Mary Jo interviewing Jo
Jo Beverley needs no introduction since she’s a charter Wench. Certainly there is no need to list her many books and awards–for that, you can go to her website. But it's always a pleasure to talk to her about a new book, in this case, her April release, The Secret Duke.
The Secret Duke is third in her Georgian Rakish trilogy, which started with A Lady’s Secret and then moved to The Secret Wedding. Having read them all, I can guarantee that they are rip-roaring historical romance of the sort that has been delighting readers since the Scarlet Pimpernel made his first bow.
The Rakish Trilogy
So—Jo, what was the genesis of this trilogy, and in particular the inspiration for TSD? What elements tie the three books in the trilogy together?
JB: I’d been writing my Regency Rogues books, and the last few turned out to have heroes with a restrained lifestyle, even if only by force of circumstances, and I thought it would be fun to write three enjoying a free-living lifestyle. I happened to have an opening fragment that I wanted to do som ething with that saw a man encountering an unusual woman at an inn, so I decided to use that detail for all three books, but the rest, as they say, is a mystery! Things just happen in a writer’s brain, don’t they?
Thorn, the Duke of Ithorne, developed as the series progressed. It was time to write a duke (I’ve only used one as the hero of a novel before) and I wanted a character in the Malloren World who could challenge the Marquess of Rothgar. A duke takes precedence over a marquess, of course, but Rothgar is a decade older and firmly established at the center of power. I had no idea what Thorn’s story would be, but as I learned of his escape persona as Captain Rose of the Black Swan, I knew that would play a part. He’s generally such a hard working, dutiful aristocrat, and it’s important to me that he be so, that he’d be more likely to fall into a wild adventure as Captain Rose.
Keeping the Mallorens in their place
MJP: The Rakish trilogy takes place within the Malloren world and occasionally a Malloren will appear. Would you care to expand on the challenges of returning to a much loved setting without overburdening the story with background and older characters?
JB: As it turned out it wasn’t a challenge at all. I knew I’d have to connect to the Mallorens or my fans would be frustrated, but I was determined not to contrive it. In the first story – spoiler alert for those who haven’t read A Lady’s Secret – the heroine, Petra, turns out to be Rothgar’s illegitimate daughter. That idea floated some time ago on my yahoo groups chat list – that during his youthful grand tour Rothgar could have sired a child. It turned out to be a fabulous story to write.
The Secret Wedding involved industry and it suited a Yorkshire setting. As Rothgar’s wife, the Countess of Arradale, is a Yorkshire woman it was easy to make a connection with Caro, so that when Caro goes south to London it’s natural for her to stay in Rothgar’s house and involve the Mallorens in her predicament.
And in The Secret Duke, Thorn is already in rivalry with Rothgar, so that creates a link. I also managed to get everyone at Rothgar Towers for Christmas and an important Malloren event.
Keeping them the bits and pieces straight
MJP: The Malloren world is complex and getting ever more so. How do you keep the characters and their relationships straight?
JB: It is challenging, and I try different ways. I’m toying with building a wiki, but it seems like a lot of work. I have ring binders and reference cards. I also plot the family details in a genealogy program. I had it on line, but when I moved to England and changed my internet server it went down and I haven’t had time to update and fix it.
In addition to keeping track of children and such, I have to keep a wide view of all the characters’ lives, alert for things that would be important in a family. Beneath that is the real history. My characters are usually involved in important events of the day.
The problem is always the details I didn’t think important at the time. One of those turned up in writing The Secret Duke. When Bella, the heroine, goes to Rothgar Abbey for Christmas I realized that I needed to know who’d been there the previous year, as it was established as a tradition. Panic! I was somewhere in the middle of Canada, didn’t have a copy of Winter Fire, or a copy of the book on my laptop. I posted an appeal on my chat list and thank heavens, my readers came to my aid. I love the internet!
As it happened I amended the party a bit, but I still needed to know.
MJP: Two weeks ago you did a fun post on dukes and why you so seldom write them. There’s a interesting dynamic between Thorne, hero of TSD, and Rothgar, the all seeing, all powerful head of the Malloren family. What lies behind that?
JB: As I said, the rivalry seemed natural to me. Thorn is a serious, hard-working aristocrat who outranks Rothgar and thinks him a negative influence on the king and out to aggrandize himself and his family. He sees it as his duty to limit that influence.
I enjoyed writing from the point of view of someone who doesn’t at all admire the Dark Marquess, and I think that different point of view brings greater texture to the Malloren World.
Moving and writing
MJP: The Secret Duke was written under the extremely challenging conditions of moving yourself and your business from Canada back to your home country of England. How did that affect the book? For that matter, how on earth did you manage to get the book written while moving between continents?!!!
JB: Laptop! I had a good start on it, but yes, I did finish it while packing up, then driving across Canada – or rather, while my husband drove. Fortunately most of the drive across Canada is on empty roads through lightly inhabited land so the distractions were minimal.
I’m normally a writer who likes a stable setting – my study, my writing computer, and my Aeron chair, as well as all my research books around me – but somehow this works. One blessing is that today so much research material is on the internet – as well as helpful readers, as noted above. We made sure to always stay in places with wi-fi!
MJP: Once you moved regularly between Regency, Georgian, and medieval settings. More recently, you’ve restricted yourself to Regency and Georgian. Do you have any plans to return to your medieval world?
JB: I’d love to write more medievals because it’s such a different world and generates different stories, but I have slowed down a bit, which is a factor. I’m hoping that now I’m settled again, sort of, I might be able to play with one. Of course my story in Chalice of Roses is medieval, so I got a bit of a fix that way.
MJP: You’ve leavened your historical novels with occasional science fiction and fantasy novellas and short stories. Do you think you might ever do full length sff novels?
JB: Again, I’d love to, but time’s a factor. The other part is that when I let my speculative creativity free it goes wild. I don’t write what seems to be most commercial – either modern settings with SF or fantasy, or worlds based on the middle ages, China, Russia or whatever. I like to invent worlds, cultures, rules etc etc. I do it for fun.
You and I both have stories in Songs of Love and Death, a SF Romance collection coming later this year. My story there is a more mundane fantasy historical, however. It’s Georgian, but with no Malloren connection.
MJP: What will your next book be?
JB: Another Georgian, following the others in time sequence, but not connected. I hope there’ll be a Malloren thread, but I won’t force it. The title is An Unlikely Countess, and it’ll be out in March 2011.
MJP: Jo will be giving away a copy of A Lady’s Secret or The Secret Wedding to someone who leaves a comment before midnight April 6th. So ask away!