Ready to meet another award winner? I’m delighted today to share my conversation with Kate Hardy: her book, A Will, a Wish and a Wedding, was the winner of the Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award at the RNA’s Romantic Novel Awards for 2021. Published in August 2020 by Harlequin Mills and Boon, it’s available both for kindle and in paperback via Amazon in the UK and US.
Let’s take a closer look…
Will an unexpected legacy…
…lead to wedding bells?
When Hugo Grey’s aunt leaves her house to Alice Walters – a complete stranger! – he is baffled. Especially as the will states Hugo must help Alice convert it into a butterfly centre. He and Alice clash over everything, except his attraction to the captivatingly feisty butterfly expert which is hard to ignore…
Now, have you made yourself a cup of coffee? Let’s go and meet Kate…
Kate, it’s such a pleasure 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…
Thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here. As for me – I’m a mum of two grown-up children (one having recently finished uni, one halfway through) and live in Norwich with my husband and two very bouncy springer spaniels, Archie and Dexter. Oh, and too many books to count! I love history, cake, terrible puns, ballet (I started Silver Swan lessons 18 months ago and it’s been a joy) and music.
And how about the writing – what made you first sit at your keyboard (or pick up your notebook!) and decide you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always, always been a bookworm – I learned to read at a very early age, and I wanted to write the things that brought me such joy. My mum actually bought me a proper typewriter for my sixth birthday! I think she knew I was a bit ‘different’, and she always encouraged me; sadly, she died when I was 20, so she didn’t get to share the joy of my first book being published. The early stuff was all about ponies, ghosts and outer space; sadly, my editor would notice if I tried to sneak any of that into my M&Bs, and she’d make me take them out! (Oh, wait. I could have an astronomer heroine…)
The story of my first M&B is a bit of a weepie. I’d been working as a freelance health journalist, and my husband suggested I tried writing M&B Medicals, on the grounds that I wanted to write romance and I was a Casualty addict. I’d been writing an article about bronchiolitis and I did wonder if I was being paranoid about six-week-old Chloe’s cold, but it was coming up to Christmas so I took her to see the doctor — who sent us straight to hospital, and she was admitted for a week. The worst bit was a three-year-old piping up in the back of the car, ‘Will Santa bring my baby sister home for Christmas?’ (No! And I cried all the way home.) The only way I got through it was to start my first M&B Medical. A Baby of Her Own was accepted on Chloe’s first birthday (November 2001) and published on her second birthday.
I see that A Will, a Wish, a Wedding was both your amazing 90th book for Mills & Boon and marked your 20th anniversary – goodness, and translated into more than 20 languages. Do you write full time – and how have you managed such a prodigious output while fitting your writing around all life’s other demands?
I’ve been a full-time writer for 24 years now. When I had my first job, I was studying for a couple of sets of professional qualifications as well, so I became used to fitting in work around my job — once I’d finished my exams, it meant I had the time to write. Luckily my husband’s always been very supportive. We agreed I’d try to make a living from editing and writing while I was on maternity leave after our son was born, and luckily for me it’s worked out! In the early days as a young mum, I was very strict with my writing time while the children were at nursery/school. I think it helps that I’m very much a planner, so I know what I’m intending to write when I sit down each day, and I know how much I need to write to meet my deadline. (But on a sunny day I can always be tempted away from my desk by the promise of the beach with the dogs!)
I do have a routine, which helps: out first thing with the dogs (hopefully catching the sunrise), then laundry on while we have breakfast, work, a couple of breaks in between for lunch and a bit of stitching (which is how I work out plot problems – letting them simmer in the back of my head!), and then everyone’s home and it’s time to cook dinner.
Tell me a little about writing for Mills & Boon – although we both know they’re wrong, people do still have a perception of them having a “formula”. I notice that your books really vary in terms of genre….
