ROMY Gemmell needs little introduction to the world of romantic Scottish literature. Her regency romances have been received to high acclaim by readers of the genre. Less well-known is her extraordinary portfolio of short stories, poems, articles and tween novels (under Ros Gemmell), all of which are individual showcases of a deep passion for creative writing. With a long list of awards under her belt, it is no surprise that Romy’s works feature widely across the World Wide Web. When she is not writing, Romy is a great supporter of other writers. Her new romance, Midwinter Masquerade, published by Tirgearr Press, was launched on Thursday and is yet another fine example of the creative talent of this cordial and hard-working author.
1. Who do you think you are, Romy Gemmell?
What a leading question! I’ve always been a mass of contradictions: romantic idealist, pragmatist, optimist, friendly, wary, confident, diffident, imaginative, realist, determined and a procrastinator. Until now, I would have said mother and wife first, but now I want to put writer, with a head stuffed full of ideas waiting to be given words on the page.
2. Do you consider yourself a romantic novelist?
Only as far as writing romance novels is concerned. I’m too much of a butterfly writer to be pinned to one genre or type of novelist. I’m also a children’s writer combining realism with fantasy, a general short story writer, occasional poet, and non-fiction writer. And the next venture is historical crime.
3. To what extent do you use tragedy and comedy in your stories?
I’ve never thought of myself as a comedy writer in any way – the most I hope to include is a slight sarcasm at times rather than laugh aloud humour. As for tragedy, I suspect I’m more attracted to that in fiction – but only when combined with romance or idealism, or a really tragi-romantic ending. The escapism is very important to me, whether it’s in books, films or writing – I’m not so keen on kitchen-sink tragedy or too much realism, I’m afraid.
4. What fascinates you most about the Regency period?
I think it’s by osmosis, after growing up with a diet of Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen and any other Regency writer I could find – until I progressed to the romantic suspense of Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney and Gothic romance of Victoria Holt. The Regency itself was so short (1811 to 1820) but was a very particular period, with all the attendant fashion, society rules and balls. I’m interested in the role of women in all periods of history and this was a time of contradictions, with courtesans and innocent young maids, and probably everything in between! The history, too, is interesting with the wars with France and Napoleon contrasted with the ridiculous frivolity and loose morals of the Prince Regent – who nevertheless added much to the cultural landscape of Britain.
5. What characteristics or traits, in your opinion, comprise a true heroine?
Someone with a mind of her own and enough bravery to stand by her opinions and beliefs, even in the face of danger. And a woman who is not defined only by the man she loves, but who will fight to hold on to him. I think that holds true in every age.
I’m a complete punster and procrastinator, which is not a good combination. So I begin with a loose idea and usually at least one character. I’m much more interested in characters than description in anything I read or write. I prefer to begin and just keep writing until I have the bare idea of the story. It worked very well that way for all the novels until this current one, Midwinter Masquerade! I think at first, I wrote myself into plot problems by trying to make it too complicated. My excellent editor kept me in line and allowed me to make sense of what I was trying to do.
It has been a well-learned lesson and I now know that I need to keep my basic idea firmly in mind at all times. But I still don’t think I could plot in advance – I don’t have the patience and would lose the spontaneity of ideas and characters wandering into my story. I much prefer to set the characters in motion and let them play out their story until the end.
7. Is it important to you to be known as a traditionally published author?
A good question and one I’ve been considering recently. I have absolutely nothing against writers keeping complete control from the beginning and doing it themselves. However, I decided that after years of being a published story and article writer, I wanted the validation that a publisher could give me as a novelist. I think it was necessary to my confidence in being able to continue writing full length fiction. I’m very happy with my e-publishers who offer everything a traditional print publisher does, apart from wide distribution of print books in shops!
But I’ve also self-published a small collection of previously published short stories and a Victorian novella, and will probably do so again at some point. Conversely, I’m also seeking an agent or traditional UK publisher for my more mainstream novels. I’ve been speaking on this subject recently, as many people don’t realise the wonderful choice of publishing options we have now. So, I guess I’m one of the new hybrid authors.
8. How has travel affected what you write about?
I’ve travelled a lot over the years since my husband has been a travel professional all his working life. Funnily enough, I don’t think I’m a natural traveller as I’m always happy to get home here to my part of Scotland. Perhaps it’s because I’ve had such wonderful opportunity to travel? It’s always in my mind to use some of the countries or cities I’ve visited as a backdrop or inspiration to my stories.
Probably the first I’ve really done this with is my short novella, The Aphrodite Touch, which was published earlier this year. It’s set on Cyprus, where we had a wonderful holiday many years ago, but is just as much inspired by my long-time love of Greek mythology. Although a contemporary romance, it also features Aphrodite and Adonis and is the first in my new series. I do have a few other ideas for fiction set in various countries, once I get the right story. But I guess my own Scotland inspires me the most and it’s the setting for my tween novels, and the new historical, Midwinter Masquerade.
9. What advice would you give to a new author who wants to get noticed?
If the author is planning on publishing e-books, by whatever means, then I reckon it’s essential to have some kind of on-line presence, whether that’s a blog, Facebook, twitter or anything similar. If our books are not available in shops, then we have to bring them to readers’ attention in some way. It’s difficult to strike the balance between not enough promotion and too much! I found it very helpful at the start of my career to belong to a local writing group, then an association that covers the whole of Scotland and offers an annual weekend conference. Others are available nationwide.
A blog is a personal choice but I found it helpful to have started mine while I was a freelance writer, before moving on to novels – it’s also a great way to make online friends, but only if you interact with other bloggers by leaving and answering comments. Same with Facebook and twitter. If you’re with an e-publisher, most have their own Yahoo forums where you can interact with other writers and join a few of the larger forums available. But I would still advise taking any opportunity to make personal contact with readers, whether by going to local writing events or eventually speaking at meetings and libraries.
10. Does self-promotion increase sales?
The million dollar question! It’s one I would have had more hesitation in answering but I’ve just seen it in action after promoting one of my tween novels by being a guest on another writer’s blog. Sales on Amazon definitely jumped, for one day at least, and it doesn’t always happen that way. But self-promotion can also put people off, if an author is tempted to do endless tweets or mentions on whatever social network – I tend to skip past any repetitive self-promotion. It all comes down to that balancing act again.
The best advice I’ve tried to follow is to make friends and acquaintances on-line and to be interested in other authors’ work. We’re all in the same business and it never hurts to help someone else along the career path, sharing information and supporting each other. After all, writers are readers too, or they should be!
Midwinter Masquerade is available from Amazon:
You can find out all about Romy at her website: www.rosemarygemmell.com