Today our guest blogger is multi-award-winning historical author Sarah Mallory who has more than 40 books under her belt, under various writing names including Melinda Hammond.
Although Sarah was born in the West Country, she now lives on the romantic Yorkshire moors, within a stone’s throw of Brontë country which is, she says, a constant source of inspiration. She is also inspired by history, an abiding love, and the Hive can vouch for her wide knowledge of the Regency and other periods. Get her into a corner (with a glass of something) and the discussion flows wonderfully.
At the request of the Hive, Sarah is going to tell us about her experience of writing historical romantic novels in a series. These days, it’s the received wisdom that readers want series books. So a guide from an award-winning author sounds just the ticket. Over to Sarah . . .
Romantic Series : The Infamous Arrandales
After two years and many thousands of words, I have finished the last book in The Infamous Arrandales series. The Outcast’s Redemption will be published in July. Hurrah!
I have loved every minute of writing these four books, and I am quite sad to be saying goodbye to my gorgeous heroes and wonderful heroines and even the secondary characters who appear in more than one book. They are like an extended family.
Because that is what series characters become for me, part of my family. With single titles I get to know the characters, take them from A to B (maybe “losing” a couple on the way through death, disease or disaster — as you do) and then leave them to their own devices. With a series, many of the characters move with me to the next book, and the next.
So now, at the end of book four, I have tried to bring as many of them together as possible before finally saying goodbye.
Keeping Romantic Series Characters under the Thumb
Dealing with such a large cast can become something of a logistical nightmare — remembering everyone’s age, description, characteristics etc — so I find it very useful to put the characters into a spreadsheet. Colour coded, too. With my characters at the top of each column, complete with date of birth and brief description, I can then put key points in time for each row and note where each particular character might be.
Romantic Series: an Assortment of Heroes — and Heroines
I also produced a family tree to work out just what relation my characters would be to each other. Two of my heroes are brothers, with a difference of about ten years between them, so I have to find them appropriate heroines, too.
Also, it wouldn’t do to have every hero tall, dark and moody, or every heroine a feisty blonde.
And storylines, I hear you ask: they can’t all be Cinderella types, or beauty and the beast stories, can they?
No indeed. I made each heroine different: a quietly determined chaperon, a shy governess, a headstrong young widow and my latest heroine, Grace, a vicar’s daughter with high morals who becomes caught up in the struggle of an outlaw to clear his name.
Plotting . . .
Another point to bear in mind when writing series is that, once the first book has gone into print, it is too late to contact your editor and beg them to change the age/eyes/hair colour of any character. So it pays to have a pretty good idea of how each book is going to work out from the off.
Now, you may have heard before of the two types of writer.
The plotter — who painstakingly plots each book before starting to write it . . .
. . . or Pantsing
and the pantser — the writer who begins to write with only the vaguest idea of where the story is going. Writing by the seat of their pants, in fact.
Well, I am a pantser, so writing this series tested my planning ability to the limit. I had submitted a proposal to my editor but, to be honest, the details were pretty thin. Thankfully, my editor had faith in me and the books all came together very nicely; four stand-alone stories, each one different, but connected by a name.
Like a real family, in fact.
The End of the Arrandales?
And have I quite finished with the Arrandales? Well, one secondary character — a precocious young heiress — is now grown-up enough to have a romantic adventure of her own.
But that’s another story.
Many Thanks to Sarah Mallory for sharing her insights into writing romantic series
Lots of food for thought there for any author who may be thinking about writing a series of books. Especially the futility of deciding, part-way through writing book 3, that you really, really wish you’d written book 1 a little differently. Many of us will remember that one and the hair-tearing that goes with it!
Sarah’s lovely covers are below and the final title — The Outcast’s Redemption — will be available at the beginning of July. You can see it here.
There’s much more about Sarah’s books and her varied historical interests on her website Do take a look. For history lovers, there’s some fascinating stuff to read on her blog. Particularly recommended is Sarah’s diary of the re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo, with fantastic pictures. (Regency uniforms can be very flattering on a young man!)
On the day-to-day level, Sarah can be found on Twitter and on FaceBook, too, where she loves to hear from readers. You have to be up early to catch her on Twitter, though. She’s usually out on the moors with the dog while some of us are still dreaming about the next delicious Sarah Mallory hero.
Thanks for inviting me here today, ladies, I shall be checking in regularly to answer any comments or questions from readers.
Very interesting – and enterprising, Sarah! I’m afraid I’ve gone along haphazardly with the series I’m currently writing – it’s more linked books than a proper series though, so hopefully I’m getting away with it! I do like introductions of coming heroes or heroines in books, though, as a reader, so this sounds very attractive.
Thank you, Elizabeth – I had to be more disciplined than usual writing these books, and I had to keep referring back to my notes to check ages, descriptions and backgrounds for my characters, to make sure I had it right.