There isn’t a formula, but there are conventions (just as there are with crime fiction – where someone commits a crime and someone else solves the puzzle). With romance, it’s all about character, conflict and resolution. Two people (characters) meet and are attracted to each other; there’s a reason they can’t get together (conflict – which needs to be strong enough to last for a whole book; if it can be solved by a simple conversation, it’s not strong enough), and the story’s about their journey to reach a compromise. There’s usually a black moment, where you think the conflict isn’t going to work out; and then we reach the happy ending (resolution). But there certainly isn’t anything saying they have to kiss on page 10, or what the conflict should be or how it’s resolved. I write for two different lines — Medical Romance and True Love — and between them they give me plenty of variety. I love doing hands-on research, and I’m so lucky I get to follow things that interest me by using them in a book.
Medical romance, love stories – do you sometimes have an urge to write an entirely different genre of fiction? Is there a thriller writer maybe lurking within you…?
I also write non-fiction – I’ve written several local history books. I don’t think I’d be a good thriller writer because it’d give me bad dreams (I don’t read very gory books for precisely that reason!). But I would dearly love to write historical fiction with a twist or two. I’ve been trying for years to persuade my editor into letting me write a mashup of Bridgerton and House (aka my Regency Doctor book). I did hope that winning the award might make her say yes, so I put in a quick bid for that to be my next book; but sadly the answer was the usual, ‘Hahaha – nope!’
I’m rather ashamed to admit that I haven’t read any of your books (yet) – but I’m particularly attracted by A Will, a Wish, a Wedding and Hugo and Alice’s story. Please tell me more about your fascination with butterflies that inspired the story…
It started with a trip to Norwich Castle Museum when I was very small. Margaret Fontaine was a Victorian lepidopterist and her collection used to be showcased in the museum – I particularly loved the blue butterflies. Originally the book was going to be a bit of a ghost story, but my editor said no; we compromised with the idea of matchmaking from beyond the grave, and I got to write about my butterflies!
I can see that your award winner isn’t your latest book – Forever Family for the Midwife will, I’m sure, have delighted fans of your medical romances, and I see that Surprise Heir for the Princess was published only a few days ago for kindle (with the paperback to follow in April). Would you like to tell us more about them?
With Forever Family for the Midwife I’d seen a newspaper story about male midwives, and I was intrigued to learn that there are only a couple of hundred in the country. What would make someone change their occupation and go into nursing? I went through a few what-ifs, and ended up with this book 🙂
As for Surprise Heir for the Princess — that sort of started life a few years back, when I wrote a story for the Penhally medical series. Readers wanted me to write the sister’s story, but it didn’t fit with Medicals. I mulled over how I could write a book about a princess and a photographer. And then it struck me: Roman Holiday. How could that work nowadays, when everyone has a phone in their pocket and a photograph can travel across the globe in seconds? And of course it had to be partly set in my bit of the world, because for me Norfolk is one of the most beautiful places ever.
I explored your website when putting my questions together, and I’m absolutely enchanted by the Pipsqueak posts! Please tell us more about those lovely conversations between Archie and Dexter that others may not have seen…
The Pipsqueak Posts were really a way for me to give something back to readers during lockdown. Dexter wasn’t a lockdown purchase as such; we’d already booked him with the breeder as soon as we knew his mum was expecting, because we wanted Archie to have a half-brother and they have the same dad. Luckily our breeder was able to send us pictures and videos every day after he was born, until he was ready to join our family.
Having a pup brought us such joy that I wanted to share it with people who might be struggling with lockdown — and a good excuse to share puppy pics was to have his big half-brother sharing his wisdom. A lot of them are ‘firsts’, such as Dexter’s first barbecue, his first walk on a lead and his first trip to the beach; we also like tweaking the words of appropriate songs. (My son is still horrified that I’m planning to use Pink Floyd.) I’m looking forward to Dexter’s first bluebells (though I’m sad he didn’t get his first snowdrops in February – hopefully we’ll make up for it next year).
