Carol K Carr

Carol K Carr

India Black and the Gentleman Thief introduces my eponymous heroine, the owner of a brothel in Victorian London. She’s not yet reached the height of her profession, but she’s on her way. Dukes and earls don’t flock to the doors of Lotus House, but India is doing a roaring trade catering to military officers, high-ranking clergy, and the second sons of those dukes and earls. She’s moved into management now, and rides herd over a group of tarts who test her skills at employee relations. The world is India’s oyster, until a fellow from the War Office joins the great heavenly choir while consorting with one of India’s girls and a vital memorandum goes missing. It may have found its way into Russian hands. India finds herself joining forces with – scratch that – finds herself being blackmailed into retrieving the memo by the dishy, but dour, Mr. French, an agent of the prime minister. India enlists the help of her old friend Vincent, a street Arab with a penchant for theft and an aversion to soap and water. Various escapades ensue. Important questions will be answered. Will Vincent take a bath? Will India turn her Webley Bulldog revolver on those pesky Russian spies, or will French take the bullet?

The book has been compared to Carola Dunn, M.C. Beaton and Janet Evanovich, so how does that make you feel and are you fans of their work?

I’m hugely flattered even to be mentioned in the same sentence as these clever and accomplished authors. I’ve read and admired the work of all three. India would get along with all their heroines, but I think she and Stephanie Plum would be friends. Or possibly bitter rivals. They’re very much alike.

These are your debut novels, so has novel writing been anything like you imagined it to be?

The book is new to British readers, but the first in the series was published a few years ago in the States. I’ve had some time to adjust to the writing life. I shared what I imagine is a common misconception about writing and that is that it is easier than real work. It is in fact just like other work with a degree of drudgery that I for one did not appreciate until I actually did it. You have to sit down at your desk daily and make yourself produce something whether you’re feeling creative or not. You have no feedback from anyone until you’ve invested hundreds of hours of your time, so you constantly struggle with self-doubt. Is this line funny? Is that a gaping hole in my plot? Is that behaviour consistent with my character’s personality? Then you send your precious snowflake off to your agent and editor and steel yourself for their comments.

Did you say you wanted feedback? Now it begins. Your splendid prose will be sliced and diced with ruthless efficiency. And the response to your work is just beginning. Wait until the readers get their hands on your book. You’ll get more input than you can imagine. Some of it will inflate your ego. Some reviews will send you crawling into bed in your jammies. You’ll enjoy the attention, and seeing your book for sale in stores and online. You can revel in the attention for a while, but eventually you have to filter out the noise, sit down at your desk, and switch on the computer. You’ve got to get back to work. But despite the sometimes crazy nature of the writing experience, it still beats putting on a dress and heels and fighting traffic. 

You were a lawyer and a corporate executive in your previous life, so what made you turn to writing?

Stupidity and hubris. I was reading a book which did not live up to my expectations when the thought popped into my head:  “I could write better than this.” Ignorance truly is bliss. If I’d know just how difficult it is to write something worth reading, I’d have quit before I started. As it was, I wrote one book which was so bad that I have erased it from my memory. Really. I can’t even remember the name of it. The second was better, but still not good enough. India Black was the third.

When did your interest in British History Empire begin?

I was always a history geek; I can never remember a time when I didn’t love it. At some point in my childhood I read a biography of Elizabeth I, which introduced me to the general field of English history. I have no idea why the history of Great Britain caught my imagination, but it did and during high school and college I read widely on the topic. I can recall clearly the moment I fell in love with the Empire. It’s the day I opened the first volume of Jan Morris’s Pax Britannica series in my college library. The sweep of the narrative, the exotic locales, the colorful figures, the battles, the smell of spices that rose from the pages….I was hooked, and still am. I vowed to visit the places Morris visited and over the years I’ve spent some time in former outposts of the Empire: Sydney, Durban, Singapore, Zanzibar. I need to cross Simla off my list. And, yes, I am still a history geek.

Please tell us about your research process into the book.

The first book in the series came together easily. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve read a lot about the Empire. That led to reading biographies of the principle public figures of the time, along with some social history for background. So when I started the book, I had a good grasp of the political issues and personalities of the era. Then it became a matter of selecting some factual incident to build the storyline around. I chose the contest between Britain and Russia in the decaying Ottoman Empire because the topic interested me.

Later books required a bit of specialized research. For the second, I knew I wanted to write about Queen Victoria. I knew that she believed in mediums and had kept one around for purposes of communicating with poor dead Albert. That became the hook to the second novel. I also knew of the many attempts on the Queen’s life, and so I invented my own band of assassins. I like Scotland. Why not set the book at Balmoral? Google became my best friend. Did you know you can find a Victorian-era floor plan of Balmoral online? I don’t know how people conducted research before the age of the internet. Although I am worried that the CIA is keeping an eye on me, following my research into bomb-making for book #3.

Tell us about the character of India Black.

As we say here in the Midwestern U.S., she’s got a mouth on her. She’s cynical and jaded and snarky and says exactly what she thinks. India has clawed her way up from the streets of London and has no illusions about her fellow man. She’s capable and strong and lives by her wits. Any man who thinks he’s going to capture her heart had better bring a hammer and chisel. I envisioned her as fully formed and never gave much thought to her childhood or any of the usual backstory, but after the first book was published in the U.S. I got email from readers who wanted to know India’s origins. In the books that follow I’ve created a history for her, with some amusing revelations. I find India great fun to write.

What is next for you?

The fourth book in the series was just published here in the States and I’m contemplating a fifth novel which will find India and French masquerading as married missionaries to South Africa during the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879. Of course Vincent will have to tag along. I’m also at work on a thriller which doesn’t have a thing to do with the British Empire but, oddly, does contain prostitution. I sense a theme developing in my work.


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