Nicola here. I have a new timeslip novel coming out in a few weeks’ time, The Other Gwyn Girl. It tells the story of Rose Gwyn, the much less well-known sister of Nell Gwyn, actress, orange-seller and mistress to King Charles II. It’s also a fun co-incidence that this is the perfect time of year to make Seville orange marmalade, so this week I’ve been busy making some celebratory “Gwyn Girl” marmalade using my grandmother’s fabulous jam pan. I have to admit that I’s a bit of an irony but I am the only person in my family who doesn’t actually like marmalade! Everyone else is very keen and the Scots ancestors have a marvellous whisky version that is even more popular.
First, a bit of marmalade history, as I always like to research these things! The word marmalade comes from the Portuguese marmelada, which means “made of quince.” The first fruit preserves were made by the Greeks, who discovered that quinces cooked with honey would “set” when they were cool. Both the Greeks and the Romans made preserves out of quince with lemon, rose, apple, pear and plum. In 1524, King Henry VIII received a gift of a “box of marmalades” from a Mr Hull of Exeter. This was probably quince paste, as was the “marmalet” that was served at another Tudor wedding feast. It was said that “marmalado” as it became known, was a favourite with Anne Boleyn.
Most of my research tends to be of the down-the-rabbit-hole variety. I mean, who knows in advance that they’ll need to know about whiskers in the Regency? So until the topic shows up in the manuscript, I got nada. But suddenly, I had a need to know if my ex-soldier might have side whiskers… The answer is, as always, it depends.
Tomorrow, The Diamond of London, my first foray into historical fiction, will release. And while creating a book is always a journey, this endeavor was particularly interesting one.
When my editor and I first began discussing the idea of a fictional biography on Lady Hester Stanhope, I had some reservations. A fictional biography? That seemed like such an oxymoron, and coming from the world of fiction, where I could happily scribble away, making things up as I went along, the thought of trying to piece together Truth and Imagination in one story seemed a little daunting . . .
And then there was Lady Hester Stanhope herself. I’ve written a number of books set in Regency England, so I’m fairly knowledgeable about the history and notable people of the era. Her name was familiar to me, but only for the later part of her life, when she was the most famous—and eccentric—adventurer of the early nineteenth century. From what little I had read, Lady Hester was considered opinionated, abrasive, headstrong, and emotionally unstable. That certainly gave me pause for thought. To write a book about her meant that the two of us would be spending a lot of time together. What if we didn’t get along?
A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite Charles Dickens’ books. I know it’s been made into dozens of movies and has a million editions. I did not know that he was so fussy about how the first edition was printed that he barely made any money on it, even though it was published December 19 and sold out by Christmas. I cannot possibly give you all the fascinating historical information about this beloved tale. Some interesting tidbits here: https://www.arts.gov/stories/blog/2020/ten-things-know-about-charles-dickens-christmas-carol
Hope you had a lovely Christmas and Scrooge turns nice in the new year for you!
Anne here, interviewing Mary Jo Putney about her latest book, SILVER LADY. It’s the first book in a new ‘Dangerous Gifts’ series, but it’s also a return to her Regency world with a touch of the paranormal, where some people are ‘gifted’ with extra sensory abilities, and where many others are prejudiced against them. (The Marriage Spell)
SILVER LADY has already received some glowing reviews. It’s the Editor’s Pick on Amazon for best romance. Publishers Weekly called it the start of “an exciting new historical romance series set in 19th-century Cornwall” and recommended it “for readers who like some fantasy in their historical romance and appreciate stories with chosen family and strong women.“
Booklist Reviewer John Charles said it deftly blended “a superbly atmospheric Cornish setting, spot-on historical details, and a danger-riddled plot enhanced with just the right touch of the paranormal.”
Anne: Mary Jo, can you tell us a little more about this world where some people are ‘gifted’ and others hate them for it?
MJP: I’ve always loved reading fantasy because I like the idea that there might be something wonderful just outside the corner of one’s eye. I’ve done full fledged magical fantasy books (my Guardian series and my Dark Mirror young adult series), but I wanted something subtler, more like the psychic abilities in Jayne Ann Krentz’s books. Since humankind has a long and terrible history of despising anyone who is different, it was easy to believe that being gifted could arouse hostility. I thought that would make a solid framework for a new series. And indeed it does. <G>
Anne: This new series features a “found family” of people who had been rejected at a young age by their parents because of their ‘gifts’ — ie paranormal abilities.
MJP: I only heard the phrase ‘found family’ relatively recently, but it’s something I’ve done from my earliest books because I was always interested in the friends of my protagonist. This interest became much more focused with my first long historical series, the Fallen Angels. I love the idea of people who have had difficulty in their early years finding friends who become closer than blood kin, bonded by absolute trust and mutual caring. These kinds of found families are the DNA of all my series. In this series, the “Tribe of Tremayne” was created by the gifted Lord and Lady Tremayne. They have three biological children but they’ve rescued many gifted children who had been discarded by their families. Some children they placed with other gifted families, some they kept, like Bran.
Anne: Bran, the hero of SILVER LADY, was dumped by his noble birth father in a baby farm, where he’d been expected to die, but he and another gifted little boy escaped and found their way to London where they were taken in and adopted by Lord and Lady Tremayne.
Now an adult working for the British government, the adventure starts when Bran’s intuition draws him to investigate something disturbing happening in Cornwall. Tell us about Bran.
