Aussie author Anna Campbell defies the boundaries of historical romance

Pamela White

It’s every writer’s dream. You write the best book you can,
sell it to the publishing company of your dreams and quit the day job to pen
fiction all day. For Australian writer Anna Campbell, this dream is her

Campbell burst onto the romantic fiction scene in March 2007
with the controversial book Claiming
the Courtesan
and since then has published three more novels, each
of which has received critical acclaim and generated its share of controversy.
Writing stories set during the Regency era, Campbell turns Regency romance on
its ear, offering a darker, grittier version of the period made popular by
author Jane Austen.

Boulder Weekly caught up with Campbell from her home in
Queensland, Australia, to ask her about her path to publishing and what
inspires her gothic vision of Regency England.

Boulder Weekly: First of all, can you tell us a bit about
your background?

Anna Campbell: Oh,
goodness! How long have you got? All right, here’s the shortish version. I’m an
Aussie, born in Queensland which is the state high up on the right-hand side,
the state with Steve Irwin and the Barrier Reef! I’ve been in love with books
as long as I can remember so the desire to be a writer was a natural follow-on
to that. I did an arts degree at uni – hey, three years where someone actually
wanted me to spend my days with my nose in a book? My idea of heaven! Then I
worked at a variety of jobs, including a long stint captioning TV programs for
the Deaf. Great training for a writer.

I love to travel and as well as shorter trips, I had two
years living in England in the mid-1980s and four months traveling the U.K. in
2004. That was great for a budding Regency romance writer — all those wonderful
stately homes to check out! I now live on the Sunshine Coast about an hour
north of Brisbane, Queensland’s capital. I’ve been writing full time since Avon
bought Claiming the Courtesan in 2006 — a dream come true.

BW: What inspired you to write romantic fiction?

AC: My mother gave
me my first romance novel when I was eight in an attempt to get some peace. It
worked! Mind you, back in those days, you could give an 8-year-old a category
romance without worrying about her reading inappropriate material! I’ve been
addicted to romance fiction ever since and like lots of writers, I went from
reader to writer. The next major leap for me was reading
The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen
Woodiwiss when I was in my early teens. I adored that book, the passion and
sensuality and emotion of it, and suddenly I’d discovered exactly what I wanted
to write. I decided then and there I wanted to grow up to write historical
romance for Avon — it still blows my mind that that’s what ended up happening!

BW: That’s pretty cool that your dream came true
in such a literal way. What is the attitude toward romance novels and romance
novelists in Australia as compared to that in the U.S.?

AC: Romance is
definitely a bigger force in the U.S. than it is in Australia, although having
said that, Harlequin Mills & Boon is huge here. A lot of romance novels are
sold here in other guises — for example, Nora Roberts is often shelved in
either women’s fiction or crime. You can strike snobbish attitudes about
romance but that’s something education from Romance Writers of Australia and
our wonderful local authors is slowly changing.

BW: You’ve got four books in print right now — Claiming
the Courtesan
, Untouched, Tempt the Devil, and Captive of Sin. Was Claiming the Courtesan the first book you wrote? How long did it
take you to cross that hallowed threshold and become a published author?

AC: Sorry, I’m
laughing hollowly at
the Courtesan
being the first book I wrote. Not by a mile! I wrote a
medieval in between high school and university and actually finished the
manuscript so if I consider that the beginning of writing with the hope of
publication, I needed another 27 years before I actually sold Claiming the
. I’d decided Harlequin would be
the best way to develop a career and I wrote eight rejected manuscripts for
them before I decided to go back to my first love, historical romance.

Then I started a stack of stories, finished the occasional
one, didn’t submit to anyone — yes, clearly, you have to submit your
manuscripts if you want to be published! Two things brought a big change. One
was that I gave up writing about seventeen years in because I decided I was
never going to achieve my dream. I couldn’t bear not writing so I went back to
it after about eighteen miserable months. And it was then that I joined Romance
Writers of Australia. I started an enormously steep learning curve (and made a
lot of wonderful friends on the way) and eventually sold Claiming the Courtesan to
Avon at auction in 2006.

BW: What inspired you to write the period that you

AC: I’d always read
Regency-set romance, going back to Georgette Heyer and Pride and Prejudice as a
kid. But for some reason, I resisted writing in the period and tried every
setting except Regency England. Then I finaled in the first romance writing
contest I ever entered (with a manuscript set in 18th-century Hungary, I’m not
exaggerating about my exotic settings!) and suddenly thought maybe I had a shot
at taking this further. If that was the case, I clearly needed to think of a
more commercial setting than the obscure ones I was exploring, much as I
happened to love them. I started writing a Regency comedy and it was like
coming home — my voice really belonged and through reading thousands of Regency
historicals, I already had an extensive knowledge of the world my characters
inhabited. I haven’t looked back since. I write late Regencies (really reign of
George IV) set in the 1820s. I love the decadence of that period just before
Queen Victoria came to the throne.

PC: Your books have been — very accurately, I
think — described as “Regency noir.” I’ve read Tempt the Devil and Captive of
Sin and enjoyed that darker element very much. Where does that come from for

AC: Thank you! It’s
odd – if you met me, I don’t think you’d consider me a dark person. Or at least
that’s the feedback I’ve had! I was an avid gothic reader, though, and I had a
huge crush on Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester when I was a teenager so clearly
something in me responded to the darker side of romance.

