July 2024
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Q&A with author Nicola Cornick

whisper of scandalToday I have the pleasure of welcoming Nicola Cornick, author most recently of Whisper of Scandal here in the UK, to my blog for a quick few questions! I hope you’ll welcome her.

·          I’ve seen that you’ve been writing romance since 1998, which is fantastic! How did you get started writing historical romance?

Thank you! I started writing historical romance when I was eighteen. It was my favourite reading material throughout my teens and I thought I would like to try writing it myself. I always knew I wanted to write historical rather than contemporary fiction because it fired my imagination from the start and history has always inspired me. So I wrote a historical romance and sent it to Harlequin Mills & Boon and after several attempts and rejections they published my first book, True Colours, in 1998.

·         What was your inspiration for your new Scandalous Women of the Ton series?

Lots of ideas came together for me to inspire the Scandalous Women of the ton series. First there was the idea for the first book, Whisper of Scandal, which came to me when I was researching the cult of celebrity in the 18th and 19th centuries. I discovered how famous explorers and travellers were during that period and thought that voyage to the Arctic would make an intriguing background for a novel. Then I realised that only male explorers were lauded – female travellers were considered unfeminine and inappropriate. This made me realise how very scandalous it would be for a woman to travel to the Arctic and so the idea for the first book and for the series was born.

·         Can you tell us more about the series?

Each of the Scandalous Women of the Ton books features a heroine who has done something that outrages society in a different way. As well as Lady Joanna travelling to Spitsbergen in Whisper of Scandal we have her sister Merryn, who works for a living, and another sister who is a political cartoonist… I wanted to explore the concept of what was scandalous in early nineteenth century society and take a different aspect of it in each book.

·         What’s your favourite romance novel?

Oh, that is such a tough choice! How many can I choose? I have a lot of old favourites on my keeper shelf but I think it is probably Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier. I love the evocative atmosphere that she creates and the way that she effortlessly conjures the historical setting. The characters are wonderful and it is such a romantic book!

·         Besides the one you write in, which period in history is your favourite?

I have so many! I studied Medieval History and love British history to 1485. The Tudor period was a favourite of mine when I was younger and I’m still very fond of books set in that time. And I work as a guide in a 17th century manor house so am very drawn to the English Civil War and Restoration period… Imperial Russia interests me as well… So many historical periods, so hard to choose!

Thanks Nicola! To purchase the book, visit The Book Depository.


A Few Questions with Elizabeth Chadwick for the Release of Lady of the English

lady of the englishToday is the release date of Elizabeth Chadwick’s newest, and hugely enjoyable as usual, historical fiction novel, Lady of the English. I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to ask her a few questions in honor of the book’s release!

1. The settings in this novel are so well described. Have you been to many of the locations featured in your books?

Indeed yes. I try to get out and about to locations for every novel. It’s not possible to go everywhere; there wouldn’t be time, but I tryto cover a broad selection. I am familiar with the gem that is Castle Rising which William D’Albini built for his wife, complete with his and hers toilets! I didn’t go to Normandy this time, but I have been there in the past, and also the Loire Valley. London has changed massively, but I have still stood on the same sites even if they look very different now. I didn’t go to Lincoln this time around, but I’ve been on research visits before. For the rest I use guidebooks and online resources – the latter are invaluable providing you are cautious about their content. Obviously imagination and educated guesswork have their place to play as well.

2. Have you ever wanted to write a novel set outside the Middle Ages?

I’ve written contemporary short stories for magazines, but although I can do it, to be honest I don’t get that same buzz. At the start of my career I toyed with the idea of writing Regency, but then fellin love the Middle Ages and that was that. If I did write a Regency now I would have so much research to do to bring myself to a level that would satisfy my integrity. With the Middle Ages I have decades of research under my belt. I have occasionally pondered going to a slightly earlier or slightly later time, where some of my researchwould still be valid, but really the 11th through 13th centuries are my stamping ground

3. I’ve noticed that you are very active on social network sites like Twitter and you run your own blogs – which fans like me love – but how do you manage to find time for writing?

That is indeed a dilemma. Sometimes it gets very hectic I admit, most of the time it’s a case of having the ability to multi-task quickly combined with being able to dip in and out of the writing at will. So I’ll write a couple of paragraphs, check twitter and e-mail andFacebook, dash something off, and then go back to novel for another couple of paragraphs. I really do enjoy interacting with people and listening to their stories. I’m not one of those authors who is forced into social networking with a cattle prod by their publishers,but there is still only so much time in a day, and it is a balancing act to keep everything in motion.

