Dec 5, 2011

Interview with Jennifer Kloester




L-R: Jennifer Kloester, author Anne Gracie, and me, at the 1920s cocktail party at this year's Romance Writers of Australia conference

Today I'm delighted to welcome Dr Jennifer Kloester to the LoveCatsDownUnder blog! Jennifer is the Australian author of Georgette Heyer's Regency World and Georgette Heyer; Biography of a Bestseller.

(For those of you who don't know who Georgette Heyer was, she wrote both historical novels and crime novels, but she's best known for her Regency romance novels. In fact, she's credited with starting the Regency romance subgenre. Heyer's career spanned the 1920s to 1970s and her books are loved the world over. She's the reason I adore the Regency period and why I write Regency romances. If anyone reading this blog hasn't read a Heyer, they should, because they're fabulous!)

One of Heyer's crime novels

An early Heyer historical romance, written under the pseudonym Stella Martin
Jennifer, you've written two books about Georgette Heyer, the marvellous Georgette Heyer's Regency World (which lives beside my writing desk and is constantly used) and the newly-released Heyer biography. What is it about Georgette Heyer that particularly interests you? Why did you choose to write about Heyer and not someone else?

She's a compelling writer and, really, she has me at 'hello'! I love her wit, her ironic humour, her stylish prose, her wonderful characters and her hilarious dialogue - not to mention her ability to recreate such a convincing sense of the historical past. She is a consummate story-teller and a superb writer who I felt had been overlooked by the literati and too-often looked down upon by those literary snobs who had never read her - I guess you could say I was prompted by a strong sense of justice and a burning desire to redress what I saw as neglect of an enduring female author. Having said that, I tried very hard to offer readers a balanced and insightful account of Georgette as both a woman and a writer without letting my personal admiration of her get in the way of revealing her flaws, her complexities, her failings - in short I have tried to give the reader Georgette Heyer as a human being.

Dr Jennifer Kloester in her study, surrounded by Heyer novels and research files
Is your biography of Heyer a literary biography, a personal biography, or both?

I think it's a mixture of both. I always wanted to write a biography that read like a novel but with all the invisible weight of meticulous research. The book is perhaps a bit unusual in that I have used Georgette's letters to tell part of her story - letting her speak for herself so to speak.

You had unprecedented access to material about Heyer. Can you tell us a little about that?

The new archives of her personal letters give a wonderful insight into both the woman and the writer. The earliest letter was written when she was 18 and had just got the contract for The Black Moth. It was an extraordinary experience reading those early letters and feeling that here, for the first time, was the elusive young writer. The other big new collection was from her publisher's family - 93 personal letters written between 1937 and 1970 and some of them are written absolutely in the moment - I loved it when she wrote like that - it was almost as if you were in the room with her as she wrote!

Heyer as a young woman
Jennifer, did your research tell you whether Heyer grew up wanting to be an author? Was it her dream, or something she just fell into?

It seems she was something of a child prodigy who began making up stories at an early age. We don't know exactly when she began writing them down but it is likely that she was writing things down in childhood. She was certainly a voracious reader and I have her own copy of At the Back of the North Wind in which she wrote her name in clear, rounded, childish handwriting. I have wondered if she could have written as quickly and as clearly as she did in adulthood without having trained herself in childhood, but perhaps we'll never know for sure.

Georgette as a girl, with her mother and baby brother, Boris
The Regency period is what Heyer is best known for. Do you know why she chose to focus on this period? Was she personally fascinated by it, or was it purely a business decision since the Regencies sold well?

I think she came to it over time - in a sort of gradual evolution of reading and research. She'd written The Convenient Marriage in 1934 which is set in the early nineteenth century - only about ten years before the Regency. It's possible that her research for that gave her insight into the later period. But I also think that Georgette's own voice found its perfect outlet in the Regency era - almost as if it were a culmination or a consolidation of everything she had written before. I think this is especially true when she was writing Friday's Child - her own personal favourite of her novels - because it was in this book that her wit and humour, her characterisation, dialogue and historical knowledge all came together in a perfect mix of her talents.

