2021 Debut author India Holton and her book are getting a lot of attention. Her debut novel, The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels, has garnered excellent reviews, with The New York Times Book Review saying, “The kind of book for which the word ‘rollicking’ was invented. Holton is having as much fun as the English language will permit.” And author Jen DeLuca wrote of the book that it is “easily the most delightfully bonkers historical fantasy romance of 2021! I enjoyed every absorbing moment.” After the stress and strain of the past year and a half, doesn’t a “delightfully bonkers” book sound enticing? The book, launched earlier this month, is available now, and India will follow that up with The League of Gentlemen Witches next March. Like all the authors I speak with, India is busy (there’s no better way to say it), so I’m thankful she took a moment to answer my questions.
Christina: Kirkus Reviews said of The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels, “Familiar romance tropes appear but as if in a fun-house mirror, with broad winks at their origins…” What inspired you to turn romance tropes upside down?
India: I love romance literature and its conventions, so my treatment of tropes in this book was a celebration of them, albeit in a gently roasting way.
Christina: Cecilia Bassingwaite and Ned Lightbourne are unique, memorable characters. How do you go about writing characters who jump from the page?
India: Thank you for the compliment! The characters very much came with a life of their own and it was just my job to write that down as best I could. Often I’d have a plan of action for them and they’d choose to do something else—and they always turned out to be right about it. I very much wrote this book with an attitude of “let’s just have some fun here!” and that gave me the breadth to allow my characters to stretch right out and be as fully themselves as possible.
Christina: At the beginning of the book, you provide a “Table of Significant Characters,” which is quite long. Did you have any trouble juggling the cast? Which character do you feel most drawn toward?
India: No, the cast all were quite clear in my mind. Many of those names only appear briefly in the text. The Table of Significant Characters was a gesture towards old-fashioned novels, and an opportunity to have some more fun. I guess I feel most drawn toward Cecilia, she and I became good friends on the journey, although there’s something in everyone that I can relate to even a little. Having sympathy for your characters (even the villains) enables you to go deep with them, and to give them the arc they most deserve.
Christina: The tagline on your website reads: “Slow burn romance with sudden explosions.” How would you describe that to someone who doesn’t read romance? How long did it take to come up with that tagline?
India: It took about three seconds to come up with it, lol. It just was one of those things that arrived unannounced in my mind. Slow burn romance means that the characters make a slow progression towards acknowledging their feelings for each other—sometimes that means they don’t kiss until after the midpoint, other times they get together fairly quickly but the emotions don’t resolve at speed. Sudden explosions is, in the case of my stories, quite literal! It’s not an India Holton book unless something blows up!
Christina: You live in New Zealand, and your bio states that you’ve “enjoyed the typical Kiwi lifestyle of wandering around forests, living barefoot on islands, and messing about in boats.” How did those experiences inform your writing? How do they inform your writing process?
India: I can’t honestly say whether I’d write the same way if I’d lived a more urban upbringing, it’s impossible to know. The outdoors lifestyle is so integral to being a Kiwi, even in our cities we are close to beaches or lakes, forests, and rivers. But my writing process is intensely internal, I pretty much shut the doors and windows and disappear into my fictional world.
Christina: You’re part of the 2021 Debut group. What have you learned from this group of authors? What is one thing you’d say to someone who might be in a 2022 Debut group?
India: One of the best experiences of traditional publishing has been connecting with fellow authors. I’m blessed to be one of the Berkletes, a group of writers whose books are with Berkley Publishing, and the support and encouragement available through friendships like that has proven invaluable. I’ve also made wonderful friends in the wider debut group and on social media channels. I would advise any debut author to make such connections if they can, because no one will ever understand or empathise with your experience quite as well as your fellow authors. Plus writers are generally speaking fun, delightful, and interesting people!
Christina: What do you always want to talk about in interviews but never get to?
India: That’s such an interesting question! I’m looking forward to the day I get asked about literary analysis, the Brontes, and all the classic literature Easter eggs sprinkled through the book.
Thanks to India for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.