4. What made you choose to juxtapose Adeliza’s story with the more famous Matilda’s?

Empress Matilda is well known in history and whenever a story is told about her by writers, King Stephen and his wife also called Matilda are generally the other big players – for obvious reasons. However no author has ever explored the dynamic between Matilda and Adeliza. No one has told Adeliza’s story which is a fascinating one. She has been pretty much forgotten or at best marginalised. But the relationship between her and the Empress Matilda was probably the most important woman to woman one of Matilda’s adult life. When Matilda returned to her father’s court following the death of her first husband, shewould have spent several years in Adeliza’s company. When Matilda and her second husband Geoffrey Anjou split up for 18 months, she and Adeliza again spent time together, and it was Adeliza who allowed Matilda into England to begin her campaign for the English Crown.

That must have taken a lot of guts on Adeliza’s behalf, and must also have indicated how strong the relationship was between the women. Somehow Adeliza persuaded her husband, who was on Stephen’s side, to allow the Empress to land at Arundel. Adeliza’s contribution to the future reign of Henry II should not be overlooked. If you’ll pardon the pun she was a kingpin. Both women left England never to retur naround the same time – 1148, and so it gave me a good cut-off point and helped me to structure the novel.

5. Moving into theoretical territory here, do you think there was anything Matilda could have done to get and keep her throne?

This is a difficult one. Matilda would always have had a hard row to hoe as a woman in a man’s world. If one searches around one can find examples of women who ruled in their own right, but they were the exception and in the 12th century the rules were becoming more rigid and women were becoming increasingly pinned down. If Matilda had been more conciliatory at crucial times in her bid for the Crown – such as in London where she blew it by being haughty towards the citizens who were natural supporters of Stephen, or if she had handled Stephen’s brother Henry of Winchester with kid gloves, she might indeed havecarried the day. But even if she had been crowned, I wonder if she would have kept the throne. I don’t think for one minute it would have been the end of matters. Whether she was a Queen or not, the fighting would have continued. Having looked at Matilda’s life, I think she wasn’t an easy person to get on with. She could be haughty and proud and cold; but she was honest and direct and expected others to be the same. And she had a warm and generous side that can still be traced via some of the Chronicles outside the scope of the war in England. I also think -and this is the theory not something I can prove, that she was a martyr to premenstrual tension. It’s something that is never factored into the historical record, but it must have played its part among all women known to history. Add the wrong time of the month into a difficult situation that calls for patience and diplomacy, and I can see how things might have gone pear shaped very fast. I think also that Matilda was filled with a vast amount of hurt and anger that people had rejected her, that they had gone back on their word, and I do not believe she forgave easily. When the time came that she was in command, she let herself be ruled by some of that hurt and anger, and it was part of her downfall.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Chadwick for answering all of my questions! Please come back tomorrow for my review of Lady of the English!

All book links to external sites are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.


Author Interview with Carrie Lofty and Giveaway

scoundrelskissYesterday, I reviewed Carrie’s newest book, Scoundrel’s Kiss.  I also had the pleasure of interviewing her recently and I hope you all enjoy the answers as much as I did!

1. I loved that Scoundrel’s Kiss was set outside the typical locations for a historical romance.  Why did you choose to set it in medieval Spain?

It’s set in the Kingdom of Castile, which comprises part of modern-day Spain. Thinking back, I don’t remember exactly what first started me thinking about Spain as a setting, but I knew I wanted to feature two elements to this story: a warrior monk and an opium addict. That meant I needed to find a place where their love could blossom. Spain was not only a hotbed of religious and military activity in the 13th century, but it was also along Arab trade routes. The Arabs traded with the Chinese, which mean that opium was available for purchase in Spain. Ta-dah! I’d found my setting.

2. Ada is a far cry from the average blushing virgin heroine.  Was it a difficult task for you to make an opium addict a sympathetic character?

Yes, Ada is…trying. It was difficult making her sympathetic, in that I disliked how Ada behaved toward the finale of my Robin Hood-themed debut, WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS. She makes her sister, Meg, make a really unfair choice, and her behavior is downright selfish. So I wasn’t in a sympathetic place when I sat down to write her love story. But then I remembered an old saying about villains: the villain is the hero of his own story. That jolted me into taking Ada’s side, so to speak, and learning where she was vulnerable, why she was hurting so desperately, and how I could help redeem her. In the end, I think her happily ever after is justly deserved, if only for how hard she works at earning it.

3. When it comes to writing, do you plot out your books carefully or does the story come to you as you go?

I start with the setting. Always. Then I research and brainstorm in tandem, trying to find my characters. What sort of people *could* have lived in this time and place? Are they native? Just passing through? There for the long haul? Bored and desperate to get out? Once I have the setting and the characters very firm in my mind, then I start writing and never look back. You could call me a prepared pantser!