Friday's Child -- Heyer's favourite of the novels she wrote
It's also interesting to consider the connection of so many things from her own childhood (servants, horses and carriages, social hierarchy, manners, etc) to the Regency which was an era not dissimilar to the Edwardian period. And then, of course, the Regency also had many aspects in common with the post WWI era - both periods of high-living, freedoms, new language and a particular kind of energy of its own. In many ways they were both watershed eras in history and in Georgette's writing life.

One of Heyer's fabled notebooks, full of meticulous research notes
You and I are both writers, Jennifer, and I don't know about you, but I can't say that I find writing easy. In fact, it's often quite hard! (Squeezing blood from a stone would be an appropriate metaphor some days.) During your research, did you find any indication of whether Heyer found writing easy or difficult? Was she a fast writer who wrote thousands of words per day, or did she labour over every paragraph? And did she write multiple drafts, or was her first draft extremely clean?

She was remarkable and probably rare in her ability to write quickly and with great facility. Her first drafts were often much closer to final drafts and we now know that she sometimes wrote her novels in a matter of months. Faro's Daughter was written in less than two months, single-spaced, straight onto the typewriter! I still find this astonishing (and an enviable skill which I definitely do not possess).

Faro's Daughter -- a fabulous, fun romp of a novel
Less than two months!! A novel that witty and intricately plotted and just plain fabulous? That's not just astonishing and enviable, it's almost beyond belief! [And if you haven't read the marvellous Faro's Daughter, I have only two words for you: read it!]
   
Jennifer, what was one of the more surprising or interesting things that you learned about Heyer while you were researching her biography?

I've been asked this a few times and I think the thing that struck me most was the degree to which she seems to have written her emotional life into her novels. Once you understand how closely guarded (and in many ways) how limited her personal life was you realise how much she needed an outlet - and that was her writing - both her letters and novels.

Georgette with her young son, Richard

Georgette and an adult Richard
If you were asked to describe Georgette Heyer in a few words, what would they be?

The first word would be complex, the second would be difficult - both in personality and to know.  She was very shy but also formidable and outspoken with those she knew well. Intensely private, who she was on the surface was often very different to who she really was deep down. She buried her hurts very deep.

Georgette Heyer in her later years
And finally, the question that you've no doubt been asked a hundred times: What's your favourite book by Georgette Heyer, and why?

The hardest of all questions to answer because there so many to love! Right now though, the answer is A Civil Contract. A quiet, thoughtful book that is not always deemed a favourite by Heyer readers but I have loved it for a long time for it's insight into human nature and for its hope. I also LOVE Jonathan Chawleigh!

A Civil Contract -- one of Heyer's quieter novels
Jonathan Chawleigh is a great character, Jennifer, but I have to confess that A Civil Contract isn't one of my favourites. I would have to pick The Grand Sophy, and Sylvester, and Faro's Daughter, and Arabella, and... Actually, this could be a very long list, as Georgette Heyer wrote so many superb books!

The Grand Sophy, in which the indomitable Sophy goes head to head with the domineering Charles -- great fun!


Jennifer is very kindly offering a copy of her fabulous Georgette Heyer's Regency World to one lucky commenter! To enter the draw, tell us what your favourite Heyer novel is and why!

Georgette Heyer; Biography of a Bestseller was released in London in October and is out in Australia and New Zealand this week! I can't wait to get my hands on a copy! To get your very own copy, visit The Book Depository.

47 comments:

  1. A favorite ~ I read and kept all of her books back in the 1970's and 1980's. My memory isn't good enough to pick a favorite after all this time. I do know that I read the first book from a library and set about to find and own all of them. She was a wonderful witty writer. I really do need to dig out some books for a reread. I also know that once I started one of her books it was a non stop read.

    Jennifer ~ Thank you so much for the insights into her life.

    Emily ~ Thank you for bringing Jennifer here. I like your regency books also.

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  2. I have this bio and it's wonderful, very absorbing reading. I've been reading and rereading Heyer since I was 11 and they're still my favourite comfort reads. She's funny -- very funny! Her characters are unique and spring to life on the page -- even the minor characters, and her plots are delicious. She influenced so many romance writers, not just historical writers. Reading Emily and me you can see the Heyer influence -- it's probably why we both chose to write in the Regency era, but other well-beloved romance writers like Eva Ibbotson, Emma Darcy, Marion Lennox, Liz Fielding, Sophie Weston and more all loved Heyer _ I could go on, but the above mentioned are all people who've quoted bits of Heyer at me in the past.

