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06 July 2021

Jenny Colgan: ‘If you love a character you’ll follow them anywhere’

by Abby Parsons Author Interviews, Writing Tips

We’re so excited that our brand-new six-week online course Writing a Romance Novel is open for enrolment. The course is led by the brilliant Jenny Colgan, author of numerous bestselling novels including the Little Beach Street Bakery and Scottish Bookshop series.

We caught up with Jenny to talk about her approach to writing and to find out her view on what makes a page-turning love story with romantic leads you root for.

What first interested you in writing romance? Can you tell us a little about the process of writing your first book?

Well I just love romantic comedies, always have done, so when I started writing it seemed a good place to start. When I started Helen Fielding was absolutely huge, and Marian Keyes, and I was in my twenties and absolutely on the lookout for a nice boyfriend, so it just felt a natural thing to do to write about my own life.

Your Little Beach Street Bakery books – including your latest, Sunrise by the Sea – are set on the Cornish Coast. How important is setting in your books and in romance generally?

I like to have a feel for where people are and how that affects your mood. I live by the sea and I really love it, being close to the water. But I like the city too. And I feel different depending on where I am. it’s a real compliment when people say I evoke place well,  but I’m not consciously setting out to be a nature writer or anything like that.

Contemporary romance and rom com is really thriving at the moment. Do you have any reading recommendations to share?

Oh yes there’s loads of great writers about. Mhairi MacFarlane is tremendous, so is Sophie Kinsella. I just love Kathleen Heiney, she is utterly hilarious, and I just started Sorrow and Bliss which is really making me laugh.

Can you tell us about your usual writing routine and what a normal day looks like for you?

Oh yeah, nothing interesting. I wake early, take exercise – quite often a run with the dogs – then settle down about 11.30, usually in a coffee shop, then write 2,500 words a day.  I’m done by 2ish or so, then I like playing the piano, chatting to the kids then me or my other half cook dinner and I watch telly with the smalls. At the moment it’s Buffy and Angel. Having a routine is very important though, all writers have one.

Your readers always love returning to your characters, including those in your Mure books, set on a tiny Scottish island. How important is character in writing romance?

Character is everything in all stories. If you love a character you’ll follow them anywhere. If you don’t care about a character, it doesn’t matter how immaculate the plot or how fulsome the description, it won’t help. Your book will still fall flat. You should know and love the people you’re writing about as deeply as you possibly can.

What makes for a truly irresistible and unforgettable romantic interest or hero in a romance novel?

Oh, we’re all different. For me I like kindness, particularly if it’s unexpected, and obviously a good sense of humour. I don’t like men who are too keen, it’s creepy. Too perfect I don’t like either, it never rings true, someone that’s always available and has no life other than waiting for the heroine.

We’re so excited to have you on board as the teacher of our brand-new Writing a Romance course. What was your favourite part of creating the course?

Oh thank you I had a brilliant time. I just loved thinking and talking about what I’ve been doing for years, so I suppose it was a bit of an ego boost really!

Also people think it’s some kind of magical process, writing, and I was so anxious to demystify that. Anyone, genuinely anyone, can write a book. Whether other people will want to read it is of course a different matter, but the act of getting your thoughts on paper should be available to everyone, and not dolled up with jargon or silly technical rules.

Finally, could you share your top tip for any writers who want to write a romance novel?

Be authentic. Write what you feel, what your fantasy partner would be like. Be as honest as you can bear. That will always show in your characters, always. That’s by far the most important thing in writing, everything else is just typing. When people talk about a writer’s ‘voice’, all they mean is, are they being true to themselves.

You’re unique, and that’s what you bring to the table. Don’t every hold back. Everything else you need to know, you learned in primary school.

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