4. Do you have a particular favorite time period in history?

I’ll always have a fondness for the American Old West. I did my master’s thesis on the lives and legends of Jesse James and Wild Bill Hickok, and how their stories helped shape American culture after the Civil War. Plus I was a sucker for western-set romances when I was a teenager, back when they were *everywhere*. I haven’t yet tried my hand at a western of my own, but I can’t help but think that I will someday. That period of history has been such a part of my life!

2815872360_6dcd11f150_o5. Are you planning on returning to any of the characters in Scoundrel’s Kiss for another book?  What’s next for you?

I’d like to continue with Jacob’s story, and then to find a partner for Blanca, but that remains to be seen. Otherwise, my historical romance set in Napoleonic Austria will help launch Carina Press, Harlequin’s new all-digital venture, in June. In it, a widowed violin prodigy begins a steamy affair with the renowned composer she’s always idolized, only to learn that he stole the symphony he’s most famous for. In addition, I’m co-writing with Ann Aguirre under the name Ellen Connor (http://EllenConnor.com). We write hot-n-dirty apocalyptic paranormal romances, and our “Dark Age Dawning” trilogy will be coming soon from Penguin.

6. What do you suggest we read while waiting for your next book?  Any favorites you’d like to share with us?

I love lush, beautiful writing, so my favorite romance authors are Candice Procter, Penelope Williamson, Laura Kinsale, and Patricia Gaffney. They all craft such amazing stories, not simply packed with emotion and fascinating characters, but with poetic language to describe every aspect of the hero and heroine’s lives. I read those books and knew that’s what I wanted to write. Those are the kinds of stories I love to read, so why not give them a try in my own style with my own unique voice? I’d unabashedly recommend any of their books to those who haven’t yet read them!

Thanks for stopping by, Carrie!

To win a copy of Scoundrel’s Kiss for your very own, just leave a comment.  There is one up for grabs.  Readers in the US and Canada will receive a signed copy, whereas international readers will receive an unsigned copy from the Book Depository.  Make sure you leave a valid email address in the “email” field of the comment form to win.  This contest will be open until January 26th.  Good luck! The winner of this contest is Lana.


Author Interview: Michelle Moran


Please welcome Michelle Moran to Medieval Bookworm today!  She has graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions here.  I hope you enjoy the answers as much as I did.

1. What drew you to tell Selene’s story and move into ancient Rome?

Actually, it all began with a dive. Not the kind of dive you take into a swimming pool, but the kind where you squeeze yourself into a wetsuit and wonder just how tasty your rump must appear to passing sharks now that it looks like an elephant seal. My husband and I had taken a trip to Egypt, and at the suggestion of a friend, we decided to go to Alexandria to see the remains of Cleopatra’s underwater city. Let it be known that I had never gone scuba diving before, but after four days with an instructor (and countless questions like, “Will there be sharks? How about jellyfish? If there is an earthquake, what happens underwater?”) we were ready for the real thing.

We drove one morning to the Eastern Harbor in Alexandria. Dozens of other divers were already there, waiting to see what sort of magic lay beneath the waves. I wondered if the real thing could possibly live up to all of the guides and brochures selling this underwater city, lost for thousands of years until now. Then we did the dive, and it was every bit as magical as everyone had promised. We saw the blocks that once formed Marc Antony’s summer palace, came face to face with Cleopatra’s enigmatic sphinx, and floated above ten thousand ancient artifacts, including obelisks, statues, and countless amphorae. By the time we surfaced, I was Cleopatra-obsessed. I wanted to know what had happened to her city once she and Marc Antony had committed suicide. Where did all of its people go? Were they allowed to remain or were they killed by the Romans? And what about her four children?

It was this last question that surprised me the most. I had always assumed that Cleopatra’s children had all been murdered. But the Roman conqueror, Octavian, actually spared the three she bore to Marc Antony:  her six-year-old son, Ptolemy, and her ten-year-old twins, Alexander and Selene. As soon as I learned that Octavian had taken the three of them to Rome for his Triumph, I knew at once I had my next book. And when I discovered what Cleopatra’s daughter lived through while in exile – rebellion, loss, triumph, love –  I absolutely couldn’t wait to start writing. I can only hope that the novel is as exciting and intriguing as the research proved to be. It may be two thousand years in the past, but a great love story, as they say, is timeless.

