For me, the best thing about reviewing books is the chance discovery of an author whose writing blows me away and turns me into a gushing fan-girl. That’s what happened last summer when I was asked to read Libertine’s Kiss by Judith James (you can read my review here).
I honestly struggled to express how wonderful the novel was; it was everything I love in a romance—steamy, intensely emotional and full of historical detail that didn’t intrude on the story’s passion.
Judith James’ latest novel, The King’s Courtesan, hit bookshelves on September 1st, and it’s one of the books I’ve most looked forward to reading this year.
I’m thrilled to have Judith on my blog today talking about adventures in British history and modern publishing. She’s also giving away a copy of The King’s Courtesan to one very lucky commenter.
Thanks for joining me, Judith!
1. The 20 years or so when the English fought a civil war for greater democracy, beheaded their king, established a republic of sorts, and then restored the monarchy to the throne is such a fascinating time period, and it’s the era your books are set in. What draws you to the mid-17th century as a setting for romance?
Thanks for inviting me Katrina, it’s a great pleasure to be here!
It actually was a good book that first drew me to the 17th century as a setting for romance. That and an early fascination with the Stuarts started in 7th grade. I was browsing the bargain bin of a local independent bookstore (sadly now out of business) when I came across a book by Graham Hopkins, called Constant Delights, about rakes rogues and scandal in Restoration England. It piqued my interest about The Earl of Rochester, Buckingham, Lady Castlemaine, Colonel Blood, Churchill, Charles, Nell, and a host of other characters.
I have done quite a bit of reading on the period and its people since. There are a wealth of materials, some very entertaining, such as the diaries of Samuel Pepys and the Compte de Grammont, or Rochester’s letters to his wife. There was so much going on at that time both historically and socially and the restoration of Charles II resulted in a kind of social rebellion that reminds me somewhat of the 1960s.
As often happens in times of turbulent change, it was a time of greater experimentation and social freedom. There is just so much room to develop characters and so much interesting material that I haven’t wanted to leave.
2. You describe yourself as an adventure junkie who’s travelled and lived many places, (including the Arctic!) and worked as a trail guide, horse trainer, and clinical psychologist. How have these incredibly varied life experiences helped you as a writer?
They have helped me every day I write, sometimes in unexpected ways. For example a knowledge of horses, so ubiquitous to the 17th century, makes for one less thing I need to research. That is particularly useful in my next book with its highwayman hero.
Up North I worked with clients and some fellow professionals who believed in a spirit world as a matter of course. It opened my mind and my imagination and figures prominently in a paranormal I may finish someday.
Of course a career as a psychologist has helped with characters and motivation, and as I worked mainly with male clients I hope it’s helped with the male perspective in my stories. It certainly made me sit up and take notice of the odd references to Rochester’s over solicitous tutor which none of his biographers seemed alarmed by but I suspect played a large part in his later behavior.
I’d add that you can have a lot of adventures under the guise of doing research. For BROKEN WING I took fiddle lessons with a handsome virtuoso, toured the Louvre, and visited the oldest café in Paris, the Café Procope where Voltaire used to drink his coffee and Marat, Robespierre and Danton planned the French Revolution. For HIGHLAND REBEL I took a couple of fencing lessons to get a better feel for the sword fighting Cat, visited Blarney Castle and kissed the stone (a good idea for any story teller I think) and tried Scotch whisky.
Under the guise of research I’ve sailed on a tall ship and held the wheel with a really cute captain steadying my shoulder, interviewed a handsome lieutenant at the local military base for information on helicopters, and met and interviewed a ghost hunting team and got to play with some of their gadgets.
“Pardon me but I’m researching a book and I wonder if you could help me?” has become my favorite line for meeting people and exploring things I find interesting.
3. The hero of your novel Libertine’s Kiss was inspired by the Restoration poet John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester, who was known for his satirical and bawdy poetry as well as his many mistresses. Is there a story behind The King’s Courtesan?
Well Robert first made an appearance in LIBERTINE’S KISS. He had served under Elizabeth’s father and rescued her from some of his own soldiers, defended her to Cromwell, and helped her get back on her feet. He offered to marry her and he cared for her but was very awkward about it, to the point she felt he was just being dutiful.
It bothered me that he was so closed off and alone. I wanted to know him better. I wondered what secret lay beneath that reserve, and I wanted him to find just the right woman to pierce it. She would have to be confident and willing to make the first move, and have enough warmth and passion to melt that icy exterior and Hope Mathews came into being.
