Today I am so pleased to welcome K.J. Charles to Joyfully Jay. K.J. has come to talk to us about her latest release, Spectred Isle (Green Men Book One). Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Romance and the Next Generation
I have mixed feelings about romance series which spin off into family sagas. On the one hand, it’s wonderful to visit old friends and to see families develop down the generations, the cute plot moppet growing up and getting her own story. I adore a fully established world. On the other…well, I like the way romance leaves the characters at a high point. We realise that everything’s not going to be rosy forever, that people get sick and old and die, but closing the book on the HEA gives us an eternal present moment of happiness. Whereas a next generation makes it inevitable that the previous generation has got older.
Take my favourite romance of all time, These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer. Avon, a dangerous ruthless libertine in his mid-forties marries his adored 17-year-old Leonie, and it’s utter swooning perfection, a glorious ending. Except it isn’t the end once we get Devil’s Cub, where their son Dominic is a spoiled disappointment; Avon’s a very old man; Leonie, still relatively young, will soon be a widow. And then An Infamous Army happens, where it’s obvious Dominic’s marriage was awful, their kids are vile, and Leonie’s existence is erased to a vague “apparently my great-grandmother had a temper”. What the hell, Georgette Heyer. What the hell.
We don’t get next-generation queer families much in historical romance. The only series I know, in fact, is SA Meade’s Endersley Papers (which I highly recommend, plus there’s absolutely no Heyer-style ‘but it turned out they were miserable really’ HEA-ruiner in book 2, so you can feel safe). Any recs for more will be gratefully received! In part I suppose that’s because of the histrom emphasis on aristocracy, which demands direct and legal family lines. But the aristocracy isn’t all that, and all kinds of families should get representation.
So. A few years back I wrote a book, The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, set in a paranormal England of living folklore and ghost-hunters, in which our heroes, Robert and Simon, acquired a pair of street children: the diviner Jo and a young urchin named Sam. That book ended in 1917, with the world at war, fought by occult as well as military means. I’ve had a lot of readers ask about Jo and Sam and what happened afterwards, and the ideas finally clicked into place.
Spectred Isle is the first in a new series set in the world of the Secret Casebook, a few years on. Simon and Robert are gone, Jo is in exile, Sam is part of a poorly assorted group of ghost-hunters and arcanists trying to hold England’s mystical defences together in the aftermath of the war. Green Men is a standalone series; Spectred Isle features a completely new pair of main characters and a whole new concept. You can start there.
But it was kind of extraordinary returning to an established world. To see the ripples of my heroes’ actions twenty years on; to think about what impact we have on the people around us, and how found families run vertically as well as horizontally, spanning generations; to look at the stories we tell one another and the impacts they have. And, in Spectred Isle, to show two lonely men in the 1920s finding out about a history that couldn’t be openly told.
Randolph hesitated, toying with his glass, then added, “They were together, Caldwell and Feximal. A couple.”
“No. Twenty-three years, I’m told.”
“Great Scott.” Saul took that in. “That’s…rather marvellous.” It was huge, and he wasn’t sure why. He’d loved the stories, but that wasn’t it. It was the possibility; the knowledge that men like him had found each other for whole lives, not stolen hours. He had to clear his throat to repeat, “Marvellous. Thank you for telling me. Er, was that common knowledge in your circles?”
“Good God, no. Sam knew of course. They were lost at Passchendaele, the pair of them, but they went together.”
Saul raised his glass in silent tribute. Randolph tapped it with his own, the crystal ringing pure and clear like a bell.
I loved extending the world of one of the books I’m proudest of, and putting my Casebook heroes’ lives in a longer context. It’s just one part of Spectred Isle (which also has warped folklore, post-war trauma, sarcastic posh blokes, unresolved sexual tension, horrific water-monsters, and an exploding tree) but it’s a part that mattered a lot in the writing. I hope I’ve done it justice.
Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.
Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.
Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.
KJ Charles spent twenty years working as an editor before switching sides to become a full-time writer. She hasn’t regretted it yet. KJ writes mostly queer historical romance, some of it paranormal or fantasy. She lives in London with her husband, two children, and a cat of absolute night.