Anne here, and today I'm delighted to introduce you to our newest wench — Christina Courtenay.
Christina is an award-winning, bestselling author of sweeping historical romances, regencies, time slip/time travel novels, and young adult novels, among others. She has won several awards, twice winning the RoNA for Best Historical Romantic Novel with Highland Storms (2012) and The Gilded Fan (2014), and won the Big Red Reads Historical Fiction Award with The Scarlet Kimono.
She also chaired the RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) in the UK from 2013-2015. (Read an interview here.) Naturally she is friends with wench Nicola, but she's also very good friends with our departing wench, Susanna. Here's a photo of the two of them together at an RNA event some years ago.
I first came across Christina's books five years ago, when Nicola mentioned one of her books, saying that it was set partly in Asia, something that always interests me. I bought Trade Winds, read it, and immediately glommed the rest of her backlist. I loved her big sweeping stories where Scottish and Swedish people found love and adventure in Japan and other parts of Asia.
Christina: Thank you Anne, so glad you enjoyed them, and I’m hugely honoured to have been asked to join the Word Wenches! I have been a fan ever since Susanna first told me to seek out this blog many years ago (thank you, Susanna, great advice!) so to actually be a part of it is just amazing.
Anne: Christina, you had something of an adventurous youth yourself; born in England, raised in Sweden and then, when you were sixteen, your family moved to Japan. What was that like?
Christina: Yes, I guess you could say I was a bit of a “mixed-up kid” in that I had a British father and a Swedish mother (I grew up completely bilingual), and then had to move halfway across the world. Living in Tokyo was wonderful, although quite a shock to the system. I came from a small Swedish town of about 30,000 inhabitants to a city with nearly 10 million! But once I got used to it, I had so much fun. I attended an American high school there for three years (totally messing up my British accent which I’ve had to relearn later <g>) and as it was a relatively safe city with little crime, it was a great place for teenagers. I completely fell in love with Japan and all things Japanese, and I go back as often as I can ― it’s an amazing country!
After high school, I decided to return to Sweden to study at the University of Lund. I read English as a foreign language, which was sort of cheating as it wasn’t foreign to me 😉, and also French and Spanish. (I like languages.) But I didn’t want to work as a teacher or translator, so I took a secretarial course which was based in Lausanne, Switzerland, for a year. Fully trained (ish?) I moved to London in order to connect with my father’s roots a bit more, and promptly met my husband. I’ve been in the UK ever since.
Anne: (You can read more about Christina's travels here.) And now you live a relatively settled existence, with a husband and two daughters (and pets?) — though living "between London and Herefordshire" (as I read somewhere) doesn't exactly sound settled. <g> Tell us about where you live.
Christina: Well, these days I spend most of my time in Herefordshire, close to the Welsh border (although I visit my daughters in London a lot). My husband and I live in a small village, in beautiful countryside and surrounded on all sides by fields that are usually full of sheep (the local farmer’s, not ours). I love old houses with high ceilings and quirky details, and ours was apparently remodeled in 1901 in the Arts & Crafts tradition, although we think there was a much older house here before. I adored it on first sight, even though it’s a bit OTT with lots of mock-medieval stuff (see photo of fireplace ― and BTW that’s not a real cat). There are only the two of us here, together with one very elderly dog (he’s 18 ½) ― up until a year ago we had three, all Tibetan Spaniels, but sadly lost two to old age. (This photo shows me with two of them last summer).
Anne: What made you decide to become a writer?
Christina: When my older daughter was born, I wanted a job I could do from home so I wouldn’t have to leave her, and I foolishly thought it would be easy to write a Mills & Boon novel. My dad, who was always very supportive, bought me my first laptop and I wrote two stories in quick succession. I sent both off, thinking I’d give the editor a choice ― yes, I really was that naïve! <g> ― but when they came back rather promptly with a rejection letter, I realised how deluded I’d been. By then the writing bug had bitten me and I carried on writing because it was fun. I didn’t get published until said daughter had just left home, aged 21 ― perseverance does pay off! ― but I enjoyed the journey.
