Book give-away winners!

Finally! Today is December 17 (ergg, a day late!) I’ve used the random number generator website to select the two winners for Christensen’s OF MOTHS AND BUTTERFLIES. The first winner will receive the signed hard-copy of the book, and the second winner will receive an e-book version!

Archer Hamilton is a collector of rare and beautiful insects. Gina Shaw is a servant in his uncle’s house. Clearly out of place in the position in which she has been discovered, she becomes a source of fascination . . . and curiosity.

A girl with a blighted past and a fortune she deems a curse, Gina has lowered herself in order to find escape from her family and their scheming designs. But when she is found, the stakes suddenly become dire.

All Gina wants is the freedom to live her life as she would wish. All her aunts want is the money that comes with her. But there is more than one way to trap an insect. An arranged marriage might turn out profitable for more parties than one.

Mr. Hamilton is about to make the acquisition of a lifetime. But will the price be worth it? Can a woman captured and acquired learn to love the man who has bought her?


1. Mystica
2. Noelle
3. Noelle
4. Sapphire
5. Sapphire
6. Sapphire
7. Alex
8. Sharmon

And the winner is… *drum roll*

Congratulations to Sapphire (1st winner) and Alex (2nd winner)! The author will email you guys soon to obtain the necessary information to send off the prizes. Happy reading!!!! And for everyone else who entered, thank you SO much. Have a great holiday 🙂

Interview with V.R. Christensen

V.R. Christensen has two copies of “OF MOTHS AND BUTTERFLIES” to give-away. Two winners will be randomly selected and announced on DECEMBER 16, 2011. The first winner will receive an autographed hard-cover copy and the second winner will win an e-book version of the book. To enter:

1) Leave a comment & your email address

2) You can also post an entry about this contest on your blog, leave a link to your blog in the comment box here, and you’ll gain two more points. This means you have three times the chances of winning!

3) You can tweet about this interview and earn one extra point, Make sure to add in your tweet #OfMoths #Bluestocking


I have had the privilege of interviewing a very, very special author… V.R. Christensen. She is the editor I constantly mentioned during the time when my manuscript (The Runaway Courtesan) was going through intensive rewrites and when I was querying. She’s the person whose inbox I flooded with emails of writerly frustration – and always, always, she would reply back with words that gave me courage to keep on pursuing my dream. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Seriously. I’ve also had the privilege of following her journey to publication, which is why I’m SO happy that her book has been published to share with everyone. I remember the days when she would send me one chapter (of her earlier manuscript) a week and I’d always look forward to reading it…. Let me tell you, she’s one great writer. But before you read her interview, do have a look at her lovely book trailer.


  • Can you tell us a bit about your book?

Of Moths & Butterflies is set in 1882 England, just before the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act. It’s the story of a young woman who is suddenly freed from the control of her licentious uncle, but finds herself with the unexpected burden of his fortune. Normally such a thing would be a miraculous blessing, but she knows why it’s been given to her–to make up for the ill use she received at her uncle’s hands. To keep it would be a reminder of all of that, and she wants to escape that past, and, with it, the wrath of her aunts who have been disinherited because of her. They will, of course, endeavour to get at it by whatever means they can. And so she runs away and hires herself out as a maid of all work in a large country house. There, by chance, she becomes acquainted with the nephew of the man she works for. He doesn’t, at first, realise her station. He sees her rather more accurately than she is trying to portray herself. But in her own estimation, she is something quite low and despicable. These are the affects of abuse. In the mean time, her aunts are trying to find her. When at last they do, they see a way to gain by her good fortune. Her eldest aunt, her godmother, marries her off, basically selling her in exchange for a portion of her inheritance. And so, thrust into this marriage, she has to find a way to be happy. Only in order to love another, one must always learn to love themselves first. And so the story, truly, is about overcoming the effects of abuse. That was the main theme I wanted to explore. And secondary to that, how it is our choices, more than anything, more than circumstances even, determine our happiness.

  • What inspired you to write this story in the first place?

It was a combination of things. Firstly, I had read Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and, while I loved the book, it made me so extraordinarily angry. I wanted Tess to have a happy ending. I felt she deserved it. And so I started mulling around in my mind what that would mean. I had written my first book already (yet to be published). It was about an arranged marriage, but one that would end, one way or another, in disaster. It got me thinking about all the arranged marriages that I had read about (and a few I knew of personally) that had turned out well, and so I thought I’d examine the same subject, but from a completely different angle. It was a very difficult book to write, and underwent several rewrites and a couple dozen revisions before I had it quite right. I had to wrestle with some personal demons in order to really address the issues properly, but in the end, I’m glad I did it. I think if ever writing was therapeutic for anyone, Moths was therapeutic for me.

