On Monday I was the honoured guest of #UKRomChat, a hashtag group for romance authors to chat and learn from each other within the bounds of GMT or BST, rather than having to stay up until four am for the ones in the US or Oz…
It was bloody scary in the lead up but everyone was amazing, and so supportive, even when Shropshire internet did it’s thing in the last ten minutes, meaning the chat had to overrun.
I’ve collected and cleaned up my answers, in case anyone’s interested, because I got very scrambled and forgot what question I was answering at one point and *gestures*
Q1: Hi Holly, please tell us about yourself and the books that you have written.
I’ve been telling stories and writing them all my life (mostly fantasy, but I wrote 170,000 of a hard history based on the wars fought by Gruffudd and Maredudd ap Cynan ab Owain Gwynedd but I knew I was working towards the tragic ending and it was affecting my depression). It wasn’t until i switched to romances that i finished any! I’ve written three medieval romances, set in different countries (Warwickshire, England; The Isle of Mann, at the time part of the independent Isles; and Marrakech, Morocco.
This was before i became fully aware of the
#ownvoices movement and realised that some white chick on the welsh border should not be telling stories based in medieval africa…there is such a small space allotted for black authors, especially in romance… For a white historian to tell a story where the culture is intrinsic to the characters is not fair… not when so many black authors are trying to break into a heavily biased industry.
but yeah, romances… 75000 words, 4000 words a chapter… the format helped! none are published, but i had a beta reader tell me i “captured the struggle of a conservative arabic man in love” which was awesome! He is Egyptian and has been nagging me for a sequel despite my above argument about white people taking story space from authors of colour ever since he Betad.
Squee! All right, they were meant to be a frickin’ side project. And then i got really involved in the world-building. They are sole POV romances with a heavy dollop of self-empowerment and friendship. They are shapeshifter fairy tales in an iron age setting.
I am currently writing Cinderella, under the title Ashwolf© but the main characters for Icemirror (The Snow Queen) and as yet untitled Snow White have been introduced.
I started writing them, as I said, as a silly side project. I love paranormal romances (Ann Aguirre, Margo Bond Collins, Kiru Taye, Michelle Osgood), and I love Fairy Tale Adaptations (May Sage, Julia Quinn, Shana Galen, Marissa Meyer). Sticking them together and trying to write the way I wrote fanfic was the plan. They took over from the “main project”, my first foray into high fantasy since uni bitches mocked me out of it. Suddenly I was fleshing out this world and loving the characters and now they are my fricking life…
Please enjoy this commission from artist Nico Houle of my Love Interest Alar. He is actually a red head but the style of art is all stark colours. And I love the expression! It’s so my soft, beta leader!
I believe Nico is available for commissions again and I really recommend him. He was super friendly and understanding of my embarrassed faceclaim choice and that since I’d not asked for a commission before I had no idea what to ask. Genuinely nice lad, and clearly super talented!
Q3. It’s autism awareness month. Do you find your autism impacts on your writing?
This is the first time I am writing an autistic character… my romances were attempts at writing people who didn’t think like me… i was being told “women don’t think like that”! Well, I do! When I see a man I think is hot i DO just tell him. When I get a potential boyfriend I bring up sex as soon as possible. You don’t want to wait til your wedding night to find out he wants to bring a dog into the equation…
But yes, i am writing people who think like me and it is soooooo much easier… i was trying to write for Harlequin… like to the formula… and it just does not work for me! I love reading them so I thought I could write neurotypical romance as though I could translate it somehow…
So instead i’m writing these daft things with mental health issues and neurodiversity instead! (Thank you to the people who said they wanted more of these! I promise you from now on I’ll only be writing people who think like I do. Pity the beast in Beauty and the Beast. She’s getting my M.E.)
Autism made research for the medieval stuff easier… retention of little facts, stuff like that… i am autistic… but instead of baseball cards or the names of one hit wonders, i threw myself into medieval history… so i can tell anecdotes about kings and princes 800 years dead the way most people talk about kardashians!
