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linked to the essay 'The Power of Predictability'

Veronica Henry’s first job after studying Classics at Bristol University was at the BBC’s radio ‘soap’, The Archers, which is the world’s longest running drama. From usual office duties she went on to write scripts and even voice a part for the show. She then began script and editing work for Central TV which included Crossroads and Boon, and from there scriptwriting for various shows including Doctors and Holby City. In 2002 she published her first novel, Honeycote, and has published at least one book a year since, as well as the occasional TV and journalistic work. In 2014 she received the Romance of the Year award for A Night on the Orient Express. She lives in North Devon.


MGS: You worked in radio and in TV before writing your first novel. Was that a huge shift in a working method for you?

VH: A massive shift but it’s definitely the way round to do it. TV has so many logistical issues – you have a budget to adhere to, a length to write to, restrictions on how many characters you can use. So many things to consider. Whereas the world is your oyster with a novel! Which in itself can be inhibiting. But you don’t have to say to yourself ‘we can’t afford to set this scene in Paris’. So, TV writing teaches you immense discipline. And it is, of course, collaborative, with a huge team and many hoops to jump through, and very often too many cooks. You are flying solo with a book much of the time, until your editor comes on board.


MGS: Writing was not your original career path, so I presume you picked up the basic ‘how to’ from your TV and radio days. Did you have any training? Attend evening classes, etc? Do you have any advice or quick tips for budding writers?

VH: I really did learn on the job. The best training was typing out Archers’ scripts. In those days they came in typed from the writer, then the producer scrawled all over the script with a red pen, tightening the plot, changing the dialogue, sharpening the endings. So, I did creative writing at the University of Ambridge! [the fictitious village/town The Archers is set in]

Writing is a very personal journey, and everyone has their own methodology, so do what works for you. There are lots of excellent books – Into the Woods by John York is my personal favourite and it works across all types of storytelling. Courses/evening classes are good in that they probably get you writing. Because that is the most important thing. To get the words down. To just fucking get on with it.


MGS: You briefly returned to TV and did a Holby City or two. Was it good to be back?

VH: No comment!!!!!


MGS: Your early books were set in rural England (Cotswolds, Evesham) and you came up with the rather wonderful collective name of ‘bucolic frolics’ as opposed to the then familiar ‘Aga sagas’. Now your settings are the North Devon coastline, how do you describe them?

VH: I hate pigeon holing. I don’t think I can take credit for bucolic frolic, though that is quite fun! In an ideal world, I’d like people to be confident they will like what’s inside the book just from my name on the cover. You’ll get drama, food, friendship, family and an upbeat ending with a lot of fun along the way. A literary Magnum ice cream – a delicious treat.


MGS: Your first books were a lot raunchier, using cocaine in sex and a wide use of ‘fuck’, etc. Were you told to tone it down for future publications or was it your decision?

VH: I think I just calmed down and went for emotion rather than shock factor. I am quite sweary myself, so the swearing just got lobbed in, but not everyone likes it. So now a ‘fuck’ has to earn its place!


MGS: Does your material have to fit to a set of written boundaries? I believe Mills & Boon had a strict policy, or do you just have a feeling of how far you can go? Is there a rule book?

VH: No, there’s no rule book, but I work closely with my editor to fine tune the tone of stories and scenes. I’m quite instinctive about it, but it’s great to have a fresh pair of eyes. Someone who is coming to the book for the first time can give valuable feedback.


MGS: Has your publisher/editor ever asked you to edit out or beef up scenes?

VH: I’ve dropped entire strands – sometimes up to 40 thousand words – but it’s always my decision, my choice. I’m never forced into anything. But often something my editor says will bring about a realisation that something is off kilter. I have to fix it myself. I’m never told ‘write this’. But I talk things over a lot to find solutions if something isn’t working.


MGS: Many would call the genre you work in as ‘formulaic’ as if it were a dirty word. Are you insulted?

