An interview with Alissa Baxter:
By Mary Jo
I'm delighted to have as my guest today my friend Alissa Baxter, a South African romance writer who has written a trilogy of sweet Regency romances with heroines who have unconventional interests. The first, The Earl's Lady Geologist, has just been released.
Kirkus Reviews called it, "A playful and poignant historical romance that’s certain to please fans of the genre."
Bestselling author Mimi Mathews said, “A gentle Regency romance, full of sweetness and intelligence. Alissa Baxter’s writing is period perfect.”
An Amazon reviewer said, "At times touching, at others humorous with snappy dialogue between the main characters, this was an entertaining and satisfying read from beginning to end."
There's also a fun video for the book.
MJP: Alissa, will you tell us something about your path to publication?
AB: I wrote my first historical novel, a traditional Regency romance, when I was at university. However, it was a dying genre at the time, so I switched to writing contemporary romances, publishing a couple of chick-lit books set in South Africa.
It was lovely to meet you, Mary Jo, when you came out to South Africa all those years ago. The South African writing organisation for romance writers, ROSA, didn’t exist then and you were the first Regency romance writer I had ever met in person, although I’d been fortunate enough to receive lovely feedback from Mary Balogh and Edith Layton, who were kind enough to read my first Regency romance, The Dashing Debutante.
Many years later, I decided to return to my favourite time period and was delighted to sign a three-book contract with Vinspire Publishing for my Linfield Ladies Series, which features women in trend-setting roles who fall in love with men who embrace their trailblazing ways… at least eventually!
It’s wonderful that some authors are publishing the more traditional kind of Regency romance again. Things have a way of coming back into fashion even if you have to wait 15 years!
MJP: How did you become interested in writing women in science in the Regency? And please tell us about some of your research!
AB: The Earl’s Lady Geologist features a female geologist, Cassandra Linfield, who lives in Lyme Regis during the Regency period. A few years ago, I read an article about Mary Anning, which set me on a fascinating research trail. I discovered that Britain’s emerging industrialisation at the end of the 18th century led to an era of canal digging and quarrying operations which revealed fossils in the sedimentary strata.
Collecting fossils and mineral specimens became a popular pursuit amongst the landed gentry. It was a topic discussed at dinner parties and other social functions. Women were allowed to participate within informal, nonprofessional venues as paleontology fit into the role of women as “caretakers of life”.
Various scientific societies were formed at the time, such as the Geological Society of London (13 November 1807) which women were not allowed to join. However, the wives of prominent geologists often worked with their husbands, and they were referred to as “wife-assistants”.
The most prominent of these women was Mary Buckland (1797-1857), wife of Reverend William Buckland. She accompanied her husband, William Buckland, on trips and assisted in the collection of specimens and the preparation and writing of papers.
Other 19th century British women worked independently. Etheldred Benett of Wiltshire (1776-1845) was a financially independent spinster and collected fossils over a 34-year period. She wrote several manuscripts which are now in the collections of the Geological Society of London.
In about 1805, the Philpot sisters settled at Morley Cottage, 1 Silver Street, Lyme Regis, and soon afterwards they began collecting fossils. The Philpot sisters, most noticeably Elizabeth, amassed an important collection of fossils from the Lower Lias of southern England. The Philpot Collection of approximately 400 specimens is now housed in the Oxford University Museum.
Despite her low social station, Mary Anning (1799 –1847) has become the most celebrated of the 19th century British women who worked in the field of geology and palaeontology. Mary searched for fossils in the area’s Blue Lias cliffs, particularly during the winter months when landslides exposed new fossils that had to be collected quickly before they were lost to the sea.
Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot feature in The Earl’s Lady Geologist as my heroine, Cassy’s, fossil-collecting friends.
MJP: Could you give us a short excerpt of your story?
The beach between Lyme Regis and Charmouth, England, December 1817
NOTE: "cury" was a slang word of the time for "a curiosity."
A cry rang out from the other end of the beach. Cassandra Linfield spun towards the sound. Mary must have found something of interest. Clutching her fossil finds in her hands, she hurried in her friend’s direction, stumbling over a jutting rock in her haste. Regaining her footing, she peered up at the blue-hued cliffs. The limestone-and-clay structure leaned ominously forward. She shivered a little and continued to where Mary crouched on the foreshore, below Black Ven.
