Only 8 more sleeps until summer officially begins! Time to break out the frosted drinks, beach chairs and steamy romance novels. No matter how long your summer reading list is, there’s always room for one more book – and do I have a recommendation for you!
Against Her Rules is the debut novel of Newfoundland-born author, Victoria Barbour.
Set it outport Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada, Against Her Rules chronicles the love affair between B&B owner Elsie Walsh and her hunky guest Campbell Scott. The hero is (you guessed it) Scottish and looks like “someone took a dash of Gerard Butler, added a sprinkle of Daniel Craig, and then spiced it up with a little bit of Colin Farrell.” Yup. That’ll do.
This book is just plain fun from start to finish. Its sexy, witty and at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Elsie and Cam are of course, beautiful and charismatic, but two of the minor characters stole the show for me – 96-year old Aunt Ida who “religiously permed her hair every six weeks” and Asher (Ted) Corbin, the ne’er-do-well rock star. They’re both so vividly drawn, I’m sure I’ve met them. Barbour’s description of the Inn, a renovated 1880s merchant’s home, the stylish décor and the hearty Newfoundland menu made me wish the place was real.
I met with Victoria Barbour recently to discuss her debut novel. Here’s a bit of our conversation:
When I think of romantic settings for a novel, outport Newfoundland doesn’t come to mind. What possessed – I mean, inspired you, to set AHR in an outport?
For me, Newfoundland is the most romantic place on earth. I can name a dozen romantic spots in St. John’s, and I just love our outports. When I say I’m passionate about Newfoundland, I really mean it. I love this place. Our scenery is amazing, and our people are vibrant. That said, I think you can make almost any setting romantic so long as you have the right characters doing romantic things. Romance is in the heart, and the pheromones. If you’re “feelin’ it”, it doesn’t matter where you are.
Newfoundland has some great place names – Heart’s Delight and Little Heart’s Ease to name just two. Is Heart’s Ease in AHR based on either of these communities, or is it completely fictional?
Heart’s Ease is entirely fictional, but the name did come from those communities. I love the place names we have here. And I’ve always been intrigued about three communities in a row—Heart’s Delight, Heart’s Desire, Heart’s Content— and how they got their names. I’d initially thought Little Heart’s Ease was there as well, but then I learned that’s on the other side of Trinity Bay. I chose Heart’s Ease because when I thought about Elsie’s inn, I thought it had a warm feel about it. Kind of the idea that you can go there to rest your heart. So whether you’re going for romance, or as is the case for many of her celebrity guests, a refuge from reality, it made sense to me. It’s a place to ease your heart.
Ida and Asher – talk about scene stealers! I have to know, are they based on anyone you know?
Everyone seems to love them. It’s great when your secondary characters really resonate with people. They are completely fictional. When I write, I have no idea where the story is going, or who is going to make an appearance. I think it’s important to build a personality for your main characters, and I find the best way to show who they are, is to observe them interacting with other people. My secondary characters pop into the story and often I don’t know who they are until they start to develop on the page. Aunt Ida is a mixture of a bunch of people I’ve known. Her age comes from the longevity of the women in my family—I have a great aunt who’s 105 or 106! Ida’s personality is her own, but I can see now that some of the things she says might have come from my grandmother, or my own aunts. As for Asher, he was a big surprise. He wasn’t meant to be likeable. But then the more he developed, the more I liked him. In retrospect, I can look back on his character and think that he might have some Russell Brand elements to him, but he’s his own guy.
The house in AHR is so vividly drawn, it’s actually one of the characters. Have you ever been in a place like this? Do you dream of owning a B&B?
I wish I’d been to a B&B like Heart’s Ease Inn. Owning an Inn or B&B is something my husband and I have talked about for a long time. But it’s a pipe dream. I don’t think a house like that would really exist in an outport, at least to that size. That’s why the story was important to explain why it would exist. The idea of building something and then leaving it behind came from the colony of Avalon (in Ferryland), and the whole Lord Baltimore experiment. Of course, this house was built in the 19th century. I think it would be wonderful if people could come and stay in the Heart’s Ease Inn. But imagine the work, and the money, it would take to make it real! Still, we have some fantastic B&Bs in this province, and if I could get some of my readers to explore those places, I’d think my novel was a real success.
Newfoundland has produced some incredible authors of literary fiction – Wayne Johnston, Lisa Moore, Michael Crummey and Donna Morrissey just to name a few. We’re not so well known for our genre fiction though. Why did you choose to write a romance rather than stay with the tried and true?
You know, you have to write what comes naturally for you. I need to enjoy what I’m producing. You spend a long time with your book, and your characters, and for me, I need to feel the story. I love to read those fantastic literary works that come from here, but it’s not me. I didn’t set out to be a romance writer, and I’m sure in the future I’ll create books that are fantasy, or chick lit, or children’s books—who knows, I might even one day manage something that someone thinks is literary. But first and foremost, I write for enjoyment—mine and my readers. At this stage in my life, romance is what works for me.