2. Is there a little known fact about ancient Rome or Egypt that you think everyone should know?

I’m not sure I could pick out just one fact! Perhaps I’d simply like people to know how similar ancient Romans and Egyptians were to us today. In ancient Egypt, Nefertiti’s daughter had her own perfume line, and in ancient Rome, women used curling irons and had an ancient form of bras. These two incredible civilizations really paved the way for how we live life today.

3. Do you have an absolute favorite period in history?

I wish I did! It would make choosing my next book so much easier! No. But I have particular periods I’m drawn to, such as the ancient world, the Middle Ages, the 18th century, and the Victorian era.

authorphoto4. Why did you choose to write historical fiction?

It all began on an archaeological dig. During my sophomore year in college, I found myself sitting in Anthropology 101, and when the professor mentioned that she was looking for volunteers who would like to join a dig in Israel, I was one of the first students to sign up. When I got to Israel, however, all of my archaeological dreams were dashed (probably because they centered around Indiana Jones). There were no fedora wearing men, no cities carved into rock, and certainly no Ark of the Covenant. I was very disappointed. Not only would a fedora have seemed out of place, but I couldn’t even use the tiny brushes I had packed. Apparently, archaeology is more about digging big ditches with pickaxes rather than dusting off artifacts. And it had never occurred to me until then that in order to get to those artifacts, one had to dig deep into the earth. Volunteering on an archaeological dig was hot, it was sweaty, it was incredibly dirty, and when I look back on the experience through the rose-tinged glasses of time, I think, Wow, was it fantastic! Especially when our team discovered an Egyptian scarab that proved the ancient Israelites had once traded with the Egyptians. Looking at that scarab in the dirt, I began to wonder who had owned it, and what had possessed them to undertake the long journey from their homeland to the fledgling country of Israel.

On my flight back to America I stopped in Berlin, and with a newfound appreciation for Egyptology, I visited the museum where Nefertiti’s limestone bust was being housed. The graceful curve of Nefertiti’s neck, her arched brows, and the faintest hint of a smile were captivating to me. Who was this woman with her self-possessed gaze and stunning features? I wanted to know more about Nefertiti’s story, but when I began the research into her life, it proved incredibly difficult. She’d been a woman who’d inspired powerful emotions when she lived over three thousand years ago, and those who had despised her had attempted to erase her name from history. Yet even in the face of such ancient vengeance, some clues remained.

As a young girl Nefertiti had married a Pharaoh who was determined to erase the gods of Egypt and replace them with a sun-god he called Aten. It seemed that Nefertiti’s family allowed her to marry this impetuous king in the hopes that she would tame his wild ambitions. What happened instead, however, was that Nefertiti joined him in building his own capital of Amarna where they ruled together as god and goddess. But the alluring Nefertiti had a sister who seemed to keep her grounded, and in an image of her found in Amarna, the sister is standing off to one side, her arms down while everyone else is enthusiastically praising the royal couple. From this image, and a wealth of other evidence, I tried to recreate the epic life of an Egyptian queen whose husband was to become known as the Heretic King.

5. Since I know you go on amazing research trips, can you give us a hint of where you might be going next?  Anywhere you would love to go but haven’t managed yet?

My next trip will be through Scandinavia. I’m very interested in the history of the Vikings and I’ve been intending to make this trip for quite some time. I would love to go to Mongolia, and it’s possible that my husband and I (my traveling partner) will add this on to our Scandinavian trip. It’s always been a goal of mine to see the Genghis Khan Festival there.

6. What’s ahead for your next book?  Do you plan on returning to the ancient world soon?

For my fourth novel, I will be departing from the ancient world to write about the French Revolution. This book will be about the life of Madame Tussaud, in which young Marie Tussaud joins the gilded but troubled court of Marie Antoinette, and survives the French Revolution by creating death masks of the beheaded aristocracy.

7. Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers of Medieval Bookworm?

Just that it is a pleasure to be here, and that I hope your readers enjoy my very first adult/YA crossover in the historical fiction genre!

Thanks Michelle!  To learn more, you can visit her website and blog, and check out the awesome contest she’s holding in independent bookstores across the USA! Please also note that yesterday, I reviewed Cleopatra’s Daughter, and today is the last day to enter my contest for a signed copy.


Interview with C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen

Welcome to the blog tour for C.W. Gortner’s wonderful book, The Last Queen, here at Medieval Bookworm. Today Christopher has graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me, and I hope the answers are as interesting for you as they are for me!

cwg_red_background_for_web1. My blog readers will know that, as a historian-in-training, historical accuracy is a frequent issue of mine when it comes to fiction. I very much dislike historical books to go against known facts. I know that you strove for this kind of historical accuracy with THE LAST QUEEN. Would you mind weighing in on this issue? How close do you think authors need to get to real history in fiction?

