Q: What first gave you the idea for Claiming the Courtesan?
A: Ideas are mysterious beasts, aren’t they? I’d written a story about a woman with all the protections Regency society offered–money, family, position. So I started thinking about a woman who had no safety net. What if she was left responsible for people she loved when little more than a child herself? What if she came from a strong religious background so the choice she was forced to make was anathema?
A: I’d been unconsciously gathering information for this story over a long period. You can’t travel to the Scottish Highlands and Islands without being aware of the tragic scale of the clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries. You can’t visit stately homes in the UK without thinking of the psychological growth of a sensitive child who inherits all that power and isolation.
I’d already written the first draft of CTC when I discovered the story of Elizabeth Armistead and Charles James Fox. She was a courtesan (one who had a much rougher time than I ever gave Verity) and he was a famous politician from an aristocratic family. As mature adults, he and Elizabeth fell in love–she sounds like a genuinely sweet, intelligent woman and I think he was lucky to find her–and eventually married very happily. She, of course, was never accepted in society, but there was a certain amount of contact with his family. Elizabeth and my Verity were similar in many ways, not least that they married into society but were permanently outside it.
I was also surprised, again after I finished the first draft (I continue researching while I’m writing the book because it keeps me in the world of the story), quite how many dukes DID marry their low-born mistresses. What I thought was wildly daring concept was firmly grounded in life. Although the real dukes usually made sure they had a family first with an upper-class woman to keep the succession untainted by notoriety.
Q: We pride ourselves on writing “Risky Regencies”–tell us what’s risky about your book!
A: When I started writing Claiming the Courtesan, what was risky was that it was a much darker, more emotional story than I had ever attempted. Given that I’d completed my first manuscript more than twenty years earlier and hadn’t sold a book, it never occurred to me that this book would be the breakthrough. Especially as it featured a woman who slept with men for money. It seemed less commercial than my previous project, a romantic comedy set in 1817 which had all those lovely Regency elements like balls and dresses and elopements and duels. This one had two really complex characters and a mountain of difficult issues to deal with. But I couldn’t get the story or the characters out of my mind. So I did what I always do–I wrote the story that was true to those people and what those specific individuals would do in that set of circumstances. I thought it would just go under the bed with its brethren to gather dust bunnies until the crack of doom.
Then a weird thing happened. This book seemed to get people excited. Taking a risk with the emotional content paid off, wrenching as it was to write. The book, then called No Ordinary Duchess, did really well in contests, the first agent who read the full signed me, it finalled in the Golden heart, and sold at an auction between three publishers.
Claiming the Courtesan came out March 27th, and I’ve been utterly astonished by the attention it’s receiving. Being true to those characters has created a really emotional reaction in people who have read it. A proportion of the response, admittedly, has been anger and dismay. But unless I’m true to the characters, I can’t write. Does my story prove risky? As Austin Powers would say “Yeah, baby!”
Q: Who were some of your early writing influences?
A: I loved Enid Blayton and fairy tales when I was a kid. Then Barbara Cartland and Victoria Holt and Harlequin romances (they were pretty tame in those days, though I remember Anne Mather slathered on sexual tension that made my girlish heart beat faster). Then I discovered American historical romances, especially Kathleen Woodiwiss. I read The Wolf and the Dove and said to myself “This is what I want to do when I grow up!” I loved Anya Seton and Rosemary Hawley Jarman–a passionate historical, even if it has a sad ending, is a real addiction. The Brontes, Austen. Probably my favorite books of all time are Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. They offer a reading experience unlike any other, and the chance to meet one of the most fascinating, charismatic, complex characters in fiction, the gorgeous if tortured Francis Crawford of Lymond.
Q: Tell us about your next book!
A: Untouched comes out as an Avon Romatic Treasure in December 2007. It’s another “Regency noir”, although the story isn’t linked with CTC. I’m putting the cover blurb and an excerpt on my website at the start of May, but if you want a peek try here.
Dear guests, leave a comment on the blog for the chance to win an autographed copy of CLAIMING THE COURTESAN! The winner will be announced on Tuesday, April 17. If you have not done so already, please read Bertie the Beau’s Official Risky Regencies Contest Rules.