Cathryn Hein was born in South Australia’s rural south-east. With three generations of jockeys in the family it was little wonder she grew up horse mad, finally obtaining her first horse at age 10. So began years of pony club, eventing, dressage and showjumping until university beckoned.
Armed with a shiny Bachelor of Applied Science (Agriculture) from Roseworthy College she moved to Melbourne and later Newcastle, working in the agricultural and turf seeds industry. Her partner’s posting to France took Cathryn overseas for three years in Provence where she finally gave in to her life-long desire to write. Her short fiction has been recognised in numerous contests, and published in Woman’s Day.
Cathryn’s first three novels, Promises, Heart of the Valley and Heartland were finalists in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Australian Romance Readers Awards. Rocking Horse Hill is her fourth rural romance novel. Her fifth, The Falls, will release in May. The French Prize, her first action-adventure story, released in September with another to follow in 2015.
Cathryn currently lives at the base of the Blue Mountains in Sydney’s far west with her partner of many years, Jim. When she’s not writing, she plays golf (ineptly), cooks (well), and in football season barracks (rowdily) for her beloved Sydney Swans AFL team.
NAW- Tell us about your book, The French Prize. How did you get the idea for it? What is it about?
The French Prize is an action-adventure romance set in Provence that pits strong-willed Crusade historian Olivia Walker against an equally determined French soldier named Raimund Blancard. For their own reasons, both covet the mythical sword Durandal. Except Olivia’s goal is to prove to the world that the fairy tale she’s believed in since childhood is real, while Raimund’s is the destruction of an object that has caused his family nothing but pain. But there is another who also hunts the sword, a murderer who has taken from Raimund all he loves, and he will stop at nothing to claim his birthright.
I was fortunate enough to live in Provence for three years and while there managed to fit in quite a lot of travel. I also read a great deal about the history of France and Europe and became particularly fascinated with its many myths and legends. One of these was the tale of Durendal, a sword allegedly wielded by Roland, one of Charlemagne’s great warriors. The story stuck with me, particularly after I saw the sword embedded in a rock face at Rocamador. It’s a fake, of course, but the legend behind it was too wonderful to let go. Eventually I had to write about it.
Plus the romantic in me really wishes these kinds of tales were true!
NAW- What drew you to the romance genre?
The emotion of the stories. A well-written romance with characters you fall in love with can tear your insides out then make you sob with happiness at the end. No other genre seems to affect my emotions the same way. Occasionally a thriller or horror novel will scare the pants of me or make me feel terrible anxiety but it’s the pure head and heart rush of love that I enjoy most.
It’s a way of living all the highs, lows, joys and horrible angst that love can bring, secure in the knowledge that it’s all going to work out in the end. Because if romance promises one thing, it’s a happy ending.
NAW- How long did you take to finish the book? How did you decide the title?
The French Prize took me five months to write, which was quite a good pace for me. I can be much slower but in this case I had an editor who had already read the opening scene and requested to read the full manuscript. There’s nothing quite like that kind of motivation to get those fingers flying.
The title was originally Shades of Grey. After the publication of a certain book it was then nicknamed The Unfortunately Titled Shades of Grey while I tried to think up something better. It went through several different titles before myself and my agent, and then my publisher, agreed on The French Prize.
NAW- Tell us about the character of Dr. Olivia Walker. How did you develop the character?
I’ve had the image of Olivia in my head since I was a teenager, although, of course, I had no idea she was going to become a character in one of my books. Being a horsey girl I owned a stack of equestrian books and one of them was Bruce Davidson, World Champion of Eventing by Sally O’Connor. In it was a picture of Davidson’s US Olympic teammate Torrance Fleischmann, staring coolly into the distance. She was blonde, beautiful and with an almost perfect profile. That image stuck with me for years until it found a home in Olivia.
Given the emotional and external plot conflicts, I knew that Olivia had to possess particular qualities to make the story work. She had to be a curious, clever, and highly resilient character because she not only battles Raimund’s determination to destroy her life’s dream, she also races against his murderous nemesis. There’s no time or place for breaking down into girly tears and, being a romance, a weak female character would be unworthy of a man like Raimund. She also had to possess kindness and humanity. Raimund’s soul is tortured and he has lost his capacity for love. She has to give him hope, even when he doesn’t want it.
NAW- What can a novice reader expect from The French Prize?
A un-put-downable read that gallops along with plenty of adventure, riddles, danger and memorable characters. I should also mention there’s beautiful Provencal countryside and food to salivate over. Plus a romance guaranteed to make them smile at the end!
NAW- Tell us about your other works.
I’m mostly known for my rural romances, of which I’ve had four published with Penguin Australia – Rocking Horse Hill, Heartland, Heart of the Valley and Promises. My fifth, The Falls, releases in May 2015. Being a country girl these are very true to my heart and I especially adore writing animals. Quirky (and sometimes very naughty) animals are a bit of a signature with my novels. As well as sexy farmer types. Can’t go past them!
NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey.
I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, mostly short stories and awful poetry in the early days. Then in my twenties I tried and tried to write full length novels but could never get past the 10,000 or so word mark. Plus I was working and studying and had yet to give in to that gut-deep drive that you need to succeed in writing.
When my partner was transferred overseas I finally had the opportunity to achieve the dream I’d let fester for too long. So toward the end of our final year in France I sat down and wrote a book. Not a very good book, but the satisfaction when I finally finished that first draft was amazing. No going back after that. I was hooked!
On return to Australia I kept writing, joined the Romance Writers of Australia, entered their contests, learned from the feedback, found wonderful critique partners, and developed from there, getting better with each manuscript.
In 2010 I pitched a manuscript to Penguin – my 5th or 6th full length novel, I can’t quite recall, as I’d also turned my hand to novellas by then and the stories were piling up. It wasn’t what they were after, so I pitched another and they loved it. Promises came out in 2011, with another rural following so far each year.
Last year I asked my agent to see if anyone was interested in The French Prize, which had been languishing on my hard drive while I concentrated on my rural romances. The response was quite wonderful and I’m now releasing romantic adventures through Harlequin’s Mira imprint.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
I’m a keen but sadly untalented golfer. But it’s a good sport for me because it gets me out of the house and walking. Writing is such a sedentary occupation and it’s very easy to get caught up in a story or in edits and find you haven’t left the house for days. Golf gives me much needed sunshine and exercise plus face to face time with people. It’s the world’s most frustrating sport but I’m addicted.
I also like to cook. A lot. And visit restaurants. When I manage to combine golf and food with travel, I’m in heaven.
NAW- Please name your favourite writers. Are there any who you’d like to name as an inspiration?
I think Stephen King is an amazing storyteller. I love his books, no matter what the story type. He sweeps you in and doesn’t let your go until the final page. I also adore Kate Morton, Katherine Scholes, Suzanna Kearsley, Mo Hayder, Jilly Cooper, and many, many others.
NAW-What are you currently reading?
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King and then I’m either going to read Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz or The Siege by Arturo Perez-Reverte. Then again, I might feel like a romance instead. It will all depend on my mood at the time.
NAW- What will you be working on next?
I’ve just handed in revisions for my 2015 rural romance, The Falls, and am now well into the second half of my next (still untitled) romantic adventure. This one is a blast and I’m having so much fun dragging my hero and heroine around Europe as they hunt down their lost treasure.