Anne: You're creative in other ways, aren't you?
Christina: Yes, I have recently become a weaving addict after taking a beginner’s course, and I was lucky enough to be given a loom for my last birthday. No doubt family members will soon become very bored with receiving table runners and scarves in various colours as presents, but they’ll have to put up with it. Another course taught me band-weaving, which is done with just a small heddle and not a loom. As this ties in with my current books on Vikings (who practised a type of tablet weaving that was similar to this in order to make decorative bands for their clothes), I’ve been doing a lot of that too. I also love crochet and cross-stitch. One of my daughters gave me a book on how to make little crocheted amigurumi creatures (see photo), which is great fun. Anyone else make those?
Anne: And what do you love to read?
Christina: Basically anything romantic with a happy ending! Historical romance (favourite eras ― the Regency, the Jacobite rebellion, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and the English Civil War), historical thrillers (preferably involving ancient treasure and mysteries), YA romance, fairy-tale retellings and feel-good contemporary novels. My greatest love is for timeslip/dual time or time travel stories ― I just adore those! Having said that, for comfort reading I always turn to Georgette Heyer, especially Cotillion ― her best one IMO.
Christina: As I mentioned to Nicola in this interview, I have this lovely reproduction Viking ring and when I saw the original in a museum (see photo), I was struck with the idea for the first story in this series. I didn’t write it immediately, but it seemed as though fate wanted me to because the Vikings kept being brought to my attention in various ways. There was a huge exhibition at London’s British Museum, two different tv series, several non-fiction books, as well as the Thor movies which I loved. (Confession ― the Thor movies may have had rather a lot to do with the decision to write these books <G>). Everything was nudging me towards exploring my Scandinavian heritage so I thought ― why not?
BTW, my stories always have a HEA ending as I absolutely hate books that don’t!
Anne: I think you have that in common with all the wenches, too. <g> I think another area you're interested in is genealogy. Do I have that right?
Christina: Yes, like Susanna and Nicola (and perhaps some of the other Wenches?), I’m an amateur genealogist and have been researching my British ancestors for many years. However, unlike them, I haven’t found any illustrious ones ― they were all fairly ordinary people. The most exciting ones were actually the felons, for example the one who was sent to Australia as a convict because he’d stolen lead off a church roof. Maybe that’s where my love of ‘bad boy’ heroes comes from? It’s clearly in my blood.
Anne: Any other character traits of interest?
Christina: I wouldn’t say I’m lazy exactly, as I can be very energetic when doing things I love, but I’m not a fan of exercise. Actually, that’s an understatement ― I can’t stand exercise! Other than possibly swimming as I’m a real water baby. Give me a good book, a sofa and some chocolate any day and I’m happy! Did I mention I’m a chocoholic?
I have been told I’m a bit bossy ― my excuse is I’m a Leo, plus I’m born in the Chinese Year of the Dog, but not everyone buys that, especially not my family. I firmly maintain I just like to get things done. If that means having to order people around a little … well, too bad!
I do get obsessive about things and often work in cycles ― write for six weeks while the muse is upon me, then totally ignore writing for several weeks in favour of some other pursuit etc ― but the one thing I always return to is reading. I can’t imagine life without books and if you saw my house, you’d also know I can never get rid of them. (Some people say I’m a hoarder but I can still move around every room so I vigorously dispute that).
Anne: I totally agree with you there! It's lovely to have you join the Word Wenches, Christina. It's obvious from this interview that you're going to fit right in.
Christina: A huge thank you again to the Word Wenches for inviting me to be a part of this blog ― I am truly honoured! I’m very much looking forward to chatting with you all and if there’s anything else you’d like to know, please feel free to ask!
Anne: Please welcome Christina to Word Wenchery (yes that's a word) and feel free to chat, comment, share your own crafts or hobbies, or ask her any questions.