Jeff & Will welcome author Lily Morton to talk about her new book The Sceptic, which begins the Arcana Books series. The new series is a spin-off from the Black and Blue series, which Lily explains is a series that almost never got published as she was hesitant to move into paranormal after writing several popular contemporaries. We also hear from Lily about the research trips she takes with her husband, where her character’s snarky banter comes from, and she’s got a book recommendation too.
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Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- Lily Morton Interview
- Lily Morton website | Lily’s Snark Squad Facebook Group | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram |
- The Sceptic by Lily Morton on Amazon
- The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings by Lily Morton on Amazon
- The Quiet House by Lily Morton on Amazon
- Mixed Message: The Complete Series (box set) by Lily Morton on Amazon
- Ghost Hunters website
- Poltergeist on Amazon Prime Video
- The Summer of Us by Lily Morton on Amazon
- Try by Ella Frank on Amazon
- Joel Leslie on Audible
- Finding Home: The Complete Series (box set) by Lily Morton on Amazon
- Close Proximity series by Lily Morton on Amazon
- After Felix by Lily Morton, narrated by Joel Leslie on Audible
- The Cuckoo’s Call by Lily Morton on Amazon
- Merry Measure by Lily Morton on Amazon
- On a Midnight Clear by Lily Morton on Amazon
- The Prince’s Poisoned Vow by Hailey Turner on Amazon
- Soulbound series by Hailey Turner on Amazon
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Will: Coming up on this episode, author Lily Morton joins us to talk about her affinity for snarky banner, as well as a spinoff series that’s coming based on a book that was almost never published.
Jeff: Welcome to episode 378 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Jeff, and with me as always is my co-host and husband Will.
Will: Hello, rainbow romance reader. We are so glad you could join us for another episode of the show.
Before we get to this week’s interview, we wanted to quickly update you on the Big Gay Fiction Fest. Now, while initial support was high, actual interest has been lower than expected, which means that we will no longer be moving forward as we originally envisioned. The June 4th event has been canceled and ticket refunds have already been sent out.
While Fest didn’t work out like we hoped, there are still queer books and authors that need to be celebrated. So, during the month of pride, the content we originally planned for Fiction Fest will be premiering here instead, in the regular podcast feed. We think you’re really going to love the author panels and interviews that will be coming your way in just a few weeks.
Jeff: Yes. It’s going to be an amazing Pride month right here on the show.
Now recently I had such a delightful chat with Lily Morton. I’m such a fan of her snarky banner. I could really read that all day long or even better have Joel Leslie, read it to me on the amazing audio books that he does for Lily. Lily’s getting ready to release a spinoff series for “Black and Blue,” which some of you may also call the “Blue Billings” series. The new ” Arcana Books” series kicks off with “The Sceptic,” which comes out on May 26. And it’s going to feature the character Will who readers met in “The Quiet House.” Now, in addition to talking about the new series, we’re also going to find out how “Blue Billings” was almost a story that Lily never published. We talk about so much in this interview so I’m going to stop talking about it and we’ll just dive in.
Lily Morton Interview
Jeff: Lily, welcome to the podcast. It is so wonderful to have you here.
Lily: It’s lovely to be here. Thanks for having me.
Jeff: I can’t believe we’ve waited this long to talk to you.
Lily: I know. I know.
Jeff: Because I’ve been a fan since “Mixed Messages,” which of course goes back a few years now.
Lily: It does. Yeah, that’s quite old now. Yeah, that’s quite a few years ago now.
Jeff: But I wanna start off with what’s new, and you’ve actually are releasing a spin-off of the “Blue Billings” series. Now, before we talk about that spin-off, let’s bring people up to date who may not know what the “Blue Billings” series is. Tell us a little bit about that.
Lily: Well, “Blue Billings” is my paranormal romance. So, it’s about the romance between a cartoonist, Levi, who moves to York after a bereavement, and he inherits a house. As soon as he moves in the house, strange things start to happen. And he becomes aware that the house is more than likely haunted. And he’s introduced to a ghost tour leader who is Blue Billings. They have rather a good first meeting, and Blue decides to help him find out what is actually wrong with the house and events escalate until they’re both in danger.
So, it’s a sort of paranormal romance. It’s set in York, which is an absolutely amazing city and is chock-full of ghost tours and that sort of thing if you ever visit. And it’s full of banter and snark and scary things, and I absolutely loved writing it.
Jeff: Banter and snark, which is one of the things you’re best known for.
Lily: Yeah, absolutely.
Jeff: What was it like going down the paranormal path? Because, I mean, before that you’d really written contemporary.
Lily: It was strange. I mean, the story was in my head long before I even wrote “Rule Breaker,” so it’s a very old story in my head. And I sort of got to the stage…I was a librarian for many years, and I just never seemed to have time to write it. First, I didn’t feel able to write it. You know how when you first start writing? And then after that, I just…there never seemed to be time to write it. And so, I was sort of either just starting a series or in the middle of a series, and I put it off and put it off.
And then I left my job to write full time. And I had a spare gap in my diary. And I thought, “You know, I’m just gonna write it for me,” because it was so different from anything I’d ever written about. But the story was in my head, and it wouldn’t go. So, I thought, I’ll just write it for me. And at the end of it, I probably won’t publish it, but at least I’ll have written it, you know, and I wrote it. And I absolutely love the characters. And in the end, I finished it.
