I first met Edith Layton long, long ago, at my very first romance conference, when my first book was sold but a year away from publication. She and Barbara Hazard graciously invited me, the newby Signet Regency author, to join them for a drink. It was like dining with goddesses. <G> Edith’s daughter, the Amazing Susie, was there, about ten years old and already Amazing.
Edith was at that conference (an early Romantic Times) to accept the award for the best Regency of the year. The speech was most charming, and the book, Lord of Dishonor, was wonderful. Thus began an acquaintance ship of 22 years and counting.
Some of my very best memories in this business were of the author dinners given by our mutual editor of many years, Hilary Ross. Those dinners were wonderful in many ways, and many of those authors have been friends ever since. (Pat Rice is another alum.)
But the very, very funniest parts were when Edith would slip into deadpan comedy routines that were roll-on-the-floor-and-drum-your-heels hysterically funny. It’s no surprise that two of her kids are professional comedians! More about that later.
With so much material, this is will be a two-part interview, today and Monday. Edith won’t be available for commenting the whole time, but will come as available, and one lucky commenter will get a signed copy of her latest, the delicious His Dark and Dangerous Ways.
So today Edith will talk about the book and historical writing in general. Monday she’ll talk about her writing and life.
Edith Layton: My newest book, His Dark and Dangerous Ways, came out this week! It was inspired by my daughter-in-law, Jeanne, who is an actress, dancer, writer (of course) and choreographer. I visited her and Adam in LA last year. At the time Jeanne was giving dancing lessons to a toddler in a huge house in Beverly Hills. Soon other Beverly Hills mothers grew fascinated and sent their children, so that it became a class. Jeanne took me along to watch. I was struck by her technique – and the entire concept.
A Beverly Hills manse became a town house in Regency London. My daughter in law became a struggling young woman who had to support herself by teaching dance to toddlers of the ton. And voila! The book took off by itself from there. And Our Hero is a dark and dangerous fellow she meets when she literally tumbles at his feet.
MJP: The dance scenes were delightful! The book is very romantic and Regencyish, and I’m guessing it didn’t take a lot of research other than watching Jeanne.
But you have written other books that are really heavy duty historical research. Tell us about that. I remember you saying after you visited the Tower of London for information when you were writing about the Princes in the Tower in The Crimson Crown, you met the warder who was the absolute expert on the Tower during that period, and when you asked him questions, his answers were all pretty much, “That could very well be, Madame.” I think you’d already learned all there was to know. <G>
EL: When I went to England to research the Great Fire for The Fireflower, I roved with a copy of “Historic Britain” and a map, and was crushed, I tell you, crushed, when the only remnant remaining was a pub that had supposedly survived the fire. But it had been so refurbished it might as well have been a McDonald’s. There was a bronze plaque on the sidewalk, though. To show where it started. Bah.
I researched for every book! That was great. I love going to England. I still have to write a book set in Wales, because I loved the land and kept going back. How come there are so many Historicals set in Scotland and so few in Wales? I still dunno.
When I researched Crimson Crown, the two kidz we had with us, Adam and Susie, could not stop teasing me, saying that they’d just sighted a “Perkin Warbeck” store. At first, I believed them. I still think it would be good business to open one.
A Perkin Warbeck shoppe would carry Perkin Warbeck tee shirts, pennants, snow globes, beanies, and such. I really hoped to find one. What I found was that I might have been the only person in England who knew who Perkin was. He was, of course, the most famous Pretender to the throne (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perkin_Warbeck ), except for Simnel Lambert (or Lambert Simnel?) also a pretender to the throne in the same era. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambert_Simnel )
How soon we forget!
MJP: Clearly it’s time to start a SouvenirsofPretenders.com website. <g>
Here’s the charming start to His Dark and Dangerous Ways:
The door to the front parlor where they sat was ajar. Even a lady such as this couldn’t entertain a gentleman with it closed, at least not in the morning when another caller might drop in. So the hysterical giggling and high-pitched screaming coming from down the hall was clearly audible, along with the sound of marching, jumping, and clumping feet.
"Your moving men certainly are jolly fellows, my lady," he commented. "I didn’t know you were relocating. May one ask where you are going?"
"Nowhere," she snapped. She was ambitious, but no fool; her smile reappeared in seconds. "I have a young daughter," she said, "Today she has a dancing lesson, and we invited some of her little friends to join in."
"Dancing lessons," he said with a great show of surprise. "But, surely, she’s an infant."
She smiled again. "So she is. She’s but an infant with only two years in her cup. But I love to hear her laughter." She cast down her gaze modestly.
"You certainly have opportunity to," he said, as great thumping sounds of marching were heard, accompanied by the hammering of a tin drum and much giggling.
"The dear creatures, I should love to see them," she said piteously. "But they are exiled to the ballroom because there are so many things to break in here."
"Like eardrums," he said agreeably.
