Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Fun - Fan Girl Adventures in Ireland & Inverness with Heidi Rice and Abby Green

Two go mad in Mayo
Harlequin KISS & Cosmo Red Hot Reads author Heidi Rice is here at the Pink Heart Society today, talking about stalking her two favourite authors - Nora Roberts and Diana Gabaldon - over one amazing week in August with a little help from her best writing buddy Abby Green....

Like I'm sure all other romance authors that ever lived, I am also a huge romance writer fan girl... And two of my favourite authors happen to be Nora Roberts and Diana Gabaldon. This is the story of how, during one incredible week in August, Abby Green and I went the full fan girl and met them both while also getting to soak up the atmosphere of their most inspirational locales. 

Nora Roberts in Mayo: 17th August 2014

The Amazing Nora Roberts (can I be you when I grow up?)
It all started several months ago when I got a tweet from Presents author Abby Green, my best writing buddy, about an event that was going to be held at Ashford Castle in County Mayo in August... Afternoon Tea with Nora Roberts.

Well, straight away I said: 'I'm in!" Nora is one of the people who inspired me to become a romance writer. I have a scarily-large collection of her books. And to meet her in the West of Ireland where she has set some of my favourite books of hers and at Ashford Castle too, the incredible stately home where her latest trilogy is set (and right by the village where they shot The Quiet Man!)... OMG! No brainer, folks.

After a night of bar-hopping in Dublin's fair city, Abby and I set off on a slightly overcast Sunday morning to do the 3-hour drive to Cong. Once we arrived we checked into the very plush Ashford Lodge (in the grounds of Ashford Castle - we couldn't actually afford the castle!!) where we then discovered Nora's Tea was going to be happening. After helping ourselves to tea, cakes, and other yummy treats we settled in (nabbing seats at one of the front tables no less). Nora arrived bang on time and after stopping at every table to have a quick chat she took to the stage for the talk.

Ashford Castle bar here we come...
It was a marvellous event, Nora doing a quick interview with her publisher before fielding questions from the floor. She's sharp and witty and as brilliant as you might expect.

Here's a little sample of the Q&A:
Why did she love Ireland as a location for her books? Because it's part of her heritage and the place is, well, magic.
Does she get anyone to read/edit her dialogue? NO! (think there was mention of broken fingers here if anyone tried!)

What's her writing day like? Starts promptly at 8am, finishes at tea time and is very productive by the sounds of it (well, there's a surprise). That said, she does take time to dick around on the internet for a bit before starting to write (I took this as a very good sign that dicking around is allowed - in moderation).

Does she get advice from her husband/sons on her writing? No 'what would they know?' (Said with total aplomb while her hubby and one son were there!)

Someone, of course, asked the Roarke/Eve/Baby question too and she graciously answered it without running from the room screaming..... In case you don't already know this, the answer was 'not gonna happen' (or certainly not any time soon).

There were many many more questions a lot of which gave us authors present some invaluable insight into her writing technique. I was particularly excited to hear she's a total panster (like moi) and expects her first draft to be utter shite - also like moi (although I suspect mine's a lot shiter than hers).

Prosecco anyone?
Afterwards there was a book signing. The queue stretched through the lobby, round the ballroom and out into the gardens... But she stayed and signed and chatted and took pictures with everyone. When my chance arrived, I went a bit into fan-girl overload (while clutching my copy of her new In Death) and couldn't stop talking. 

But, as I'm currently in the process of writing my first single title book, what I really wanted to know was what did she think was the main difference between writing a longer book after writing series. Her answer? The essentials are the same, it's just on a much bigger canvas. 

Then she had this great analogy: Writing a single title is like performing Swan Lake, she said... You have the huge cast of dancers, the big stage, the full orchestra, the lavish costumes, the impressive backdrop, etc, etc, etc...  Writing series basically involves doing all that, but in a phone booth! It made me laugh, but also made me realise I needed to stop crapping myself about whether I had the ability to write a longer book and just get on and write the bugger....

That night Abby and I wandered down to Ashford Castle, and managed to sneak our way into the uber swanky and exclusive bar. And who should be there with her people, but Nora... Now we didn't approach her, she'd been so generous with her time already, and we didn't want to behave like actual stalkers and possibly get arrested. But it was still kinda cool to be necking strawberry proseccos in such a gorgeously Presents-style setting while chatting about our latest WIPs with Nora FREAKING Roberts sitting right behind us!!

Diana Gabaldon in Inverness: 22nd August 2014

Abby and I awestruck & trying not to show it (much)
Unlike our Nora stalking, our Diana Gabaldon / Outlander odyssey was somewhat more nuts and spontaneous. Basically Abby and I were driving back to Dublin airport from Mayo so I could get the flight back to London on Monday. And Abby just happened to mention that Diana Gabaldon was doing a book tour this same week in Scotland ('yeah, right "just happened" to mention!). 

