Millions of fans across the world have now watched Queen Charlotte and King George fall in love, against the odds, in the new spinoff of Netflix’s immensely popular show «Bridgerton.» And while their palpable chemistry and steamy love scenes have likely inspired a fresh slate of fan fiction, the onscreen lovers’ tale already continues on the page, thanks to the woman responsible for the entire Bridgerton universe.
Just days after «Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story» began streaming on Netflix this month, author Julia Quinn’s novelization of the drama series was published. Whereas Quinn’s Bridgerton book series inspired the similarly-titled show, Netflix adaptation’s spin-off project served as the seed for the «Queen Charlotte» book.
«I think people sort of thought we were off in a room somewhere [writing],» Quinn tells POPSUGAR. «I got the scripts when [series creator Shonda Rhimes] was done. So she did her thing, and then I did my thing.»
The project meant Rhimes afforded Quinn the same trust the latter put into the iconic TV producer and creator with her original book series: «Wow, Shonda Rhimes is trusting me to take her baby and run with it,» Quinn, 53, reflects of writing her latest romance novel. «I mean, I just felt so complimented by it. And there was some pressure because I needed to do something Shonda would be proud of. I mean, it’s Shonda.»
But Quinn relished the opportunity to further flesh out the characters played onscreen by India Amarteifio and Corey Mylchreest, among others. «One of the things about a book versus a television show is now we can go into the characters’ heads,» Quinn notes. «And that’s part of the way that I wanted to really build the romance even more.»
«In the show, at the wedding, you’ve seen them dancing, and it’s super romantic,» Quinn elaborates. «In the book, you actually get to see what they’re talking about. And so that was really fun.» It also gave her more room to dive deep into George’s personal struggles and really build how Charlotte learns that her husband is unwell, she adds.
Piecing together the book was «really very much like a puzzle, fitting the pieces around,» Quinn says. «Being like, ‘I really like this conversation here, but I can’t put it there because that scene is in somebody else’s point of view. So I’ll move that conversation here, move this one over there.’ It was a really fun process.»
Keep reading for more about Quinn’s new companion book to the Netflix series «Queen Charlotte.»
POPSUGAR: I want to go back to when you first heard from Shondaland about taking the Bridgerton books to the screen — what was that feeling?
Julia Quinn: That was January 2017. I was just sitting in Starbucks, and I got a phone call from my agent. Usually, we email more than we do phone calls. Of course, I answered. And he was like, «Have you heard of Shonda Rhimes?» And I was like, «Yes, yes I have.» And he said, «Well, I just had the most interesting phone call. They want to know if the rights to the Bridgertons are available, and if so, are you interested in optioning them?» And I was kind of like, «I can’t believe you thought you even had to call me. Hang up with me right now. Call them back. Tell them yes.» And then it went from there.
PS: Did you ever anticipate how mammoth it would become?
JQ: I thought we’d do okay. I didn’t think we were going to flop, because I had read the script. We knew that it was good. I knew that there was an audience out there. . . . At the time, I was thinking about the women who love these romance novels, the women who love, say «Poldark,» and they were in it for the romance, or «Downton Abbey,» but they love the romance part of it. I knew there was an audience out there . . . but I did not think it was going to do this.
PS: People love to boil romance fiction down in a negative way as not worthy or not literary. For you as a romance novelist, what has that process been like of getting the recognition that this is worthy of your time and this isn’t frivolous fiction?
JQ: It’s been incredible. I feel like the stigma has been breaking down over time. It was already kind of dissipating a little. But this really broke through in a big way. All these people who love Bridgerton are like, «I wonder if there’s anything else like this?» I’m like, «Yeah, you could read a romance novel.» And a lot of them now do. I think a lot of people didn’t understand what a romance novel was. And so that’s part of the reason they kind of put it down.
«Why can’t we honor books as something that’s a pleasurable pastime, when we can for things that we watch?»
I also think there’s this idea that we will call certain things guilty pleasures — even with television, too. But there’s this idea that it’s okay for TV to be for fun but a book needs to be improving in some way. There’s some sort of idea that if you’re going to take the time to read a book, as opposed to just maybe passively watching something, it can’t be for just pure pleasure. And I just think that’s crazy. I mean, why not read for pleasure? And I’m not saying there isn’t value to all the other stuff. But why can’t we honor books as something that’s a pleasurable pastime, when we can for things that we watch?