  • I remember reading the earlier draft of this book a while back (which I adored!) How much as the story changed since?

I think you’ve read a couple different versions, June. The first you read was that which I first put up on Authonomy. I remember being so confident with it. A friend had read it and pointed out a couple of fatal plot flaws, but I didn’t listen at the time. And then a few others read it, a very few read beyond the first few chapters, and I began to see that my friend had a point. The plot was forced. It was a sequence of dramatic events toward which I was pushing my characters. It wasn’t working. And so I rethought it. I began by telling the same story, but by really getting inside the characters’ heads, which I think I was resisting to do before then. The original draft took maybe four or five months to write. The rewrite took ten. I did some really in depth research into the psychological effects of abuse in all its forms, I studied Judith Flanders’ Inside the Victorian Home, which delves far deeper than just how they decorated (which I had already studied at university) but what what went on in those rooms, and how those events translated to the outside world. I studied writings on what it was like to be a servant, and I researched the property and marriage laws, mainly by reading old texts. It was time consuming, often gruelling, it was emotionaly torturous, but I think I really had to do it in order to get it just right. I did, in the process, lose a beloved character, but I think I gained a richness, and a preciseness that I couldn’t have achieved otherwise.

  • Through this process of rewriting, what kept you motivated?

Well, that’s a difficult question to answer. In part, it was knowing I had people counting on me to finish it, who had invested themselves in it and wanted to see it done perhaps as much as I did. At the same time there were a couple of fellow authors that I really looked up to, and I wanted to put myself on par with them. I’m not sure I achieved that. I hope I did, but it’s useless to compare ourselves to others. Still, I wished to gain their respect, which I recognise now as vanity. If I don’t believe in myself, who will? But I think most of all, I just had a drive to see it finished. I’ve never been a quitter. A project started, for me, must be finished. I really wanted to see it bound and in print. I had to know that this huge thing that I’d begun would result in a finished product.

  • What was the most difficult experience you had while trying to get published?

Oh, boy. I can’t really go into great detail, but I had someone try to sabotage me. In the end it worked out for the best, but it was a horribly painful experience.

  • What did you learn on this journey to publication?

You really ask some hard questions, don’t you? I think the lesson I learned the most was to trust in myself and not lean on others for reassurance, and in tandem with that, to know when to listen to criticism and when to trust my own judgement. I think Authonomy taught me that, but it was a difficult lesson to learn, and it took a great deal of experience before I realised that I could very easily listen to everyone with an opinion, and then have a book that wasn’t mine at all. Not all criticism is helpful. Sometimes it isn’t even well-intended or particularly informed. I had to learn how to distinguish between the two. And that is very difficult.

  • Why did you choose to set your story in the Victorian era? What is it about the past and history that attracts you as a writer?

I think there’s a lot to be learned from the past, actually. At times I feel like I was born in the wrong time. I sincerely wish for a time where gentlemen are still gentlemen. Where women cab expect to be treated with a certain amount of respect. Where ALL can expect a certain amount of respect. Where people are passionate about life, but keep those passions in check. I love that feeling you get about the Victorians that they are straight-laced and proper, yet their passions are pulsing just beneath the surface. The Victorians really believed that a society’s survival hinged on its moral practices. At the same time, I am aware of the hypocrisies and prejudices, and they enrage me. And so it becomes quite natural for me to put myself in that place. To write characters with feelings and desires just like mine, but with tangible barriers that can easily be delineated. I feel that we still have those barriers, but that these days we have placed them there ourselves and they are more psychological than circumstantial. Those that are circumstantial, the economy, for instance, are a result of the past half century’s poor choices. I guess I like to think that we can take the lessons we’ve learned in regard to human empathy, and combine them with a greater sense of responsibility for each other and the world we live in. There is a sense of refinement, too, that comes with the Victorians that I’d like to emulate in my own life. My ideal world would be one that was a hybrid of refinement, responsibility and sensitivity.

  • What’s one of your favorite quotes from your book?

I get to toot my own horn? Hmmm. It’s difficult to find one that works out of context, but I think this will do, which sort of outlines the title, which is an analogy to one of the key themes in the novel.