This is a very interesting issue, and, I must say, an often contentious one. For my writing, I always strive for accuracy; I think as writers of historical fiction it’s our responsibility to get our facts right. But sometimes dramatic license is required for the sake of a story that would otherwise get lost in a morass of history or to illustrate complex elements in a single scene. When this license is taken it should be well-considered and as plausible as possible. I did some of this to make THE LAST QUEEN accessible; my editors and my agent helped immensely in this regard. I also made some inadvertent mistakes, because, after all, I am human. Historical fiction is still fiction; as novelists we’re dramatizing a story based on actual events and/or people; but actual history, like life, isn’t always easily distilled. A historical novelist sometimes faces difficult choices in order to tell his or her story and because of these choices I believe some dramatic license is essential, providing it doesn’t go so far beyond what is known it careens into fantasy. If it does, then at the very least an author’s afterword or note is required.

2. I loved Juana’s character and had a really hard time believing that a man wrote this book! I had always heard that men couldn’t write women and women couldn’t write men but you completely eradicated that stereotype. Did you have any inspiration for her or experience that fueled your ability to portray a woman so well?

I heard that, too – for thirteen years as I attempted to get published! I think it’s one of those generalized misconceptions that persist, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Of course, there are men who can’t write women and vice versa, but novelists should, for all intensive purposes, strive to be as invisible as possible. Our characters tell our stories, not us. One of the marvelous boons of writing is that we are defined not by our gender but rather by our ability to inhabit the characters we create. That said, I was raised by women – my mom, my grandmother, my aunts – and I grew up at the table listening to them tell stories and gossip; maybe I somehow learned more about the female heart? I don’t know. I must admit, however, I often feel I understand women more than I do my own gender. I also first wrote THE LAST QUEEN in the third-person and it didn’t work. Juana was too enigmatic; the editors who read it came back with rejections that basically said, “Something is missing here.” It wasn’t until I put my own trepidations aside and slipped into her skin, so to speak, that much of her inner life became clear to me. Call it inspiration or channeling or imagination: whatever the case, Juana spoke to me as she never had before and as a result the book transformed in dramatic and unexpected ways.

3. What inspired you to write about Juana of Castile?

I grew up in southern Spain, near a ruined castle that used to be a summer residence of her parents, Queen Isabel and Fernando. I clambered about in that castle and knew she had lived there; in a way, she was a part of my world. Every school child grows up hearing the story of Juana la Loca; we even sing a childish rhyme about her. But when I first visited her tomb in Granada, I was fascinated by the sight of her effigy. It literally haunted me. I immediately wanted to know more about her. My grandmother was a celebrated theatre actress for years in Spain and had played Juana on stage; she introduced me to the drama inherent in the legend. She even took me to see a movie that was made in the 1940s about Juana, which had become a classic. I was entranced. I couldn’t get enough. I must have seen that movie over fifty times. I studied history in school, too, and Juana was one of those characters that everyone shuddered over, the poor mad queen. I remember thinking, What if she wasn’t really mad? Even then I had this sense that her side of the story had been buried under historical propaganda. The legend was dark and macabre and very juicy, but it felt like a legend, not the truth. Years later, when I began to pursue writing seriously in the hope of publication, I decided to write about her after my first novel didn’t sell. I set out to find out as much as I could, and the more I researched, the more inspired I became. Here was this woman who was locked up for forty-six years, accused of being insane, when in fact she may have been anything but. I felt she deserved a chance to speak for herself, and historical fiction was the perfect vehicle for it. Still, now and then I get e-mail from the occasional reader who tells me I’ve played fast and loose with her story; that everyone around her agreed she was unstable and unfit to rule. It shows how deep the legend has permeated, that for some readers the mere fact that I’ve chosen to depict a different version of Juana must mean I’m inaccurate. It could be I’m wrong; after all, I never met her. But I’m not convinced the popular version of her story is accurate, either.

4. I’m planning on visiting Spain in the next few years and, especially after reading your book, I can’t wait! Can you share with us a couple of places in the novel that you’d recommend visiting?

Absolutely! Spain is a marvelous country, full of contrast and vibrancy, much like Juana herself. I’d say a trip to Castile, the central part of Spain, is essential, as it’s where most of Juana’s story took place. The city of Toledo near Madrid is a medieval marvel and the Cathedral was embellished by Queen Isabel; also near Madrid is the Castle of La Mota, where Juana staged her infamous act of defiance. About three hours from Madrid is the city of Burgos, where you can visit the Gothic cathedral where Juana first declared herself queen; the Casa del Cordon, where Philip of Hapsburg died, is now a bank but the stone knotted façade remains intact. In southern Spain, you can visit the mountain city of Granada, the last stronghold of the Moors, and the stunning Moorish palace of the Alhambra.

