Today, I’m delighted to welcome UK author Paula Martin to the Author Spotlight. Paula’s new contemporary romance, His Leading Lady, is one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve read over the last few months, and what a lovely cover. From the moment I started reading the first chapter, I was completely hooked and had to keep reading the rest of the book until the very satisfying ending.
The characters are very well drawn, with a perfectly matched hero and heroine. The background setting of a theatre and stage musical was the icing on the cake and seemed completely authentic, greatly adding to the enjoyment of the main story between Jess, one of twin sisters, and Kyle, the arrogant director. The added touch of mystery surrounding the disappearance of Lora, Jess’ twin, and the ensuing impersonation by Jess gave the romance a lovely touch of suspense. Highly recommended!
Paula was kind enough to answer the following questions. Thanks for being here, Paula!
Have you been writing fiction long?
It would be easy to say all my life – or at least from when I was about 8 or 9. I was a voracious reader as a child and my first stories were based on some of the books I read (usually school stories like Malory Towers). Soon, however, I was developing my own characters and, once I got to my teens, writing romances. My first novel was published when I was 25, and was based on one of the romances I’d written about ten years earlier. I had four novels published in the 60s and 70s and several short stories in romance magazines, then didn’t write any fiction for about twenty five years. Instead I wrote articles for several years for the UK Girl Guide magazine, one every month as the editor gave me my own ‘page’. I came back to writing fiction about four years ago, initially with fan fiction. Then, after a serendipity meeting with a Harlequin writer when I was America, I decided to try my hand at novels again.
What made you decide to set your novel in the theatre world and did it involve a lot of research?
I’ve always been fascinated by the theatre but, although I had a few minor roles in school plays, I couldn’t really act to save my life (can’t sing or dance either!). However, in the 80s and 90s, I worked backstage with two local amateur Musical Theatre Societies, and for about ten years I produced two shows each year with the junior section of one society. I was privileged to work with a lot of very talented youngsters and it was wonderful to see them develop in confidence, acting skills and stage presence. Many of them are still involved in musical theatre, and I know that at least five of them went on into professional theatre.
I’ve never worked in the professional theatre (although I have been backstage at the two big theatres in Manchester, does that count?), but I reasoned that rehearsals are pretty much the same as in the amateur world, as well as the glitches which happen with scenery and props. The main research I had to do was about how professional shows are financed; the rest came mainly from my own experiences.
Why did you set one scene in Scotland? (Which I loved!)
Once I had my hero’s name, Kyle Drummond, he HAD to have Scottish ancestry, so when I wanted him to introduce Jess to the (previously unrevealed) writer of the musical show, I decided to take them up to Scotland for the weekend. Also it had to be Argyll because the show is based on an old legend from that area. I think I had to do more research for the Scotland chapters than anything else – looking at maps and photos, tower houses, even finding out if there were any private airfields near Oban. I wanted to take a trip up there to make sure I got it right, but time didn’t allow, so I had to draw on my experiences of other parts of Scotland which I’ve visited.
Did you make up the story of the show they are putting on in the novel? (Great story by the way!)
Having decided that Kyle had a Scottish background, I needed the show to be based on a Scottish legend. I googled until I found a legend I liked, and one which I could visualise being adapted into a musical. It’s based on the legend of Black Colin of Argyll, or at least the part of the legend when Colin goes off to the Crusades leaving his young wife behind. The story of him cutting a ring in two and giving half to his wife is part of the legend, and provided the title of the show ‘Token of Love’. I’m wondering whether I could pitch the idea to Andrew Lloyd Webber or Cameron Mackintosh? (Definitely, Paula!)
Do you go to the theatre a lot?
Not as much as I used to. When I was a child, my parents were Gilbert and Sullivan fans so my very first experience of musical theatre was ‘The Yeomen of the Guard’ when I was about eight. I loved it (and still love the G and S shows). Repertory theatre was also still alive then, so my mum used to take me the weekly plays if she thought they were ‘suitable’ for me. Then I discovered Rodgers and Hammerstein shows through the Amateur Operatic Society in my home town, and I was hooked!
Once I started working with our local group in the 80s, I also went to a lot of other societies’ performances in various parts of Manchester (and further afield sometimes). I used to go to many different musicals and plays at the professional theatres in the city too, and once spent a week in London with my teenage daughter (who was also stage-struck) when we went to every afternoon and evening show we could fit into the week. That was in the days when theatre tickets weren’t as expensive as they are now! Nowadays, I tend to go mainly to the amateur shows, although occasionally I venture into the city centre for a professional show and, more rarely, to London. But I did go to Dublin last year, simply to see Stockard Channing in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ which is my favourite play of all time.
What is your favourite stage musical?
This has to be ‘Les Miserables’ which I’ve seen about ten times, both in Manchester and London. I LOVE the songs – and even thinking about ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’ and ‘One More Day’ can make the hairs on my neck stand on end.
Of the shows I’ve worked with, either backstage or producing with my junior group, ‘Carousel’ is probably my favourite (I always cry at the end), although ‘Calamity Jane’ comes a close second, and then there’s ‘Guys and Dolls’ and ‘The Sound of Music’ and – okay, I’ll stop now!
Any tips for newer writers?
The classic answer to this is ‘Don’t give up.’ But maybe more important than that is: A first draft is not a finished manuscript. Learn the craft and the mechanics. Yes, spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence construction are all important. So work at it. Write a good story and write it well.
Thanks so much for having me as a guest on your blog, Rosemary, and for giving me such interesting questions to answer.
She had some early publishing success with four romance novels and several short stories, but then had a break from writing while she brought up a young family and also pursued her career as a history teacher for twenty-five years. She has recently returned to writing fiction, after retiring from teaching and is thrilled to have found publishing success again with her contemporary romances.
Apart from writing, she enjoys visiting new places. She has travelled extensively in Britain, mainland Europe, America and Canada - and a few years ago she fell in love with Ireland which she visits at least twice a year. Her other interests are musical theatre and tracing her family history.
His leading Lady is available from the publisher Whiskey Creek Press, Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US)
You can find out more about Paula on her Website and Blog