Chat With an Author

A Chat with Joanna Bourne

Joanna Bourne is the author of the The Spymaster’s Lady, a Romance novel that was released in January and has received rave reviews all over Romanceland. It is a book about a French Spy, Annique, who has to make a decision regarding Napoleon’s plans to invade England while at the same dealing with her feelings for Grey, a British spy. We absolutely adored the book and the review is here:

Joanna lives in the Appalachians with her family and is fascinated with the time period when her novel is set. I “met” her over at the Julia Quinn’s Bulletin Board where The Spymaster’s Lady was the book of the month and everyone was discussing it. I was impressed by her openness about her book and how she replied to everyone; so I sent her an email asking if she could have a chat with us about her book and she was kind enough to say yes! We were extremely happy and thankful, even more so when we received her answers which are truly amazing and interesting.

So without further ado, a chat with Jo Bourne:

The Book Smugglers: First of all, we would like to congratulate you on the success of your book. It must be a great feeling, especially since it is your first novel. What do you think of the reactions so far?

Jo: It’s not actually the first book. Waaaay back — twenty years ago — I wrote a Regency Romance. It’s long out of print. Deservedly so .

Somebody asked about it recently. I found a copy in the attic and flipped through and kinda shuddered and just longed to reach in and edit it. It’s like those pictures in the High School yearbook where you wish you could go back and change your hair.

Between that tadpole of a book and the adult frog, Spymaster’s Lady, I worked for the government and wrote a heap of non-fiction. The craft in making non-fiction and fiction is a lot the same. To me, it all feels like a continuum.

As to the reaction to Spymaster’s Lady. Gobsmacked is the word that comes to mind. There are folks I’ve read for years who’ve said they like the book. My book. I go walking about the house muttering, “She liked it.”

You may color me amazed, with little dabs of dismayed around the corners.

The Book Smugglers: Can you tell us a bit about how the book came to be? When did you first have the idea of Annique and Grey’s story?

Jo: It’s always seemed to me Romance genre books look at the Napoleonic Wars from the English side only.

And yet … the French have all the good lines. They’re the ones promoting all those good things like liberty, equality, separation of church and state, universal male suffrage, anti-slavery, the end of aristocratic privilege. The British are defending an unfair status quo. On the other hand, the French go about cutting heads off and conquering Europe, which makes it what you might call … complicated.

I wanted a conflict between hero and heroine over these ideals and complications. Not resolving them, but making choices, the way we do in an imperfect world. And that’s the Spymaster’s Lady. It’s about choices.

Anyhow. I was living in France at the time. I’d been mulling over the kind of story that would hold these conflicts, trying to think how I’d work it. One night I was headed down to the Normandy coast after dark. Got myself lost, which I do a fair amount. I was driving along and I could just ‘see’ Annique coming this same way, scared and determined, carrying some kind of secret, trying to get to the Channel. That’s when I knew she’d be the French one and the hero would be English.

So Annique grew out of that sense of determination and being lost in the dark.

The Book Smugglers: Each of your characters has a very distinct voice and one of the things that is being said all around Romanceland is how the accents were perfectly portrayed in the writing. Do you speak any other languages? If so, did it help with the characterisation?

Jo: I do speak workaday French. Nothing fluent.

I’d like to say I did immensely clever linguistic things to make the accents. But it was nine-tenths listening to the accent I wanted, (eavesdropping, movies, and TV,) hour after hour and trying to get it inside me. In the end, I’d ‘hear’ the character voice in that accent. I have a strong ‘audio’ in my head of how the characters sound.

I did make a conscious decision to stick to cadence and word order and vocabulary to represent the accent rather than lacing the text with foreign words and phonetic spelling. With Annique thinking in French and speaking French for half the story, anything more intrusive would have got old real fast.

Also — I was writing in deep ‘character point of view’. What this means — Annique lets the reader into her mind. We’re in the scene, thinking Annique’s thoughts, feeling her feelings, living the action around her. And we’re doing it all in Annique’s ‘voice’.

I chose to make the ‘voice’ we hear in Annique’s head match Annique’s ‘voice’ in dialog. (Some writers use two different voices for this.) That’s a lotta French voice. So … a light hand with the accent was needed.

The Book Smugglers:The story is set during the Napoleonic Wars between France and England, why did you choose the time period? We are a bit of History buffs and would love to know more about the research involved in writing a historical romance.

Jo: I love the long-ago-in-a-faraway-kingdom feel we have in some Historical Romance — lost heirs and highland Lairds, kidnapped English lasses and earls disguised as highwaymen. You step into Romance history and write ‘suspend’ in the disbelief field.

But I want the historical background to be solid, as much as possible. Partly it’s respect for history. I love and respect history, even if I send my characters to play there.

Partly it’s just good practical writing. The more realistic the history, the more plausible the fantasy elements will feel. So you describe perfectly accurate carpet patterns and weaving techniques and fringe length before you mention that, oh yes, and this particular carpet flies. The solid reality of the carpet helps us believe in its magic.

Besides, history is fun, just for its own sake.

