I'm so super delighted to host this interview with Ms. Julia Kelly today to celebrate launch week of her Trilogy with Pocket Star: The Governess Series, delightfully charming and saucy historical romances in which three best friends are employed as governesses for different families, and all find themselves wanting something they can’t have.
Julia, welcome. If we can all take our eyes off those spectacular covers, we're going to have a super chat today!
Julia Kelly: Thank you for hosting me! I'm so excited to be talking to you today.
Alexandra Haughton: Those of us who already know and love you know that you studied Victorian history back in the day. For your readers who might not know about your ability to rattle off theories about shifting demographics in 19th century London, can you tell us a little bit about how you got interested in the subject and the kinds of things you studied/did/pursued while at university? And how this works its way into your fiction today?
JK: I actually love answering the “what was your major?” question because I get the best looks. I studied Victorian British history with a focus on female sexual history (that usually gets some raised eyebrows at parties). Basically I researched and wrote about how women were told to think about their own sexuality through laws, medical practice, etc. during the Victorian period. It's a fascinating subject! There was this idea that women either didn't have any desires (i.e. the perfect “angel in the house” wife) or if they did they must be out of control and deviant (this is where mistresses, courtesans, and any independent women including doctors and governesses fell).
I've always been the most interested in this latter group of women because they’re the ones who broke a lot of society’s rules, and isn't that what we want to read about in our heroines? Throw them together with a hero and watch the sparks fly, especially if he's never met another woman like her!
AH: I love that so much. My academic focus was more on Shakespeare and the Restoration (and my M.A. work was on adulterous women and other female transgressions), so I definitely think we should write a scholarly text together as soon as possible. Or maybe just more romance. Yes, more romance.
PS--Because I’m a total nerd, I want to give a quick #shoutout to your Really Old Frocks social media campaign. (Gentle reader, if you haven’t started following it, what are you waiting for?) Julia, can you tell our friends where to find it?
JK: I'm so glad you enjoy it! Really Old Frocks grew out of a conversation with our friend Laura von Holt actually. We were sitting at my kitchen table talking about historical fashion and she suddenly asked why I wasn't running a Facebook group out about the history of fashion. When she said it, it was such an “ah ha!” moment.
Basically I collect and curate photos from museum collections across the world that show beautiful historical dresses, accessories, and underwear and share them on Facebook and Instagram. The group’s followers are incredibly smart women from across the world who are really enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge of fashion history. We’d love it if you'd join us!
AH: It makes all of my frustrated costume designer dreams come true each time I see something scroll across my Insta—because you know Facebook and I don’t get along.
JK: I totally get it. One of my grandmothers was a gifted quilter, the other was a dressmaker with her own shop in Liverpool, and two of my cousins are unbelievably talented seamstresses who’ve worked for the English National Ballet, Royal Ballet, and Royal Opera. I wish I'd inherited even an ounce of their talent with a needle and thread.
AH: Plot. Bunny.
Okay, moving on. I remember reading a draft of The Governess Was Wicked long, long ago. Before you got “the call.” [I am pretty sure half of my lame beta notes were “And the doctor. AND THE DOCTOR!” There was literally no measure of how excited I was to get my hands on an ARC this past weekend.] Do you mind sharing your “I got the call” story?
JK: My “the call” story makes me laugh because it’s definitely not what I expected it would be. I was sitting at work when my agent emailed me asking if I had a moment for a phone call. I’m pretty sure that there was a smiley face somewhere in that email so I knew something big was happening. I told her yes… and then all hell broke loose.
Actually, a building in New York City caught on fire, and since I’m a journalist that’s kind of a big deal. My adrenaline was going because I was wondering if I was about to get news I’d just sold the book so my hands were shaking when I sent reporters out to the scene. Right after they were on their way, my agent called. I ducked into an empty conference room, and she told me that we’d sold the Governess series to Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Star imprint as a trilogy. I got all the nitty gritty details from her, got off the phone, and then walked right back into the newsroom because work was waiting. I did get the chance to call my family after the news had quieted down, and I remember sitting silently for a moment too. That call was the culmination of years of hard work, and I wanted to pause and enjoy it.
I like that story because I'd always imagined I'd be at home or at least somewhere private when I got “the call.” I'd get to celebrate, shout, jump up and down, something before breaking out the champagne. Instead I had two careers I love converging at such an inconvenient time that a building was literally on fire.* Sometimes things aren't as perfect as you'd like, but it works out in the end.
*Everyone was okay.
AH: Well, I’ll be drinking champagne in spirit with you on the 12th, for sure. Possibly at breakfast.
Any final thoughts, Ms. Kelly?
JK: I just wanted to thank you for having me, and I can't wait to introduce all of you to my favorite governesses!
AH: No more than I!
And to that end: I’m going to give away a complete set of JK Governess series eBooks to one lucky newsletter subscriber!! (If you’re not already signed up, what are you waiting for? Sign up by 9.16.16 at midnight central to be eligible.) On Saturday, I’ll send the winner a copy of The Governess Was Wicked in your preferred format, PLUS a copy of the next two in the series as they release (The Governess Was Wanton, October 10th and The Governess Was Wild, November 14th)!
EDIT: ALEXANDRA B.--NO RELATION, OBVS.--YOU'RE THE WINNER. PLEASE CONTACT ME AS SOON AS POSSIBLE SO YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON THESE AWESOME BOOKS!