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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Interview with...Anna Campbell

This is an interview I conducted with Anna Campbell for the RWNZ Heart to Heart magazine (October 2009 issue).

Australian author, two times RITA nominee & two times R*BY finalist, Anna Campbell is best known for her passionate, character driven historical romances. Her stunning debut novel, CLAIMING THE COURTESAN, was winner of Best First Historical Romance in the Romantic Times Book Reviews Reviewers' Choice Awards in 2007 and since then her books have continued to enthrall and thrill readers.
Before succumbing to the call as a romance author, Anna tried her hand at retail, hospitality, marketing, working in an art gallery, technical writing and working at a charity as a sub-titler for the deaf and hearing impaired.
Anna takes time out from her busy schedule to answer a few questions…

Whenever you’ve spoken in workshops or talked to writers your love of the historical romance genre is evident. What’s the most enjoyable part about writing historical romances for you? Developing the characters, researching the time period etc?
Kylie, how interesting that my enthusiasm is so obvious. I was a reader WAAAAY before I was a writer and I still read stacks, although sadly not as much as I like. Dang deadlines!

Hmm, I love research but it’s easy for that to become a black hole. You dive in and you may never come out, let alone write the book. So these days, I read a couple of books and then look up specifics as I’m going.

As one very wise writer said, “I hate writing but I love having written.” First drafts are really tough for me, but I’ve learned to love the revision process, that act of freeing the angel from the marble as Michelangelo said on the coffee cup I’m currently holding. Although I’m not sure anyone would call my stories angels!

I also love starting a story when anything is possible and it’s all exciting. Of course, the best bit is when you’re in the zone and it’s like taking dictation but sadly entering that ecstatic state seems to be outside my control.

The writing process fascinates many of us. Do you have a daily/weekly writing routine or are you more flexible in your approach? And are you a plotter or panster?
I’d love to be really businesslike and organised. But sadly, I ain’t! I tend to work to a daily page count and mostly I achieve it. But closer to a deadline, I’m working really long hours and it also depends on what else I’m doing. I do a lot of promo.

I’m definitely a pantser although I wish I was a plotter. I think it’s a much more efficient way of working. I need to tell myself the story before I know what story I’m telling if that makes sense.

As a self-confessed contest junkie ☺, what role do you think they played in your pre-pubbed preparation as a writer? What have been some other significant milestones in your journey to publication and now that you’re published?
Wow, what great questions, Kylie! Actually it took me a huge chunk of time to get published. I finished my first historical romance between high school and uni and then it was twenty-seven years between then and when I sold to Avon. In all that time, contests kept me going. The fact that someone other than my best friend (and actually my best friend wasn’t that enthusiastic!) liked my writing gave me hope.

I think contests have a whole stack of benefits for unpublished writers. They help you develop a thick skin, they teach you to trust yourself (judges give you such a wide variety of comments, you need to learn what to keep and what to discard), they get you submitting professional-standard work to deadline, and they’re great for networking. I got my agent through contests and I’m still in touch with a lot of my judges. A list of contest wins and placings are also great for the query letter. It makes the agent/editor think, “Hey, this person clearly stands out from the crowd.” It gets your foot in the door and then it’s up to the work to speak for itself, but the foot in the door part is hard enough!

Oh, milestones! Too many to count – one of the side effects of writing for so long. A few that spring to mind include my first RWOz contest (First Kiss) which I entered with much trepidation. Imagine my excitement when I came third. My first RWOz conference. I’ve since become a conference junkie. Meeting my wonderful critique partner at that conference. Annie West’s advice and encouragement went a long way towards helping me to write a saleable manuscript. Winning the last Emma Darcy award in 2005. The double Golden Heart final in 2006 the first time I entered the contest. Selling (obviously!). The double RITA final in 2008 – now that really was a dream come true! Both R*BY finals.

When I read UNTOUCHED, I loved the emotional intensity of the attraction between Matthew & Grace and watching their relationship unfold; Matthew’s hard, cynical, guarded facade develop into a gentle yet fierce protectiveness, Grace’s fears evolving into strength and courage to fight for him, for them.
What sort of prepatory work do you do on your characters before you start the first draft? How deep do you go?
Thanks, Kylie. I loved those two characters – and seriously I was fending off marriage proposals for Matthew. He’s a character readers really seem to have taken to in a big way (which made me very happy!). Most people wanted him to bring his dog too!

I tend to operate very much out of my subconscious with my characters. I don’t do any of the organised things like charts or interviews!

What generally happens at the start of a story is that I get two characters, a situation and an opening scene. And the characters talk to me (yes, I know this sounds crazy). Usually that’s while I’m working on another manuscript so these people set up residence at the back of my brain and sort of stew for a while until I start their story. Then they develop with the story – often completely against what I think I’ve got when I start.

For example, Matthew was meant to be an uber alpha, and a cranky one at that. I mean, if anyone had a right to be cranky, it was him, right? But he turned up as a knight in shining armour when I started to write the story and any attempt to change him just made him go quiet on me. Eventually I just gave up and let him have his way!
Once I’ve got my first draft, I use the editing process to layer and layer and go as deeply as I can.

When you were learning the craft was there any particular technique you had trouble with eg. GMC, dialogue, POV, sexual tension etc? What do you see as your strengths and areas for improvement? Have these changed over time?
In my unpublished days, I spent a lot of time writing for Mills & Boon and getting rejected with the dreaded ‘lacks emotional punch’ letter. Looking back, they were completely right. Writing emotion was the last thing I learned and I think it was the thing that turned me from an almost there to someone who would sell.

