We caught up with the lovely Mills and Boon Historical author Catherine Tinley, to talk about her new book, Captivating the Cynical Earl, her journey to becoming a writer and her recent RNA award win!
First of all, congratulations on your RNA Award for Best Historical Romantic Novel for your Regency Romance, Rags-to-Riches Wife! How did it feel to win this award?
It was amazing. I’m really delighted by how much readers (and judges) love this book. It’s an unusual tale I suppose a Cinderella story where Jane isn’t too sure if she really wants to leave her comfortable life as a serving maid. Still, the lovely Robert is a strong motivator! It has since also won the Holt medallion in the US, so I’m doubly delighted.
You’ve had a wonderful writing career so far, garnering many loyal fans (as well as prizes!) How would you describe this journey?
I still feel like a newbie to be honest. I’m in awe of Mills & Boon colleagues who’ve written 50, or 75, or 100 books! I’m grateful to be on this journey, to be an actual published author, and to know that lots of readers like my books. I’m on book seven, and I think it will be a long, long time before I get used to this. On a practical level, my writing processes are more professional and efficient these days. Writer’s block permitting, I write diligently every weekend and I haven’t yet missed a deadline!
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about writing, what would it be?
Don’t worry if your work is good enough, just write it. Every word, page, and chapter you write makes you a better writer. Enjoy the process and keep going.
Could you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a published author?
I wrote for myself for years, never sharing my work with anyone. When I wrote Waltzing with the Earl, I genuinely thought it was ok – good enough to send to publishers. My editor, the wonderful Julia Williams selected it from the ‘slush pile’ of unsolicited manuscripts and following some editing, called me to offer me a two-book contract. I will never, ever forget the wonderful feeling I had that day.
That book was a double finalist in the prestigious Rita® Awards in the USA for Best First Book and Best Historical Romance, and it went on to win the Rita® for Best Historical. Only afterwards did I truly understand how significant that was. The Rita® awards are the Oscars of our industry, and very few authors are lucky enough to win one. To have since won a RNA Award and a Holt Medallion as well, is incredible. But awards don’t help you out on a dark evening with the cursor blinking and no words coming. Writing can be a lonely profession so we value award nights, contact from readers, and the company of our colleagues. Since covid, everything is online, and it’s tough. I miss seeing my Mills & Boon and Harlequin friends, I miss going to events at libraries and book clubs, and I miss attending conferences. Hopefully it will all come back soon.
What’s the first thing you create when you start a new novel, the characters or the setting?
It depends. Even if I have a setting or a situation in mind, I don’t usually start chapter one until I’ve done some work on understanding my main characters. It saves a lot of work later on! I’m currently writing a trilogy set between London and the Outer Hebrides, and I’m loving the extra research. The location can be a good starting point, but readers want characters who seem real and rounded, and that makes for a stronger story.
How would you describe your ideal Regency heroine?
I’ve written a couple of feisty ones, but most of my heroines are strong in a subtle, understated way. Even now, many women find it hard to be heard, to stand up for ourselves, or to challenge norms. There have always been women who rebelled and many of them had amazing achievements, but I like to write ‘ordinary’ women, whose challenges are often simply to ensure their own safety or the safety and happiness of those they care about. So my ideal Regency heroine is an ‘everywoman’ – rich or poor, confident or anxious, strong or vulnerable. What they all have in common is that their quiet courage is rewarded¾and of course they all achieve their Happy Ever After.
What do you like to do in your spare time when you’re not writing?
Spare time? Are you having a laugh? Seriously, I work full time in the NHS, managing a maternity hospital , a neonatal unit, and community maternity services, so I have almost zero spare time. I love my job, but it’s so tiring that writing has to be limited to weekends – which is why I average a new book every nine months or so. They’re my babies!
Apart from writing and spending time with family, I do enjoy watching Gaelic football and hurling, and I follow my local men’s and ladies teams – Down GAA. I went to my first live game recently for the first time since lockdown began, and it was wonderful simply to be there.
What are you reading at the moment?
Having watched the TV version of Virgin River, I’m now reading the book by Robyn Carr, and loving it. It’s quite different from the show though – and both are good in their own way.
Can you tell us about your new novel, Captivating the Cynical Earl?
I loved writing this one! It features Lady Cecily, who first appeared as a child in The Earl’s Runaway Governess, and she’s now all grown-up and gorgeous. The hero, Jack, Earl of Hawkenden, has serious trust issues related to an unhappy childhood, and she’s going to have to work hard to get through to him. I do a lot of reading around the lifelong impacts of childhood trauma, and the key differences between those who develop resilience and those who don’t. As a society I think we need to become more trauma-informed generally, as I don’t think it’s well understood outside of key professional groups and people with lived experience. I dealt with adult PTSD in a previous novel (The Captain’s Disgraced Lady) and so it’s been fascinating writing Jack, whose pain goes right back to childhood. I do like writing books that have emotional depth, and I hope readers enjoy indirectly experiencing the hard roads that some people have to walk within the framework of a guaranteed happy ending. Cecily is perfect for Jack, and he for her. They just need to both realise it!
Get your hands on Rags-to-Riches Wife here!