08 February 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Jessica Cale on TYBURN

This week, we're welcoming author Jessica Cale, whose latest title is TYBURN, Book 1 of The Southwark Saga. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of TyburnBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb. 

Sally Green is about to die.

She sees Death in the streets. She can taste it in her gin. She can feel it in the very walls of the ramshackle brothel where she is kept to satisfy the perversions of the wealthy. She had come to London as a runaway in search of her Cavalier father. Instead, she found Wrath, a sadistic nobleman determined to use her to fulfill a sinister ambition. As the last of her friends are murdered one by one, survival hinges on escape.

Nick Virtue is a tutor with a secret. By night he operates as a highwayman, relieving nobles of their riches to further his brother’s criminal enterprise. It’s a difficult balance at the best of times, and any day that doesn’t end in a noose is a good one. Saving Sally means risking his reputation, and may end up costing him his life.

As a brutal attack throws them together, Sally finds she has been given a second chance. She is torn between the tutor and the highwayman, but she knows she can have neither. Love is an unwanted complication while Wrath haunts the streets. Nick holds the key to Wrath’s identity, and Sally will risk everything to bring him to justice.
Unless the gallows take her first.

**Q&A with Jessica Cale**

Tyburn is a historical romance. Where are the dukes?

George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham does make an appearance, but he’s not the hero! There are a few earls in Tyburn, some real and others fictional, but I wanted to write a different kind of hero. So many heros are dukes now, and the reality is that their circumstances would have been very limiting at any point in time, and I really feel like that story’s already been told. I wanted to set the story somewhere that feels unfamiliar to readers, so I wrote about a prostitute and an underpaid teacher. I wanted to write something people could relate to, but also something they had never read before. Nick isn’t an alpha, he’s not a beta, he’s not a duke -- he’s a real, slightly imperfect man who does the best he can with a bad situation. Saving the day with money, titles, and influence just isn’t an option for him. I think that this makes for a better and more relatable story, and it was also more challenging to write.

Sally, the heroine, is a prostitute. Why did you choose to write a romance about a prostitute, and was that difficult?

A huge number of women worked as prostitutes during this period. Sally is young and beautiful, but this is where her similarities with other romantic heroines end. She’s seen some terrible things, and when Tyburn begins, she’s in a very bad situation. It was difficult to write her life as a prostitute in the sense that it was emotionally trying. She didn’t choose to be a prostitute and she doesn’t enjoy it. So much of her story was difficult to tell because of the horrible things she goes through, the people she loses, and the way she feels about it, but I thought this was important to show her living through it all and coming out of it a stronger person. I wanted to move away from the idea of virginity as the be all and end all of historical fiction. She’s definitely not a virgin, but that doesn’t make her any less deserving of love, security, or a happy ending. I also found it very interesting to research the issues surrounding sexuality during this period -- contraception, venereal disease, homosexuality, etc -- and I wanted to write about that to show people another side of life that they might not have considered.

So Sally’s experience was typical?

Actually, yes. Although it is impossible to say how many women were forced into prostitution or even imprisoned, it’s fair to say that there was often a strong element of coercion involved. There were several documented madams who recruited new girls right off the coach as they arrived in London from the country. Whether they were coerced or not, an incalculable number of women turned to prostitution at one point or another as a means of survival. Options open to women were extremely limited at the time; the few positions women could take were paid very poorly as they were expected to be living under the protection of a husband, father, or guardian, so their wages were expected to pay for little luxuries only. It would have been almost impossible to live alone on such wages, let alone support any children, so for the women who found themselves in this position, prostitution must have seemed like a reasonable solution. You have to appreciate that prostitution did not have the stigma that it does today, particularly in Restoration London. Due in part to Charles II’s affection for them, they were doing better than ever. Charles II was known to give his mistresses and illegitimate children titles. That wouldn’t have been everyone’s experience, of course, but social mobility for working girls and actresses was more likely during the Restoration than perhaps any other period in British history.

So many of your characters are drawn from the lowest classes: you have prostitutes (male and female), highwaymen, criminals, servants, and barmaids. Why?

I want to humanize the poor. So often in fiction (and history), they’re presented as peripheral with no thoughts or feelings of their own except for the desire to serve their masters. If they have any ambition or desire to better themselves, they’re ridiculed. I want to turn the view of the poor and common people on its head; they’re not a group with a collective consciousness, but real, individual people with different experiences and views. I want to tell their stories and give them adventures of their own.

There is also the advantage in writing them that there are fewer social restrictions as expectations for them are very low, so while they may not have the money to make problems magically go away, they can get away with more, in a sense. They drink, they smoke, they curse, they fight, they have casual sex; there are just more things you can do with the characters as a writer. I don’t believe that the highest classes are inherently better by virtue of having more money, property, etc, so why should they get all the good love stories?

Why write a hero who is a criminal?

I want to get away from the idea that criminals are inherently bad. Highwaymen were feared criminals for certain people, yes, but they also became folk heroes. Their executions had the highest turnout of people there to support them, and their legends have lived on to this day. Earning an honest living was not easy or typical at this point in time. People did not turn to crime or prostitution because they were lazy, greedy, or cruel -- they did it because there was no other choice. You have to consider people’s motivations for doing what they do. The important thing about Nick is not that he’s a criminal, it’s that he’s a man in an impossible situation, and he does the best he can within his restrictions. There’s nothing new about his experience -- I’m sure there are a lot of underpaid (or unpaid) teachers who would consider turning to highway robbery if that was still a possibility!

What do you want people to take from this?

No matter what you’ve been through or who you are, no one is undeserving of love, and it’s never too late to find your happy ending.

What’s next?

The second book in this series, Virtue’s Lady, is coming out on April 13th, and I’m working on the third now. Virtue’s Lady picks up immediately where Tyburn leaves off, and follows Lady Jane Ramsey as she refuses the match her father has made for her and runs away from home in pursuit of Mark Virtue, a carpenter living in the “bastard sanctuary” of Southwark. 

Learn more about author Jessica Cale