Happy Holidays Janeites. Today, I am so pleased to present an exclusive interview with bestselling and award-winning author Julie Klassen who has just released her latest historical romance mystery, The Belle to Bridge Island. Set in Regency-era London and an island on the River Thames, it is her return to historical suspense after writing her trilogy The Tales of Ivy Hill. Julie has generously answered my questions about the book and a few other intriguing topics as well.
Congratulation Julie! You have just released your 14th Historical romance novel, The Bridge to Belle Island. Can you share your inspiration for this new work?
Thank you! It’s always difficult to trace an idea back to one “aha” moment, but for this book, I would say I was inspired by learning of all the smaller islands that exist within the island of Great Britain, especially in the Lake District and on the Thames River. I enjoyed researching several of these tiny, fascinating places with intriguing names like Eel Pie Island, Pharaoh’s Island, Monkey Island, and others. Some of them have fine homes on them, others are uninhabited. Some are reachable by bridge, others only by boat. Many have colorful histories.
How do you select a title, and is there any significance in your choice of The Bridge to Belle Island?
Actually, The Bridge to Belle Island wasn’t my original working title. Determining titles is a group effort between me and my editors. They ask me for several ideas and we go back and forth until we all agree on a winning title. I felt strongly about having “island” in the title since that was part of my original inspiration, plus an island setting is so appealing for a mystery. (And Then There Were None, anyone?) I suggested this title, because the bridge plays an important role in the novel (the main character is unable to cross it at the beginning) and “bridge” also hints at one of the themes of the book. I LOVE that the designer featured a bridge on the cover.
After your trilogy, The Tales of Ivy Hill, you have returned to Regency mystery/suspense. What intrigued you do so?
I thoroughly enjoyed writing a series and remaining in one village and among (primarily) the same characters for three novels. But I was also ready for something new and different. Plus, I love a mind-challenging mystery. Two of my former novels, The Tutor’s Daughter and The Secret of Pembrooke Park have strong mystery elements, but The Bridge to Belle Island is my most mysterious to date, with the characteristics of a classic Whodunit blended with romance.
The plot is set in Regency-era London and on an island on the Thames River. What research did you conduct to understand the two environments during this time?
A lot! Thankfully, my husband and I were able to visit several islands on the Thames River. For the London and legal aspects of the novel, I had some help with research. An intern helped me figure out how investigations were carried out during the era of Bow Street Runners, before the Metropolitan Police (aka Scotland Yard) was founded, and before the age of private detectives like fictional Sherlock Holmes. I based the opening court case on transcripts from the Old Bailey. And finally, I was grateful to have a lawyer and Austen scholar review the manuscript to help me avoid any glaring mistakes.
Your hero, Benjamin Booker, is a London lawyer who is compelled to investigate the death of a business associate who was the trustee of the estate of your heroine Isabelle Wilder. This trio of the living and the dead is what brings your characters together. How did you put yourself in their shoes and visualize their scenes?
That’s one of the fun things about writing: watching a movie of your own creation in your mind! To help me visualize the setting, we commissioned a British cartographer to create a map of Belle Island—a fictional place, but one based on a real island on the Thames. Also, I read first-person accounts of what it is like to experience vertigo and agoraphobia, which play roles in the novel.
What are the most endearing character traits of your hero and heroine? What are their weaknesses?
Benjamin suffers from anxiety-related vertigo. And even though he suspects Isabelle is hiding something, he longs to protect her. Isabelle, meanwhile, is everything warm and gracious within the safety of her island home, but deep-seated fears keep her trapped there. I have not suffered from either of these specific issues, but as a mom (and human) I know a thing or two about fear and worry, and enjoyed weaving these challenges into the novel. I do think Benjamin and Isabelle are likable, especially perhaps because of their weaknesses, and hope readers will find them relatable.
What did you enjoy most about writing The Bridge to Belle Island? What was the most challenging?
Writing a whodunit was a new challenge, but one I enjoyed. I loved creating an intriguing puzzle for readers to solve. Finding the right balance of clues and red-herrings was definitely difficult. Thanks to my beta readers and editors, I think (hope!) we got it right.
There is a long history of Gothic romance and historical mystery set during the Regency-era. Can you share any books or authors that you have read and enjoyed?
I have not read many mysteries set in the Regency era, though I have enjoyed several Gothic Regency novels by my friend Michelle Griep, and several Victorian-era mysteries by Anne Perry as well as Elizabeth Peters.
Have you ever drawn personalities or characteristics from people you know and applied them to the characters in your novels?
In general, I don’t write about people I know, but I believe writers are influenced by everything we take in, including everyone we meet, so, indirectly, yes!
What do you like to read when you’re not researching your next book?
Like many people, I read books that are strongly recommended to me. When someone I trust says, “You have to read this book!” I am likely to give it a try. I read in many genres, from contemporary romance to historical fiction, to mystery. Lately, my husband and I have been enjoying many Agatha Christie mysteries both in audiobook and television versions. But you’re right—mostly what I read are research books.
Are you planning another research trip to England soon?
Yes, my husband and I are tentatively planning to return to Cornwall, England in 2020 to do more research for my next full-length novel.
I am curious if you can share anything about your next book? Even a mere hint would be intriguing.
Next up from me is a novella called An Ivy Hill Christmas (September 2020). In the story, unexpected surprises and romance work their magic in a prodigal’s heart.
Thank you so much for your time and insights, Julie! Best, LA
You are very welcome, Laurel Ann! Julie
In this page-turning standalone, an island estate with hidden secrets and a cast of characters with motives for murder will keep you up late into the night to find out what happens next.
As lawyer Benjamin Booker investigates the mysterious death of an old friend, evidence takes him to a remote island on the Thames, shrouded in mist and mystery. There, Isabelle Wilder is trapped by fear and a recurring dream about a man’s death. Or is it a memory? When a second death brings her admirer, friends, and family under suspicion, and the search for the truth brings secrets to light, she realizes her island sanctuary will never be the same.
Bestselling and award-winning author Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, she worked in publishing for sixteen years and now write full time. Three of her books, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, and The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. The Secret of Pembrooke Park won the Minnesota Book Award, and The Silent Governess was a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s RITA awards. She has also been honored with the Midwest Book Award and Christian Retailing’s BEST Award. She enjoys travel, research, BBC period dramas, long hikes, short naps, and coffee with friends. She and her husband have two sons and live near St. Paul, Minnesota.
The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers (2019)
Hardcover, trade paperback, eBook, and audiobook (400) pages
Cover image courtesy of Bethany House Publishers © 2019; text Julie Klassen & Laurel Ann Nattress © 2019, Austenprose.com