Harper Fox. I think Harper is one of the most gifted writers I know, which makes the fact that she is also one of the most humble and appreciative all the more touching. She also has a wicked sense of humor and an unholy love for a gritty and goofy British crime drama from the 1970s called The Professionals.
Harper's latest book is a brilliant romantic saga of Vikings and monks called Brothers of the Wild North Sea. She's been talking about this book practically as long as I've known her, and it's turned out to be both a critical and commercial success. In fact, Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review.
So, without further adieu...Harper Fox.
Didn't you start out as a poet? How did you end up wearing that viking helmet and quaffing meade?
Well, it's so embarrassing - I was meant to reincarnate as Charlotte Brontë but the karmic angel only had time for initials that day and... Well, here I am - Conan the Barbarian. Seriously (as far as I'm capable of serious), I did start out as a poet, yes, and I remain very proud of the work I had published in some tiny but reputable Northumbrian magazines which have since plunged into nonexistence for want of funds, thus adding to the poignancy of the whole situation. But I've always been an ordinary poet, or a poet of the ordinary, and I don't have separate sections of my brain assigned to poetry and prose. No, it all seems to come out of the same murky well, and in many ways Brothers Of The Wild North Sea is a poetic novel. Robust, hairy and sexy, but poetic, if poetry is the compression/channelling of much meaning and emotion into clear and lucid language and the ability to bring that far-flung shore right to your door. :-D Seriously seriously, I just like mead. And how I look in horns.
What do you tell literary pals who smile pityingly at you when you admit to writing romance? Or do you admit it?
I *do* admit it! I do, I do. My first admissions were overcompensating challenges: "I write ebook porn! Wanna make something of it?" Then I switched to defensive mode: "Yes, they're *categorised* as romances, but if you take the time to read them you may find they transcend their genre in sensitivity and substance." Now, through sheer exhaustion, I tell the truth. "I write erotic romances between men, mostly for the US ebook market." I do in fact have that archetypal literary pal, who to give her credit never smiled pityingly, but for whom I proved a bitter disappointment simply because a woman of my gifts is meant to starve in a garret, not catch a lucky niche wave in a genre she loves and do pretty well out of it!
What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned while researching Brothers of the Wild North Sea?
God, I wish I could say it was a fascinating sidelight on religion or archaeology, but in fact it was underwear. I won't go into details - what, you think I'm gonna blow all my best bits right here?! - and you'll have to read the book to find out, but let's just say that Caius and Fen have something in common in that department.
Is it true your new home is haunted?
At the risk of sounding completely unhinged, I'm afraid so. Yes. Absolutely. The radio-monitor incident was horribly true in every detail. Mrs H and I avoided the subject with each other for months then had one of *those* conversations: "What? You feel like you're being watched from behind when you sit in that chair too? You too catch someone moving from the corner of your eye in the yard? You feel that chilly, heavy sensation in the front room?" Now, granted, we're both hysterical Lit grads scoring fifteen out of ten on the susceptibility scale, but it's getting a little odd. The lady who lived here before us did so happily for a very long time, but she had fourteen Alsatians and - well, let's just say "created her own atmosphere". It's okay. We're airing the place.
Boxers or briefs? No, seriously. Why should this question be reserved for male authors? Why shouldn't everyone have to answer?
Why indeed? If I'm putting myself out there as a female author of M/M lit, I damn well should have to answer this question, and the answer is... BOTH! Oh, yes, both. When you have to write as many sex scenes as I do just to feed the kiddies and keep the missus in mink coats (*joke!!!* on both counts!) you need plenty of beneath-the-trouser variety just to keep things sparky. Or... Oh! Were you asking for my personal preference? Boxers, definitely. Cojones as big as mine need room to breathe. (Josh, if I've gone too far, please just censor that last bit.)
I wouldn't dream of it, my darling! ;-)
Are you a fulltime writer?
I am. Carve those two words with pride upon my rain-lashed, mossy tombstone, if you will. Er, in due course. I get up at six in the morning and write until nine. Those are my golden hours and if I miss them I spend the rest of the day in a dismal, self-flagellating slough of despond, having failed to answer my purpose in existing. I am actually that serious about it. I find I need to have two projects on the go - one "live" book and one either in the planning stages or finished and in edits, so after paying my dues to the house and Mrs H in terms of gardening/grouting/guttering, I'll attend to project #2 in the afternoons, and evenings are mostly given over to my braindead stuff, like marketing (as anyone who's witnessed my efforts in that department will testify). So, yes - I'm fulltime in the sense of spending my whole working day as a writer, and also in the scary sense that my writing is now the sole income for our household. Did I say scary? I mean, of course, wonderful. Okay, scary *and* wonderful. Wonderful because I am *so* bloody proud and happy to have the privilege of supporting myself and the people I love in this way, and scary because - at the moment - it's a subsistence wage, a real scrape. But it's there, and it's getting better. Josh, you told me when I set out in this game that backlist was key to income, and I was all, like, "Dude, ain't nobody got time for that sh*t!" And I was right. I didn't. I had to do my Evil Day Job for another three years while I built my backlist. So - um - actually, that means *you* were right...
What's the last piece of music you listened to? Did you sing along?
"Work" by Iggy Azalea. Ought to be ashamed, a woman of my age, but there you are - I love it. "No money, no family, sixteen in the middle of Miami" - ah, I remember how it was, other than the giant generation gap and the totally different circumstances. Not only did I sing but but I tried the hooker-heel strut up and down the greenhouse in my wellies.
