History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

01 July 2008

Welcome, Joanna Bourne!

My Lord and Spymaster
by Joanna Bourne
Available Now!

After her father is wrongly accused of selling secrets to Napoleon, lovely Jess Whitby infiltrates the London underworld for the real traitor—only to end up naked in the bed of a rude merchant captain. Not only is she falling in love with him, but he may be the scoundrel she’s looking for.

My Lord and Spymaster is set in 1811 or 12. Is there a particular reason you chose those years?

My characters are international merchants, I want to build a sense that they made their fortunes, dangerously, on the fringes of the on-going French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. I want to give Jess's company and Sebastian's company a good long time to get rich. So I want to set the story as late as I can in the war period.

Late also gives me an older Adrian Hawker, which is nice. I want to see him when he's older.

But I don't want to start dealing with the War of 1812 and the effect it had on merchant shippers. Very complex subject. That limits how late I can place the story. I settled on 1811 or 1812. Nothing in the story says which it is.

How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

Georgette Heyer led a lot of us into her Regency world. I love the wit. I love the sensuality. I love the weird, arbitrary social rules. I love the unreality of the place.

I don't write in that 'world'. My place is grittier and more dangerous.

But when I think 'Regency', the era is filled with light-hearted conversation and dashing heroes and women in beautiful dresses, because that's what Heyer and Austen created.

Victorian times, for me, are always darker, because I approach them through the filter Dickens created.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

Y'know ... it's not as easy to get women out of those Regency dresses as you would think. (We're talking literally now, not those more abstract barriers that confront our hero.)

There's all kinds of strings and underpinnings and flaps and whatnot to be got through. Before I started researching, I had NO IDEA.

Now I wish I just didn't know.

And pockets. I swear, the whole business of pockets is enough to drive you mad.

Anything you flat-out altered or “fudged”? If so, why?

The actual Secret Service at this time was often as not used to control dissent at home, in England. They were used for keeping the Irish under control, silencing liberal protest, keeping the poor in their place. The real spies of this time were often set to keeping the status quo, status. (Understandable, in a way, when you look at what happened in France when the liberals got loose.)

I avoid this particular piece of historical accuracy.

Any gaffs or mea culpas you want to fess up to before readers get their hands on the book? I know I always seem to find one after the book has gone to press. *sigh*

I got a plant name wrong. I wrote in a 'place-holder' plant that I knew was wrong and I put a sticky note on the manuscript saying to go look up the right plant.

Then the sticky fell off and I forgot, forgot, forgot.

So I have this big wrong plant name sitting in the middle of the book -- horehound instead of ground ivy -- and I feel like such a fool.

I am so embarrassed.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

I am so tremendously excited by the intellectual debate of this time. Everything we believe about governmental structure and the rights of the citizen can be traced back to this time period. Napoleon was elected by universal manhood suffrage. King George ... less so.

Anyhow, this was a time when they were trying out various ideas, using guns and the guillotine and so on as what might be called cogent arguments.


Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

I never stop researching. There's just no end to it.

Leesee. I was surprised to discover that the British occupied the French City of Toulon in 1793. I'd like to use that someday. Napoleon, as a young officer, was at that siege.

The other thing that impresses me, and that I didn't know, was how very active Frenchwomen were in business. Traveller's tales are full of women running some shop or other, or acting as expediters at the port. Impressive.

What/Who do you like to read?

I read more non-fiction than fiction, actually. And I read just about all kinds of fiction.

Instead of looking at my favorite authors, let me list ten books I read in June that I liked a lot. Kinda a slice of my reading pleasure ... Mary Balogh, Slightly Dangerous; Jo Beverley, A Lady's Secret; Karen Harbaugh, The Devil's Baragin: Candice Hern, Just One of Those Flings; Mary Jo Putney, A Distant Magic; Julia Quinn, It's in His Kiss; Nora Roberts, True Betrayals; Julia Ross, The Wicked Lover; Sherry Thomas, Private Arrangements; C.L. Wilson, Lord of the Fading Lands.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I write multiple drafts, I'm afraid. Very inefficient. But any subtlety I manage to put in a scene only comes to me when I go back again and again. I suppose there's some subconscious process going on. I have been so disorganized in the past. I've replotted and replotted as I wrote onward in the story. I have promised myself that this time I will write a good solid outline and stick to it!