I love the Napoleonic Wars, (hmmm … I am putting that badly. Love the era. Hate the bloodshed.) because these were wars about ideas. About how societies should be run. About, y’know, truth and justice and freedom. Good stuff.

As to the big R. Research. I’m a history buff myself. I love reading the original documents — journals, letters, diaries. I’m afraid my eyes glaze over when I’m confronted with “Constitutional History of the Reform Movement’, but I can read Cobbett just for fun.

The Book Smugglers: We know that one of the things that keep non-romance readers from buying romance novels are the clinch covers. As an author, did you have any saying on choosing the cover?

Jo: I had no say at all on the covers. Zilch. Zip. Nada. Nil. Null. None. Nope.

Romance has some of the canniest and most knowledgeable marketing people in the business. I am trying to trust ’em. It was pointed out — Julia Quinn said this and I’m paraphrasing madly here — that a cover and title that are obviously ‘Romance’ help sell an unknown author to her core readership.

So everybody who picked The Spymaster’s Lady up because you liked the cover — Thank you very much. Everybody who picked it up in spite of the cover — Thank you, thank you.

I remain bewildered over this whole marketing thing.

The Book Smugglers: Here at The Book Smugglers we have a passion for books and we sure have our favourite authors and books? Do you have a favourite book or a favourite author?

Jo:Oh … leesee …

If I had to pick one book, I’d say Windflower by the Curtises. Lovely work. Funny and tender. Very fine.

If you just turned me loose to list my keeper shelf, this is about half of them … (Can you tell my keeper shelf is in alphabetical order?) Peter S. Beagle, Mary Balogh, Jo Beverley, Lois Bujold, Jacqueline Carey, Loretta Chase, Bernard Cornwell, Jennifer Crusie, Tom and Sharon Curtis, Gaelen Foley, Christine Dodd, Jasper Fforde, Dorothy Dunnett, Diana Gabaldon, Roberta Gellis, Sergeanne Golon, Madeline Hunter, Laura Kinsale, Jayne Ann Krentz, Mercedes Lackey, Emma Lathen, Stephanie Laurens, R.A. MacAvoy, Teresa Medeiros, Judith McNaught, Naomi Novik, Peter O’Brian, Elizabeth Peters, Vicki Pettersson, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Mary Jo Putney, Julia Quinn, Nora Roberts, Dorothy Sayers, Anne Stuart, Elizabeth Thornton, Connie Willis, Joan Wolf, Roger Zelazny .

The Book Smugglers: And…. What’s next?

My Lord and Spymaster

Should come out in July. It’s set during the Napoleonic Wars. Jessamyn and Sebastian are international traders from rival companies, making a rich but hazardous living on the fringes of the conflict. Then Jess’s father is accused of treason … by Sebastian.
After that, I’ll be working on Doyle and Maggie’s story.

The Book Smugglers: Wow. Thats sounds awesome. We cannot wait for My Lord and Spymaster!

Once again, thank you so much Joanna for chatting with us. We wish you all the best!

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  • Kristie (J)
    February 2, 2008 at 6:13 am

    Great interview!! I read and was blown away by The Spymaster’s Lady – and quirkily enough, I rather liked the cover. Although I read it early in the year – I think it was my first read of 2008, it started the year off with a bang, I can’t see it being topped by anything else I read.

  • Katie(babs)
    February 2, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Great interview! Annique is an amazing heroine and the writing blew my mind away.
    I can’t wait to read more Joanna Bourne and so glad that she is writing for this genre. 🙂

  • Maggie Robinson
    February 2, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Joanna, yours is a book I’ve listed on my “BILL” on my blog—Books I’ve Loved Lately. I’m pretty fussy and read a TON—enjoy many a great deal, but don’t fall in love easily (I’m not cheap, LOL). I fell in love. I can’t wait for the next book. I am thrilled for your success!

  • marissa.north
    February 2, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Congrats on the interview guys! I’ll definitely see if I can pick this book up (and get the time to read hehe).

  • Jennie
    February 2, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Wow! Cool interview. I loved this book too, and can’t wait for the next one.

    But I want to know if Adrian’s ever going to get his own story. 😉

  • Thea
    February 2, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    Annique is just all kinds of awesome, isn’t she? I absolutely adored this book for the fine attention to detail, the rich historical background, and all the life and love poured into our heroine.

    Thank you Jo for the wonderful interview, and big props to Ana for getting this done! I cannot wait to read the next installment.

  • terrio
    February 2, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    I’m reading this one right now and I’m so in love with it. I announced in my chapter meeting this morning this is the best book I’ve read in at least a decade and ordered all to run out and buy it.

    A friend asked me about it and I was trying to describe the voice. I just kept saying, “She thinks in a French accent” which makes no sense and does not do it justice but I couldn’t think of how else to describe it.

    I’m on the Adrian bandwagon too. Can’t wait for his story but at this point, I’d read your grocery list. LOL!

  • Ana
    February 3, 2008 at 1:06 am

    I love Adrian too, and I think he is a favorite of many fans. She was asked about Adrian over at the Bulletin Board and says that she WILL write Adrian’s some day, mayve after Doyle and Maggie’s!

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