Nicola here! Today I’m welcoming Christina Courtenay back to the Word Wenches to talk about her latest time slip novel, The Secret Kiss of Darkness. Christina is a multi-award winning author of historical romantic fiction and as I am a huge fan of time slip novels I couldn’t wait to quiz her about her latest book!
Christina, welcome back to the Word Wenches! Please tell us a little bit about The Secret Kiss of Darkness.
The Secret Kiss of Darkness is a time slip novel set in Devon, in the south-west of the UK. The heroine in the present has her life totally disrupted when she almost bankrupts herself to buy a portrait of a mysterious 18th century gentleman at an auction. There’s forbidden love, smugglers and romance, as well as a gypsy’s spell!
The story was inspired by a Van Dyck painting in the National Gallery here in London, which looked so real I thought the man portrayed was going to start talking to me any minute! I swear his eyes followed my every move. It was very spooky but brilliant as it gave me the idea for this novel.
What brilliant inspiration for a book! What would you say is the most challenging aspect of writing a story that combines a historical and a contemporary story?
I think the most difficult thing is to keep the reader engaged in both stories without losing interest or forgetting what was happening. I try to alternate the sections so that they are not too long, and thereby hopefully the plot strands will be fresh in the reader’s mind. It can also be tricky to get the language right – you have to switch from a more historical ‘feel’ in descriptions and dialogue of the historical scenes to the present where you have to be careful not to sound too old-fashioned. One way of doing that would be to write each story separately and combine them afterwards, but that doesn’t work for me so I just have to try and switch mindset for each section.
Which is your favourite scene in the book?
When the hero in the past, smuggler Jago Kerswell, unexpectedly meets the love of his life. She bumps into him, quite literally, and turns his life upside down with a request he can’t refuse (even though he knows he should).
You write a variety of different genres but do you have a particular type of story you are drawn to tell?
I do love the time slip format because I’m fascinated by the idea that our souls might live on after we pass away, and although I’m terrified of ghosts, at the same time it is a comforting thought that life could go on in some form. In this book, I’ve chosen a rather strange way for this to happen, but that’s part of the fun of this genre – you can do anything! I also always like stories where good triumphs over evil, so I’m sure that’s part of every novel I write.
Can you tell us where your interest in history springs from and how it has influenced your writing?
I’ve been fascinated by history since I was very young and still remember my first history lesson at school learning about Stone Age people - I’ve been hooked ever since. To a certain extent, it could be because I loved fairy tales, and they’re usually set in the past which is what made them seem so romantic. And I love reading about ancient treasures and cultures like the Vikings, Egyptians and Romans. When I began to read novels and found that some of them were set in the past, I naturally gravitated towards those. My father told me to read The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and I knew then I’d found my ideal book. It followed, of course, that I would also choose to write in my favourite genre.
What research did you do for this particular novel?
As it’s set in Devon, I spent some time there during holidays, exploring the lovely coastline and other scenic places. My favourite was Saltram House, a stately home near Plymouth, and I loved it so much I based the hero’s house in my story on that (with a few alterations of course). I also had to do research about smugglers, and I read up on the life of the painter Thomas Gainsborough, whose portraits feature in the novel. He seems to have been quite a character and some of the things he is alleged to have said made me laugh!
Who is your favourite fictional hero/heroine?
My favourite hero is probably Jamie Fraser in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series – he’s just immensely likeable, but I also love bad boy heroes like Ratty (Miles Rattenbury) in Sue Moorcroft’s Starting Over for example. I tend to fall in love with whatever hero I’m reading about at the moment though, so I’m a bit fickle! As for heroines, I think it has to be Winter de Ballesteros in M M Kaye’s novel Shadow of the Moon. She is so strong and goes through so much, I’m completely in awe of her.
Interesting choices! I’m another who has to admit to being profligate with my affections when it comes to heroes! Shadow of the Moon is a wonderful book and I completely agree about Winter’s character. What are you currently reading?
Every Secret Thing by Emma Cole (aka Susanna Kearsley). I discovered that for some reason I’d missed this one and as I love her books, I had to rectify that immediately!
We’re big fans of Susanna’s books here at the Wenches too! What do you keep beside your computer when you’re writing?
Paper and pen for jotting down random thoughts and ‘to-do’ lists, research notes, a board with photos of the hero (I usually use actors or real people I’ve seen in magazines for inspiration), a name book (or two or three…) and all kinds of miscellaneous items. Underneath my chair is my faithful companion, the youngest of my three dogs, who always keeps me company and sometimes provides inspiration too.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
I used to work as a legal secretary but wouldn’t want to do that again. If I could start over I’d be an archaeologist or, failing that, I’d love to work as an editor in a publishing house.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and what advice would you give to other aspiring authors?
Persevere and believe in yourself (I didn’t want to hear that at the time, because getting published seemed to take so long, but it was true!). And I always tell aspiring authors to find themselves a writing buddy, someone who is at the same stage as yourself and who you trust to give constructive (but never malicious) criticism. It’s so much more enjoyable to set out on the journey towards publication together with someone, rather than on your own.
Must forbidden love end in heartbreak?
Kayla Sinclair knows she’s in big trouble when she almost bankrupts herself to buy a life-size portrait of a mysterious eighteenth century man at an auction.
Jago Kerswell, inn-keeper and smuggler, knows there is danger in those stolen moments with Lady Eliza Marcombe, but he'll take any risk to be with her.
Over two centuries separate Kayla and Jago, but when Kayla’s jealous fiancé presents her with an ultimatum, and Jago and Eliza’s affair is tragically discovered, their lives become inextricably linked thanks to a gypsy’s spell. Kayla finds herself on a quest that could heal the past, but what she cannot foresee is the danger in her own future.
Will Kayla find heartache or happiness?
And here are the buy links:
Amazon UK: http://tinyurl.com/kz66zrd
Amazon US: http://tinyurl.com/muu5b46 (On sale March)
Kindle UK: http://tinyurl.com/lonuk6g
Kindle US: http://tinyurl.com/l4ake9u
To find out more about Christina's books, check out her website, Facebook page and Twitter!
Do you enjoy time slip books? What do you like about them? Do you have any favourite books or authors in the genre? And are there any periods of history you would like particularly to see featured in a time slip novel? There is a copy of The Secret Kiss of Darkness up for grabs for one commenter between now and midnight Thursday.