Jo Beverley On The Mallorens and Writing
From traditional Regencies to dark medievals to sensual Georgians, Jo Beverley tells powerful stories that keep longtime fans eager for her next book and compels new fans to eagerly track down her backlist. The latest from Jo, Secrets of the Night, is certain to cement her status as a star of the romance genre while inspiring healthy debate on the controversial theme.
Jo mixes natural storytelling talent with a love of English history (she has a degree in the subject from Keele University in Staffordshire) to unfold her tales of strong women and heroes who are their matches in every way. Her books have won four RITA awards, placed her on the New York Times’s bestseller list, and earned her a spot in the Romance Writers Hall of Fame for Regency Romance.
Read our review of Secrets of the Night
Subversion: How did you get started as a writer? Did you always want write?
Jo Beverley: I did always want to write, yes, and to write historical romance. I have an attempt from when I was in high school. I hadn’t a clue how to get published, however, and thought it was as likely as becoming a Hollywood star or a pop singer.
I decided to settle to it in the early eighties when I got a computer with a word processor, and there was a talk at a local library on writing romance.
S: What do you like most about writing? The least? If you had to sell writing as a career to someone, how would you do so?
JB: There’s the freedom of being self-employed — which of course has its downside too! More than that, however, is that writing is essential as breathing. Writing something. As I said, I was writing in high school, and I continued to write now and then from then on, completing a book in 1977, and then writing a few articles for magazines.
If someone has the drive to write, they should go for it. However, if it isn’t a strong drive, there are many easier ways to make money. Most writers don’t get rich.
S: Your “sig line” describes Secrets of the Night as Brand Malloren’s adventures as a sex slave in Yorkshire, but the book is so much more thanthat. Could you describe Brand’s story more fully?
“Yorkshire is almost synonymous with simple living and common sense, so the idea of a sex slave there is amusing.”
JB: That’s a joke. The (grin> at the end is important. Part of the joke is Yorkshire, which most North Americans probably don’t get. Yorkshire is almost synonymous with simple living and common sense, so the idea of a sex slave there is amusing.
I do find it hard to describe my stories pithily because they don’t come to me that way.
Brand Malloren, along with Hilda, whom we don’t see until Devilish — Rothgar’s story — is one of the more mellow Mallorens, and he actually enjoys being his brother’s land manager, so he doesn’t live an exciting life and likes it that way. However, he gets caught in the edge of a storm of his brother’s making and ends up unconscious in the Yorkshire Dales — pretty bleak country. The heroine, Rosamunde, rescues him, and she just happens to be trying to commit adultery. She needs a child to save her husband’s estate from a severe puritanical sect and asks for sex as payment for saving his life.
So, it’s an adultery book, but with two of the nicest and most honorable sinners imaginable. During the few days that Brand spends as what he laughingly describes as a sex slave, they fall in love — they have a great deal in common, including a strong interest in agriculture and practical, kind natures. Nothing can come of it, of course, because Rosamunde’s sacrifice loses all honor if she does not return to her husband and devote herself entirely to his welfare, and that of the estate.
The theme of the book is honor in difficult circumstances—honor in heart and mind as well as action—and I think there are a lot of scenes where that is illustrated. The idea that what people want should be a very minor factor in the choices that are made.
But of course, being a romance, honor is rewarded.
S: Brand and Rosamunde are extraordinarily “ordinary” characters. How did
these characters develop?
JB: I really don’t know. Brand has a couple of brief appearances in earlier Malloren books, but he’s not a very formed character. I think it came in part from his chosen profession. I couldn’t imagine a mercurial, rakish man choosing to be a land manager. On the other hand, he is a Malloren, so he has a touch of the wicked and a strong, if even-tempered personality. As I wrote, he revealed himself to me. For example, that he is the brother that Rothgar feels the deepest love for, simply because he is so stable and kind.
Rosa just sort of grew, too. That’s the way I write. She’s a Yorkshire farmer’s daughter — practical, level-headed, used to work and to doing things for herself even if she is a lady. I’m not from Yorkshire, but I’m from Lancashire, and that’s just the way we are. At the same time she, like all of us, can take a wild spin, or turn giddy with love or fear.
