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Author Talk: January 2013

With her successful historical novels, Julie Klassen has helped to open up the Regency era to readers of inspirational fiction. In her latest effort, THE TUTOR'S DAUGHTER, Emma Smallwood and her father have come to the Cornish coast to tutor the youngest sons of a baronet --- but all is not as it seems. In this interview, Klassen talks about the influence of Jane Austen on her work, why readers respond so readily to her books, and the strange presence of palm trees in England.

Question: Your books have sparked renewed interest in the Regency genre among inspirational readers. Why do you think Regency romances are a great fit for this audience?

Julie Klassen: I think Regency novels are a great fit for the inspirational market in particular, because they are set at a time (early 19th-century England) when people, by and large, valued virtue, revered God and church, and endeavored to follow the rules of polite society --- things less common today. It was a time when chivalry was alive and well. Physical contact between unmarried ladies and gentlemen was limited to the chaste touching of hands during a courtly dance at a grand ball. I find it a very romantic time, as do many, I’m happy to say!

Q: Can you give us a brief description of your new book, THE TUTOR’S DAUGHTER?

JK: When their boarding school fails, Emma Smallwood accompanies her tutor-father to Cornwall, to the manor of a baronet and his four sons. But soon after they arrive and begin teaching the younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen. Emma hears someone playing the pianoforte at night but finds the music room empty. Then someone begins sneaking into her room, leaving behind strange mementoes. When the suspicious acts escalate into danger, Emma must figure out which brother to blame and which to trust with her heart.

Q: Where did the idea for this book come from?

JK: The idea came from research and Jane Austen. While I was researching an earlier novel, THE SILENT GOVERNESS, I came across information about private tutors. Public schools as we know them didn’t exist in those days. Parents often hired educated university graduates without fortunes to live with them and tutor their sons, as governesses did for girls. Or, they might send their sons to live with a learned man to be educated in his home. Jane Austen’s own father took in pupils, so Jane grew up with male boarders sharing her house and her father’s time. Perhaps that’s why Edward Ferrars, a character in her novel SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, had been sent away to be educated by a clergyman (and there became secretly engaged to the clergyman’s niece, Miss Lucy Steele). In this book, Emma Smallwood has grown up in a similar situation --- her father is a tutor, and her home is a boarding school for young gentlemen.

Q: Where is the book set, and why did you choose this particular setting?

JK: I have wanted to visit the southwest coast of England (and possibly set a book there) for some time. I was introduced to Cornwall through the novels of Victoria Holt and Daphne Du Maurier. Cornwall was known to be a rather lawless place --- a world of pirates, shipwrecks, and smugglers. My husband and I had the opportunity to travel there in 2011. We found Cornwall to be not only dark and stormy, as we expected, but also home to palm trees and a sub-tropical climate. I had no idea England had palm trees until I began researching the area. We stayed in a town called Bude, right on the coast. From our hotel, we could see a red-brick manor house high on a cliff across the harbor. I was intrigued by it and instantly thought, “I want to set a book there someday.” I asked a local woman for the name of the house, began researching it when we returned home, and based my fictional manor on the place.

Q: Several of your books have become bestsellers. Why do you think your stories are resonating with readers?

JK: Readers often write and say they love that my novels are not predictable. They don’t know by page three who the heroine will end up with or how the story will be resolved, so they stay up far too late reading. Others say they like how the writing takes them to another world and they feel like they are there, or watching a movie, as the novel unfolds.

Q: Do you hear from readers in other countries? Have your books been published in any other languages besides English?

JK: Yes, I receive occasional emails from readers in other countries. Now and again I have to use an online translator to decipher them, but I enjoy every one. My novels have been published in German and in Dutch. My husband and I had the privilege of traveling to the Netherlands and Germany this past fall when my publishers there invited me to come over for a mini-book tour. How wonderful it was to meet readers, as well as the editors and other publishing people who work to translate the books and market them in both countries. It was the first time I’ve heard someone do a reading of one of my books in another language. Amazing! It was a great experience, and we hope to return someday.

Q: Is this new book, THE TUTOR’S DAUGHTER, part of a series?

JK: No. So far, my books are all stand-alone stories that can be read in any order. Thanks for asking!