Interview with Kate Walker

Spanish Billionaire, Innocent WifeWhen I put out the call for authors to interview, to be honest I was expecting responses from people trying to get established in the business. Imagine my delight when Kate Walker, a prolific Harlequin author, answered my call. So, let’s welcome Kate to Book Talk with J & J.

Jen: Kate, can you share with us a short bio?

Kate: I live in Lincolnshire, UK, with my husband and grown up son – and 3 cats! I was the middle child in a family of five girls, growing up in a home where books were vitally important, and I read anything I could get my hands on.

Even before I could write she was making up stories. At the age of four I was telling the tale of The Three Little Raindrops — Drippy, Droppy, and Droopy — to my two younger sisters. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t scribbling away at something, and I wrote my first “book” when she was 11.
But everyone told me that I would never make a living as a writer, and that I should work toward a more secure career. So I decided that if I couldn’t write books, at least I could work with them, and settled for becoming a librarian.

I went to the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth to study English and librarianship. While there, I met my husband and we married and moved back north, eventually settling in Lincolnshire, where I worked as a children’s librarian until my son was born. After three years of being a full-time housewife and mother I decided to try and write professionally and so I started trying to write romance. I sent off some submissions to Harlequin Mills & Boon. The first two were rejected, but the second one had a letter from an editor telling me that she had liked what I’d written and asking me to try again. So I did – and that books was accepted. In 1984 my very first book, The Chalk Line was published by Mills & Boon. Since then I’ve had 54 titles accepted and I’m working on my 55th.

Jen: I just finished reading Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife. Please give us a blurb, how you came up with the idea for the story and where our readers can get a copy.
Kate: Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

Raul Esteban has always wanted Alannah.
She is purity and passion combined!
But she rejected him, and now the proud Spanish aristocrat is determined that
she will pay for her mistake—with her body!
Raul mistakenly believes Alannah
is no longer a naive girl—until one night of passion proves he has taken her
virginity! Now Raul will do whatever it takes to keep her at his mercy….

This story has a lot of personal meaning for me. Raul and Alannah were together two years before the book starts, but when Alannah realized just what Raul really wanted from her, she left him and went back home. Now tragedy has brought them back together, and it’s that tragedy that has a personal impact for me.
In 1995, my beautiful sister-in-law set out to drive to her job at a local school. She never arrived . Partway through the short journey, her car hit a van head-on. She died as a result of the head injuries she received, leaving behind a husband and two children, a daughter and a son aged just twelve and eight.
As Romance Reviews Today put it:

Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife pulls the reader first into the pain of the unexpected loss of a family member and the need to heal, then the second chance at love.

I know that feeling only too well. It’s taken over ten years before I felt ready to write about it.

Jen: Where can readers buy it?

Kate: Well, there are the usual places –
Amazon.com; eHarlequin.com; and as an ebook.
But also with this book there is an exciting and rather different way that readers can get hold of it – and they can try it for free if they like.

A company called Daily Lit lets readers buy books to download in daily instalments so they can read a bit at a time – or download everything at once if they want to. Through the summer (June, July and August) Daily Lit is offering Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife to download for free as a taster to the Presents line.

Jen: The hero, Raul, in Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife, was very much an alpha male. Do most of your heroes fall into that category and what is the appeal of an alpha male?
Kate: Most of my heroes are very much the alpha male. Some of my earlier books were published in Harlequin Romance and those heroes were perhaps not so much the alpha type, but since I’ve been concentrating on writing for Presents, the yes they definitely are alpha. I love writing passionate, intense and emotional romances, romances with high-stakes conflicts and a lot of emotional intensity and the alpha male fits very much into that sort of story.

For the heroine of a romance, the hero is the main problem that she must deal with – the hero and the conflict between her and him that results from his character. For a romance to have a strong plot it needs to have a strong conflict, and unless the hero and his situation, and some part of his character present such a challenge to the heroine that it creates a strong conflict then it won’t provide much of a plot. The success of the Alpha hero is that he provides a strong challenge for a strong heroine. That is where the sense of risk and challenge and so the sense of danger comes from – and that sense of danger creates the level of excitement and tension that a good romance needs to have. The best romances have a relationship that provides that challenge and so the sense of excitement.

Everyone knows that a romance will always have a happy ending. That is the convention – the natural end of such books, so it is no surprise when it happens. The real skill of a good author is to make it look as if that happy ending might actually never come about – that it might really be strongly at risk, so that even when she is secure in the knowledge that the HEA is going to happen – she is definitely wondering whether, in the end everything will be all right.

But nowhere here have I said that the Alpha hero also need to be a macho brute who treats women badly. Who is angry and aggressive, hostile, arrogant and demanding. Yes an Alpha hero has to be tough, hard-edged and forceful, but underneath it all they have to have a heart of gold, a true sense of honour and be capable of the deepest all consuming love that their heroines deserve – Those heroines who are, after all, the BEST females around – and so suitable Alpha mates for an Alpha Male.

Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us about your call story…
Kate: As I said in my biography, I can’t remember when I didn’t want to write. I was always scribbling down stories – often in class at school! I remember once getting into trouble for writing a story in the maths lesson. I wrote an adventure story when I was eleven. Then a wrote a long, romantic fiction type story that I used to show to my friends at school. While I was at university I had some short stories published in a couple of magazines – and a lot of rejections!

But when my son was born and I was at home with him I started trying to write again. I rediscovered my love of romances and started trying to write one for Harlequin Mills & Boon. My first submission came back with just a rejection slip. The second one was still rejected but this time a Senior Editor wrote to me and told me that my writing showed promise. She told me what was wrong with this submission and asked me to try again. And so I did. The third submission was a book called The Chalk Line which was accepted and published in 1984.

I never actually had a ‘call’ – in those days the editors wrote to authors instead of phoning them. But I remember it vividly – I had been out shopping for groceries and I had bags full of vegetables in each hand. My husband opened the door, and there on the mat was an envelope with a large rose on one side of it. I just stood there and stared and didn’t dare to pick it up. Eventually my husband made me pick it up and open it. I think I read that letter three times before it sank in that the editor was really saying that they had liked my book and with a few revisions they would like to publish it. And would I go to London to discuss it!
That letter really came at just about the best time because in the same month I had just learned that my mother had terminal cancer. She never saw any book I had published but she did know that The Chalk Line was accepted and she was able to celebrate that fact with me.

Jen: Have you noticed whether your writer’s voice has changed over the years due to your experience? If so, how?

Kate: I think every author’s voice changes over time – because romances are a living, changing genre. They change along with society of the time they’re written in so I’d say that in the almost 25 years I’ve been published there have been quite a few changes in what I write and how I write it. One of the biggest changes is the introduction of the male point of view in romance. That was something I never used when I first started out. And at the beginning of my career. Mills & Boon didn’t split the line in the way that Harlequin did – into Presents and Romance – so some of my books went into one line, and some into others. But then when M&B decided to split the lines too then I had to concentrate on the Presents line.

Other ways I think my writing has changed – at the beginning I mainly had English heroes. Now I mostly write Mediterranean men. I never used to think that I could write Spaniards, Italians etc but now I do that most of the time. Oh yes – and in the beginning I didn’t really write love-making scenes! I also think I take more risks now. If I want to write something really emotional and digging deep into my characters’ pasts then I go with that. I don’t stop to wonder if this is a topic for a romance novel – if the characters tell me that story then I go with it.

Jen: How do you approach your writing? Do you plot or go with the flow?
Kate: If I plan anything out it’s only roughly and not in any great details. I’m far more likely to go with the flow – what someone once called ‘traveling hopefully into the fog’. I have an idea, one that might be suggested by a line I hear someone say or an image that comes into my mind and I try to work out how that might happen – and what would bring someone to this place – and why they are there. Then I have to think of who these characters might be and what would happen if I put them together.

So once I was cleaning my bedroom and I had the radio on. I heard a man say, ‘I looked at my baby and I knew that this was the only person in the world who had my blood in his veins. The only one who shared the same family as me.’ And I just knew I had to get that idea into a book. That became The Italian’s Forced Bride.

The book I’m writing now starts with the heroine arriving in a garden just as evening falls, I needed to know why she was there – and then a door in the house opens and she sees . . . Ah, but if you want to know more about that, you’re going to have to read the book ! But first I have to write it. I know now who she is and what she sees and who the hero is . . . and the rest will come as I write it.

But I always know my characters well. In a way they tell me their stories and I write it down and that only works if I know them well.

Jen: As a reader, I enjoy reading romance novels for the happily-ever-after aspect. What is it about the romance genre that appeals to you?

Kate: I love the happy ending too- an ending in which things are resolved and the couple have worked through things and can go forward into the future together as equal partners – it’s like we all hope and wish for at a wedding. But I also love the way that romances are not really ‘romantic’ but more like my friend the great writer Michelle Reid says they are ‘relationship’ novels. I love creating relationships that need work and showing the hero and heroine working through that. And although I write about billionaires and tycoons and even occasionally sheikhs, the personal and emotional problems they deal with are the same that could happen for any one of us. And they are problems that no amount of money can solve, only loving and caring and giving.

Most of all I love the way that romance is such a positive affirmation of love and life in what can so often be a hard and negative world.

Jen: Where do you draw your inspiration?
Kate: Life. That really is the answer. People are so endlessly fascinating that just watching people and listening to their stories and finding out more about them give me new inspiration every day. I like to read the news papers and find out human interest stories. Or watch TV and see how people talk and react to each other. I love the ‘soaps’ – for telling stories every day and I love reading. If I read something where I think ‘ how could this be done differently’ then that can set me off on a new story – but mostly it’s finding out about people and thinking about how they’d be together and how they’d solve this situation – or that . . .


