Writer To Reader
Interview with Jo Beverley
Jo wrote glamorous 18th century novels, scandalous Regency historicals, and haunting Medievals and even a Sci-Fi novella. All are meticulously researched and feature heart-stopping heroes.
This interview was done in 2000 following the release of Devilish.
Devilish was both a spectacular success and the end of an era. Is there life after Rothgar?
You're right, however, that it was the end of an era. I consider the main Malloren series complete. I do plan to do some spinoffs, though. We have Fort's younger brother, and I have a couple of other ideas. I also like the period a lot so I do want to keep writing Georgians.
You correctly predicted that the success of the Malloren series would bring the Rogues back into print as well. Tell us a little about the Rogues series.
The Rogues series are Regencies about a group of men who as schoolboys were the Company of Rogues at Harrow. (A famous aristocratic school of the time.) I wrote the first of these in 1977, so they've been part of my life for a long time. There were 12 Rogues, and the founder was Nicholas Delaney, the younger son of the Earl of Stainsbridge. (It was supposed to be Stanbridge, but they got it wrong on the cover and asked me to change it in the text. Since the earl, by then Nicholas's older brother, didn't appear much, I agreed, but I wouldn't now. It's a clunky name.)
In the first novel, An Arranged Marriage, the Rogues are about 24 years old and the group has become an occasional social gathering. Two are dead. This was, after all, the period of the Napoleonic Wars and some of these young men would have joined the army or navy, and inevitably some would have died. Nicholas brings them together to help with a task he has undertaken for the government, a task which is compicated by his need to marry Eleanor Chivenham, whom his brother has raped. (An Arranged Marriage was reissued November 1999.)
The second novel is An Unwilling Bride, which will be reissued in December 2000. This will be a great relief to the people hunting for a copy as it is my most hard to find book. The hero is Lucien de Vaux, Marquess of Arden, the most high-ranking Rogue, heir to the Duke of Belcraven. He is as unwilling as his bride, but as you'll see in the book, he has no choice but to marry Elizabeth Armitage, a republican bluestocking schoolteacher who is an ardent follower of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of The Rights of Women. Talk about a clash of personalities!
This book won the RITA as best Regency, the Romantic Times award as the Best Regency Novel, and the Golden Leaf as Best Historical. It was originally published as a regency, but unchanged it fits today's historical market, being as long as a current historical and with explicit sexuality.
The next three Rogues books -- Christmas Angel, Forbidden, and Dangerous Joy -- will be reissued in subsequent Decembers, and I am writing books now which will weave back into the Rogues, starting with The Dragon's Bride in May 2001. This is about Con Sommerford. However, The Dragon's Bride is the second of a trilogy of stories about three neighbors, friends, and fellow soldiers. The first is The Demon's Mistress, which is a novella in the collection In Praise Of Younger Men, which will be out in March 2001. The third book, The Devil's Heiress, will be out in August 2001. Yes, three new stories next year, which is why I've been working far too hard this year!
You gave the world the Mallorens. They quickly became the "first family" of romance. Why?
I don't think I can claim the "first family". There are many excellent family series in romance, but they certainly are a popular one. Why is hard to say. I hope the books are all excellent and the characters lively and believable. Rothgar helped, of course. He's a remarkable character and I hardly feel I can take credit, since he stepped into My Lady Notorious, the first book, fully formed.
The Mallorens are all different, and thus generate different types of stories, which might appeal to some readers. As I see it, most families are made up of people with some things in common but most things not and I enjoy finding the unique mate and thus the unique story for each character. This is even more so for a group of friends such as the Rogues. Readers who look to a series to provide the same sort of story again and again tend not to like my work, though I try to be consistent in making each one an exciting and fulfilling love story.
Readers who adore the 18th century Mallorens may not know your Medievals. Tell us about some favorites.
Of course they are all favorites! In fact, there are not that many.
