Back in the dim but not so distant past – more specifically, December 2016 – when I was choosing my favourite books of the year, I realised I’d been lucky enough to find no less than three new authors whose books had captivated me and turned them immediately into “must read” authors. One of those was British author Virginia Heath whose début, That Despicable Rogue was a thoroughly enjoyable, funny, romantic and sexy story that was so accomplished it was hard to believe it was her first published work. Over the past year-and-a-bit since Rogue’s publication, Ms. Heath has published five more titles – three of them standalones and the other two the first duo in her ongoing Wild Warriners series; and September sees the publication of her seventh book – another standalone – a seasonal title, His Mistletoe Wager.
I was pleased when Virginia agreed to take time out of what is obviously a very busy schedule to have a chat with me for AAR – thanks, and welcome!
VH: I’m thrilled to be here. Being interviewed at AAR makes me feel like a proper romance author!
Caz: Hah – I knew we were good for something! So – seeing as this is your first time visiting us, tell our readers a bit about yourself.
VH: Well I suppose I should start by telling you that I live in foggy London (not that it’s ever really foggy outside of Hollywood films) and that I have spent my entire life living within spitting distance of the capital. Which is just as well because it is still one of my favourite cities in the world. I’m married to the long-suffering and wonderful Mr H, have two practically adult children, a miserable cat called Steve and a mad but lovable dog called Trevor. I’m a fairly newbie author but before that I was a History teacher. To be frank, I’m a total history nerd and like nothing better than roaming around a stately home or castle. I don’t think there are many I haven’t dragged my poor kids around. I also like to shop and am easily swayed by clever advertising. Mr H says if it has the word ‘new’ in the ad copy, then I will buy it. I wish I could say he was wrong, but alas, I have cupboards full of useless and pointless items which I never should have bought in the first place.
Caz: I think we could have been twins in a past life – I’m so with you on the historical geekery and the stately-home-wandering with kids in tow! Has becoming a published author always been an ambition, or were you reading things and gradually starting to think – “yeah, I could do that.”?
VH: Having always been a voracious reader, writing my own stories was something I’d wanted to do since I was in my teens but it’s not one of those things you feel comfortable admitting to when you are young. People laugh and I come from a family where my parents’ biggest ambition for me was to do a secretarial course and work in an office. I don’t blame them for that, because to them that was a big step up, but as the years went on, the need to write that book grew. I gave it a half-hearted stab in my early thirties then gave up after one book and one rejection and settled into my then new teaching career promising myself I would pick it up again one day. Teaching is a rewarding but very hard job. Never tell a teacher you envy their early finishes or long holidays as it’s likely to set them twitching with rage. Every year I intended to write a book during my summer holiday, and every year I was so swamped with work I never managed it. It didn’t help that I had been promoted to the Head of History by that time, which meant I oversaw a whole department rather than just my own classes and my ridiculous workload quadrupled. I started a few stories, got a few chapters in then had to abandon them because I was marking essays or planning next year’s syllabus. I was in my late forties when I decided enough was enough and decided to bite the bullet and write before I was too old to grasp a pen. To do that I had to quit my job. It was a snap decision one afternoon in October 2014 and I wrote my resignation there and then without telling anyone. When I went home and told Mr H, he paused, nodded and said “okay”. Then, bless him, he went out and bought me a fancy computer, desk and chair and turned the spare room into my office. The fact that he believed in me gave me the impetus to finally do it.
Caz: As you already know, I’m a teacher, too, so I completely understand how difficult it is to find the time to do anything other than work and the normal day-to-day stuff. As you say, it’s rewarding, but it takes over your life. Your background as an historian … I’m guessing that made writing historicals a natural fit for you?
VH: I’ve always loved all romance, but I think I stumbled across my first ‘modern’ Regency romance around seven years ago when I picked up a Julia Quinn book because I couldn’t find anything else in the shop which took my fancy that day. I adored it. After that, I read hundreds of historical romances and got swept up in it all. I love the period backdrops, the rigid rules of conduct and don’t get me started on the heroes! I’ve always had a thing for Mr Darcy, so reading about other Darcys was no hardship. So yes, with my history background and my love of the genre, writing historicals was the perfect fit.
Caz: You’ve had seven books published over the last (almost) eighteen months. Are you a fast writer or did you have a stockpile hidden in the wardrobe?
VH: A stockpile? I wish. To everyone’s astonishment, including mine, it turns out I’m prolific! His Mistletoe Wager is my seventh published book but I am currently writing book ten. Well technically it’s book thirteen because there are three that never made it. After I quit my job, I wrote my first Regency called The Cursed Earl. As soon as it was finished I was so proud of it, I sent it off to about thirty agents, Harlequin Mills and Boon and Avon, stupidly assuming it was only a matter of time before somebody snapped it up. I received six polite rejection letters from some and radio silence from the rest. I’m not going to lie, that dented my confidence, but as I had thrown my career away I persisted. I wrote two more books but never sent either to anyone. I treated them like a training course, learning structure, pacing and finding my voice along the way. Then, in the early summer of 2015 I was vacuuming (I know- the glamourous life of an author!) and a title popped into my head. That Despicable Rogue. I thought that’s a good title, I wonder who wrote it? A google search told me that nobody had, so I thought I had better write it. I had a rogue, after all, and a despicable one, so I started writing it that same afternoon and within six weeks it was finished.