“It seems to me,” Archer offered, though cautiously, “that we are all rather a lot like winged insects in various phases of development. In the larval stages it’s impossible to tell which will be moths and which will be butterflies. Even once wings have formed it is sometimes difficult to distinguish one from the other. Some are glorious beings at home in their element, the unwitting target of scores of admirers. Others are merely drab impostors, fluttering and bumping about blindly. How to know which is which, though? And which, by the same token, are we? We all seem to have the common inclination to be drawn to the brightest thing in any room.”

  • Which actor/actress would you cast for the role of your main male and female character?

At last an easy question! If I were to cast the film, I would choose Hugh Dancy to play Archer Hamilton, (I love Hugh Dancy, especially as Daniel Deronda) and the lovely, lovely, lovely Rose Byrne to play Imogen. And I cannot resist the temptation to add that Tom Hardy is my vision for Roger and the amazing Rosamund Pike was the actress after whom I fashioned Claire. Paul Bettany would play Wyndham. I do find that it helps me to to imagine real people playing the parts. It makes it much easier to vision their mannerisms, etc.

  • If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would it be? And why?

Wow. Um…I think I’d like to meet George Eliot. I have a feeling she would not intimidate me as much as some of my other favourite authors might. Dickens, I think, would intimidate me. Perhaps George Meredith, too, though I think he might have been more approachable than Dickens. But George Eliot had so much against her, and yet her novels are filled with so much enlightenment and inspiration and empathy. She was very knowledgeable, had some really fortunate connections that allowed her to write in a remarkably informed manner, and yet she was virtually shunned from Society because she could not marry the man she loved and chose to live with. (Of course he was welcome in Society.) She was a victim of circumstance, I think, an exception to the rule. She lived, in spirit, a highly moral life, though circumstances were against her. I would very much have liked to have known her.

  • What are the five books that have influenced you most as a writer?

Well, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, of course, which I think gave me the drive to write about injustice. Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, which taught me a great deal about plot. C.S. Richardson’s The End of the Alphabet, in which I learned a great deal about conciseness of language, brevity and how to use distance rather than intimacy to engage a reader to the characters. (Louise Galvin does this marvellously, too.) I learned a great deal about dealing with themes and writing in allegory from George Meredith’s The Egoist. All of his books are very deep, though they seem straight forward on the surface. What else? There are so many, really. Daniel Deronda. That was an odd book because I did not love it right away. It was only after I really thought about what it was Eliot was trying to achieve in that book that I realised the genius of it. It’s sort of a Trojan Horse, if you will. She was presenting a rather controversial idea in what seemed like a perfectly acceptable wrapping. She fooled her audience into reading and made a fairly powerful point about social, religious and class prejudice.

  • If you could give one piece of advice to unpublished writers what would it be?

Oh, man. Just one? Believe in your inherent greatness, but be humble enough to know that greatness requires a LOT of hard work in the achieving. It’s sort of easy now for anyone to publish. I think the work it takes to get published the traditional way needs to be applied to everyone, whether they are published traditionally or independently. Assemble mentors, editors, friends who won’t spare you. Listen to them, and learn how to decipher the good critics and criticisms from the useless. That’s really two, but I think it’s a combination of really knowing the craft, having the necessary team of supporters and assistants, and having the right balance of confidence and humility. Success happens in groups and the proud are the authors of their own downfall.

Now, June, I want to ask a question. When will you be writing again? We want to see your work published, too!

  • Haha, good question. It’s been a few months since I’ve worked on a manuscript – mainly because I felt like I neglected life too much in order to write last year (from morning till night I wrote, rejecting (almost all) invitations to socialize). I do believe my writing-well has filled up. Hopefully I’ll start writing once winter vacation arrives! I’ll be writing…and I’ll be spending a good  chunk of my time reading your book, Ms Christensen. I’ll read it while sipping on hot chocolate and listening to holiday music. Thank you  so much for letting me interview you!

Writing Love Scenes (with a furious blush)

 I’ve always struggled with the issue of writing love scenes. I remember writing one long ago for a story now abandoned, and found myself feeling mighty uncomfortable, for throughout this process I was asking myself: Is it right or wrong to write love scenes?

I’m an old-fashioned girl. I’m a Victorian lady who reads love-scene-filled-novels [I haven’t come across one novel in my studies of contemporary literature at university that does NOT have love scenes] but felt morally convicted when trying to write one. This is one of the main reasons why I considered writing for the Inspirational market at the suggestion of Agent #1.