And my husband was really interested, because we’ll walk the dog at night, and I’d talk at him, poor bloke, for about an hour just about all the characters, but he was really interested in it. So, he said, “Oh, can I read it? You know, if you’re not gonna give it to anybody else, can I read it?” So, I gave it to him. And he rang me the next day, and he was at work. He was like, “I’m in the car. And I can’t put this down. You know, it’s so good. You’ve got to publish it.”
So, he’s not somebody that reads a huge amount, so to capture him…you know, he’s always doing something, so to capture him, was quite good. So, then I gave it to my beta reader, Leslie Copeland, and she was like, “Yeah, this needs to be published.” But originally, I was never gonna publish it.
Jeff: Wow, that’s amazing that you would, even at this stage in your career, write something and potentially not publish it.
Lily: Yeah. Yeah. It was just in my head. And I wasn’t sure. I think it’s hard to judge. You know when you write a different genre, and it’s very hard to judge the way that you would judge your normal stuff? Usually, when you write you think, “Yeah, I think this is gonna work.” But when it’s a different genre, it just takes probably a bit more reinforcement for you to actually believe it.
Jeff: Had you considered to go with a different pen name, because we see that happen periodically too, that as genres change that, you know, there might be a shift in pen name.
Lily: No, I never even considered it. And I just don’t know whether I’ve not got a very big business head or whatever, but I sort of thought, well, it’s still very recognizably me. It might not be a contemporary rom-com, but it’s still very recognizably my voice. And I thought, no, I don’t think I’m going to, you know, readers can know it’s me. And then if they choose to read it, they read it. And if they don’t want to, they won’t.
Jeff: And like you said, it’s got the snark and the banter. So, that kind of your thing, so it makes sense.
Lily: You can still tell it’s me.
Jeff: So, tell us about the spin-off. I mean, you’ve cooked up something to do with Will, who readers have already met in the original series. So, what’s gonna be happening?
Lily: I have, I’ve had so many requests for Will. It’s basically a spin-off. So, when we meet him, he is actually now…it’s after the events of “The Quiet House,” which is the second book in “Blue Billings” series. Will is now working for the viscount, who was introduced in the second series. And he has opened an occult bookshop and Will he’s working for him. But it’s very, very temporary to Will. He’s very much how Blue was at the beginning of his books, and he’s very closed off.
They’ve been through some terrible times. And he’s decided that he’s gonna move on. And into his life comes, Jem, the wildlife cameraman. And he was introduced in the second book. And he is on leave, he broke his leg and missed a year-long job in the Antarctic. And so, he’s found himself working for a group of YouTube ghost hunters. And he’s filming them. And he comes to York because he wants Blue’s help because he feels that the ghost hunters have bitten off more than they can chew.
And they actually have something that’s real here. And they’re investigating a very violent poltergeist haunting of the family in the house. And they’ve gone to investigate. So, he’s come for Blue’s help and Will ends up going with Jem to this house to help him and they’re sort of locked down. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the YouTube and the Discovery ghost hunting program?
Jeff: Those scare me too much. I’m a complete scaredy-cat.
Lily: I love them. I’m so addicted to them. I love them. And there’s literally lots of shrieking and shouting, and they’re quite, really, entertaining to watch. But yeah, so that’s very much the sort of thing that he comes into. But this house is…the poltergeist haunting is very real. And he finds himself in the dangerous situation of being in a house where his safety is compromised. But also, he’s in the house with somebody who he’s very attracted to and doesn’t want to be attracted to. So, that’s basically the premise of Will’s story.
Jeff: Where did the idea for this kind of come from as you were looking to build the story for Will?
Lily: Don’t know. I think it was the poltergeist actually. I’ve always been interested in poltergeist, and I liked the idea of it happening in a normal house. So, it’s not a historical house, it’s not a big mansion, you know, the way that we sometimes associate hauntings with this is the normal house with a normal family. And it’s just taking that element because it’s so out of the ordinary, do you know what I mean? You don’t really see it like that. We associate ghost hauntings and things like that with rattling chains and big old buildings. So, I quite liked that element of it, a good change.
Jeff: Reminds me of that movie from the 80s, “Poltergeist,” where it was just in the suburban family home that all of that went down.
Lily: Oh, my God, I’d forgotten all about that. I remember watching that when I was a kid. And do you remember when the mom went in to save her? And my mom always used to say, “Well, I don’t think I could have done that for you.”
Jeff: So much terror in that movie for me watching it in the theatre. I can’t even tell you.
Lily: It was the clown, it was the clown that did it.
Jeff: The clown, the tree, the mom going through. Yeah, the whole thing. It just was like…
Lily: Absolute, yeah. Yeah, that’s an old one.
Jeff: What was your favorite bit in writing this new book?
Lily: I think the spooky stuff, actually. I really, really enjoy writing that. Although, I usually get the ideas about 3:00 in the morning, which is not the best time to start thinking of really scary things.
Jeff: No, not at all.
Lily: No. It’s actually the worst time, but that’s when I get it. So, my husband sort of got used to me, suddenly jerking awake at 3:00 in the morning and tapping away on my phone with the, you know, the screen light on, so he’s got used to that. But yeah, I really liked exploring that frightening aspect and sort of blending it with this relationship. You know, because to me, if you’re writing anything like this, there’s got to be an even balance.
So, it can be a spooky story, but I’ve read loads of those, not…and then romance and things like that, you know, just generally. And I’ve always ended up feeling a little bit shortchanged with the relationship in some of the big blockbusters. And I just thought, well, you know, it’s got to be both. I can’t write a spooky story if there’s no relationship development. It’s got to have an equal billing so-to-speak.
