Julia Quinn Answers Your Burning Questions About Queen Charlotte

The Bridgerton author also reveals the secret behind a good sex scene.

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'Bridgerton' author Julia Quinn talks about prequel book 'Queen Charlotte,' which she co-wrote with ...
Avon Books/Roberto Filho

Julia Quinn doesn’t get many calls from Shonda Rhimes, so she was pretty excited to pick up the phone when it rang last year, and even more excited when Rhimes gave her the news: Thanks to the success of Bridgerton, the hit TV show based on Quinn’s books, Netflix had greenlit a prequel series about one of the franchise’s scene-stealers, Queen Charlotte. “I remember sitting there in my kitchen, thinking, ‘What on Earth just happened?’” Quinn tells Bustle. “My husband said, ‘You have to write the book,’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know about that.’” Turns out, Rhimes had been hoping for the same thing.

Fast-forward to today, and Queen Charlotte has premiered on Netflix, just as its book version, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, co-written by Rhimes and Quinn, has hit bookstores.

The novel, a prequel set 56 years before the main series, is the 18th book in Quinn’s Bridgerton universe, but the first to be adapted from television. “[Rhimes] had her scripts, handed them over, and said, ‘I don’t know how to write a novel. So here you go,’” Quinn says. “She really left it to me to interpret, which honestly was a huge gesture of trust, and I’m incredibly, incredibly honored.” Admittedly, it was a bit surreal to write a book based on a TV show based on her books, but the author embraced the challenge and made necessary changes along the way. For instance, she reassembled the show’s many plotlines into chronological order, and nixed scenes set during the present-day Bridgerton series.

The project also allowed her to explore many characters’ backstories, some of which she admittedly hadn’t nailed down in advance. “[Readers] ask me something about, like, ‘What happens with the character?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know,’” Quinn explains. “I don’t spend my life thinking about what’s happening to these characters after the end of the book. I really only think [about that] if, for some reason, they come back in another book as secondary characters. Otherwise, I move on.”

Julia Quinn on set with the Queen Charlotte cast.Nick Wall/Netflix

Even so, as the Netflix series continues to win over fans, it seems Bridgerton is likely to keep pulling Quinn back into its orbit. Below, the author breaks down the biggest differences between the novel and show, Brimsley and Reynolds’ fate, and what fans can expect from Bridgerton Season 3.

There were a few moments from the show missing from the book, like Lady Danbury’s fling with Violet’s father. Why did you choose to exclude them?

So much of that subplot had to do with Violet and Agatha’s friendship in the present timeline. Since I didn’t have that [timeline in the book], it seemed less important to have [the fling] in the book. Part of what you achieve from that — Lady Danbury’s sense of self and what she wants to do with her life — I felt was being accomplished anyway.

The romance between royal butlers Brimsley and Reynolds — that's a first for the Bridgerton book world, right?

I’ve had gay characters, but you haven’t seen a romance unfold like that. That was something I needed to do a little research on. I wanted to handle it in a way that wasn’t perpetuating a stereotype that either I knew or didn’t know existed. I read a few more gay historical romances. Certain parts about [their courtship] were very universal, and it didn’t matter that it was necessarily a gay romance.

I love the wistfulness when [Brimsley and Reynolds] realize, like, Wait a minute, if this works out between the king and queen, we get to be together, which I thought was very sweet. And then you never find out what happens to Reynolds.

I was hoping the book would answer that for me.

For one thing, I didn’t move forward in time enough, so I didn’t have a place to make that one up. It wasn’t in the script, and I want to leave that open, because maybe we’ll see more Brimsley and Reynolds.

Did you ask Shonda about it?

I don’t think she figured it out either.

There’s also some ambiguity surrounding the King’s diagnosis, both in the book and show. How did you go about writing George’s illness?

When I read the scripts, it was obvious to me that [Rhimes] had made the decision not to be clear about what exactly was going on. To be honest, I don’t think anybody knows. Some people think [the real-life King George III] was bipolar, some people think he was schizophrenic, some people think he had porphyria. But in terms of how to portray his mental illness, that was something I did talk to Shonda about, because we both wanted to be sensitive and respectful.

Do you have plans to revisit the Bridgerton book world again?

I don’t have concrete plans. But when I do finally get around to writing another book that’s not tied to a show like this, I’m sure it’ll be in a world that we know. I don’t know [which series of mine] yet.

If it is Bridgerton, it will be tricky because it’ll be in the canon of the book world, but at the same time, I do feel like I need to be mindful of what’s going on in the television show world as well.

In the next season of Bridgerton, which will focus on Colin and Penelope’s love story, is there a scene or a moment from your book that you’re hoping to see on screen?

I can’t say, especially since I’ve read the scripts. I really love the scripts. Some lines are directly lifted from the books, [which] made me go, OK, that was nice! Colin and Penelope are certainly fan favorites. Penelope is such an underdog — by that, I mean the underdog who’s also secretly running the world. But everybody can relate to her in some way, and I think people are excited to see her get her happy ending.

Finally, what’s the secret to writing a good sex scene?

For me, it’s making sure that the scene serves a purpose other than just to have a sex scene. That’s the big difference between romance and erotica. I’m not saying that [the latter is] a bad thing. It can be an incredibly well-written, wonderful thing, but they’re serving a different purpose. In romance, if you’re going to have a sex scene, it needs to be there to serve the story or the characters in some way. When I write them, I always have my characters talking to each other a lot. I feel like if you do nothing but description, it honestly gets a little boring.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

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