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An interview with Regency author Valerie Holmes

Today I am welcoming Valerie Holmes to my blog for a Q & A. Valerie creates Regency romance with a difference, featuring spies, adventure and mystery, published by Sapere Books. As writers we share both background era and publisher and I am therefore delighted to hear all about her novels and her writing experience.

Over to you, Valerie!

E: You have a fascinating website, Valerie, with so much to see and enjoy. What aspect of your writing life do you most like to share with readers?

Thank you, Elizabeth!

It is very kind of you to say so. When I created the website I wanted it to reflect the love I have for my writing world, which is loosely divided into three key areas.

First, the locations that have inspired my books, or at least their settings.

Second, is my love of tutoring creative writing and encouraging other writers – whether published or not - to improve from whatever point they are currently at. Writing is such a solitary occupation that when first starting out it is daunting and therefore having a supportive, professional tutor/mentor to guide and offer constructive feedback can be very helpful.

Third, is sharing the unique experiences of fellow writers who I have been fortunate enough to meet along the way. I am a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, The Crime Writers’ Association, Historical Novel Society and The Society of Authors and have been blessed to meet many talented authors who have generously accepted my invitation to be a guest. No matter what genre they write within, all writers share the same basic love of what they do.

E: How right you are! And we share a good deal more in terms of genre. I am intrigued by the historical background you talk about, with the Napoleonic wars, the religious and political changes impacting ordinary people in the period setting of your novels. How much of this finds its way into the stories?

The overlapping eras of Regency and the Napoleonic Wars cover a time of great change within our society. The wealth gap between the land-owning gentry who ruled the country and the normal man and woman was vast. New money and industrialisation were bringing forth a new wealthy middle class and, alas, much abuse of power too.

Agriculture vied with mills for labour and machines were replacing skills. Smuggling was rife because of the high taxes. The church was seeing a new challenge from the ‘Bible Moths’ who followed the methods of John Wesley. In every aspect of life and in every level of society there was uncertainty and change, along with the fear of revolution or invasion.

Therefore, my stories tend to venture beyond the limited lifestyle of the London Ton to plots involving love wrapped around an adventure, which crossed previously established social boundaries. When survival is at stake etiquette and social nuances are set aside.

E: Yes, and that makes for an intriguing plot. Whitby is one place you mention with which I am familiar as I did a theatre season there in my acting days. Has that wonderful ruin been a setting?

Small world! Yes, in ‘To Love Honour and Obey’ the abbey ruins and the unique St Mary’s church on the headland feature as well as an old coaching inn and the atmospheric cobbled snickets. Whitby is such a beautiful and historic port that it has inspired many scenes within my novels including ‘Abigail Moor’, and ‘For Richer, For Poorer’ when Parthena escapes from her cousin’s plans for her.

North Yorkshire has some lovely historic towns and cities that have crept into my work: York, Harrogate, Thirsk, Helmsley, Kirkleatham village and of course Whitby and the bay towns north to Saltburn.

E: I noticed Yorkshire is very prevalent. Which particular areas of Yorkshire do you tend to use and what draws you to them? Or do you choose different places for each book?

Val on the North Yorkshire trods

North Yorkshire is a county that has beautiful bay towns, rugged headlands, majestic moors and historic house, villages, market towns and cities. It has a chequered history and the smuggling, which was prolific in the area at the time, does seep into a few of my stories. I find inspiration everywhere from the ancient trods to the historic abbeys, manor houses and grander halls.

I have taken liberties and created my own bay towns. Ebton which features in many books, the home of Laura in To Have and To Hold, is based on an early nineteenth century Saltburn-by- the-Sea.

Coatham at the other end of the bay was my location for Alunby featured in Stolen Treasure.

E: You are whetting my appetite, especially with these rugged headlands and majestic moors!

Moving on to something that may well have affected a lot of writers, but you’ve had one particularly apt experience, if I may say so!

Was it a strange experience to have your novel In Sickness and in Health come out during this pandemic? Do you think it has helped or hindered its success?

I could not believe it! Of all the times amidst a pandemic to have such a title released seemed ironic. Although in this case fiction is definitely not stranger or more dire than reality has turned out to be. Needless to say, the plot has nothing to do with Covid 19. I do not know if sales were affected, but the irony of the timing did seem amazing. However, the hero overcomes, as many of our actual front-line heroes are doing now.

