Onirik : In your novels, the psychological studies are little marvels. You do not hesitate to analyse accurately the heroes’ feelings and moods. How do you manage to make your characters so human and describe their deep evolution while alone and face to face with their own selves ?
Mary Balogh : I am not really sure. I think perhaps I have always had the gift of knowing what it feels like to be a certain person under certain circumstances. I am able to empathize with all sorts of people, even those who appear nothing but evil to others. And when I write, I don’t describe characters and their feelings and motives from the outside. I jump right inside them and become them while they think and speak and remember and act and react. Character is not a simple thing. We should know that from our own selves. No one can be summed up with a few labels. No one can be judged only by what he says and does. I find human nature endlessly fascinating.
Onirik : As heroines, you have chosen young inexperienced ladies (Slightly tempted…) , widows (Slightly married…), prostitutes (The secret pearl, A precious jewel ), wives (The ideal wife…), etc. But they all are surprisingly clear-headed and honest fighters. Do you see them as symbols of the universal women’s struggle ?
Mary Balogh : Yes, I think so. That is a good way of putting it. I try to use a wide variety of human types as characters. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. But heroines have to have one thing in common or they are not heroic. They have to be fighters. That does not mean they all need to be feisty or fierce or loudly assertive. But they have to be survivors. They have to have a sense of their own worth and dignity—or at least acquire it in the course of the book. They have to be persons who can stand alone even if at the end they choose love and marriage.
Onirik : Your heroes have very often been marked by life, tragedies or their childhood. They are also often people of conscience. Do you consider these characters as more interesting, richer ?
Mary Balogh : Yes, indeed. We all have a past. We are all shaped by the lives we have lived, for good or ill. Most of us are at least partly scarred by things that have happened in the past. Until we can resolve those things, we cannot be fully mature persons and we cannot fully love or allow ourselves to be loved. My heroes (and heroines) are very often people who need some sort of healing and find it in the course of the book. They have to face whatever it is that holds them back from full happiness and full commitment to love. And yes, they have to be people of conscience too. They have to have a highly developed sense of right and wrong and justice and fairness—even if they don’t have it at the start of the book.
Onirik : The theatre is sometimes conjured up in your novels. Thus, in « the notorious rake », the storm scene introduces the story, then the hero pursues the heroine and then the novel changes scenery and shifts to the countryside… Do you build your novels like plays, each part making up an act ?
Mary Balogh : No, it’s not something I do consciously. But often I feel that a change of scene is needed to keep the plot from stagnating. Different aspects of character and relationships can be brought out in different settings. The danger then, of course, is that the book can become rambling or disjointed. I often feel the need to bring the book full circle. Sometimes this means taking it back to the place where it started. Or sometimes the end somehow mirrors the start. In THE NOTORIOUS RAKE, for example, the couple’s first encounter happens during a thunderstorm. So does their final encounter, though one is in London and the other is in the country.
Onirik : Some of your works are romantic comedies ( The famous heroine or The plumed bonnet »), melodramas ( the secret pearl or Tangled ). Is there a genre that you are particularly inspired by or that you have a predilection for ?
Mary Balogh : No. I aim for variety. I like a challenge. I wrote a number of serious, intense books before I decided to try my hand at farce in LADY WITH A BLACK UMBRELLA. I really enjoyed doing that though it was not easy. I think I have evolved as a writer to someone who wants the reader to enjoy the whole process of reading, not just the happy ending. I think my recent books are less dark (but I hope not less passionate) than the older ones. Romance readers read primarily for entertainment and relaxation, I think, and so I try now not to torture them too much in the course of a book.
Onirik : You seem to favour above all some periods of history : the Regency, more rarely Victorian Times or Georgian Times, do you think they are the richest to create a novel or will you refer to other times ? In the same way, you live in Canada… and the hero of « The last Waltz » is coming back from Canada. But you have never chosen this country as a setting. Will you in a future book ?
Mary Balogh : I feel most comfortable in Regency England and will probably stay there for the rest of my writing career. I feel something like nostalgia when I disappear into that period. I think I must have lived a former life there—and a happy one too. Canadian history during the Regency era is fascinating and very romantic too. It was the era of the great fur trading journeys inland by canoe to trade with the natives. I did write one book about a British nobleman who had been banished from home and went to Canada and joined one of the fur trading expeditions. His love interest was a half-breed girl (Metis), daughter of another trader and a native woman. I loved the book and both my editor and my agent agreed that it was quite up to the standard of my other books. However, both agreed that there was no market for it, that readers would not want to read about the interior of Canada in the early 1800s. Since I was first published in 1985, that is the only book of mine to have been rejected.
Onirik : Your knowledge of these historical times is very precise and especially lively. Have you researched the historical background particularly accurately ?
Mary Balogh : Over the years I have read everything on the period I have been able to put my hands on. However, I did not plan anything out ahead of time. I never did a great body of research all at once. I think it helps that I grew up in Britain and am familiar with the setting and the speech. And I have read almost all the classics, including, of course, Jane Austen.
Onirik : The atmosphere in your Regency novels evokes Jane Austen’s books irresistibly. Is Jane Austen your main source of inspiration or are there other writers, even contemporary ?
Mary Balogh : My main source of inspiration originally was Gerogette Heyer. Her Regency romances are still unsurpassed, I think. As soon as I started to read her books I knew that that was just the type of book I wanted to write.
Onirik : I must thank you for urging me on to read in English ! Indeed very few of your books have been translated into French. Is there a reason for that ?
Mary Balogh : I suppose it is that not many publishers in France have bought my books ! It is hard to explain how some countries have bought almost all of them (Italy and Germany, for example) while others have not.
Onirik : You are planning a new series for 2008. Can you disclose a few secrets about it ? Do you have longer-term projects ?
Mary Balogh : I am writing a new quintet of books about the Huxtable family—three sisters, their brother, and a male second cousin. The basic premise is that Stephen Huxtable (the brother) unexpectedly inherits an earldom and all the property and wealth that go with it at the age of 17. He and his sisters move from the country to his new home and find there the cousin they have never met. Constantine is the eldest son of the late earl but could not inherit himself because his father did not marry his mother until two days after his birth. He was, therefore, legally illegitimate. The first three books will be about the sisters. Then will come Stephen, and finally the mysterious Constantine. The plan is to publish the first four books one after the other in successive months. And so, to give me time to write them all, they probably will not be out until the summer and autumn of 2009.