PS: You mentioned this process being different. How different was it for you having this source material versus going from you originating the plot?
JQ: It was just different in every way — but fabulous for me to just have a way to shake up the how of writing. . . . This is a huge shake up of the how in that Shonda wrote six scripts, handed them off to me, and then I had to figure out how to turn this into a novel.
The first big decision was to focus only on the earlier timeline. So the book really is just young Queen Charlotte and those characters. There’s a tiny bit at the beginning and end, but it really — that’s just to frame it. And there were a couple different reasons for that. One is: how much room and time do I have? I mean, the book is still 100,000 words, almost. Also, I really wanted to make the story as much of a romance novel as I could, because it’s not in the same way that my other books are.
And then once I was focusing on just the earlier time period, then it’s like, «Okay, well, whose point of view are we in?» because we have four points of view. Also, am I including all the storylines? Which areas can I flesh out and expand?
PS: Creating these inner monologues and fleshing out these characters even more in the book, is it intimidating or hard when you have to live up to an already formed performance from an actor?
JQ: In some ways it adds a challenge, and in some ways it makes some stuff easier. I did go see the actors. And for that part, it really kind of informed it, in a way. The character of Reynolds. I started writing Reynolds, and then I went out to the set and I met Freddie and I was like, «I didn’t know he had that deep voice. And I didn’t know he held himself so regally.» And so I was like, «Oh, I need to beef up Reynolds in this way.» And then George, when he’s amused, bites his lip. And so I put that in. But not of him doing it. He did it, but that’s one thing Charlotte noticed about him. So that was actually very kind of cool to have these aspects, these elements of performance that I could weave in.
PS: We have the queer storyline with Brimsley, and that is the first time in the Bridgerton universe that there’s a main queer plot. Why was building out that in the book important?
JQ: I really have had queer characters before, although as you say, their storylines aren’t as prominent, and part of the main reason is in none of my books do I ever explore secondary romances. . . . It’s just not the way I work. So in the times when I have had the queer characters . . . you didn’t see their courtship, romance, or anything like that coming forward. So this was the first time I was kind of presented with a way to do that, because I was writing for four points of view. And I loved it.
Because you can go into the head of one of these characters, I really wanted to show how that heady feeling of courtship is the same. There’s a part in the book at the beginning where Brimsley’s just like — he never thought about Reynolds. I mean, the way I would think about a guy in early stages of courtship or the way I’ve written about heterosexual couples in early stages of courtship. I just wanted it to feel like maybe when they get together, their bodies work differently, because they’re two men. But the emotions of falling in love and wondering if somebody likes you back and your crush is the same.
«The emotions of falling in love and wondering if somebody likes you back and your crush is the same [with Brimsley and Reynolds].»
We also have the issue of race with George and Charlotte. The issue of race had a lot of story around it with the great experiment and stuff. In this instance, I just wanted to show that the emotions were the same.
PS: Writing a sex scene — is there somebody who’s your gut check? Is it a friend, or your editor telling you up the ante or tone it down?
JQ: When I do do them, I tend to have my characters talking a lot through it. Because I think if all you’re doing is explaining what went where, I just don’t think it’s interesting. . . . If you’re writing a romance novel, the sex scene needs to do something to either explore the characters, to deepen the characters, or to move the plot. If you could just remove it and the story still works, then you haven’t done it right.
So I really like to have my characters talking and somehow maybe learning something about each other through it. And then you can also add a little humor, things like that. . . . Within the world of romance novels, I’m not known for being particularly steamy, to be honest with you.
PS: I don’t know about that. There’s a scene with a mirror and one of the Bridgertons, which I think the whole internet is dying to see happen in season three of Bridgerton.
JQ: Oh, it’s true. I’ve seen that. And I’m like, «I need to look at this book again because I don’t remember what the hell that was.» . . . That’s horrible. I would’ve started that book in 2001. It’s been a long time.
PS: In those 22 years, how much have you changed as a writer?
JQ: It’s hard to say. Honestly, I don’t know. I mean, in my personal life so many things have changed. I had kids, they grew up, I have an empty nest. Whereas before, people say, «Which character is you?» I’m like, «Oh, I’m a mix of Eloise and Penelope and Francesca.» And now I’m like, «Oh, I might be Violet now.»
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Image Source: Getty / Lia Toby / Amazon / Photo Illustration by Aly Lim