It helps with world-building and planning that i am so visual… I do mindmaps, actual maps, great branching diagrams about what I want to accomplish, which tropes I want to use, what I want the characters to feel and how they will arc.
The executive dysfunction side of it is a… ahem… a camel. Basically i want to open my laptop. I am next to my laptop. And i can’t open it. I just can’t… my hands flex… and i stare at it… and i can’t… and I only learned that was an autistic thing last year… i kept assuming it was some character weakness in myself. But yeah that sucks!
But autism has only just with this project begun to influence my characters… because i want to just write without having to go “do normals think like this?” So my character is blunt and curious… she is fascinated by new things… she trips over her own head…like i am doing!
Lucy Keeling then asked: What do you have to do, or what helps you to get typing or keep typing?
Some days i have to accept i am not going to be able to write… like getting a migraine… sitting in front of it and feeling like crap won’t help! i have playlists of character songs, i have aesthetics and wallpapers… i have fancasts to look at… and i have my notebook for worldbuilding so if i can’t write i’ll go in there and talk about traditions and games people play and stuff… anything to keep my head in the game, as HSM taught us!
Q4. Are there any misconceptions about autism that you come across in your own reading? What can writers do to educate themselves about autism and neurodiversity?
ok so first off the
#ActuallyAutistic hashtag, and you need to be following @NeuroRebel Amazing! Keep far from AutismSpeaks… they’re the sort of organisation that thinks it’s caused by vaccines, and should be cured. They preach actual eugenics. So you get parents who are led astray with the “hope” that their kid will be “normal” some day… it’s understandable! I am an Aspie. I’m fortunate. I can mask, I can communicate, I got a frickin’ degree even if that and a year in an office broke my mind because people suck.
There are people whose children cannot understand the connection between “I need the loo” and “my pants are full of shit”. And that fucking sucks. That is hard. But people get so focused on how hard it is for the parents not having a normal kid that they forget that the child is a person, an entity, who is clearly not responding to the teaching techniques that work for a NT child.
Autism is not a mental health problem. It’s a lumping together of anyone who doesn’t think the way the majority do… and not like agreement wise, but rather synapses and neurological pathways in the brain. And there are so many different variations but we’re all just stuck together kinda like People Whose Favourite Colour is Red being a majority so anyone whose favourite colour is something else being the Non Red People…
One of the reasons i didn’t ever think i was autistic was that i hate maths… and all autistic people are like… super good at maths or art… Bones, House, NCIS… all these shows portraying autistic kids as these artistic geniuses who can predict the frickin’ future with their art… The exception I’d state is that Boston Legal’s portrayal of a lawyer with asperger’s was good! It was massively exaggerated, like… he had ALL THE TICS! ALL THE BEHAVIOURAL ODDITIES and they didn’t really understand what stimming was, but yeah… that was good. Parents used to laugh and go “that’s so like Holly” in his scenes.
Anyway, if you know the fantasy/DnD alignment of Neutral Good… Chaotic good etc… autism is a lot more like that… my nephew is Chaotic Neutral. I’m firmly in Order. I can’t disobey rules! When nephew visits we get on fine… most of the time… but if we clash it’s because he needs a good reason to follow an instruction while i’m like CADET YOU WERE GIVEN A DIRECT ORDER… so we clash… which cerebrally is fascinating!
Autism is a spectrum. So sure, have a stressed single mum with her kid who draws all the time and leaves his toys everywhere and needs constant attention… but also remember that there’s the kid who talks all the time, happily occupies themself, and has learned to feel guilt already if they are too noisy.
Q5. What does your role at the PHS involve?
People send in their articles, and I copy and paste them into the website’s dashboard thingey, and format them to the specifications of the site so everything is nice and tidy and on brand! and i attach stock photos to illustrate points which is a struggle because there are not enough stock pictures of POC, gay couples, and especially not enough gay couples who aren’t white and hipster as all get out…
i also write articles when i can, especially my Archetypes series where i choose two romance stock characters and talk about pitfalls, cliches, and how to best match them off with other archetypes… (i think this is an austistic thing too, seeing the patterns in books…) it also gives me an excuse to plug my favourite authors over and over again! mwahahaah!
