My castaway this month is…
…bestselling author Donna Alward who, while she was busy studying Austen, Eliot and Shakespeare, she was also losing herself in the breath-taking stories created by romance novelists like LaVyrle Spencer and Judith McNaught. Several years after completing her degree she decided to write a romance of her own and it was true love! Five years and ten manuscripts later she sold her first book and launched a new career. While her heart-warming stories of love, hope, and homecoming have been translated into several languages, hit bestseller lists and won awards, her very favourite thing is when she hears from happy readers.
Donna lives on Canada’s east coast. When she’s not writing she enjoys reading (of course!), knitting, gardening, cooking…and is a Masterpiece addict.
Welcome to my desert island, Donna. It’s going to be very different from your home in Canada. Tell us about that – and just how deep in snow you are right now!
As I type this, we’re looking at getting our first significant snowfall tomorrow. So we’re not deep in it yet…but by the time you post this it could be a very different story! We had a rainy, wet Christmas. I could use some sun and warmth! So while I can’t send you any snowy pics, I’ll attach this pic which is what I find myself doing daily to combat Writer’s Ass and my blood pressure. This is my yoga space!
That looks such a calm place, Donna. Rather different from my uncoordinated YouTube routine in front of the TV! One of things I’m always asked is when and how I started to write, and it fascinates me to hear the experiences of other writers. So, did you always want to be writer? And was it always going to be romance?
I did always want to be a writer. I mean, for a while I wanted to be a rock star, and I fiddled with the idea of law and education, but deep down…the love of words just won out. It wasn’t always romance, though. I did my degree in literature and my reading wasn’t very broad when I started writing – I really had three authors I turned to: Nora Roberts, LaVyrle Spencer, and Judith McNaught. I read their books over and over again. When I sat down to write a novel, a romance was what came out, and I’ve been writing romances ever since.
So, writing what you loved to read. I think we all came from that place. I do love reading crime, too, but only the writers who concentrate on character and take an emotional journey along with the clues, rather than gore!
Traditionally, waiting for you on your desert island will be a copy of The Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare, but you can take six books with you. What is your first choice?
Oooh, I’ll say my Norton Anthology of Poetry that I had for uni, because it’s huge and there’s so much to discover in there and also, I believe that poetry needs to be heard so I could read it out loud and at least feel as if I were talking to someone!
That is such a great choice, Donna. So much to read, so many stories to imagine, such great lines to declare to the waves! I have never gone anywhere without a copy of Other Men’s Flowers. Old poems, all pre-war, that were put together by General Wavell, a soldier poet who knew them all by heart. So many old favourites. It was a must for drama class (You had ambitions to be a rock star. I wanted to be an actress!) and I still have the hardback copy my husband bought for me in the early 70s. Always a comfort to open it up and read a favourite.
You’ve written for several publishers, Donna. Was there one special moment when an editor called to say that they wanted your book? Where were you? Can you describe the heart-stop moment?
I have two very special moments. The first was when I got the call from Mills and Boon. My editor finally got in touch with me as I was on holiday and at my in-laws. I’m pretty sure we hung up and I danced on the deck and then hid away in the camper and cried a bit. The second one was when my agent called to tell me St. Martins had bought my single title series. I was calm, then I’m sure I cried again, and I do know we celebrated with pink bubbly and cake! (Donna sent this photograph as proof!)
Emotion goes with the territory and tears – along with the fizz – are perfectly natural when it has taken so much hard work to reach a long-cherished ambition. Tell us about your second choice, Donna.
My second book would be Years by LaVyrle Spencer. I have such a hard time picking a favourite of hers, but I think that one would beat out Then Came Heaven by a smidge. Linnea’s all of eighteen and leaving the city to go to this tiny community to teach in a one-room schoolhouse. She boards with a Norwegian farmer, who lives there with his mother and his son (his wife is long gone). Linnea is a complete fish out of water, but has such a good heart, and it’s not long before she’s won over the residents. Teddy is 34 and fights the attraction valiantly. He thinks he’s too old. He can’t read. But none of it matters to her. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous story.
She is an amazing writer and clearly an inspiration, but you don’t just write short romance, Donna. I remember very well your excitement when you branched out into mainstream with your Jewell Cove and Darling, Vermont series, published by St Martins, which I loved so much. They had everything, including a kissing bridge and a ghost!
I adored writing those series. I got to explore not only romantic relationships but family dynamics and could add some subplots. It was so fun writing stories for different family members and being able to tie things together. I released a Darling Christmas story last year (Merry Christmas, Darling) and I’m hoping to write another soon as there are a few siblings who still need their happy ever after. I’ve just got the rights back to both series, so they’re being re-released this spring with new covers.