My reading tastes were guided by my grand-mother, Elizabeth Barbour. When I was a little girl and teenager, most of what I read was on her recommendation. She introduced me to Catherine Cookson and Jean Plaidy in particular. When I was in my 20s, I really got into fantasy and historical fiction. She had no time for fantasy, but we shared many historical fiction novels. Then when I was in my 30s, she started handing me some really well-written historical romances, especially those by Julia Quinn and Julia London. Nan got sick almost four years ago with cancer, and she died very quickly. The last book we read together was What Happens in London. She left me all her books! And there were a lot of romances. Hundreds. So I started reading my way out of grief with those. And then I thought, I’m going to write a romance for Nan. I still haven’t finished that one. But a funny thing happened when I started writing that romance. I realized all the novels I’d started and never finished were romances. It was in me all along, I’d just just never really thought about it.
You may have written a genre piece, but these characters are quintessentially Newfoundland – especially Ida. There’s an old joke in this province about how hard it is to give directions since the road are actually developed cow paths and there are few street signs. The punch line is “come to think on it, you can’t get there from here.” This scene captures the essence of that joke beautifully. Will you set it up for us?
Sure. Cam, our Scottish hero, is on his way to the Heart’s Ease Inn, but his GPS keeps bringing him to empty fields. The cell service is terrible, and he’s totally lost. He’s frustrated as all hell. And when he does manage to get though to the inn, he gets Aunt Ida on the line, a 96-year-old woman who’s newest goal is to travel to Scotland.
The ring crackled, like he was dialing 1982, but at least it was ringing.
The voice on the other end was older than he expected. “Hello. Is this the Heart’s Ease Inn?”
“Oh my. Are you Scottish?” the voice trilled.
“Aye. Have I rung the inn?”
“I’m planning a trip to Scotland. Where abouts are you from?”
“Glasgow. Excuse me but…”
“Oh, a Glaswegian, are you? I was hoping for Edinburgh. I don’t have any plans to go to Glasgow myself. Heard it’s a bit of a rough spot.”
Sweet lord. Even in this godforsaken small corner of the globe people had impressions of Glasgow. “Pardon me, madam, but I’m looking for the Heart’s Ease Inn.”
“Oh yes. This is it. Looking to book a room are you? It’s pretty pricy, you know.”
“I have a room booked. I just can’t seem to find the place.” He was also beginning to wonder if he wanted to if he was going to have to deal with this woman for the duration.
“You didn’t go to Little Heart’s Ease, did you? That’s on the other side of the bay, my son, and you’ll have a good couple of hours drive to get here if that’s the case.”
The woman at the car rental kiosk had warned him of that; at least he knew he wasn’t that far off the mark.
“No, I’m pretty sure I’m nearby. I just can’t find the bloody place.”
“Watch your language, boy. Now where are you then?”
It was just his luck to get a schoolmarm on the line.
“I have no idea. I’m in a field.”
“I don’t know. It’s green. There’s grass and trees.”
“Now don’t go gettin’ snippy. Of course there’s grass and trees. Now, what else?”
Campbell looked around. “I can see water, and…oh, it’s just a field. No fence. No building. No cows. Sheep. Nothing. Just a great big grassy area with some gnarled trees.”
“Oh, that could be a couple of spots. Now we’re getting somewhere.” He could swear she was cackling with glee. “Now, what’s the last sign you saw?”
That Campbell could answer, because he still couldn’t believe his eyes. He’d even taken a picture and texted it to his sister with a terse, “Where the hell have you sent me?”
“It said Worms. Ice. Cold Beer,” Cam told the woman.
“Excellent. We’re getting somewhere now,” the woman intoned. “Was it one of them neon magnetic signs, or was it more homemade?”
“It was attached to a derelict gas station. And it was written on cardboard.”
“Oh, sure you’ve gone too far.”
About Victoria Barbour: Victoria lives on the island of Newfoundland, and is fiercely proud of her home. She can imagine no better setting for her works, and hopes that her readers will one day come to witness Newfoundland and Labrador’s rustic beauty for themselves. When she’s not writing, or trying to convince people to visit her home, she’s busy with her day-to-day life as a mother, wife, and marketing communications specialist.
She was born in St. John’s, and raised above her family’s fish and chips restaurant. She has traveled and lived in other parts of Canada, but chose to make her home where her heart has long resided. Victoria has a degree in History from Memorial University of Newfoundland, with a minor in Newfoundland Studies. The only thing that stands between her and a Master’s degree in History from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia is her thesis. She has a background in broadcast journalism, advertising, and marketing. She is a proud member of both the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and their affiliate chapter, Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada (RWAC).
Victoria counts herself lucky to be surrounded by an incredibly supportive family, and thanks her husband daily for his unerring faith in her, and for being a wonderful father to their infant son.