I’m honored to have interviewed Jesse Stuart, author of Victorian Mistress, Nine Shillings, and her soon-to-be released Rum Cove. Thank you, Jesse, for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing Lot’s epic tale with us! It will be a favorite of mine for years to come.
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Summary via Amazon
Lot Maguire gets you right in the heart.
Charlotte ‘Lot’ Maguire is a thief on the streets of Victorian London until she meets Brandon O’Connor and spies a route to an easier, well paid, life. Except Lot isn’t made for the life of a Victorian lady and can’t resist the lure of trouble. With corrupt business men in the drawing rooms, vampires in the gentlemen’s clubs, and her old associates in the alleys she doesn’t have to look far to find it.
In retrospect, maybe ‘easier’ was the wrong word.
Contains bonus story, First Meetings, revealing how Lot and Bran met.
Content Warning: Victorian Mistress features: sexual content, violence, and references to physical and emotional abuse.
The bonus story, First Meetings, features: violence, sexual content, including bondage, and one instance of on page of self-harm.
Interview with Jesse Stuart
Who is the easiest character to write and who is the hardest?
I would say Lot is the easiest because I write the most in her voice but I’m not sure I would call any of my characters hard to write. They’re difficult to begin with because I tend to write into a character, I start off not knowing much, sometimes nothing, and figure it out as I go. It tends to work well for me but, perhaps, blurs the line between easiest and hardest.
Do you have a favorite?
I love most of my characters for different reasons. I love writing the dynamics between Lot, Bran, and Josef. Writing the kids is fun too because I love trying to write them as kids rather than little adults. Then there’s finding all the quirks of the side characters and the different ways they interact.
It’s an adventure getting to know them.
Sometimes characters take over the plot and surprise even their authors. What’s surprised you most about your main character (or choice character here) you’ve created?
Lot’s compassion surprised me. In very early versions I imagined her as a much colder manipulative character, although she had the same humour. In the finished version she’s still a manipulator and morally grey but she has this desire to protect that forms a clear line in the sand for her I didn’t find until I started writing.
You edit your own work, which is amazing! How long does it take to perfect each chapter?
It varies from chapter to chapter. I have some which in the serialised version had less than 10 edits. Then there was one chapter that had 30. It was a scene where finding the right emotional balance proved tricky but it was very important to get it right.
How did you learn self-editing?
Part of it was studying at university and working with different writers and seeing how they reacted to my work.
Most of it was practice and self-study. I’ve written all sorts of different forms and genres which all require different skills. Radio is great for developing dialogue because everything is dependent on sound. Film and stage for the visual elements.
Instead of reading ‘how to’ writing books I read literary theory and criticism which look at the mechanics of how fiction works and why it works in a completely different way. I also read books not only looking at how novels worked but how screenplays, radio plays, and poetry work. Each one gave me a slightly different perspective on my novel writing.
I also went in what, in my experience, is a different direction to other writers. Instead of beginning in long form I started in shorts. Short stories are great practice for self-editing because you have to get the maximum amount of story in the minimum amount of words. My average story was about 1,000 to 1,500 words, the average length of a Nine Shillings chapter.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Oddly a lot of them come to me when I need them or, in a few cases, I needed a name mentioned but the character didn’t appear until later so I didn’t know exactly who they would be when they got their name.
There is an inherent problem with serialising by the seat of your pants that you don’t always know a character until you meet them and sometimes you don’t realise things about them until later which makes picking names based on who they are tricky. Then there’s issues around characters who don’t want to stand out because they’re immortal so I have to try not to reuse common surnames.
Having said that, there is a gag in the second book about how common the name John was in Victorian Britain so there’s big John, little John, and Johnny. I’ve used the Victorian fashion for giving children names with the same first letter too, which is how Millie, Merry, and Mary got their names. Things always get interesting when they all appear in the same scene.
What did you edit out of VM or Shillings?
There was definitely some sex edited out of Nine Shillings, it was little too graphic to match the rest of the scenes but bits of it was reused. I save all the versions of my chapters in separate files so I can reuse things later. The odds are if something was cut out it will reappear where it fits better.
At the other end of the spectrum the new edition of Victorian Mistress had some sex added because after writing on page sex in Nine Shillings the closed door seemed odd.
I can’t remember exactly what I edited out of either of them and didn’t reuse but there’s a lot of material waiting to see the light of day. By the time I finished the Wattpad/blog version of Nine Shillings I had 151 draft chapters saved but the book is 74 chapters in total.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
I read some the Mystery Man books by Colin Bateman and I found his use of first-person/subjective narration interesting because his narrator is an amateur detective who gets it wrong. Usually when we have a narrator investigating, or any main character, when they get to the end everyone else is wrong and they’re right. It made me think about how subjective the narrator’s perspective can be.
I’ve incorporated that subjectivity into Lot’s perspective. In Victorian Mistress Lot thinks part of the River Thames is classed as the sea and later on argues with Josef about this. The truth is that it’s not but young Lot based this assumption on her perception of the docks and the beach like river banks. It’s not a fact, it’s her subjective opinion based on her perception and experience which informs what she tells the readers.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
A lot of Victorian Mistress and Nine Shillings are based on narrative sleight of hand so there’s possibly a few things readers might only pick up on with multiple readings. There’s also a lot of Lot, Bran, and Josef’s pasts that’s hinted at rather than explicitly stated.
I also know my version of their history which isn’t always the same as readers’ so it’s always interesting to see how they interpret the stories based on the clues.
What was the hardest scene to write in either VM or Shillings, or both?
The hardest was probably the ending of Victorian Mistress. It was a tricky balance of what to reveal and what not. I won’t say anymore so I don’t give spoilers but I think the reasons why are clear when readers get there.
SEE H.A.LYNN’S FIVE STAR REVIEW OF VM!
“Lot is everything you wish you were, and everything you beg for from a female character”