Congratulations to Cathryn Hein who is a finalist in the 2017 RUBY Awards – nominated for Santa and the Saddler. Below, we chat to her about the romances that inspired her to write, about her male readers, and the advice she gives to aspiring writers.
Congratulations, you’re a finalist in the 2017 RUBY Awards! How did you react when you found out you were a finalist?
Thanks so much. I was stunned and thrilled. My first Ruby final! And it just so happened I was overnighting in a flash hotel in Sydney with a lovely big bath. So I soaked and drank wine, and giggled quite a lot.
Please tell us about the story you’ve been nominated for. Did you have a secret alternative title while you were writing it?
No, it was always Santa and the Saddler. In fact, I had the title before I had a plot. I wanted to write a Christmas themed romance and as all the Levenham Love Story novellas are branded with a ‘X and the Y’ type title, Santa and the Saddler worked perfectly. After nutting out a fun cute-meet opening, I just winged it, which was a bit ambitious, but Danny and Beth were such delights they practically told their own story.
This is a ticking-clock romance, where the heroine Beth is in town only for a short time to run her grandfather’s saddlery. Love is definitely not on her agenda. But from first meeting, Danny knows Beth belongs in Levenham and is determined to turn their taste of Christmas magic into forever. It won’t be easy, but who better to make it happen than Santa?
I wish all books were like this to write. Santa and the Saddler was pure joy.
Do you write romance books in secret, or are you loud and proud?
Oh, I’m very out and proud. When people learn I’m an author and ask what I write, I happily announce that I write romance novels. I’m proud of what I do and the genre I write in. Romance makes people feel good. Hard to beat that.
Headless washboard abs, a torrid embrace, the sprawling homestead, an elegantly dressed décolletage, or a vaguely kinky object against a dark background – what’s your favourite type of romance cover and why?
My main genre is rural romance and I’m also a born and bred country girl, so I don’t think you can blame me for being partial to a rugged looking man in a hat!
I don’t mind a torrid embrace either, especially where the hero looks a total goner (and has a hunky body and chiselled profile – but that goes without saying).
What is the secret life of a romance writer? What goes on between you and your keyboard (or quill) behind closed doors?
Lots of coffee, wearing of daggy clothes, and occasional bouts of singing. Much staring vacantly into space while a wonderful romance unfolds in the cinema of my mind. Sudden halts in activity to scribble madly in a notebook. Lots of mental conversations with people who don’t exist. Flurries of emails and text messages to writer buddies discussing characters and plot points, conflicts, and all sorts of weird writerly things.
And stickynotes. Those babies breed.
Do you remember the first romance you read, the one that inspired you to continue reading and writing in this genre?
Apart from Jilly Cooper’s early Rutshire Chronicles (Riders, Rivals, Polo, and The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous), the one that sticks strongly in my mind is A Place in the Hills by Michelle Paver.
Oh, I adore this story! Everything about it is romantic, from the opening line “It was noon on the Day of Blood when he first saw her,” to the south of France setting, the forbidden love of both the historical and contemporary characters, and the kántharos – or chalice, that binds them all.
It was after reading A Place in the Hills that I started actively seeking out romance novels. Paver’s Daughters of Eden historical series was even more romantic. I was well and truly hooked after devouring that trilogy.
Do you hide any secrets in your plot line that only a few people will find?
You mean like Easter eggs? No, but that’s an intriguing idea. I might have to try that one day.
How you differentiate between romance fiction, erotica and porn. Are romance readers getting naughtier?
I think there’s been a definite shift in heat levels. What was once risqué is now commonplace but I think you can say that for a lot of entertainment. Fortunately, romance readers are diverse in their tastes and there’s a readership for all heat levels.
As I see it, the main difference between romance and other genres is the emotion involved, and let’s not forget the happy-ever-after. We’re talking love here, not just sex, although there may be plenty of that involved.
More women read romance than men, but some men do. What do you know of your male audience? And why do they read you?
I have a solid male readership that initially came to my books because they love rural stories. They like the landscapes and characters, and the unique issues that affect rural and small-town communities. At least, that’s what they tell me but I suspect many discovered that they really like the emotion of the characters’ romantic arc and, like the rest of the romance-loving world, now can’t get enough.
Honestly, romance novels are like drugs – that feel-good high is totally addictive.
What advice would you give aspiring romance writers?
Write. The more you write the better you get. Like anything, good writing takes practice. Most of all, finish the book!
Learn your craft. Stephen King didn’t become a master storyteller the first time he picked up a pen. He slaved.
Understand what drives stories, especially conflict. Become familiar with things like point of view, emotional triggers, good characterisation, voice. Buy books on writing and read them. Reacquaint yourself with grammar and punctuation.
Find writer friends, ones you can whinge and moan to and cheer successes with. Who will read your work with an honest eye but criticise with tact and praise with sincerity. Believe me, you need these people. They will keep you sane.
Join the Romance Writers of Australia. Wonderful organisation!
Thank you for answering our questions, Cathryn!
Santa and the Saddler
A Levenham Love Story
He's found the girl of his dreams, but she's just passing through. Can he turn fleeting Christmas magic into forever?
Windmill fabricator Danny Burroughs doesn't have time to wait in line at the local saddler - no matter how pretty the girl behind the counter - he's juggling two jobs as it is. But his little sister has her heart set on a unique piece of saddlery for Christmas and he can't let her down. Expert saddler Beth Wells has no idea that...