So, I find that interesting. And it’s something that I’m very careful with when I’m writing. I’m always sort of thinking to myself, “Great, that’s spooky. But where’s my relationship bit now? You know, where’s this development? What’s happening with them?” So, yeah, it’s a very interesting books to write.
Jeff: I would imagine it must be similar to like, how authors of romantic suspense have to balance that suspense, the mystery, the thriller with the romance, you’re doing the same thing here.
Lily: Yeah, you’ve just constantly got to think, there’s got to be more happening than just that.
Jeff: So, you’ve still got “Blue Billings”. And now there’s the spin-off. Where do you see these two things moving forward? Are you done with “Blue Billings” or does it continue? And what more happens with the spin-off?
Lily: I’ve got the potential idea for a third “Blue Billings” book, but it’s not quite ready yet. It’s got to percolate in my head for a little bit longer. So, I’ve got the potential idea for a third one for him. I always leave a book with a happy ending. But the “Blue Billings” and Will’s books are a little bit more open-ended in that you can leave them knowing that they’re completely happy. But also, that there’s more to explore. And with Will, I’ve left things which can be explored if I want to.
Jeff: Very cool. Do you actually make research trips to York since you’ve got that whole kind of town sitting right there?
Lily: Yeah, yeah, I’ve been loads of time. I was at university in Leeds, which is near York. So, I used to go to York for weekends anyway. But, when I first started writing “Blue Billings,” my husband and I took a research trip for a week there. And then I’ll go back occasionally just to check up on things or to get ideas. And I went back recently, I did a meet with some readers. But I also did quite a bit of research for the third Blue book. So, it’s all there ready for me when I start to write it.
Jeff: I could just imagine you doing your own version of a ghost tour when you meet up with readers in York.
Lily: Do you know, it’s really weird. But, when I first started writing “Blue Billings,” “Blue Billings,” for saying the story is “The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings,” Blue Billings wasn’t even the main character. He wasn’t even a big character, what he was, was just a ghost tour leader that existed for exposition. So, he was gonna tell Levi the history of the house he was living in. And that was it, he would go. And, originally, the story was going to be about two men that were property developers and bought this house in sale, only to discover that it’s really, really haunted.
And I just, I couldn’t make it happen in my mind. I could see Levi really, really clearly, but I couldn’t see the other character. And I couldn’t even find a name for him, which is, if you’re a writer, you know, it, you sort of know, that’s it, they’re not coming forward. And we were booked to go for this week’s trip. And I said to my husband, “I don’t think it’s gonna be any good. I can’t make the story come together.” So, my husband loves these research trips. He was like, “No, we’ll just go, you know, we’ll go for a week, and you can have a look. And any research you do is not wasted, you know?”
And we went and on the second night, we went on a ghost tour and they’re brilliant. If anybody goes to it, you really have to, there’s so many of them. But my sort of husband was striding ahead. And I was sort of behind him a bit just looking and thinking. And we came to the house, which is actually, it does feature in the book, the story is a real story about a little girl that got locked in a house during the plague. But the windows are really low to the street. And I’m just sort of looking at it. And I was thinking, “God, I wouldn’t really want to live in a house like that. Imagine if you’re walking around naked, and you know, you open your curtains, and there’s a ghost tour.”
And instantly I thought, “Oh, my God, that’s how they meet.” And then the rest of the tour while this poor lady was talking, I was just poking along writing it in my head. And we got to an Italian restaurant afterwards and I wrote the first meeting between Blue and Levi on a menu. So, going on that ghost tour really changed everything because I just suddenly thought, it’s Blue that’s the main character. And that’s why he keeps cropping up. And that’s why I can’t see this other character. And once I thought that everything snapped into place, and it just happened.
Jeff: That’s amazing. And that you sat there and wrote it on the menu. I hope you still have the menu tucked away in your archives.
Lily: Yeah. My husband has it. My husband’s got it. He was just staring at me. And he was like, “Oh, my God. I can’t believe you’re doing this.”
Jeff: You never know when inspiration is gonna strike. That’s awesome.
Lily: You do not.
Jeff: Now last fall, which would be fall of 2021, you celebrated your fifth anniversary as a writer of m/m romance, which is amazing. Congratulations, a little bit late, but congratulations.
Lily: Thank you. Thank you, can’t believe it, five years.
Jeff: What got you started writing and as a writer of romance and gay romance?
Lily: I think, as a writer, we spend our lives with daydreams, don’t we? I would drift off and I would have a story running in my head. I would come out of films, and I would think, “Well, I really liked those characters, but I’d have done it differently.” You know what I mean? You’ve got these stories. And I was also a librarian. So, I worked with books, and I used to talk about it. And in the end, my mom and dad bought me a laptop for my birthday and on it was a note saying, “Okay, do it. You know, just do it.”
Jeff: Yay, mom and dad.
Lily: I know, I know. And I thought, “Do you know what? I’m going to. It’s something that I need to do.” So, I wrote the first one. And I wrote three books, which were an m/f series about a British rock band, “Beggar’s Choice.” And in the way I got into writing gay romance was, in the third book, which was the bass guitarist Bram’s book, I introduced his best friend Matt, who’s gay. And I absolutely adored Matt, I loved him. And you can always tell with me when a secondary character is gonna get something because I’ve given them all the best lines, and they keep popping up in scenes that they’re not supposed to be. They sort of take control.
