabeth Lyons: 'Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford To Ignore' – great for self-editing. I'm a big fan of Blake Snyder's 'Save the Cat'! The last book on screenwriting you'll ever need too. Although it's aimed at screenwriters, he's very sharp – and funny – about how stories work. For those targeting Mills & Boon, Kate Walker's '12-Point Guide to Writing Romance' is very good, as is Liz Fielding's 'Little Book of Writing Romance'. Both highly recommended for new writers.
Q. As Jessica Hart, you've written nearly 60 romances for Mills & Boon, but they mostly 'close the bedroom door' as far as the sex scenes are concerned. So what do you make of the '50 Shades of Grey' phenomenon? And all the copy cats springing up in the bookshops!
A. Ah… I might have to be careful here! I read the first volume of FSOG and I have to say, I just didn't get what all the fuss was about. Personally, I find the unspoken more erotic than explicit descriptions; a book can be quivering with sexual tension without once mentioning what Sophie Weston used to call 'the docking procedure'.
But when I've written the fastest selling book of all time, I will be able to criticise! Clearly lots of readers absolutely loved it. It's always baffling when someone loves a book you hate, and worse, when they hate a book you love. As an author, you have to accept that not everyone is going to like your book (please remind me of this grown-up attitude next time I'm tearing out my hair over a two star review on Amazon).
It seems that every year there's a book that grabs the popular imagination in some way, and then there's an unseemly rush to jump on the bandwagon, so I don't think the success of 'Fifty Shades' is particularly about erotic writing by and for women. I think it's just this year's 'thing' and next year everyone will be excited about a completely different kind of story. I just wish it could be 'Time's Echo'!
Q. There's a huge growth in self-publishing now, for instance to Kindle – where do you stand on ebook self-publishing?
A. I'm a bit torn. I'm old fogey enough to love books as physical things, and it does concern me that there are just so many books available on the internet that it's increasingly hard to find the ones you really want to read. To get noticed, you have to shout so loud (unless you’re E.L. James, of course) and everybody else is shouting too, and after a while you just want to hide away and only read the books by authors you already know. So I've found that the more books are available, the narrower my reading has been, and that's not a good thing. On the other hand, it's also exciting that there's such a huge appetite for stories out there, and that more and more early books that had been out of print are now available. I'm actually going to self-publish myself in January. I've got the rights back to five of my very early romances, so I'll be publishing the Jessica Hart Vintage Collection then. All five are very dated, so I'll be underlining the vintage bit!
Q. I know you were writing 'Time's Echo' quite a while back – what's next in the pipeline and when can we expect it?
A. I'm finishing 'The Memory of Midnight' right now. It's also a time slip, and also set in Elizabethan York, although the story feels very different to me and is quite a lot darker. That should be out next year. Meanwhile I'm continuing to write romance as Jessica Hart. 'We'll Always Have Paris' has just been re-released as part of the RIVA relaunch, and 'Hitched!' will be out in November as an e-book. And when 'The Memory of Midnight' is done, I'll be starting romance #60 (I could do with one of our brainstorming sessions!)
Thanks very much to Pam – good luck with the next book and thanks for the chat!
Thank you, Debbie. It's been great to be in touch with you again!
Next Month – My featured author will be award winner Sue Moorcroft, published by Choc-Lit, and her brand new book 'Dream a Little Dream', out in November – and if you want, read it in advance, and we can run a little book club with readers' comments too, on my blog! Amazon have a great deal on the book Time's Echo by Pam Hartshorne. And you can find out more about the author here or www.pamelahartshorne.com
The nitty gritty Go here for T & C’s about the competition.
Prize – a personally signed copy of the paperback, Time’s Echo, by Pam Hartshorne, as well as a special Debbie bonus! – a miscellaneous goody bag which Debbie received at the Breast Cancer Care Luncheon, including various edibles, stationery, beauty products incl small ESPA and Elemis, a small yankee candle and a key ring.
To enter – All you need to do is leave a comment below, eg say which part of the prize you’re most interested in and why. Winner chosen at random. Closing date for leaving a comment is 24th October. Winner of book and goody bag to be announced on this blog by 31st October – Hallowe’en! How appropriate! Lol. Good luck!.
To find out how to leave a comment go here.
Amazon have a great deal on the book Time’s Echo by Pam Hartshorne which you can find here.
Leave a comment – you’ve got nothing to lose! D x