by Emily May
|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.
|One of Heyer's crime novels|
|An early Heyer historical romance, written under the pseudonym Stella Martin|
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|
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|
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|
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|
|One of Heyer's fabled notebooks, full of meticulous research notes|
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|
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|
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|
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|
|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!
The Book Depository.