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From Russia With Love: Q&A with Kerri Turner on her debut novel The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers

January 30, 2019

About the author:

The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, my debut novel, is being released by HQ Fiction in January 2019. A second historical fiction novel, The Daughter of Victory Lights, is scheduled for release in early 2020. In 2017 I signed with literary agent Haylee Nash of The Nash Agency. In prior years, my short stories have been published by Reflex Fiction, Boolarong Press, Catchfire Press, Stringybark, Underground Writers, and as part of the Dangerous Women Project. My author influences include (but are not limited to) Kate Forsyth, Sara Gruen, Belinda Alexandra, Hazel Gaynor, Ken Follett, Eli Brown, and Kate Morton. I also have a special fondness for Lorna Hill, particularly her ‘Sadler’s Wells’ series, which I have collected since childhood. When not writing or reading, I can usually be found teaching ballet and tap dancing, baking sweet treats, or spending time with my husband and my miniature schnauzer Nelson.

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The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers is the story of a country on a knife edge, and the two people caught in the middle with everything to lose. Can you please tell us a bit more about the novel?

It is set in pre-revolutionary Russia and centres around two ballet dancers who both come from factory-working backgrounds – a rarity in the world of the Romanov-owned Imperial Russian Ballet, but not unheard of. They have very different ideas when it comes to their new positions in society. Soloist Valentina is determined to do whatever it takes to cement her place and, like many dancers before her, uses protectors to get ahead. Whereas corps dancer Luka, whose acceptance to the company means an exemption from conscription to the war his brother is serving in, fears that by becoming one of Russia’s elite he is turning his back on his own people. As civil unrest begins to turn to whispers of revolution, the very things which once granted the dancers safety and security now put them, and their relationship, at risk.

What inspired the idea behind this novel?

I always knew I wanted to write something historical, and that it would somehow connect to the world of ballet. When I read a single sentence by Joan Acocella in the introduction to The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky – ‘In those days in Russia there was a heavy sexual trade in ballet dancers’ – I knew I’d found the beginnings of my book.

This is your debut novel – can you tell us a bit about your writing journey, and how you came to publish The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers?

I had talked for years about wanting to write a book one day. When I was between jobs, having moved from Townsville to Sydney for my husband’s work, he suggested that I take that time to finally try writing. There were a couple of experiments with style and genre, and by the time I enrolled in Faber Academy’s Writing a Novel course in 2012, I was ready to tackle my idea for The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers. I completed the first draft during that six month course. Since then it has been a continual process of rewrites, receiving feedback and rejections, further research, then more rewrites. In 2017 I signed with my agent, Haylee Nash, and later that year she got me a publishing contract with Harlequin.

This novel is a work of historical fiction that talks about the Russian civil war and revolution. What was the research process like when writing this book?

The research was quite a continuous thing. I started off reading as generally as I could about the topics I knew I wanted to touch on. Learning about the country, era, and major events helped me shape the story, which in turn gave me direction on what further research I needed to do. I read widely – autobiographies, biographies, out-of-print memoirs from people who had travelled through Russia in those years, collections of eyewitness accounts. I asked questions of people who had been to Russia. I watched hours of strangers’ YouTube holiday footage from their trips to St Petersburg. Eventually I was able to go to Russia myself and visit all of the real-life locations from the book and speak to locals about the subjects.

What was your favourite book of 2018, and which book are you most looking forward to in 2019?

The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater was my favourite book of 2018. This year I’m particularly looking forward to The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff and The Cinema at Starlight Creek by Alli Sinclair.


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