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Saturday, March 12, 2011
Author Interview: Christina Courtenay
The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Christina Courtenay, whose debut novel Trade Winds has just been shortlisted for the UK's Romantic Novelists' Association's Pure Passion award in the category for Best Historical Novel. Her second book, The Scarlet Kimono, was published last week by Choc Lit.
Christina has been writing, off and on, for twenty years. She first started writing when her oldest daughter was six months old because Christina didn't want to leave her to go to work; instead, she wanted to stay home and still make money.
"Unfortunately it wasn’t as easy as I thought and it’s only now, as she’s just left home, that I’ve become a published writer," she said. "Ironic or what?"
Christina's written about thirteen books, although only two have been published as yet (with another one scheduled for publication in November 2011). She told me that her favorite is always the one I’m working on at the moment, because by the time she finishes with them she's read them so many times she's sick of them and never wants to see them again!
She always secretly thought of herself as a writer, but it wasn't until she held a copy of her first published novella in her hand that she felt like a "proper author."
"I needed the physical proof to show others this was something I was serious about," she explained. "Receiving the author copies of Trade Winds was the icing on the cake and that really made me feel like a proper author."
She told me she's lucky enough to write full time now, but she doesn’t really have a schedule.
"I can go for days without touching the keyboard as I write in cycles. If I get an idea, I run with it and write intensely until I run out of steam, usually about a third of the way through the book. Then I’ll take a break and either do something else (much needed housework for instance!) or force myself to write down a vague outline of where the book is going, do any research I need in order to continue, and try to come up with some more plot ideas. Interspersed with this there is of course blogging, twitter and checking other websites, plus any other writing related things I have to do."
When she suffers from writer's block, she first goes backs and re-reads the last couple of chapters. That will usually kick-start the story in her mind. She works on multiple stories at a time, though, so if that doesn't work, she will work on a completely different one for a while until the first one becomes clear to her again.
She doesn't write linearly. Something will trigger a key scene in her mind between the hero and heroine and the story takes shape from that scene, which isn't necessarily at the beginning of the book. The catalyst can be anything from a face, a character in a film, or a piece of conversation to an old painting or a mirror.
"Sometimes I have to work both backwards and forwards from that scene, which can be very interesting to say the least!" she told me.
I asked her what books or authors have most influenced her writing.
"Georgette Heyer (I wish I could write with her wry humor!), Barbara Erskine (I started out trying to write time slip stories like hers that involved ghosts and other supernatural beings and still hope to have those published one day), Johanna Lindsey (I love her larger than life heroes and the way she manages to build the tension between hero and heroine), Elizabeth Chadwick (brilliant at evoking historical detail), Diana Gabaldon (I love any books set in Scotland and her Jamie Fraser is one of the most wonderful heroes ever) and Susanna Kearsley (another fantastic author of time slip stories). Also authors from other genres, like Steve Berry and Ellis Peters."
When Christina's not writing, she told me she likes to "read, read and read some more!" She is also interested in genealogy; she likes listening to loud rock music, going to the cinema or art exhibitions, meeting up with her friends, spending time with her family and occasionally travelling.
"I like DIY too – I find painting very therapeutic – and if I can afford it, I love antique hunting."
On a personal note, Christina admitted to me that she hates how she looks in photos.
"I only ever look halfway decent in black and white photos; I’m not photogenic at all. I can count on the fingers of one hand the really good photos I have of myself," she said. "Most of those were taken by professional photographers, who know what they’re doing, so I guess maybe that’s the answer?"
Her strangest habit? "I eat chocolate for breakfast every day. In fact, I can eat just about anything for breakfast, like left-over dessert or tuna fish sandwiches, and this usually freaks out any normal people, which can be quite funny."
This leads directly to the strangest thing she's ever eaten: chocolate covered ants.
"They tasted okay," she told me. "Well, you could only really taste the chocolate, but I couldn’t get over the weird crunchy noise they made. I hate insects, so for me to even try eating those was pretty amazing."
Her favorite animal? Dogs. She loves all different breeds of dogs.
"I think they can feel that because they usually like me too," she said. "Also, I’m born in the Year of the Dog according to the Chinese zodiac, which is apparently very good, so maybe that’s why I like them so much? I get very upset when I hear of dogs being ill-treated (or any creatures for that matter) and wish I could adopt them all."
She has a lot of things she would like to know about the future. If there will ever be contact with alien civilizations. If the Nessie monster will be found. If light speed travel will ever be achieved. If the real site of Atlantis be discovered. If a cure for cancer will be found.
"In fact, I want to know if we’ll solve all the world’s mysteries because I hate not knowing!!!" she told me.
Christina is half English, half Swedish, and totally bilingual. She's also lived in several different countries. So, when I asked her for her heritage, she replied with a grin, "Confused! I don't really know where I feel at home. I'm sort of just 'international,' I guess. Is there such a thing?"
She admits to having cried during Bambi
"It gets me every time! I hate it when they kill his mother," she said. "How can they do that in a children’s film? It’s outrageous! I don’t like sad movies, I try to avoid them as much as possible (for example, I hated Bridge to Terabithia!). The same goes for books – I always check the ending and if it’s not a HEA, I won’t read it."
Christina has always been a night owl.
"I can stay up all night without any problem whatsoever, but try to talk to me in the morning and you’ll get snarled at. In fact, any time before eight am doesn’t exist as far as I’m concerned. I can’t understand why they can’t have more jobs for people who don’t want to get up early!"
She grew up in Sweden, and they used to spend summers in a small cottage by a lake, deep in a forest. She told me there were some spectacular thunderstorms there, with lightning flashing over the lake and the rain drumming down onto the cottage roof.
"I love lying in bed listening to rain, it’s very soothing and makes you feel snug and warm indoors."
Finally, I asked Christina, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"
"Write as much as you can, listen to advice without getting offended (you may think your story is the greatest thing ever, but maybe it isn’t!), go to workshops, conferences, mix with other writers and join something like the RWA. Above all, get involved and help out with running things – you’ll meet some great people and find your way to publication. Also, find yourself a writing buddy if you can, someone whose opinion you trust, because then you can critique each other’s writing and give support when it’s needed."
You can keep up with Christina on her blog, http:// http://christinacourtenay.com