And so, the book came out and I had a lot of requests for Matt’s book, and I thought, “I’m gonna write it.” You know, I’ve been reading gay romance for a long while. So, I thought, “I’m gonna write it. I really, really love him. I want to give him a story.” And originally, it was supposed to be a novella. And if anyone knows me, they know that I cannot…I can’t. I’m just terrible about writing shortees, it’s got to go long. And so, it got longer, and it became “Summer of Us,” which was Matt and John’s story, which was about two men who hated each other, who ended up stuck together in this villa in the south of France, where they were both working, and about how they came together over that summer and we’re together.
I think, I just felt, all of a sudden, like I had found my groove, you know? I think most writers say that. There’s one book where there’s a click, and it’s like, “I really love this.” Do you know what I mean?
Lily: When you first start writing can be really, really hard because it’s such an alien thing to do. And then, all of a sudden you hear a click, and “Summer of Us” was that for me. And I never really looked back and that was how I started.
Jeff: Are those m/f books published somewhere? Is that where your alternate pen name is? Or did you cast those to the side and just start with “Summer of Us”?
Lily: This is how brilliant I am. I took them about two years ago because I wanted to re-edit them and give them some new covers. I get them some new covers. And I’ve got the edits back and I’m still working through them. So, they will be republished.
Jeff: Oh, wonderful.
Lily: But just not at the moment. Yeah, I just wanted to tidy them up.
Jeff: Yeah, I understand how that goes. Because some of those, you look back at your older work and you’re like, “Hmm, maybe I should freshen those a bit.”
Lily: Absolutely. It’s sort of looking at them with your fingers over your eyes. It’s like, “Oh, and how I always want to read these.” But, yeah, they’ve been edited. And they’re just waiting for me to finish up with them. And then there’ll be back on market again.
Jeff: What were some of the earliest gay romances you were reading? Who are the authors who are responsible for getting you hooked on the genre?
Lily: I think I followed over with Ella Frank because I’d read her m/f series and then followed over into her “Try” series, which I loved. But I think I really, really loved Ben, was completely obsessed by the Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban, you know, the “Cut & Run” series? I absolutely loved that. Really loved it. Just lots of other different offers after that, but they were sort of the ones that pulled me in and hooked me.
Jeff: Where do you think your particular style of snark and banter came from?
Lily: I think that’s just me and it’s my family. My mum and dad were publicans in the 80s, they kept pubs. And my dad is one of the funniest men I’ve ever met. He’s really, really witty. And he was a real old-style landlord, very much a character. And with my dad, my sister always said, and I always said that, if you can make him laugh, he’s almost more proud of you than if you got academic qualifications. He loves being entertained and being made to laugh.
So, we sort of honed that. And then I married my husband, who’s an incredibly sarcastic man. And then we raised two sarcastic children. So, it’s part of the family. That’s the way we are. And it’s also a very British banter, that sort of thing.
Jeff: Yeah, there’s nothing better really than one of your books in audio with all of the proper accents going on and everything.
Lily: Well, I’m really lucky to have Joel do that because he’s amazing.
Jeff: He is a master of the accents.
Lily: Yeah. And, of humor. He’s got really, really good comic timing.
Jeff: Yes, that’s very true, too. And you need that, especially I think, when you’re, you know, playing all the characters, you’ve got to be able to strike that timing well.
Lily: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, he’s got the dialogue beats down and everything. He’s very, very good.
Jeff: Now, after “Summer of Us,” I mean, you really came out strong with a series that readers just adore with “Mixed Messages” and then “Finding Home.” Now for people who have not maybe met up with “Mixed Messages” yet, let’s start there and tell everybody what that series is about?
Jeff: Well, “Mixed Messages” is my contemporary romance series. It’s set in London, and it’s about a group of friends in London. The first book’s “Rule Breaker,” which is about the romance between a commitment-phobic, very grumpy boss, gay, and his extremely snarky assistant, Dylan. And they start a relationship together and it’s about the trials and tribulations of that.
The second book is “Deal Maker,” which is Dylan’s best friend, Jude, who is a model, but through a comedy of errors, ends up nannying for an actor, Asa Jacobs, and his little boy, Billy. And the third book is about Henry who is Gabe’s best friend, who’s a lawyer and his romance with Evo. And the two are former stepbrothers. So, there’s lots of snark. There’s lots of, there is a bit of anger.
Jeff: It’s such an amazing world that you created here because like I wanted to know all these people, even grumpy Gabe.
Lily: Thank you.
Jeff: But I have to say I think “Deal Maker” just stole my heart because some of those nannying moments and Jude and Asa, I just can’t even tell you, they’re just like, they shouldn’t have gotten together, but they did.
Lily: No, I loved writing that. I had such a lot of fun writing that. And I loved writing, Billy. I mean, at first, I was a little bit wary about writing a little boy because there were so many children into books, but I loved Billy. Actually, a lot of Billy’s moments are stolen from my children. They did a lot of those things and I remembered them. So, yeah, Billy is a little bit of a mixture of them.
Jeff: Do your children know that they’re basically written into books?
Lily: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, they’ll quite often face me, and I’ll get my notebook out and then, “Oh, mum, stop. Just stop.”
Jeff: You can’t do things like that around a writer because you’re apt to end up in the book. I mean, that’s just the way it goes.
Lily: Well, you are the material.
Jeff: How did you come up with “Mixed Messages?” And had you always planned that it would be a series? Or did it just kind of grow from “Rule Breaker?”
Lily: No, absolutely not. It was actually the series that was never meant to be a series. “Rule Breaker” was supposed to be standalone. And actually, before I wrote it, I was actually thinking of quitting writing altogether.
Jeff: Oh, no.
