Monday, March 05, 2007

Sunday Spotlight on Jessica Hart

This week The Pink Heart Society spotlights author Jessica Hart - an RNA prize winner, Jessica has been nominated again this year!

About Jessica:

Unlike most writers, I never really wanted to be one. I fell into the business somewhere between teaching English in Jakarta, fantasizing about living in the outback and deciding for some reason that I still can’t satisfactorily explain that I would like to do a Ph.D. in Medieval History. I thought that writing romance would be a good way to finance my studies, and planned an ideal life where I would spend four months of the year working, four months studying and four months travelling (preferably in the outback). Of course it didn’t quite work out like that, but I have managed to have a very good time nonetheless. I started writing for money, it’s true, but twenty years, two degrees and 46 books later, I’ve acquired a real respect for category romance and its writers and readers.

I live in York (where else if you’re interested in medieval history?) with my Westie, Mungo, but spend a lot of time in a thatched cottage in Wiltshire where my partner, John, lives – which would be the perfect combination of city centre and country living, if it didn’t involve quite so much driving up and down the motorway.

Spotlight On Jessica:

Where do you get the inspiration for your books from?

Sometimes a film or a song will give me an idea, but increasingly my heroines deal with the same issues that my friends and I deal with in our own lives – which is why they tend to have been growing older along with me! So Contracted: Corporate Wife was based on a close friend of mine who wasstuck in a tiny flat in London with two adolescents and very little room to manoeuvre financially … wouldn’t a rich husband be the answer to all her problems, we would muse over a bottle of wine? But how could that work, and would it really be like? Business Arrangement Bride arose from many hours with friends at our favourite watering hole endlessly discussing our various emotional crises (usually mine!). If only men were prepared to have some relationship coaching, it would be so easy to keep us happy … step forward Tye Gibson!

What makes you mad?

Misuse of the apostrophe. Bad manners. Bad grammar. Cruelty to animals. Drivers who sit in the middle lane of the motorway instead of in the empty slow lane where they belong. Litter. Sniffing. Text spelling, as in “I luv u 4eva” (aaargh, I can hardly bear to write it, especially ‘luv’. I mean, why???? They’re only saving one letter, so why not spell it correctly?). The constant reorganization of the shelves in supermarkets so you can never find what you want. Not replying to emails, even when they contain a question that clearly requires an answer (John, this means you). The way the media always refer to family and friends as ‘loved ones’ (I don’t know why this annoys me so much, but it does). Unpunctuality. Unfathomable instruction manuals. Computer help lines … Gosh, I’m a crosspatch, aren’t I? Better stop.

What’s the most romantic thing that has ever happened to you?

Falling in love at first sight in a pub car park in the Yorkshire Dales. In spite of writing a number of romantic novels, until then I didn’t believe that it could really happen.

What in a hero makes you drool?

Laughter lines creasing his eyes.

If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

I often think about this as I nervously wait for my royalty cheque to arrive! Having tried a range of jobs in my time (secretary, cook, expedition interpreter, waitress, chambermaid, TEFL teacher, researcher etc) I would probably end up as some kind of administrator – I am a boringly practical and efficient person – but would love to think that I could run my own restaurant. I love food, thinking about it, shopping for it, preparing it, cooking it, eating it, talking about it …

What do you do to relax and wind down?

I would love to be able to boast about assuming some complicated yoga position, but the truth is that I’m most likely to go and have a drink and a gossip with a friend. I find that cooking restores me, as does landscape, the bigger and the emptier the better. A walk along a wild winter beach is always good, and if I really wanted to rethink my life, I’d go to a desert.

How do you get out of a writing rut?

With great difficulty! Sometimes it’s just a case of keeping my head down and plodding on, word by excruciating word. I’m struggling with the first draft of a book at the moment, and since committing to a 30,000 word story to be delivered by the beginning of May have had to bring my deadline forward by a month, which isn’t helping. So for now I’ve given myself smaller targets to try and get myself going. Instead of 17 or 18 pages per chapter, I’m aiming for 14, which will provide a substantial enough draft to rework easily (I hope!) into a full length book, and I’m breaking that down into 7 pages a day – when I’m working on all four cylinders, I would normally expect to do at least 15 a day, so 7 doesn’t seem that impossible. I tend to find that by aiming to write 7 pages, I’ll often manage 9 or 10 anyway, which puts me ahead of schedule and is always a good psychological boost!

If all that fails, I will give up and go out for a drink (I know, I know, there’s a theme developing here …). The fatal ‘extra glass’ later, I will roll home and either fall asleep or sit down at my computer and bash out several pages, not caring what I’m writing by that stage. It’s usually rubbish when I look at it the next day, but sometimes it can be just what I need to break my block. A useful technique, but one to be used with care, obviously!

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?

