Interview with Anne Barwell

Today on the blog, we’re welcoming Ann Barwell, a New Zealand-based m/m romance author.

Hello Ann!

Thanks for hosting me, Eleanor and Catherine.

It’s a pleasure. Can you tell us about your route to publication?

I’ve always been an avid reader, and if I read a book I really like, I like to let the author know. I read Counterpoint by Ruth Sims, and emailed her to let her know that I’d really enjoyed it.  She made me cry, damn it.  We got chatting over several emails, and she asked me if I was a writer. I told her I had a completed manuscript, and she suggested I submit it to her publisher—Dreamspinner Press.  The worst that would happen would be they’d reject it with some constructive criticism.

They sent me a contract for my first book, Cat’s Quill, and now nearly eight years later I have thirteen books published with them.

Cover of the book Cat's Quill, showing two figures standing under a tree.

Tell us about your most recent book. 

My most recent book came out at the beginning of 2018 as last year wasn’t a great one for writing. Too much going on in RL!

I don’t write a lot of romances without other genres crossing over, but Prelude to Love holds a special place in my heart as it is set in Wellington, and draws on my experience as a musician and music teacher.

Here’s the blurb:

Music speaks directly to the heart.

Two very different men face turning points in their lives after the collapse of long-term relationships….

Joel is a music teacher who knows it’s time to forget his ex and move on, while Marcus runs a lawn-mowing business and has come to Wellington to escape the reminders of a recent breakup. Although they’re opposites, when Joel and Marcus connect, their romance has the potential to hit all the right notes.

Too bad neither of them feels ready for new love.

With family and friends in common, dating is risky—things could get messy if it doesn’t work out. The sweet song of possibility draws them to each other, though, and they share a kiss following a Chopin prelude.  But it will take some practice and perseverance to find their perfect harmony….

I don’t have blurbs for my current WIPs, so instead will share a little bit about them.  I usually write a blurb before I start writing, but this year started alpha writing with a friend, so have changed the way I work a bit because of it.  So far alpha reading with Gillian is working really well, and has got me back into my writing routine.  Knowing I have someone waiting to read what I’ve written for the day is a great motivator.  A lovely bonus is that I’m reading her books as she writes them as well.

I have three current WIPs. One is co-written and  I had hoped to pitch another at the RWNZ conference this year so put my then current WIP—which is part of a series with Dreamspinner so need to submit to them first— on hold so I’d have a decent amount of the pitch book written. However, I’m not sure that’s going to happen as the agent put up her pitch wish list, and paranormal/fantasy isn’t among the genres she’s interested it.  Perhaps next year…

The Harp and the Sea is an historical fantasy set on Skye in 1745 which I’m co-writing with Lou Sylvre.  We’re in the middle of final edits before we send it off to beta readers.

Forgotten in Fire is book 2 of my fantasy Dragons of Astria series.  I’m enjoying revisiting Aric and Denys and telling the rest of their story.  Because it’s been so long between this and the first one in the series, I’m treating A Knight to Remember as more of a prequel so this one will be able to be read alone.

A Wind of Roses is book 1 of my Kiwi Psi series and is set in Wellington.  Liam has TK, Cal is an empath and they flat in an old house in Wellington with Cal’s friend Ros.  However, it’s becoming very clear that they’re not alone in the house…

The cover of the book Prelude to Love, showing a smiling young man in front of a bay with clear blue water.

You have been writing collaboratively with Lou Sylvre and Gillian St Kevern. Are you willing to reveal what methods you use for writing together? Do you write your chapters individually, or do you write paragraph by paragraph? How do you find collaborative writing differs from writing solo?

Writing collaboratively is very different from writing solo.  Lou and I have written two stories together.  The Harp and the Sea is a full length novel, and Sunset at Pencarrow is a contemporary romance set in Wellington.  We started The Harp and the Sea a couple of years ago, and had to put it to one side because we both had a lot of RL stuff to deal with, yet ended up writing Sunset at Pencarrow in the middle of it all anyway when Dreamspinner Press asked for submissions for their World of Love series. We wanted to claim New Zealand, but with that came a tight writing deadline.  It ended up being a good thing as it meant we could hone our collaborative process on a smaller, less complicated—as historical settings mean a lot more research and balls to keep in the air—story.

We start the process by loads of discussion over chat and email as I’m in New Zealand and Lou is in the US.  Then we outline quite extensively so we know where we’re going with the story, and work out what scene would work best from which POV, keeping in mind that characters like to do their own thing and don’t always stick to the outline.  We each wrote the POV of one of the MCs, so sometimes I’d write a chapter, and Lou would write a scene before I got the manuscript back again or vice versa.  We tried merging documents but because we’re working with different versions of word that didn’t always work as it wouldn’t delete things we’d deleted or changed which was very frustrating.

So now, we date the manuscript when we send it back, and before we start writing the new bit save it again with a new date. That way we have a record of where we’ve been and can also make sure we’re on the same page, and just send the updated version back and forth.