Lord of My Heart (1068)
Dark Champion (1100)
The Shattered Rose (1100)
Lord of Midnight (1101)
The first book I ever wrote was a medieval romance. Since I was sixteen, it wasn't a very good medieval romance, but in a way it is my first love. When I decided to try again I expected to write high medieval -- set in the 1300s when knights were beginning to wear shining armor, and castles were complex etc. But I was sucked right back to the early Anglo-Norman period. It called to me in some way.
The first book is set just after the Norman Conquest, and I wanted to do something other than the Norman lord and the English lady, so I made my hero half English and my heroine Norman. I enjoyed writing the book, but I found the post Conquest world too painful and moved on to the next generation.
There isn't much of a link, but FitzRoger, hero of Dark Champion, is the unacknowledged son of my first hero's brother. Declared a bastard, FitzRoger has clawed his way up from nothing to become a mighty warrior and the friend of a king. This is quite a contrast to his uncle Aimery, who despite the trauma of having allegiances to both sides at the Conquest, was raised with love and care, and attention to the gentle arts as well as warfare. Aimery is pushed into marriage by William the Conqueror. FitzRoger captures and compels a rich young heiress during the unrest following Henry I's siezure of the crown.
The Shattered Rose is a different sort of book about a marriage in trouble. Lord of Midnight, however, picks up the thread and tells the story of FitzRoger's brother-in-arms Renald de Lisle who is awarded a bride, but doesn't find it easy to claim his prize. Of course, I love them all.
You once wrote a thought-provoking piece for Romantic Times suggesting that younger heroes could be both exciting and inspiring. Will we get some from you?
Most of my heroes are young -- mostly mid twenties. I find the energy and idealism of youth exciting to write about, and I don't think young people have to be callow, especially if they live in a time that makes great demands on them. Most wars have been fought by young men, not men in their thirties and forties. Many of the greatest leaders of history had their first responsibilities and triumphs when very young.
Even FitzRoger, who's older than his years because of his life, still has that bit of vulnerability and unjadedness left, which helps him to understand his sixteen-year-old bride. I suggested the collection called In Praise of Younger Men, in which all the heroes are matched up with older heroines.
In my story, The Demon's Mistress, Lord Vandeimen is twenty-five and has been in the army in wartime since he was sixteen. Meanwhile his family have all died and his estates are in ruins. He's an inflammable mixture of gritty maturity and vulnerability, and Maria Celestine, eight years older and with ten years of conventional marriage behind her, needs to save him from the fires. In regency society they are almost different generations. He is supposed to look to the young and innocent for a bride, she toward the middle-aged for a second husband. Instead, circumstances throw them together.
When writing about heroes who possess great inherited wealth and power, how do you capture that exciting sense of total control without making them seem snobbish and spoiled?
I think they probably are snobbish in a way. Inherited wealth and power does put someone in a different world. However, someone in that situation has no need to be insecure, or to be striving to show how important they are, which are the things that tend to make a person be "snobbish". As for spoiled, that's all in the raising, isn't it? My characters aren't raised by people who encourage them to be lazy, or to think that wealth -- or beauty -- makes a person more worthy than others.
Fact is that most aristocrats had (have?) weighty responsibilities, and work hard. There are losers and wastrels in any groups, but they are hardly likely to be the heroes in my books. A responsible lord will have a great deal of work to do in running his estates, and will also have a seat in the House of Lords, and thus will have to keep up with current affairs. He will feel his responsibilities to his tenants, servants, and dependents (of which there will probably be many) and also take an interest in philanthropy, belonging to the boards of charities etc. as well as being a patron of the arts and sciences. I don't put a lot of this is my books unless it's relevant, but it shapes my view of my characters. They can have many flaws, but idleness is probably not one of them, nor is trying to make themselves important by looking down on others.
How does a story take shape for you? Do you write an outline first, or just begin with an exciting scene? At what point does research enter the picture?
