Q: Why do you want to write books?
Because it beats working for a living? No, seriously, when I wrote my first novel I was living in Ireland because of my husband’s job (he was an army officer), I had three small children and going out to work was simply not really an option. Until the move to Ireland I’d been running a small publishing business from home but my partner’s husband had been posted to Alabama (she was also married to an army officer) so it was impossible to carry on and I was bored to sobs. Writing a novel seemed a good option, although at the time wrote my first book I wasn’t sure I’d be any good at it. Now I do it because I really love living in a fictional world where my characters can got to wonderful locations and in my head, I’m there too. On a wet winter’s morning, imagining you’re basking in summer sun on a deserted beach on a Greek island is a pretty good escape from real life.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Becoming an author came as a real shock as it was never something I’d ever thought about until it happened. I wasn’t the sort of kid who penned stories for her sibling or friends nor did I write anything other than what I had to for homework. Furthermore I went to the sort of blue-stocking school where we wrote essays, endless essays on mind-numbingly dull subjects – flights of fancy were definitely discouraged. Writing creatively happened entirely by accident. I left school to join the army (a ratio of 500:1 men to women and the chance of foreign travel being the big draw) and served for 8 years before getting thrown out when I began a family – which was what happened 25 years ago. A couple of years later we moved into a quarter next to a woman who edited a magazine for army wives. She asked me to help with the admin because that’s what I was really good at. One day she was short of some copy and asked me to write ‘300 words about anything and make it funny’. I’d spend 8 years obeying orders so I did as I was told and wrote a piece about my fellow army wives. Apparently it was funny, it was well received, I was asked to write more columns and then it was suggested I might like to think about producing a book. I baulked at the idea of a whole book but my neighbour said she’d write it with me. Half a book didn’t seem quite such a huge task, so Gumboots and Pearl, which is a wry look at how to be a perfect officer’s wife, was my first book. And once you’ve written one, even if it’s only half of one… well, the idea of writing another isn’t so scary.
Q: How were you able to break into the writing industry?
Gumboots and Pearls was self-published – which I suppose is a bit of a cheat. However we only took that step because we hawked the book round quite a few publishers who all really liked it but said there was no market for it. No market?! There were thousands of army wives around and lots of ways to bring the book to their attention – especially in places like Cyprus and German where they are a totally captive audience with special newspapers and radio stations just for the Forces. I mean, just how easy would it be to advertise it? But the publishers couldn’t see it so we decided to go it alone. We sold a staggering 16,000 copies and then went on to publish more books. This meant that when I came to try to sell my first novel I did have a bit of a track record to put on my CV and a readership who might be persuaded to buy something else of mine. But of course I also had the most enormous dollop of luck as my book just happened to land on the desk of an editor who was looking for new authors for a new mass market paperback venture. I have to say that ‘luck’ plays a ridiculously large part in a lot of authors’ writing careers and mine was no exception.
Q: Where do your ideas for storylines and characters come from?
If I knew I’d bottle it. The glib answer is that a deadline helps focus the mind when it comes to finding ideas but the truth is I generally think of a setting first – skiing, yachting, the movies, whatever – and then think of a character to put into that world and find a reason why she does what she does. In The Chalet Girl Millie (the heroine) needed a job where she gets fed and housed because her father has thrown her out of the family home so working as a chalet host ticks all her boxes. In Moonlighting Jess is a pole dancer, but she’s been professionally trained and dreams of dancing in Cats or the Lion King. However, when the story opens she knows that is never going to happen and she’s so utterly skint that the chance of making some real money, even if it means taking her kit off, isn’t something she can afford to turn down.
Q: What do you love about Little Black Dress books?
Apart from the fact that they pay me I love them because I think most of the heroines are in very believable situations. Mills & Boon are just fantastic for pure escapist fantasy where billionaires take up with their PAs or secretaries, where the world of the uber-glamorous is brought to life on the page, but LBD are a bit more down to earth. And they tend to have a lot of humour in them, which I also like. My favourite sort of read is one where you end up laughing AND crying and LBD can and do deliver exactly that mix.
Q: You also write romantic fiction under the name Catherine Jones. Why do you use separate names?
I wrote 6 books as Catherine Jones, all about the army and, to be totally frank, my sales were pretty poor. I thought the public would love an insight into the world of macho-men in uniform but apparently soldiers weren’t the turn-on for other women that they were for me. So I needed a change of writing style and a new publisher and when publishers are looking at taking on an author, their past sales figures (if they’ve been previously published) can influence whether or not they take you. So I decided to go via the slush pile again and when you’ve been born with a name like Catherine Lace it’s daft not to make use of it So I dumped Catherine Jones and said hello to Kate Lace. I have to say it came as a bit of a shock to the editor of LBD to discover that Catherine Jones and Kate Lace were one and the same, as we’d met quite a few times at various Romantic Novelists’ Association events. But she didn’t know that until after they’d accepted The Chalet Girl. So that’s twice I’ve made it off the slush pile, which just shows it can be done!
Q: Your latest LBD book was just released, Moonlighting. Where did the inspiration for the book come from?
My middle daughter has a friend who works as one, but she’s also a hairdresser because she knows that pole dancing is a bit like being an athlete – it’s not a job for life, only while you’re young and fit. I just really liked her down-to-earth attitude and so I built a story around a character who is in the job purely for the money. I then decided to spice it up by giving her a real conflict of interest – in that she’s a Special Constable in her free time. Once I’d got those elements in place the rest of the story sort of fell into place.
Q: How do you like to spend your free time?
When I’m not writing I love to cook, which is also quite creative, and I adore doing quizzes. In fact I love doing them so much I managed to persuade some of my fellow Romantic Novelists to form a team with me for University Challenge -the Professionals. We got to the finals which was fantastic fun! And if you’re not a politician or a student I can definitely say Jeremy Paxman is very charming.
Q: What would be your advice for aspiring writers?
To keep going, to keep writing, to get impartial advice (not from your mum or bessie-mate but from a writer’s group or critique partner), to read everything you can lay your hands on of the genre you want to write and to take any advice you might get offered by a professional and really think about it. Agents and editors don’t offer advice or suggest changes unless they really think your m/s has lots of potential. (If they don’t think that you’ll get the ‘our list is full’ standard rejection letter.) But I know loads of aspiring writers who have ignored such advice not realising how rare it is for it to be given and have shoved the rejected m/s in a drawer and started a new one. What they should have done is take the advice, re-write and try again. The chances are they might well have had a really good shot at being published but they let it slip away.
Q: Where would be your dream vacation?
Blimey – that’s a toughie… I love going off the beaten track and I love critters and so I think the idea of a walking safari in Africa is fairly high up my list but it wouldn’t be very restful, in fact it would be pretty energetic and I do like to re-charge my batteries on holiday. So for restful, I think I’d like to go to a palm-fringed island with a case of books and a snorkel. But I wouldn’t turn either down if offered.