I’ve enjoyed working with Lou. We’re on a similar wavelength very often, and our writing styles mesh well.  And when we’re not, we discuss whatever we disagree on until we reach a compromise we’re both happy with.   Being able to compromise is a must for co-writing.

Gillian and I have been discussing a co-written urban fantasy project since last year, but haven’t had the time to do any serious planning yet.  We’re both in New Zealand, but only see each other in person once or twice a year.  She’s coming to Wellington in July, and I’ll be in Christchurch where she lives in August so we’re hoping to get a lot of planning/plotting in so we can start writing.

We are planning to write a POV each, but haven’t got a plan in place for the rest of it as yet. I’m looking forward to seeing what we come up with.  I haven’t co-written with someone I know in RL before or been able to plan face-to-face so very excited about that.  Gillian and I also alpha read for each other and have known each other for years before we were both published authors so know each other’s writing style well.

You write across several genres – contemporary, historical, fantasy and romantic suspense. How do you shift gears between genres as you move between books? Do you find you have readers who stay with your books no matter which genre you’re writing in?

I read across several genres so it makes sense—to me at least—that my writing crosses genres too.  I don’t have a lot of problems shifting between genres, but it’s more difficult shifting between projects, even if they’re in a similar genre, as my mind is full of what I’m working on.  Because of that I try to finish a scene, or preferably a chapter, of whatever I’m writing, so I’m not changing gears midpoint.

I write a lot of notes before and during my writing process so I re-read those, and skim read what I’ve already written to get myself back into the ‘zone’.   I usually have two books on the go when I’m reading too—an ebook review copy at home, and a hardcopy at work, plus the occasional graphic thrown into the mix—and those are often very different genres.  I have more problems when I’m reading or writing the same genre at once as I need to keep the world building rules and stories separate.

The cover of the book Shadowboxing, showing an unseen person's shadow spreading across the floor.

Your “Echoes Rising” series is set in WW2. How did you research the period for your novels? Were there any unexpected or surprising things you found out in the course of your research?

Echoes Rising is a series I knew I was going to write even before my first book was published so it’s been in my mind for a very long time.  I did a lot of reading around the time period both in fiction and non-fiction, but in the finish found I needed to write and look up information as I needed it, or the story would never be written.  Luckily I work in a library, and one point I had a huge pile of the library books on the subject sitting in a pile on my living room floor.

I found it was the little things that were more difficult to research as there were next to nothing about them either online or in books.  One of these was about phone jack points in Germany at the time.  How were the phones plugged in and what do they look like?  Luckily one of my beta readers is German and I was able to pull on her knowledge. Her husband who is a bit of a history buff was a font of information too. There was a lot of information about phone jacks in the US at the time but nothing about Germany.

The second book in the series—Winter Duet—is a road trip across Germany during war time.  She loaned me a huge topographical map of the country which hung on the front a bookcase for six months while I wrote the book. I used google maps a lot to to work out how long a journey would take, as that impacted the plot.   At one point I wanted a botanical garden or park in the middle of Berlin, and found one that was in the right place, only to discover that in 1943 there was a railway station there.

Which books (fiction and/or non-fiction) have had the biggest influence on you as a writer, and/or also on a personal level?

I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember.  I blame Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series for my love of fantasy and in particularly anything Arthurian.  I discovered Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series just after she’d published book 4 of the series, and read all four books in three weeks. I loved her attention to detail, and I’ve always loved time travel and historical stories, and they inspired me to write my own stories. I’d written while I was at school but put all of that aside for a very long time afterwards.

More recently I discovered Morgan Brice’s urban fantasy books, and my reaction was ‘This!’ and ‘This is why I write, and what I enjoy writing and why.’  Morgan—who also writes as Gail Z. Martin—has all her series set in one big universe and characters from one story cross over into others, whether in cameos, references, or in larger roles.   I love crossovers, and cameos, and some of my characters do turn up in other books although if readers have noticed it they’ve never mentioned it.

I’d love to hear from readers if they have noticed those Easter eggs in mine, and in particular a certain vampire who likes to cameo in my historicals. He figures he was there, so why not?

There are other books which I love and have made me a life-long reader, and writer, but if I started naming them and why I’d never finish writing this interview!

The cover of Sunset at Pencarrow, showing two figures on the beach looking out at the sunset.

Author Bio

Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand.  She shares her home with a cat with ‘tortitude’ who is convinced that the house is run to suit her; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though Kaylee may be winning.

In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth. She also hosts and reviews for other authors, and writes monthly blog posts for Love Bytes.  She is the co-founder of the New Zealand Rainbow Romance writers, and a member of RWNZ.

Anne’s books have received honorable mentions five times, reached the finals four times—one of which was for best gay book—and been a runner up in the Rainbow Awards.  She has also been nominated twice in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards—once for Best Fantasy and once for Best Historical.

Find Anne online at her website and blog, her Facebook, her Facebook page, her Amazon author page, Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, Queeromance Ink, and New Zealand Rainbow Romance Writers. Keep up to to date with Anne’s writing by signing up to her newsletter.

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