What are you planning to work on next?

Maggie and Doyle are next up. The year is 1794. They're shortening people in Paris, using the guillotine. It's not a felicitous time to be in France. Then Doyle gets in trouble . . .


Blogger Jo Bourne said...

Hi Kalen --

*jo waves madly*

Today's the day My Lord and Spymaster officially hits the stands.

I'm so excited.

6:29 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Congrats on the new book, Jo! And now I see why you were asking about French fashions c. 1795. *grin*

8:05 AM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

I'm looking at the pictures in your web header. Can you tell me what all those are. I mean, I sorta know what the helmet is and the slippers *g*. What the basket thing?

9:08 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Basket thing? In order from left to right:

Bayeux tapestry
16th century helmet
16th/17th century goblet
18th century stays
Regency slippers
Victorian shirt collar

9:31 AM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

Those are STAYS?

My My.

I did not officially burn my bra, back in the day when it was considered obligatory to do so.

I woulda burned that set of stays though. How did people get any work done? Or, y'know, pulled the cat out from under the sofa or whatever.

9:35 AM  
Blogger sarah said...

Joanna, I have to know... what happened? Why so long between your first and second books?

9:39 AM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

Hi Sarah --

Oh. That.

Well ... partly it was I went off to work for the government. I was putting in 60 or 70 hours a week, mostly writing. And there was the family to take care of. And every couple of years we'd pack up and move to a new country ...

After working 7 or 8 hours writing, I just didn't have the creative juice left to come home and write fiction.

That said .. I DID write a couple three or four or five manuscripts in that time.

As to what became of them ... They are very comfortable gathering dusk way way back under the bed with the dust bunnies.

I learned how to write doing those mss, but that does not mean anybody else should actually be forced to READ them.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Yes, those are stays. And that type is the most comfortable IMO (and I've worn pretty much every type for one event or another). Georgian stays are infinitely more comfortable than Regency (not enough support, they tend to “creep” up and bunch a bit around your waist) or Victorian (too much “displacement” if you know what I mean) ones, LOL! And the earlier ones (Elizabethan/Baroque) need to create a very low waist to look right and I’m just not squishy in the right places for that to work.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Lovely to have you here, Jo. THE SPYMASTER'S LADY was an absolutely spectacular debut -- how exciting to have another from you. And yes, I love the idea of an older Adrian.

11:11 AM  
Blogger sarah said...

Thanks Joanna. I had been dying to know what happened. Glad to know that it was just life and work and nothing tragic. (Life and work... I know the feeling...)

Now I just need to my hands on your first book! Are you aware how much is it going for out there in the used market?

11:20 AM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

Hi Kalen --

There aren't all that many people who've worn C18 stays, after all.

HOW I want to pick your brains. I don't even know what questins to ask yet ....

Are you giving a talk at National?

11:48 AM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

Hi Pam Rosenthal --

I enjoyed writing my older, can-I-call-him-more- responsible-? Adrian.

I only wish I could have spent more time with him.

Now I'm writing him young.

The word verification is
which sums it up, really.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

Hi Sarah --

Rats ... I'm going to have to tell folks I was in a coma or Witness protection, or something exciting.

'Real Life Intervenes' sounds so wishy-washy.

I know what people are asking for Her Ladyship's Companion. I hope folks have too much good sense to pay it though.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm not speaking at National (they turned me down) but I am giving several workshops at the all day Historical Writers Conference the day before (Wed, July 30th, same hotel as the main conference), including one on dressing and undressing your Georgian/Regency heroine (and I may even have a guy there in full uniform *fingers crossed*).

12:08 PM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

A guy in uniform. Just how much undressing is involved here ...?

Inquiring minds want to know.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Down to his skivies (he's making period ones just for this event, LOL!).

1:13 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Welcome, Joanna! Thanks to you and Kalen for the wonderful interview. I really enjoyed "The Spymaster's Lady," and I'm very much looking forward to "My Lord and Spymaster." I'm particularly intrigued by the fact that you wrote about merchants. International trade offers such wonderful opportunies for intrigue, and I haven't seen it dealt with very much.

