Name Virginia Heath
Age I’ve just turned 49 but still feel 17 inside. Sometimes. Outside is much older!
Where are you from
I’m a London girl. I was born and raised in the West London suburb of Hayes (near Heathrow Airport) and worked in the city for years. I’ve had a variety of jobs. I had a very dull office job working for British Airways, then moved to the BBC as a news information researcher where I met my husband. After that, I hopped around a couple of other media outlets until my first baby was born. Having kids and working the frenetic twenty-four-hour schedule of the media wasn’t very compatible and so I gave up working for a for years to be a fulltime mum and studied for my degree at the same time. Now, I’m not sure how I fitted that in, but I managed it and re-trained as a history teacher. I loved teaching and spent a decade as the Head of History in an East London secondary school, but the desire to write was always hovering close to the surface. One day, I decided I was too old to not chase my dream and gave up teaching to write.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Well I suppose my big news is I have just been nominated for a RoNA (Romantic Novel of the Year Award) for my third book, The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide. I’m absolutely over the moon but have no expectation of actually winning it. The competition is too stiff and I’m such a newbie. But being on the list is award enough for me and I’m currently stressing over what dress to wear on the night.
My latest book, Miss Bradshaw’s Bought Betrothal, has also just come out as well, so life is fairly hectic at the moment.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve always been an avid reader. On my commutes into London I used to devour two to three books a week. As a teacher, reading became my way of dealing with the stress of the job and around that time I read my first historical romance, instantly falling in love with the genre. I suppose I first seriously started writing when I studied for my degree. Although then it was essays, I loved the whole process. Then, as a teacher, I was always writing and creating things for my students. Out of the blue, I was offered the chance to write some history text books and after writing those I decided to pursue my secret fantasy for writing fiction.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When the first text book came out and I saw my name on the cover of the book.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Hmmm.. there were three before I finally wrote one good enough to be published. However, I vividly recall the inspiration for my debut. I was vacuuming the carpet and a title popped in my head. That Despicable Rogue. I remember thinking, that’s a good title and assumed it was someone else’s I’d seen somewhere. I googled it and when it turned out it was unique, I thought I’d better go ahead and write it. I knew I had a rogue and I knew at least one person thought him despicable, so I just started writing and the story evolved on that same day and flowed. Six weeks later, I sent it off, and Harlequin Mills & Boon offered me my first fiction contract…
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I describe my books as Regency romantic comedies, as I cannot seem to stop the humour leaking in to every story, no matter how grave the topic! As to my writing style, I have no idea how to explain it. Other people have said I have a particular and quirky voice, and that I write historical with a distinctly modern twist.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I originally called my current book ‘Miss Bradshaw Buys a Bridegroom’, because that is what she does, but Mills & Boon tweaked it to make it sound more historical, so we settled on Miss Bradshaw’s Bought Betrothal. The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide comes from the book my hero has written- ‘The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide to Selecting the Perfect Bride’- an etiquette manual to help respected and titled gentleman like him make the socially correct choice when choosing a wife. Little pompous snippets of his advice start each chapter and were huge fun to write, especially as the heroine is the exact opposite of what he thinks he wants.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Nothing deep and profound, simply everybody deserves a little love in their life and it’s never too late to chase your dreams.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
In Miss Bradshaw, there is a scene based upon my life. When I was about ten, I had this beautiful summer dress. I loved it because it looked like a meadow and colourful flowers grew up from the hem to the bodice. One day we were walking across a field and some cows chased after me. They thought the flowers were real and kept chewing on my dress. The same thing happens to Evie, except it’s a horse, not a cow who’s feeling peckish and it leads to a very funny and intimate moment between the hero and heroine.
