Today I’m talking to Ali Williams and Trish Wylie from The Pink Heart Society. A warm welcome to you both!
First of all, you’re more than just a blog – can you tell us a bit about yourselves?
We started out as a blog thirteen years ago, when daily posts were the thing every author was encouraged to do. However, over time (and not for the want of trying!), it became increasingly difficult to sustain. So, when we revamped and relaunched two years ago, we switched to a magazine format which utilizes the most useful parts of a traditional blog within a website which has given us room to grow.
We now release a new edition monthly, have an editorial, regular columnists and guests, giveaways, previews and reviews of books, and a rapidly growing Aspiring Authors programme where published authors offer help and encouragement to writers who have yet to be published. We think of the PHS as a constant work in progress and it’s a combination of flexibility, creativity, dedication, determination and teamwork which has keep it going for all these years.
If RNA members wanted to take part in the blog or get involved in the community you’re forming, how would they do that?
Trish: We welcome anyone who would like to contribute to either the magazine or become part of our Aspiring Authors programme! If they would like to contribute to the magazine, we just need to know they are interested in receiving our monthly guest newsletter, which lists upcoming article topics and the deadline for submissions. That doesn’t mean we aren’t open to suggestions for articles. Anyone can pitch an idea at us. The only requirement is that we can fit it into one of our monthly themes.
If they would like to be part of the AA programme, they can do several things. One of the most popular is a ‘Takeover Thursday’, when we literally hand the Facebook Group over to a guest, who leads the discussion, encourages interaction and answers any writing questions from our members. Mini one-day workshops work the exact same way. Most authors book these slots in the month they have a book out. But if they would rather pop in casually when they have a free moment to offer help and advice when it’s needed, then simply joining the group is a good place to start. We would love to see them there!
You do book reviews. What are your review criteria?
Ali: We have a small but dedicated team of reviewers who love nothing better than curling up with a good romance novel. Our one criteria is that it must either be a romance or have a central romantic storyline (much like the RNA’s own criteria). HEAs/HFNs are a must!
Authors can contact us via the contact form on the website if they’d like us to consider their books for review. We’d need a blurb to share with our reviewers, ideally sent two months before the release date (i.e. email sent in March, selected at the end of March by reviewers, and read and reviewed for the May issue), although we do also review books tht have previously been released as well.
We welcome all romance narratives, including those from POC, LGBTQIA, neurodiverse, disabled and nonbinary authors.
What’s the best and worst thing about running a blog?
Trish: The best part is sitting down with a coffee to read all the finished articles each month. Thanks to the incredible creative talent, insight, wealth of experience, honesty and openness of our columnists and guests, there is always something interesting to read, learn and think about. Very few members of our team get to read every article before it goes live, so we’re as excited for a new edition to come out as our readers.
The worst are times when everyday life conspires against us and we must burn the midnight oil to pull everything together by release day and keep things going throughout the month. As you can imagine, a great deal of work goes on behind the scenes and if anyone is sick or on holiday or has work deadlines, the rest of us must pull together to pick up the slack. Everyday life just seems to get busier all the time and more pressured for everyone, so we try hard to make sure no one gets overwhelmed. It’s part of the reason we’re constantly on the hunt for enthusiastic volunteers who can help lighten the load and bring fresh ideas to the table while, in return, the PHS helps them to build a platform.
Ali: What Trish said! I love working with such a great range of authors, from across all subgenres of romance. They always have the best recs, and it’s a great opportunity for us as readers to discover new-to-us talent; and I find myself bookmarking multiple articles every month.
However, it is incredibly time-consuming; it’s important to us to put out the best possible issue, and that means putting in the hours. Lots of hours. But we couldn’t do it without our fantastic and dedicated team of editors and contributors. They’re really what make working on PHS so special.
Do you ever meet up in real life?
Trish: Some of us have but as we have an international team it’s not that easy. We Facebook chat a lot, coordinating stuff, working together on new editions of the magazine, sharing good times and bad and supporting each other. The best thing about that is that when we do meet up, it’s like spending time with old friends. I love the PHS family!
Ali: We sometimes organise an afternoon tea in London, for those of us who are around, but being spread out across the world makes that a little difficult to do regularly. But distance doesn’t lessen the respect or the depth of friendship that I have with the team; they’re the people I often turn to first, and I know that they’d always be there for me.
All of you have busy real lives as well as running PHS – what do you do to relax?
