Ask any successful novelist what they spent their youth doing, and you can betcha by golly wow it wasn’t buckling down to schoolwork. I’m not saying you can’t be academic and creative, but I am saying I spent much more time chewing a pencil and staring out of the window daydreaming than doing my homework. What a blissful relief it was, then, when I didn’t have to do homework any more, and had a whole summer—that one between GCSEs and A levels—to just do what I wanted. And, being the odd soul I am, what I wanted was to write.
It’s a funny thing, but careers advisors don’t consider ‘novelist’ to be a proper job. They could just about get their heads around journalism, and they were on much safer ground with English Lit degrees, but as for actually writing books, instead of writing about them? I might as well have said I wanted to be an intergalactic space pirate.
(Actually, I wrote a book about that once.)
So I had to teach myself to write. It was another few years, and several really crappy jobs, before I heard of the RNA or the RWA, and actually met other people who not only wanted to write, but wanted to write romantic novels. Several more years, and several more really crappy book ideas, before I finally wrote something somebody wanted to publish.
That was six years ago. I’ve actually lost count of the novellas I’ve had epublished—somewhere around the 30 mark, I think, plus six full length novels, most of which are also in paperback. That’s coming up the hill for forty published works, with three publishers, and they’ve won awards too. But since they were largely ebooks, and with American publishers, for the most part I’m utterly unknown in the UK. Sometimes I have to check my own website to remind myself who I am.
But what’s nice about the romance writing community is how genuinely friendly everyone is. And thanks to the Internet, we can all keep in touch, share congratulations and commiserations, and make friendships that last. It was because of one of these friendships that The Untied Kingdom came about. A friend of mine from Texas—who I’d never have met if we hadn’t both been aspiring writers—and I were messing around on Instant Messenger, joking about a misspelling of the United Kingdom (which I actually find increasingly hard to type now I’ve got to used to ‘untied’!). Silliness after silliness crossed the Atlantic, until I suddenly said, “I could write about that!”
So my alternate world began to evolve. My friend and I zinged historical points at each other, and I clearly remember wondering aloud (all right, typing) whether the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand would have inevitably led to WWI. Perhaps he was still shot, my friend suggested, “but his capable wife Sophie stepped into his place, bringing about a period of peace and prosperity.” It’s a line that made it into the book.
There are a load of other ‘what if’s, some of which made it in, some of which simply shaped the world, and some of which gave me such a headache that I gave them up. The “What if Henry VIII didn’t divorce his wife?” became, “What if he was granted his annulment by the Pope and still married all his other wives, but never broke with Rome and created his own church?” A small change, but one which, the more I wrote, subtly changed the world and characters who inhabited it, especially when it came to my hero, Major Harker, and the matter of his own divorce.
I’ll also admit that the book offered me an opportunity to create the kind of hero I’d always wanted to, but who never really fit into any of my other books. Too ruggedly heroic for the modern world, too wearily put upon for my erotic romances (because that’s what a lot of my other books are!). I wanted to write a Richard Sharpe of a hero, a Mal Reynolds, a Sam Vimes. A man who didn’t fit in with the acceptable norms of his place in society, a man who spent every day dealing with idiots, a man who was tired and put upon and scarred and angry but who still, no matter the cost, got the job done.
His name is Major Harker, and you can read about him in The Untied Kingdom, available from Choc Lit 1st April.
Now, you see what happens when you don’t finish your homework?
Kate Johnson lives in rural Essex where she belongs to a pride of cats and puts up with a demon puppy. She did actually do most of her homework, but quickly so as to have more time to stare out of the window thinking about heroes. Stay in school, kids. Kate has done a variety of not-particularly great jobs, ranging from airport check-in to lab assistant, but much prefers writing for a living. For one thing, the hours are better, and no one ever tells her off for not ironing her shirt. In fact, the lack of ironing might be the single greatest advantage to being an author. Kate loves going off at mad tangents, which you’d surely never have guessed, but also enjoys reading romance and fantasy, watching funny stuff on TV, drinking coffee by the gallon and occasionally leaving the house. The Untied Kingdom is her first novel to be published in the UK.
Buy link: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9781906931681/The-Untied-Kingdom
If you’d like to be entered into a draw to win a copy of The Untied Kingdom, leave a comment and tell me: when you were at school, what did you think you’d do when you grew up?