Elizabeth Rolls Interview

Today the Riskies welcome back Elizabeth Rolls. Elizabeth was our guest last November when she talked about her novella A Soldier’s Tale in the Regency Christmas Anthology, Mistletoe Kisses.

She’s back to tell us about A Compromised Lady, available this month in bookstores.

Elizabeth Rolls was born in Kent, but moved to Australia at the age of fifteen months. She has lived in Australia ever since, except for a few years in Papua New Guinea as a child. Elizabeth taught music for several years and took a masters degree in musicology. Alternating between Melbourne and Sydney for a while, Elizabeth and her husband have fled the city for five acres surrounded by apple and cherry orchards in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. They share this paradise with their two sons, three slightly demented sheep, four alpacas and a collection of cats and dogs, as well as a colony of bats who reside in the air vents of Elizabeth’s study.

Tell us about A Compromised Lady.

Er, right. Tell you about The Book From Hell. How long have you got? No, just kidding. About the how long bit. A Compromised Lady has a chequered history. It took several drafts and far too long to write. It has a quiet, scholarly hero, a heroine with a Very Big Secret and an over-protective brother, who might one day get his own story, an interfering godmother and potential scandal.

How did you think of writing this particular book? Did it start with a character, a setting, or some other element?

For this book I started with a character; Richard Blakehurst. I knew after finishing His Lady Mistress that I had to write Richard’s story. At first after all the angst of HLM I was determined to write a romp, but Richard insisted on falling in love with Thea, and it turned out to be anything but a romp! All sorts of dark stuff kept popping out all over the place.

Tell us more about your characters. What or who inspired them?

I honestly have no idea what inspires my characters. They seem to stroll onto the scene fully formed. Of course they don’t reveal all their secrets to me at once. A lot of my writing process involves discovering their secrets as I go. I do tend to write wounded heroines I’ve noticed. They often have been isolated in some way and have to learn to trust. I’ve no idea why this is the case. Thea appeared wearing grey and it took me quite a while to find out why. At first I thought it was because she was a companion or governess and tried writing the story that way, but it just didn’t work. Nothing worked until I found out her secret.

As for Richard, he was, to an extent, fully formed from His Lady Mistress. In some ways that makes things easier, because you already know the character, but in other ways it complicates things. You have to choreograph your dance around a relatively fixed point. He was always much quieter and easier going than his twin Max, probably as a foil to Max’s more emotional temperament. This meant that he was harder to stir to passion. He needed Thea and all her baggage to bring him to life. Otherwise he was just going to find a nice comfortable wife and sit on the North Downs breeding sheep and reading for the rest of his life!

One character I really enjoyed in this book was Lady Arnsworth, Richard’s aunt and godmother, who is also Thea’s godmother. She was a bit of a baddie in His Lady Mistress and I had a lot of fun redeeming her.

Your heroine has a secret. How did you use this secret to build anticipation for the reader?

Ack! Thea’s secret! She jolly well kept it dark from me for long enough, so I figured it could be a secret for my readers for a while too! Thea’s secret is something that has wounded her so deeply she tries not to think about it. So much so that she has buried part of herself. She believes that she has put it behind her, that she is ready to go on, so it is only when circumstances force the issue into the open that we find out anything about it. Took me a while to work that bit out too. So the revelation for the reader comes bit by bit as Thea is forced to face her past. If it builds anticipation for the reader then that is a good thing. Really I was just going with Thea’s character and emotional baggage. Of which last she has quite a bit.

Did you run across anything new and unusual while researching this book?

Yes! I found out about Miss Banks collection of ephemera! Sarah Sophia was the sister of Sir Joseph Banks the naturalist who sailed with Captain James Cook and she collected Everything. And I mean everything; her collection included coins, medals and printed and engraved ephemera – trade cards, visiting cards, admission tickets, invitations, you name it. All nineteen thousand items of it. I’d bought a book on the history of the British Museum because of Richard’s interest in antiquities, and she was mentioned briefly because all that stuff ended up at the Museum. That was the origin of Thea’s collection of odds and ends.

