A Designing Life With Virginia Taylor

I’m thrilled to welcome back Australian author Virginia Taylor to Get Lost in a Story. Virginia has written some of my all-time favourite historical romances – Starling, Ella, Charlotte, and Wenna, set in colonial South Australia – and now she has a new contemporary romance series, Romance by Design, set in Adelaide, Australia, and I can’t wait to read book one – Sets Appeal – which is out now.

About Virginia...

After training at the South Australian School of Art, Virginia worked in an advertising agency. This segued into re-training as a nurse/midwife before meeting the man of her dreams, marrying and producing two daughters.

Over the years Virginia has been a theatre set painter and designer, but now she fills her days as a full-time writer.

In the cosmopolitan coastal city of Adelaide in South Australia, two theater lovers create a little drama of their own . . . 

Twenty-seven-year-old divorcée Vix Tremain finally has her first job—as a theater-set painter—and is ready to leave the past behind. What better way to get her confidence back than a fling with a handsome stranger? She isn’t looking for anything emotional, she’s had enough heartbreak. Rugged Jay Dee, the set construction manager, fits the bill for no strings fun perfectly. What Vix doesn’t realize is that Jay is not exactly a stranger...

Jay would recognize wealthy, spoiled Vix anywhere. After all, she’s the ex-wife of the man who destroyed his career. Naturally, Jay wants a little sweet revenge—at first. To his surprise, Vix is far from the ice princess he expected, and spending time with her changes everything. Soon he realizes he’s actually falling for the vulnerable beauty. But becoming entangled with her will mean revealing who he is—and opening them both up to more pain. With their dreams at stake, is their connection strong enough to weather the truth—and take center stage? 

Read a little, buy the book...

When his gaze connected with hers, her face warmed. He could take all the time he needed and if he didn’t plan on having sex with her, the world wouldn’t end. He might simply have wanted a comfortable ride home. Men invariably preferred using her cars.

Fortunately, he gave her an amused look. Reaching for the mugs, he showed her an impressive back view, wide at the top and angling to lean hips and a tight, hard rear. Although stacked, he couldn’t be called handsome. The left side of his face had been puckered by a scar that wove up his cheek and toward his eye. He looked like the tradesman he was, an appearance he emphasized with his faded jeans and cotton shirt.

“How do you like your coffee?” He stared at her over his shoulder.

“Plain black, please.”

At the party for High Society, she’d used champagne to segue into the new sophisticated Vix Tremain. Awkward, tactless Victoria Nolan had barely spoken to a man in this past year, let alone stumbled into his house. Married young, she’d never ventured into the dating scene. Instead, she had accepted the first man who had shown an interest in her, impressionable fool that she had been. “How complicated was your last set?”

“A single room.” He shrugged. “Three entrances and a flight of stairs.” He brought over a brimming coffee, placing the mug on the blue-painted table adjacent to her seat.

“Sit here,” she said, amazing herself by patting the cushion beside her. She even considered adding a casual touch by kicking off her heels, but couldn’t with any semblance of grace. Her legs were long and her skirt was a size tighter than she usually bought. She should have worn fitted pants. Then she could have crossed her legs or casually hooked one up onto the couch. Dressing to pick up a man needed more planning than she had imagined. She dragged in a breath. “I see we have ten scene changes. That’s enough to keep me painting solidly for the next three months.” 

Available via Kensington or buy on Amazon.

Let's talk...

Avril: Tell us about the ‘design’ in Romance by Design.
Virginia: Each of the three stories in the series features a heroine as some sort of designer. Vix, the heroine in Sets Appeal is a theatre set designer. In the second story, Calliope is a garden designer. Marigold in the third story started out in interior design but she really functions better as an event manager, that is an event designer. If I write a fourth, you will guess who the heroine of that one is when you read the third.

Avril: The theatre is the ‘backdrop’ for Sets Appeal. Can you tell us a bit about your experience in that area?
Virginia: I have an arty background. As well as being able to paint in oils and water colours, I can knit, sew, crochet, spin, weave, lino cut, dye, work or carve leather, draw in pencil, upholster furniture, and throw pottery. Although my first job was in interior design, I didn’t have any experience in theatre productions but I had written fourteen books that went nowhere and I decided to stop trying. A friend, who was an actor, suggested that I volunteer to do something for an amateur theatre company. He was imagining I might want to get into the atmosphere and write plays.

Long story short, after volunteering I was helping anyone to do anything, because when I was asked what I could do I said ‘anything’. That got a laugh and they didn’t ask me to expand so I was put into the category of a pleasant nong and given the job of pulling zippers out of the costumes from the last show. The next week I pulled off the braid. Yawn.

