Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm the granddaughter of an Edwardian house servant on one side of the family, and on the other side my grandfather may have been Lenin's roomie in Switzerland (a family rumor that the family geneaologist is researching). I've been writing about eleven years now but I've always, and still do, read a lot. I think reading is essential to a writer.
A book--Bury the Chains, by Adam Hochschild, about the British abolitionist movement. I had only the very vaguest idea of what this involved, and I grew up and was educated in England! It's a fascinating part of history, a movement that involved men and women of all classes who felt that the slave trade--the most lucrative industry in the country, the mainstay of the economy--was wrong. The movement, which lasted over thirty years, ended when the Anti Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807. Emancipation came over three decades later. That's the history lesson. Great conflict! I originally intended to set the whole book in England, but the editor for whom I originally wrote it (it was published in 2007 as Forbidden Shores under the name of Jane Lockwood), insisted I set it in the Caribbean. I really didn't want to because the reality of slavery was appalling: the economic model was to work people to death. I wasn't that interested in an exotic setting--give me Quakers collecting signatures for petitions in the rain any time. I should also mention that A Certain Latitude is a rewrite of the original.
Tell us a little about the research you did for this project.
Having blown my original advance on downspouts, gutters, a new washer and dryer, and the MC bill, as one does, I relied on the internet. Some amazing sites I discovered were the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, the BBC's resources on abolition, and Brycchan Carey's site. I also became interested in the black community of Georgian England, which continues to fascinate me. Although most slaves were worked to death in the sugar industry if they survived the voyage out, some ended up in England, and from Roman times England has always had a black community. I visited Bristol and its museums--possibly that city and Liverpool were the more famous slave ports, but in fact London was the biggest. And by the way, the movie Amazing Grace was bizarrely simplistic, and twisted historical facts like only the movie business can! For life aboard a ship, most of my research comes from The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby, his account of life as a crewman sailing from Dublin to Australia in 1939.
In one scene, your heroine throws her spinster's cap and her gray wooly stockings into the ocean. Tell us more about Clarissa Onslowe. What kind of woman is she?
She's someone who has nothing to lose. It makes her reckless and very courageous, but also capable of making some unwise choices. She's been cast out by her family after having been caught out in an affair, something clergyman's daughters just didn't do, and was exiled as a housekeeper to an elderly relative. She's now seeking to redeem herself by going to the sugar island as a governess, but intending to write and publish a book on the conditions of female slaves, hoping that then her family, also abolitionists, will accept her again.
The heat level in your historicals is typically rather high. :-) Tell us how you manage to balance the erotic content and the historical conventions.
I think that's one of the most interesting and challenging parts of writing historicals. You have to work with the reality of people never getting entirely naked for sex and also believing that any activity without a fighting chance of conception was a mortal sin (if that's what you mean by the historical conventions?) and if I stuck with that it could be a fairly yawnworthy book. On the other hand dodgy contraception, ignorance and guilt are still with us, so possibly not much has changed. There's lots of undressing in this book! I love the textures and fabrics of that period.
Which authors have inspired you?
Jane Austen. It always comes back to her. I've also learned a lot from Pam Rosenthal/Molly Weatherfield, who is one of the smartest writers out there, particularly on writing erotic material. Georgette Heyer was a great influence on me when I first started writing but I can't bear to read her now, and I'm very relieved she didn't know about London's black population in the Regency.
Janet at Chawton House in England
What are you working on right now?
I'm writing about Allen and Clarissa seven years after the end of A Certain Latitude. It's a book about the seven year itch, what you do after devoting your life to a cause that has succeeded, and whether it's possible to stop yourself falling in love. It's called A Certain Proposition and I hope it will be out in about three months. When I was (re)writing A Certain Latitude I found myself wondering what would happen to them after their rather adventurous time together.
What was your favourite book of 2013?
Longbourn by Jo Baker, which is P&P from the servants' point of view. I'm wild with envy that I didn't have the idea first or the writing chops for it since I'm fascinated by servants in the Georgian/Regency period.
Thanks so much, Janet!
Janet Mullany grew up in England and has worked as an archaeologist, performing arts administrator, classical music radio announcer, bookseller, and editor, and unexpectedly became a writer eleven years ago. She lives outside Washington, DC, where she reads voraciously and teaches a cat manners.
You can visit her online at www.JanetMullany.com
Or find her on Facebook and Twitter.
A CERTAIN LATITUDE is now available from Amazon.