What a coincidence we thought. 

Seeing as we're both HUGE Outlander fans and were currently high on all the hype for the new Starz series of the books starring the delicious Sam Heughan and the fabulous Catriona Balfe. Let's check out where DG's going to be, we said to ourselves? Let's see if there are any tickets left, we said to ourselves? We've got a 3-hour drive to kill, there's no harm in looking, right? Um, wrong! 

By the time we'd got to Dublin airport we'd booked flights from Dublin and London to Edinburgh on Friday morning. Booked tickets to DG's talk and book-signing event in Inverness that evening, had car hire and a hotel for the night lined up and well... Suffice it to say that we are no longer allowed to be left for three hours alone together in a car with access to an iPhone and a 3G connection.

Pocket Jamies at the ready!
The author stalking bug was still going strong that Friday morning when we met up in Edinburgh airport. We drove three hours through the wild Highland scenery to Inverness, booked into our vintage hotel with a tartan carpet (no, really) by the station (actually, literally on top of the station!) ... And then headed off to the talk/book signing at the Ironworks ten minutes walk down the road.

Yes to Inverness
The event was quite simply AWESOME.

Diana Gabaldon is the most astonishing and unique writer. I think the Outlander books are my favourite evah (I am currently re-reading them again - no small feat for me as I am a VERY slow reader and it will take me months). But I adore Jamie and Claire, their literally timeless love story, the ever growing diaspora of secondary characters, and the fabulously evocative historical detail DG gives to the books - making you feel as if you've been thrown back in time to the Scottish Highlands circa 1745 and been forced to marry this strapping gorgeous Highland warrior called James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser who turns out to be the love of your life.

But also wonderful are Outlander's Scottish fans who are so enthusiastic and fun and well, just plain awesome too. Not surprisingly DG in person turned out to be a truly inspirational speaker. Hilarious, ridiculously modest, and wonderfully relateable. She did a fabulously entertaining talk about her adventures writing the books and getting them published (I can't paraphrase it here, go see her for yourself!) despite having a bad cough and afterwards at the book signing was similarly generous. 

I was actually too tongue tied with awe to talk to her much (poor Nora got the bum end of that deal!) but we got a great picture (well it's a good picture of me and DG, do not know why AG was gurning!) and I got a copy of the new Starz inspired Outlander edition with Sam's Jamie looking ruggedly gorgeous and Caitriona's Claire looking brave and indomitable on the cover, signed by Herself of course.

Standing Stones
(the non-time travel variety)
But the inspiring stuff didn't end there. After a night on the town in Inverness - which is an astonishingly pretty city by the river with a great second hand bookstore called Leakeys and was a hot-bed of YES campaign energy at the time - we headed out to Culloden Moor the following day...

Culloden: marking the tragic death
of a way of life
The Battle of Culloden - which ended the last Jacobite uprising in a particularly brutal way - casts a long shadow not only over the Outlander books, but also the history of Scotland and indeed Britain (it's the last battle to be fought on British soil). The Moor is everything you would expect, both eerie and arresting and wildly evocative. The Clan stones that mark the mass graves of the fallen Highlanders are a particularly affecting sight (the audio tour is superb BTW).

After the Culloden experience we kept with the Outlander theme and, hearing of some nearby standing stones from the very nice lady in the Culloden visitors centre, we headed off down a country track to have lunch by the Cairns.

We didn't get transported back in time... Which on balance is probably a good thing, because quite apart from the lack of hygiene, non-existent plumbing, virulent diseases, murderous battles and generally hard rough life of the Highlands in the 18th century... Abby and I would have probably come to blows over Jamie Fraser - thus ending our beautiful (and expensive) friendship! (FYI, I would totally have won that fight, just saying).

So there you have it: the Ultimate Author Fan Girl Stalking Tour. With some inspirational sightseeing thrown in.

Tartan carpet? Seriously?

Thank you Miss Abby. So glad we are such a terrible influence on each other.

Here's a preview trailer for Starz' Outlander show to finish my blog.... Just because ... Well, sexy men in kilts, people!

Heidi's 2nd Cosmo Red Hot Reads, 10 Rules to Sex Up a Blind Date, is out soon...On October 8th. 

She loves to hear from readers (or fellow fan girls) through her website, blog, Twitter (@HeidiRomRice) or Facebook.


  1. Aw, that was such a great week! Had a blast Thelma! X Louise (p.s. I SO would have won the fight for Jamie;))

    1. Yeah right, you just keep believing that, baby!

  2. Abby is a terrible influence in the best sort of way! OMG, what a load of fun you two had. Totally jealous! :)