Author Julia Quinn, writer of the famous 'Bridgerton' series, will be attending the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature this week Image Credit: Supplied

When ‘Bridgerton’ first released on Netflix in December 2020, even showrunner Shonda Rhimes couldn’t have fathomed how the production would snowball into this juggernaut on the streaming platform, connecting with 82 million accounts as people sat enraptured with this fairy tale-like historical romance, centred on London aristocracy and the meddlesome Ton.

Based on the Julia Quinn novel, ‘The Duke and I’, which was published nearly two decades earlier, the author still finds it hard to believe that Rhimes found her book amidst the thousands in the genre and turned it into this on-screen phenomenon for a new generation of fans to enjoy.

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Julia Quinn with lead star of 'Bridgerton' Rége-Jean Page Image Credit: Instagram.com/juliaquinnauthor/

And yes, while the dashing good looks of lead star Rége-Jean Page and the ethereal Phoebe Dynevor helped the cause, a large part of the success can be credited to Quinn herself, who will be in Dubai this weekend to headline three sessions at the ongoing Emirates Airline Festival of Literature,

We caught up with the American author ahead of her Dubai visit to speak about her popular ‘Bridgerton’ series, making romantic fiction look cool again and why her upcoming graphic novel is a love letter of sorts, which she dedicates to her sister Emily Cotler who was killed last year in a car crash along with their father, author Steve Cotler.

Everyone is so excited to know you will be attending the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Is this your first trip to Dubai?

Julia Quinn Image Credit: Supplied

It is my first trip and I’m incredibly excited. You know, I majored in the history of architecture in college and I’m very interested in city planning and Dubai is just so fascinating in that context. I watched these really cool specials on TV about how they plotted out parts of Dubai and I think it just seems like such an exciting, interesting city, so when they asked me [to attend], I couldn’t say no.

So, if we see someone looking like you at Burj Khalifa over the weekend, it’s probably you playing tourist?

Hopefully, looking like someone who hasn’t just woken up from slumber.

The Lit Fest also appears to have set the stage for a ‘Bridgerton’ reunion with actor Ben Miller [who plays Lord Featherington in the series] also attending. Any chance of the two of you hanging out here and meeting fans?

Ben Miller, far left, in a still from 'Bridgerton' Image Credit: Netflix

I think I’m all towards the end and Ben Miller was at the beginning so we will miss each other. I’m really bummed about that.

Considering we are on the subject of ‘Bridgerton’, which has turned into this monster hit on Netflix, how does it feel to single-handedly make romance novels cool again?

Rége-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor from 'Bridgerton' Image Credit: Netflix

I don’t know if I can take credit for single-handedly making romance cool again, but I do remember that during my university days in the early 90s, I loved reading Regency historical romances but they were always hard to find.

Keep in mind, this was a time when there were no such things as e-books, so I would have to find a bookstore by hopping on to a subway. And even if you found a great book, you would hide and read it because you don’t want people to know you were into ‘trashy’ romances. It was only later that I found out that all the other girls were reading them too so I asked myself then, why was I hiding this?

‘Bridgerton’ author Julia Quinn
‘Bridgerton’ author Julia Quinn Image Credit: instagram.com/juliaquinnauthor/

So today if someone tells me that historical romances are now out of the closet and people are openly reading them, then I think that’s great and long overdue. We were kind of trained in our culture to value literature that is about the tragic and the tormented. Even I was brought up with the importance of the great American novel, reading tomes about the white male quest…

But there is place for all kinds of genres on the bookshelf?

Exactly! I’m not saying people should be necessarily reading my books in high school; nor am I writing text to be taught. But I think there’s a great deal of value in both and reading for enjoyment is also not wrong. I like reading and writing literature that models happiness as the goal. I think it’s great that we’re finally doing more of that.

I think you hit the nail on the head, when you say it’s about sparking joy. Why can’t a book just be about finding love and happy endings?

Right? And I don’t think people should feel guilty about it. People call romance fiction their ‘guilty pleasure’. But why should you feel guilty about something that brings you pleasure? It doesn’t make sense.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer of romantic fiction?

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Julia Quinn's 'Bridgerton' series of books Image Credit: Supplied

Not exactly. What happened was that as I got towards the end of university, I didn’t know what I was going to do and had no clue how to get a job. So I said to myself, well, I could go to medical school. I loved science so I thought I’ll be a doctor.

And so I spent the next two years taking these science classes that you have to take in order to apply to medical school, and because that meant basically being in school half the time, I couldn’t hold down a full-time demanding job. But I still needed to work somewhere that didn’t require too much brainpower to get money and that’s when I decided on writing a book. And I ended up getting into medical school the same month I got my novel accepted.

Is there a blueprint to have your book adapted into a successful TV show or film?