Lily: Yeah, yeah, it was…I had a very demanding job. I was a librarian, but I was also a Child Protection Officer. So, there were long hours, and it was very involved. And, I had…my two boys were quite young then. And I was sort of thinking to myself, “Am I being selfish taking this, you know, the time that could be theirs and I’m, you know, sort of scribbling away?” And I said to my husband, “You know, I’m thinking about quitting it.”
And he persuaded me not to, because he said, at the end of the day this is something for you. It’s not you as a mom, it’s not you as a wife, this is something that you really love, and you should carry on. And I thought, “Do you know what? I really, really wanted to write this book.” Well, I’d actually wanted to read a book about a boss and his assistant, and I wanted it to be sort of, you know, really fun, and there wasn’t a great deal about office romance at that time.
And I thought, do you know what? I’m just going to write it. And I’m gonna unleash all the snark, you know, and I absolutely loved writing it. But yeah, it was never meant to be a series. And then it came out and it was very successful. And, Leslie Copeland, my beta reader said to me, “What are you writing next?” And I was like, “Well, you know, you’re gonna carry on, what are you writing?” And I was like, “Well, I think I’ll write a second chance romance.” And she was like, “No, no, you’ve got to write Jude because there’s so much demand for Jude.” And then obviously, there was a demand for Henry. And that’s how the series grew. So, it was the series that was never intended.
Jeff: Leslie is such a great book whisperer, essentially.
Lily: She’s amazing.
Jeff: She’s like, “You need to go write that. Now you should go write that.”
Lily: I know. I know. And we all do if she tells us.
Lily: We absolutely do, yeah. She’s amazing. And she’s got a really good instinct. I only have her as my beta reader. I think probably because I’m so much of a people pleaser, if I had lots of beta readers, I would never ever finish a book. But Leslie has this unerring instinct. And she will say, like, “That works. That doesn’t work. This needs, you know.” And I trust her. So, yeah, she’s brilliant.
Jeff: You mentioned you were a child protection officer. That’s a heavy-duty job.
Lily: Yeah, it is. Yeah. And it was combined with being a librarian because obviously, I was a school librarian for a long while. And if you work in a school, libraries are a safe spot. And it’s a good place for spotting problems, you know what I mean, when the kids come in. And yeah. I was that for a number of years. And it is a very worthwhile job, but really hard.
Jeff: I can’t even imagine. I could also see the writing as being kind of the turn your brain off from that even for a few minutes.
Lily: Yeah, I tended to write…because I was a school librarian, I tended to write in the school holidays because I can switch my brain off from it, then, you know, and that’s how I wrote for a number of years. And then, obviously, I packed up to go full-time writing a couple of years ago.
Jeff: Which is awesome to be able to make that transition.
Lily: So, wonderful. I’m very, very, very lucky. I’ve got some wonderful readers, and I’m very lucky to be doing it because it’s an amazing job.
Jeff: Now, as you came out of “Mixed Messages” you started up “Finding Home.” Where were you looking to kind of take your writing after you’d done the three “Mixed Messages” books?
Lily: I think there was…after I wrote “Risk Taker,” there was a huge demand for Silas because Silas was Henry’s brother, who was an earl living in Cornwall. Again, I’m gonna actually give you the impression that I don’t know what I’m doing. But I do. I wrote the “Mixed Messages” series. I was going to write another series, another book. And we’d gone to Cornwall to do some research for that.
So, I did all the research and I’d sort of put Silas’ book… I knew I wanted to write it, but I sort of put that on the backburner. And I thought I’ll just write something between. And, on the last day of the research, we got a free day, and we were sitting down to breakfast, and my husband was talking to somebody. And I just picked up this old guidebook, and it was an old national just property near the bed and breakfast that we were staying in.
And I said to my husband, “Oh, should we just go and have a look?” Because I knew that Silas was an earl. And I knew that he, you know, he lived in Cornwall, and I thought, well, you know, that I can kill two birds with one stone while I’m down here. And I can do a bit of research and see if I can find the setting. And we went, and it was the most beautiful house I’ve ever been to. And I think some places have this amazing atmosphere and it was so tranquil, peaceful, and beautiful.
And we sat in the lavender garden, and I don’t know if you heard us or read us. There is a scene in the lavender garden where it is in Londoner, this quite brash Londoner has come down from the has come from his pub in London to Cornwall, and he’s sitting in the garden. It’s where he meets Silas for the first time. He isn’t aware he’s the earl that he’s meeting. But that’s for the edge. And we were sitting in the garden, and I had that scene just came into my head full Technicolor and I saw it all in my head. And we literally got back to the B&B and I wrote the first chapter of this book there and then. And the book went very quickly after that. It’s probably one of the quickest I’ve ever written a book. But it just flowed.
Jeff: Your research trips are amazing.
Lily: They are, aren’t they? My husband loves them. The other week, he was like, “Shall we go to the Caribbean? You should set a book in the Caribbean?” I was like, “No, we’re going to Wales.”
Jeff: Caribbean, Wales, there’s a big difference there.
Lily: Yeah. Obviously, the weather is completely similar. But no, I love our research. And my husband’s really good to go and research because he just talks to everyone, everyone he meets, anyone. And he’s really lively and very interested. So, they are lovely actually. I love doing research.
Jeff: When’s the Wales trip happening?
Lily: In a few weeks.
Jeff: Nice. Do you have a book you’re thinking of to research there? Or is this more about going to Wales to see what manifests?
Lily: I’m thinking of setting something there. Yeah, the whole book won’t be set there, but some of it will be. And I like to get things set in my head. And I actually, it’s very valuable if you’re doing something to actually be able to go there and write the impressions down. I think it makes the scene come alive if you’re actually sitting there and writing it down.
