Robin Bridges Author Interview
Debut author Robin Bridges hits the ground running with this month's release The Gathering Storm, the first in her Katerina Trilogy. The story follows Katerina Alexandrovna, teen Duchess of Oldenberg, who has the supernatural ability to raise the dead. Inspired by Russian fairy tales and Slavic mythology, Bridges shares how she penned such a unique, magical tale in this exclusive interview.
RT BOOK REVIEWS: The Katerina Trilogy is all about Katerina Alexandrovna, the teenage Duchess of Oldenberg. What first intrigued you about her character?
ROBIN BRIDGES: When I first came up with the idea for The Gathering Storm, I thought about using a real person to base my main character upon, someone like Grand Duchess Xenia or Dariya of Leuchtenberg. But instead I created a completely imaginary character for Katerina, someone whose ultimate destiny couldn’t be found in any history books. I wanted her to be someone who didn’t quite want what everyone else wanted. I wanted a bright young girl who had a dream, but a lot of obstacles in obtaining her dream.
RT: If you had to sum up her world — that of Russia in the 1880s — in one tweet, what would it be?
RB: In the midst of scheming vampires and vicious faeries in 1880’s Russia, Katerina of Oldenburg hides a dangerous secret - she can raise the dead.
RT: Katerina, aka Katiya, is doing her best to navigate the Russian royal court while keeping her secret. That's a pretty tall order for a teen in any era. Can you share three things that help Katerina succeed?
RB: One, Katerina has parents that have strived to give their daughter the best education available to females in Imperial Russia, and have encouraged her inquisitive and studious mind. Not that her mother is happy with the path that Katerina wants to take! Two, Katerina seems to always have her nose in a book - whether it’s a medical journal or an ancient guide to necromancy. She is lucky to have such a diverse library. And three, most of all, she’s fortunate that she has such a loyal friend in her cousin Dariya. Her cousin goes to great lengths to help Katerina uncover the secrets of the Montenegrins.
RT: On top of all the paranormal and royal drama that Katiya is dealing with, there are two guys who have caught her eye — the tsar's middle son, George Alexandrovich, and Prince Danilo of Montenegro. What intrigues Katiya about each man?
RB: Prince Danilo is dashing and mysterious, and a charming flirt. Grand Duke George is definitely keeping a few secrets of his own, but he’s loyal and brave. And slightly overprotective of his siblings.
RT: Much of the story is set at Smolny, the school that Catherine the Great founded for the country's elite young ladies. How was life at Smolny similar to life at a modern prep school? And how was it different?
RB: Like modern day prep school students, Katiya had to wear a uniform and follow a strict schedule. Some of the courses she studied will be familiar - history, literature, French; but there were also courses in ballroom dancing and home economics. Diaries of students from the 1800’s complain of the bitterly cold dormitories and having to sleep with only a thin blanket even in the middle of winter. Elizaveta Vodovozova writes that the food, though of good quality, was always in meager portions and she was constantly hungry. Enforced fasting during most religious holidays as well as every Wednesday and Friday led to painful starvation and malnutrition in several students.
RT: Several of the characters in The Gathering Storm are real historical figures, why did you choose to weave true history into this tale?
RB: I spent so much time uncovering fascinating (at least to me!) information about Imperial Russia, and I wanted to share as much as I could. It was almost like a game to see how I could weave the paranormal elements into a realistic setting. The one time I got lazy and made up a street name, the copy editor caught it and asked me if I was sure the street was spelled right! (And yes, after some digging, I found the correct name of the street for the time period.)
RT: That being said, historical figures are only part of the world that you've created. We know that it also includes dark paranormal characters such as witches, fairies and vampires. What inspired you as you were crafting The Katerina Trilogy's mythology?
RB: I looked at creatures from Russian fairy tales, such as Koschei the Deathless and the bogatyr, and also traditional Slavic creatures like the veshtiza and upyri.
RT: You do a fantastic job of illustrating what life was like for the rich in 1880s Russia. What is an aspect of that era that you were conscious of while crafting your characters?
RB: I was definitely aware of the fact that this is only what life was like for the rich in Imperial Russia. Not everyone lived in palaces and ate twenty course meals every night. Serfdom (or slavery) had been abolished in Russia by Alexander II in 1861, but millions of people continued to live in squalid conditions. Katerina may have been more aware of the afflictions of the poor than other girls in her social class, due to her frequent visits to the hospital with her parents. What she does with this experience remains to be seen.
RT: The Gathering Storm starts the Katerina Trilogy with such a loaded title. What is one way that you see this series starter as a foreshadow of what's ahead?
RB: There are definitely dark clouds on the horizon for Katerina. Crown Prince Danilo and his family have unwittingly set loose an evil that threatens all of Russia.
RT: You did a ton of research into Russian history for The Katerina Trilogy, can you suggest two books that provide a non-fiction look at the era?
RB: Paul Vasili’s Behind the Veil at the Russian Court, and Corynne Hall’s Little Mother of Russia, a biography of Empress Marie Feodorovna.
RT: We know you haven’t had a choice to visit Russia yet. When you finally do get to visit, what five spots top your list of must-see places?
RB: I can’t wait to see Smolny and the Winter Palace, of course, and also the Mariinksy Theater, the Peter and Paul Cathedral, and Peterhof.
RT: What is one way that your nursing career influenced your writing?
RB: I’ve always been fascinated with the history of medicine. And I love reading about the way different cures were discovered. And the way doctors treated their patients. Thankfully, a medical exam today usually doesn’t involve leeches or drinking one’s own urine.
RT: We know you've recently picked up a new tarot deck to add to your collection, The Tarot of Jane Austen, (who happens to be one of your favorite authors) can you tell us which card in the deck is your favorite?
RB: For the Jane Austen deck, my favorite card has to be the High Priestess, who is represented by Miss Jane herself!
RT: Can you share a detail that our readers can look forward to in the next installment of The Katerina Trilogy?
RB: Book two introduces readers to a secret society of magicians interested in recruiting Grand Duke George into their ranks.
RT: And of course, is there anything else you'd like our readers to know about you and your series?
Robin Bridges: Everyone is invited to visit www.thekaterinatrilogy.com, where one can find lots of photos and paintings of Imperial Russia. And I’m happy to answer any questions they have about Katerina or the trilogy!
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