At the same time, the theatre set designer, formerly the set and costume designer for a national ballet company, was working with a team of painters in another area. I wished I was too but apparently they did this job for each production and they didn’t need anyone else to help. Except they did. He was going spare. No one understood the concept of rag rolling.

I desperately wanted to fix the mess they were making and after a while I wandered over to look. I asked if I could do a bit. I fixed up the first flat and he came over and said to everyone this is what he wanted. He asked if I had done it before. I said no but I was a former student of the SA School of Art and I could do arty stuff. He was too, and we finally recognised each other – he had been in the fine arts stream, and I had been in the commercial stream. So, the other painters were retired and a beautiful partnership was formed.

With my craft skills, I could make just about any theatre prop from a plaster regency wedding cake to a floppy dead body. He taught me how to do all the special effects like faking marble, lapis lazuli, walnut, or tortoiseshell, or anything at all. First I painted his sets for him, then over the next year or so he taught me the basics of theatre set design.

We won best set of the year with my first set because we did every tricky effect imaginable. In the world of amateur theatre, we were in great demand. Singly, I took a few professional jobs like designing interiors for show rooms, and I did some painting for the Fringe Festival but the job I liked best was working with him. We had a wonderful relationship for the next five years. While we were debating which production we wanted to go with next, he got cancer. He died within a year.

I went on without him for a while but then my own life fell apart and I went back to writing. Once I had the first book published, I stopped painting and designing except for special requests.

Avril: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?
Virginia: I’m a pantser. First I choose a heroine, who she is and what she does. Then I plan the perfect hero for her. I’m kind of like a matchmaker. Then I plot the first meeting. At this stage, I still don’t have a plot but snippets of background and dialogue tell me more about him and her and their journey. In the story I am writing currently I have only found out halfway through what the conflict is - why the heroine can’t be with the hero. I have to go back and plant a few hints along the way that lead up to that but story writing for me is a voyage of discovery. This is probably why I like doing it. I need the mental stimulation.

Avril: What are your favourite romance tropes and why? 
Virginia: I like good girl/bad boy or bad girl/good boy best. Why? Mainly because I like playing with character traits and the particular trope works in a contemporary romance as well as a historical one.

Avril: Can you give us a glimpse at your current TBR pile?
Virginia: A Clash of Spheres by P F Chisolm; Love’s Bounty by Rosanne Bittner; Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer (reread).

Avril: What’s next on your writing agenda?
Virginia: I am writing a Regency romance. It’s harder than I thought because I keep forgetting about the British weather. For Australian stories it doesn’t matter a lot because the weather is mainly nice in South Australia. I have put snow in this story and I have never seen snow. I don’t know how it might impede the progress of a carriage and I don’t know its effect on plants. I am assuming it’s not too different from hail. Also, I have to remember gas wasn’t piped to the houses for lighting purposes and I need to make sure my characters have candles. These details take up a lot of time in writing and researching and they’re not something a reader notices. I also want the clothes just right. I have a Pinterest board where I post the visual hints I need.

Also, the cuisines of the regency characters isn’t the same as the Victorians I write in my historical series, nor are the clothes or the furnishings. It’s all very stimulating. I think I have the best job in the world.

Leave a comment about whether you prefer contemporary or historical romances, or if they're  neck-and-neck for youand go into the draw to win an e-book of Sets Appeal.

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  1. Thank you for interviewing me, Avril. I enjoyed talking talking talking about myself and my book. :)

    1. My pleasure! The theatre is such a wonderful setting - I'm so looking forward to reading Sets Appeal.

  2. I enjoy both contemporary or historical romances... just depends on my mood at the time I pick up a book to read as to which I want more. :) Thanks for sharing!

    1. I write contemporary but when I want to really disappear into a book, I usually gravitate towards historical.

  3. Replies
    1. As a contemporary writer, I'm happy to hear that!

  4. I love that title--Sets Appeal; very clever. Great interview. I know both of you have had varied careers, which I think makes your writing even more interesting.
    I would have to say that I can't pick between historical and contemporary. I love them both. For historical, I especially love the Regency era, so I'm glad to see that Virginia's next book will be a Regency romance!

    1. It is a great title - and I love the idea of a design theme, too. Regencies are soooooo popular. I love them, but I confess to a hankering for some ancient Rome, ancient Egypt and some Viking stories lately. I also love Medieavals.

    2. Hi Anonymous - thanks for being interested in my next project. Regencies are fun and I'm enjoying writing this one.