Phillipa Ashley: How my passion for N&S led to a new career in romantic fiction
Picture the scene.
November 2004.Nine pm on a dark Sunday evening three people lolling about on sofas about to watch a new BBC drama series called North & South.
Half an hour in, that was it.
Reader, I hated it.
I especially hated him: that awful Thornton character. After the scene where JT kicks the millworker I threw up my hands in disgust.
“He’s a total thug,” I cried. “He’s horrible. I’m not bothering with the rest of this.”
Meanwhile my husband and daughter continued to watch while I leafed through the Sunday Times, with half an eye on the screen. At no point did I find JT attractive.
The family, however, really enjoyed the episode. My husband, an engineer, even went so far as to say he found the industrial setting a refreshing change (I presume from tea tables and haberdashery shops, bless him.)
Despite my indifference, we tuned in the following week something incomprehensible happened.
Many times since I’ve tried to pinpoint the exact moment when loathing turned to something entirely different. Unlike Elizabeth Bennet’s softening towards Darcy, my conversion hadn’t been coming on gradually; it just hit me like a rock from an angry millworker!
By the end of episode two, I was enthralled by the series and fighting an alarming and huge crush on a TDHCMO and unknown to me, my life had changed forever.
Cutting a very long story short, I took my passion to the BBC drama messageboard to find a growing band of likeminded fans. There I met and shared my obsession – sometimes into the night – with other Deranged Gentlewomen.
I also joined the Yahoo Richard Armitage group and decided to write a modern N&S fanfic. Another inexplicable first for me!
Although I’ve been a journalist and copywriter for 20 years, I’d never written any fiction. I had no idea how to construct a plot, develop character or any of the thousand other aspects of fiction writing craft.
It didn’t matter because all I really wanted was to share my characters’ story with other people. That, I’ve since discovered, is the fundamental reason why a writer... writes. I’d stumbled across the irresistible desire to escape into another world and share that world with a reader, hopefully lots of them!
I’m so grateful to the members of the BBC, C19 and Yahoo sites who were kind enough to engage with my story. Without them – perhaps without N&S – I might never have started writing at all.
I finished my N&S fanfic around March 2005 and immediate started an original romantic novel. I also joined the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme and set about seriously learning ‘the craft’.
After many revisions, I finished the novel – Decent Exposure - in March 2006. With the encouragement of other writers, notably Rosy Thornton, I sent it to a London literary agent and she sold it to Headline.
I was totally gobsmacked but more was to follow. Decent Exposure won the RNA New Writers Award 2007 and was picked up by a US TV producer from Fox. They made into a US TV movie which aired on Lifetime in 2009 and is out on DVD this month.
The novel has just been published in the USA as Dating Mr December – almost exactly five years to the day I tuned on the TV and watched the first episode of N&S.
Dating Mr December is not based on N&S, nor is the hero, Will, based on Thornton at all. In fact, I deliberately set out to make him different to my fanfic ' JT' as I needed to see if I could write my own original characters.
However, another of my novels, It Should Have Been Me is literally inspired by a pic of Richard in the Sunday Times. My US publisher, Sourcebooks, is publishing it in fall 2011.
The editorial design team always ask for detailed description of the hero and heroine and I gleefully sent off a photo to which they replied:
“Phillipa, you just made our day here. We love Richard Armitage.”
What more can I say?
Now, I’d love to know if anyone has any theories why N&S was the catalyst for so many fans’ creativity?
Thank you Phillipa! It's been so nice to have you here in my RA Friday.
It's your turn, now. GIVEAWAY! Answer Phillipa's question or leave your comment about North and South or Richard and your e-mail address. You have the chance to win a copy of DATING MR DECEMBER!!! The giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY and ends next Friday, 12th November. Please, I need an e-mail address to contact the winner. Remember to add it. If you don't want to give it publicly, e-mail me at email@example.com or Phillipa Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And remember, her first novel won the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Award. and it’s now been made into a Lifetime TV movie called 12 Men of Christmas starring Kristin Chenoweth and Josh Hopkins. Read more about it here.
You'll find Phillipa Ashley at www.phillipa-ashley.com/
See you next week to cry on ..ehm...discuss about Spooks 9 final episode. What about Strike Back? Have you heard the rumors? A new John Porter? No Strike Back for me, thanks. And what about the discussion about RA's casting for The Hobbit as a heartthrob? Have these people ever seen him in action? Grrrrr!!! Better I'll stop here. Have a great weekend and ... I'll wait for all of you here next week for a new RA Friday (12th November) and ... the name of the lucky winner of DATING MR DECEMBER!