5. Do you mind telling us what you’re working on now?

I’ve just finished a novel about Catherine de Medici, which will be published by Ballantine Books in 2010. Catherine de Medici is a much misunderstood and maligned woman in history, accused of some of the 16th century’s most heinous crimes, including the Massacre of St Bartholomew. She’s been called ruthless, ambitious and cruel; she truly has a black legend attached to her name. But during my research I uncovered a different picture of this Italian woman who became mother of the last Valois kings and one of France’s most influential queens. She had immense perseverance, loyalty, intelligence, and tolerance. She loved animals and detested the senseless waste of war. In an era of savage religious conflict, she steered France to safety. She’s interesting and complex; and I had an incredible time slipping into her skin. I’m very proud of this book. Though it was exacting and I had to revise it a few times to get it right, in the end I think I’ve done her justice.

6. How about favorite authors? Do you have any favorite authors or books we should be reading while we’re waiting for your next book, or perhaps seeking out your first?

I don’t have any favorite authors, per se, simply because I like so many for different reasons. Historical fiction books I’ve really enjoyed recently include Robin Maxwell’s Signora da Vinci; Karen Maitland’s Company of Liars; Vanora Benett’s Figures in Silk; Michelle Moran’s The Heretic Queen; Karen Essex’s Stealing Athena; David Blixt’s Master of Verona; and Judith Merkle Riley’s The Water Devil. All are well worth your time and money!

Many, many thanks to C.W. Gortner for answering my questions! The Last Queen was released in paperback on May 5th and has been published in 10 countries. It’s available from Amazon and Amazon UK.



Author Interview: Donna Lea Simpson

9781402217913Please welcome Donna Lea Simpson to Medieval Bookworm!  We earlier heard why she writes historical fiction, and now she has agreed to answer a few of my questions!

1. I loved the combination of romance and mystery in Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark.  What inspired you to combine the genres rather than choose one?

I’ve been a mystery reader all my life, so writing it was a natural fit. I came to romance novels later, but fell in love with the way characterization is such a vital part of the story, how the plot emanates from the couple at the heart of the story. So I can’t imagine life without mystery, nor romance, and that is reflected in the stories I write.

I see every facet of human life as a giant mystery; what makes people behave the way they do, what secrets are they hiding… it’s all like a tangled skein of wool that I want to unravel. Even when I’m reading history, I’m trying to figure out what made people tick, why they acted as they did, what made them different from their modern day counterpart, and that is all mystery!

Romance is a vital part of life too, though, and what makes us human, that need to connect, that quest for the happy feeling of being in love. So Lady Anne is an extension of that. She’s a skeptic and an interfering busybody in some ways, but passionately romantic beneath it all.

2. One detail I picked up on and appreciated was Darkefell’s knowledge that Edward the Black Prince was probably never called “the Black Prince” in his life.  Do you do a great deal of research for your novels?

Whoa, yes! More research with every book. I get pickier about historical accuracy as I go along, but luckily, research is an absolute joy to me, and I can get lost for hours in internet research or reading old books. I do have to call it quits sometimes—spending three hours researching a tiny detail that no one else is going to notice is counter-productive—but I’m never truly satisfied. I’m  terrified that because I don’t really have any scholarly training I’ll have missed something important or misstated something. I’m finding with Lady Anne that it’s all coming much more naturally, though, to work historical information into the books, because both Lady Anne and Lord Darkefell are intelligent, well-read people, so they make casual references to not just English history, but also old folk tales, Greek mythology, military history, world geography.

3. Would you mind telling us a bit about your writing process?  Do you plan out a novel from the start or do you let the characters take you where they want you to go?

I’ve always been a planner. I would write the synopsis, then I would take it and expand it into an outline, then I would break the outline up into a chapter by chapter plan. It was a lengthy and involved process, but I wonder now if it helped or hurt my books? It certainly made them long! I ended up writing 120,000 words with one novel, about twenty or thirty thousand more than the contract stated, and not many publishers are happy with that! So I was a detailed planner.

Until lately. A time crunch necessitated that I write swiftly, but what I found out in the process of flying by the seat of my pants is, sometimes the book just takes off. I’m learning (after all these years) that I should trust myself more. I do know what I’m doing. Kind of… LOL. And there is an exhilaration in writing fast and furious, a kind of free-wheeling liberty. Any mistakes I make or things I miss, I can fix in subsequent drafts. I do at least three or four complete drafts, smoothing it out and perfecting it as I go.

