A bestselling romance writer: Off the clock with Jenny Hall

Romance writer Jenny Hall

Jenny Hall, Senior Communications Officer

Jenny has been at the University of Toronto (U of T) for 12 years.

What do you do off the clock?

I publish romance novels under the pen name Jenny Holiday. I write contemporary romance set in Toronto and historical romance set in early 19th century England.

How did you first become interested in novel writing?

I didn’t discover romance novels until I was in my 30s. Of course I knew they existed, but like a lot of people, I thought they were fluffy, silly and formulaic — literature lite.

That embarrasses me to admit now, because in reading and writing romance, I’ve discovered an amazing feminist community of people who love stories. But until I actually picked up a romance, I had no idea. Once I did, I proceeded to read truckloads of them.

At some point, I put one down and thought, “Hey, I’m already a writer. How hard can this be?” Of course, the gods did smite me for my hubris because it turned out writing a book that people actually wanted to read was a wee bit harder than I’d anticipated! My first book was — rightly — rejected by everyone and their mother. But my second book got me a literary agent, and she sold that book (and subsequent ones) and here I am.

How do you find the time to write?

I get asked this a lot, and I usually jokingly answer that I don’t watch TV. But it’s part of the actual answer. I once read an interview with the American writer and radio man Garrison Keillor. He was answering questions from readers, and a young man who wanted to be a writer asked how he was supposed to become a writer if he had to simultaneously work another job to make money. Keillor said, “Stop watching TV and you’ll get 25 per cent of your life back.” I always remembered that, and it really has proven true for me. And I love TV, so this is actually a sacrifice.

I guess the wider point is that there’s more time available than you think if you decide to prioritize something. I write religiously at lunch and in the evenings, and I spend most of my U of T vacation days working on job #2. But it is a trade-off: not only do I not watch TV, other things don’t get done.

What (or who) inspires or influences your work?

When I started, it was writers I admired. Two of my all-time favourites were (and still are) Courtney Milan and Kristan Higgins. I’m still inspired by writers, but now I also hear from readers, which is the coolest thing ever. There’s nothing more inspiring than having a reader write to ask when the next book is coming out.

Submitted by Mel Racho, web developer at University of Toronto Communications