Aphrodite and The Duke author J.J. McAvoy says her two favourite things are historical romance and Black women getting their happily ever after.
Fans of bestselling novelist J.J. McAvoy can now get their hands on the author’s latest book Aphrodite and The Duke. Perfect for fans of Bridgerton, the romance novel is about a jilted beauty and a regretful duke who discover that second chances can be divine.
The book’s heroine, Aphrodite Du Bell, has always resented her name, she thinks that living up to the literal goddess of beauty is asking a bit much. Her renowned loveliness certainly didn’t stop the love of her life, Evander Eagleman, from jilting her and marrying another woman four years ago. Evander lost his chance for true love, but now that he is a widower and no longer attached, he is determined to win back Aphrodite’s trust—and her hand in marriage. But just as the couple make strides to mend old wounds, Evander’s true reason for rejecting Aphrodite threatens their coveted future…and even their lives.
On the eve of the book’s release (23 August 2022), we spoke exclusively to J.J. McAvoy (pseudonym for Judy Onyegbado). She told us that this is the book that she has always wanted to write. She said she has been yearning to see characters that look like her represented in her favourite genre and wanted to create a world where a Black girl wants and gets her happy ever after.
J.J. McAvoy’s previous books, including her first Ruthless People, were bestsellers in numerous countries and have been translated into six languages, earning her a large loyal readership.
In our interview, J.J. McAvoy talks about her favourite things, why she writes under a pseudonym and the importance and visibility of Black women in historical romance novels.
At what age did you realize that you could have a successful career as an author?
Not to sound self-deprecating but it was only recently that I felt as if I could have a successful career as a writer. There have been many times in which I doubted myself and my ability. I have been writing since I was 12 years old and did not publish until I was 21. However, no matter how much I doubted and feared, I could not give up because I loved reading and telling stories. So many different books, movies, and shows have sparked my interest over the years. But the ability to create something from nothing, a world, a history, a person…and give them joy and triumph has always been my motivation.
What’s your cultural heritage, and do you draw on any aspect of that in your writing?
My heritage is Nigerian, specifically Igbo, which is a tribe in the south eastern part of Nigerian. While I do not draw on any aspects of that for the majority of my work, I do often find myself sprinkling in that same cultural background on to some of my characters.
What is it about the romance genre that you love so much?
I love romance because it brings joy, hope and relief to the people who read it. I find that the real world is often hard, stressful and at times crushing for not only me but so many people all over the world. Sometimes we lose our faith that it will all work out. Romance can restore that faith. Watching another person or character overcome a trial, or issue, to then realise their own happily ever after makes a difference. Romance also has a way of teaching us how to not only love others but what type of love we want for ourselves. Some say it might give people, especially women, unrealistic expectations but I believe readers are good at eventuating what can be taken and applied in their real lives.
Often times Black women are shown as the “no nonsense best friend”, or the “wise elder”, or the “struggling mother”.
Why did you choose to write under a pseudonym?
One reason I chose to write under a pseudonym was because I was a University student at the time of my first few books being publish. I didn’t want my author life to blend into my personal life. The other reason was due to the fact that I knew I would one day be writing in several different genres and wanted my name to be somewhat generic, as to prevent [readers having] preconceived notions going into it. I believe a pseudonym allows a certain level of freedom for both the writer and the reader going in. It’s also helpful now as more and more people get to know me. I always know who is a fan by the name they call me.
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Would you say the popularity of Bridgerton has helped the popularity of your books?
There is no denying the impact of the Bridgerton TV show, but I do believe there has always been an appetite for historical books and stories. The clear sign would be Jane Austen novels. Every few years they remake her books into movies and shows because so many people want to come to this world. The diversity that Bridgerton shows is also not all together new as we saw it with Brandy as Cinderella. I think if anything Bridgerton only more clearly established what so many other people had been saying for years… Diversity does not take anything away, it only brings more people to the table.
Why is Aphrodite and The Duke special to you?
This book Aphrodite and The Duke is special to me because it brings together two things I love, historical romance, and Black women getting a happily ever after. Often times Black women are shown as the “no nonsense best friend”, or the “wise elder”, or the “struggling mother”. While this isn’t the case for all books, these perspectives are shown far too often. Having a character like Aphrodite who is not only considered to be one of the most beautiful young ladies of her generation, but from a loving and respected family is important to see. Watching her navigate through the ups and downs of love to get her happily ever after means so much to me and hopefully, other readers as well.
I always know who is a fan by the name they call me.
Outside of writing, what do you do for fun?
Outside of writing you can almost always find me either reading or watching some other work of fiction. I truly believe stories inspire other stories and so I love seeing what other people have created. When I do finally manage to go outside, I enjoy a game of volleyball and having a nice dinner somewhere.
Aphrodite & The Duke by J.J. McAvoy is published on 23 August 2022.