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Shonda Rhimes Image Credit: Reuters

If there is, I didn’t have it. When the Netflix adaptation of ‘Bridgerton’ was announced, everybody kept saying, ‘How did you do it?’, ‘Did your agent shop it around?’ Traditionally, that’s what happens; agents will shop manuscripts or books around Hollywood, but it’s never romance novels, and never a historical romance at that.

What happened with me was that producer Shonda Rhimes went on vacation and she takes books with her all the time; she’s a huge reader. And this time, she ran out of books. Somehow, wherever she was, there happened to be a book of mine available and she read it and that’s how I got lucky.

Shonda later said that after she read the first book, she went out and bought the rest in the series and realised she wanted to turn this into a show. And I think I’m not surprised that she would be the person who’d be visionary enough to say, ‘You know, I don’t care that nobody’s adapted this sort of thing before I think we can do it and I think it can be amazing.’ And can you believe that after ‘Bridgerton’ came out, suddenly all the agents were shopping historical?

How involved were you in the process of adapting the books for screen considering there have been significant changes to the characters for the Netflix adaptation in a bid to embrace diversity?

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A still from Season One of 'Bridgerton' Image Credit: Netflix

I wasn’t involved at all. I think that one of the smartest things you can do in life is to recognise when people are smarter than you, or at least know something a lot better. And I’m not going to tell Shonda Rhimes how to make television. This is something she’s an expert on. She knows what she’s talking about. And I just trusted her and her team implicitly. And it was clearly the right decision. I mean, I love everything they did. And they did it. I’m a consultant on the series, but it doesn’t mean that they have to consult me.

What was your reaction like when you saw your books come alive on TV that first time?

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Julia Quinn with the stars of 'Bridgerton' Image Credit: Instagram.com/juliaquinnauthor/

I was blown away. It was so beautiful. I think it’s a masterclass in adaptation because they took very little from the books itself in terms of dialogue. Literally, I would be watching it with my family going like ‘I think I wrote that line’.

But even if there’s very little of my lines, the characters are absolutely true to the book and the overall story arc between Daphne and Simon. Yes, they’ve woven in some new stuff and some new structure with the Queen and the way Lady Whistledown narrates the series is slightly different to the books but overall, I think it’s absolutely brilliant.

Plus, I think the books and the show complement each other. And I think that you could watch the show, and read the books, and have these two pretty different experiences, and really enjoy them both.

Are you excited about the second season, which drops on March 26? It will be fun for fans to see Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sharma’s love story play out.

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A still from Season 2 of 'Bridgerton' Image Credit: Netflix

I’ve seen the first two episodes already and it’s fabulous. Just like in the first season, there are some things that they’ve changed in order to make the story fit better but again, the characters are absolutely true to who they are. I just think if you’ve read the book, you’re going to love the show. And I think if you haven’t read the book, you’ll love the show and then hopefully go read the book.

What can fans expect from you next? Did you manage to get a lot of writing done during the pandemic?

I actually haven’t been doing a whole lot of writing, in large part because I’ve been really just trying to support my family. I am obviously very fortunate in that I am financially able to take a step back and just try to be the person on the ground in the family. But I can tell you that I have a graphic novel coming in a few months titled ‘Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron’, which is coming in May.

Why does it sound familiar?

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The cover of Julia Quinn's graphic novel 'Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron' Image Credit: Supplied

The story itself is a book within a book. If you have read my past novels, the story was first mentioned in ‘It’s in his Kiss’ where a character mentions this gothic novel that is terribly written. The heroine’s mother is pecked to death by pigeons.

I had so much fun with it that I brought the story back for another book and then another. And then I wrote a book about the man who was secretly writing it. Finally, when a reader asked me to write the actual ‘Mad Baron’ book itself I realised that a whole novel would not work because the context of the story needed graphics. That’s when my sister Emily Cotler, who was an illustrator and a cartoonist, came up with the idea of doing it as a graphic novel. And so it’s illustrated by my sister and written by both of us.

She tragically passed away last year and it’s really heartbreaking that she’s not going to see this come out, because it really was going to be such a big thing for her. She was such a talented artist. And it’s kind of like my last love letter to her to make sure it gets published in as big a way as possible.


Don’t miss it!

Julia Quinn will be at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on February 12 and 13, where she will attend three sessions.

Digital Pass Sessions

Writing Dialogue: Masterclass with Julia Quinn

February 12, 10am to 11am

Arfaj, Hilton, Al Habtoor City


About Romance: Alawiya Sobh & Julia Quinn

February 12, from 5pm-6pm

Al Habtoor Ballroom, Habtoor Palace, Al Habtoor City


Julia Quinn: The Bridgerton Take Over

February 13, 2pm-3pm

Al Habtoor Ballroom, Habtoor Palace, Al Habtoor City


All tickets are available on the Lit Fest website.