Marcia Willett on writing about romance
Best-selling British romance author Marcia Willett, whose latest novel The Christmas Angel was published last month, has become one of the world's best-loved writers, with 25 novels published in 18 countries. No mean feat for someone who wrote her first book at the age of 50. And that too, not because of some deep-rooted passion for getting published, it was more to do with needing the money!
When disaster struck - her husband Rodney's business failed (he was a partner in a financial services business that went down in the early 90s recession in Britain) and their house was repossessed - he asked several times if there was something she could do to help with their crisis. It was the start of a completely new phase in her life.
"We'd lost our home and were living at a friend's while we worked out what on earth we could do," says Marcia, now aged 66. "It was not a good time.
"Until then I hadn't really worked. I'd been a full-time mother to my son Charles, who's now aged 40. But I was always an avid reader. I'd never considered writing though.
"So when Rodney said, ‘How often have I said that you really could write a novel?' I honestly didn't think I could. I told him, ‘I have no idea even how to start the first sentence.'
"But after months of nagging I agreed, for the sake of peace and quiet. It was also because I felt I had to at least try doing something to help. After four months I handed Rodney the manuscript of my first story, Those Who Serve, and said: ‘There, I've written it - now you sell it.' And he did!"
Rodney called a publisher based in London, Hodder Headline. When the receptionist answered his call, one of the commissioning editors happened to be standing nearby and something she heard interested her. She grabbed the telephone just before the receptionist ended the call. The editor said to Rodney, "It does sound interesting. Why don't you send it in?"
But even then Marcia knew it was a world away from getting published. After weeks of waiting - and with their situation getting no better - a letter arrived. The editor wrote that she liked the book, but just as Marcia and Rodney went to jump for joy they read on… she wanted Marcia to write in a new character and make it 40,000 words longer.
"I was so near - and yet so far," she says Marcia. "But I did as she asked. After a few more weeks I posted it. So began another long wait. Weeks later I'd not heard anything and couldn't stand the suspense, so I called the editor. ‘I don't want to talk about it,' the editor said. ‘There's a letter in the post for you.'" That night Marcia could hardly sleep, as she convinced herself it must be a rejection letter. She spent most of the night wondering what they were going to do to get everything back on track financially.
"Next morning the letter was in my hands," she says "And I couldn't believe it - they wanted to publish my story! At the age of 50 I was going to become a published author.
"But even then I had another worry - my contract with the publisher stated that I had to deliver another story within 12 months. What if that first story had been a one-off? I must have had all these stories stored up inside my mind though, because I actually managed to deliver four novels in two years! Perhaps because I started so late, there was a lifetime of stuff in there.
"It's extraordinary to see my books published in so many different languages and when I get wonderful letters from all over the world. I wonder, ‘Can this really be happening to me'?" says Marcia.
Since that first fortuitous phone call, Marcia's had 25 novels published, including her latest, The Christmas Angel, which is available in hardback or as an ebook in Epub and Kindle formats. Her books - all set in Marcia's home area of Devon in south-west England where she lives in a large cottage with Rodney and their dog Jossie - have been translated and sold in 18 countries, including Greece and Germany where they have made the best-seller lists.
Rodney is also now a writer, mostly non-fiction although he has written two novels. "Neither were worth publishing, to be honest," he says candidly.
The differences between their writing is best illustrated by their replies to the question, ‘What are the last three books you've read?' Marcia's list is: At The Source, a book of poetry by Gillian Clarke; Learning To Dance by Michael Mayne and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Rodney's list reads: Super Cooperators by Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield; Early One Morning by Robert Ryan and The Flamingo's Smile by Stephen Jay Gould.
"Rodney's writing has always been a huge asset," Marcia says. "It's his always constructive criticism, his readiness to enter into the ‘parallel universe' of my stories and the respect he accords this particular work ethic - which includes allowing me brood time and the space I need - accompanied by a toughness which drives me back to the computer when I don't much feel like it!
"‘Start hitting the keys' is his favourite expression. He always seems to know when it's important to stop brooding and start writing. But we are different too. He is a political animal. I am not. I love poetry. He just doesn't get it.
"Also, Rodney never waits for anything ‘to come to him'. I prefer the contemplative way: listening, waiting. We've learned to work with this. I listen to him, but continue to wait, though often the germ of his plots and plans filter through into the waiting. And, of course, I'm so thrilled that Rodney persuaded me to write - because it has been a total and wonderful life change."
To keep up with the Willetts, go to www.rodney-willett.blogspot.com