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‘DO YOU REALLY WANT ME TO BE HONEST about the reason I started writing?’ novelist Carole Mortimer asks me. There’s a noticeable twinkle in her eye.

Of course.

‘I was bored in my first marriage and writing romance novels was pure escapism from that boredom!

‘Oops! Apologies first husband,’ she adds, then bursts out laughing at my expression.

71bGj40QD8L._UX250_Whatever the reason for her first foray into romantic fiction, Mortimer is, today, one of the most successful novelists of her genre, respected by readers and peer writers alike, a fact attested to by the announcement that she is the recipient of this year’s hugely prestigious RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award, one of the greatest honours that the Romantic Writers of America can bestow on an author. The list of previous winners reads like a veritable Who’s Who of romantic fiction royalty – from the wonderful Mary Stewart and Ms Roberts herself to Sandra Brown and Mary Jo Putney. It’s a well-deserved accolade.

‘Awards are wonderful,’ she comments. ‘And this is so exciting! The pinnacle of my career, to be honest.

‘Writing is a very solitary career, so it’s lovely to receive an award from readers, other authors or a prestigious organisation like RWA.

‘Otherwise how would we know we’re doing “something right”?’

That’s an interesting comment.

With a literary career spanning more than 35 years and 200 books and numerous awards under her belt, surely it is obvious to Mortimer that she is doing something very, very right?

 

BORN INTO A CLOSE-KNIT FAMILY, Mortimer grew up in a Bedfordshire village that was ‘so small you missed it if you blinked while driving through it’. Her parents resided in the family home up until their deaths a few years ago; her two brothers still live close by.

Reading was always a passion and Dorothy Dunnett’s excellent Lymond and House of Niccolò series were particular favourites, as were the novels of Louisa May Alcott. Mortimer would literally read anything she could lay her hands on and her tastes today remain eclectic.

RegencyBuck24dd5dfc32e7d5a29f6aed303bea34d4At the age of 12, Mortimer experienced a literary epiphany when she came across Regency Buck by the revered historical writer Georgette Heyer. It was her first ever romance and she was smitten.

‘It changed my life,’ she says simply. ‘I discovered I love romance novels – and it’s a dream come true to have been able to live the dream of writing them for the past 37 years.’

And what a dream.

In many ways Mortimer’s writing career seems picture perfect. Urban legend has it that at age 18, she wrote and published her first book: the rest, as they say, is history. When I raise this, she laughs.

‘I was obviously only 10 when I started writing – which now makes me 47, right?’

In fact, Mortimer held a few other jobs before her writing career took off. She originally trained as a nurse but an accident, resulting in the fracturing of her spine, ended that career. She then became a supervisor in a computing department, putting the typing lessons that her mother had insisted she take to good use. Life was full, but writing always beckoned.

‘I’d see a programme on television or read a book and think “this really should have happened” – and then write my own version of it … usually a much hotter version!’

The first book that she completed was a romance, which she duly sent off to Mills & Boon. It was rejected.

Mortimer refused to be cowed by this minor setback, however. She went away and read every single romance that she could lay her hands on before putting pen to paper again and beginning a new novel. This time she was more successful. Two years later, M&B accepted Mortimer’s second typescript – the tale of a young woman who falls in love with a much older man, the father of her boyfriend. It was published as The Passionate Winter in 1978.

6120345Mortimer joined the M&B stable, becoming one of its youngest authors and it is a relationship that has flourished, continuing on very successfully to this day. She still writes for Harlequin Mills & Boon – her books published alongside the ‘indie’ ebooks that she now produces under her own aegis.

‘Digital didn’t exist when I started writing,’ she explains. ‘And I love self-publishing … it’s all on you. I love that – but it isn’t for everyone.

‘If you’re willing to work hard – and I am – have drive and determination – which I have – and you just want to write books that may not quite fit into a specific genre but you want to write them anyway – which I do – then indie publishing is for you.’

She adds, ‘I also love being in control of the whole process, what to write, cover design, publishing date – I write a book and three weeks later it’s edited, formatted and published. Amazing!’

She makes it sound so easy but, in reality, one can’t be a writer of Carole Mortimer’s calibre without possessing a great deal of talent and creativity. Yes, hard work and dedication are important, but the ability to tell stories and create characters with whom the reader identifies is pretty much crucial to any writer’s success.

‘I love to write,’ she says, as if it’s not already obvious. ‘I’m writing in my head if I’m not writing in fact. Each and every book matters to me. My characters matter to me. That the readers love and relate to my characters matters to me most of all.’

 

LIKE MANY NOVELISTS OF HER ILK, Mortimer treats writing as a serious job. For years she would write during the week between the hours of 9am and 1pm. More recently, she’s started working at night as well, when her husband is asleep. ‘I’m a night owl’, she comments.

For the past 19 years, the kitchen table has been Mortimer’s writing place of choice.

‘It’s the room that everyone walks through constantly. I like that,’ she says. ‘I hate to sit in a closed off room and write. In fact, I can’t … Too quiet.

‘For several years I went to our local airport every morning and wrote in the cafeteria there – I loved the rush and bustle of people travelling and arriving. Then I had my youngest son and so the routine had to change.’

Interestingly, Mortimer neither maps out her books in advance nor produces a synopsis for them, if she can help it. Her process is much more organic.

DarkAlpha_twitter‘I usually have a time schedule, because of the frequency of publishing the books, but once my characters are established they pretty much tell me what they will or won’t do. And they can be pretty specific sometimes! Everything stays in my head – all of it – and it just comes out when I sit down in front of my laptop.’