BW: Do you do research first and let your
characters develop out of that, or do you get to know your characters first and
then do the research to match their story?

AC: Luckily because
I’ve now written five Regency noirs (

is out in June, 2010), I’ve got a pretty good handle on the period I’m writing
about. So I have a good idea of what stories will work in that setting and what
won’t. Before I start writing, I always have a hero and a heroine, a problem,
occasionally a villain, and always the opening. Then I write organically,
letting each scene grow out of the one before. Having said that, I usually have
a few high points in mind and I know what the ending will be. Those characters
often present something I need to research in depth. Which is great as I love

With Claiming
the Courtesan
, I did a lot of research on courtesans and I found so
many amazing stories in that research, Tempt
the Devil
grew out of the same body of research. Untouched meant researching the treatment of mental
illness in the 19th century — scarier than most horror movies! Captive of Sin required a lot of
research on the legalities of marriage and also on my hero’s backstory with the
East India Company.

BW: What’s your writing process? Are you a
plotter or a pantser — someone who writes by the seat of her pants?

AC: Definitely a
pantser! I wish I was a plotter. It would save me a lot of rewriting but I find
if I’ve already told myself the story, I lose interest in it so I guess I’m
stuck with my messy process.

BW: What has to click for you to feel like you
truly know your characters?

AC: What amazes me
about the writing process is that I think
I know these people
when I start writing the story as they’ve lived in the back of my brain for a
long time by then. I put pen to paper (or hand to keyboard!) and they emerge
with traits and behavior that completely astonish me. I truly know my
characters once I’ve come to the end of what is always a really difficult first
draft process. Then the editing is refining and clarifying and strengthening
what I’ve learned about them in writing their stories. And yes, inevitably the
painful stuff comes out in that process! I think that’s how you get the power
into your stories, making these characters confront the things they really
don’t want to confront.

BW: Gideon from Captive of Sin was a tortured and very sympathetic hero.
What inspired him?

AC: Theidea for
Gideon came during that trip to the U.K. in 2004. I picked up a book called The
Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk in a
bookshop in Oban on the west coast of Scotland. This was much more exciting
than it sounds and was full of Indiana Jones-style spies and soldiers as the
Russians and the British vied for control of Central Asia in the mid-19th century.

One story in particular struck a chord with me — these two
amazing warrior scholars called Arthur Conolly and Arthur Stoddart who were
beheaded in Bukhara in 1842 after being kept in a pit in the central
marketplace. Anyone who has read Captive
of Sin
won’t have to think too hard about the links with what happens to
Gideon in India.

I’m fascinated by Central Asia but sadly, writing in the
1820s, this imperial rivalry between Russia and England was a little too late
to fit my period. So I started researching the British conquest of India and
came up with plenty of options that allowed me to torture poor Gideon in an
appropriately Conolly and Stoddart way. On a serious note, I find the warrior
scholar archetype terrifically compelling and Gideon’s definitely an example.

BW: Your books are fairly gritty — more so than
most romance novels — and the characters have an intensity of emotion that
readers seem to enjoy. Does that come at a cost to you as a writer?

AC: Oh, absolutely!
I’m like a wrung-out rag when I finish a book. You have to live through these
experiences with the characters and sometimes it’s tough.

BW: So what do you do to refill your creative

AC: I love to look
at water. I walk by the sea or swim. I’ve always felt I should have been a
water sign (for the record I’m an earth sign!). I watch TV. I read — not as
much I used to, sadly. I find a really good book gets my subconscious firing in
the way nothing else does. I catch up with my friends. I listen to music. A
break away really freshens up the brain too.

BW: Your next book, My Reckless Surrender, comes out on May 25, 2010. Can you tell us
a bit about that?

AC: It’s about a
dangerous seduction in Regency London. Here’s the blurb:

into sin…

well-practiced rake, weary of easy conquests and empty pleasures, Tarquin Vale,
Earl of Ashcroft, knows women — and his every instinct warns him to beware of
this one. Diana Carrick’s brazen overtures have thrown the haunted, sinfully
handsome lord completely off his guard. Why, the exquisite temptress stated
outright that she wishes to be his lover! But it is neither Diana’s boldness
nor her beauty that intrigues him so—it is the innocence he senses behind her
worldly mask.

upon the seduction that will finally free her, Diana has set her sights on the notorious
Ashcroft — never dreaming that there is much more to the enigmatic rogue than
sin and deviltry. His kiss is bewitching, his caress intoxicating — and even
the dangerous secret Diana must protect cannot shield her from Ashcroft’s dark

yet most willingly, they are playing with fire. Now the fuse has been lit and
there is no escape … except surrender.

BW: What are you working on now, besides
cleaning your house for the holidays?

AC: Ha ha! Someone’s
been reading my Facebook posts complaining about having to do so much
housework! I’ve just started my sixth historical romance for Avon. I’m still at
that lovely stage when everything’s fresh and exciting. This book will probably
be out some time in 2011. I’m also writing a mini-novella (13,000 words) for an
anthology — it’s my first reunion story so I’m looking forward to seeing how
that develops. The Australian edition of
of Sin
is just about to hit the stands (mid-December), so I’m also
gearing up for local promotion.

BW: Good luck with your Australian release, and
congrats on starting your sixth book. Thanks for taking time to talk with us.

For more on Anna Campbell’s books, visit