Today we’re excited to have Charlotte Phillips in our hot seat. Many of you will probably know of Charlotte from Mills and Boon’s New Voices 2011, where she successfully hit the Top 4 spot. But it hasn’t stopped there for her. She’s been busily scribbling away in the background since the close of the competition. We think it’s time to find out what’s been going on…
Q: What a whirlwind, Charlotte! You enter New Voices, come out of it as a finalist, an editor grabs you and then, six months later, you’re offered a book deal. Has it really been that straightforward a journey?
Thanks so much for inviting me onto the fabulous Hot Pink Typewriter blog, I am thrilled to be here.
I dabbled with writing when I was a student in my early twenties but never did more than that until a couple of years ago when I stopped work to have my youngest daughter. I found time to dust off an old story, polish it up and I sent it off to Mills & Boon. I decided it might be rubbish, but at least it wouldn’t be rubbish cluttering up the bottom of my wardrobe anymore! It was picked from the slush pile but was eventually rejected after two rounds of revisions. I was spurred on, though, and soon after that I entered New Voices 2011, more for the objective feedback it offered than because I thought I was in with a chance. No one could be more shocked than me when I ended up in the final 4.
I had a fantastic time in the competition, made some great friends, (some of whom are behind this blog!), and had Liz Fielding as my mentor. It was a terrific experience. Although I didn’t win I received a phone call from an editor as part of my runner up prize. My NV story wasn’t deemed strong enough to pursue but I was lucky enough to be given the chance to work on a new story with the editor. I was asked to submit 3 chapters at a time and received feedback and guidance as I went along. I think that’s one of the best things about Harlequin Mills & Boon, they are willing to work with you if they see potential for one of their lines and are prepared to stick with you until you get it right.
Q: Can you tell us more about your upcoming book?
I have a title now – ‘Secrets of the Rich and Famous’. Set in Chelsea, London, my heroine is an undercover journalist and my hero is an Oscar-winning film producer who is embroiled in a casting-couch scandal.
It will be published by M&B Riva, but a release date is not yet in place as the Riva line is undergoing a relaunch. It’s a hugely exciting time to join Riva and I’m so thrilled to find myself among such a talented and experienced group of authors.
Q: Why do you write? And why romance?
I love reading, I adored creative writing at school, and it’s basically a hobby that’s developed from those two things over the years. I write what I love to read, which are funny, engaging, it-could-happen-to-you stories. Romance is an easy choice because I love a happy ending. I enjoy the process of building characters in my head and seeing where that takes me.
Q: You have a hugely busy family life. How do you find time to write?
I think a lot of writers have to juggle madly to fit everything in. I have two teenagers, a four year old and a dachshund puppy who likes to chew, but I also have a lovely husband who ignores dust and mess!
After NV I began to take my writing more seriously and I did struggle then to fit the writing in without feeling guilty about taking time out from domestic stuff. The most helpful piece of advice I got was to write 1k a day. I try to do that now without fail when I’m putting down a first draft. I tend to write longhand notes when I have spare moments in the afternoon and evening and then type up my draft the next morning. If I plan properly I can easily get 1k done within an hour and then get on with the rest of my day without guilt. Revisions and polishing are a bit more intensive but then I steal time from all over the place and let the ironing get out of hand and the dust settle.
Q: What are your strengths and weaknesses in the writing process?
I’m still finding out what my process is – working out what does and doesn’t work for me. I am definitely more of a planner, I like to know where I’m heading, and I’m experimenting with different ways of doing that.
I definitely identify with my heroines. I find them easier to write, I live their journey and feel like I’m cheering them on. I have to work much harder to nail the hero and keep him strong.
I enjoy writing so much, but the big exception is the ideas stage, which I loathe. I’ve had quite a few knocked back by my editor! I have a tendency not to think globally enough. Once I have an idea that works to develop, I can run with it.
Q: Has working with an editor affected your writing in any way?
I’ve improved so much since I’ve had input from an editor. She pushes me to be better than I thought I could be, to mine every scene for humour, emotion, drama, wringing everything out of it that I can. I’ve learned how important it is to keep motivation consistent throughout – they must stay in character. Also that it’s a story of two people with their own histories, which converges – hero and heroine should have 50-50 importance. I have to work on this because I gravitate so much to my heroines.
Q: What inspires your stories?
Newspaper and magazine stories, anecdotes, TVshows. Anything really. I usually get an idea for an interesting hook of a situation and develop everything else from there.
8: You were very lucky to have Liz Fielding as your mentor in New Voices. I know she’s been a huge support to you and you’ve valued her input tremendously. What have you learned from her?
Liz was terrific to work with during NV and stayed in touch afterwards giving me support and encouragement. She is just so knowledgeable and experienced but was brilliant at highlighting where I was going wrong without making me feel stupid. For example I wrote a kissing scene for my pivotal moment and she managed to point out that I’d given the hero a third arm without making me feel like a moron!
Her advice on how to build characters was invaluable and she helped me keep the hero as strong as possible – I have a tendency to lose sight of that at times. She has since published her own craft book – ‘Liz Fielding’s Little Book of Writing Romance’ - which is full of the kind of advice and tips she gave me, so now I refer to that! I was so lucky to have her as my mentor, it really was a prize in itself.
Q: Can you tell us what’s coming next for you?
I’ve just started work on my second story for Riva and I’m looking forward excitedly to the relaunch of the line later this year.
Q: And to finish, what advice would you give other aspiring romance writers out there, especially for those hoping to write for Mills and Boon?
Try to write daily if you can. A daily wordcount soon mounts up into chapters which you can then revise into shape. Read as much of the line you are targeting as you can and also read a few craft books, Liz’s (mentioned above) and Kate Walker’s ’12 Point Guide to Writing Romance’ are my failsafes for romance writing and I also love Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ for inspiration.
Concentrate on building real, believable characters, they are what drives and makes the story, and make sure their motivation is consistent throughout.
And keep abreast of the many opportunities Harlequin Mills & Boon offer to aspiring authors. NV, SYTYCW and the fast-tracks are all examples. And just because you don’t win it doesn’t mean you won’t get noticed. It’s all about getting your work in front of an editor and these are great chances to do that.
Thanks so much for coming to join us today, Charlotte. It’s been a pleasure having you visit. We’ll be eagerly watching out for that release date, so keep us informed! If you’d like to stalk Charlotte in the interim, she can be found at:
charlotte-phillips.blogspot.com and @charlieflips