I don't plot or outline. It's a mysterious process, but sometimes it's a scene, sometimes the characters. The Demon's Mistress was a scene. I saw the young man in his shabby room working up to shooting himself.
The Dragon's Bride was the characters -- Con Somerford, the naturally cheerful man plunged into a kind of depression by Waterloo snapped out of it by a difficult encounter with his past. With Devilish, of course, the characters had met and in a way started their story in a previous book. From the beginning, things spin out from the characters and the situation. Because I only write in the three tight periods, I have a solid research base to begin with. This is important to me because the period often shapes the story.
An arranged marriage story, for example, depends on the legal and social situation at the time. Period shapes story in other subtle ways, too. The horrific nature of the Battle of Waterloo, plus the economic depression that came with the peace, has a lot to do with the three stories coming out in 2001. I couldn't have written those stories set in 1813, or even 1814. (I hasten to add, however, that these are not depressing stories!) However, as I write, I often find I need to know about other things, and I go off to do that research. For The Dragon's Bride, for example, I needed to know about smuggling in 1816. I also needed to know Devon, which I don't know well. I had families reasons for going to England, but it was good to be able to do some last minute checking on the Devon coast. I also visited Brighton and other places in Sussex for The Devil's Heiress, and poked around Derbyshire with a mind to a future book.
Some of your heroines are quite ordinary looking. Others are glamorous and seductive. All are lovable. How do you create a woman other women will love?
Interesting question. I hope women love my heroines, though some women have had problems with some of them.
One problem which always surprises me is when readers think the heroine should take to the hero much more quickly, even if he is invading her world, or behaving badly in other ways. The heroine, after all, does not know she's in a novel, and that this is her hero. He's a frightening guy who seems likely to do her serious harm. The fact that he's gorgeous doesn't alter that!
I think most women will enjoy the company of another woman who has problems and interests she can share. We don't tend to like vanity or meanness, but flaws can be endearing. Being ordinary-looking is no handicap, I think. In my books extreme beauty is a handicap, and I think that's pretty true to life.
I want to write about Lady Lydia, the young beauty in Something Wicked, and I think I want to have her become a beauty who has learned to deal with it in a splendid way. I'm not sure where that will take me, but it will be interesting to explore. But essentially, I think readers enjoy characters who seem whole, who are a mix of things, men or women. I have quite a lot of male readers, and I think it's because my heroes are fairly complex. Even the ones who are very heroic -- royal champions, or mighty aristocrats -- have their uncertainties and problems. Because they're human. In a manner of speaking.
You've mastered so many different time periods. What keeps writing a challenge for you?
I've chosen to do only the three periods so as to be able to deepen my knowledge of them, but there's always more to learn. The challenge is in each new set of characters. It's exciting to meet them and journey with them.
How did you come to write a science fiction novella like The Fruit Pickers?
Way back when I was writing both speculative fiction and romance, so I wrote quite a few SF stories. I entered one in the competition Writers of the Future, and was a finalist. I enjoyed the SF a lot because it let me play in the outer regions of my mind, but I haven't hade time for it recently. I do put some speculative elements into some of my romance, however, especially in the collection Faery Magic. BTW, The Fruit Picker was available in Best of Writers of the Future - a very small story in a big book.
When you're not writing, what kind of hobbies and recreation do you like?
Not enough. I've decided I need to get a life again. I enjoy gardening, but I've had two summers of not doing enough in the garden. I've always enjoyed crafts, and I was once quite a good painter. I seriously intend to get back to that for recreation. Perhaps I'll be able to paint my characters as I see them, but it will take a while to get the rusty skills back.
Do you see a contemporary romantic suspense novel in your future?
No. I really don't think I will ever write straight contemporary, though I do have a kind of SF contemporary romance idea I might play with. I'm much more likely to wander into that, or into straight fantasy romance as a break from romance.
Thank you so much, Jo, for chatting with us!