Samantha Rayner is a Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies, the Deputy Editor for the Journal of the International Arthurian Society, and the General Editor for a new Elements series of publishing and book culture mini-monographs with Cambridge University Press. She also serves on the Board of UCL Press. She is organising The Nonesuch? Georgette Heyer and Her Historical Fiction Contemporaries conference at UCL on June 19.
What is the last Georgette Heyer book you read?
Re-read – again (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve picked this one up as a comfort-read!) – These Old Shades.
For those unfamiliar with her body of work, what genre does Heyer’s writing fall into?
She is commonly put with the romance genre, but her works are much more nuanced than simply being romantic tales! She is witty, historically accurate with her period detail, and her plots and characters are drawn with often Austen-like precision and intricacy. She writes about social manners, and writes about them with insight and humour. Heyer is, for me, a more natural fit in the historical fiction genre.
What’s the most surprising fact you’ve learnt about Georgette Heyer?
That she once described Barbara Cartland’s books as “offal”!
Can you see echoes of Heyer’s work in modern day Romance novels?
Echoes, yes, but no-one really matches her for that combination of historical detail, witty observation, and enjoyable storylines!
Which Heyer book would you recommend to a first-time reader of her novels?
That’s hard! So many good ones to choose from…! As These Old Shades is not one of her Regency novels, maybe I’d pick one of those, so False Colours, which is a good example of Heyer at her sparkling, pacy best, or The Unknown Ajax, which weaves in so much historical detail, and is particularly Austen-esque in its characters!
If you could bring a fictional Heyer character to life for one day to hang out with, who would it be?
Oh, definitely Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon!
Within the wider book world, do you think Georgette Heyer gets the recognition that she deserves?
It is good that she is still in print, and that her readers continue to support her works so enthusiastically. So, yes, readers definitely appreciate her. However, Heyer (and many of her other historical novelist contemporaries) has suffered at the hands of literary and cultural reception. Compared to many novels now being published (dare I say!) her works hold up very well.
Tell us about your job and what it involves on a daily basis
I am a lecturer in Publishing at UCL, and one day is never like another! The core of my job is teaching students, and I love that, but there is also all the administration I do as Director of Studies for the Dept, plus, when I can get time, research! I could be moving from teaching a class of 50plus students, to supervising one PhD student – then attending management meetings, or meeting with publishers to look at ways of collaborating, or editing academic work, or marking… And, of course, there is event organising, like this conference for Georgette Heyer! It’s a very hectic job, but a fascinating one, and very rewarding.
Tell us about a passion you have outside the business.
Bookshops! And historical fiction! For both of which I am trying to find cunning plans, like this conference, to work into my day-job…
Finally, what are you most looking forward to seeing or hearing at the Heyer Conference and Soirée?
Other Heyer readers, and listening to what they have to say about her works! Professor Kathryn Sutherland’s key talk should be great – she’s a Jane Austen expert, and also a historical fiction aficionado, so I can’t wait for that! And the soirée should be fun – a wonderful way to remember that side of Heyer, too. It should be a perfect day…
Want to learn more about Georgette Heyer and meet other like-minded historical romance fans? In collaboration with IES/UCL, we’re hosting a soirée dedicated to the wise and witty author herself, on June 19 at The House of St Barnabas in London. See here to learn more about the evening and to book a spot.