What do you think is the greatest creative risk you’ve taken in this book? How do you feel about it?

Hard to say really.

I think readers may not like Richard’s initial reaction when he discovers the entire truth. It is something he has to work through and I honestly think his reaction is not only true to the times, but true to his character. Probably true to a lot of men. In fact many men wouldn’t be able to make the decision Richard finally makes. At the end of the day though, it’s my story to tell.

Also I know people often don’t like stories where one character keeps a secret from another. They seem to think that puts the secret-keeping character beyond redemption. So readers, be warned; Thea is keeping the mother and father of all secrets from Richard. But considering what the secret is and that she really has no intention of marrying Richard, I think it is perfectly understandable. I can’t second-guess reader reaction. Trying to do so would leave me with a story like last week’s custard. Which is a reflection on my own process, not the readers!
Is there anything you wanted to include in the book that you (or your CPs or editor) felt was too controversial and left out?

Not in this story. Of course my editor did nix the condom in A Soldier’s Tale. And after Diane went to all the trouble of photographing the thing in the British Museum! To be honest, my editor’s comments are usually pretty positive. On the rare occasion she has asked me to remove something, it’s been something I’m not dead happy about myself. (Except for the condom. I liked the condom.) Without her patience and encouragement I’d still be floundering in the second half of this book. Which is why I dedicated it to her.

Can you talk a little bit about your background, and how it helps or doesn’t in your writing?

It’s hard to say specifically what helps. In a way, everything helps. You just use what’s to hand. That’s part of what shapes and drives the stories you tell. My background as a music history teacher means that I have a basic grasp of history. And my whole family likes history. The main thing is that we are all readers. Every last one of us. There were books all over the house when I was a kid, and no one ever thought it was strange that I liked writing stories. They were a bit surprised when I did a degree in music with a singing major, but they coped.

One thing that really helps is that I have a memory for odd details. This drives my husband insane, but it’s very handy as a writer, because lots of snippets are stored away up there and they pop out when needed.

What is your writing process? Are you a pantster or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

A bit of both really. I do plot madly, and then the whole thing morphs under me. This story certainly did. Rather like a dream where you’re riding a horse that changes into a tiger while you’re aboard. At least it still had four legs and a tail. Just the teeth were a shock. I tend to write a couple of reasonably complete drafts, but I do clean up a bit as I go.

My whole process has changed over the last couple of books. I used to do the entire thing on the computer, but now I find I just freeze staring at the screen. I didn’t know what was wrong for ages and kept forcing myself to sit in the chair, telling myself that this was work and I had to do it and getting more and more stuck until at last I had a fully blown case of writer’s block. I bought a second hand Alphasmart from Harlequin Presents auther Trish Morey and tried that, but it was even worse. With the small screen I couldn’t seem to keep the story thread going.

I’d realised a while back that when I was scribbling plot ideas, scenes would often flower in the middle of my notes, forming dialogue and action. More often than not I’d continue with the scene and it would end up in the book. The final scenes of the novella The Prodigal Bride in A Regency Invitation were written entirely in a notebook, and several key scenes from my Christmas novella A Soldier’s Tale.

Recently I heard Jenny Crusie speak on the subject of freezing out The Girls in the Basement by insisting on Working, instead of giving yourself Permission to Play. This freezes all the creative juices. Lightbulb moment. I understood that I’d been fighting my own creative process in the interests of so-called efficiency, by trying to work straight onto the computer. Now I’m going with the flow and getting the scenes down in a notebook, after which I type them up and edit as I go. And if you think that makes sense, then God help you. The moral of the story is; know your own creative process and Don’t Mess With It! That’s probably more than anyone wanted to know, but you did ask. It’s working for me and that’s all I need.

What is next for you?

