Anne here, introducing Lucy Parker, the author of the very funny and charming ACT LIKE IT and PRETTY FACE — contemporary romances set in the London celebrity/theatre world.
The WordWenches are already big fans, and most of us have preordered Lucy's new book, MAKING UP. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy and I loved it.
Lucy's first book, ACT LIKE IT, received glowing reviews, including a Desert Island Keeper review from All About Romance, and A- from Smart Bitch Sarah. PRETTY FACE also wowed critics and readers alike. I met Lucy in NZ last year when I was at the RWNZ conference and fan-girled all over her. Lucy, welcome to the Word Wenches.
Anne: Lucy, welcome to the Word Wenches. My first question came via Mary Jo Putney, who wanted to know: How did a young New Zealand woman get such an excellent knowledge of the West End theater world?
I adore theatre; I studied classical drama at university, and later worked as an arts critic. And I have family ties in England on my dad’s side of the family, and was brought up with a lot of British pop culture. A huge help with this series, though, has been a good friend of mine, who is a professional performer at quite a high level. She lets me pick her brain whenever I want, and tells me all sorts of interesting backstage gossip that I obviously don’t use, but which makes me feel better about the believability of the more dramatic parts of the books — apparently in the world of theatre, fictional drama has nothing on the real deal!
I didn’t actually start out with a goal of writing a theatre series, but the books combine two of my biggest loves — theatre and London — so I’m enjoying writing them so much. ACT LIKE IT came about because I was watching a TV show and I knew that the actors who played the main couple had also had a relationship in real life and recently broken up. How very, very awkward. Although …not as awkward as it would be in a theatre run, where you’re playing the same storyline over and over, night after night. And then: “Hmm. Plot!”
Anne: You have three books now, all set in London's West End theatre world, and characters interact and cross from one book to another, adding to the richness and complexity. What appeals to you about this world?
Lucy: I think it gives scope for a great balance between the glitz and glamour that’s so fun to read about from a distance (without having to deal with all the nosy paparazzi!), and the reality that these are human beings behind the fame and pretence, who have the same struggles and heartbreak as everyone else. And in a way, the characters are enclosed in a sort of bubble; their workload is so intense and the hours so unsociable that much of their world is taking place within the walls of the theatre, which naturally causes this building of tension, and sparks start to fly, and that’s always fun!
I’ve also really enjoyed doing a series, trying to create this version of London where these people live and cross paths, and compete for work in the very tough British entertainment industry. I do prefer to write the books as companion novels rather than direct sequels, although PRETTY FACE and MAKING UP are the most connected in terms of continuing characters. But I hope all the books can be read as stand-alones.
Anne: Yes, they absolutely can be read as stand-alones. In MAKING UP (a perfect title) the blurb says: "it’s fireworks onstage and off in a sexy enemies-to-lovers showdown." And it was. Trix is a pretty outspoken heroine — one reviewer described her as "a prickly chip-on-the-shoulder character at first glance" but you deal with that beautifully in the story. Tell us about Trix.
Lucy: Trix is a circus artist — an aerialist in a big acrobatic musical spectacular — and basically, she’s this tiny, pink-haired firecracker, who’s gone through a very difficult time and has lost some of her spark. She was introduced in PRETTY FACE, as the best friend of the heroine, where she had recently exited an emotionally abusive relationship and was trying to find her feet again. MAKING UP opens some months after the events of the previous book, but Trix is still struggling with the after-effects of that experience, and it affects both her confidence in her performance and her trust where relationships are concerned. She’s had enough of intense angst and emotional commitment, and is all about the fun and fleeting — until the return of her school-days nemesis.
Anne: And that school-days nemesis is your hero, Leo, who is a make-up artist — not usually the first occupation people think of for a romance hero, but Leo's not simply a dab hand with a blusher brush, he's a creative make-up artist who can create monsters and aliens.
Lucy: Yes, Leo and Trix share a love for graphic novel culture and all things fandom, and Leo translates that interest into his work, where his passion is creating mystical, magical and revolting creatures with his special effects work. He can also do A+ liquid eyeliner, so he’s a handy man to have around! He’s this big, bearded athlete who once had professional rugby ambitions, but life steered him towards his career as a makeup artist.
Trix and Leo knew each other as teenagers, but had a falling-out before their dancing around each other could become romantic. In the decade since, they’ve made an art form of antagonizing each other whenever they meet. So neither of them is thrilled when Leo signs on as the newest makeup artist in Trix’s show, especially when both of them have career goals to restore.