I'm excited to read about both a younger and an older Adrian (he's a great character). Jumping around in time in your series, how do you keep track of the chronology (who's where and what age when). As someone who also writes series and also jumps around in time, I know it can be a challenge :-).

1:19 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Don't 'cha love the "prequel" book? The one that readers demand, LOL! I get lots of requests for the story of the one married couple in my cast of thousands, which always cracks me up. I have no idea what their story might be. Honestly. No idea. They came to me as an already happily married couple.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

That doesn't mean you can't make up their backstory, Kalen :-). I've always loved prequels (and sequels). Sometimes in working out the back story for a book, I realize there's another whole book there, screaming to be written.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

Hi Tracy --

Thanks so much for the kind words about TSL.

Jumping around in time in your series, how do you keep track of the chronology (who's where and what age when

Ummm ... I have a table.

Doesn't everyone?

The left hand column, year by year, is how old my characters are and what they're doing and whether they ever meet.

Right hand column, year by year. is what's happening in the world.

The business of showing the same character at different ages ... that's ... a challenge.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I could make it up if someone held a gun (contract?) to my head, but currently there's just no *there* there.

I have spreadsheets too, Jo. I keep track of how old my characters are, how old “real” people were, and all kinds of events, everything from what books were being published to what horses won races to what scandals were in the news. Makes it much easier to just grab a bit of history when I need it and keep writing.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I love hearding how different authors do things. I have character profile sheets (with key dates, physical description, notes on family members, and biographical notes). And timelines with character dates mixed with historical event (I acutally have a simplified one on my Avon microsite). I have yet to become truly profficient with Excel, I confess :-).

I think that couple would make for a fun book, Kalen, but obviously only if you want to write it. That's actually a good question for Joanna--you have a number of interesting characters. Have you had requests for stories about characters you don't particularly want to write about?

4:18 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

The book sounds like a winner, Joanna! Congratulations!

I learned a bit about the British at Toulon during my research for TOO GREAT A LADY: The Notorious, Glorious Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton. Emma met Nelson in 1793 when he had been dispatched to Naples to request support at Toulon from the Neapolitan navy, whose admiral was the first revered-then-reviled Carracciolo (for his eventual treachery to his own crown he suffered a nasty end, thanks specifically to Nelson).

The Neapolitan military proved more of a bane than a boon to the British. Some never showed up in Toulon. Others deserted their assigned positions at the first crack of cannon or gunfire.

But for my purposes, the issue of the British in Toulon was the event that sparked what eventually became (to my mind), the greatest real life love story in British history!

6:17 PM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

Hi Amanda Elyot --

I read TOO GREAT A LADY when it first came out a couple of years ago. LOVELY. JUST LOVELY. I'm not sure ... but that may have been when I first got interested in the seige of Toulon.

The setting just has all knids of possibilities, doesn't it?

Anyhow, I'm toying a bt with the idea of a story set then. It may come to nothing ...

6:34 AM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

Hi Tracy,

I can't imagine how anyone would keep things clear without tables and charts and ... I dunnoh ... I guess I wish there were electronic postit notes.

I also have a huge file with period slang.

There's a good historical slang dictionary, of course. Partridge's Slang. So it's fairly easy to find out that one meaning of 'budge' was 'to inform on' in a criminal slang sorta way.

What I've made for myself is a kind of reverse-lookup dictionary.

So I have an entry for 'inform' and my list of slang words that mean that -- nose, snitch, budge, setter, buzzman, peach, nark, (did you know that dates to C19?) blow upon, blow the gaff, split on.

I don't use a lot of slang, but at least this way I have a slight chance of finding what I need.

I haven't had too many requests for writing about minor characters ... except of course Adrian. He's a secondary character in both books.

I really will have to write Adrian's story, just for myself if for nobody else.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

Hi Kalen --

The bit about keeping track of the history going on simultaneous to the story ... yes!

Sometimes I'll be reading along in some excellent historical set in Boston and watch a year or two pass. And nobody mentions that the French Revolution is going on.

