25 November 2012

Guest Blog: Christina Courtenay

This week, we’re welcoming author Christina Courtenay whose title THE SCARLET KIMONO  takes readers to 17th century Japan in the time of the shoguns. Christina is here to talk about the novel and offer a paperback copy to a lucky winner. Here's the blurb:

Abducted by a Samurai warlord in 17th-century Japan – what happens when fear turns to love?

England, 1611, and young Hannah Marston envies her brother’s adventurous life. But when she stows away on his merchant ship, her powers of endurance are stretched to their limit. Then they reach Japan and all her suffering seems worthwhile – until she is abducted by Taro Kumashiro’s warriors.

In the far north of the country, warlord Kumashiro is waiting to see the girl who he has been warned about by a seer. When at last they meet, it’s a clash of cultures and wills, but they’re also fighting an instant attraction to each other. 

With her brother desperate to find her and the jealous Lady Reiko equally desperate to kill her, Hannah faces the greatest adventure of her life. And Kumashiro has to choose between love and honour …

**Q&A with Christina Courtenay**

The Scarlet Kimono is set partly in Japan – what made you choose that as a location for your novel?
I lived in Japan for three years when I was a teenager and I fell in love with everything about that country – it’s an amazing place!  So I felt I just had to set a story there one way or another, and having my heroine stow away on a ship bound for what they called “the Japans” or “the Japonish nation” in 1611 seemed like a good idea.

Was there any aspect of Japan or its history that inspired you in particular?
Yes, I was very interested in the Japanese people’s reaction to the foreign traders and missionaries who arrived in the 16th and 17th centuries, but I was disappointed to find that the foreigners were all men.  It made me wonder what would have happened if a European woman had gone there - what would have been the reaction of the Japanese to a pretty female ‘gai-jin’?  Perhaps they would have viewed her differently to the somewhat coarse men who had come to their shores?

It’s not very likely that a woman would have travelled so far at that time though, is it?
No, women weren’t allowed to have any fun in the seventeenth century, or so it seemed to me  J  But I figured there had to be at least a few who were more rebellious and wanted to have some adventures, so I allowed my imagination free rein.  In order to travel, however, my heroine does pretend to be a boy since she knows a woman would never survive unmolested on a ship.  And being small and slim, she gets away with it (with a little help from a friend).

What research did you do for this book?
I read a lot of factual accounts and also visited the places I wrote about.  For instance, I went to Plymouth, on the coast of Devon, to see the layout of the town and its harbour.  I also went back to Japan and while there, I visited the castle of Himeji, which turned out to be almost exactly the way I’d imagined my hero’s castle in many respects.  There were lots of other fascinating details which I was able to incorporate into my story too.  Just being in Japan, observing the people, culture, countryside and so on helped as well.  I already loved Japanese food, so it was no hardship to taste the various dishes, and I brought back lots of Japanese things, like kimonos, fans and lacquer ware, which helped me describe them.

Your stories are told both from the hero and heroine’s point of view.  Do you find it hard to write about male characters?
No, I’ve always incorporated the male point of view in my writing and it seemed like serendipity when I found out that it’s what my publisher, Choc Lit, wanted.  I was a bit of a tomboy as a child, so have always had lots of male friends – perhaps that influenced me?  I’m not sure.  But I do enjoy seeing part of the story through the hero’s eyes.  I think it makes it more balanced somehow.

Christina Courtenay lives in Herefordshire in the UK and is married with two children. Although born in England she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden. In her teens, the family moved to Japan where she had the opportunity to travel extensively in the Far East.

Christina is vice chairman of the UK's Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA). She won their Elizabeth Goudge Trophy for a historical short story in 2001 and the Katie Fforde Bursary for a promising new writer in 2006.

In 2011, Christina's first novel Trade Winds (September 2010) was short listed for the RNA's Award for Best Historical Fiction. Her second novel, The Scarlet Kimono, won the Big Red Reads Best Historical Fiction Award. In 2012, Highland Storms won the Best Historical Romantic Novel of the year award (RoNA). As well as her novels, Christina has had four Regency novellas published, all available in Large Print and soon to be released on Kindle.

When she's not writing, she spends her time tracking down elusive ancestors for her family tree, and her other hobbies include archaeology (the armchair variety), listening to loud rock music and collecting things.

The Scarlet Kimono is published by Choc Lit on 1st March, (ISBN 978-1-906931-29-2).  For more details see www.choc-lit.co.uk or www.christinacourtenay.comThe Scarlet Kimono is available at Amazon UKAmazon US and Goodreads.