Claiming the Courtesan
by Anna Campbell
He would marry her, and possess her in every way possible.
The Duke of Kylemore knows her as Soraya, London’s most celebrated courtesan. Men fight duels to spend an hour in her company. And only he comes close to taming her. Flying in the face of society, he decides to make her his bride; then, she vanishes, seemingly into thin air.
Dire circumstances have forced Verity Ashton to barter her innocence and change her name for the sake of her family. But Kylemore destroys her plans for a respectable life when he discovers her safe haven. He kidnaps her, sweeping her away to his isolated hunting lodge in Scotland, where he vows to bend her to his will.
There he seduces her anew. Verity spends night after night in his bed… and though she still plans her escape, she knows she can never flee the unexpected, unwelcome love for the proud, powerful lover who claims her both body and soul.
Hey, Hoydens, thank you so much for inviting me. I love your site - it's one of my failproof escapes from the horrors of the work in progress. Pam, congratulations on the RITA nomination!
Claiming the Courtesan is set in Regency/Georgian England. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?
I bet I give the same answer 90% of people give you. Like most girls of my era growing up in Australia, I read Georgette Heyer and just loved her. The sparkle and the romance and the wit and the emotion. Then I discovered Jane Austen and fell madly in love with Mr. Darcy.
Having said that, I set out to write any period BUT the Regency. I started my romance reading back in the days when they used a wide variety of settings. To give you an example, one of my all-time favorites is called The Flesh and the Devil by Teresa Denys. A really compelling bodice ripper (no getting around that one) set in the backwaters of 17th century Spain. They don't write 'em like that any more!
So I became a bit of a setting tart (why does that make me think of wiggly custard in pastry?). I started and occasionally finished books set in the Hundred Years War, the Italian Renaissance, Elizabethan England, 19th century Australia - oh, and the one I did before I started my first Regency was a terrifically commercial proposition set in 18th-century Hungary. Hmm, publishers would line up for that manuscript, I'm sure!
Then I screwed up courage to enter my first writing contest through Romance Writers of Australia with the first kiss scene from Goulash Guy. To my utter astonishment, I placed and got incredibly encouraging feedback. By this stage, it was over twenty years since I'd finished my first manuscript and I'd given up any hope of ever being published. But I suddenly wondered if sitting in my garret writing these stories I loved but nobody else ever saw was selling myself short and maybe I should try and write something commercial. Which at that stage was Regency historical romantic comedy. To give my Regency credentials, though, I have to say I read a lot of nonfiction about the Regency and I'd read literally thousands of Regency-set novels.
The strange thing is the minute I wrote the first words of that comedy (which ended up finaling in the Golden Heart in 2006), I felt like I’d come home. My voice was so suited to this setting. And I knew enough about the Regency through all the reading and traveling I’d done, that anything I didn’t know, I knew where to find, if you know what I mean.
So now I’m a Regency girl! Although to be completely accurate, my current books are reign of George IV and set in the 1820s. There was a decadent edge to that era before Victoria took the throne that fits the darker, more sensual stories I’m now writing.
What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?
One of the things I love about writing historicals is that you DO have to deal with the restrictions of the times. I like watching people navigate their society to find happiness. Having said that, though, I think all that historical reading has given me a picture of the past that doesn’t necessarily chime with what a modern romance reader will accept. You’re constantly walking that fine line between historical accuracy and telling a story people find compelling and believable now.
What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?
I actually think what sparks a book is EVERYTHING! You know, something will go to the back of your mind and then something else and eventually you have characters who won’t leave you alone until you write their stories.
Claiming the Courtesan came from a couple of places. I live near Sydney’s red light district, or at least I need to go through Kings Cross to reach my local train station. So for years, I walked past prostitutes waiting for clients. And given my historical bias, I started to think about what you’d do in the Regency if you were poor and unprotected by family or friends and you had responsibilities that meant you had to earn a living. You’d do your best to tread the straight and narrow – or at least my heroine does. And about the only work available for a poor girl was domestic service which put her at the mercy of her employers. Throw in the fact that Soraya/Verity is beautiful enough to stop traffic and she’s soon in a situation where she either accepts money for what men want from her or they just take it by force. The streets of every major town were thronging with women who had been domestic servants and had lost their reputation and therefore any chance of finding work. Prostitution was the only way they could feed themselves and their dependents. I’d much rather live now than in the Regency!
Anyway, one day I was lying in the bath (all my best ideas come in the bath) and these characters started to nag me. Verity who surrendered what she believed in for the sake of the people she loved and the Duke of Kylemore, a man who had everything and yet had nothing. A man totally unacquainted with love who was suddenly in the grip of a grand passion. How would he cope? And of course the answer is he wouldn’t – and everything he did to keep this one glimmer of light in his life just drove Verity further away.
I told these characters in no uncertain terms to leave me alone. I wrote comedies, not dark, dramatic stories full of emotion. I didn’t even think I could write emotion, let alone the intense sex scenes that such a story would require.
But these two wouldn’t go away. So one day just to shut them up (um, is it just me or am I starting to sound slightly unhinged here? I swear this was what it was like and I lead a perfectly functional life nonetheless!), I wrote the first chapter. Then somehow a second. And I ended up with Claiming the Courtesan which was unlike anything I’d ever written and which has become my debut romance for Avon. Life is very odd sometimes!
Did you have to do any major research for his book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?
I do a lot of reading, as you’ll gather, and courtesans are such an interesting part of high society (well, the fringes of high society) that I’d soaked up a lot of information without actually meaning to. When I realised that I was going to have a crack at telling this story, I started reading specifically about the demimonde. To my relief and delight, I found out that my idea wasn’t off the planet. There was a book by Katie Hickson called Courtesans that described the story of Elizabeth Armistead and Charles James Fox and honestly, EA was my Verity come to life in many ways. And I read a book called Amazing Grace about dukes and was astonished to discover quite how many did marry their mistresses, although usually after they’d had a family with a previous wife or two.
What/who do you like to read?
Dorothy Dunnett is probably the writer (outside classics like the Brontes and Jane Austen and Tolstoy) who I admire most. In romance, I have so many favorites. A few include Loretta Chase, Laura Kinsale, Anne Stuart, Connie Brockway, Judith Ivory, Nicola Cornick, Anne Gracie. I’ve recently discovered J.R. Ward and Nalini Singh who write paranormals - I love the emotional intensity they convey. Dorothy L. Sayers. Barbara Samuel, who writes moments that just cut to your heart. So many wonderful writers, so little time! I could go on forever but I’ll stop there.
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’m most definitely a pantser. Plotting is by far more efficient but the problem is my characters guide the events and the story emerges organically. Which means I write first drafts that should be shot to put them out of their misery. Then second drafts which might be worth triage. Then third drafts… You get the idea. It’s painfully slow and awfully scary as I’m never sure if I’ll be able to do it. But unfortunately the process is the process, insane as it drives me!
What are you planning to work on next?
My second book for Avon, Untouched, comes out in December. It’s another Regency noir. I’m currently in that awful first draft stage of book three which is also a courtesan story.