"Should you like me to ring and ask them to stop?" she asked eagerly, raising an arm to the tasseled cord hanging beside the settee, as another gust of laughter was heard.
"No, not at all," he said. "They seem to be enjoying themselves enormously. I don’t want to be the cause of their being told to be still. Children need exercise and dancing can’t be taught too early."
He rose to his feet. "I came without warning, as it is. May I come another morning when they are out of doors, so we can speak? Or better yet, when your ankle is healed so that we can go for a ride to the park?"
"Oh yes," she said with a sparkling smile. "What a good idea. In a day? Two days, perhaps? I should be vastly improved by then."
He had a fairly good idea that she could hop off the settee in an instant and leg it down the hall, but her pose on the couch was alluring and the excuse for it had condemned her to remaining with it today.
"In two days then," he said, bowed, and left the room. But he didn’t leave the house. Instead, he stopped in the outer hall, cocked his head to the side again, listening. "They’re having such a good time," he told the butler. "I’d love to see them at their play. "May I?"
"Certainly, my lord," the butler said, and led him down the hall to the source of the merriment.
The ballroom was shrouded in white drop cloths, but they had been pushed back to clear the polished wood center. An aged governess sat at a pianoforte and pumped out music, but the noise from the children was louder. Simon stood in the doorway and watched as a ragged, giggling parade of them passed by him. An extraordinary young woman led the rag tag procession. She had a lithe body, padded sweetly where it ought to be. But it was her legs he noticed first. He could hardly help it.
She’d hitched her skirts up and swagged them at her waist, so that they dropped to her knees, leaving the rest of those shapely limbs free and unencumbered. Her straight honey colored hair had also been pulled up on the top of her head, but now strands of it came coiling down around her oval face, which was pink with exertion. A passably lovely young woman, he thought. But at the moment she looked more like a goose than a goose girl. He smiled.
Her long neck bent forward, and her firm derriere pushed back and outward, making her supple form into an S shape. She stepped with her feet turned all the way out as she chanted, "Honk, honk: make way for the geese."
Behind her, like so many drunken little goslings, a hilarious assortment of young girls, weaved and honked, tripping over their own feet. They wore a gypsy kaleidoscope of tulle and scarves, coronets and feathers, and every little foot wore tiny dancing slippers.
"There, that’s our little lady Leticia," the butler murmured fondly, indicating the lass clomping along just behind the dancing instructor. The child was beating a tin drum. She wore a flowing gauze skirt and had a tinsel tiara on her blond head. As Simon had thought, if Lady Lydia’s infant was two years of age, he was one hundred and two. The
child clearly had at least three or four years to her exalted name.
Simon stood watching, enchanted, and not only by the daughter of the house. The dancing instructor, if that was what she was, looked amusingly gooseish, and yet still, quite human, feminine and delicious.
"Now," she said, stopping slowly, and turning to face her followers. "Remember what we learned last week? How to go from a goose to a ballet step? Fifth position everyone, and hands making a lovely circle over your heads."
That caused riotous mirth. The children struggled to keep their balance with hands up, legs straight and feet together, each foot faced opposite the other.
"More geese," pleaded one poppet as she tipped over and fell to the floor. "More, Miss, please."
"All right," their instructress said. "One more round of geese. Then some real steps, and leaps."
There was an excited stir. The children obviously loved leaps.
"Now, necks out, bottoms out, feet apart," the instructress said. "Let’s go!" She marched them goose-like, in a circle. That was, she did until she saw the gentleman standing in the doorway, staring at her. Then she stopped abruptly. The girl behind her crashed into her, as did the one behind her, and in a moment the line of mirthful children were sitting or rolling on the ballroom floor, collapsed with laughter.
Simon grinned too. The instructress did not. She glared at the intruders standing in the doorway. She raised her chin and straightened herself as she helped the girls to their feet again.
"Why are you here, Simmons?" she asked the butler tartly. "Our hour surely isn’t up yet."
"No, Miss," the butler answered. "But Lord Granger wished to see the children because they sounded so merry at play."
"So they did," she snapped. "But we are not putting on an exhibition today. Are you father to one of my pupils?" she asked Simon.
"No," he began to say.
"Then brother, uncle or guardian?" she went on angrily. "If not, please leave."
"I just wanted to see Lady Lydia’s charming daughter," he said. He bowed. "Sorry to intrude."
She ducked her head in an answering bow, then dropped to her knees and was immediately covered in the flutter of small girls who were howling with laughter at the effort of getting up again. She may have muttered something, but Simon couldn’t hear it.
I can so easily see Edith’s daughter-in-law doing just the same thing in California! More about Edith’s writing on Monday. And remember—a signed copy of His Dark and Dangerous Ways goes to someone who comments on either of Edith’s interviews by midnight Wednesday.
Mary Jo, and more importantly, Edith!