Writing is normally a solitary occupation and writers often use colourful terms such as being "shut in the cave", to describe the writing process, closing oneself off from the outside pressures and intrusions of "normal life" but riddled with the pressures from within, the ones we face alone and which feature all manner of anxieties. Whether it is your first book, your tenth, even your one hundredth, the crows of doubt can still circle overhead and peck at you, and there is the ever-present deadline hell. Depending on how well - or otherwise! - things are going, you and your characters are together and, hopefully, you are heading in the same direction to get their story told. Whatever the circumstances, they are your characters, their story has developed as you have come to know them.
Being involved in a continuity series is a completely different thing. It wouldn't suit everyone. But then it would be a very dull world if we were all the same! Some people find it less easy to work as part of a team and are better suited to the solitariness that usually makes up a writer's life. When I was first asked to take part, I was filled with a whole range of mixed emotions ranging from excitement to fear! I had never worked on a writing project with other people before, nor had I ever undertaken the task of writing a book where the basic plot, setting and characters are given to me rather than stemming from my own imagination. Could I do it? How would I put my own stamp on the story? What would it be like trying to work with others?
I had no idea what to expect. And, as a relative newbie, I was in awe of those who would be working on the project with me ... some of Mills & Boon's greatest writers of Medical Romance whose books I had long admired. I didn't think I was worthy to share shelf space with them, let alone work together on a whole series. I worried I would be the weak link and I was terrified of letting everyone down. Generally speaking, when writing on my own, missed deadlines or anything else that doesn't go to plan, affects only me. I stuff up and I take the consequences. If anything went wrong when working on the continuity, it would not just be me who was affected, and that was a responsibility I felt deeply.
I'm glad to say that I had a wonderful time and learned so much working on my first continuity series which turned out to be the very popular 12-book Brides Of Penhally Bay which ran one a month in Medical Romance throughout 2008, Mills & Boon's centenary year. We had a great time building up a real feeling of community, sharing and discussing ideas, and making each story our own while still carrying through the continuity element. Hopefully, readers would enjoy following the lives of the folk in Penhally through all 12 books, but if not, we wanted them to be able to dip in and out and still follow what was going on, so each main story was strong enough to stand alone.
I had such a great time on Penhally 1 so I was thrilled and honoured to be asked back to advance things further with a shortened mini series for Penhally 2. The 4 new books were just as much fun to write and be part of and it was a joy to return to the fictional world in Cornwall, revisit past characters and get to know new ones. There was a real feeling of familiarity and warmth which I hope will come through in the books themselves.
From my point of view, one of the best aspects of being involved in the Penhally projects, has been making some very special friendships, and for that I feel very blessed and am exceedingly grateful.
All 16 books that comprise the Brides Of Penhally Bay series are now available to download as e-books from www.millsandboon.co.uk while the books that make up the second mini series are out now in paperback in the UK and, I believe, Australia. Caroline Anderson started things off in October with the excellent The Rebel Of Penhally Bay. In November came Spanish Doctor, Pregnant Midwife by Anne Fraser while in December was Kate Hardy's Falling For The Playboy Millionaire.
The 4th book, (or 16th, depending where you are counting from!), is my own A Mother For The Italian's Twins which is on the shelves in the UK in January 2010 but is available now on the Mills & Boon website. I loved writing Luca & Polly's story and it was wonderful being part of the Penhally family again. I hope readers will enjoy all the books.
I'm lucky enough to be starting out on my third continuity project, although I am currently sworn to secrecy, so watch this space for future news on just what is being planned! Whether I am writing alone in my own little cave, lost in my fictional world of Strathlochan, or whether I am involved in a joint project with the fellow writers I admire so much, the challenge remains to make the book the best it can be and to wrestle with the crows of doubt, the deadline hell and other anxieties that are part of a writer's life. I am grateful to be able to follow the career I love so much and to lose myself in the lives of my characters. Most especially I am blessed that writing has brought me the most precious and priceless of gifts ... the friendships I have made.
Wishing you all the best for the holiday season and hoping that 2010 is filled with all good things.