Tuesday Book Club: Renee Dahlia’s In Pursuit of a Bluestocking

 In History, Tuesday Book Club

One of my great joys is meeting fabulous romance authors and I have to admit to being horrible biased and say that Australia has the best romance writers in the world! It is my privilege to know some absolutely marvellous historical romance authors who open a window into the past, and take us on a wonderful journey through time with a cup of happily ever after to finish it off.

My guest today is Renee Dahlia whose debut novel To Charm A Bluestocking, it was pleasure to feature here earlier this year. Today, we learn more about Renee and her new title In Pursuit Of A Bluestocking.

What were you like at school, Renee?

Renee Dahlia

Welcome to Renee Dahlia who is my Tuesday Book Club guest

I attended a small country public high school, and my father taught there. I spent most of the time hiding in the library, trying to keep a low profile. Eventually, I learned that this was futile, and in my final year, I dyed my hair in school colours, and used a Mad Magazine slogan to run for the school student council. This experiment went as expected – not well.

What inspired you to write?

It’s probably fitting for someone who has worked in the horse racing industry. Writing for me was more about chance, and taking a gamble on an opportunity, rather than inspiration. Over a decade ago, a magazine suggested that I write a series of articles based on the data behind various horse racing theories – myth busting, if you will. This grew over time, until a bookmaker asked me to ghost write a book for him. It remains unpublished until he decides what he wants to do with it. However, the process of writing this book (a large non-fiction biographical style tome) gave me a taste for long form writing. From there, it was an easy choice to write the types of books that I read for relaxation. Romance.

Which writers inspire you?

Inspiration is a rather lofty concept, and I’d like to think that reading a wide variety of authors helps me to improve my own craft. In particular, I enjoy reading writers who balance a well crafted romance with diverse perspectives, such as Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole, and Beverley Jenkins. I read plenty of Australian authors such as Anne Gracie, Clare Connelly, and Darry Fraser. Other writers I’ve enjoyed lately include Maisey Yates, Suleikha Snyder, Tessa Dare, Jackie Ashenden, Cat Sebastian, and Alisha Rai. On my keeper shelf are books by Nora Roberts, Stephanie Laurens, Lisa Kleypas, as well as many of those mentioned already.

What inspired you to write this story?

This story, In Pursuit of a Bluestocking, is the second in a series, and the main character Marie is happily engaged to Bertrand in the first book, To Charm A Bluestocking. While I was deciding how to deal with boring Bertrand, my father discovered an interesting piece of our family history. One of his relatives was shot in the Battle of Shipka Pass in 1877, and the bullet was removed from his leg and encased in a gold cage. My father rang his cousin to ask if this was true, and Sergei said, “Of course it is. It is sitting on my desk in front of me.” From there, the story of Bertrand as a conman tracking down a famous fictional bullet grew, and the pursuit began.

How much research do you do?

More than reaches the page! Before I start writing, I like to read a few non-fiction books about the general topics that I’ll cover during the book. For example, for the third Bluestocking book, I read a lot about the British in India, especially from an Indian perspective, because the hero’s mother was born in Mumbai. Most of these books were recommended by friends of mine who have relatives there. I also spent a lot of time trying to understand the diversity of London in the 1880s, and discovered that London has always far more diverse than popular history tells us. Once I start writing, little pieces of research pop up as I go along, eg can I use this phrase? The online etymology dictionary is hugely useful for writing historical novels. Google maps is also invaluable, and for In Pursuit of a Bluestocking, I used a few different historical transport websites to work out the time it would take to travel different distances by train in that era. One also provided menus for the first class carriages, and I cooked some of these meals as part of my research.

Can you give us a blurb to let us know what the story is about?

When he goes hunting a thief, he never expects to catch a bluestocking…

Marie had the perfect life plan: she would satisfy her father’s ambition by graduating as one of the first female doctors in Europe, and she would satisfy her mother’s ambition by marrying a very suitable fiancé in a grandiose society ceremony. Only weeks away from completing the former, Marie is mere days away from achieving the latter. But her whole life is thrown into chaos when her fiancé dies, mysteriously returns, and then is shot and killed, and Marie risks her own reputation to save the life of the man falsely accused of the murder.

Gordon, Lord Stanmore, finally tracks down the conman who stole from his estate, only to find himself embroiled in a murder plot. The woman he rescues offers to rescue him in return, by marrying him and providing an alibi. Gordon’s ready agreement to the scheme grows the more time he spends with his new wife. Her wit, her intelligence, her calm, her charm: Gordon finds himself more and more enchanted with this woman he met by mistake. But as the clues to the identity of the murderer start to align with the clues to the thief, they reveal a more elaborate scheme than he could have imagined, and though he might desire Marie, Gordon is unsure if he can trust her.