    I couldn't pick a favorite to save my life -- there's a Heyer for every mood — but I'd recommend Venetia, The Grand Sophy, Devil's Cub, Frederica, The Unknown Ajax, Cotillion, The Masqueraders, The Nonesuch... and lots more.

    BTW, there's a Georgette Heyer conference on 25 Feb in NSW if people are interested. I don't have the url, but Jennifer is a speaker there, so google it.

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  3. Hi Kaelee -- I reread Heyer all the time, at least half a dozen books of hers each year. She really was incomparable!

    Glad you enjoyed the interview, and glad you like my regencies too!

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  4. Hi Anne -- lovely to see you here! I totally agree with you -- there's a Heyer for every mood. Some are romps, some are quieter, but they're all fabulous. I think a lot of writers love her and have been influenced by her.

    A Heyer conference ... I would so love to go!!

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  5. Hi Jennifer and Emily. I have to admit I've never read a Georgette Heyer novel. But am on my way to Amazon asap to download one onto my kindle after reading this post. What a fabulous and inspiring career she had.
    Great post!

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  6. Wonderful interview, Emily. And Jennifer, it's great to see you here! Your Georgette Heyer biography is on my Christmas wish list. :-) I'm dying to read it.

    It is very hard to choose a favourite book. I did discuss The Grand Sophy quite a bit in my Masters and I have a huge soft spot for that story, but, if pressed, I would have to say Faro's Daughter. And I am utterly blown away that Heyer wrote the entire book in 2 months -- wow! Just...wow!

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  7. Hi Jennifer, loved your talk at the conference and really loved your bio which I've just read. I think you did a wonderful job. And I'm so envious! What a fantastic journey you've been on, writing it.

    Thank you Em for a fab interview.

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  8. Thanks for the fab interview! I'm relatively new to Heyer - I read The Grand Sophy 18 months ago at Emily's urging, and I fell in love with Sophie and Charles and the book. I've read more since but The Grand Sophy is still my favourite. :)

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  9. Helen, you have some fantastic reading ahead of you! Enjoy! (And I hope that Faro's Daughter is one of your purchases, and The Grand Sophy, and....well, the list is a long one!)

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  10. Michelle, I know -- two months for a book that superb? It's astonishing!

    Ooh, you wrote about TGS in your Masters? I'd love to read what you said about it!

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  11. You've read the biography, Zana? I'm so envious! My copy should arrive this week -- can't wait to read it!

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  12. Rachel, I'm so glad you enjoyed TGS -- it's a great book, isn't it? Now you have to read Faro's Daughter!

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  13. Hi Emily and Jennifer! Terrific interview! Jennifer, you make an excellent 1920s gangster! Wasn't the cocktail party fun! I thoroughly enjoyed being a flapper - all those swishing tassels!

    I'm having draft envy as I read about Georgette Heyer producing such clean first drafts! And as for two months to write a book - WOW! LOL

    I've got a few of her books - two historicals and a who-dun-it. I've got The Foundling and April Lady and it's been ages since I read them. After reading this blog, I have an overwhelming urge to tuck into them again.

    :)
    Sharon

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  14. It's been so long since I read a Georgette Heyer book I have forgotten the titles. Shame on me because she wrote so many wonderful stories, with covers that always made me smile & have gown envy. This was a wonderful post & a much needed reminder that I'm missing out on some delicious scandals.

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  15. What a thoroughly fascinating post! Thanks so much, Jennifer, and Em for organising.
    I'll confess I haven't read a GH. That will soon be remedied!! And the biography sounds like a must buy for my Xmas list. What an amazing woman.
    Robbie (the one you sat next to at the Awards Dinner =)))

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  16. Great post, Jennifer and Em. The photos are so wonderful!
    I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who hasn't read a GH but like the others I'll defintely put them in my TBR.

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  17. Heyer is incomparable! My favorite book of hers is Sylvester - there's so much conflict between Sylvester and Phoebe you just can't see how they're going to get past it.
    I already have Jennifer's book, so no need to enter me in the draw.