4. Can you give us a hint about what’s next for Lady Ann e and the Marquess of Darkefell?

I love these two, Lady Anne and Darkefell! What I know about Lady Anne is, she is truly a woman of her time, educated, intelligent, and beginning to challenge the status quo. Think Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Mary Astell and Hester Thrale, all women who came slightly before Anne’s time and who informed her world. And think Mary Wollstonecraft, Anne’s contemporary, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. It was a time of burgeoning agitation for more rights for women, and though a lady’s rights were circumscribed, it wouldn’t always be like that. Women of Anne’s status and intelligence were getting their first glimmer of  a future in which women would have more autonomy.

Anne is a rare bird in some ways, and so she needed a rare man to appreciate her. Darkefell is just that fellow—smart, passionate, active—but he’s got a long way to go before he understands Anne, as you can tell by the ending of Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark. He is going to have to come to terms with Anne’s independence before he will be a worthy match.

Until then, Lady Anne is going to keep making her own decisions even while the world condemns her for it! She can’t be anything less that she is, not for anyone. And… she’s going to keep sticking her nose in where some would say it doesn’t belong, and, with her skeptical mind, exploring ‘supernatural’ occurrences.

5. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing inspirations?  Any favorite authors or books we should check out while waiting for your next one?

Well, luckily, the wait for Lady Anne and the Ghost’s Revenge won’t be long… it’s out in August, then Lady Anne and the Gypsy Curse is out in November!!

But there are a lot of books I’ve read, historical mysteries that have thrilled me, including the fabulous Stephanie Barron, who in addition to her Jane Austen mystery series (wonderful novels!) has written an absolutely perfect book, A Flaw in the Blood. You will be blown away by the dark twists and turns she takes you on through that novel.

I know Elizabeth Peters’ Egyptian mysteries are great. I had only read the Crocodile on the Sandbank before I wrote the Lady Anne books, but I was drawn back to them when a reviewer compared Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark to her novels. I was enormously flattered, so I read another in the series, and I’m hooked. I’m going to have to go back and begin at the beginning and read them all. What I love is the romantic chemistry between Peabody and Emerson, while the mystery is speeding along… it’s the perfect blend of mystery and romance.

I hope you all enjoy Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark! Thank you for such fun and fascinating questions. I’ve enjoyed answering them so much!

If today’s discussion of Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark has piqued your interest, you can check it out on Amazon..  You can also head over to Donna’s blog.  Come back next week after the book’s release for my review!


Q and A with Christie Dickason, author of The Firemaster’s Mistress

The Firemaster’s MistressBack in June, I read and really enjoyed The Firemaster’s Mistress.  I’d picked it up in the UK about a year in advance of the US release, which was last month.  In honor of the book’s arrival in the States, Christie agreed to answer some of the burning questions I had about the book.  Be forewarned, question number four is a very big spoiler, although I bet it will answer one of your questions once you’ve finished.  The rest of the interview is perfectly safe!

1. First of all, it’s clear that a lot of research went into The Firemaster’s Mistress. Would you mind telling us a little bit about how you went about learning so much about James I’s England?

ANSWER. How long have I got to answer this one? It’s something I often talk about at literary festivals and Reading Groups. Yes, I do a lot of research, and love it. I feel responsible for telling my readers the historical truth, as far as it can be known. But, secretly, I also feel that research gives me permission to be nosy, to go behind the scenes in fascinating places, and to ask impertinent questions that I’d be far too shy to ask otherwise. And it introduces me to amazing, generous people I’d never otherwise know.

I try to create a vivid, detailed film that I can run in my head, and describe, to give readers a feeling of what it was really like to be there. To build this film, I read research books written by historians and look at old documents from the period, like the two signed confessions of Guy Fawkes. I visit the places my characters would have known, to try to imagine what their eyes might have seen. I try on the clothes to learn what they feel like – and how they shape behaviour. (Try sitting down in a stiffened bodice and iron-hooped farthingale.) I go to museums to study the details of daily life – what their forks, drinking glasses, chamber pots, musical instruments, and nightclothes looked like. I learn what layers of wool and straw were under them when they slept, and I imagine the fleas that lived there. I read what my characters might have read. I’ve tried living for a few days without electric light, and, as a result, now understand all those slightly-implausible mistaken identities you find in Shakespeare’s plays. And I’ve used this lack of light in the plot of FIREMASTER’S MISTRESS.