O.K. So what exactly is the issue? The issue became quite clear to me when I was reading the reviews for ‘Redeeming Love’ which is a big-time bestselling Inspirational romance that did NOT close the bedroom door. In the 700+ reviews for this novel on there was a debate threading throughout: One side of the argument was that the love scene was appropriate as the hero and heroine were married, and because the love scene was written in a poetical, non-explicit way. The other side of the argument was:

Her Harlequin romance novel style writing is designed to titillate the flesh. I would not consider this book appropriate for unmarried young ladies as intimated in some of the previous reviews. If you are a mom considering this for a teenaged daughter, read the entire book FIRST. Even though the most graphic scenes are between a man and wife, there is far more detail than most young ladies who are desiring to keep their minds as well as their bodies pure before marriage need to know.

So I got no answer while reading through the reviews. I was back at base one: is it right or wrong to write love scenes? I became even more confused when I began reading the works of New York Times Bestselling author, Teresa Medeiros. Her novels had explicit love scenes. What gave me pause was when I learned that she was a Christian, a fact she openly acknowledged in her book. So I wrote her an email asking her about this issue of writing love scenes: What is right, what is wrong? or is it not black and white—is there a grey?

The author replied back with: “…This is such an important question you ask and I answered a very similar one from a Facebook friend just last week” and referred me to the site where she’d answered this question. This answer I read and was totally blown away with:


After much study on and struggle with this issue, I came to the conclusion that it’s never a sin for an artist to try to depict life as accurately as possible, and that includes the sexual aspects of life. That would be like saying Michelangelo’s David was “dirty and sinful” just because Michelangelo chose to sculpt the human body in all of its naked glory. Love scenes are no different from family scenes or conflict scenes or battle scenes. 

If I’m going to make my readers a part of my characters’ lives, then I don’t feel comfortable showing them all other aspects of that life, then slamming the bedroom door in their faces. Many people who don’t read romances don’t get this, but romances are actually incredibly moral books. The hero and heroine generally have a monogamous relationship that always ends in a lifelong commitment, usually marriage. I’ve probably become a MORE moral person by reading and writing romance. I also don’t feel like art is required to depict a perfect life. Every plot may not lend itself to marrying off the hero and heroine before they do the deed, but you’ll usually find that while they’re still basking in the afterglow, my heroes are already thinking, “Hey! I need to marry me that woman!”

I believe God gave me my talent and I believe he wants me to use it for good. When I recently received a letter from a woman who had just undergone a hysterectomy and was afraid she’d never again feel sexual desire for her husband again…until she read CHARMING THE PRINCE, it simply validated that belief. I will always respect the beliefs of fellow Christians who aren’t comfortable reading or writing explicit love scenes, but I believe romances are beautiful and spiritual books that celebrate the best of what love has to offer and mirrors the love that God has for His children.

In the author’s email to me, she also wrote:

If you should decide you’re not comfortable writing explicit love scenes, there are always other paths like Inspirational romance, women’s fiction, etc. I do know that when I re-read my old books, I’ve never found one that I was ashamed of in retrospect. They seemed just as filled with hope, innocence and love as they did when I wrote them.

I’m still uncertain–I  don’t know on what ground I stand on. I find myself leaning towards the grey zone. I’m thinking that if I must write love scenes, I’ll write a subtle, poetical one. A scene so watered down you wouldn’t even know it was there. Like Mary Balogh, her love scenes are pretty nuanced.

So, dear readers, what’s your take on this issue of writing love scenes? And have you ever struggled writing one yourself?

Author Interview: Michele Ann Young / Ann Lethbridge

A few days ago I read NO REGRETS and, having enjoyed it very much, I checked out the author’s website to figure out what other books she had written. As I explored her site I became curious and wanted to know more about her. I knew right then that she would be a great author to interview for my blog—if only she would say ‘yes’! I was honored when she graciously agreed to be interviewed. Now, without further ado, I would like to share with you my interview with Michele Ann Young and her alter ego, Ann Lethrbidge.




1) Could you tell us about your historical romance novel, NO REGRETS?

