Who better to sit for our first interview than author Phillipa Ashley, who may well have published the very first piece of North & South fan fiction online? We spoke to her recently about that early tale, how she made the transition to publishing original fiction, and how one of her books became a made-for-television movie.
Armitage Authors Network: Welcome, Phillipa, and thank you for agreeing to be our first interview.
Phillipa Ashley: I want to say that I’m very honoured to have been invited to take part in one of the first Q&As for this site — what a brilliant idea!
AAN: You’ve been a fan of Richard for quite a long time. Tell us a little about how you discovered Mr. Armitage.
PA: Whizzing back ten years to that dark Sunday evening in November 2004…
I’d always loved period dramas and when I saw N&S trailered, I thought I’d give it a go, BUT (please hide behind the sofa at this point.) I hated Thornton in the first episode. I thought he was vile when he kicked the millworker and not handsome, but scary. I told my husband and daughter that I might not bother with episode 2, however, they really enjoyed it so I decided to give the series a second a chance.
I still have no clue what happened next but some way into episode 2, I suddenly thought: wow, this is good and wow, this character has a magnetic charisma that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Basically I was completely hooked on the series and on Richard’s portrayal of Thornton and I wanted more of both.
Internet forums were relatively new back then, so while I was looking for more details on the series I happened upon the BBC Drama messageboard. It was there I saw a thread that said something like: “It is just me or is John Thornton hotter than 1000 suns?”
My answer was: ‘yes’ and from then on, I’m a little ashamed to say I developed an enormous crush.
AAN: Did you write fan fiction for the Armitage fandom? And was it your first attempt at writing fiction?
PA: I could be wrong, but I think I may be the very first person to write an N&S fanfic, certainly a modern one. However, my first attempt was a short historical piece imagining what might happen after John and Margaret were married. I posted it anonymously on a private Yahoo N&S fan group before the final episode aired. I have to admit it was pretty rubbish but at that stage people were desperate for anything N&S related. Plus, three good things happened after I posted it. I found I loved writing fiction, I’d found an encouraging audience and I realised I just didn’t have the historical voice or knowledge to write any more period fanfic.
AAN: What impelled you to begin writing?
PA: At first, I merely wrote for my own entertainment and pleasure, hopefully delivering the same to other fans. Looking back after 13 novels, I think I was responding to essential elements of a romance that were captured by the series: powerful conflict between the hero and heroine, unresolved sexual tension and the ultimate Alpha Male!
AAN: What was it that made you decide to make the transition to writing original stories?
PA: In January 2005, I started a contemporary fanfic called N&S 2005 – original, huh? At the time, I was completely green in the craft of writing romantic fiction and my own creative process so I didn’t really understand what was happening to me. All I knew was that I was finding it very hard to make my modern characters conform to the plot of the original Gaskell novel and that I also kept wanting to be funny. I know now that I was experiencing the completely normal and essential fictional process of characters taking on lives of their own.
AAN: What was your first published work?
PA: After the fanfic I moved straight onto writing a novel – Decent Exposure. After I’d finished a first draft in autumn 2005, I sent it off to the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme. They made some suggestions so I revised it and got an agent to represent me in spring 2006. She sold it to Headline Little Black Dress and the rest is history.
The book is about a PR guru who persuades a Lakeland mountain rescue team to strip off for a charity calendar. I deliberately tried to make the characters as different from my N&S fanfic as possible because I wanted to see if I could write an original novel. However, Decent Exposure still has an Alpha Male hero, however, as every single one of my books does. I blame John Thornton for that. It went on to win the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme Award.
AAN: This is the book that became a television movie — can you tell us a little about how that happened?
PA: Sheer luck! A Hollywood-based producer contacted me in 2007 while I was on a 20th wedding anniversary holiday with my husband. He asked if the rights to Decent Exposure were available. People warned me that when books are optioned, very few get made into movies, so I was incredibly fortunate that the film made it to the TV screens. It’s called 12 Men of Christmas and has been on television all over the world apart from the UK!
AAN: What is your most recent release?
PA: On October 9th, Third Time Lucky, the final part of my Pippa Croft Oxford Blue romance series will be published as an e book. The series is also being published in paperback from November 2014.
I don’t need to say how excited I am, do I? The series has been an incredible journey for me, as much as the characters, Alexander and Lauren. Just like John and Margaret, Alexander is a difficult, troubled, smouldering, Alpha male and Lauren is an intelligent, opinionated, passionate woman.
AAN: Can you give us any hints about what you might be working on next?
PA: I’ve got an idea for a steamy new series and for a rom com, which I may have to work on at the same time!
You can visit Phillipa’s website at http://www.phillipa-ashley.com. The third in her Oxford Blue series (as Pippa Croft), Third Time Lucky, will be published as an e-book October 9.