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  18. HJ

    (Don't enter me for the contest as I already own the book.)

    Thank you for this interesting interview. I've loved Heyer's Regencies and detective stories for years, and would be hard pushed to choose a favorite. The Grand Sophy, Frederica, The Talisman Ring ... and so on!

    I look forward to reading the biography to see if Jennifer can answer the question which fascinates me about Heyer - given that she could write such good Regencies and detective stories, why are the Historicals not so good, and why did she value them more?

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  19. Thank you for a fascinating interview. I'm looking forward to reading the full biography.

    My favorite Heyer depends to some degree on my mood, but I keep coming back to Sylvester. I think it's the combination of a heroine who is a witty writer, a suave and sexy hero, and a ton of vivid secondary characters (Sir Nugent, Ianthe, Lady Marlowe, Chien, Edmund...).

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  20. Sharon, I'm TOTALLY with you on the draft envy!!! May I suggest that you read Faro's Daughter, if you've never read it? April Lady and The Foundling are good books, but Faro's Daughter is outstanding!

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  21. Marybelle, enjoy tucking into Georgette Heyer again! Those early covers were fabulous, weren't they? So much fun to look at!

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  22. Robyn, I hope you do dip your toes into Heyer water -- why don't you start with The Grand Sophy, like Rachel? It's a fabulously fun book!

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  23. Anna, you love e-readers, don't you? I think all of Heyer's books are available as e-books. Give her a try one day when you feel like a fun historical read!

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  24. Hi Abby! Lovely to see you here! Yes, I totally agree -- Georgette Heyer is incomparable! I also agree about Sylvester. It jostles for first place (for me) along with The Grand Sophy and Faro's Daughter. I love that Phoebe is a writer! And all those marvellous secondary characters! It's a superb book.

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  25. Hello Anonymous! I'm glad you put The Talisman Ring on your list -- it's one of my all-time favourites -- such a fun book! I love Sir Tristram Shield and Sarah Thane!

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  26. Hi Vivian -- yes, I agree about your favourite Heyer depending on your mood! Sometimes I feel like one of her quieter ones, other times I want a romping comedy! Sylvester is a marvellous book, isn't it? I reread it almost every year. Phoebe's a wonderfully unique heroine.

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  27. What a wonderful interview. I'm so glad Jennifer mentioned the "overlooked" factor. I always believed I was the only one who ever read her until joining several author loops.

    I first read her when I was 15 and I still have every one of the Regencies (now with rubber bands to hold them together from being re-read so often) and they are my prized possession.

    I have 3 favorites: First and foremost is The Devil's Cub. The story is so amazing and I LOVE Rake stories...hers are the most awesome. When Mary Challoner shoots him...sigh!

    My second would be Venetia, probably for the same reasons. Renowned Rake confronted by an intelligent woman...Heyer writes them the best.

    Third is Arabella...Mr. Beaumaris is so adorable when he starts taking on her strays. She saves him from death by boredom.

    Oh dear, I could go on and on. Jennifer, I have Georgette Heyer's Regency World (I, too, write Regencies...because of Georgette Heyer) and I would love a copy of her biography.

    Emily, so glad you brought all of this to light!

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  28. This was such an interesting post loved it

    But I have to admit I have yet to read a Georgette Heyer book although they are on my list of books to get. I really need to read these

    Have Fun
    Helen

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  29. OOOOOHHHH!!! My goodness - Jennifer I MUST tell you my mum preordered the biography from an online store MONTHS ago (we're in New Zealand by the way) and she got it posted out a few weeks back and absolutely LOVES it - she keeps reading excerpts out to me over the phone!!!! The only reason I've not nabbed it to read myself is because I'm on deadline - but both my mother and I (and her mother before her) ADORE Heyer - she absolutely fueled my love of romance. Now as a writer, I've found those snippets that I've heard of her writing 'life' to be utterly fascinating. The way you've included excerpts from her letters is fantastic. I can't wait to read it all myself (not just major chunks over the phone - lol)!

    I too like A Civil Contract - but confess my utter faves are Devil's Cub and Venetia and Sylvester as well - just gorgeous.