I love series where the characters are linked, or just know one another and we see them living their new relationships, their children growing so that’s a real for the future; something to look forward to! And you’ll have plenty of time to write their stories on your desert island. Did I mention that there will be an endless supply of paper and your favourite pen? No laptops, I’m afraid. I can’t have you using the internet for help!
Tell me about your third book.
That would be North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Assuming I would not have a tv or DVD player to watch the series with Richard Armitage, the book will do. I initially read it after watching the series, and could literally hear all of John Thornton’s dialogue in RA’s voice. The adaptation was particularly well done with regards to the book.
I’m afraid you’ll have to imagine Richard Armitage and that kiss, Donna!
You studied the great writers at university, but what was the first book to grab your imagination so hard that you fell in love with the written word?
Anne of the Island. It was my favourite of the first four Anne books, and wouldn’t you know, it’s the one with a lot of romance! Anne, off to university, and Gilbert is there, but so is Royal Gardner, and then there are her roommates at Patty’s Place…there’s just so much to love. It’s still my favourite with the exception of Rilla of Ingleside. I read Anne of the Island when I was quite young, but my first real romance novel was Vows by LaVyrle Spencer and I immediately went in search of her other books. I’ve read them all at least a half dozen times each.
I somehow guessed Anne would be amongst your favourite books. I loved them, too. And the relationship between Anne and Gilbert. I was quite young when I read the books – borrowed from my lovely local library – but I could see that despite their rivalry they were made for each other.
Where do we go from there with your reading? What’s your next choice?
Persuasion. It’s my hands-down favourite Austen title. Captain Wentworth is my favourite Austen hero, as well. He’s just so…constant. “A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman! He ought not; he does not.” It’s been too long since I did a re-read!
Mine, too. I loved the book and then saw the TV adaptation with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. They were so right for the part. Passed the first flush, a little battered by life. Perfect. And what was the book that made you want to write?
I always wanted to write, so I’m not sure there’s just one. But I do remember reading your Bridesmaid’s Reward and also Jessica Hart’s Christmas Eve Marriage and realized that the Romance line (now True Love) was where I should be targeting my stories.
A little gulp… Thank you. I can’t think of a better compliment. And I’m so glad you chose Romance! Didn’t we have fun writing the Destination Brides miniseries! A little sigh of happiness… Tell me about your fifth book, Donna.
My fifth book is cheating as I’m going to say a boxed set and I want to take Harry Potter. I have never done a full re-read of the series and I KNOW I would see so many little things during a re-read.
Well, okay. I’ll let you have that – but don’t expect a quick rescue!
Your latest book is The Heiress’s Pregnancy Surprise. Tell me about that.
This is the second book in the Heirs to an Empire series, which kicked off with Scandal and the Runaway Bride. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun writing a series. I brainstormed the series concept with some friends and then did up the proposal and my editor loved it. A family-owned multinational business with divisions in fashion, cosmetics, jewellery… Settings in France, England, Italy, and New York… The third book is out in May, Wedding Reunion With the Best Man and I’m currently writing the last three. There are some family secrets left to be revealed so I’m happy to be mixing all that glam with more scandal!
Looking forward to that – we all love a bit of scandal with our romance!
Once those are done, I’m continuing work on a very special project which isn’t romance at all – it’s a historical fiction and it is really stretching me as a writer, which is fabulous. I hope to have that to my agent by the end of the summer.
That’s incredibly exciting. You’ll have to come back and tell us all about that when it’s off the secret list but for now it’s time to tell us about your final book.
For my last book, I would take The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. It’s not very big and it’s not very complicated, but it is deep and beautiful and profound. My sister gave me a copy when I graduated high school, and I gifted copies to both my children. I can read it and never tire of it.
That is new to me, Donna, but in view of our matching book love it’s one I’m definitely going to look for. We’re through the very strange holidays now and a really odd new year. How do you usually celebrate?
Our New Year’s Eve is super quiet. We always get Chinese food from our local which is AMAZING and this year we had no kids home (thanks, Covid) so it was just the two of us. I drank wine and watched Bridgerton (for the second time) and we were in bed before midnight!
I’ve been slow to watch Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton but everyone is talking about it so I’m definitely going to have to carve out some time to watch it. Now there are just two more questions. First, if you could only save one book from the waves which would you choose?
One to save from the waves: The Prophet. I know it’s the shortest of the bunch, but it’s the one that seems to express the soul.
And finally, you can choose a luxury.
A massive bottle of silicone free conditioner for my hair. LOL As a curly girl, I find this a must!
It’s yours, Donna. Thank you so much for being my guest this month and sharing the books you love. Have a safe, healthy and productive – and happy – new year.
The first book in Donna’s new series Heirs to the Empire, is out now and the second is on sale at Harlequin and Mills and Boon now, and everywhere else very soon. There are links below the covers.
Heirs to an Empire