Historical Fiction Week: Author Q&A with Charlotte Betts

The next guest on my Historical Fiction Week is Charlotte Betts, Piatkus author of The Apothecary's Daughter (August, 2011), The Painter's Apprentice (August, 2012), The Spice Merchant's Wife (August, 2013), The Chateau on Lake (November, 2015) and the recently released The House in Quill Court. Read all about her writing, her novels and her love for Historical Fiction in this interview:

Hi Charlotte and welcome. 
Hi, Alba! 

First, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a daydreamer who loves the magical world of reading. I came to writing late and it has developed into a passion. Writing is such an integral part of my life now that I can’t imagine why I didn’t start to write earlier. Starting late isn’t necessarily a problem as no experience is ever wasted for a writer: the sad and happy times, travel, work opportunities and family life, especially family life! I’ve always been creative and worked in the design and property spheres but it’s difficult to write a book a year when you have a demanding day job. After five books I’m so excited to be able to write full time now.

Your latest novel, The House in Quill Court, tells the story of Venetia Lovell, a sensible and artistic girl who in 1813 is forced to leave her home in Kent and move with her frivolous mother and idle younger brother to London to start a new and challenging life. What sparkled this idea?
Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint a specific event or moment that inspires a novel but for The House in Quill Court it was more like gradually turning up the volume on a radio until the story was shouting to be written.

There are so many things I’ve loved about the Georgian and Regency eras for as long as I can remember: the architecture, the fashions, the elegance and the opulence, Jane Austen – the list is endless. Part of the attraction is that this time is not so far in the past that it feels alien and yet it’s still a different and often surprising place.

I was interested in the contrasts between the romantic idea of the Regency era with the seamy, crime-ridden world of the filthy alleys and rookeries in London that were only a step away from the elegant townhouses in their garden squares. I wanted to explore what might happen when these two worlds collided.

Your novels are set in different times and places. How do you research your settings? And which one did you find the most difficult to recreate in your novels?
I have three published novels set in the mid-seventeenth century, one at the time of the French Revolution and now The House in Quill Court in the Regency era. I’m currently working on another set at the end of the Regency. So far, all have been at least partially set in London. The reason for this is that I do like to visit the locations in the book, wherever possible, because accuracy and a sense of place is important to me. I take a notebook and jot down anything I can see, smell, hear and touch that might have been there in the period I’m writing about. It helps me to create the story world if I can include the details that make a place feel real for the reader. 

The internet is useful for an overview of a setting, especially for photographs. I’ll then follow leads to other sources and immerse myself in whatever I can find to make the setting come alive; books newspaper reports, poetry, historical travel writing, museums, maps, etc. My current work-in-progress includes real historical figures who lived in Pesaro, Italy, where the story opens, and I’ve recently visited this location to soak up the atmosphere and add credibility to the story.

I love to use maps and particularly like old maps in a CD format so that I can put them in my laptop and zoom in to see individual buildings. This enables me to plan where my characters might live and work, where their horses are stabled, how long it might take them to walk to the shops and what they might see on the way.

The most difficult setting for me was the Loire valley in France for The Chateau on the Lake. I’ve visited France many times but had only passed through this area. The story location needed to be within a reasonable distance from Paris and it had to be in an area where there were vineyards. I read a great deal about viticulture in this area of France and studied maps, photographs and history books but it wasn’t possible for me to visit the area before the manuscript had to be delivered to my publisher. 

If you could switch places with a character from one of your books, who would it be and why?
This is such a hard question! I think the only answer I can give is that it would have to be the heroine of whichever novel I’m writing at the moment. This is because, during the year it takes to write a novel, I become that heroine and her life and world are completely real to me. I feel as though I have a foot in both her life and my own, as if in a parallel universe. It’s important to me that whatever hardships and trials beset my heroines, they all, somehow, have a happy ending or I wouldn’t be happy either.

Why did you decide to start writing Historical Fiction?
I started out writing contemporary novels but then I wrote a love story set in World War II. I very much enjoyed researching this period and subsequently decided to write a historical novel set further back in time. Whilst considering the time frame in which I’d like to set the story I read Pepys’ diary and was fascinated by how the wonderful details brought him so clearly to life. Soon after this I was inspired to write The Apothecary’s Daughter, which was my first published novel.

Alba, thank you for inviting me onto your website.

The House in Quill Court is currently available as an e-book and will be published in paperback on 25th August.

You can find out more about Charlotte Betts and her books on:

About the book:

Title: The House in Quill Court
Author: Charlotte Betts
Published: January 7th 2016 by Piatkus (ebook)
                          August 25th 2016 by Piatkus (paperback)

Blurb: 1813. Venetia Lovell lives by the sea in Kent with her pretty, frivolous mother and idle younger brother. Venetia's father, Theo, is an interior decorator to the rich and frequently travels away from home, leaving his sensible and artistic daughter to look after the family. Venetia designs paper hangings and she and her father often daydream about having an imaginary shop where they would display the highest quality furniture, fabrics and art to his clients. When a handsome but antagonistic stranger, Jack Chamberlaine, arrives at the Lovell's cottage just before Christmas bringing terrible news, Venetia's world is turned upside-down and the family have no option but to move to London, to the House in Quill Court and begin a new life. Here, Venetia's courage and creativity are tested to breaking point, and she discovers a love far greater than she could have ever imagined...

From the multi-award-winning author of The Apothecary's Daughter, The House in Quill Court is a gorgeously evocative Regency novel bursting with historical flavour and characters you won't forget. If you love Philippa Gregory and Joanne Harris, you will adore Charlotte Betts.

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