VH: Ha ha – they can call it what they like, think what they like! I write a book a year because people want to read them. I don’t have a specific formula. More of a recipe – that favourite cake that gets tweaked and altered every time you make it. A lot of the ingredients are the same in every book – a wonderful location, some kind of crisis, probably a relationship in jeopardy – but these are the flour, the butter and the sugar. They are essential, but you can throw in lots of other things to make a different cake. There’s science at the heart of it, but art on top. Stories have a natural rhythm and it’s rare that someone comes along and does something really fresh that actually works. Maybe something like the Time Traveller’s Wife was exciting. But yes – the Quest, Rags to Riches – Hollywood has pretty much nailed the seven plots. But you can play with them, and character to me is the key – bringing them to life and making them unforgettable and unique.


MGS: The very nature of your target audience and market means you have to work to restrictions, to patterns. Just how do you keep it fresh?

VH: The key for me is character. Yes, there are a limited number of plots and story structures we tend to conform to – but who we choose to tell those stories through is what keeps it fresh. I also try to come at things from a different angle every time. And set it in a precinct that people can really relate to, that strikes a chord and is something they want for themselves. It might be a setting, like A Night on the Orient Express, or a concept, like A Family Recipe. Something that drives the story and is inspiring. My latest is called The Impulse Purchase, about a woman who spends her inheritance from her mother on something very unexpected. Something for HER. I want to inspire my readers to have the courage to make changes. Not to put up with second best.


MGS: I’m sorry but as a male, therefore not in your target market, I have only read about 6 of your books so this may well have been covered. Have you, or are you ‘allowed’ to have, or had, a gay romance in any of the characters?

VH: I can do what I like and yes, I’ve done same sex encounters. Not as the main protagonist, I don’t think, but maybe that could be next!


MGS: Have you ever considered writing something that does not follow the rules, frees you from the restrictions and templates, and put it out under a different name?

VH: Yes, sometimes I get the urge to write something really dark, but I’ve spent twenty years writing uplifting books so as they say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’


MGS: You never have a ‘baddie’, which for me was a welcome eye-opener. You have scammers and alcoholic dads and so on, but not a main evil villain. You certainly often use our inbred conventional wish for a bad man as a red herring, but it turns out the character is not a secret supervillain but just a frustrated businessman down on his luck or something. Is that part of the genre or your decision?

VH: My characters all have their own flaws, and some more than others depending on where they are in their life. We all make mistakes at some point, but it doesn’t make us villainous. But bad behaviour has much more interesting consequences than good behaviour, so it’s all part of that cake recipe! But I try to write transgressors with empathy and understanding and try to demonstrate why they are behaving how they are.


MGS: You give practically all your characters a full backstory. Is this a device to help break up, or deflect from, the restrictive nature of the story arc or do you just like fully fleshed out people?

VH: So many people say, “I love how you give each character a back story’. Some would say that’s bad writing and holds up the story, but I’m creating a world you want to be a part of. It’s like rocking up in a new town, or at a party – you talk to the people you meet and they tell you about themselves. So, I do that in my books. I have to know their past in order to write them.


MGS: I have always thought Wild Oats would make a good film. As some books do, such as the ‘Honeycote’ series or the ever-expanding ‘Beach Huts’ for example, do you think that elements of, or from, your material could be a six-to-eight-episode Netflix film?

VH: I’d absolutely love that, but I think the plots would need to be harder – less introspective, more jeopardy, more at stake. TV thrives on cops and hospitals; I think my books probably have a ‘soapy’ edge (not surprisingly given my background) but perhaps that would be an option?


MGS: I have to wonder why so many books in the genre have similar cover designs and fonts. I see a familiar looking cover and think ‘Ronnie has a new book’ but find it’s by Cara Berry or Hannah Ellis. Does this concern you?

VH: The cover process is exhausting. And yes, there are a lot of copycat covers. I really try to step away and let the publisher drive the process – they know what sells, and what the retailers want. But nevertheless, I do have a say, and there is a mutual respect. They would never put out a cover I hated, but at the same time I have to trust them.


MGS: Tell me a little about your latest book The Impulse Purchase. (February 2022)

VH: The inciting incident is 60-something Cherry buying the pub in the village where she grew up, with money her mother leaves her. I wanted to write a book about an older woman having agency and dynamism and still being hot and entrepreneurial. It’s also about a mother, daughter and granddaughter pulling together to realise a joint dream. And the effect that has on the local community. They change lives because they’ve dared to change their own. I think it’s the most empowering novel I’ve written.



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