Now there’s a tricky question. There are so many places in the world that I love, but living in them might be a different matter. My grandmother was Australian, and I absolutely love Australia. I even applied to emigrate once (answer: Under no circumstances!) I think I’ve accepted now that I’ll never be an Australian but am stuck with being an uptight Brit, and I am very happy living in York. I just wish that I could transport the entire city with my house and friends, hairdresser, vet etc down to Wiltshire so that I could spend more time with John rather than driving up and down the motorway.

Who would you most like to give a hug to for a fabulous book you’ve read?

I’d say Georgette Heyer if I didn’t know that she would have been utterly appalled at the thought of a hug! I don’t suppose Jenny Crusie would much fancy a hug from me either – I really like the slight astringency in her style - but I think she’s an absolutely wonderful writer (especially Crazy For You, Welcome To Temptation, Tell Me Lies and Bet Me) so she’s the one I’d throw my arms around.

What music do you listen to when writing?

I am happily ignorant about music and will listen to anything. Although hugely picky about books, I love being given CDs, and listen to them obsessively for a while before moving on to a new fad. Currently I’m listening to Shaken by a Low Sound by a fantastic group called Crooked Still, who I saw recently in York. Other favourites are the Cowboy Junkies and k.d.lang (Hymns from the 49th Parallel) and with my low boredom threshold, I am very fond of a nice compilation, too. I’ve got a three CD compilation of stirring film scores (Classic FM at the Movies) which I have to say is brilliant writing music.

Tell us a secret nobody knows about you.

I’m short on secrets. Years ago, I confessed to a friend that I wanted to be mysterious. She laughed for about two years, and still sniggers whenever the word comes up. Sadly, I’m just not a secretive or mysterious person, so what you see is what you get. I am deaf in one ear, if that helps, but it’s not exactly a secret.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

Honestly, my most embarrassing moments are too embarrassing to tell anyone! The worst I’ll confess is the little incident on the first day of my holiday in Turkey a couple of years ago. I’d just graduated with a Ph.D. after nine years, and the morning I left I’d heard that I’d won a RITA for Christmas Eve Marriage, so as you can imagine, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. All the celebrations had done for the diet, though, so I’d invested in a swimsuit with an alleged ‘secret control panel’. Smug with my various successes, I wriggled into it under a towel on our first day at the beach and plunged into the turquoise water. Basking on my back I was quite oblivious to the attention of two men in a passing pedalo, who were pedaling backwards and forwards past me, until my goddaughter, shrieking with laughter, pointed out the reason in a voice that rang across the water and alerted the entire beach to what was going on. It turned out that I had put the swimsuit on back to front – and to this day, I don’t know how I managed it – and was unaware that my substantial boobs had sprung free of the inadequate back of the costume and were bobbing around in an uninhibited fashion. It was very, very amusing for my companions, I gather, who derived much pleasure for the rest of the holiday in saying things like ‘which way round are you planning to wear those trousers?’ how many degrees did you say you had?’ or ‘have you found that secret control panel yet?’

What have you had to celebrate in the last year?

Winning the RNA Romance Prize last April, and being short-listed for it again this year – that’s been a real thrill. Finishing three books with no revisions (I have the nicest editor in the world!) Last year was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, to tell the truth, so just getting through it was cause for celebration!

What’s beside your computer when you’re writing?

A selection of nail polishes for when I need displacement activity (my nails are perfectly manicured when I’m writing). Tweezers and a mirror (ditto). My mobile phone in case someone wants to invite me out for coffee or drink (ditto). A tattered, yellowing copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, split in two at the section on personal emotion. A ‘to do’ list. A timeplan so that I can cross of the days/chapters as I go. Cartoons that still make laugh even though they have been pinned up for years. A photo of Charlie, the last of my beloved tabbies who died just before Christmas and who would sit on my desk while I was writing – I miss him. And at my feet, Mungo, my Westie, usually snoring.

If you could kiss anyone in the world who would it be?

John – in spite of the roller-coaster! And if he wasn’t available, I would make do with Gary Sinese from CSI: New York – I’m a sucker for that lean, cold-eyed, stern-jawed look.

What are you working on now?

A book, as yet untitled, about the difficulties of having a relationship in your forties when you have so many different responsibilities to negotiate. My hero is a single father with three adolescent children, and the heroine has to care for her elderly mother. Dealing with ageing parents is something many of my friends are having to cope with at the moment, and I know it will be my turn sooner or later. As you get older, it seems to me that you have to work that much harder to create the space for a relationship, and it’s easy to let everything else get in the way, and move romance down the priority list. My characters are going to have to decide whether love is worth the effort …and I think we all know what the answer is going to be!

Barefoot Bride, a Harlequin/Mills & Boon Romance is out now in North America and the UK. (How gorgeous is that cover?)

For more check out Jessica's lovely and newly revamped website:

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Jessica, that secret control panel story is just too funny and unfortunately I think I'm going to be laughing at your expense all day! And I'm so with you on the text messaging thing as well!!!