Her character was inspired in part by two of Charles Stuart’s favorite women, the goodhearted commoner Nell Gwyn who was of course, raised in a brothel and known for her genuine nature, generosity and high spirits, and Francis Stewart, La Belle Stuart, famed for her beauty and for being the one that got away. It was her profile that was on British coins at the time.
Readers of a more whimsical nature might notice the sprinklings of a Cinderella motif throughout. That was inspired by 17th century Londoners themselves, who referred to the king’s mistress Nell Gwynn as both Cinder Wench and Cinder Whore for her gritty background, charming nature, and her meteoric rise from the alleys of Covent Gardens to the bed of their king.
4. I always like to find out more about authors’ journeys to publication. When did you start writing novels, and how long did it take you to find an agent and sell your debut, Broken Wing?
I first started writing in 2005, after leaving a government job to try and “live the dream instead of dreaming the life,” but I’ve been a voracious and eclectic reader for years, and I’ve been telling stories in my head since childhood.
Broken Wing was my first manuscript. It took about ten months to write and a good year to find an agent and publisher. I knew nothing about writing when I started it (other than assessments, policy papers and year end reports) and was very naïve about the business. I learned about formatting, queries, agents and submitting by reading books on writing and even today I am a two finger hunt and peck typist.
Like nearly everyone starting out I faced a lot of rejection. Agent feedback was along the lines of “Not marketable, send me something I can sell.” I was told it was too dark, the main characters spent too much time apart, it had too much violence, romance readers weren’t ready for a character like Gabriel who was a male prostitute, there was too much history and adventure for a romance, and too much romance for an adventure. I then tried sending it out to those houses that accepted un-agented work and was offered a second look by one house if I removed a major theme, but no other house read past the query.
I couldn’t bring myself to make some of the changes people suggested and I started sending it out to smaller independent publishers without much luck. I was about to put it on the shelf, literally, when I heard from Medallion Press. They actually loved the things others wanted changed, and pretty much left the story intact. I’ll always be grateful to them for that. They, and my agent, who I called out of the blue practically the night before Christmas, were willing to take a chance on an unconventional book by a complete unknown.
Despite a very small print run BROKEN WING managed to generate some buzz, in large part due to a very enthusiastic campaign by blogger Kristie Jenner, really generous support by authors Julianne MacLean and Laura Leone, and a great PW review. It went on to win the Independent Publishers Gold for Romance and that opened other doors.
5. Time to pimp your novel – tell us all about The King’s Courtesan!
Thank you Kat! Here goes…
Restoration England provides the vibrant canvas for this tale of a haunted soldier trying to pick up the pieces of his shattered life, and the beautiful and determined courtesan, struggling to keep her own dreams alive, who becomes his wife.
Now the war has ended and Charles Stuart has been restored to his throne, Captain Robert Nichols, a parliamentarian soldier haunted by a childhood tragedy and hardened after years of fighting, struggles to build a new life when all he has known for years is duty, vengeance and war. All he wants now is a little peace, something he hopes to find on his estate, Cressly, but though the king has offered general amnesty, Robert fought for the losing side.
When King Charles decides to confiscate Robert’s lands to reward one of his own backers it seems that all is lost until a friend the captain aided in the past intervenes with the king, who makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Marry his mistress, a beautiful courtesan with humble beginnings and provide a respectable cover for an illicit affair, and he will keep his lands.
Hope Mathews has used her beauty, body, wit and charm to rise from the gutter and become courtesan to a king. Despite her feelings for her royal lover, life has taught her some harsh lessons, and she is determined to gain control of her own life. No stranger to heartache and betrayal, she trusts no one but herself and does what she must to survive. With the king’s impending wedding she dares to reach for something she’s always dreamt of, independence and a home of her own, only to be betrayed yet again.
Thrust into a marriage neither of them wanted, can two such proud and guarded people find their way to love. This is the question at the heart of THE KING’S COURTESAN.
THE KING’S COURTESAN is a story of betrayal and loss, hope and redemption, and of course sizzling passion and love! Readers who enjoyed LIBERTINE’S KISS may enjoy meeting Elizabeth, William and Charles again in its pages, although the story stands alone and you don’t need to read the one to enjoy the other.
I would like to thank Kat for inviting me and making me feel so welcome, and everyone who took the time to come and visit today, and I look forward to answering any questions.
I don’t know about you, but I LOVED reading Judith’s answers. Talk about a thoughtful, intelligent, interesting woman – and these qualities shine through in her novels.
Leave a comment or questions for a chance to win The King’s Courtesan. I’ll choose the winner on Monday September 12. Good luck!