We must talk about the RNA. I’d love to hear more about your experience as an RNA member, and whether you’d urge others to join…
I’ve been an RNA member for around 25 years; through it, I’ve met the most fantastic friends, and I would encourage anyone who wants to write romance to join. If you’re a new writer, there’s the new writer scheme (where you get feedback on your book to help you work towards getting it published); if you’re already published, then you get to meet new friends who understand your job. Even better, some of them will be local — my local chapter meets up for a pizza once every six weeks or so, and although we haven’t been able to do it during lockdown we’ve still managed to do Zoom chats! There’s the conference, where there are a huge range of talks (something to suit everyone) as well as a chance to meet other authors and talk (a LOT). Plus there are the annual awards, and it’s so nice to get recognition of what we do.
I’m always interested in knowing whether an author is also a reader. If you are, what genres do you enjoy reading?
I’m a complete bookworm – and I read very widely. At the moment, my TBR pile includes some of my friends’ M&Bs (Rachael Stewart is definitely one to watch, as is lovely Sophie Pembroke – whose longer fiction is also a good read; and I have my friend Michelle Styles’ latest Viking too), a couple of the Bridgerton series, Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet (I loved her I Am, I Am, I Am), some non-fiction (the history of needlework and a bio of a forensic pathologist), and a collection of Anglo-Saxon poetry in parallel translation (birthday pressie from my daughter, who had some long FaceTime calls with me about the Exeter Book while she was doing a module on it and knew I’d love the chance to see some different ideas). I do like crime, but not gory – so Elly Griffiths (not just because her Ruth Galloway books are set locally!) and Lindsey Davis (her new series, with Falco’s daughter, is great fun) are right up my street. Oh, and Val McDermid’s latest is FABULOUS. I also still dip into the classics. Basically, if there are words and they’re put together well, my nose will be in them!
What writers do you particularly admire? If someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you love them to mention?
Liz Fielding is my all-time favourite M&B author. I absolutely love her books. Gentlemen Prefer… Brunettes and The Sheikh’s Guarded Heart are my two favourites, but frankly ANY of her books will make a bad day much, much better; and a close second is Caroline Anderson. (And I’m thrilled that both of them are real-life friends!)
Outside M&B, my favourite authors are AS Byatt (I wish I’d written Possession), George Eliot (The Mill on the Floss is my all time favourite novel), Thomas Hardy (yup, that’s where my writing name comes from), and Diana Norman (The Vizard Mask is the best historical novel I’ve ever read – my big regret was not going up to Barry Norman when he compèred the RNA awards and asking him to pass my biggest compliments on to her, because sadly she died not long after). I also particularly like Nicola Cornick, Susanna Kearsley, Milly Johnson (we’ve been friends ever since she published her first novel when I was celebrating my 25th M&B) and Rachel Hore (her The Glass Painter’s Daughter and The Silent Tide are particularly good).
I think your delight at winning this year’s award brought a tear to the eye of everyone watching, and there were so many friends delighted by your success. Tell me what it meant to you – and then, do please tell me where you’re going to display your trophy…
I’m just thrilled to bits. To win with my 90th M&B, in the 20th year of being one of M&B’s author, and my 25th year of being an RNA member – this really is the icing on the cake.
The trophy’s going on the dresser in the dining room (which is where I write — it’s the lightest room in the house, and it means the dogs can nap on the sofa but I’m also very well aware if Dexter is chewing something he shouldn’t have!). We had a change-round over the summer so we have a proper dresser to store my mum’s posh china (and my sewing stash!); the top shelf is for special things and that’s where the trophy will sit, along with the one from 2014 for Bound by a Baby (there isn’t one for the first win in 2008, with Breakfast at Giovanni’s, as those beautiful glass stars were first awarded in 2009 – but my name will be engraved on the Betty Neels rosebowl for the third time!).
Thank you so much for having me – I’ve really enjoyed our chat!
Kate, it’s been such a pleasure to meet you – I do so hope our paths will cross again at a future RNA event. To find out more about Kate and her books (and to see the Pipsqueak posts on her blog!) you’ll find her website here: you’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Do join me again tomorrow – I’m really looking forward to introducing you to Shirley Mann, winner of The Romantic Saga Award for Bobby’s War…