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20 June 2011

Paula Martin, author of 'His Leading Lady' - Writing then and now

I decided to have a short break from 'Monday's Word' and hope you'll join me in welcoming Fellow  'Brit Author' Paula Martin to my blog today.    A bit later we'll hear about her new release 'His Leading Lady' but now relax, and let's hear from the lady herself. 

Over to you Paula:

Writing Then and Now

My writing ‘career’ started in the mid-60’s when I submitted my first novel to Mills and Boon here in the UK.  At the time they produced only hard-back ‘library’ romances, with the strap line ‘Pleasant Books.’  No sex before marriage – correction, no sex, not even the hint of it.  They didn’t get near enough to the bedroom to close the door, let alone leave it open!  A chaste kiss was all that was allowed.  Divorce and illegitimacy were also completely taboo topics. 

And what about the actual writing?  I wrote everything in longhand.  Masses of crossing out, insertions, extra paragraphs stapled to a page – however did we manage? Then came the laborious job of typing out the MS on an old upright Remington, with carbon paper to make a copy.  One mistype and, if the correction paper wouldn’t hide it, the paper was ripped from the typewriter and you had to start the page all over again. 

I was a complete innocent when it came to submitting.  I didn’t know anything about agents or query letters or synopses.  I had no critique partners, just a couple of friends who read my story and liked it.  But I parcelled up the MS and put it in the post to M and B.  I fully expected it to come winging back within a few days.

Six weeks later, I had a letter signed by Alan Boon himself.  He (or the editor who wrote the letter – I’ll never know, since Alan signed everything) liked my story and my writing but there were a couple of chapters about which he had some reservations.  He said that if I was prepared to revise, they would consider my story for publication.    If I was prepared?  Of course I was!  I did the revision, typed the whole thing out again and sent it off.  After two weeks, I had an acceptance letter, and a contract for two more novels.

First novel, first submission, and I was accepted.  How lucky was that?  And nothing at all about any promotion or marketing on my part.  My first novel was published in May 1968, and my second and third novels were accepted immediately without any revision or editing.  I had no input whatsoever into the covers of these, or the blurb on the back, or the longer summary on the inside cover.  All I had to do was proof-read. 

When Mills and Boon merged with Harlequin in the 70’s, everything changed. Sheiks, Greek millionaires and Latin Lotharios abounded. All arrogant, brooding, domineering males and wimpy females who finally (and happily! – what?) ‘submitted’ to them. Explicit sex became the order of the day too, almost rape in many cases.

Not my scene at all.  I did submit another novel in the early 70’s which was rejected because it no longer fitted the new ‘formula’ – my hero was not dominant enough and there was no sex. 

I abandoned fiction writing for many years and finally came back to it about 4 years ago when I re-discovered my muse by writing fan-fiction, and then started writing novels again.

And what a difference there is between writing in the 60’s and writing now.

First of all, computers!  How much easier now to write, to change things as you go along, to cut and paste and to edit, to spell-check and to search for repeat words and phrases.     

And the internet of course.  In the 60’s, I was writing in isolation, I knew no other writers.  Now I belong to several yahoo groups and have made many contacts with writers from all over the world.  I’ve been lucky enough to find two critique partners who are honest, constructive and supportive.

How much easier, also, to do the research for a story.  Back in the 60’s, I wanted to set one novel in an American college.  This meant a visit to the library to find out the names and addresses of some colleges and then some letters to ask for their prospectus which, if I was lucky, arrived about two months later (airmail was FAR too expensive).  I never completed that story.  Now, of course, it would take only a few minutes to bring up hundreds of websites about American colleges and to download a full prospectus. 

So what’s the downside?  It seems that it’s now so much ‘easier’ to write a novel so the market is flooded with would-be writers.  There’s a lot of advice out there about query letters, blurbs and synopses, all designed to grab an editor’s attention, and there must be thousands of ‘how to write a best-selling novel’ articles. 

There also seem to be dozens of different genres, and I must admit I get a little confused at times about just what constitutes the different romance genres.  Okay, I know the difference between sweet and erotic, but between sensual and sophisticated?  It seems as of every publisher has its own interpretation.

Another change is that you are now expected to promote your own work, a task which can take a lot of time and energy, and which diverts you from actually writing stories.

It’s a different world but, on the whole, I DO prefer the present to the past!  I realised that when I got an idea for a novel when I was in Egypt last October.  I bought a notebook from the hotel’s bookshop, and scribbled furiously – and yes, there were all the crossings-out, insertions, extra paragraphs on separate pages with asterisks to denote where they belonged.  I felt as if I had stepped back in time.  When I got home, I couldn’t wait to transfer it all on to my computer, and to continue the story on the screen!

Thank you so much Paula. Yes, I agree with so much of what you say - and especially with how the internet has opened up the world for writers.  Not just for research for for the wonderful comeraderie that seems to exist between writers the world over!

New Release:  ‘His Leading Lady’ published by Whiskey Creek Press in June 2011 (www.whiskeycreekpress.com)

Jess Harper’s predictable life is turned upside down when she discovers that Lora, her twin sister, has disappeared.  It’s just a week before rehearsals are due to start for a new West End musical in which Lora has the lead role.  Jess decides to pose as her sister in order to save Lora's career.  This brings her into close contact with arrogant theatre director Kyle Drummond.  Attraction sparks between them but there’s also evidence that he had been dating Lora.  So is Jess simply a substitute – in real life as well as in the show?  And what will happen when Lora eventually returns?   


Paula Martin had some early publishing success with short stories and four novels, but then had a break from writing while she brought up a young family and also pursued her career as a history teacher for twenty-five years. She has recently returned to writing fiction, after taking early retirement from teaching.
She lives near Manchester in North-West England, and has two daughters and two grandsons. Apart from writing, she enjoys travelling and has been to many places in Britain, mainland Europe, America, Canada and the Middle East.  She loves visiting both familiar and new places, but Ireland is her very favourite place.

Contact Paula at:
Writers Blog (with 4 other writers): http://heroineswithhearts.blogspot.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/PaulaRomances