The book is set in Norfolk, London and France. Three very different locations in 1816, after Waterloo. No Regrets is the story of two old friends, Caro and Lucas, who liked each other very much growing up, but whose paths diverged as adults. They find themselves in very different circumstances when next they meet, she is trying to support her sisters after her father’s death, and he is man about town rake, who is being forced to marry by his dictatorial father, or go without funds. The odd thing is that his father wants him to Caro. Caro is not your usual romance heroine, she is plump, she wears glasses and her self esteem is at an all time low. But she finds it very hard to resist the man, though he has changed, when she loved the boy.  Once they enter into their marriage of convenience, then the adventure starts, for there is a lot about each other they don’t know.

2)      How much has ‘No Regrets’ changed since draft one of the story?

Great question. It is also hard to actually remember, but what I can say for certain is that the first scene, thought it was rewritten and improved over time, never changed. Since I tend to write without a roadmap or a plot, the biggest changes for me are always the scenes that have to be cut. I loved writing about Paris and the Champagne regions of France, though, and I did oodles of research, most of which did not end up in the book, but there are still little bits of interesting information here and there.  The biggest change was the additon of the flashbacks to their childhood together, something my editor requested.


3) I visited your webpage and discovered you had published other Historical Romances under a different pen name: Ann Lethbridge. I was curious why you were publishing under two names?

 Ah, that was the publisher’s choice. The particular name was my idea, but since they already have several Michelle’s writing for the line and the spelling of my name – Michele – didn’t really make a huge difference in brand recognition, they asked me if I would mind.  Well, when people ask so nicely, what else can one do? I decided to use my middle name and go with a new last name, I have always wanted to be in the middle of a list, rather than at the end. lol

4) Could you share with us one of your favourite reviews?

 I was quite thrilled when No Regrets was awarded an honorary mention in the Foreward Magazine’s Book of the Year contest.  But my favourite review for the book has to be this one from Romantic Times:

The familiar marriage of convenience plot spins out into an engaging and adventurous story. A hero and heroine who don’t quite fit the conventional mold make for some interesting surprises and unexpected twists so not everything is quite as it appears on the surface. The road to happiness is bumpy, but the final result is a relationship with No Regrets.

5) Why did you choose to write in the Regency era?

Probably because this is what I read. Given a choice of a any other genre or a regency historical, I go for the regency.  I loved Georgette Heyer’s work growing up and still read them for pure enjoyment, even though her style of writing would not be accepted in today’s market. I also loved Jane Austen’s works, Sir Walter Scott and C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower is one of my all time favourite hero’s. Since I also like reading fantasy, I expect I like to imagine myself in another world and I felt very much as if I knew the Regency world. I have to add, though, I have learned a great deal more since starting to write them. I am also working on a series set during the Napoleonic Peninsular Wars 1809 to 1815. It is not a romance but rather a straight historical. 

6) Several of the writers I know are in their querying stage right now. Could you share with us some of the difficulties you encountered and what you learned through this experience?

 Since every writer comes at writing fiction from a different place, it is hard to know what people will find helpful without sounding like every other author who gives advice. My first rejections were very difficult, especially since they came such a long time after submission.  I certainly learn to be patient and not expect instant success, or even instant appreciation of my work.  Some folks do get their first book published and whizz to the top, but that is not my experience. And looking back at it, I can quite see why. Those first books were my baby steps. This understanding led me to go to lots of workshops and classes and to read and absorb the information in craft books, preferably those written recently, though there are also some classics which can be added to, but not replaced.

Finding a hook that will catch an editor’s eye is very hard. One tends to be so bogged down in all the detail and nuances of a story, picking the one thing that will make an editor go aha! eluded me for quite some time.  I did find my critique partners, all now multi-published authors, great for narrowing things down to the essence, and once I had an agent, he was exceedingly helpful in this respect.

7)  What are you top five favorite books?

 I suppose I ought to be literary and super-sophisticated about this, but nope, I tend to like things that appeal to me viscerally. My list would be as follows:

Georgette Heyer –  These Old Shades

Laura Kinsale – Flowers in the Storm

Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities

Charlotte Bronte’s – Jane Eyre

Tolkien’s – Lord of the Rings

All of these are books I read as a young person and they stuck with me, though there have been many more I have enjoyed since. These I would happily read over and over, if I was stuck on a desert island.

8 ) Do you have any advice for the aspiring novelists?

Persevere, but listen to advice you trust. Attend workshops and talk to other writers. Write as often as you can, every day if possible. If you have a feeling that something isn’t quite working or that it is utterly brilliant, it probably isn’t what people want to read. That last is a conglomeration of a couple of quotes that I thought sensible.

Thank you so much Michele for this lovely interview!