It’s a process that certainly works. And Mortimer is a prolific writer. At the moment, she is producing a c.65,000-word ‘Alpha’ series title every five weeks, allowing another three weeks turnaround for editing and formatting. The Regency novellas, which are due to come out later this year, are between 35,000 and 40,000 words in length and will take approximately three weeks to write and another three again for editing and formatting. This is a seriously full-on writing schedule.

‘It’s a tight turnaround,’ she admits, ‘but I’m assured I work well under pressure!’

Just as well.

A mitigating factor to her success is that Mortimer has a dedicated team in place, helping and supporting her efforts  – and it includes members of her own family.

‘I enjoy working with my American editor and the lady who designs my covers is just amazing, but it’s also become something of a family enterprise, involving all my sons apart from David, my eldest, who’s far too busy with family and his own work commitments. Josh is my PR guy, Matt, my formatter; Peter and Michael are my computer “go-to guys” and Tim has helped me enormously with social media. That leaves my husband who’s a finance wizard. It’s wonderful to be working with them all.’

 

carole-mortimer-savoy-car

Above: Carole Mortimer with soul mate Peter. When Carole was invited to the Queen’s Garden Party in recognition for her ‘outstanding services to literature’, Peter arranged for The Savoy’s chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce to take them to Buckingham Palace (2012).

 

FAMILY IS IMPORTANT to Mortimer and the foundation on which her life is based and she often refers to her second husband, Peter, as her soul mate. The couple first met in 1981 on the beautiful Isle of Man, where they still reside. However, both were married to other people at the time. They didn’t meet again for another 11 years, when both were divorced and thankfully emotionally unentangled. And something just went ‘”zing” across a crowded room’ at that meeting.

‘It really did,’ she says, smiling at the memory. ‘And when I told Peter about the “zing” some months after we started going out together he said he had felt it too!

‘We’re as much in love today as we were then. More so.

‘Peter is my best friend, as well as my lover and husband. But I do think there are different types of soul mates. For instance author Susan Stephens is definitely my “friend soul mate”. We just clicked and always travel to conferences together, and we have fun.’

I ask her if any of her male protagonists are based on Peter – if she, in fact, incorporates any part of her life or herself into her books.

‘No, no heroes are based on him – he’s mine!’

She laughs, before adding more seriously, ‘Authors are notoriously shameless sponges: we just absorb what’s going on around us. Some of that is sure to come out in a book at some time. I think every author does that. It’s just there, in your head and comes out into the books without you even realising it. And, if I’m honest, all of my heroines have some of me in them – especially the strong and independent part.’

 

WRITING HAS OPENED UP  all kinds of doors for Mortimer. More importantly, after her divorce, it enabled her to support herself and her young sons when they were growing up, something of which she is very proud.

‘I had been on my own for several years with three of my sons, as breadwinner as well as single Mum. I guess as a result I don’t understand “helpless women”. I believe we really are all “authors of our own destiny”.

‘The choices we make or don’t make are ours – good or bad – and we either live with them or change them. I decided to change mine, and believe I’m a stronger, better, happier person for doing so.’

Arguably, some of Mortimer’s heroines reflect this attitude, taking control of their own lives and destinies by seizing the moment, whether it be Leigh, in The Passionate Winter, defying convention and fighting for the older man with whom she’s fallen in love, or more recently, feisty Nicky McKenzie, who stands up for herself and is more than a match for Lucien, the arrogant protagonist of Dark Alpha (see above cover), part of Mortimer’s self-published ‘Alpha’ series.

 

WHEN I ASK HER IF, in retrospect, there’s anything she would do differently, Mortimer’s response is both immediate and emphatic.

‘I wouldn’t change a single thing that I’ve done in my life or career.

‘I really do love my life exactly as it is.

‘And I’m happy just being me.’

How many of us can say that?

 

The Literary Shed would like to thank Carole Mortimer for spending time with us in The Literary Lounge.

For further details about Carole Mortimer’s books, please visit the author’s website.

 


Images:
Photos of Ms Mortimer on Mount Snowdon, Wales, and Ms Mortimer with her husband, Peter, on way to Buckingham Palace, respectively (supplied by author and her copyright); cover of Georgette Heyer’s Regency Buck (Pan Macmillan edition) and original cover, The Passionate Winter (Mills & Boon – we do so love a M&B vintage cover), both used for promotional use only.

 

Also of interest:Mary Jo Putney – a writer with vision’; ‘Meet Kate Perry – Literary It Girl or ‘Demented Victorian‘; ‘Meet Gina Kirkham: The Literary Lounge Q&A‘; ‘Nora Roberts’ Come Sundown, a tale of strong women’; ‘Homeward bound – Nora Roberts’ The Liar; ‘What makes a good Regency? Grace Burrowes’ The Duke’s Disaster; ‘Believing Nora Roberts Land – take novelist Ava Miles’ advice‘; Book covers we love: Georgette Heyer’s Frederica – Arthur Barbosa

 

Related Pinterest boards:Presenting Ms Georgette Heyer’; ‘Romance/gothic covers – the changing face of love’; ‘The Regency, 1811–20

 

Social media:Pinterest – “inspiration snacking” or something more?

 

Notice: Please note the above images are intended to be used for promotional purposes only. In no way, have we have intentionally breached anyone’s copyright. To use the photographs featuring Carole Mortimer, please contact the author to request permission and credit her fully.

 

This review is ©The Literary Shed, 2018. All opinions expressed are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments so please do contact us or fill in the form below. If you wish to reproduce the interview, please do seek permission and credit us accordingly. Thank you.