Samantha Holt is a mother. But unlike most mothers, she is an author of romance novels set in medieval times. And unlike most writers of historical romances, her sense of history was awakened early and, perhaps, inevitably—she was born and raised in a village adjacent to where Jane Austen grew up. Hampshire, a county in Southern England has been home to Samantha (who now lives in the north), Jane Austen, and Margaret Hale, heroine of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South.
Tell us about yourself. The various roles or personas you feel you have. What is it that you most want people to remember about you?
Most importantly, I’m a mother. If I can be remembered as a great mum to my twin girls, I will be happy. They are six now and as soon as they were born there was an innate bond between the three of us. We’re very close now and like to have a good laugh. As a friend, I talk to much and I’m a little bit too honest. I like to have a good laugh and tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. However, I’m also a very hard worker. If I put my mind to something, I want to do it to the best of my ability. I like to help others and have them look to me for support.
You strike me as the nurturing type. Has that affected your choice of the genre you write in? And how do you reconcile it with your tendency to start a story with a conflict?
It’s taken me a while to admit that I’m the nurturing kind. I struggled as a child as— though I was intelligent—I never excelled and I came from a school where children continually excelled, so I never really found my place. Motherhood, and therefore nurturing, is the one thing that came very naturally to me. Friends who knew me before I had children always commented that they knew I’d be a natural, which surprised me.
I chose historical romance because it’s what I know and love. More specifically I write in the medieval times. It’s a time period not everyone is overly familiar with and I enjoy the slight freedom that gives me. And, although there was certainly societal rules, it was not as rigid as say the regency period. I would really struggle to set a book then. It was a dangerous, dark time and I think it gives relationships a bit of an edge. There’s always this awareness that the character’s happiness could be so easily snatched away.
I am a romantic soul – I don’t know if that comes hand in hand with being a nurturing one. I’m not overly emotional in my daily life and my husband will complain that I don’t give him enough attention (!) but internally I dream of romance constantly. I guess my need for conflict comes from a) my passion for history – I love to involve real historical events in my tales – and b) I find a happy ending that much more rewarding if it hasn’t come easily. I love it when I get butterflies in my tummy from reading something and I always hope my characters do that for someone.
You were raised in a particular area of England. How has that influenced your writing?
I was born in Hampshire in Southern England and lived there until I was 18. Specifcally we lived in the town that sits alongside the village where Jane Austen lived. You can’t escape her there, so she definitely had an influence on me. The town often holds regency events and we get to experience all the ladies dressed in their finery and I visited her house often as a child. I even lived on Bennet Close, just off Netherfield Close and Bingley Close (I hope everyone recognises those names from Pride and Prejudice – I’m making the gross assumption that everyone has read it!) – so you can see how much of an influence she had. I don’t ever liken my writing to hers, as I said I don’t ever intend to write a literary great, but her characters all deal with internal conflict and grow throughout the story. I certainly try and emulate that.
The other significant thing about my home town is that it also runs into the village where Elizabeth Gaskell passed away. This didn’t really have an impact on me until I was much older. She is sadly overshadowed by Austen and very few locals even know about it. I worry that Gaskell is rather underrated. I find her writing powerful and observant but I suspect her gritty honesty is not so much of a crowd pleaser. I certainly enjoy the gritty aspect and try to inject a little of that in my own work.
Music has inspired artists to create, as a subject matter or theme in their work. I remember reading that music inspires you, as well, to write. Can you tell us a little more how it does?
It’s funny because since mentioning that I always listen to music to write, I’ve touched base with many, many authors who all have a need for complete silence. I imagine, for some, music must drown out their internal voice but for me it always inspires me. My tastes are not particularly romantic – I love rock and heavy metal – but I enjoy songs with personal, beautiful lyrics and it’s surprising how many rock songs are just that. Sometimes a song will prompt me to write a scene but more often than not, I’ll come across a song that somehow relates to what I’m writing and it will get played repeatedly while I’m doing so. It seems to give me a little boost.
