Q&A with Ella Hayes
Your Mills & Boon book ‘Her Brooding Scottish Heir’ is out now! Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
Her Brooding Scottish Heir started as a single chapter and synopsis that I wrote for the “Love to Write” Prima/Mills & Boon competition in 2017. To my utter astonishment I won the competition, so then I had to write the rest of the book. The timing wasn’t great because I had just been accepted to do a full-time master’s degree (M.Litt in Writing Practice and Study) at Dundee University, and of course, I also have my photography business to run, so it was quite a year… but I made it through, finished the book and my degree!
For you, what is the key to a captivating Mills & Boon read?
I think characterisation is key. Romance is character driven, so creating credible characters who have the right chemistry is essential, and for a Mills & Boon read, the internal conflicts must be believable too. A dash of glamour helps – readers want to experience something that takes them out of the everyday.
What inspired you to want to write for Mills & Boon? Do you think your profession as a wedding photographer helped?
The competition was my siren call. I’d looked at it and put it aside because nothing immediately sprung to mind, but then I had an idea… so my subconscious had obviously been turning it over and over in the background. I mean, we all love romance, so thinking about it is natural thing.
Being a wedding photographer has given me the opportunity to work with a lot of loved up couples, and I like directing the romantic shots to create breath-taking visuals, so I suppose I have a strong sense of what romance “looks like”. When I write, I’m describing the picture I see in my head, but there’s that all-important sensory element to incorporate as well, so it’s quite a different process to taking a photograph. A photograph is two-dimensional, whereas writing should be multi-dimensional. With writing it’s as much about feeling as picturing, especially in a romance!
Many Mills & Boon reads are set in the glamour of the city or in scenic beach towns. What inspired you to set your book in the Scottish Highlands?
To be honest, I thought setting my story in Scotland might work against me because although Scotland is achingly beautiful, it’s not glamorous in the Mills & Boon sense. But really, I set my story in Scotland because it’s what I know. I felt that I could write confidently about it, and of course, Scotland’s really come into its own because of Outlander so I thought I’d risk entering the competition with a Scottish story. Specifically, the idea for Cormac and Milla’s story grew out of an online article I read about The Bothy Project, a company which provides off-grid artist residency spaces. I follow the blog of an artist who has stayed in bothies and the whole bothy/artist angle gave me the perfect way in.
What is your writing routine? Do you have a favourite place to write?
I have a smart black and grey office with a huge desktop computer/graphics tablet and a million external hard drives for my photography work, so when I’m writing I quite often take my cuddly red laptop into a corner of my sitting room and work there. We have huge windows looking out over the hills, so it’s light and airy and just more conducive to creative writing. When I’m editing and revising, I tend to go back to the desktop computer because I like the standalone keyboard. On the laptop, I’m more likely to mis-key which can be disastrous if you’re in the middle of cutting and pasting!
What was the last book you loved?
James Kelman’s Dirt Road. Kelman is a master of characterisation so my copy of the book looks like a Hawaiian skirt with all the little post-it labels hanging out of it (I can’t help taking notes). I’ve also really enjoyed reading Dame Fiona Kidman’s latest UK release, All Day at the Movies.
What was the hardest part of the process of writing your first book?
The hardest part of writing Her Brooding Scottish Heir was balancing Cormac and Milla’s attraction for one another with their reasons for resisting it. Sustaining that through 50,000 words is like walking a tightrope. It’s not easy at all.
Who is your favourite fictional heroine?
This is not a “quick-fire” question – this needs serious thought…. Flora Poste from Stella Gibbons’ brilliant, Cold Comfort Farm.
Winter or Summer?
Summer (but in Scotland that’s like everyone else’s winter!)
City break or beach holiday?
City break – I love walking through cities with my camera.
Ideal date destination?
Bad boy or gentleman?
Bit of both – is that allowed?
Morning person or night owl?
If you could only eat one dessert for the rest of your life what would it be?
My friend Alison’s Red Velvet cake (Alison makes wedding cakes and makes the best cakes in the world, EVER).