Jen: Who has inspired you as an author?
Kate: Oh – that’s a hard one – there are a lot of them. When I was a child a friend of my mother’s wrote romances. She had 2 young children and her husband had walked out on her and she supported them all on her earnings as a writer. She was amazing. Her name was Marguerite Lees.

Then there are two wonderful authors – Mary Stewart and Dorothy Dunnett – I’ve read every single thing they wrote and I loved it all and so wanted to write as well as they did.

My dear friend Michelle Reid is someone whose books I loved so much before I met her and now that we’re friends I love her books even more.

Jen: What has been your highlight of your career to this point?

Kate: Last year I published my 50th title and I went to London where the Editorial Director presented me with a gold pin for those 50 books. The whole 50th title celebration was wonderful – I had a huge blog party that went on and on because people kept wanting to join in – and I had special party when so many of my writing friends turned up. They even gave me 50 yellow roses – it was fabulous. And my friend were there again when I received my gold pin. When I think that so many people told me I’d never make anything of myself as a writer, I remember that celebration and smile – widely!

In a different way, another great moment was when I learned that a how to write romance guide I’d written – 12-point Guide to Writing Romance – had sold out completely and the publisher wanted a new edition. I’m really proud of that guide, it won 2 awards when it was published and now it’s in a second edition and people are talking about it all over the internet. I never thought of myself as a teacher so to have written such a successful teaching guide is something I’m so happy about.

Jen: Who are some of your favorite authors and books?
Kate: I already mentioned some of them – so to list a few
Mary Stewart – Moonspinners and Madam, Will You Talk?
Dorothy Dunnett – The Lymond Chronicles
Michelle Reid – Gold Ring Of Betrayal and Price Of A Bride and . . . Oh, everything Michelle writes!
I have always loved Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights
And I love Anne McAllister’s books – and Liz Fielding
I’m trying to read everything that Jodi Picoult has written.
And there’s a book that I read long ago when I was a child (it was old even then!) that is called Simoma’s Jewel by Marjorie Phillips. I read that when I was ten and then I reread it and reread it. A couple of years ago I managed to find an old copy through the internet and I have it on my bookshelves again.

Jen: What do you do in your free time?
Kate: What free time? :o) I am so busy so much of the time – I write, I teach writing, I critique manuscripts . . in the free time I do have I love to watch films or go to the theatre, to chat with my DH, family and friends, read as much as I can, travel – and play with my cats! I used to do embroidery and knot but I don’t have enough time for those right now.

Jen: What’s next for you?

Kate: 2008 is an important year for Mills & Boon because it’s their 100th birthday – the company was founded in 1908 so all this year there are special celebrations right through 2008. I’ve already been involved in some of them and coming up I have a library event in Manchester and then later in the year (October) I’m appearing at Guildford Book Festival. Next week I’m heading for the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference – and at the end of July I’m goiong to be at RWA national in San Francisco so I’ll be at the literacy signing there.

Then in books, I have a lot of new ones coming up – well some are brand new and some ore older books reprinted. In 2004 I wrote a trilogy called The Alcolar Family about 2 brothers and a sister from the same family. These 3 books are now being reprinted as a collection, as an ebook bundle which is out now and in the UK as a 3 in 1 collection which is coming out in August.

Also in August I have a special novella in the Mills & Boon Centenary Collection – that’s a reprint of The Duke’s Secret Wife that was originally published in Society Weddings.

And the new titles I have coming up ate – Bedded By the Greek Billionaire which is out in the UK in September and in Presents in November. And after that comes Cordero’s Forced Bride which is published in the UK in March 2009.

And then of course there’s the book I’m working on now . . .

Jen: Do you write under any pen names?

Kate: Kate Walker is a pen name! It’s the name of my crazy Irish Grandmother and I was named Catherine after her I use it for my writing.

Jen: Where can you be found on the web?
Kate: My web site is at: http://www.kate-walker.com/
And I have a blog that can be found here: http://www.kate-walker.blogspot.com/
I hope readers will drop by and say Hi.

Jen: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Do you have anything additional you’d like to add or ask our blog readers?
Kate: Thanks for a great interview, Jen. You asked a lot of interesting questions and I enjoyed answering them – some of them really made me think. And for your blog readers I’d like to thank everyone who buys and reads any of my books. Without readers who do that I couldn’t carry on doing this job that I love and keep writing the stories that I enjoy creating – and that I hope they enjoy reading.
I hope to drop by and chat if anyone wants to add any comments – and I’d like to know which books the blog readers enjoy and which are their favourite authors.

As a special treat, at the end of the week (Friday, July 11) I’m going to give away my copy of Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife to a commenter on this blog.

Kate- and I’ll add to that a signed copy of my special Centenary Celebration title The Duke’s Secret Wife so Jen please let me know when you pick a winner.