Q6. You share our passion for promoting diversity in romance. How does the PHS go about this?
just looking at the Meet the Team part of the website shows you how many ethnicities we have represented, though that isn’t how people are chosen. There’s no PHS quota or guideline for including mentions of different ethnic writers or sexualities or genders. But we try… individually we try… and Trish, who runs the site, is genuinely awesome and our content commissioner, Ali, is a paladin!
Over christmas, for example, we had christmas reads, hannukah reads, a piece about paganism… i was worried when i started that i might have to sneak in diversity but it’s just calmly expected… we would like to get more representation for LGBTQIA+ people and in advertising books, but since they’re a marginalised group (IT IS NOT A ****ING GENRE, PUBLISHING) there is less capital for advertising…
Whenever i do an archetypes article i try and make sure i don’t use the term “both genders” which is exclusionary to non-binary and intersex people especially… i try and include romances that aren’t purely heterosexual…and content editor @CLAficionado is always up for articles about diversity… after another year of heavily white-weighted awards at the RWA RITAs we went back and forth and the new edition has a list of books by Ali’s favourite black authors to choose from…i also have a typed up and tied together article of a questionaire that three amazing trans and non binary writers filled in for me about how allocisgender writers can include and portray trans characters… every little helps, i hope!
Q7. What’s your favourite historical period and who is your favourite historical romance author?
I was dreading this one… my favourite era is the 12th Century.
As in I do not think about anything after 1200 because that is the year all hope ended for the welsh… it all went downhill.
But i prefer to read regency to victorian… reading medieval tends to……make me think “how would i write this? what would i include here… oh… that sort of butter churning wasn’t introduced for another seven years… book ruined…” both Elisabeth Hobbes and Kiru Taye are in the chat and i recommend both so, so highly (Kiru Taye’s Men of Valor trilogy is gloriously sexy)!
But…I think anyone who follows me knows my fave historical author is Christi Caldwell. She writes early to mid 19th century and she writes so, so fast and at such high quality, which is daunting but so good for a reader! she knows just how i like it! and is lovely! She does the Misunderstandings and Tragic Sacrifices so well that they never feel forced. And I love it! I love that heart-breaking, chest-freezing bit of the book where you wonder how the happy ending will come about.
Q8. Last year you recorded a podcast series called From The World Up. What inspired this and do you have any tips for hosting a podcast?
I am currently writing fantasy but I have so much medieval knowledge, especially of the day to day minutiae, that was just going to waste. I wanted to share it, to help people who are DMing for Dungeons and Dragons, or writing fantasies set in a medievally background, to fill out their worlds realistically. To stop them having those moments where they have someone use a mechanism that only would have existed if something else did blah blah blah…
yeah… don’t listen to your own damn recordings…
I wanted to keep doing one a fortnight, but i wanted to check my sound levels were equal and i hate my own voice… executive dysfunction on them ever since! It sucks…
But mainly, pick something you find interesting. not something that is trending… i love medieval history and since i’m writing fantasy romance atm a lot of the knowledge was just sitting there, doing nothing as I said so *gestures*. It was a way of spreading the love.
Q9. What are the most important things to consider when world-building?
That what might be your hero being amazing to you, might be “oh look, even in fantasy a white dude has to save us…”
We have to learn from the Eddingses and even the Tolkiens and ensure that fantasy moves away from eurocentricness…just take a step back and think “are my orcs like… super russian? do they need to be?” “do i really want a society with slaves just to show they’re the baddies?” after that… google your names, city names, religion names, everything followed by “translation”. You don’t want to suddenly find out five books in that your capital is called City of Butts in Malay.
Q10. And to our last but not least question. What is it about writing the Happily Ever After that you love?
I have chronic depression. I’ve survived suicidal nights reading romances back to back. They give me joy, happiness, and i can only read books with happy endings because of my head. I want to give that to others. Plus if i didn’t the Voices would kill me.
So yeah if anyone ever sneers at you for writing romance novels, tell them you’re saving lives… because you are…