Anne Stenhouse has always loved words. Reading them and using them greedily, she can’t truly remember a time when she couldn’t escape into the pages of a book and certainly can’t remember when she couldn’t talk and ask questions. A published and performed playwright, she studied both English and History at University in Edinburgh, and finds it a great joy to combine these two disciplines in her first novel, Mariah’s Marriage.
Being a playwright means Anne loves dialogue and knows a piece is going well when she ‘begins to hear the characters talking to each other’. She has been a civil servant, full-time Mum and, for a while, a worker in an Addictions’ rehabilitation unit. Authors Welcome had a chance to chat with Anne Stenhouse regarding her career as a writer, and her latest novel.
AW: Tell us a little bit about your book.
Anne: Bella’s Betrothal by Anne Stenhouse is set in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1826. Lady Isabella Wormsley is fleeing a scandal and travelling to live with her uncle and aunt in Edinburgh’s George Square, when her room at a Dalkeith inn is invaded by Laird and architect, Charles Lindsay. Charles is aware association with Bella could harm his fledgling career and yet he cannot allow Bella to be further compromised or injured by Graham Direlton. Bella wonders if she can trust this handsome neighbor.
AW: Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
Anne: My intended audience is the reader who enjoys sound historical background, sparkling dialogue and the age-old battle of wits between two attractive protagonists.
AW: How did you come up with the title for your book/series?
Anne: My first novel is called Mariah’s Marriage and that title kept me grounded as a debut writer. It drew me back to what the book was about. Bella’s Betrothal carries on the alliterative scheme.
AW: Tell us a bit about your cover design? Who designed it and did you have a lot of input into the design?
Anne: My cover is by CK Volnek for MuseItUp and she did Mariah’s cover, too. Charlie read my answers to the cover art form and took it from there. We tried out 2 or 3 ideas and eventually settled on this great townscape with Edinburgh Castle in the background, Bella’s vibrant red hair in the foreground and Charles midway between the two.
AW: How long did it take to complete your novel?
Anne: It was written in stages. Chapter one appeared in the Mills and Boon online competition. I wrote a 50,000 word ms during NaNoWriMo of 2012 and completed it in February 2013.
AW: Did you ever experience writer’s block? If so, what did you do to get out of the funk?
Anne: Yes. Set self on chair and type. Words, even awful words in poor order, can be edited into prose. A blank page is just that.
AW: Tell us about the challenges of getting your first novel published? About how long did it take?
Anne: I’ve been writing for many years and have had some local success in Scotland with stage plays. I wanted to try prose and had to overcome the playwright’s habit of leaving a lot for the Director and actors to interpret. Adding in things like what a person is thinking is very hard to begin with. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association in the UK and wrote a book each year in their New Members’ Scheme. The crits written on those were so useful. Mariah’s Marriage was my 4th and I sent it to several publishers before MIU accepted it in late 2012.
AW: Who is your favorite character from your book and why?
Anne: I do like Bella a lot. I also have red hair, although I can’t draw or ride a horse. I feel for the women of that time who had so much talent that had to be hidden in case it made them unmarriageable.
AW: Who is your least favorite character and what makes them less appealing to you?
Bella’s cousin, Lucilla, is a jealous envious girl whose main motivation in life is to spoil whatever others have achieved.
Anne: If you could change only one thing about your novel, what would it be? Can’t think! Maybe I’m still too new at this to work that out.
AW: Give us an interesting or fun fact about your book/series.
Anne: My books, while in the Regency type, are set just outside the period and I can walk the streets Bella walked.
AW: What other books are similar to your own? What makes them alike? Did they inspire you?
I enjoy Jane Austen and the Scottish novelist Susan Ferrier because of their social comedy and strong dialogue. Also Georgette Heyer who had a wry take on it all. Yes, these ladies did inspire me.
AW: What is the toughest criticism that you have received as an author?
Anne: An artistic director once told me I was afraid of confrontation. I do struggle to maintain conflict as I like everything to resolve happily.
AW: What is the best compliment?
Anne: A friend came to see my first play and said in great excitement, “That was the co-op, tell me that was the co-op. My mum used to work in one just like that.” It was and I was really pleased he’d ‘got it’. The co-op or store was a Uk marketing chain from which housewives bought their groceries – and a lot else and there was a Funeral Director’s arm – and were paid a Dividend on the sum of their purchases. My aunt worked in the village one and so did I as a student.
AW: Do you have another job or are you a full-time author?
Anne: I have worked in Addictions’ Rehabilitation and the civil service, but everything is now writing related.
AW: What can we expect from you in the future? Do you have a new novel or project that you are working on?
Anne: I am nearly finished writing a continuation for characters from Mariah’s Marriage. After that, I have another of those RNA NWS manuscripts in need of editing.
Do you have any tips for readers or advice for other writers trying to get published? For readers = Be open to an author’s voice. Sometimes it takes the whole book to make the circle complete, but it’s usually worth sticking with it. For writers trying to get published – keep trying. Value any advice offered. Editors are really busy people and if they’ve taken time to make a comment, it’s worth taking note.
AW: How to you market your book?
Anne: I try for reviews. I blog. I visit blogs. I have a presence on Facebook and on Twitter at @anne_stenhouse. I seek out opportunities to appear in magazines. I have flyers that I distribute to anybody who’ll take them. Local shops are very helpful and display them. I also have a blog at http://goo.gl/h4DtKv