MJP: Bran is reserved, even-tempered, and extraordinarily competent. His politeness to his rude, angry birth father makes the old bully even angrier. <G> Bran is a very gifted analyst, good at putting fragments of information together to form a larger picture. Bran is also very intuitive and sees important matters as shimmering silver. That leads him down to Cornwall. He doesn’t know why, only that it’s vital that he go there. (The photo above is by Mark Markstein on Unsplash.)
Anne: The Cornish setting is wonderfully evocative. (Photo on the left is by Thomas Vogel on Unsplash)
Your heroine, the ‘Silver Lady’ of the title is unusual in that for the first part of the book she has no name except ‘Girl’ and can barely communicate. Tell us about her. Was she difficult to write?
MJP: Not at all. I’ve always been interested in stories of identity, and an amnesiac situation really emphasizes that. Bran’s Silver Lady is gifted, and people who want to exploit her talents force a hypnotic amnesia on her. I thought it was interesting to show her gradually regaining a sense of herself until she has the courage to make a break for freedom. Once she comes under Bran’s protection, her recovery becomes much faster–and surprises everyone around her!
Anne: Apart from the London opening, the story is mostly set in Cornwall. Bran is killing two birds with one stone; reconnecting with his estranged noble family, and as a government agent, investigating the disturbing feelings he’s getting from that part of the world – personal and political. It’s the latter that provides the adventure part that’s so often a feature of your books. What sort of research did you do for this?
MJP: I chose an interesting period in 1803 when the Peace of Amiens is about to be broken, which will send Britain and France into war again. Since I wanted Cornwall to be the setting, I did some general reading and discovered the Royal Naval Dockyard on the border between Cornwall and Devon. It was vitally important in the ongoing wars with France, and more reading brought me to a disaster several years earlier. The explosion of the frigate Amphion was an inspiration for what might happen in my story. (That’s a frigate above.) I’ve found that poking around with research invariably produces possibilities. In fact, that just happened yesterday with the book I’m working on now.
Anne: Will you give us a short snippet of SILVER LADY please?
MJP: This is from the opening. Rhys and Gwyn Tremayne have been at the theater, but as they’re about to get into their carriage, Gwyn senses something down a dark alley.
“Something, or someone.” Gwyn drew her cloak more closely around her as she purposefully started threading her way through the mass of waiting carriages and playgoers who were happily discussing the show they’d just seen.
Two turns took them from Covent Garden into a narrow lane. Halfway down, Gwyn paused, then turned left into a dark alley barely lit by capricious moonlight. It dead ended at a wall where a pile of rubble had accumulated against the dingy brick. Heedless of her expensive cloak, she knelt on the frozen ground by the rubble and said softly, “You can come out now, my lad. You’re safe.”
There was a rustling sound but no one appeared. “How does warm food and a fire and a bath sound?” she said in her most persuasive voice.
A child’s voice snarled, “Don’t want no bath!”
“Then we’ll start with the food and the fire,” she said peaceably. “Will you show yourself? We won’t hurt you.”
Rhys stood silently behind her, knowing a frightened child would fear a rather large grown man more than a soft-voiced woman. The rubble shifted and a small, filthy face became visible. A boy child perhaps five or six years old.
Gwyn brushed back a lock of fair hair, then peeled the kidskin glove from her right hand and offered it to the little boy. He hesitantly took it. As she clasped his freezing fingers with her warm hand, his eyes widened and he sighed with relief.
“You can tell I’m safe, can’t you?” Gwyn said.
The boy frowned up at Rhys. “You may be, but not sure about him!”
“I’m safe, too,” Rhys said in his most reassuring voice. “I’m very good at protecting others.”
Unconvinced, the boy narrowed his eyes warily. As Rhys stood very still, Gwyn said soothingly, “I’m Gwyn Tremayne. What’s your name?”
The boy hesitated, as if his name was too precious to share. After a long moment, he said, “Caden.”
“Caden. That’s a good Cornish or Welsh name. My husband and I come from Cornish families.” Knowing there was more to find, her gaze moved back to the rubble pile. “Your friend can come out, too.”
Caden gasped and jerked away from her. For a moment she feared he’d try to bolt, but a thin, childish voice emerged from the rubble. “It’s all right, Cade. These are the people we came to find.”
An even smaller boy emerged from the rubble, his ragged garments almost indistinguishable from the trash around him. His gaze on Gwyn, he said, “I’m Bran.”
“For Branok?” Again Gwyn offered her hand and Bran took it without hesitation. His small fingers felt as if they were carved from ice. In the darkness it was hard to see the boys clearly. Though both were dark haired, there was little other resemblance. Bran’s eyes were light, Caden’s were dark, but the color wasn’t visible in shadows. “Are you brothers?”
The boys exchanged a glance. “We are now!” Caden said fiercely, challenging anyone who might deny that.
Anne: I love the way those lost little boys claimed each other so fiercely — the essence of “found family.” (Photo of on the left is by Jonny Gios, on Unsplash.) What’s next for MJP and the ‘Dangerous Gifts’ series?
MJP: I’m close to finishing book 2, Golden Lord. The hero is Caden, Bran’s foster brother who helped them escape from Cornwall to London when they were very small boys. They’re very close. Bran is more the strategist, Cade is in charge of cracking heads. <G>
Anne: I can’t wait. Question for readers: Do you enjoy stories with a touch of paranormal in them? Do you like “found family” stories? Mary Jo will be giving away a copy of SILVR LADY to someone who leaves a comment. (US only, alas.)