Michele Ann Young’s short story Remember in the Mammoth Book of Regencies by Running Press will be out in July 2010 in North America. Her next Ann Lethbridge book Wicked Rake, Defiant Mistress, from Harlequin Historicals is in stores on May 4 2010. If you want to know more about her books visit from where you can learn more about the Regency as well ramble to her websites for the latest news.

Author Interview: M.M. Bennetts & Book give-away contest!

Sample Chapter: 1812 Proposal Scene 

M.M.Bennetts sent me an autographed copy of MAY1812 to give-away. The winner will be randomly selected and announced on March 1st, 2010. To enter:

1) Leave a comment & your email address

2) You can also post an entry about this contest on your blog, leave a link to your blog in the comment box here, and you’ll gain two more points. This means you have three times the chances of winning!


I first discovered M.M. BENNETTS’ May 1812 on Authonomy, a site run by HarperCollins. I began reading this book, curious to know why it had got the coveted gold star that hundreds of aspiring novelists were striving to receive. After reading the first few chapters, I was in love with this book, and thus left a review expressing my desire for May 1812 to be published. Well, months later, I discovered that Dragon International Independent Arts LLP (diiarts) had picked up Bennetts’ work. After May 1812 was published, I got the autographed copy, and began reading it right away—and ended up sleeping at 8 in the morning. I just could not put it down! So, naturally, I asked Bennetts if I could do an interview. My request, dear readers, was accepted! Now, without further ado, here is my interview with a most talented writer and knowledgeable historian, M.M. Bennetts:

  • What inspired you to write this book in the first place?

When I was at the University of St. Andrews, I lived in a cottage on an estate rather than in halls of residence.  And life on the estate was pretty much as it had been for the past two hundred years–there was the Big House, the owners were called the Laird and Madam, there was the home farm.  And living there allowed me, forced me even, to look beyond the stereotypes we’ve had for decades about the land-owning gentry.  The Laird was in his eighties.  Madam was in her late sixties.  He had been a tall lad and big for his age, so when he was fourteen he had convinced his parents to let him enlist to fight in World War I, where he was wounded; and all his life he’d suffered terrible back problems because of what had happened to him in the Trenches.  They had married late, but the great tragedy of their life was that they’d not been able to have children–and they were every bit as saddened by that as any couple today having failed to conceive after ten years of IVF.  But they had this large estate, with outlying farms, so like every farmer I’ve come to know since, they worked from six in the morning until nearly midnight.  There was always a fence down, rabbits destroying some field, a leaking roof in one of the cottages…and there was no retirement for them. And it was their sense of duty to family, to country and king, so far above and beyond the call of duty–as well as the big house which was a jewel of late 18th century architecture which they treasured and loved and preserved–which led me to gradually turn my attention to the late Georgians and the Regency.  I’d been a mediaevalist up to that point, specialising in the 15th century art and politics.  But living there showed me something beyond the stereotypes created by literary taste or 20th century political theory; and in their place I got to know the individuals and see their humanity.  So I think it was that, living there, living amongst the kind of people whose family members had served their king and country so tirelessly through the centuries, often in pretty thankless jobs in times of turmoil, that made me want to write about the real early 19th century. 

  • Could you tell us a bit about May 1812?

It’s basically the story of what happens when you take every element in this young man’s life and throw it up in the air to see how it falls and how he copes with that.  Does he cope well?  Or does he make a bear’s breakfast of it?  The actual month of May 1812 provided more than its share of political and military challenges to everyone connected with the government and the war effort.  And I was always so struck by how indomitable were these men who served their King and country in whatever way they could–they worked ridiculous hours; they often weren’t paid–and essentially, Myddelton is an everyman character.  He keeps getting taken down at the knees, either personally or politically or emotionally, and every time, (as they all did) he gets up again, staggering sometimes certainly, but he goes forward. 

Also, I wanted to bring out the importance of the assassination of Prime Minister Perceval to this period of history, although it’s been dismissed by subsequent generations.  Which is initially why I turned to the Russian literary form of ‘slice of life’.  This in turn allowed me to give a broader and truer sense of these characters within their historical context and not just focus on one aspect of their lives, but rather to show the continuum of their days and weeks, love life, work life, political life–it’s all one life.

  • What were some of the difficulties you came across in the process?

Ha ha ha.  When I first started researching, there was almost nothing on the assassination.  Which struck me as odd.  But histories of the period would often just say that the Government fell and they got a new Prime Minister and that’s it.  And so I had to go back to the newspapers and magazines from the period–which means a great deal of time spent in rare books collections at various places–to read the actual eye-witness accounts of the event, the opinion pieces speculating about a French conspiracy, things like that.

