Tuesday Chit Chat with Charlotte Betts

I’m happy to welcome award-winning historical novelist Charlotte Betts onto the blog today. Charlotte’s first book, The Apothecary’s Daughter, was published by Piatkus in August 2011 and won the YouWriteOn Adult Book of the Year Award 2010, the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Joan Hessayon Award 2011 and was shortlisted for Choc Lit’s Best Historical Read. The sequel, The Painter’s Apprentice will be published in August 2012 in large format paperback and in paperback in February 2013.

Q: Charlotte, would you like to tell us about your books and your journey to publication?
I started to write about 12 years ago when I couldn’t find anything I wanted to read. I enjoyed the mental challenge of fitting together all the pieces of a mystery story and finished it in three months. Writing was addictive and each novel took longer than the one before while I read everything I could find on how to plot and develop characters. I didn’t allow rejections to put me off and joined a writers’ circle.  My first novels were all contemporary but number six was set in WWII. Of course, some people would say that is historical fiction but it doesn’t feel like that to me as it was written about the time when my parents were young. Researching that novel was absorbing and so I decided to try a ‘proper’ historical and chose Restoration London for the setting. I read Pepys diaries and then Nicholas Culpeper’s Herbal and The Apothecary’s Daughter was born. When I finished writing it I was sad to leave the characters behind so began The Painter’s Apprentice, which is about the next generation of the same family.

The Apothecary’s Daughter
Susannah Leyton has grown up in her father’s apothecary shop on bustling, malodorous Fleet Street and she impresses even dour Dr William Ambrose with her medical knowledge. Embroiled in a battle of wills with her new stepmother, Susannah receives a proposal of marriage from William’s handsome and charming cousin. As the plague sweeps through London, tragedy strikes, and, for Susannah, nothing can ever be the same again.


The Painter’s Apprentice
Beth, a gifted botanical artist, declares she will never marry since she intends to dedicate herself to her art. But then Noah arrives from Virginia and sparks off a chain of events that change her life forever. She makes friends in high places and, against a background of rising political unrest, she plays a small but crucial part in the Glorious Revolution and so alters the course of history. 

Q: The Apothecary’s Daughter is your first published novel but you wrote 6 previous unpublished contemporary ones before that. Would you consider putting any of these forward for publication now or do you think you’ve found your genre?
I have a soft spot for the WWII novel and perhaps I’ll pull it out of the drawer at some time in the future but for now I’m enjoying the C17th. I do still make the occasional foray into contemporary fiction with short stories.

I’m very happy writing historical fiction. I particularly love the research, visiting historical sites and listening out for echoes of past lives and their stories. My plots always have a strong love interest. Since I’m a new author I believe that I need to consolidate by writing more historical fiction for a while. Perhaps I’ll write something more contemporary in the future under a pen name.

Q: Has being published lived up to all you expected it to?
Yes and no. I still have a shiver of pleasure down my back every time I see a copy of The Apothecary’s Daughter on the bookshelves or receive a compliment from a reader. I’m beginning to believe that I am a real writer and that They won’t find me out after all! What did catch me out was believing that when you sign a two book deal you may think you have a whole year to write the second book. Not true. You spend a lot of time editing Book 1 and, in my case, setting up a website, blogging, signing books and networking whilst working full time and trying not to neglect the family. Oh, and writing Book 2.

Q: When did being published first seem possible and not just a dream?
When I found an agent. I knew that nothing was certain but you are taken more seriously if you have an agent.

Q: Who was your favourite author as a child, as a teenager and now?
As a child I loved CS Lewis’s Narnia books, as a teenager I read all of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels and now I enjoy Philippa Gregory’s historical novels.

Q: Is there any genre, completely out of your comfort zone, you’d really like to try?
Science Fiction. I used to read a lot of SF as a teenager and have written a short story or two in that genre. In some ways it’s not that different from historical fiction as you are still creating a believable world that is unfamiliar to your readers. And I’d love to write crime novels.

Q: If you weren’t a writer, would you have any other ideal job in view of your interests?
If I had money to invest I’d like to renovate and develop old properties.

Q: Which three attributes would your ideal hero possess?
He must have a sense of humour and be kind. It would be good if he was tall, too.

Q: You won the YouWriteOn Adult Book of the Year Award in 2010. ­ How influential was YouWriteOn in helping you find an agent and get The Deal?
The members of YouWriteOn helped me to be objective and to learn to accept criticism. It wasn’t all kind but neither are all readers. YWO was instrumental in finding an agent and without my agent I probably wouldn’t have been signed up by Piatkus. The YWO Adult Book of the Year award came after I’d signed the publishing deal.

Q: Do you thinks forums like YouWriteOn and Authonomy are the future for writers to get noticed by agents and editors? Are they the new slush pile?
Forums like these are only one of the ways to be noticed by agents and editors. But it worked for me and for my friend Katherine Webb, who was in my writers’ group, too. Inevitably these forums show the work of both experienced and new writers, who may still have a great deal to learn. An agent or publisher will quickly sift out the jewels in the mud.

Q: What do you think about Authonomy publishing its own books now? Would that have been a route you’d have considered taking if it was offered by YouWriteOn?
You can publish your novel through YWO but I had set myself the goal of being traditionally published. At that time self-publishing had a way to go and I didn’t have the funds or the confidence to go it alone to market my books. The experience I have gained by having a brilliant editor at Piatkus (Lucy Icke) has been extremely valuable. Authors who self-publish sometimes launch into publishing their work before it’s ready.