Also, in my previous life in theatre, I spent four years working with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford and in London, as resident choreographer and assistant director. All day, every day, I heard Shakespeare’s English being spoken, while I watched and helped actors explore ways to inhabit that world – there’s no way to improve on that as background for writing about the period.

If it’s still up on the Web, I have an article posted on the English TV Channel Four History Website, which goes into greater detail about how I researched the Gunpowder Plot, and how that unrolling detective story influenced my plot, including why I chose my writer of the anonymous Monteagle letter.

2. Do you think that an insider really revealed the Gunpowder Plot of 1605?

ANSWER. Yes. But no one can agree who it was. This uncertainty is a perfect example of one of the ‘cracks’ in known history into which I try to imagine my fictional stories.

3. Why did you choose to write about this time period in England?

ANSWER. By chance, at first. I fell in love with the craziness of a subject (the Tulip Madness and wild stock-market type dealing in flower bulbs, as if they were pork bellies or oil) which turned into my first 17th c. novel, THE LADY TREE. Then I fell in love with the period. The people feel more familiar to me than those of either the medieval or Victorian periods. They’re vigorous, mercantile, culturally diverse and had their own version of football louts and dot.com millionaires. I think that they would recognise us too, once they got past wondering why everyone seemed to beep, had pockets that played snatches of music, and walked around with one hand against their cheeks, talking to themselves.

Reality comes into it too. Publishers want a book a year, if possible. Even taking longer to write one, you don’t have time to keep learning new periods in the same detail.

And see what I said above about my time with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The period was already in my blood.

4. This is a spoiler question, but I must know: Why did you choose to have Kate end up with Boomer and not Francis?

ANSWER. Controversy! I love it! Readers are split about 50-50 over which man Kate should have married, and feel equally passionately about it. She makes a tough choice between different types of love, and readers seem to respond according to where they are in their own lives. For me, Francis will always be the delightful sexy hero you fall madly in love with, but he’s also a rolling stone. And a little self-centred. In real life, happily-ever-after, he would hurt Kate again. He’s not husband material for a woman like her who has been badly damaged by her life (including by him!) and needs for her heart and soul to heal. It may also be partly that Boomer looks a bit like my tall, sexy, silver-haired husband, but he LISTENS to her in a way that Francis never does. He’s only 48, and still in his male prime. He’s protective and masterful in a nice way, kind, and treats Kate as an intelligent equal. He’s happy for her to be her slightly unusual self. He’s a little dangerous, but not to her. What’s not to love? Anyway, who could resist a gift like Caledonian Meg? (But don’t worry. Francis meets his very-satisfactory match in the next book, THE PRINCIPESSA.)

5. What is your writing process like? Do you plan ahead, or do you allow the characters to go where they will?

ANSWER. This is not an answer for people who want things clear cut. I know where I’m starting. I have an idea of where I want to end up, though this may change over the nine months or so that it takes to get to a first draft. I sketch out a very rough road map of my intended journey. Then I do a lot of what I call ‘improvisation’ in the theatrical sense, putting the characters I’ve chosen into the situations I think they’ll find themselves in and finding out what they do. For example, I didn’t know which man Kate would choose until I got her to Powder Mote and put the three of them together. I’m willing to bin a great many words before I settle. My desk sees the ruthless murder of possibilities and lots of re-cycled paper!

I hate doing detailed synopses before starting a commission because I’ve had no time to explore with my characters. And the writing can then feel like paint-by-numbers. Without the ‘juice’. (I was delighted to learn that Stephen King feels the same way.)

On the other hand, you can never let your characters wander completely at will for long, or they can derail the book. Like actors, who have to make themselves heard in the back row even when whispering into someone’s ear, I have to keep a balance between free imagining and craft. I swing all the time between meditative dreaming and worrying about building tension.

Every character or world has its own logic. The sense of truth, even in fantasy, grows from following those internal rules. If I find myself headed in the wrong direction, I have to go back and redefine the rules that took me there. The writer is in charge!

6. Finally, do you read historical fiction yourself? Do you have any favorite authors or books of any genre that you’d like to share with us?

ANSWER. YES! And thrillers, and literary novels, and travel books, and books on magic, folklore and mythology, and poetry, and backs of cereal boxes… I could start giving lists of names (including Anya Seton, Rose Tremain, Philipa Gregory, James Lee Burke…) but it might be quickest for people to check the ‘Extra’ I’ve just written posted on my website (www. christiedickason.com). It answers this question directly and is called ‘The Ones That Got me Started’.


Thanks so much for taking the time out to answer my questions, Christie! For those of you who don’t have this book yet and love historical fiction, I recommend you check it out on Amazon.