Monday, 18 June 2012

Leah Ashton

* cue drum roll *  I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Leah Ashton to my blog today.

I first met Leah at the RWA Australia conference in Sydney in August 2010, so it was a wonderful coincidence to be teamed up with her for the New Voices competition that year.  Leah’s “voice” jumped out of her writing immediately, and I was thrilled – but not at all surprised – when she won. 

Now Secrets and Speed Dating is published.  I’m in the middle of reading it right now, and getting a little thrill whenever I recognise a tiny moment from the competition.  Apart from those few brief moments, Leah’s  story has changed completely, but that easy, readable voice remains - you know, that one that keeps you turning the pages even though you really should be getting up and going back to your keyboard …  

It's wonderful to be able to welcome Leah as a fellow Harlequin Romance author and to be able to follow the journey she's taken to publication.  

Today Leah’s talking about character, and she’s offering a free copy of Secrets and Speed Dating to one lucky person who comments below.  If that’s not you, make sure you order yourself a copy anyway, and put Leah Ashton on your auto-buy list!  I’ll get Leah to pick a winner at the end of the week, so don’t forget to check back to see if you’ve won.

Over to you, Leah!  

Thanks so much Jessica for inviting me to your blog! 
I think it’s crazy that it’s now almost two years since the original New Voices competition, and since I was lucky enough to have Jessica Hart as one of my mentors. Although, when I think back some of the truly dreadful brainstorming I did with Jessica via email at the time (what was I thinking?) it is a great reminder of how far I’ve come with my writing. Although, of course – I still have a long way to go!
Secrets & Speed Dating, my New Voices-winning story, is currently on the shelves in the US, and it also has come a long way since the night I hit “submit” and entered New Voices. For those unfamiliar with the New Voices competition, the format was to submit your opening chapter. From there the top 10 were selected, and had the opportunity to write Chapter Two with the assistance of an author and editor mentor. Then, the lucky final four got to write their pivotal moment, and the winner was chosen. I can tell you, when it was me, I was ecstatic!
But – when my next task was to finish my book, I soon realized that the story that won New Voices was not going to carry an entire book. Ouch!
Looking back, I think the issue was that I never truly answered the question I’d asked myself right at the beginning, when the opening sentence to Secrets & Speed Dating popped into my head:
“Just so you know, I can’t have children.”
When that line of dialogue came to me, I immediately wanted to know who had said that, and why. And that was where Sophie Morgan, my heroine, started.
The problem was, that as I wrote my New Voices entry, and the subsequent chapters, I never really answered my question. Who was Sophie Morgan?
I didn’t really have a handle on her. I didn’t know what her job was (I kept on coming up with ideas for a career that would help manipulate the plot, rather than being true to her), I didn’t really know why she went speed dating and certainly I didn’t know why she’d agree to the arrangement she eventually agrees to with my hero, Dan Halliday (although, he’s rather delicious – maybe agreeing to pretend to date him without solid motivation is not so far fetched…).
It wasn’t until I realized that Sophie was an extremely well organized person who had responded to a recent major disaster in her life by writing her own life plan – The Sophie Project – that everything began to fall into place. The woman who was just a sketch in my mind, was suddenly walking and talking and breathing!
I’ve written two books since Secrets & Speed Dating, and each one teaches me more and more about my writing and what makes a good story. I keep on making mistakes, but hopefully not the same ones too many times! But Secrets & Speed Dating certainly taught me that character is everything – without a strong character driving your story, you’ve got absolutely nothing J
So, I’d love to know – who is your favourite character? It can be from a book, or from a movie or TV show – I don’t mind!

Tell Leah your favourite character below, and you'll be in with a chance to win a copy of Secrets and Speed Dating


  1. It's very difficult to narrow it down to just one character. My favourite Austen heroine is Anne Elliot. I don't know if you'd consider her a "strong character" because she isn't nearly as proactive as Sophie is (judging by the excerpt on your website) but then again, there's so much about her life over which she has little or no control.

  2. Great post, thanks for sharing! I have too many favorite characters to narrow it down to one, so I'll just choose one from the book I read a couple of weeks ago. Phillip Hawthorne, Marquess of Kayne in "Secret Desires of a Gentleman" by Laura Lee Guhrke. Phillip comes off cold and conservative snob. Of course, underneath that all lies a man of great passion, but the thing is that I truly enjoyed his conservative, buttoned-up side.

  3. I'm a big fan of buttoned-up characters who need to come to terms with their feelings too, Natalija. There's something intriguing about a character who can keep control of themselves and needs to be unpeeled. Probably because I am so unmysterious myself!

  4. Hi Laura! I haven't read Persuasion, will need to! Your comment got me thinking about what makes a character strong, as I think you're right and being proactive or "strong" on the page isn't necessarily what I meant. I think maybe consistent, well-motivated or even fully formed is a better term?

  5. Hi Natalija! I love buttoned-up heroes, too! So mysterious and interesting.

  6. My fav character ... like others said, there are just so many. Right now, I'm listening to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series (great reader!) and I have to say both Claire and Jamie are characters that I want to meet. They are strong in their own ways, even as they marry other people and live apart for 20 years!

  7. Oh Heidi I ADORE Jamie!! Isn't he wonderful? When I first read Outlander I knew nothing about the series, and the first time Jamie came on page I was desperate for him to be the hero (and had no idea that he would be).

  8. Hi Leah - interesting post and fantastic news that "Secrets" is now on sale in NA.

    No need to enter me in the contest, I've already got a copy :) it was lovely read - well done Leah!