It’s an absolute pleasure today to share the first of my conversations with three of the winners of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Romantic Novel Awards for 2021 – and today it’s the turn of Catherine Tinley, whose book Rags-to-Riches Wife won The Goldsboro Books Historical Romantic Novel Award. Published by Harlequin Mills and Boon, it was published in January 2020, and is available for kindle and in paperback via Amazon in the UK and US – and, if you’d like to find out for yourself why it so impressed the judges, I do notice the ebook is currently available at just 99p/c.
Let’s take a closer look…
To wedded Lady?
Lady’s maid Jane Bailey’s life is turned upside down by the arrival of wealthy gentleman Robert Kendal. He’s come to take Jane to visit her long-lost, aristocratic grandfather. Travelling together, they succumb to a mutual attraction. Yet Jane knows a maid should not hope to love a gentleman, even if she’s suddenly wearing silk dresses and dining with the Family. Society decrees they cannot marry, but how long can Jane deny her heart?
Let’s meet Catherine, and get to know her a little better…
Catherine, I’m delighted to welcome you to Being Anne – and many congratulations on the award. Would you like to introduce yourself? Tell me a little about your life…
Hi Anne, and thanks so much for having me! I’m from Co Down in N Ireland. I live with my husband (a Yorkshireman) and our three young adult children, who all moved back home during the pandemic. We have a rescue dog, Carey, and four cats (I only ever agreed to one!). I work full-time managing a busy NHS maternity hospital, and write at weekends.
And how about the actual writing – what made you first sit at your keyboard (or pick up your notebook!) and decide you wanted to be a writer?
It was that a story came to me, and I decided to see if I could write some of it. One scene led to another, and I ended up with Waltzing with the Earl, my first book. It got me my first publishing contract, plus it won the prestigious Rita Award in the US. I had to go to a glittering ceremony in a long dress, which was great fun (great craic, as we say around here)! I’ve only been published since 2017, so I’m still a relative newbie!
I often ask authors how they manage to fit their writing around the other demands in their lives – tell me more about being a weekend writer…
Yes, the day job leaves me too exhausted to write in the evenings. I aim to write 4000 words each weekend, and try to persist until I’ve reached my target. I use the pacemaker.press website to help me chart my progress. As a weekend writer with deadlines, I have to be professional and dedicated about my writing. I watch a lot less television than I used to!
I’ll admit – with apologies – that I’m a relative newcomer to Regency romance, but I’ve really enjoyed the books that I have read. In Rags-to-Riches Wife, Jane Bailey and Robert Kendall look particularly strong and intriguing characters – tell us more about them…
I loved these two. Writing their story was a joy! Jane is a serving-maid invited to stay with wealthy relatives. She meets with snobbery and disdain, but also kindness and, eventually, love. Jane is perfectly content with her station in life, and it causes some inner conflict for her to even think of the possibility of not being a servant any more. She’s a Cinderella character who is genuinely content with her place in the then social hierarchy. Robert is kind, and smart, and is bowled over by Jane. He, too, has uncertainties about his place, but eventually they both realise that they are best to just trust each other, and work it out as they go along.
Rags-to-Riches Wife is a gentle story, focused on family relationships. There are no explosions or high dramas, although there is a growing, slow-burn romantic attachment between the main characters. It seems to grip readers though, which is wonderful. I’m delighted that readers – and the RNA judges – liked it so much!
I always think it must be difficult to write characters who are true to their time and its conventions – is that a particular challenge?
Yes and no. I tell women’s stories – strong women facing and overcoming challenges – and the historical setting is, in some sense, simply scenery for some timeless trials that women and girls face. Having said that, writing historical fiction requires good research, and authenticity if not strict accuracy. I try to ensure that my heroines behave in ways that are consistent with the expectations of women 200 years ago – even if I then place them in stretching or challenging situations. Human relationships are fundamentally the same though, and women then faced similar issues as women and girls now in many parts of the world. I’ve dealt with fairly challenging issues in my books – including #MeToo, bereavement, depression, and PTSD.
Of course, I’ve had to reflect the language and understanding of the nineteenth century, but my books are as much about women now as women then.