  • How long did it take you to complete May 1812?

Probably the best part of a decade–though it wasn’t as if I was working on it every day or anything like that.  But there was all the research.  And every time I’d think I’d have it pretty good, I’d find out something about some French forgery or the Continental Blockade or the war effort which meant I’d got my facts wrong.  And there’s been so much fine historical work done on the Napoleonic wars over the past twenty years, and every time I’d read another book, that would change some perception or other.  So I’d go back and rewrite.  And I never liked the opening.  I must have rewritten that over an hundred times.  Then too, I prefer to read books which are beautifully written–well-crafted, and with at least one sentence or one phrase per page so that you stop and want to read it again, just for the poetry of the thing.  So I kept rewriting and reworking so that it would be, insofar as I could make it, the most beautiful book.  I wanted it to be both great history and great writing.  And that takes time. 

  • What motivated you to keep researching and writing for all these years?

Sheer bloody mindedness.  Ha ha.  No, really, it’s been people like Professor Paul Kennedy of Yale whom I had the privilege of hearing when he lectured at one of the conferences commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar.  And when he spoke about how superb were the men who fought for twenty years against Napoleon and the despotism of his Empire–which was in many ways equivalent to Hitler’s tyranny over Europe–how they were none of them experts in anything, how they sacrificed everything–family life, their health, often their lives–to bring an end to his rampaging and how we must never allow the memory of their greatness to fade, well, I just thought, “Okay…guess that’s me answered.”

  • Could you describe Myddelton’s character in one sentence?

Myddelton is an articulate, possibly brilliant, well-educated, but emotionally illiterate, idiot (in other words, he’s human) and I like him very much.

  • While I was reading May 1812, I found myself crushing on Myddelton. And then I realized…this character used to be a real, breathing human being! How did you figure out Myddelton’s personality? Because as a historian I’m sure you wanted to portray him as accurately as possible?

Excellent!  He’s a success then. 

Myddelton and his friends are all fictional characters which I introduced into the history in order to provide a sympathetic window through which the reader might look at the period and the events and people.  And all of them are composites of things I’ve observed others do, of qualities I’ve liked or not liked, of patterns of speech, their approaches to life, both contemporary and historic, because I read a lot of diaries and speeches and letters from the period.  

And Myddelton is also, as I’ve said, an everyman character in some ways.  He’s representative of the countless men of that period who had this indomitable sense of duty and patriotism and were immensely hard-working, but quite sexy.  They’re also quite passionate–this is the age of Byron, Shelley and Keats and reading poetry is normal and even expected.  Yet they’re great atheletes, they ride hell for leather, there’s the bare-knuckle boxing, they’re regularly sparring with their fencing master.  And more than a few of them are serious adrenaline junkies, they’re very physical and sometimes quite violent.  Take Lord Nelson for example.  His letters to Emma are the most passionate and devoted; yet he was firm in his conviction–and he lived it–that the only possible outcome of a battle at sea had to be the extermination of the enemy.   

But I don’t think of myself as figuring out his personality.  I think characters are.  And my job is to listen.  To become quiet enough so that their voices speak, so that who they are comes through without my preconceptions.  The trouble always begins when I think I know what should come next or how I should have a scene go.  And then they’re all assembled and essentially they look at me and say, “No, I’m not doing that.  I would never say that.”  And how they are and who they are unfolds along with the book. 

But you know, you’ve got to have an attractive protagonist.  In some way, if you want the reader to keep reading, you have to make him or her appealing in some way or other–otherwise they’re just reading out of morbid curiosity:  how bad can this get?  Nor do you want to write a goody two shoes, a Lester Goodpants, because they’re actually quite boring and have all the appeal of a tub of wallpaper paste.

  •  What were some of the craziest things you’ve done for the sake of research?

Where do I start?  Learned to shoot and clean a 14-bore which was used at Waterloo; ridden miles in torrential rain and gale force winds; learned to take snuff one-handed; learned to tie a cravat and nearly strangled myself; spent hours in costume museums studying their clothes and indeed their undergarments; studied their gardens to get a sense of what was available to them in terms of planting; eaten the foods of the period including several things which had mercifully passed out of the cookbooks; gone over every gory detail of the assassination and indeed every other wounding in my books with a pathologist and a neuro-surgeon so that I understood CSI-style what it all meant.  I haven’t yet learned to drive Four in Hand–but I’ve got that planned. 