Jeff: That’s amazing. I need to do more research trips.
Lily: You do, you do the Caribbean, obviously.
Jeff: For sure. Yeah, because the weather would be awesome.
Lily: Just give us a show.
Jeff: Now, we’ve got some questions from our Patreon community. And this first one from Rhonda, pretty sure that, you know, we’ve touched on this just a little bit, because Rhonda asks, “Many of your books interconnect through siblings and friends and relationships. How much of this is planned versus a secondary character demanding a book?”
Now, of course, you’ve already mentioned that often you see the secondary characters, and they get all the best lines. But then I come back to what you said about “Mixed Messages,” for example, that it was the series that was never meant to be, and yet, you’d kind of set Jude up at the same time. So, how has all that maybe evolved through the years that you’ve been writing from not, you know, having a standalone to now, you know, looking forward to how things might pan out?
Lily: I don’t know. I mean, I think still, sometimes secondary characters will suddenly have very loud voices all of a sudden. And you, you know, you listen. And if they intrigue me, if they interest me, then they’ll either get a short story or a full book. And so, that part of it can’t be planned. It just sort of happens. Do you know? It’s sort of magic, really. But then you’ve got other series where it’s completely planned.
So, for instance, the “Close Proximity” series is a three-book series set around this sort of mixed group of people and friends. But the entire series was planned to culminate with the third book. So, in the first, which was Felix’s and Max’s book, when we first meet Felix and Max, they are exes, they have split up, they’re very, very snarky towards one another. We don’t know why they split up. But it’s very obvious that Max wants Felix back and Felix does not want Max back.
And so, it’s the hope of the “Close Proximity” series. There’s three books in them and the first two, “Best Man” and “Charlie Sunshine,” I always wanted to feed the reader this thing that was happening in the background, you know, this relationship that had come to an end and it was playing out in the back of the other people’s story. That was my entire aim, that when we got to the third one, you’d be able to see, in full, what happened and what happens after that. So, yeah, the “Close Proximity” series was very planned around that, it wasn’t an accident.
Jeff: I like how it all seems very organic. Sometimes they crop up. Sometimes it’s a bit of magic. Sometimes it’s planned.
Lily: I think that’s the best way to be honest. You just go with the flow. Well, it is for me, anyway. It might drive somebody else, you know, crazy, but for me, it’s fine.
Jeff: And, of course, as long as it works for you, that’s all that really matters, right?
Jeff: Yeah. I think that’s one of the things we always learned about writing, what works for one may not work for the other, and vice versa.
Lily: Absolutely. I think that’s the most valuable advice you can give for anyone. You may look and pick up good ways of practice, you know, but to focus on what suits you and don’t try to do what other people do because it might not suit you. You get your own instincts in the end. If you write long enough, you get your own instincts as to what will work, what won’t work. And sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong, but I think you’re better going off your own.
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. Good advice for any of the writers out there listening. Rhonda also is curious if you use a series or universe bible to keep track of everything or some other way that you keep track of your series and how everything fits together.
Lily: I don’t use one for my contemporary rom coms at all. That’s all in my head. And it’s pretty easy to keep in my head actually, the connections are all there. But for the “Blue Billings” series and Will’s new series, yes, I do. I have somebody do a series bible for me. And they are invaluable when you’re writing. And it’s like, I can’t remember what color eyes he has. I can’t remember this. It’s all there for you and it’s just so handy.
So, yeah, I mean, I’ve literally been looking at mine this morning because I wanted to check something for Will’s story. And the information is there whereas before I’d have, you know, had to trawl through the whole book trying to find something. So, yeah, I do use them for those because the plots are very, very complicated.
Jeff: Is part of that because of the world-building around the paranormal universe?
Lily: Yeah, definitely. And there’s a lot of connections there. And there’s a lot of things that happened that I want to keep her. You also don’t want to duplicate anything because sometimes that’s easy to do. You know, if you wrote a book two years ago, sometimes it comes to you and you think, “Well, that’s a really good idea.” And then you think “Oh, no, I did it in the first book.”
Jeff: We’ve also got a couple of questions from Katie. The first one is, “Do you write what you want, even if you think people won’t like it? Or do you try to write to an audience?” And I suspect “Blue Billings” factors into this question a little bit.
Lily: I always write what I want to read. I have never deviated from that. I mean, you’re always aware, as a writer, that you’re writing to an audience, but I prefer not to think too much about that. Because I think it can sort of stop you in your tracks a bit. And I write that I want to read because I can’t be passionate about two characters day-in-day-out if I’m not interested in their story, you know? And so, I always, always write what I want to read, and what, you know, what feels good.
Jeff: Which works well for the reader because if you hadn’t written what you wanted to read, we might not have “Rule Breaker.”
Lily: Yeah, absolutely. That’s the prime example of it. I wanted to read it, I couldn’t find it. And I thought, you know, I’m just gonna write it. So, yeah, I write what I want to read.
Jeff: And Katie is also curious about differences between the UK and U.S. in the romance audiences. Is there anything particular that you’ve noticed that like U.S. readers love or hate versus what the UK readers are looking for?
Lily: I don’t think there is really. We’re all just romance readers at the end of the day. I think there will probably be small things that American readers don’t like and British readers do. But on the whole, you know, they’re just exactly the same. They want the happy ever after, they want nice journey together, that sort of thing.
Jeff: Yeah, I think the one thing that might mess up the U.S. readers is occasionally those British spellings.
