Anne McAllister on Building a Series and a Hero!

Back in 2008 Sophie Weston and I spent a week in Cornwall. We had a small flat in a three-hundred odd year old “castle” overlooking the sea above which alternately the sun shone and storms raged, and we soaked up the atmosphere as we plotted a book we’ve never written.

It had great potential as well as a manor house that was crumbling down around everyone’s ears, a sarcastic, wounded hero, an organized long-suffering heroine, a crochety earl, a host of eccentric family members, a time-traveling ghost, a parrot, and, at inopportune moments, the heroine’s rock star ex-husband, Jack.

The hero, the earl, the family, the ghost and the parrot all wandered off — in search of their own books, I’d guess. The heroine remained, a sort of shadowy version of her former long-suffering organized self. I didn’t recall much about her – except her intense reaction to Jack.

Not surprising. Jack had tried to steal every scene – not to mention the girl — in our unfinished book. Neither the heroine nor I ever forgot Jack.

When Sophie rang me to ask if I would be interested in working on the Royal Wedding Invitations mini-series with her and Liz Fielding and Jessica Hart, I said yes at once. Of course I said yes. Sophie, Liz and Jessica are three of the best writers I’ve ever read. I love their books. And even though I didn’t have a clue who my characters were going to be, I was pretty sure I’d think of something.

I needn’t have worried. I barely got off the phone and there, leaning against the doorjamb looking equal parts steely-eyed and stubborn, was a man I instantly recognized: Jack.

“Right,” he said. “So you can write my story, after all.”

“I was never going to write your story,” I told him. “You’re the ex-husband. You lost the girl. The sarcastic, wounded hero gets her this time around.”

“Not my girl.” His steely-eyes narrowed.

“Yes, well, try telling Celina that.” Celina wasn’t her name in the earlier book. I can’t remember what her name was. She was that shadowy, that vague. Except, apparently, to Jack.

Anyway, Jack took that as a challenge. He went away and, a couple of weeks later, he came back with some semblance of a plot. Fortunately Sophie came back about the same time with a whole country. And Jessica and Liz suggested that Combe St Philip might well bear a striking resemblance to Castle Combe. And I didn’t have to do much else — at first – except show up.

Good thing, too, as I broke my wrist a few days later.

So while I couldn’t type, Sophie created a currency and a history and a palace and a royal family going back at least four generations. She sent photos and family trees and royal mottos and all that good stuff. Jessica did her part, coming up with recipes that Flora would be making for the wedding. They made my mouth water.

“You could try to win her away from grumpy Max,” I suggested to Jack. “She can cook.”

But Jack was having none of it. He wasn’t interested in Flora. He was constant and determined – and in love with Celina. Not that she believed him. Or trusted him.

She trusted Liz’s hero, Fredrik, a lot more. Fredrik was reliable, dependable. Wounded, too. She had actually dated Fredrik. I was, frankly, falling a little bit in love with Fredrik myself. But sadly there was no spark between Fredrik and Celina –

“What do you mean, ‘sadly?’” Jack demanded. “Nothing sad about it. He’s not right for her. No one is right for her but me.”

Did I mention Jack was stubborn? I thought so.

But stubborn or not, he couldn’t seem to make any headway with Celina. I was starting to be able to type again, but Jack wasn’t giving me anything to work with. He was still banging his head against the wall Celina had built between them.

“Do something,” he demanded, stalking around my office while I tried to type. “We’re a third of the way through the book and she’s barely even talking to me!”

“Do something yourself,” I retorted. “You’re the hero.”

We glared at each other. I took out my copy of Jessica’s book and read him parts of Max and Flora’s story, because Jessica had actually finished hers while Jack was faffing around. “Listen to this,” I said, and proceeded to show him how it was done.

“I’m not Max,” he protested.

“Too right you’re not. Max has already got his girl.”

“Fredrik hasn’t got his,” Jack pointed out.