E: Yes, difficult to tell about sales, I suppose, though in general people seem to have been reading more. Can I move to something I ask a lot of authors? If you were to try another era other than Regency, what would it be? Have you ever hankered to write or in fact written outside the historical genre?

I have written a novel set in the Dark Ages as I also love researching the fifth and sixth centuries. This was a period of great conflict as invaders came to take land and destroy homes.

In the early nineteenth century the threat of invasion was also very real. People faced huge threats and surviving was a challenge in both areas and events led to irreversible changes for our country.

I have written a few contemporary novellas. Amongst them Moving On was shortlisted for the Love story of the Year and Roses are Dead is a contemporary crime story.

E: Well, I can see you’ve shifted about quite a bit in the genre stakes. Me too!

We also share a further aspect of your writing life. You have a wealth of experience in helping new and emerging writers? What has kept you on that path? Does it impact your own writing to teach others?

There are certain skills that can be taught to help a new writer when they start out to discover their own voice. A supportive tutor can offer constructive criticism that will save them time and help build up confidence as they grow as a writer. The imagination, determination and dedication to succeed all come from the student but there are definitely lessons that we all go through that can be shared. I love seeing my students become confident, published writers and when they come back with comments, such as: “I can never forget her valuable feedback” then I know I have achieved what I set out to.

E: So true. It’s a win-win, isn’t it?

Now, you may be a Yorkshire gal yourself, but I understand your family connections are cross-cultural? I wonder if you will share something about this and how it came about?

I grew up in a North Yorkshire seaside town in a loving home. Mum had Multiple Sclerosis but was an amazing lady who inspired me endlessly. I think that this was why I developed the ability to make up stories as my life at that point was very restricted.

After losing my mum at age 21 I began attending night school, as I worked full time and had always wanted to further my education. I love learning, the older I get the more there seems to be to learn. I hope that I never lose that desire, especially as I continue to mature as an author.

I met my husband-to-be at night school. We have been married for over thirty years and I have visited his family in the beautiful tropical country, Malaysia. We have been fortunate enough to travel through many countries in the Far East experiencing the different cultures, climate, and cuisines and yet also seeing the amazing commonalities of the love of family and home that people share.

Life is unpredictable, never more so than in these strange times, so I believe in enjoying the day.

E: It’s so strange that we both have a cross-cultural heritage, though very different. Let’s talk about the writing life.

Writing can be a lonely business. How do you manage to overcome the potential isolation?

I consider working from home to be a privilege, especially under the ‘new norm’. Pre lockdown I would go out researching for my work, attend meetings and conferences and then return to my office. Now my writing community connects online; it is very varied and supportive.

I tutor international students and so from my humble study it is amazing to realise that I can reach out and touch lives across the globe – whilst socially isolating!

I make sure that I walk, or use my cross trainer daily, to keep as healthy as I can and love being around the family, so I rarely feel lonely.

E: Sounds like you have that well sorted. We are fellow authors with Sapere Books. How have you found the switch from self-publishing to traditional publishing?

Self publishing is harder initially because there is one person who must write, edit, revise, choose cover design, format, upload, market and hopefully sell your books. You can buy in expertise to help with edits and covers, which is advisable for the novice, but ultimately the decisions and marketing effort comes down to the author. However, you can set your own timelines, switch covers etcetera at will and experiment. It does have some benefits.

Alternatively, with traditional, you have a team behind you to share the weight of all this, as well as the profit. You also gain the benefit of fresh eyes and broader expertise, to input into the process. A publisher’s backing and brand can also give further standing and credibility to your book.

E: Yes, there are pros and cons to both indeed.

Have you got a plan for the next five years as the gurus advice, or are you winging it?

When I began writing novellas I had young children and I did wing it. I have had 46 accepted to date, two of which have still to be published. However, now I do have a five-year plan and have changed the way I work as I am now focussing on writing novels.

I set and adjust targets as needed because in this business you must be flexible, but I always keep my aims realistic and attainable. My ultimate plan is to stay in print, keep sharing my stories with my readers and never give up. I just love what I do too much.

E: I am inspired by your enthusiasm and dedication, Valerie! Thank you so much for sharing so much of your writing life with me.

Thank you for inviting me!

Find out more about Valerie’s books and where to find them here:

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