After the violent storm last night, the cliff face was unstable. Should a chunk of mudstone dislodge and tumble onto Cassy’s head, it would render her insensible—or worse. Fortunately, in all the years she had lived in Lyme Regis, she had never sustained injury while fossil hunting.
She took even greater care these days. Cousin Agnes made it clear when she came to live with Cassy after the death of her mother that she disapproved of her foraging activities. If she so much as sprained an ankle, her cousin would probably write to Aunt Ella, who would then insist that she come to live with her.
The wet brown sand crunched beneath her iron pattens as she threaded her way around the fallen rocks to Mary’s side. “What have you found?”
The other girl shoved her hat to the back of her head, leaving a streak of dirt on her forehead. She peered at a nodule sticking out of the mud and then chipped at it with her hammer. “It’s a fossil fish.”
Cassy bent over. “What a fine specimen. The scales are perfectly preserved.”
Mary squinted at her. “It’s a good cury and will fetch a good price.” She returned her attention to the fossil. “See how the skull is undamaged? Ma will be pleased. Have you found anything?”
What had so captivated the other girl’s attention? Alarm gripped her stomach in a painful clench as she swung in a slow half-circle.
A large male figure strode along the foreshore in their direction. Within minutes, he was upon them, and his expression did not bode well. Tall and broad, he wore buff breeches, black boots, and a form-fitting double-breasted riding coat. A slate-grey gaze swung from Cassy to Mary and then back to Cassy again.
“Miss Linfield?” The clipped tone did nothing to relieve the ache in her stomach.
She nodded. How did he know her name? If she’d ever seen this man before, she did not recall the occasion. She doubted it not, as his was a face not easily forgotten. His hair was dark—nearly black—and a slightly piratical cast to his features brought to mind legends of wild men upon the seas. However, the rigidity of his square jaw and his flinty eyes gave the lie to her initial impression that this was a man ruled by his passions.
His gaze swept from her well-worn straw bonnet to the pattens over her visibly muddy boots. His gaze narrowed on her gloved hands. Stained and filthy, they must present a peculiar appearance to this gentleman who somehow knew her name. For he was a gentleman, that she did not doubt—a gentleman in none too pleasant a humour.
She raised her chin. “I am Miss Linfield.”
He removed his hat and bowed. “I…” He paused as his gaze shifted from Cassy to Mary and the spherical-shaped stone beside which she knelt. Frowning, he took a hasty step forward. “Cease your hammering, girl, before you damage that fossil.” He bent down and studied the nodule Mary had split open. “It appears to be a remarkable specimen.”
Cassy clicked her tongue. “Mary is an experienced fossilist and is in no danger of damaging anything.”
He straightened and glanced at Mary, who now stood defiantly before him. “You are Mary Anning?”
Mary bobbed her head.
“My friend Buckland has spoken of you. My apologies.” His gaze returned to the nodule. “Will you sell me this fossil?”
The dark storm clouds gathering on Mary’s face cleared at these magical words. “Yes, sir…for a crown.”
The man agreed to the price without demur, and the girl’s eyes lit up. “I will take it back to Lyme and clean it for you, sir. Where must I deliver it?”
“I am staying at the Three Cups inn.”
The man’s penetrating gaze returned to Cassy. “Mrs. Linfield requests that you return home directly. I shall escort you.”
She took a step back. “My cousin sent you?”
“Indeed. She is perturbed that you are out here on the beach alone.”
“But I am not alone. I am with Mary, and Miss Elizabeth Philpot is further along the shore.”
“Nevertheless, Mrs. Linfield is in high fidgets, and it would be well to return home directly.”
She took another step back. “With a stranger?”
He bowed. “I have been remiss in introducing myself. Rothbury at your service.”
He bowed again.
Cassy swallowed. So this was the legendary Lord Rothbury. Even though they were related by marriage, she had never met Aunt Ella’s eldest son, Edward, the Earl of Rothbury.
MJP: Stubborn earls are such fun. <G> Will you tell me about the books that come next?
AB: The second novel in my Linfield Ladies Series features Harriet Linfield, who is a lady novelist. It will be published next year. I'm not sure of the publication date of the third book, which features Georgiana Linfield, who is a lady biologist.
MJP: Alissa, thanks for visiting us today! Alissa will be giving away a copy of the book to someone who comments in the next two days.
Do you like reading about historical women with unusual but plausible occupations? Tell us what unusual Regency women you admire!