What is most important to you, creating the world your characters inhabit or the romance at the book’s centre?
The characters’ journey is the most important thing, as that is the heart of the story. Having said that, a good book strikes the balance between plot, character, and setting, and I try to ensure all three are strong. World building is a key requirement – the reader needs to feel they are right there, with the characters, and not in a vague ‘white room’ of nothingness. However I try to add judicious details at key moments in order to ground the reader in that world – a brief reference to food, or clothing, or place. I’m currently writing a regency romance set in the Outer Hebrides, and am having to do meticulous research in order to not jar any Hebridean readers out of the story!
We must talk about the RNA – you mentioned the support of the Irish Chapter in your lovely acceptance speech. I’d love to hear more about your experience as an RNA member… and whether you’d recommend it to others…
I definitely would! Writing can be lonely. We take ourselves away from our families to write in a quiet space, and we don’t have ‘colleagues’ in the usual sense of the word. My RNA Irish Chapter buddies help me feel connected to other writers. Shared experiences, shared frustrations, mutual support, setting each other targets or challenging each other to be brave – all of these things have happened in my Chapter. So it helps all of us, both practically and emotionally.
I can see that your award winner isn’t your latest book – A Waltz with the Outspoken Governess has already won you a few more friends. But I see there’s a new one – Captivating the Cynical Earl (available for pre-order) out in July. Would you like to tell us more about it?
Thank you! Yes, this one features Lady Cecily Thornhill, who appeared as a secondary character in two of my other books. I thought it was about time she moved centre-stage for her own story to be told. I’ve matched her with Jack Beresford, Earl of Hawkenden, and given her only a month to melt his cold heart. When writing romance, I think it helps to have an understanding of the psychology of attachment, and Jack has an ‘avoidant’ pattern – his mother died and his nurse abandoned him when he was a small boy, and so he is emotionally aloof. Despite this he, like all of us, has a need for love, and so Cecily will have to work hard to get through his emotional armour.
I must tell you how much I love your books’ covers – do you have any influence over their choice?
Thank you! The art department in Canada does a great job designing the covers, but the authors do fill in an ‘art fact sheet’ to assist them – detailing our key characters and scenes, often with a link to any pinterest boards we have for that project.
I’m always interested in knowing whether an author is also a reader. If so, do you stick with historical romance – or is what you enjoy reading something quite different?
I read lots of historical romance, yes, but I like contemporary romance too, and women’s fiction. Some of my recent favourites have included Normal People, The Flat Share, The Queen’s Wing, and Grace after Henry. I love high fantasy too – I think it’s a different form of Romance. The Empire Trilogy by Wurts and Feist is my all-time favourite series. My all-time favourite author is Georgette Heyer.
Watching the awards ceremony, you were clearly surprised (it was the cry of “That’s me!” that gave you away…) and so thrilled by your success. Tell me what it meant to you – and then tell me where you’re going to display your trophy…
I was genuinely surprised. I unintentionally entered the ‘wrong’ category (being relatively new to this whole world) and found myself up against some wonderful, heavyweight mainstream books. In that regard, I suspect Mills & Boons are perhaps unfairly under-rated at times. We write well, our editors are fab, and it can be more challenging to tell a gripping, emotionally satisfying story with a tighter wordcount.
So when they said my name, I was genuinely confused for a moment- particularly as they mispronounced it! I had to quickly work out if there were other Catherines in my category – there had been at least one other in the green room before the ceremony. But then they put my face full-screen, so I worked it out!
It means so much – the knowledge that readers and judges enjoyed my book, found merit in it, and saw fit to give me the overall historical prize is amazing. And, if the RoNA is the Bafta of our industry, and the Rita (now the Vivian) is the Oscar, that’s me now having won both, which is doubly amazing!
The RoNA award is already on display in my sitting room, next to my Rita award, and I intend to look at them both any time I become plagued with self-doubt – the writer’s curse!
Catherine, thank you – it’s been a real pleasure to meet you, and let’s hope there will be many more awards to add to that display. To find out more about Catherine and her books you’ll find her website here: you’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Bookbub.
Do join me again tomorrow when Kate Hardy, winner of the Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award, will be my guest…