Welcome Victoria Hamilton, author of A Gentlewoman’s Guide to Murder.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I love the humdrum hum of daily life… that makes my perfect profession writing. I’m at the computer about 7 – 7:30 am… email and social media first thing in the morning, then writing/editing/promo until 2 – 3 pm. Housework is usually fit in while I’m pondering a thorny story problem, or to stretch out my shoulders. Then at the end of the writing day, tea and a book – or if I’m feeling virtuous, exercise, then tea and a book – then dinner and some TV. I find TV relaxes my brain (no jokes!); I enjoy sitcoms, dramas and reality shows (Survivor, Big Brother, etc.).
There is some variation in the summer for yardwork and sitting on the patio with tea and a book. I find the garden peaceful, even though I live in the middle of a city.
I think I am so extraordinarily fortunate to get to do what I love that… what more could I want? My perfect day is very ordinary.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Having written so many Regency romances in the past (as Donna Simpson) I had a reasonably deep understanding of the period. Deep enough that I knew I could never live then, no matter how lovely the clothes and houses and art were. There were so many strictures on a woman’s freedom… she couldn’t live on her own or even go for a walk alone. She couldn’t have or control her own money, or make her own decisions. She had to earn that right by marrying, bearing children and becoming widowed
Only then was she free to love who she wanted, live as she wanted. I began to research women of the time, and discovered there were some who rebelled. They paid a price, sometimes a heavy one; they forfeited their freedom, often, (some ended up institutionalized as insane) and even their lives. Would I be strong enough to defy convention openly?
Maybe not. So I set out to create a sly and cunning woman who found a way to rebel in secret, and help other girls and women at the same time to escape the kind of abuse women have historically had little choice but to take. It felt… timely.
Tell us about your main character.
Miss Emmeline St. Germaine; she’s a firecracker. She’s angry. She’s no nonsense. She has lost so many people she loves – her sister, sister-in-law, mother – and a few she hates… like her father. She’s angry that as a woman she has no role in her society unless she marries. So she buries herself in helping others and along the way discovers a few troubling family secrets. One question I still have about Emmeline is… will her unwillingness to compromise get in the way of her own happiness? There is a family friend, Dr. Giles Woodforde, who is clearly smitten with her. He’s intelligent, moral, kind and willing to accept her just as she is… for the most part. I worry that Emmeline, fiercely determined not to undermine her independence, will refuse a chance at happiness, cut off her nose to spite her face, to use an old cliché. The best protagonists keep even their writer worrying and working.
Tell us a bit about your new book. What inspired you to write it?
I’ll tell you one thing that happened, something that made a substantial difference in how I wrote the rest of the book. I had started writing the book. I’ve been published for many years – 20 this year – so I can sell a book and series on proposal, which means that I have to write at least 50 pages and a synopsis for editors to read. I spoke on the phone to an editor I respect who had just finished reading the 50 pages of the proposal. What she said crystallized the book for me. She said, I love that Emmeline is kind of like a super hero. It hit me then and there… the cloak, the mask… everything. Miss Emmeline St. Germaine is a kick-ass Regency-era cloaked superheroine, foiling the baddies and then going to the opera to flirt and listen to gossip. I was transfixed by the notion, and it informed the writing of the rest of the book.
Emmeline had to be daring and bold and determined. She had to be a superheroine.
I don’t want to give away too much; let me just say there are surprises in store, in the sense of the murder mystery, of course, but also about Miss Emmeline St. Germaine. Frustrated by her inability to work, or have a career, relegated to the feminine role of spinster doing ‘good works’, she finds a way to live life on her own terms in more than one way. It isn’t easy, and there is danger, but she refuses to be defeated.
What do you think makes a good story? How do you incorporate that into your books?
I want to read about complex heroes and heroines, men and women who are flawed, but are trying the best they can. I want bad guys (and gals) who are human, who are not super-villains, but who expose the true banality of evil. Villains aren’t charismatic anti-heroes; they are selfish and warped individuals, determined to get what they want no matter who they hurt. I work that into my books by staying in touch with the world around me. I watch a lot of true crime shows on TV, and I know that villains often get away with a lot of evil-doing before they get caught. But they’re human and they slip up, so they usually do get caught.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started out?
Aspiring writers often ask How do I know people will be interested in my book? The truth is, you don’t know. You’ll never know. You can only write what interests you. You can only write the best damn book you have in you, and then do your best to find a publisher. And then write another book, the best damn book you have in you. And then you write another book, the best damn… you get the idea. That’s what I wish I’d known; that if I’m interested in what I want to write, there are readers are out there interested too. You just have to find an editor/publisher who recognizes it. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t always going to happen, but soldier on and write the damn best book you have in you.
Victoria Hamilton, also known as Donna Lea Simpson, is the nationally bestselling author of the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries, the Merry Muffin Mysteries, and the Lady Ann historical mysteries.
She began her writing career as a Regency romance author who gradually moved toward paranormal romance and then onto historical mystery writing. She enjoyed writing romance and believed it was the perfect training ground to force her to focus on creating character. Now with twenty regency romance novels under her belt, she has also created a name for herself within the cozy mystery world. Victoria currently lives in London, Ontario.