Ok. Ok. I know Austen ignored contemporary events. I know news travelled slowly. But I feel a certain 'hole' in stories that don't mention the larger historical context AT ALL.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Joanna, thanks for the compliments on TOO GREAT A LADY!!

Your last comment hit upon an excellent point, about incorporating, at least by reference, the events of the wider world into the scope of one's novel, even if the events don't personally touch the characters. It comes down to one of two things, I think (and I completely agree with your opinion, of course, since I write historical fiction and the events of the wider world are key to the story). I think an author can deliberately choose to ignore what's happening in the world beyond the one inhabited by their characters, as I'm convinced Austen did (she knew what was going on, but it had no place in the kind of stories she wanted to tell) or (which may be the case with our own contemporaries) an author just doesn't bother to research the history and world events beyond the scope of their novel's world because they (or their editors) figure it will bore romance readers.

As my people say... "Oy."

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just bought your latest today, Joanna, and can't wait to read it. Since I teach French I particularly enjoyed the phrasing of your heroine's speech in TSL. And the lyrical beauty of your writing--oh, my! I was in awe.

I can do you one better on egregrious errors, tho. I'm the original number-challenged brain; I just don't remember them, whether it is phone # (thank heavens for cell phone address books) the price of milk that I buy three times a week or historical dates. So I always put in a XXXXX or something in the mss when I need a date and then go back later and fill in the correct one.

Except once. For whatever unimaginable reason, I merrily typed in a date, my editor and the ce sailed right over it and the book went to print as is. The mistake? The date of the main battle of **WATERLOO** Want to ruin your credibility as a writer of historical fiction? I couldn't believe I'd done it and was horrified when (of course) a polite reader pointed it out. I always wonder how many gasped in outrage, threw away the book and crossed me off their author list forever.

I doubt you'll offend too many with your plant gaffe!

4:25 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Electronic post it notes would be a fabulous aid to writers, Jo, particularly writers of historical fiction :-).

I do hope you write Adrian's story. Just based on one book, I suspect he'll grow into a wonderful hero. And I love reading about characters across multiple books.

I find the whole topic of weaving real world events into the fabric of a novel fascinating. I blogged sort of on that topic a few months ago, and the follow up discussion was really interesting. Personally I like books (and characters) with a sense of the wider world. It's part of what I read historical novels for. And even if specific events aren't mentioned, I like to have a sense of how the wider world influences the world the characters live in. But mostly I prefer political and diplomatic intrigue :-).

10:23 PM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

Hi Amanda Elyot --

It's all about the backdrop, isn't it? The historical facts have to serve the story. Oh yes. I see the writer picking over the possibles like a finicky penguin choosing just the right stone for the nest. It doesn't matter that one or the other pebble is granite or jadeite or diamond -- if it ain't just right, it don't get picked.

I try, (well, I do try,) to give the benefit of the doubt to folks who don't mention the French Revolution, so long as their characters do not cheerfully gambol across the countryside towards Lyon while they're not mentioning it.

Then too, there's the 'I have done my homework and you are going to hear about it' thingum.
So tempting.

I have such lovely backstory, even for the minor characters. It connects to so much fascinating history. I would just love to sneak it in. I do admit to fighting this particular demon off again and again.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Jo Bourne said...

Sorry -- trouble with my server.

Let's do this right ...

Hi Julia Justiss --

Thank you so much for the kind words about The Spymaster's Lady. I hope you enjoy My Lord and Spymaster.

In MLAS, I'm trying for a different heroine voice. Not French. Sort of a very mild Cockney. I don't know how well I succeeded. There's not just a plethora of good references to 1811 Cockney.

The story I'm working on right now, Maggie's story, I go back to a French voice for the main narrator.
The accent won't be anywhere near as strong as Annique's, because Maggie is fluent in English.
This time I do NOT have the problem of maintaining a consistent voice in a book that's half French, half English.

The date of the main battle of **WATERLOO**

Oh dear. I am so sorry. How perfectly dreadful for you.

And I do feel somewhat better about my plant names somehow.

12:30 PM  

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