I vary what I listen to but I’m always on the look out for something new. I haven’t found a song that resonates with my latest story yet but I hope I will. In the meantime I will dig out some old reliable’s to keep me going. At the moment, my favourite band is ‘Shinedown’. They vary between very heavy rock and some beautiful acoustic pieces. I very often find one of their songs that connects with my books. Their song ‘Call me’ worked well with my last book as the lyrics talk about being a sinner or a saint and the idea of leaving someone because you love them. My hero battles with himself a lot and tries to hold himself back from the heroine because he believes he is no good for her. Somehow their lyrics so often connect to my stories.
What do you find most rewarding about being an author?
Simply, writing brings me joy. And allows me to contribute to our household without having to leave my children.
Being able to stay at home with my children and bringing people a bit of joy, even if just for a short moment. I love it when people get into my characters and really feel something for them, as, at one point, I did too and still do probably.
Do you feel that writing fiction has an element of escapism in it? How much do you “inhabit” your characters’ minds when you’re writing about them? Do they almost become real to you when you’re creating them?
Oh absolutely. My characters, particularly, live in my head when I go to bed and I have a tendency to become a bit vague as I’m plotting! I’m not sure they become real, though I did feel very strongly attached to my last hero and found myself almost proud of him as he grew. I certainly put myself in their place in my mind, especially when writing dialogue, as I try and emulate their feelings and actions as much as possible, but they do remain firmly on the page. I think that’s what allows me to move onto my next story quite quickly.
How many more stories do you think you have in you?
I know there is definitely one more as I’m writing it now, but I suspect there will be many more to come. I keep wondering if this will be it, but a new story usually comes along just as I’m finishing the last.
What is a typical writing session like for you? Have you ever had writer’s block? How did you overcome it?
I sit down in the afternoon at about 1pm with a coffee and do a couple of hours before getting the children from school. I put my earphones in and just go for it on the sofa. I try and sit at my desk but I’m not disciplined enough for that. I also tend to write in the evenings for about two hours. I sometimes write in the bath too!I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from ‘block’ but I do get to a point where I’m worn out. I’m not very good at taking a break but I find reading a new book very stimulating. I also like to open a new ‘window’ aka blank page, and just type. It may be a completely random scene but it often helps get the creative juices flowing.
I have this image of you as being engaged with words a lot—you write them, read them, not to mention speaking or listening to them. Americans, I think, have this notion of the British being rather verbal. Any compelling interests that are mostly nonverbal?
I come from a talkative, honest family and our favourite pastime is a cup of tea and a chat. In fact, most of my adult life has been spent having tea and chats with friends and family. I’m not sure as a nation we are particularly verbal though. A lot of what we say is typically British – weather, complaints etc – and rarely anything important. We do constantly touch base though.
My life tends to revolve around writing and my children with little time to squeeze much else in. I do enjoy baking when I get the chance, though it’s hardly compelling! I suppose my passion for history could be considered a non-verbal interest as I spend much of my time with my head buried in books and on the internet.
Do you ever think about or worry about whether your work will stand the test of time?
I’m no literary master – I write short, romantic stories, so I don’t expect them to become some great work. They are what they are, a bit of romance and excitement and I’m happy that people enjoy them. I’m always apprehensive about reactions when a book is first released but that’s about as far as my worries go.
What do you think of the indie publishing revolution? How has it influenced you in your writing?
It’s great in many ways. It gives a voice to those that wouldn’t have one otherwise. I suppose there is a worry that it means just about anybody can publish, but at the end of the day, if your writing is no good, readers are honest enough to say so and it’s a lot of work to become successful. You need a certain mindset to do it and I suspect those that are lousy writers probably don’t have to drive to market themselves. You can’t just put a book up for sale and expect to be an overnight success. I’ve fallen in love with many indie authors and I’m so grateful to have discovered them.
Personally, I’m less bound by rules and regulations. I write what I enjoy, no more no less. My latest story was slightly shorter than I had hoped (by about 6000 words). Had I been writing for someone else I would have had to have bulked it up – and I considered it briefly – but I didn’t want to dilute the story with useless nonsense, so I left it as is and decided to let my readers decide whether I should have or not.
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