Trish: Yes, busy is often an understatement! We all have day jobs and family commitments and many of us write, so it can get hectic. I have ponies which force me to go outdoors every day which I find helps on many levels, not least of them being the constant battle with depression. I’m also starting a garden from scratch this year, so am having a lot of fun planning that (with a little help from Monty Don on Netflix) and I swim as often as I can find time to get in the water. Getting away from the keyboard – well, any kind of screen to be honest -is so important. Hence why I also rough draft my WIP’s with pen and paper, too.
Ali: Well, I’m the queen of balancing all of the projects: I have a full-time job; I’m doing a creative writing PhD on feminism, agency and romance; I co-host a podcast on speculative fiction with one of my best friends; and I have two writing projects on the go. So the whole relaxing thing doesn’t happen too often, especially as I’m up at 5.30 am every morning to study before work. But my TBR is always a haven of delight, as is my newly discovered affinity for Super Mario Party.
If you were able to host a fantasy dinner party for your favourite authors (alive or dead), who would you choose as your guests and what would you prepare for them?
Trish: What a fun question! Jane Austen for starters. I’d love to see how she’d react to her global fame and the various incarnations of Darcy. Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, because I owe them so much in terms of rediscovering a love of reading during a difficult time in my teens (and I reckon they’d be hilariously funny dinner guests). Patricia Cornwell, Ernest Cline, Lindsey Kelk, Neil Gaiman… I obviously need a much bigger dining table. And the number of a great caterer!
Ali: Well, I’d kick off with Aphra Behn, the first ever female novelist and one of only two women writers to be buried in Westminster Abbey, because she’s one of the wittiest writers ever to live. Besides, her spy exploits would make for great stories round dinner! I’d add in the Bard (I have an MA in Shakespeare and love him), Neil Gaiman (for the laughs), Daphne du Maurier (for the drama) and Alyssa Cole (because I just can’t get enough of her writing at the moment). I’d probably round it off with the incomparable Octavia Butler and new favourite Aliette de Bodard for some serious speculative fiction chops, and would probably serve something simple, so that I can spend the entire night talking with them all!
We often ask our guests what they consider to be the next “big thing” – what do you hope to see more of in 2019?
Trish: Diversity is a big focus these days and we honestly couldn’t be happier about that at the PHS. What we’d really like to see is that diversity in all sub-genres and every category/line across the board. YA books have been leading the way in diversity, both of characters and authors, for a long time and if we don’t cater to the expectations of their readers when they dip their toe into the waters of Romancelandia for the first time, we will lose them. It’s that simple.
Story-wise, I expect to see a continued resurgence of romcoms. The world is in desperate need of uplifting escapism these days, and romcoms provide that in spades. In the last year I’ve found three new-to-me authors whose romcoms I devoured. which left me feeling better than I had when I opened the cover. So, on a personal level, I’d absolutely love to see more of them.
Ali: For me, I’m really excited at the number of f/f romances that are beginning to reach the mainstream, with Avon publishing their first ever f/f romance earlier this year and Carina Press having a number of releases in the pipeline. I think we’ll also see historicals step outside the regency period even more, making more space for the historical POC and LGBTQIA romances that have flourished in the last few years, as well as a continued engagement with neurodiversity and mental health representation in contemporary romances. And I’d like to see some of that diversity crossing over onto our screens, with more projects like Jenny Han’s To All The Boy I’ve Loved Before, featuring diverse characters getting their happy ever afters.
There’s nothing more political than romance – a genre that says that you deserve a happy ending, just as you are – and that’s what I want to see most this year. An embracing and boosting of all our voices across the romance community.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat to us. The Pink Heart Society sounds like a great place to hang out.
Find out more about The Pink Heart Society (PHS):
Trish Wylie is the Founding Editor of PHS is a writer and self-publisher of happily ever afters, ‘cos the world needs more love. She is a traveler, mom to a four-legged family, TV/Film addict and Sci-Fi/superhero geek. She can be found on TrishWylie.com.
Ali Williams is a romance editor, academic and writer. She is the Managing Editor at PHS and co-host of the @itsthebookcast podcast. Her PhD research is focused on the gendered activity/passivity binary and introverted romance heroines in category romance. She can be found on AliWilliams.org.
Rhoda Baxter writes feel good stories about strong women and nice guy heroes. She especially likes it when they make her laugh. She also writes multi-cultural romances as Jeevani Charika. You can find out more about her award nominated books and mentoring services on www.rhodabaxter.com