S: You don’t shy away from controversial plots or themes. Have you ever been tempted to “play it safe?” Why or why not? Do you find that readers are more open to controversial themes when presented in the context of a well-developed story?
JB: I hope the latter is true. I think well-developed also includes motivation and strong characterization. As reader, I can accept characters doing things I don’t totally approve of if I see that they are good, and motivated. I have a lot more trouble with the characters who seem to have no moral roots, who are driven mostly by what they want, or who seem to act simply to further the plot.
I have times when I think it would be easier if I played it safe, and I don’t go looking for trouble, but sometimes that’s the story, and to write it any other way wouldn’t work. There’s a story about a sculptor who created a wonderful stone elephant. When asked how he did it, he replied that he chipped away all the bits that weren’t elephant.
Writing’s like that for me. I always feel that the story is there. I just have to find it. When I’m writing it right, it feels right. When I go adrift, I can feel the wrongness. For example, because I didn’t want to do an adultery story — I really didn’t! — I tried to start this book after Rosa’s husband died. I even had him be much younger, to avoid having to explain why she married an older man. But it wouldn’t work. The logistics wouldn’t work, and the harder I tried, the worse it got. (A sure symptom for being on the wrong path.) I even had one set-up where she had her dead husband stashed in an icehouse, and was pretending he was off on a journey. That to me was far worse than honest adultery!
Once I accepted what had to be and wrote it that way, however, it flowed out smoothly.
“I have times when I think it would be easier if I played it safe, and I don’t go looking for trouble, but sometimes that’s the story, and to write it any other way wouldn’t work.”
S: You’ve mentioned that Devilish is nearing completion and scheduled for publication in May, 2000. What other Jo Beverley books can we expect before then? Can you tell us a little about them?
JB: The only things between Secrets of the Night and Devilish are two novellas due out at Christmas.
One is in the Harlequin Historical collection called The Brides of Christmas. [My story] The Wise Virgin is a medieval about Joan of Hawes who agrees to substitute for her cousin in a traditional Christmas reenactment. The cousin usually plays the Virgin Mary, but she feels she can’t because she’s not a virgin any longer. What’s more, she’s pregnant. Pregnant and unmarried. Pregnant by a member of the de Graves family, her family’s deadly enemies!
The de Graves use the occasion to raid the de Montelan lands and to steal the lord’s precious daughter. Instead, of course, they get down-to-earth Joan and the great Lord Edmund de Montelan — hero of song and story — finds his life turned upside down before Christmas Eve is over.
The other story is a millennium collection called Star Of Wonder, published by Berkley. I leaped at the chance to do this because I’ve always wanted to set something in December 999 AD. (The other stories are in1799, 1899, and 1999).
Wulfhera of Froxton fled to a convent when the man she loved married another, but with the Vikings raiding and everyone thinking the world is about to end, she runs away home. There she finds everything in disorder. Her father is dying from battle wounds, her beloved Raefnoth is living at Froxton because his home has been taken by a Viking, Torkil Ravenbringer, and her younger sister has been raped by Torkil. Well, sort of. Back at Froxton, Alfrida just wants to get back to Torkil to claim him as her own. At first opportunity, she runs away. Hera learns that Raef’s wife is dead, supposedly raped by Torkil, but it doesn’t seem to offer her any hope. He is hell-bent on revenge and self-destruction.
Trying to hold her home together by hard work, Hera is gutting fish when she discovers a precious jewel in its stomach. Legend says that this star sapphire set in gold was touched by the Christ Child in Bethlehem, and will come at the turning of the year to help a woman to find her love and thus save her world. Hera thinks it will help her win Raef, but a voice tells her she must take it to Alfrida. So, she gives herself into the hands of the Vikings, and because he comes after her, delivers Raef to them, too.
Of course, in the end the Star does work its magic. 🙂
S: You frequently write connected stories, creating your own universes. Many characters are rewarded with their own stories – are there any characters out there that you haven’t been able to explore (but would love to write about)?