I can’t plot. I’ve tried and my odd brain doesn’t work that way. I watch the story like a film in my head and type what I see and hear. Weird, I know, but then that’s me. It’s been that way since I was a little girl and couldn’t sleep. I’d wile away the time staring at the ceiling and disappearing off into my own imaginary world. My rogue just flowed and at the end of the book it felt different to all the others. I knew deep down this one stood a chance, so I entered it into Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write competition. The rules said it couldn’t go to any other publisher, but if it had been previously submitted to Harlequin then that was okay, so I sent it to Harlequin separately as well. Belt and braces. I got an email from an editor two weeks later saying my story ‘had potential’ and after some revisions and pulling out of the competition, six weeks later I signed my first two book contract with them. Rather bizarrely, although I know feel most of The Cursed Earl leaves a lot to be desired, I am very grateful for it. The name of the hero was Jack Markham, so I sort of used the name again in A Warriner to Protect Her. My hero is Jack Warriner, but he is the Earl of Markham! And the opening scene in the apple orchard in A Warriner to Rescue Her is almost taken word for word from that first manuscript, so perhaps it wasn’t such a terrible book after all.
Caz: Over the last ten or fifteen years or more, standalone romance novels as a genre seems to have gone out of fashion and the series is king. Your first four books were standalones, and so is this most recent one. Do you think there are more stories to be told about any of the characters from those books, or are you happy with them as they are?
VH: I think there are always more stories and I certainly have a couple of characters I would like to see again. Technically, although all of my books can be read as standalones, His Mistletoe Wager is a sequel to another book. I blame you entirely for that Caz, as you were the first person to suggest that I should write a sequel to Her Enemy at the Altar and pointed out that Connie Stuart had a brother. Henry Stuart, or Hal as I prefer to call him, was the perfect character to revisit when Harlequin asked me to write one of their Christmas books this year. His story was certainly more festive than the third instalment of my Wild Warriners series and I got to see how Connie and Aaron were faring five years on.
Caz: Um. Oops? (I am completely unrepentant!) Speaking of series, let’s talk about those lovely Warriner brothers. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books – Jamie (from A Warriner to Rescue Her) is just dreamy… can you tell us anything about what might be in store for Jacob and Joe?
VH: I most certainly can. Joe’s story, A Warriner to Tempt Her, comes out just after Christmas (16 Jan in pbk, 1 Feb in ebook) and now he is a fully fledged doctor practicing medicine in his home town. Like all the Warriners, he is battling against the dreadful reputation the family have inherited but poor Joe also has another battle on his hands. A smallpox epidemic. He meets a feisty and brilliant woman and together they work to save the townspeople. All the brothers make an appearance, and so does a certain nasty Reverend Reeves (from A Warriner to Rescue Her) but I can’t tell you what happens beyond that. Jake’s story comes out in the Spring of 2018 and again is something completely different. That book centres around Jake the Rake’s life in London and revolves around a dangerous smuggling ring. Again, if I tell you more it will totally spoil the twist, suffice to say that book is called A Warriner to Seduce Her, because that is exactly what he does.
Caz: Well of course he does! ;) Can you tell us any more about future projects?
VH: Well obviously, His Mistletoe Wager is about to hit the shelves and that is an out and out romantic comedy. Hal is a scandalous rake who is bored with his life and Lizzie is a committed spinster with a very dirty secret. Thanks to a sprig of mistletoe and silly wager, Hal has to kiss Lizzie five times in five different places over the Christmas season. One kiss for each of the berries on the branch. But as always, things don’t quite go as the hero has planned and Hal finds himself developing feelings for a woman who refuses to entertain him.
I’m currently writing the first book in my new King’s Elite series. It springboards off of Warriner four and follows the smuggling and intrigue route. It starts where A Warriner to Seduce Her finishes, and ironically follows two characters who play minor roles in other books. All I can tell you is the hero is a spy – a member of the secret King’s Elite- a highly specialised operative who disappears into the shadows. Just as well, as Seb Leatham is painfully shy around women, especially the very pretty ones. Unfortunately, his superior takes him out of his comfort zone and thrusts him into society on a mission. Of course, the very last person he wants to join forces with is an Incomparable…
Caz: That sounds very intriguing – I’ll certainly keep an eye out for that one. When you’re not writing (if that ever happens!) what do you like to do? If you get time to read, what genres do you enjoy?
VH: I still love to read. I adore Nora Roberts in all her incarnations, Julia Quinn and the brilliant Tessa Dare. I just finished her Do You Want to Start a Scandal and highly recommend it. When I’m not writing, I love to travel. I’m an adventurous tourist and like to visit places off the beaten track. I also like to cook (when I am in the mood) and make shockingly badly decorated cakes. And I walk Trevor, my mad mutt, who I am hopelessly in love with. So hopelessly in love with that he has his own page on my website (written by him) and is a regular contributor on my Facebook page. And yes, I do know that is weird too.
Caz: Er… no comment! Thanks for chatting with me and giving us those sneak peeks about what’s coming next. It’s been great to have you here and I hope you can revisit us soon.
VH: It’s been lovely talking to you today and thanks for letting me waffle on!
Virginia is offering TWO (2) Paperback copies of His Mistletoe Wager to two lucky AAR readers. To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment. The giveaway will be open for the next seven days, and winners will be notified shortly after the closing date.
As she got older, the stories became more complicated, sometimes taking weeks to get to the happy ending. Then one day, she decided to embrace the insomnia and start writing them down.
Fortunately, Harlequin Mills and Boon saw some potential in her stories and decided they would publish them. So far, she has been commissioned to write ten books for their Harlequin Historical series. Her first Regency Romance, That Despicable Rogue, was published in May 2016, and since then there are another five somewhere in the publishers pipeline for 2016 and 2017. Her 3rd book, The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide was shortlisted for a RONA (Romantic Novel of the Year Award).
After the success of her Wild Warriners quartet, she is currently working on her second series for Harlequin Mills & Boon Historical- The Kings Elite– which should hit the shelves in the Summer of 2018.