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'Badasses in bodices:' Historical romance author Kate Bateman talks romance and misconceptions

Kate Bateman

After leaving her native England 11 years ago when her husband was transferred to work at Caterpillar, Kate Bateman decided to get to work on a new career herself.

Previously, Bateman worked at her family’s auction house in England, which she founded with her father once she graduated college. She also worked as an on-screen fine arts and antiques appraiser for several TV shows across the United Kingdom. This past experience helped to inform her next career decision — writing historical romance novels.

“It's a natural segue, which it sort of is if you think about it, because I got a lot of historical background, and my degree was in English and in French, and I've done a lot of reading. And it was a kind of reaction to that, I guess,” explained Bateman.

Bateman moved to Peoria in 2011. After reading what she described as a terrible historical romance novel, she thought she could write a better one, leading to a bet with her husband.

“My husband said, 'Yeah, but I bet you…a pound you won't, and I said well I bet you a pound I will.' And so it was a one- pound bet with my husband that I could write my first historical romance book, which I did,” Bateman said.

From there, she entered her book into romance contents and won a few of them. The wins landed her an offer with publisher Penguin Random House for a three-book deal.

“It was proper unicorn, golden-winning ticket thing. Super lucky, and that started it all going just from literally this ridiculous bet with my husband that I couldn't write this book,” Bateman said.

Kate Bateman holding two of her historical romance novels
Jody Holtz
Kate Bateman holding two of her historical romance novels

Bateman’s first book was published in 2016. She said there’s a historical romance book out there for every type of reader.

“There's contemporary, there's historical, there's urban fantasy, there's murder, mystery, cozy, mystery, whatever you want,” she said. “Historical obviously has different genres. I mentioned Regency, but… people often think of… Outlander, that's a historical romance, basically. Bridgerton is a classic Regency. And there's a whole bunch of others, you can go way back, sort of ancient Rome kind of thing. So whatever bit of history you like…it's there. You can find it in romance.”

Despite romance being a $1.3 billion-dollar industry that keeps the rest of the publishing industry afloat, Bateman said it tends to receive a lot of bad press.

“It's completely filled with…misconceptions. It seems like mainly because it's thought of as being written by women, for women. So it's naturally kind of denigrated as being less important than 'serious literature'...but that's not true at all. I mean, it's hugely diverse,” she said.

Historical romances today feature many different pairings of couples, in addition to varying levels of heat, according to Bateman.

“You can have sweet Disney kiss into the proposal. You can have super hot, you know, burn your Kindle…not erotica, because that's a different thing. And I think that is a misconception ... that romance can be very hot, but it's not necessarily erotica…and I think people conflate those two, without understanding really what it is. But it's basically something with a happy ending,” Bateman said.

In Bateman’s books specifically, she focuses on “badasses in bodices,” she said.

“I like girls with agency and with cool skills. Nobody wants to just read about a girl who's forced to marry someone and is bored. They want to read about jewel thieves and counterfeiters and tightrope-walking people. That's what I write,” said Bateman.

She also noted that striking a balance between historical accuracy and the main love story can be a challenge.

“The realities of the Regency are really unattractive, you know, nobody washed and they all smelled. Sanitation is terrible. And people died of horrible diseases. And so it's a very kind of sanitized, dreamy version of that. But I tried to put historically accurate things in. There's always something you'll get wrong, probably. But it has to be enjoyable for a 21st century audience,” Bateman explained.

Author and Peorian Kate Bateman in the WCBU studios
Jody Holtz
Author and Peorian Kate Bateman in the WCBU studios

The space that is created out of a 21st century viewing lens and historical relevance allows Bateman the flexibility to write characters and stories that highlight issues that are present today, just in a different setting.

“You can look at women's suffrage or you can look at, you know, anything like that, feminism, or whatever you want to put in there, it's worth looking at because in the Regency women were chattels, you know, they couldn't own stuff,” Bateman noted.

“So it's kind of for me, I like looking at girls who try and break the rules and get away with that, and how would I deal with that if I was in that situation? So, that's the kind of questions you can ask when you're writing and still be entertaining. But you can actually have quite interesting, deep thoughts about it as well.”

For those interested in taking a stab at writing a book themselves, Bateman offered a key tip. Learn the ABC.

“Apply your butt to the chair. And that's the first stage of writing because you cannot edit an empty page. You've got to put something on the paper, even if it's terrible, your vomit first draft,” said Bateman.

She also noted the bars to entry in terms of publishing have diminished significantly since self publishing is now an option. However, she said it’s important to remain professional and approach it as a business.

“And so how do you stick out from the crowd? You have to have a professional cover. You have to be professionally edited. You have to have done a good job with your story. You can't have spelling mistakes. It has to be a really compelling tale. So learn your craft is probably the thing…It's a lot, I'm constantly learning. There's so much to still do, even after 10 years, but it's fun. It's an ever-changing industry. So, it's hard to keep up but you can do it. Just sit down at the computer and just start typing something and it will turn into something magical,” said Bateman.

Kate Bateman will be at the Local Author & Art Fair from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 at the Peoria Public Main Library. She will be doing book signings and also is available to chat. For more information on Bateman and her books, visit her website. Her books are for sale at Barnes & Noble, Target, and multiple online platforms.

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Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant development director, assistant program director, host of WCBU's newsmagazine All Things Peoria and producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.