Jeff: In a British-set book, I think they have to be there.
Lily: Absolutely. Yeah, I do get the odd email. And if you write for Amazon, you have a dashboard with Amazon, on the KDP dashboard. And readers are allowed to suggest things that you’ve done wrong. And I think most British writers at one point or another have had somebody go through their book, and I certainly have, saying, “This is spelt wrong.” And it’s like, “No, no, it isn’t. That’s British spelling. And I am British.”
Jeff: And the books were set in Britain.
Lily: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, so please don’t ever do that. Because what happens is that Amazon then puts the thing on your books saying there are issues. And that issue could be somebody just thinking that you’re not spelling things properly, and you are. So, yeah, that there’s a difference with the spelling. But, again, I don’t get it that often. And I’m sure there are pop culture references that American readers won’t necessarily get to start of with. But obviously, my characters are English, and it would be silly to get the references that wouldn’t ring true. But, you know, I use a lot of, an awful lot of American romance. And if I see something that I don’t understand, I’ll look it up, you know? And even if I don’t feel that it’s particularly important, I’ll just keep reading. So, I think on the whole, that’s what happens.
Jeff: And sometimes you find fun things if you look up British pop culture, you’ll go find something new to watch on Netflix or something.
Lily: Absolutely, yeah. Yeah, you do. You do get a lot of it. Yeah. And there’s always, in my Facebook group, there was always a debate going on about cakes and biscuits and things like that, you know, what we English eat and what the Americans eat. So, there’s always a debate going on in there about it.
Jeff: Yeah, I ended up with so many questions after I’ve binged so much British Bake Off during the pandemic. All the different things we call things, and it was…
Lily: Yeah, biscuits, biscuits, we’ve just had that. That’s the difference between biscuits and cookies because biscuits to us is a sweet biscuit whereas, I think your biscuits are very similar to our scones.
Jeff: A little bit, yeah, yeah.
Lily: Yeah. Yeah, there’s a definite difference there. And, jumpers, somebody said the other day, “You know your characters are always wearing a jumper. What is it?” Because you say sweater, don’t you?
Jeff: Yes. Yeah, it took me a while to figure out what that was. Was the jumper the sweater or some combination of the outfit, or?
Lily: Yeah, absolutely. It was so funny because everyone was showing pictures of what they thought it was. And it’s like, “Oh, no, no, it’s a sweater.”
Jeff: Yeah, and trainers I think are sneakers.
Lily: They are. Yeah, we always say trainers.
Jeff: And that just makes it fun, the differences like that, at least I find them fun.
Lily: I said that. I actually said that in the group. I love the fact that we have all these differences, and you find things out all the time in books. That’s what books should do.
Jeff: Yes, says the librarian. So, we all have to listen to you about that.
Lily: Yeah, passionately, yeah. I loved being a librarian.
Jeff: Now, Rebecca is a self-proclaimed audiobook addict and “Rule Breaker” is one of her all-time favorites. Rebecca wants to know if you have any audio news of things that are coming out.
Lily: I do. Joe will have finished recording “After Felix.” He’s done an amazing job with it. That’s actually…it’s one of my own favorites, that story. So, he’s done full justice to it. It’s wonderful. And then he’s recording five other audiobooks this year for me, and I’ve just got to finalize what they are.
Jeff: Wow, five others. So, Rebecca’s gonna have a lot to listen to this year?
Lily: Yes, indeed, yes.
Jeff: Now, your last book from 2021, or at least one of your final books because you did have your holiday story.
Lily: I did, yeah.
Jeff: “The Cuckoo’s Call” was one of Joyfully Jay’s most favorite books of last year. And when she was on the show back in December, she said, “A lot of times Lily’s stuff is very snarky and bantery, which I absolutely love. But this one is a little bit less so and I think it just had a warmth to it that was really nice.” So, how did you approach writing Wren and Matteo and kind of what made it into something that you kind of broke away from the snark and the banter?
Lily: I love Jay. She’s been so good to me, so supportive? I think that… Well, it’s because of the characters. For me, humor is very much driven by the characters rather than characters being driven by the humor. And I don’t think it works if it’s not convincing. I think that if you give your characters humor that isn’t in keeping with them, it can make the humor unbelievable and therefore not funny.
So, I’m always very, very careful with that. I will literally, on my first read through the first draft, I will always think, “Does that work?” And I take out an awful lot and put an awful lot in? But it’s constantly, you know, “Is this the right pop culture reference to this character? Would he say this? Would he do this?” So “Cuckoo” was very much a different book, and the characters are very different in that Wren is a very young man who’s had a terrible childhood that has somehow come out this very endearing young man who has this steadfast ability that things are gonna be okay.
You know, he has this hope. And then we have indirect contrast. We have Mateo who has had every material advantage that you can possibly have. You know, he’s the heir to a hotel empire. He’s a lot older than Wren, but he’s also very, very cynical because of his own upbringing, so he’s in direct contrast. And these two men come together in Majorca through a series of events. And you can see them fall in love, but you can also see Wren gentling Mateo and smoothing down those edges without Mateo seeing it. So, the humor reflects that.
It’s still there. It’s a gentler humor because the characters and their romance is gentler. It isn’t so sharp because it wouldn’t have worked.
Jeff: Did you get a research trip into Majorca?
Lily: No, it was right in the middle of the… This is why it was set in Majorca because we’ve been there loads and Can Picafort, which is where it’s predominately sat, is somewhere that we’ve visited many times. So, I was pregnant with my boys visiting there and we’ve been back. So, I actually really knew the area. But at that point, when I wrote it, you couldn’t really travel. Travel was pretty banned in the UK. So, the “Cuckoo” is set both in Majorca and Venice because they’re two places I already knew well.