How did you and the missus meet?
Ah. Short, true story - just shy of twenty nine years ago, she emerged from a dark corridor in our university building, and her blue eyes shone with their own light, and her hair was like sunshine on a wheatfield, and that was it. Love at first sight. Happens!
What are you working on now?
My "live" project is my A Midwinter Prince sequel, The Lost Prince. Doing interviews with you is obviously very stimulating, Mr L, because I didn't realise until twenty seconds ago that the thing I've been calling AMP2 for months and months even *had* a name. But I like The Lost Prince. It's simple, and as you'll see, does exactly what it says on the tin. I love Laurie and Sasha very much and seeing them through the next stage of their relationship, the tough stuff that lies beyond first romance, is pretty intense. I'm beyond the halfway point now and am about to commit myself with an **ANNOUNCEMENT** - drum roll, naked Chippendales leaping out of cake - that I'll release The Lost Prince in August. Project #2 is my next novella, pinned up on the drawing board and decorated with a million post-it notes and enough arrows to keep the Wars of the Roses in business. This will be called Serpentine, and is set in the wonderful, magical countryside of the Lizard in Cornwall. I'm tackling a period piece for the first time, a post-WWII story, and I can't wait to get cracking on it.
What do you love most about writing? What do you like least?
Most - the dreaming stage, the planning, when everything is fluid and possible and my plot and protags are vibrantly alive to me. I think most writers will know what I mean - that golden time before you have to start making stuff make sense. :-D And the least - oh, the opposite of that, when the outline is written, the deadline is set, it's six in the morning and you have to write a sex scene with a migraine and no inspiration. Doesn't happen often, thank God, but you really meet the pure hard work of writing then. In a weird, bad way it's actually good, because it reminds me that, outside of those ecstatic times of being plugged right into the creative vibe of the universe, this is a job like any other, a possession and a privilege, and I need to treat it as such.
Have you ever broken a bone?
Yes, once. Very dramatic story. I was about seven years old and I walked through a field full of horses. Something spooked them and one of them ran me down. You know how horses are meant to do anything rather than step on a prone human body - well, mine had missed that memo, and I broke my collarbone. Now, remember this was back in the days before they had proper medicine, so I had to be kept in bed and immobilised for about three months because the bone had swung down near my lungs. I don't remember anything at all about this time except some brightly coloured building blocks, which I'm told I played with obsessively. Wouldn't read, wouldn't pay attention to my home tutor, nothing. I'd been quite bright up to this point, honest! I suppose it was just a shock response, and I did emerge, although I still gaze yearningly at Lego. But maybe I was in some kind of authorial larval stage, pupating the future, and those building blocks were symbols of brilliant plots to come! (Unlikely, yes, but I do clutch at straws from time to time in a desperate bid to explain myself to myself.)
What do you think is the most important thing to remember when creating fully realized main characters?
A convincing choice between boxers and briefs. Motivation is everything, really; you can't just have the guy turn up in scarlet Calvin Kleins one day for no reason at all. Seriously? The ability to step inside an MC's skin. That's all. Does it feel right in there? Does he walk, does he talk, does he feel and function as vibrantly as you do, or are you trapped outside him, painting his picture from there? If you're inside, you can conjure his perceptions, motivations, complexities - I won't say effortlessly, because it often hurts to make that transition and it doesn't always work - but certainly with conviction. I try to write novels where the MCs exist strongly in their own right and aren't just vehicles for the story. I know it's worked if, a couple of years after the book's been published, I can reach out with my mind and be quite sure what Tom and Flynn from Driftwood or Cam and Nichol from Scrap Metal are doing right now; if the characters have quickened so that they exist for me - and hopefully for my readers - beyond the limits of the book.
What is your most favorite dessert in all the world?
Oh, goodness, a really nice creme-de-five-star-review served up with royalty-cheque custard. :-D But I'm also a sucker for Mrs H's bread-and-butter pudding, made with Mighty White bread and big fat juicy raisins and nutmeg.
Is there any genre you'd like to tackle but you're kinda sorta afraid?
I'd like to write an out-and-out ghost story, and maybe Serpentine will be it. Maybe. I fear it because the feedback I get from readers is that they're not keen on paranormal elements in my work, and if there's one thing I value in this life, it's my readership. Hey, I have a readership! I'm faint and giddy even now at the thought. And I'm pretty scared of alienating or p*ssing off a good portion of the amazing people with whom I interact, with whom I've formed real friendships and whose opinions mean so much to me. But the idea of telling such a tale has a huge appeal for me - I was raised on MR James and Conan Doyle, and I love the little shiver down the spine, the glimpse beyond the veil, that a really good ghost story can deliver. Maybe my mission will be to convince the folks who don't like paranormals that they might just like *this* one...
Tell us something surprising. Anything. Go on. Surprise us!I'm Aurignacian! Researching my family tree was a pretty short and depressing exercise, so I decided to skip all that recent malarkey and jump back 40,000 years or so via the National Geographic's human-genome DNA project. Yes, I - and several million other people, but it still feels kind of special - belong to the culture that produced the oldest-known example of figurative art, the Chauvet cave paintings and (debatably) the world's first musical instruments. Are you surprised yet? No? Okay, try this - you can't draw a counter-clockwise circle in the air whilst simultaneously circling your ankle clockwise.
Or *can* you?
Many thanks to my good friend and mentor Josh for hosting this interview and making you try!