There is a character in The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide based on a dear old friend whose surname is Lovett. He suggested, jokingly, that I write a book with an older hero, who looked just like him, and had a penchant for port. I never made him the hero, that would be too weird, but he did become the comical butler and sidekick to my duke and, of course, his name is Lovett.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
There are two specific authors who have influenced me. One is the great Nora Roberts, whose books I have always adored. The variety and breadth of her stories and imagination astounds me and is something I can only hope to aspire to. The second is Julia Quinn. The Duke and I, the first book in her Bridgertons series was the first modern Regency romance I ever read. I read it in 2011 and it started an addiction which has led me to read hundreds and then write them. As to a mentor, until I got my first publishing contract, I was the only writer I knew. However, once I got my contract, and found the whole business of publishing so daunting, the lovely Nicole Locke, a fellow Harlequin Historical writer, took me under her wing and showed me the ropes. We’re attending the Historical Romance Retreat in Spokane, Washington, together in September and I can’t wait.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I am part of an exciting group of new authors on Facebook who all write historical romances, we call ourselves The Unlaced Book Club. It’s a cool place to hang out with readers and other authors who have a love for the genre (and girlie gossip of course). Nicole Locke, of course, Laurie Benson, Elisabeth Hobbes, Lara Temple, Jenni Fletcher, Harper St George, Janice Preston and Catherine Tinley. I adore all of their books and its so cool we are all now friends too. However, my absolute favourite author is Tessa Dare. I love the humour in her books. Romance should be funny.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
The Romantic Novelists Association here in the UK. They have been a godsend. A terrific group of writers and aspiring writers who are wonderfully supportive and knowledgeable.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Very definitely. I quit my job as a teacher to concentrate on my writing full-time. If you don’t take your writing seriously, nobody else will.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
When a book is finished and sent off, I try to let it go. Second guessing it or stressing about it are pointless, so I suppose my answer is no. Perhaps one day I might feel differently, but I’m happy with the reactions all my books so far have had with my readers.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Not specifically. I’ve always been a big reader, so it grew organically early on and I always knew I wanted to write- just wasn’t brave enough to do it.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Seeing as it’s been nominated for a RoNA, here’s a little taste of The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide…
The silence in the hastily procured Hackney was deafening. Judging from his stony expression, tight jaw and white knuckles, the Duke was furious. Amelia supposed he had every right to be. His perfect nose was bleeding profusely and there was an angry red swelling just under his cheekbone that would probably turn into a nasty bruise before the day was out. His once pristine shirt was completely ruined and she doubted that there was much hope for his expensively tailored coat either.
But he had surprised her. Not only had he stood up to the gang without any sign of fear, he had held his own admirably and proved himself not to be the soft, pampered aristocrat that she had previously thought him. Although it was also plainly evident he had no idea how to deal with the bloody nose.
‘Tilt your head backwards,’ she offered helpfully as he swiped at it ineffectually with his ruined handkerchief, ‘and pinch the bridge like so.’ Amelia demonstrated the technique on her own face. His serious silver-blue eyes briefly locked on hers and the disgust in them was obvious, but he did as she suggested. Badly.
‘Not like that. You need to try to stop the bleeding.’ She moved over to the opposite bench to sit next to him and applied the necessary pressure. He stared stonily at the ceiling, clearly determined not to speak to her.
‘Thank you for saving me.’ It felt like such a lame expression of gratitude in view of the pasting he had just received on her behalf. ‘Where did you learn to fight like that?’
‘Surely a more pertinent question is what the hell were you doing in that awful place to begin with? Alone. Again.’ The blue eyes were icy-cold and his tone was not much better. Under the circumstances there appeared to be little point in attempting to lie. If Terence had been following her since her arrival, Lovett would have no qualms about appraising his master of all of her comings and goings, and there had been quite a few.
‘I was going to a public meeting.’ Somehow she felt he might find this more palatable than telling him about her regular attendance at the soup kitchen.
‘Do not expect me to believe that rubbish. What sort of a public meeting takes place in that hotbed of criminality? The Rookery is notorious. Every thief, pickpocket and ne’er-do-well in London lives there!’
How typical that he would jump to such a conclusion. ‘The Rookery forms only a small part of Seven Dials. Good people live there too. Poverty does not make them all criminals. Saying such a thing is like blaming all of the French for the behaviour of Napoleon. Most of the residents have no choice but to live there. They cannot afford anything better.’
