Cara/Andrea here, with a special treat for all of you who love books (and don't we all!) I'm chatting today with Miranda Neville, whose delightful new release hit the shelves this month. The story revolves around a widowed bookseller and an auction of fabulous rareities (which she based on an actual event—-the sale of the Duke of Roxburghe’s library in 1812. I confess, that made the story even more special for me, as I have played a round of golf with the present Duke of Roxburghe and seen his private library at Floors Castle . . . Trust me, the collection is still extremely impressive!)
That Miranda can wax poetic on the subject of rare books is no surprise, as you will soon discover. After a childhood "misspent devouring Georgette Heyer and Jean Plaidy" (her words, not mine!) she studied history at Oxford and went on to work for Sotheby's auction house in London and New York. Home is now rural Vermont, where she lives with her daughter Becca and two cats.
So, without further ado . . .
Welcome Miranda! Your new release, The Wild Marquis, highlights a sexy rogue, a spicy romance and more than a few rare books—what an irresistible combination! Tell us a little about the story.
The Marquis of Chase (nickname Cain) is close to a social outcast. He was thrown out of the house at the age of sixteen by his late and unlamented father. Wandering into Sotheby’s one day (yes, it was Sotheby’s in 1819) he discovers a priceless manuscript for sale that he thought was in his family’s collection. By discovering why his father sold the treasure, he sees a way to restore his reputation and win back his estranged mother and sister. To help him navigate the world of rare books, he hires an expert.
Juliana Merton is a widow struggling to keep her rare book shop afloat after her husband’s murder. Though Lord Chase doesn’t seem like promising collector material, she desperately needs a rich client. Her own background is shadowy and the prim bookseller and rakish peer are drawn together by their social exclusion as well as a budding attraction and passion for books. When it emerges that someone wants to harm Juliana, the pair set out to find the mystery of her past, as well as his.
It’s the first in a new series. Will the others continue the book theme?
In a sense, my hero is redeemed from his rather aimless life by discovering the joy of bibliophilia. In the process he makes friends with two young collectors who are the heroes of my next two books. Avon has extended the series to four with the addition of two secondary characters from the next book. The hero of The Dangerous Viscount (October 2010) is the complete opposite of a rake: a bespectacled bookworm who collects historic book bindings and avoids women.
You grew up in England. Were you always surrounded by books?
I lived in the Wiltshire countryside and longed to live an exotic urban life. Bored stiff, I read just about everything in the house. To this day I’ve never met another soul who plowed through the collected plays of George Bernard Shaw. After my mother died, my father moved to smaller premises and was agonized to learn that he had to get rid of 90% of his books, an almost 80-year accumulation. (I swear he never got rid of a book; in my indiscriminating teens I read some appallingly dated 1930s novels.) My sisters and I weeded them out for him. Occasionally he complains when he misses a certain volume and we buy him a copy online.
The heroine in The Wild Marquis is a rare book dealer, and I was fascinated to discover that you have a real expertise in the field. I’d love to hear more about your background.
I worked as an expert in rare books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s for several years. That’s how I ended up in the US, when I transferred from London to the New York office.
You must have had the privilege of handling quite a number of fabulous rarities while working at Sotheby’s. Do you have a special favorite—a book or manuscript that simply took your breath away?
I was lucky enough to handle lots of absolutely wonderful books and manuscripts. Perhaps the greatest was a copy of Redouté’s Les Liliacées (Lilies). Redouté is best known for his illustrations of roses, drawn from the gardens of the Empress Josephine at Malmaison, but the Lilies, with over 400 illustrations, is regarded by many as his greatest work. This copy was printed on vellum (as opposed to paper, in itself making it special) and had belonged to Josephine’s son Eugène de Beauharnais. But wait for it! Instead of the printed plates, the illustrations were Redouté's original drawings. Really, it still makes me quite faint to recall the day I was called to look at a book in a warehouse in New York City and found this.
Did you ever discover a hidden treasure?
Once day a client came in with a bundle of letters written by Walt Whitman when he was a young man teaching school on Long Island. Letters by great writers always excited me, but these were particularly thrilling because they illuminated a period of Whitman’s life that was almost unknown. I’m happy to say the Library of Congress bought them.
Was there any “eureka” moment in your rare book career when you suddenly realized you wanted to create your own stories, not just study the literary treasures of the past?
I wish I could come up with a colorful story, but alas, no. After I married and moved to Vermont, I worked first as a cataloguer in Special Collections at Dartmouth College and then as a reporter and editor for a local newspaper. I’d been writing non-fiction all my life, but as a Regency romance fan I’d often thought of trying to write one. I
found fiction wonderfully liberating. It’s so lovely to control what people do and say, instead of having to double-check every fact and quote for accuracy.
The heroine of your first book is a chef, and your website features a lot of wonderful information on food and cooking, so it seems you’re as adept with a cleaver as you are with a keyboard. Any similarity between cooking and writing?
Now you mention it, the way I cook is somewhat reminiscent of my writing technique: take what’s in the pantry/refrigerator, toss it into a pot, and see what happens. Seriously, my books are a bit more planned than my meals. However, I love the history of food and cooking and that inspired me to create a heroine who was a pastry cook and employed by the great chef Carême at the Brighton Pavilion. I’d love to write another food romance, if I can think of a plot.
Which historical figures would you invite for an intimate dinner party? And what would you serve them?
Oh good! I love this game. I’ve always thought the nightmare dinner party would feature Madame de Staël and the historian, Thomas Babington Macaulay. Both were notorious for “holding forth” at the dinner table and never letting anyone else get a word in. That would be quite the duel.
A good party should always include the witty and the charming. Oscar Wilde would be top of my list; I suspect Shakespeare would be entertaining and I have so many questions I want to ask him. Madame de Pompadour was delightful but she can come without Louis XV; kings have too much ego to be good company. Empress Josephine, also alone for the same reason. (Plus Napoleon hated lingering over the dinner table and bolted his meals in twenty minutes.) Mozart: I have a weakness for the bad puns he enjoyed and perhaps he could be persuaded to play after dinner. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Sam Clemens, and Louisa May Alcott. La Pompadour makes me think of her biographer, Nancy Mitford, who had the reputation for being a brilliant conversationalist. If I’m allowed fictional characters I’d invite Lord Peter Wimsey and Elizabeth Bennet for starters. I could go on, but you asked for intimate and I couldn’t fit any more in my house.
As for the menu, am I cooking? If so, you’ll get a one-dish meal such as a stew or paella, salad and bread, cheese, and a dessert from the bakery. If I have a chef in the kitchen (Carême for example!) and a few footmen, I’ll serve a full Georgian dinner with two or three courses and several dozen dishes. My guests may be surprised to see so many vegetables (and those not boiled to a soggy mess and covered with sauce). I’m not a vegetarian, but vegetables make up the bulk of my diet and I wouldn’t have liked those protein-heavy meals. Roast beef for breakfast? Ugh!
Thanks for visiting with us!
And as an extra treat, Miranda has kindly offered to give away a copy of "The Wild Marquis. A lucky winner will be chosen from among those who leave a comment here between today and Sunday morning.