  • Where have you travelled for research?

France; Spain; all over Britain…

  • Was the love/hate relationship between Myddelton and Janey based on factual evidences? Or did you have to make educational gusses to fill in the gaps of their love story?

Literary taste has hijacked the idea of the arranged marriage so that it’s this thing belonging to genre fiction for the most part.  But marriage in the eighteenth century and into the early nineteenth century, at least among the moneyed classes, was still very much about financial prudence and family.  When Bingley proposes to Jane Bennet, her first thought is how happy it will make her family and how it redeems them after her younger sister’s behaviour.  It’s not about her. 

Here in the UK, hundreds of young women, often from Asian communities, run away from arranged marriages every year.  That’s a statistical fact.  And if they’re not that keen on it now, you can bet that young women weren’t that keen on it 200 years ago either–because human nature doesn’t change.  Also, marriage at that time was still a pretty risky business.  If you go to an exhibition of Gainsborough or Romney, there will be all these double husband and wife portraits, painted on the occasion of their marriage–but then you read in the catalogue that she died in childbirth within a year of the wedding.  It’s terribly sad.  And I just looked at all that evidence and thought, hang on a tick, what must it have been for the bloke?  What did he think?  I like to take historical questions and look at them from every angle, turn them upside down and sideways, and consider all the possibilities. 

Myddelton is immensely intelligent, he’s hard-working, he’s got a wry sense of humour…but he’s also got a naggy temper, he’s pretty arrogant and not a little smug, all of which makes him, er, well, human.  Janey was more difficult, but she had the immense privilege of having been loved and nurtured from childhood and therefore she has an inner self-knowledge which is pretty powerful.  So you just put all that into the pot together and watch it happen.  The characters are themselves, they think for themselves, they speak for themselves.  And generally, they surprise the hell out of me. 

  • A reader told me she had to fan herself while reading about the romantic chemistry between Myddelton and his wife.  Any comments?

Beyond scratching my head?  Er, hmn, well, I’ve heard that a lot.  And it kind of embarrasses me…I hope it’s proof that John Donne taught me well and that I was paying attention.  Because the love he wrote about, the love I hope I’ve adequately conveyed in May 1812 is worth everything. 

  • Could you tell us about the next book you’re working on?

The next book is actually the second or the first–I don’t know–in a quartet of books which are inter-related but not sequential.  All of them will deal with some aspect of the Napoleonic wars.  May 1812 focused on the political and domestic aspects in Britain–the home front if you will.  Of Honest Fame is about the spies and intelligence network Britain relied upon.  And it also takes the reader into the war zones of central Europe. 

  • What was your best and worst experience in your journey to publication?

Best?  That’s easy.  Holding the proof copy in my hands.  That just knocked me for six.  After that, it all became slightly surreal.  It still is.

Worst?  There are so many worsts.  Some fifty rejections.  The agent who said, “Yes, we’ll take you if you’ll cut out all the history.”  The agent who insisted I cut 80,000 words from May 1812 and was determined that I make a character in Of Honest Fame into a James Bond character with a different woman in every book.  A publisher’s commissioning editor with whom I talked at a writers’ conference who said she wanted all four books of the quartet, reiterated it in writing and then two months later denied having ever said it. 

  • What are the three books that influenced you the most?

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; and The First Total War by David A. Bell.  (Though in terms of writing I’d have to insist upon adding the works of Shakespeare, John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins and H.D.)

  • Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? 

Learn from the masters.  Read Dickens–for plot and interconnectedness he’s the best.  Shakespeare–he’s great for teaching how to delineate a character through their speech alone.  Dorothy L. Sayers is tremendous for atmosphere–The Nine Tailors, for example.  Milton will teach you how to convey movement through the assonance of your language.  There is no one who can beat P.G. Wodehouse for smoothness of prose, for style, and for comic timing.  Georgette Heyer always wrote with her tongue in her cheek and is brilliantly ironic about aunts, sisters and mothers.  Take their work apart, be inspired by them, be angry with them, be determined to write as well as them.  And don’t be fooled by fashion.  Whatever the agents and publishers are saying is the rule now, it won’t be the rule in two years’ time.  Dare to be brilliant.

Thank you so much for this wonderful interview! If anyone has questions, feel free to ask, as the author will be dropping by to answer.