JB: Oh yes. There are three Rogues remaining. There’s also Clarissa Greystoke, who got all Deveril’s ill-gotten gains in An Unwilling Bride. One day I want to do the story of Waltheof Siwardson, who appeared in Lord Of My Heart. He’s a real character, however, so it would be a different kind of book. There’s also Kevin Renfrew, the Daffodil Dandy [S – YES!]. And probably many others!
S: The Malloren stories are set in the Georgian era; however, since the next generation of the family is making its appearance, have you considered following this family into the Regency period?
JB: I’m very reluctant to do generational books because I like to leave my characters fairly young.
S: What part of your writing career do you consider the most fulfilling? The most frustrating?
JB: It’s always a thrill to hear that a reader has enjoyed my work. That’s what’s most important to me. I’m not sure about frustrating. My career is going very well at the moment. I’m writing what I want, and my publisher is doing a good job. Packaging can be frustrating, but my recent covers have been good. I suppose I’d like even more readers to enjoy my work. I’m not greedy, but I’d like as many readers as would like my books to find them. 🙂
S: Do you have a schedule or system for writing?
JB: I generally write from about 8-1 weekdays. The rest of the working day is spent on the other things — admin. But it’s flexible.
S: When you’re brainstorming a new book, is it the characters or the plot that seems to be the catalyst?
JB: It can be either, but nothing really happens until the characters come to life, and then they shape the plot.
S: What are your favorite themes or plots in romance novels? Do you find yourself exploring these favorites in your own work?
JB: I love marriage of convenience, so I do a lot of that.
S: If you could choose a few books to introduce readers to romance novels, which books would you recommend and why?
JB: I can’t really answer that because it depends what the person likes to read.
S: Your published works have been historicals or Regencies. Have you considered writing contemporaries, science fiction, or other genres? Why or why not?
JB: I have written two contemporaries, both unpublished. One is unpublishable — definitely a practice piece. The other…? Well, one problem is that no publisher wants a one-off book, and I have no plans to write more at the moment. I have a fantasy novel that no one wanted. A fantasy romance, I suppose, but really off the wall. I used to do quite a lot of SF and Fantasy writing and I have one story published in a collection called Writers of the Future IV But again, I don’t have time to write enough to spread into a new market.
S: You clearly enjoy the Internet. In addition to using it for communication, do you use the resources available for researching your books? Can you share some of your favorite Internet research tips?
JB: I do some research on the net. I find the old texts that are available particularly useful because I like to read primary sources from my periods. However, I find most information on the ‘net too brief, and go to the library for it. I have links off my web page to places with information relating to my books.
“… there’s no point in setting a novel in a period unless the reality of that period is part of the setting.”
S: Your books are well-researched and are often filled with unusual historical information. For example, in The Shattered Rose, you mention that the concept of the virgin birth was a medieval invention. How important do you consider it to be for authors to provide a sense of “real” history in romance novels?
JB: I think it’s important, though I don’t particularly like romances where data is dumped in, which is why I like the author’s note. But to me, there’s no point in setting a novel in a period unless the reality of that period is part of the setting.
S: Could you tell us a little more about your hobbies and interests?
JB: Well, writing, research, and reading are hobbies and interests. I also like gardening, and I play with crafts. I never stick with one long enough to be really good at it, though.
S: Any chance for a teaser about Rothgar’s story?
JB: I think Secrets of the Night will be a teaser for Devilish! I can’t imagine any reader not guessing that Diana is Rothgar’s lady. Of course their problem is that neither of them intend to marry — he because he fears passing on his mother’s madness; she because a husband would strip her of much of the power she holds as a peeress in her own right. Being sensible people of strong will, they plan to avoid each other, but then the king orders Rothgar to bring Lady Arradale south, with a threat strong enough to make them obey….
S: Any final words for our readers?
JB: I really care about reader response to my work, but on the other hand, the only way I know to write honestly is for myself. If it doesn’t work for me — if it doesn’t hold my interest, make my heart beat faster, make me squirm — then I can’t offer it to the public. However, I do take reader comments seriously. Because of a number of comments about my use of single point of view for long periods, I am being more conscious of that, and when appropriate, I’m trying to be more even handed.
Visit Jo Beverley’s website at: http://www.sff.net/people/jobeverley