Jeff: Nice, you didn’t get to take immediate research trips, but you’d been there before.
Jeff: So, had the basis and the understanding.
Lily: Mr. Morton, very upset about it.
Jeff: The last couple of years you’ve also done holiday books. You had “Merry Measure” at the end of 2020. You did “On a Midnight Clear” last year. Is this going to become a thing, the Lily Morton Christmas book?
Lily: Do you know, I quite like it. I really do. I’m not saying it’s always easy because usually when you write a Christmas book it’s June, July. And my neighbors, initially, I think raised their eyebrows because they’ve got sort of Wham’s “Last Christmas” pounding out of my office in the middle of a heatwave. But I really do like them. There’s a different way of writing a Christmas book. There’s much less angst. And so yeah, I’m definitely planning another one. I hope that I can do it, you know, that I can fit it in, but I’m definitely planning another one for Christmas this year.
Jeff: And besides potentially a Christmas book, and this new “Blue Billings” spin-off, what else can we expect from you this year?
Lily: I’ve got another short story collection coming out after the Will book. Basically, when I write a book, I always write an extra short story or two for the readers to say thank you. And they usually go on my website and my group or newsletter special. After a couple of years, I’ll bind them all together. So, they’re in one place. So, a lot of the close books into extra stories are going into that and I’m writing some extra ones. I’m doing one to Max and Laurie. There’s a few, they’ll be a few extra stories. So, that’s next, and then I’d want to not look at a follow-up to “Cuckoo,” which will be Alfie and Enzo’s story.
Jeff: Oh, that’s exciting that you’re gonna turn “Cuckoo” into a bit of a series.
Lily: I’ve had a lot of requests. And, again, that’s another example of characters taking light. You know, I’ve had so many requests for their story from my readers. So, yeah, I already know their story. I just need to flesh it out of a bit first.
Jeff: And, hopefully, you can go somewhere fun for that research trip too.
Lily: I hope so, but not the Caribbean.
Jeff: No, not the Caribbean, at least not this year, maybe.
Jeff: So, as we wrap up here, I’d love to know a book that you’ve read recently that you would recommend to our listeners.
Lily: I’ve read, I’m gonna tease a bit because it’s not out yet. And I beta read Hailey Turner’s first book in her new series, which is “The Prince’s Poisoned Vow,” and it’s absolutely amazing. I’m not teasing it too much because it’s out in May, anyway, but it is absolutely amazing. Have you read any of Hailey’s books?
Jeff: I have. I mean, Hailey doesn’t even write in a genre that I tend to read a lot, but the way that she does it, yeah, I’m very into that.
Lily: Amazing, the “Soulbound” series was amazing. It was a brilliant freaking series. But this one is her steampunk fantasy series. And, again, I’m like you, that is not something that I usually read, but I absolutely couldn’t put it down. She does such epic world-building, and her characters are so brilliant. And it’s so clever. It really is. So, if anyone’s looking for it in May, it’s out in May, and it’s amazing. I would highly recommend that.
Jeff: Yeah, and I think you touched on what Hailey does so well too, because anything that requires world-building I’m a little leery of because it takes some deft hand to build your world and not make me feel like I’m getting the info dump, you know, and she just gets it beautifully.
Lily: It’s effortless, isn’t it? It’s very, very good. I’m in awe of what she does with that because it’s very, very clever and it takes a lot of work. But yeah, this is another fantastic series. And I beta read for her, anyway, so I’m quite lucky.
Jeff: So, how can people keep up with you online? What are the best ways so that they get all the news as things roll out this year?
Lily: I’m on Twitter and Instagram. I’m more active in Facebook, and in particular, my group “Lily’s Snark Squad.” I’m active every day in there, and I share everything in there first, cover news, new book news, question and answer sessions. And my characters I write for the group, I write short stories. So, I’m mostly in there, but also my website, which is lilymortonauthor.com. Again, everything goes on there. So, if you’re looking for anything, it’s an hour-long with some extra short stories and things like that.
Jeff: Fantastic. And if ever there was an aptly named group, it is Lily’s Snark Squad.
Lily: I love my group so much. They’re absolutely wonderful. It’s the real highlight of my day going in there because they are a lovely bunch of people.
Jeff: Lily, it has been amazing talking to you. Thank you for spending some time with us and talking about all these wonderful books.
Lily: Thanks for having me.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. The show notes page also has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
And if you’d like even more gay fiction recommendations, Jeff and I put together “Happily Ever After,” a free ebook full of reviews and suggested romance reads. You’ll get it when you sign up for the Rainbow Romance Reader Report, our weekly podcast newsletter. To learn more and to get your free ebook, go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/report.
Jeff: Thanks again to Lily for coming to talk to us about “The Sceptic,” which as a reminder, comes out on May 26th. As you heard, I’m a bit of a scaredy cat, so it’s not really clear if I’m going to be able to pick up these books, even though they sound really good. Honestly, just talking about the movie “Poltergeist” for those few minutes gave me some serious flashbacks to watching that in the theater and the shutters that came with it.
Will: All right. I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next in episode 379, we’re going to be diving into the supernatural once again, as we recap more of “Dante’s Cove” season two.
Jeff: Yes. I’m looking forward to our discussion for this month. So much crazy and sexy things are going on to the Cove.
Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself, we want to thank you so much for listening, and we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kind of stories we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Production assistance by Tyson Greenan. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.