I can’t imagine anyone writing historical fiction who doesn’t love history. What most people would consider tedious research is an incredibly pleasurable activity for an author. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who has to drag herself away from the reading part of the process to the actual writing of words.
In an indirect way, my inspiration for the India Black novels is my mother. That’s fairly ironic since she gets the vapors at the suggestion of anything even slightly off color and I doubt she thought her daughter would grow up to write humorous stories about a brothel owner who becomes a spy.
Mom taught me to read before I entered school, and I’ve had my nose stuck in a book ever since. The library in our little town had a collection of biographies of notable people, written especially for children. One of those books was about Queen Elizabeth I. There weren’t many books about women in that series, and the story of the Virgin Queen enthralled me. I read every book I could find on the Elizabethan era.
From there I branched out into other periods of English history, and other rulers. The English Civil War didn’t catch my fancy. Neither did Edwardian England. But the history of the British Empire fascinated me. I discovered Jan Morris’s Pax Britannica in college and I can still remember the excitement I felt when I read it. I’ll admit to some obsessive-compulsive behavior when it comes to reading, and I worked my way through every book in my college library that contained even the smallest reference to the Empire. Along the way I encountered some amazing characters: Disraeli, Gladstone, Rhodes and Kitchener. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Queen Victoria, although I’ve never really warmed up to her. Still, she belongs in the lineup of indomitable, bizarre and brilliant characters of the age.
During my reading journey, I stumbled across George MacDonald Fraser and his inimitable creation, Harry Flashman. The Flashman series stayed in my mind and several years into my career as a lawyer, I re-read the books. At that point, I was becoming consumed with the idea of writing my own novel. Fraser’s work was a splendid example of combining history, comedy and action and I wondered if I couldn’t write something similar, only this time with a woman at the center of things.
I mused about that for a while, drinking copious amounts of gin, and eventually the character of my protagonist, India Black, emerged in her full glory. Her character was so compelling to me, so vivid, that I had to get her on the page. And there was never any doubt that the Victorian period would serve as the backdrop for India’s adventures. The scope of the Empire was huge; India could go anywhere in the world and encounter pukka sahibs and scheming rajahs, pious missionaries and pompous generals. There was no doubt she’d consort with some of the leading figures of the day, whose biographies I’d devoured over the years. How could I pass up the opportunity to put my own spin on the leading lights of the day?
In short, India Black was made for the Victorian age, and the Victorian age was made for India Black. My heroine could not exist in any other time, and no other period could serve as such a splendid setting for her. I had no choice in the matter. I simply had to write it all down.