At the moment I’m finishing up Julian, Lord Braybrook’s story. He comes into both His Lady Mistress and A Compromised Lady, although his role is much bigger in the latter. This happened sort of accidentally, because parts of his story were written while I was struggling with Richard and Thea, so he kept leaking into their story. In the end he was quite useful so I let him stay. I’m hoping to have his story finished in the next little while, after which I’m planning a few murders. I’d like to write another novella too, because I have an idea for one, but I’ll see how it goes. I also have an idea for a restoration story, but I’d have to do a huge amount of reading first to feel familiar enough with the day to day life before I started writing. So I’ll write other stuff while I read it up. In the meantime I need to find a title for Julian’s story. Right now it’s simply Lord Braybrook’s Marriage, which tells you at once that it’s a marriage of convenience story. I love MOCs. All that pent up sensual tension! I hope it will be out some time next year.

Comment on Elizabeth’s interview and earn a chance to win a copy of A Compromised Lady. The winner will be selected at random on Monday, Sept. 10. Remember. Berties Rules apply!

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Cara King
15 years ago

Thanks for the very interesting interview, Elizabeth! I’ll definitely have to go learn more about Miss Banks’s ephemera.

In the meantime I need to find a title for Julian’s story.

How about JULIAN, SIEZE HER? 🙂

Sorry. 🙂


Haven Rich
15 years ago

Great interview!

New author to me, but that’s always a wonderful thing!

A Lady for Julian
A Wedding for the Lady
His Wicked Lady

I keep thinking Lady in the title, since it’s in the last two book’s titles.

Elizabeth Rolls
15 years ago

All 19 000 items, Cara? Brave woman! It must be a fascinating resource though. Simple things like invitations and visiting cards.

“Julian, Seize her!” has definite appeal!

Haven, we might have to be careful about having Julian and Lady in the title just in case someone thinks I’m writing about Lady Julian of Norwich. Not much romance in an anchorite . . .

Stacy S
15 years ago

Great interview. I haven’t read any of your books, but this one sounds really good.

Diane Gaston
15 years ago

Hi, Elizabeth!
You are probably asleep down under at this moment, but we are glad to have you!

Were any of Sara Sophia’s ephemera exhibited in the George III room at the British Museum? There were collections of all sorts there. I love that room!

Special hi to Haven!!!!

15 years ago

Thank you for the interview. I just recently read Mistress or Marriage and really liked it.

So I am anxious to read your new books.

15 years ago


It is my first visit to your blog… and it is really great… I am a great fan of regencies and this blog convers it all.

Anyway, I have never read your books, but I think that is going to change soon!

15 years ago

Thanks for the interview. It is always interesting to get a peek into an author’s writing process.

I have read The Dutiful Rake and enjoyed it very much. It was a keeper for me. His Lady Mistress is on my “to be read” stack.

A Compromised Lady sounds good, too. The slowly revealed secret adds a bit of mystery.


15 years ago

This was a really great interview. I especially enjoyed the bits about the writing process and how she wasn’t able to compose at the computer – fool that I am, I aspire to someday try my hand at writing, so I always enjoy seeing what works or doesn’t work for people are already doing it.

And I definitely agree with Haven Rich that the next title should have “Lady” somewhere in it – I really prefer for a series of interconnected books like this to have titles that are in some way connected.

15 years ago

I agree with Dixie the extra bit of mystery with that secret makes me wnat to add your book in my To Buy list.


Judy T
Judy T
15 years ago

Thanks Riskys! Great interview! And I suppose then I need God’s merciful help for I also compose some of my scenes in writing and then pop it onto the computer.

There are several books between MLM and ACL, and I’m wondering if you simply put Richard’s story aside for the others or did you find yourself writing for him off and on? It sounds like the ‘birthing’ of it was quite a struggle, but I’m so glad you persevered!

book freak
15 years ago

Great interview!!
I’m certainly going to add your book to mu ‘to buy’ list.

15 years ago

L love those bookish heros. I’m defintely going to look for your new bok.

15 years ago

Thanks for the interview. Now, of course I’m wondering about this awful secret.

Maggie Robinson
15 years ago

I finished reading A Compromised Lady this afternoon. I sank right into it the better part of two days and was reluctant to finish and leave. A very enjoyable read, even if I did flirt with tears here and there. I loved Richard, and loved your interview!

15 years ago

As you are a new author for me I enjoyed the interview and I’m looking forward to your new release!

15 years ago

Wonderful interview and I want to say how much I enjoyed His Lady Mistress.

Amanda McCabe
15 years ago

Welcome to RR, Elizabeth! I have a great weakness for “tortured heroines,” so am going to buy this one ASAP. 🙂

15 years ago

The book sounds fascinating! 🙂 Can’t wait to read it.

And I’m dying to know what the photo of the condom looked like. :0

15 years ago

Thanx for the interview… I don’t know why but I always like to know more about an author that I am reading.

Elizabeth Rolls
15 years ago

Wow! You go to bed, and comments explode all over the place.
Nice to know so many people are going to buy my book. And that people have enjoyed my other books.

Judy T – I think the publication order in North America is somewhat deceptive. While Chivalrous Rake came out there after His Lady Mistress, I actually wrote it earlier. I wrote two novellas between HLM and A Compromised Lady. Both because they were separately commissioned from the longer books.

Diane, I think there was some of Miss Banks stuff there. I saw so much that day! And yes, I have been asleep!

Brithistorian – the writing process is a weird and wonderful thing. I wrote quite a bit more on the subject last week at the eHarlequin September blog bash. The theme of
the month is what keeps us writing.

Haven Rich
15 years ago

Hi Diane *waves madly*

It was wonderful having you sit at our table at conference.

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

Elizabeth, welcome back to the Riskies. I’m looking forward to reading “Compromised.” WOW–19,000 items?! Perhaps the British Museum would like to go through my attics.

Elizabeth Rolls
15 years ago

Hi Keira

Thank you! Your attics can wait in line right behind my husband’s shed. Or doesn’t that count as ephemera?
It all sounds like the sort of stuff that most of us throw out every few years or so, just to get a bit of breathing space. My grandmother must have cleared out heaps when she moved from a big house to a unit forty years ago, but when we cleared out my mother’s house two summers back we found a pile of her old school exercise books. Fascinating stuff. My boys were quite impressed to see that Granny had been top of her class!

Wonderful that the British Museum in those very early days saw the value of the collection of Sarah Sophia’s collection. Amongst all the other things, she had a set of the first coins minted by the newly independent United States of America. These are at the museum and are the touchstone for authenticating other sets of this series, because their provenance is absolute.

Diane, one day we’ll have to arrange to meet at the BM. Maybe if we begged nicely enough they would let us in to look at some of the stuff!


Diane Gaston
15 years ago

Haven said:
Hi Diane *waves madly*
It was wonderful having you sit at our table at conference.

Awwwww, what a nice thing to say. My favorite part of the conference this year was meeting people like you!

Elizabeth said:
Diane, one day we’ll have to arrange to meet at the BM. Maybe if we begged nicely enough they would let us in to look at some of the stuff!

I would LOVE that!!! We must ask to see the Regency era condoms, too. Just for old time’s sake…..

15 years ago

Oh wow, what is the secret that is being kept from Richard!!! I must find out. Thanks for being here.

Cherie J
15 years ago

Ooh! I am intrigued by this story plot. Wonder what the secret is. Enjoyed the interview!

15 years ago

Hi Elizabeth! Coming in a wee bit late. Enjoyed hearing all your answer to the questions. I secrets in books. They make you want to keep reading so you find out soon. Oh, and an over-protective brother. I can relate to that in my younger days. I had one of those.

Elizabeth Rolls
15 years ago

Well it sounds like everyone wants to know the secret so you’re all going to have to read the book!
And congrats to Lily on winning the free autographed copy, which will be winging its way from South Australia very soon. Hope you like it as much as Mistress or Marriage? Lily.


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