Dialogue is something that’s always come easily to me. In fact, the dialogue never changes very much from first draft to final version whereas nearly everything else does. I think because I’ve read voraciously since I was a kid, and I’ve read thousands of romances, the shape of a romance story is imprinted on my bones. So that story arc is something that comes with the first draft too. Mind you, I never think writers are the best people to describe their strengths and weaknesses!

Once you’ve finished writing, what’s your editing process? Do you have a critique partner/group/sounding board of some sort? How do you know when your book is ready for submission?
Um, the answer to the last part of that question is easy – deadlines! Once I finish a first draft, if possible I like to take short break from the manuscript so I’ve got some distance from it when I return. Then because I write long, I usually spend a while cutting the undergrowth from the manuscript and doing a general polish. Then I send it to my critique partner Annie West. I use her comments for a really in-depth edit. After that, if I’ve got time, I’ll send it to someone else to read. Lately that’s been Christine Wells who writes fantastic Regency historical romance. By then, it’s usually time to send it in!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Oh, now that’s a hard one. I’ve heard so many great speakers and pieces of advice over the years. One that really resonated with me after the fact was from wonderful Robyn Donald. I remember her saying “The people who fail are the people who give up.” Now that seems obvious until you’re so close to publishing, you can taste it and still it doesn’t happen. That’s when it gets really tough to hang in there. Another was from a Donald Maas workshop, “Make it worse.” Another great one is Jenny Crusie’s “Protect the work.”

Your website is amazing. Is it an essential tool to an author’s self-promotion in today’s publishing world? What other promotional opportunities do you utilise?
Thanks for the compliments on the website. I knew the feeling I wanted but the credit for the look goes to Paula Roe who designed it. I wanted something moody and almost gothic in style to match the tone of the books and Paula did that in spades.

Promotion is one of those things you could do thirty-six hours in every twenty-four and every time you turn around, there’s more. But you have to write the books, that comes first. A good book beats any other sort of promotion you can do!

Having said that, I enjoy promotion – I love meeting readers and talking about romance (not just stuff I’ve written!). I absolutely think a website is essential. Before I put mine together, I spent a lot of time web surfing and working out what I liked and what I didn’t. Things I didn’t like included sites that were never updated. I’d feel cheated if I went to someone’s site and they hadn’t bothered putting anything new up there since 1998!

I liked websites that had added extras, insights into the author’s life or photos or short stories and articles. It’s just my opinion, but I think at the very least on an author website you need a bio, information about the books, what’s coming up, and contact details. After that, the sky’s the limit!

I do a lot of blogging. That’s something else I thought about when starting out, and I realised my life wasn’t nearly exciting enough to support a daily blog. So joining the Romance Bandits was a blessing. The blog is made up of 20 Golden Heart finalists from 2006, both published and unpublished, and they’re a great group, funny, smart, knowledgeable and really positive. Not to mention you get cross promotion from nineteen other writers! I guest on a lot of other sites too, some regularly (I do a monthly book review on Romance Novel TV, and a monthly spot on Tote Bags’n’Blogs), some only when I have a book out.

Otherwise I write articles, I write short stories, I donate books (the best marketing you can do is getting your book into someone’s hands, I think), I do Facebook and Myspace, charity auctions, anything to get my name out there as someone people might consider reading. I’ve done quite a lot of media too – the HarperCollins people in Sydney are great at promoting their authors.

Something that has been a major stretch for me has been learning to hold my own as a public speaker. It certainly didn’t come easily but it’s a skill you really need to develop. I’ve done panels and workshops at conferences and writing festivals, I’ve done library talks and talks to groups like Rotary.

Most writers have a signature style eg.smart sassy heroines, sweeping saga driven plots or edgy intense heroes – what is your trademark style, how would you like readers to recognise you?
I love Stephanie Laurens’s description of my style. When she read CLAIMING THE COURTESAN for a quote, she called it ‘Regency noir’.

CAPTIVE OF SIN is due for release in the US in November ‘09 and Australia/NZ in January ‘10. Tell us a little bit about it and what’s next for you?
CAPTIVE OF SIN is a marriage of convenience story with a twist. Here’s the blurb:

He pledged his honor to keep her safe . . .
Returning home to Cornwall after unspeakable tragedy, Sir Gideon Trevithick comes upon a defiant beauty in danger, and vows to protect her whatever the cost. He’s dismayed to discover that she’s none other than Lady Charis Weston, England’s wealthiest heiress—and that the only way to save her from the violent stepbrothers determined to steal her fortune is to wed her himself! Now Gideon must hide the dark secrets of his life from the bride he desires more with every heartbeat.
She promised to show him how to love—and desire--again  . . .
Charis has heard all about Gideon, the dangerously handsome hero with the mysterious past. She’s grateful for his help, but utterly unwilling to endure a marriage of convenience—especially to a man whose touch leaves her breathless. Desperate to drive him mad with passion, she would do anything to make Gideon lose control—and fall captive to irresistible, undeniable sin.

I’ve just finished my fifth manuscript, as yet without an official title. It’s another Regency noir (now, there’s a surprise) and is predicated on the theme of “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.” It should be out sometime in mid-2010.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Anna.
Thanks for interviewing me, Kylie. They were great questions!

You can learn more about Anna & her books on her website.


  1. I cant get enough of Anna Campbell, love her to bits ♥
    Great interview Kylie :)

  2. Hey, thanks, Kylie and Cath! Goodness me, this brought back memories!