    Apologies for the CAPS OVERKILL but I just wanted you to know how WONDERFUL your biography of hers is!!!!!!!!!! :)

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  30. Jennifer, I broke my romance reading teeth on Georgette Heyer. No one beats her. I remember being shocked when someone laughed at me for reading her books. They didn'tknow what they weremissing out on and I didn't waste my breath trying to educate them.
    I can't wait to get my copy of Biography of a Best Seller.

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  31. Hi, What an interesting post. I have to confess to being yet another Heyer virgin! I will look up The Grand Sophy and Faro's Daughter immediately and will have an historical romance reading frenzy over Christmas!

    I love biographies, especially of writers -so interesting to know what makes them/us tick!

    Thanks for this interview, Emily and best of luck to Jennifer with the book!

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  32. Hello Mary, nice to see you here! I, too, have all my old Heyers -- and many of them have rubberbands/sellotape etc holding them together! Mary and Vidal's story is fantastic, isn't it? That scene where she shoots him! Heyer was definitely in a league of her own.

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  33. Helen, yes, you need to read them! Much delight awaits you!

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  34. Natalie, I never knew you were a Heyer fan! If we ever do Hamner we'll have to bring Heyers to read!

    All your caps have made me even more impatient to read the biography -- I'm counting down the days until it reaches me!

    How great that your Mum and grandmother passed down their love of Heyer to you. In my case, it was my Dad who passed it to me!

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  35. And Sue, I had no clue you were a Heyer fan too! There are more of us out there than I realised! Yes, I've had people look down their noses at me for reading Heyer -- but like you say, they don't know what they're missing!

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  36. Louise, yes, start with those two! Ooh, I envy you with such marvellous unexplored territory ahead of you. You're in for some fabulous reading!!

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  37. Hi all - in case anyone is interested in the conference, please email me at ajones12@bigpond.net.au for details - a whole day of talking Heyer should be such fun. it's on 25 Feb 2012 in Epping (Sydney) and there is a good variety of speakers, including Jennifer. I really enjoyed the book Jennifer, especially reading exerpts from her letters which made her come alive. We're asking people to choose their 3 favourite novels when they book for the conference, but so far i haven't been able to do it(should have make it favoutite 10!)
    Amanda

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  38. Right, I feel like I need to make an announcement. I have *never* read a Heyer. I know that makes me a bit of a heathen and my mother (who is a Heyer nut) will be very unhappy with me saying that out loud.

    But, strangely, just a little taste of the woman behind the work has piqued my interest. I may read your biography first, Jennifer, and then dip my toe in the Heyer waters.

    Friday's Child seems to be a popular choice...

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  39. My fave would be The Black Moth. She apparently wrote it for her brother when she was 15...15. Insane talent to have at that age.

    Kelly Ethan

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  40. That was a wonderful interview both questions and answers. I love reading about Georgette Heyer.

    Please do not enter me as I already have this wonderful book. I reference it many times.

    Thanks for the posting!

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  41. What a wonder interview. Georgette Heyer is my favorite author. All my old novels have fallen apart and I've bought them again. I also have the on Kindle. The greatest complement I've received is that I write very much like her.

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  42. Thanks for the conference info, Amanda -- it sounds excellent! Impossible to choose one's favourite 3 Heyer's though ... favourite 10 might be more possible!

    Emily May

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  43. Nikki, you heathen, you! Do read the biography (my copy arrived today -- I'm SO excited!) and then dip a toe in the water. Friday's Child is good, but I have to confess a preference for those of her books that are more fun/romps, like Faro's Daughter and The Talisman Ring and The Grand Sophy. You might like Sylvester, since the heroine is a writer? Whichever one you pic, enjoy!!

    Emily May

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  44. Hi Kelly -- lovely to see you here. Yes, she was insanely talented! Glad you picked The Black Moth as your favourite ... I must go reread it.

    Emily May

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  45. Hi Sophia Rose -- I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. Thanks for stopping by!

    Emily May

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  46. Ella, it's the ultimate compliment, isn't it? As someone said earlier in the comments, Heyer was imcomparable. I, too, have had to rebuy copies that have fallen apart. Next step will be to buy them as ebooks!

    Emily May

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  47. My favourite depends usually on my current mood - most times it would be either "The Grand Sophy" or "Venetia". Today it is "Venetia".

    Thanks for the interview! ;)

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