As their chase leads them out of Amsterdam and into the UK, both Gordon and Marie must adjust to the life that has been thrust upon them and decide if marriage came first, can love come after?

Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?

Marie has imposter syndrome (not that she would call it that in 1888 as it wasn’t named until the 1970s). Yes, this is related to how I felt about my publishing journey while I was writing this book! Marie believes that all her achievements are good luck, or due to someone else, and that eventually someone will realise that she doesn’t deserve it. She’s socially bubbly, but also polite at all costs. That’s how she ends up engaged to Bertrand, because she wants to be loved, and he uses that need to con her. When that world falls apart, she has to learn that she is worthwhile, that she did the work, and she does deserve real love.

What book/s are you reading at present?

This question is a tricky one. I read three to four romances a week, so this changes frequently. This week I read The Lawrence Brown Affair by Cat Sebastian during my commute to work, Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin, and am slowly making my way through Thyzra by George Gissing (published in 1886).

For research, I’m reading a local history about the life of Quong Tart, who founded the suburb in Sydney that I live in. My next book is going to feature his fictional descendant as the heroine, so I wanted to get a good understanding of his personal history and how that would potentially flow through down family lines. I’m also reading How Far Can You Go by John Maclean, about a triathlete who broke his back, which is a fascinating insight into willpower. Other non-fiction books that I have on my side table include Romance Readers Guide to London, and a re-print of the 1863 Bradshaws.

What writing project are you working on next?

I’ve just completed the first draft of the third book in the Bluestocking series. And I’m writing a contemporary category romance set in Sydney which is a lot of fun.

Tell us something unique about you that they wouldn’t guess from just looking at your photograph?

My favourite sport is cricket, especially test cricket. Yes, that five day contest of skill and strategy that often is derided by those who don’t watch. Test cricket is an epic battle of athletic toughness, soundness (no replacements for injury are allowed), and strategy. The aggressive fast bowler, and the cheeky, wily spin bowler versus the batsman who must stand their ground. I volunteer at our local cricket club, and am proud that our club is a pioneer of female cricket in Sydney, participating long before the current rapid growth of the sport.

What is your favourite book and why?

I have a whole shelf of favourite books. If I had to pick a series to recommend to a reader new to romance from my shelf, it’d be Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series, starting with the Duchess War.

What is your favourite positive saying?

“There is no glory in practice, but without practice, there is no glory.” This is similar to Plato’s quote “Excellence is a skill that takes practice.”

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

Would you like to share an excerpt from your book?

To Charm a Bluestocking:

‘Josephine, my friend, you have many great qualities, and some men like statuesque women. It’s not like you are gigantic. There are enough men out there taller than you. It’s not as big a burden to love as you think,’ said Marie. Claire rolled her eyes and snorted.

‘Love. Says the only one of us with a real fiancé. You see romance everywhere. Some of us don’t want love.’

‘Everyone wants to be loved,’ Marie said wisely.

 

In Pursuit of a Bluestocking:

Spring 1888

 

Marie sat, head bowed, in the tiny red-brick church on the edge of the small village of Kleindorp. Her carefully constructed life plan lay in ruins. In only two days, the grandiose wedding ceremony that she’d spent two years helping her mother plan should have taken place. Instead, she sat at her fiancé’s funeral, unable to believe that Bertrand was dead. How could a simple accident take away all her dreams? Light shone at an angle through the side windows in the church, sending scattered streams across the aisle, creating shadows on the wooden pews. Dust motes danced in the light breeze that swirled in the empty space, much like the vacancy inside her. The Aanspreker droned on, and his voice echoed around the empty room. His words muffled in Marie’s ears against the clamour inside.

The final preparations for her extravagant wedding had been well underway when that fateful note had arrived from his sister, Loretta. Her dear Bertrand had been crushed by a wagon carrying fruit to market two days prior, and the funeral would be today. Guilt rose in her throat, and she rubbed her palm against her neck as she thought about how she’d spent more time with her mother on the wedding preparations than with him in the last week. Now the news of his demise seemed to appear out of nowhere. She’d left her mother and her two best friends—Josephine, now Lady St. George, and Claire—at her parent’s house in Amsterdam, surrounded by happy wedding clutter. Flowers and gowns and the like filled the room with the happy scent of love.

 

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