“No. Not yet.:” But only because Liz, in a fit of wholly unnecessary one-upsmanship, didn’t merely break her wrist. She broke her arm. So Fredrik and Ally were at a standstill.

Sophie at least was writing up a storm, but Jack knew – and I knew – that he and Jonas were nothing alike. They might be best friends, but he wasn’t going to find inspiration from Jonas’s courtship.

“You’re the writer,” he reminded me, looking expectant.

I was beginning to wonder. Obviously we needed help. A romance advice columnist. Or something.

So I did what I often do when it’s 2 a.m. and the cursor is blinking on the blank page and the hero is grumbling and pacing and knocking over things in my office. I called for help. To Australia. (They’re up in Australia at that time of day because, well, it’s not that time of day there).

And dear kind benevolent Anne Gracie actually answered her phone and listened to me – and Jack – whine. And then she said – quite sternly – to Jack, “You’re impetuous. Do something impetuous. Act in character, for heaven’s sake!”

So he did.

And we finished the book. And Liz managed to write again and finished Fredrik and Ally’s story. And Sophie wrote and wrote and wrote – multi-volumes, I think – and then chopped and cut and brought Jonas and Hope to their lovely happy ending. And of course Jessica had already sorted out Max and Flora with aplomb far before the rest of us, proving that we all do things in our own time and our own way, but that we also all get there in the end.

I loved working with Sophie and Jessica and Liz – and our wonderful editor, Kelly Hunter, who made sure that we all knew where our people were at any given time (thank God for spreadsheets, is all I can say) and gave us moral support and encouragement – even when she’d probably rather have kicked us all the way to the deadline.

Even in a series, every book is an individual project. Every one of them has its own heart, its own path and its own characters (no, Jack, there will never be another you!). And every book gets to The End in its own way. But writing them together was a treat that I will always remember. It was a joy to share ideas and frustrations – and a memorable lunch in Castle Combe. It was a thrill to see the lovely covers Tule came up with for the books. I loved working on the Royal Wedding Invitations series. Thanks to Tule – and Sophie – for inviting me to join them.

I couldn’t be happier. Neither could Jack.

Photos of Split, Croatia (by pablodebat), Castle Combe, Wiltshire (by pljvv1)and the blue-eyed, stubble-jawed hero (by curaphotography) courtesy of depositphotos.com.

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16 Comments

  1. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH! I can’t believe Anne Gracie gave Jack the talking too. I love her work. ♡ I love the story behind the stories ♡♡♡♡♡ I am so excited to read all of these! We need to finish our house so I can finally put all my books on shelves again, lol. Thank you for the story! I can tell Jack’s story will be a re-read.

    1. Martina, yes, Anne Gracie is often the midwife to my stories. She has, as you know, great instincts. I love her work, too. And I love that she’s awake when the rest of the world is asleep!

      Hope you get your house finished soon. Jack is looking forward to being on your shelf — or your virtual shelf if you find him in e-form!

    1. As I loved working with you, Liz. Also loved working with Fredrik! And Ally, of course. But Fredrik was a stunner. And just think, I learned a little about cricket in the process — thanks to you!

  2. What a great post! Am so glad Jack fought his way onto the page at last. It was a wonderful experience working with you, Liz and Sophie – there’s always something to learn about writing!

    1. Indeed there is always more to learn, Jessica! Thank you for having me be part of the series — and thank you for the lovely hospitality in Wiltshire. I will always remember it. Still trying to work those standing stones into a book!

  3. I just one-clicked on this entire series. :) I’m looking forward to reading it, and I loved this article. Anne, I’ve been reading and loving your books ever since “Dare to Trust” was published in 1985!

    1. Wow, thank you so much, Sandy! I hope you enjoy the books. We had such fun working on them (well, not the plot snafus, but working together and developing the whole ambiance and having built-in characters to work with from each other’s stories).

      If you go back to Dare to Trust, you go back a very long way indeed! Thanks for sticking with me all these years!

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