‘If you are so well-informed about the capital’s vilest slum, Miss Mansfield, then why did you not have the good sense to stay out of that deserted alleyway? Or do you think that those ruffians were simply the unfortunate victims of poverty and did not actually mean to threaten you?’ He batted her hand away from his nose and glared at her, his breathing far too laboured for a man in full control of his anger. ‘Have you any idea how much danger you just put yourself in? You were about to be sold into a life of prostitution!’
Now he was simply being dramatic. She would have thought of something to get herself out of the predicament, just as she always had in the past. ‘Usually I am more careful—but today I was a little distracted.’ Amelia had been thinking about him, not that she would openly admit that, and more specifically she had been pondering her extreme reaction to his kiss.
‘Usually?’ His face was a mask of molten fury. ‘You make a habit of coming here?’
‘I admit that I made a grave mistake today but, in my defence, Seven Dials in an area I know well and I have never encountered such a problem before.’ That part was a lie. There had been numerous occasions when she had been in exactly that sort of danger, and worse, but not for a couple of years. It just proved that she had been foolish to become so complacent about her surroundings and she would not be so lax going forward.
‘How, pray tell, do you come to know Seven Dials well?’ He sounded horrified.
For the briefest of moments she actually considered telling him. It would be interesting to see how he absorbed that sorry tale.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Although I am disciplined, I am very easily distracted, especially by social media. I’ve started turning off the WiFi to curb the habit.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Well, I write Regencies, set in England and as I’m English with a background in history I know the period pretty well. Fortunately, I’m on 30 minutes away from London, so I don’t have to go far for research. I suppose the furthest I’m going is Spokane this September, but The Historical Romance Retreat hardly feels like work.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The Harlequin office in Toronto is responsible for the covers. I describe the characters and setting, give them some ideas concerning scenes and happily let them do their job. I’m thrilled with my cover for Miss Bradshaw. They really nailed it, because all those beautiful wildflowers surrounding her are kind of significant…
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
While writing Miss Bradshaw I was also dealing with a brand new Labrador puppy. Trevor is adorable, but he was a lot of work then!
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I confirmed my suspicion that I cannot plot to save my life. I originally thought Miss Bradshaw and the dissolute marquis would fall madly in love, but I made the marquis so odious in chapter one, I hated him. Fortunately, the true hero Finn appeared in my odd head very quickly.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead
In The Discerning Gentleman, I’d want Chris Hemsworth to play the Duke of Aveley because he was the physical inspiration for him. The heroine would have to be petite and dark and feisty and barely be able to look him in his magnificent chest. Perhaps Emily Blunt or Natalie Portman would make a good Amelia.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t make excuses about time or your busy life. We all have busy lives but make time for the things that matter. Just write the book in your head. So many people claim they want to write, but never do it, or start and don’t finish. Unless you actually sit down and finish a book, you’ll never get published!
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Hello. Thanks for reading my stories!
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
My first grown-up book was A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I read it in a day when I was ten. It was brilliant.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Happy endings make me cry. I’m a sucker for them, whether they be on film or in a book, one I’ve written or somebody else’s. If I’m bawling my eyes out then I know it’s good. As to laughing, I’m basically a happy person and can usually find the humour in most situations, so I laugh a lot. I don’t need much of an excuse.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Oscar Wilde. I simply adore his writing and his sense of humour.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
She read. She wrote. She ate cake…. It sums me up to a T.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I like to cook and I love to travel. I’m a complete tourist and quite adventurous. I’ve climbed a waterfall and a volcano, trekked on an elephant and looked at coral reefs from a submarine. I’m not one for lounging on a sunbed!
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Anything that teaches me something. I’m a big documentary fan. But I also love clever comedies or dramas like Frasier or The West Wing. Any show which involves crafts are also must-watch. The Great British Bake-Off, The Great Pottery Throw Down, The Great British Sewing Bee, Masterchef. I’ve also seen every episode of Deadliest Catch and had my picture taken next to a crab pot from the Time Bandit (which is one of the ships involved).
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Curry. Red. Easy Listening, especially Michael Buble.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Teacher was the second great ambition on my list, and I’ve done that, so I’m going to say lawyer. I love the idea of arguing for a living. I love a good debate.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
You can find my personal blog on my website, which is http://www.virginiaheathromance.com/ or you can find me most days on Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheUnlacedBookClub/