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!