I am very excited to share my interview with Alys Murray! Alys has recently published The Christmas Company, which is her first book with
About Alys Murray
A New Orleans native, Alys studied at New York University and King’s College London. While living abroad, Alys met her now-fiancé— which by the way, you all NEED to go listen to the proposal story she shares on The Bubbly Sesh podcast. It is its own Hallmark story romance! And although Alys is living abroad in London, she’ll always be a southern girl at heart. You can read more about Alys on her website: www.alysmurray.com.
Interview with Alys Murray
How did you get your start as a writer? Did you always have a passion for storytelling?
I definitely have always had a passion for storytelling. All of my life, I’ve devoured books and stories, but I went to college as a theatre major because I thought I’d channel my storytelling energy as a theatre director. However, as a directing student, I was forced to take a few playwriting classes, discovered I really loved writing, and eventually tried my hand at novel writing. From there, I discovered that I really loved writing romance stories and The Christmas Company was the third full manuscript I’d completed!
Tell us what the writing process was like for The Christmas Company. I understand you had it set in England originally. Was it hard to let that go?
This is such a funny question because the process of writing The Christmas Company started a full year before I sat down to actually write it! My university in London was actually housed in a collection of historic Georgian and Victorian townhouses, complete with bannistered staircases and chandeliers and fireplaces, so one day, I was in a class (daydreaming, as one does when the professor is on his seventh lecture about how the EU parliament works…) and started daydreaming about a romance story set during a Victorian Christmas. I had this image of a moneylender who’d foreclosed on a young woman’s estate at Christmas time, only to find that she’d taken over his house and set it up for Christmas, arguing that he’d taken her house for Christmas, so it was only fair that she get to take his. I loved the idea, but since I came up with it literally two weeks before Christmas, I just wrote it down in a notebook and put it away, thinking I would go back to it at a time when I could market it and sell it, either through indie channels or traditional publishing ways.
Then, when I eventually did go back and try to write the historic, Victorian version of the story, the main character, Catherine, kept speaking in a very modern, very American voice…It took a few attempts at writing the first chapter for me to realize I had the perfect two characters, but the wrong setting! And once I started writing about Miller’s Point, I couldn’t stop and the story flowed out in just twenty days!
As far as letting the setting and time period go, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. However, I think that including the Dickensian elements of the story helped to soften the blow of such a change, because I was able to keep so much of the beauty and tradition that I love while embracing modern elements.
Speaking of letting things go, how do you handle the editing process as a writer? (In college, I loved my writing classes, but I struggled with the fear of rejection and while I appreciated my classmates and professors critiques, I didn’t love getting my work “ripped apart.” Even though I totally enjoyed the editing process from the editor standpoint!)
I’m one of those very strange writing creatures who lives for the editing process. As a part of my playwriting training, every time you wrote new pages, you’d hand them off to someone else and get their feedback, which meant that there was never enough time to get “precious,” about your work. Because of that, I developed a love for editing because it meant that my work was getting better. Every time someone made a suggestion or told me what wasn’t working was an opportunity to improve, to find new ways of telling the story and to make things clearer and more beautiful. So, in short, I really love the editing process!
But beyond that, the editors at Hallmark Publishing are some of the most transparent, generous and passionate editors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, so they made it fun to go back and fix my work!
When you write, do you visualize your characters and the setting? If you do visualize your characters, are there certain actors/actresses that come to mind for Clark and Kate? (For Kate, I picture Lacey Chabert or Jen Lilley. For Clark, I’d have to say Ryan McPartlin from Chance at Romance.)
I absolutely do! I even draw out maps or floorpans of the locations and have a complete floorplan of the manor in The Christmas Company and a full map (complete with street names and shop names!) of Miller’s Point. When I was writing this book, I had pretty clear ideas of who I wanted for Kate and Clarke, but once the book was officially bought by Hallmark, the gears in my head started turning about the Hallstars! I’m definitely Team Ali Liebert for Kate and Cole Gleason for Clarke, but all of the Hallstars are amazing, so if it ever does become a film, I know Hallmark will find amazing actors to portray them!
Do you ever model your characters after people you know in real life? In The Christmas Company, Clark is the 21st century Scrooge. But what about Kate? Is she modeled after someone?
I don’t really base my characters off of people I know in real life! My fiancé always likes to joke that the romantic leads in my book are ALL based off of him, but besides that, I don’t really like to model my characters off of real people. I do take inspiration from literature and from commonly loved and held tropes, so for all of the Harry Potter fans out there, Kate and Clark were described in the first page of my brainstorming notebook for this book as, “The ultimate Hufflepuff/Slytherin romance.”
Do you know of any in-real-life Christmas Companies or towns like Miller’s Point? I’d love to visit a town that turns into a Dickens village for the season!
Yes! This is actually more common than I thought! I did a ton of research into towns with similar festivals, and then combined what I learned about those festivals with immersive theatre traditions like “Sleep No More,” which is an immersive production of Macbeth. Galveston, Texas has something called Dickens on the Strand; Garrison, North Dakota has The Dickens Village Festival; and even Portsmouth, England hosts one in their dockyards every year!
Will we see a sequel? Or a series maybe? I’d love to know how Clark handles the next Christmas with Kate and I’d love to see a romance between Michael and Emily!
Fingers crossed! Nothing is official yet and I can’t say too much, but if you’re interested in a Christmas Company wedding and some matchmaking between Michael and Emily, hopefully you wouldn’t be disappointed!
Can you tease any upcoming projects you’re working on?
Yes! I currently have two book series out on submission—one is about a large family who owns a flower farm in Northern California, and the other is about the royal family of a small European country and the Americans all of the siblings fall in love with. I’m currently writing a romance between a high-brow Shakespearean actor forced to star in a superhero movie and the comic book expert he hires to teach him all about the character he’s playing! I’m also working on two proposals for Christmas stories for Hallmark, so fingers crossed!
Thank you, SO much, Alys! I am so glad we’ve connected over social media and I am excited to follow you and your upcoming novels. Best of luck and here’s to hoping for The Christmas Company movie in 2019! 🙂
You can follow Alys on Twitter and Instagram at @writeralys.