Anne: He was a gorgeous hero, perfect for Trix. The battles and the banter between the two of them is delicious, and the emotional resolution is well worth waiting for.
Lucy: So far, research for MAKING UP has been by far the most fun! I had two different career angles to investigate: Trix’s circus skills and Leo’s special effects artistry. Like every good Hermione Granger fan, I went to the books first, and then I tracked down the real-life aerial and makeup wizards. Nothing quite like an excuse to spend hours watching amazing aerial straps routines! I have to say that aerialists seem to be universally awesome people.
And this book has expanded my makeup know-how considerably. I’ve always loved makeup — I do think of it as art, a form of creative expression — but if I ever need to shake things up beyond mascara and lipstick (if I want to give the impression that my face is unzipping, for instance), I could give it a decent try!
In terms of research revealing a plot obstacle, I have encountered that with the next book in the series. It turns out it’s not quite as simple to get married by mistake as Ross and Rachel would have you believe in Friends!
Anne: Our readers love hearing about how a writer works. Could you share a little of your writing process, please?
Lucy: It starts with a lot of scrambling around for an idea! I’m not a writer who has ten ideas floating around at once — I’m always very grateful if I can grab on to one! And I’m not a plotter, although I’m trying to become more of one. If I try to outline the whole book scene-by-scene, it’s instant writer’s block for me, so what I’ve been trying to do is just establish a very loose timeline of things I want to happen. Then I try to think of a good opening line, which gets me into chapter one, and once I have some words on the page, I can start to rough-outline the rest of the chapters. I never know everything that’s going to happen in advance, and I think the best parts are often the ones that unfold unexpectedly, so the pantser in me is strong however I try to rein it in!
And I wouldn’t recommend anyone following my actual physical writing process, because I’m about to describe the most not-ergonomic position ever! I’ve had some health issues the past few years that make it pretty uncomfortable for me to sit properly at the computer for very long, so I tend to do a lot of writing lying down with the laptop propped against my knees. Preferably with TV or music on in the background, and snacks close at hand.
Anne: Could you share a little piece of Making Up, please?
Lucy: Here's an early exchange between Leo and Trix.
Leo shifted his attention from her hand, which was smudged with greasepaint, patchy with freckles, and curled around a muscular forearm. “Was there a ‘congratulations’ lurking in there?”
“Your ego has never needed outside validation. It’s one of the many ways you astound me.” Trix’s response was delivered with such sweetness and fervour that it almost masqueraded as a compliment.
Allie scratched her nose, conveniently covering her mouth in the process. Even the bald, winged boyfriend seemed to pick up the undercurrents this time. Once again, he cut in with an exuberantly friendly remark. Bit of a human puppy. “Trix and I have been with Masks since opening night. Best company in the West End. You’ll never work with nicer people.”
Cut to Trix’s narrowed stare for a ludicrous contrast shot. Leo’s lips twitched. “Impressive track record,” he said mildly. “A lot of performers are too restless to commit to a multi-year run. Too…fickle. Speaking generally.”
Trix’s spine straightened so quickly that she gained a few much-needed millimetres of height. “And sadly, some of the Y chromosomes floating around are such superficial knobs that they’re lucky to be offered any work at all.” She casually removed a crusty speck of mascara from her lashes.
Anne: I love it! What's next for Lucy Parker?
Lucy: I recently signed a new contract with Carina Press, to write another two books in the London Celebrities series, so I’m currently working on number four. It’s another fake relationship plot — fake marriage, actually; all the tropes! — and stars two actors who play a pair of very popular fictional detectives. They’re both masters at playing the publicity game, but get caught up in their own trap. It’s set in the same world as the first three books, but will introduce new characters (you can get a sneak peek at them in my ACT LIKE IT bonus short story, “TOO WISE TO WOO PEACEABLY”, available on my website). I’m hoping it will have that almost 1940s-style rom-com vibe, lots of romance and fast-paced, madcap banter. More info to come soon!
Anne: Sounds fabulous, Lucy. I'm looking forward to it. You do fast-paced madcap banter so well.
Wasn't that a delightful interview? Lucy is giving away a copy of her new book, Making Up, to someone who leaves a comment or a response: Do you go to the theater much? What sort of theater do you most enjoy — musicals, drama, experimental theater, musical comedy etc? Have you seen anything on the stage recently?