Today I’m welcoming back my good friend Christina Brooke, and for all of you who have ever asked an author, “how do you come up with the ideas for your stories,” she has some fun stories to share about her latest book, LONDON’S LAST TRUE SCOUNDREL, which releases next week. Christina, a RITA Finalist last year in the Regency category, writes wickedly witty and passionate stories—and if you haven’t read her, you are in for a treat. So without further ado, I shall pass the pen to her!
Hello, everyone and thank you to the lovely Cara Elliott and all of the Wenches for having me here today.
However, LONDON’S LAST TRUE SCOUNDREL came about not because a piece of interesting research but because my editor came up with the title and emailed me, telling me I HAD to use it. This would be the beginning of a hero-centric series, a spin off from the Ministry of Marriage books, featuring the male cousins of the Westruther clan.
Those who are familiar with the Ministry of Marriage will know that Beckenham was due to have his story next. In fact, when my editor came up with this great title, I was already half way through the draft with about two months left until my deadline.
The problem was that Beckenham could not ever, by any stretch of the imagination, be termed a scoundrel. So I did something incredibly foolhardy that ended up working very well. I told my editor I would write a completely new book, featuring a fourth cousin I had intended to write further down the track. Jonathon, the Earl of Davenport.
Jonathon is everything the novel’s title implies, though some might say he has ample reason for his recklessness.
Having chosen my hero, I needed a heroine, and I selected one from the rough, ramshackle deVere family, a young lady who was determined to rise above her vulgar origins and reach the pinnacle of success by attaining vouchers Almack’s. Of course, in the end we see that what Hilary truly wants is to belong, but Almack’s becomes a symbol for that longing.
The book was a lot of fun to write even though I had so little time to write it (in the end it was more like four months than two) and I drew on inspiration from a number of sources, including the British television series, COUNTRY HOUSE RESCUE.
If you haven’t seen it before, you should buy, beg borrow or steal it from somewhere. The presenter of the program, Ruth Watson, has experience turning tumbledown country estates into thriving concerns. Each week, she visits a particular family and advises them how they can save their homes and turn them into self-sustaining and even profitable enterprises. There is a new host now and I haven’t seen his programs yet, but I admired Ruth’s ability to drive to the heart of the matter and tell these families some hard truths.
Solutions range from turning great houses into B&Bs to garden displays and tea houses. Every solution is tailored to the strengths and inclinations of the house and the people who live there.
At Riverhill, in Sevenoaks, Kent, an ancestor had been a botanist and brought back many rare plants from the Himalayas. The present owner’s wife was a school teacher and she had the wonderful idea of creating a “Himalayan Adventure” for school children in the woods, complete with Yeti sightings. They were such a delightful, hard-working family, it was such a pleasure to see their hard work and enthusiasm pay off.
Then there was Anselm Guise, whose family had come over with the Conqueror and been granted land at Elmore in Bedfordshire in 1262. As he stood in a rather somber dining hall surrounded by portraits of his ancestors, you could see a distinct resemblance!
Anselm is extremely gregarious and his background is in event and festival planning. He seemed to have a lot of friends who pursued an alternative lifestyle, memorably turning his drawing room into a repository for seedling pots at one stage as they assisted him to bring the estate into order. Ruth returned in one episode to find the kitchens he and his friends were supposed to be cleaning full to brimming with empty bottles from a hedonistic party the night before.
However, Anselm’s energy and passion won through, along with his success in finding an extremely capable (and wealthy?) wife. They aim to return the estate to its former productive self-sufficiency with a kitchen garden and cookery school where students can take produce from the soil to the table.
As death taxes and the dwindling resources of families who own these magnificent houses have taken their toll, many houses have fallen into shocking disrepair. Many had simply closed rooms as they crumbled, living in a very small part of the house so as to keep maintenance and heating costs down.
It was the remark of one such family that brought me to write perhaps the most memorable scene in LONDON’S LAST TRUE SCOUNDREL. They said they were walking past a disused wing of the house one day, looked in the window, and saw that the ceiling was on the dining room table. They wondered how long it had been there.
My heroine, Hilary deVere, comes from a family who spends their money on horses and hunting rather than their house. So when Lord Davenport stays over night and his ceiling falls in on top of him as he lies wakeful, plotting how he will seduce our fair heroine, she runs to the rescue:
A sound like the rumble of thunder made Hilary start awake from her drowse. Disoriented, she glanced toward the window. A masculine shout made her realize that the thunder had come from inside the house.
She leaped out of bed and flew into the corridor. The commotion had come from the guest bedchamber.
She hurried toward it and wrenched open the door.
There, stark naked with his back to her, in the midst of a pile of ceiling plaster and debris, stood Lord Davenport.
Hilary’s jaw dropped.
He was covered from head to toe in grayish-white plaster dust. He looked like a statue of a Greek god as he surveyed the wreckage, one hip negligently cocked. A David, a colossus still standing proud and tall through the sacking of Rome…
While COUNTRY HOUSE RESCUE is entertainment, it’s also invaluable in picking up snippets of family history, stories of achievements and eccentricities and simply the way one lives in an enormous house with a grand estate. Of course, much has changed over the centuries since the Regency period in which I write, but human nature being what it is, there are a lot of quirks and customs that may be extrapolated to my books.
So, do you enjoy watching period dramas, documentaries, reality shows about your favorite historical eras? What are your favorites?
One lucky reader will be chosen at random from those who leave a comment between now and Thursday evening to win a copy of LONDON’S LAST TRUE SCOUNDREL!