Christina Brooke and the Secrets of a Scoundrel!

Cara/Andrea here,

ChristinaBrookeToday 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.

Londons-Last-True-ScoundrelBrown-220x361 (1)When I’m among history buffs, I like to share a little inspiration for my novels in the way of some research tidbit that sparked an idea for a story.

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.

Regency-11Having 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.

Regency-4If 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.

Elmore CourtAt 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.

Anselm GuiseThen 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.

Regency-5However, 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.

Regency-2266It 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.
   “Oh, no!”
   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…

Regency-10I had a lot of fun with that scene!

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!

Love Stories, Old and New

CE-avatar Cara/Andrea here,

HeiressinLovesmallTo celebrate the launch of her new series (the first book hits the shelves at the end of the month) my good friend Christina Brooke is joining us today to talk about two subjects near and dear of all of our hearts—history AND romance.

HEIRESS IN LOVE is the first book in the Ministry of Marriage saga, On her website, Christina describes the MOM as  . . "the nickname of a cabal in which the leaders of the most prominent families in Britain negotiate, facilitate and approve dynastic marriages. Each family represented in the organization has a rich history full of rivalries, allegiances, legends and secrets. Their fortunes have risen and fallen for hundreds of years depending on their success in war, their religious leanings, or which heir to the throne they support. . . " Sounds delicious, doesn't it!

And now, speaking of marriages, I shall turn the keyboard over to Christina! (I couldn't resist added a lovely pic below of her storyboard for visualizing her characters.)

Heiress-in-Love-collage2 It’s such a pleasure to be here with the Word Wenches today. Thank you to my lovely friend, Cara Elliott and the rest of the Wenches for inviting me along!

Like so many of you, I love history and I enjoy researching the historical romance novels I write. I’d be the first to admit, however, that some aspects of the past are not at all romantic! That’s why I’m always enchanted to stumble over tales of ‘true romance’ in the course of my research. Today, I have three thoroughly romantic true stories to relate.

JaneDigby1 The first is of a very unconventional lady, Jane Digby. This woman has fascinated me since I read her biography years ago. Many have written about her, even during her remarkable lifetime, yet she remains relatively obscure.

Jane Digby was the exquisitely beautiful granddaughter of Coke of Norfolk, a man who repeatedly refused a peerage because he preferred his independence to kowtowing to any monarch. Jane was lively, intelligent and a trifle spoiled as a child. She was given a boy’s education (always a dangerous thing!) and later groomed for her debut by a governess. When presented at the age of sixteen she was dubbed ‘Light of Day’ and later ‘Aurora’ by her many admirers. Before long, Jane fell in love with—or perhaps, more accurately, became infatuated with—and married Lord Ellenborough, who was twice her age.

The marriage was not a success and it seems our Jane fell in and out of love (or infatuation) at an alarming rate. She was an intimate of Countess Lieven and Princess Esterhazy but unlike her contemporaries among the ton, she seemed incapable of maintaining discretion over her affaires. Jane eventually ran off with a German prince before her husband divorced her, and she later enjoyed various liaisons throughout the courts of Europe. Her lovers included a Greek count, the King of Bavaria and an Albanian chieftan. Some might call her promiscuous, and perhaps she was. However, I see Jane as an intelligent, passionate woman who was desperately seeking the love of a lifetime and would not settle for anything less.

JaneDigby2 Jane wound up in Syria at the age of fifty, but her great love story was yet to begin. Sheikh Medjuel el Mezrab, the Arab nobleman who escorted Jane’s caravan to the ruined city of Palmyra, fell in love with her. He was young enough to be her son, but their love endured until the end of her life. Across the foot of the English-style gravestone where Jane was buried, Medjuel added a large block of pink desert limestone brought from Palmyra, where Jane spent the happiest days of her life. On it, he engraved in Arabic with his own hands: “Madame Digby el Mezrab”. He never remarried.

The second is a poignant story of love unrequited that might be familiar to those of you who are addicted (as I am) to the Antiques Roadshow. A young gentleman named Humphrey Prideaux made the Grand Tour and in 1740, had his portrait taken by the celebrated eighteenth century Italian artist, Rosalba Carriera. This pastel hangs in the morning room at Prideaux Place in Cornwall, so if you’re ever in the neighborhood, stop in and say hello to Humphrey.

Rosalba_Carriera What Humphrey never knew was that while capturing his likeness, the artist fell in love with him and wrote him a passionate letter, which she secreted behind the portrait. It wasn’t until the pastel was cleaned in 1914 that the letter was discovered. This story illustrates one of the many aspects I love about writing historical romance—that love so often remained unspoken due to barriers that seem easily surmountable to modern people.

And lastly, a romance with a happy ending. This charming tale has inspired many a romance novel, I believe! The story of the arranged marriage between Lady Sarah Cadogan and Lord March, later the second Duke of Richmond.*

William_Cadogan The first Duke of Richmond was an inveterate gambler and while in The Hague, he won an enormous sum (five thousand pounds, I believe) from Lord Cadogan. Lord Cadogan couldn’t afford to redeem the debt but he had two daughters who stood to inherit a fortune from their mother, a Dutch heiress. The fond papas agreed that the debt would be canceled if Lady Sarah Cadogan’s hand in marriage was given to the duke’s eldest son, Lord March.

Eighteen-year-old Lord March was called back from college and a bewildered Lady Sarah Cadogan (aged thirteen) was brought from her nursery for the ceremony. Lord March is said to have exclaimed: “Surely you are not going to marry me to that dowdy!” The ceremony was performed, however, and March immediately went off with his tutor on the Grand Tour.

Richmondandsarah Three years later, March returned to London. Instead of seeking out his ‘dowdy’ wife, he went directly to the opera, where he was staggered by the sight of a most beautiful lady. He turned to the person beside him to ask the name of this exquisite creature. He was told he must be a stranger to London, because it was the town’s reigning Toast, Lady March! Lord March lost no time in introducing himself to his wife. One hopes she punished him a little for his rudeness on their wedding day before she forgave him! Whatever the case, the couple lived together affectionately for the rest of their lives. In fact, when the Duke of Richmond (as March became) passed away 38 years later, Lady Sarah died of shock and grief soon afterward.

I love marriage of convenience stories, which is why I’m writing an entire series of them. My Ministry of Marriage series kicks off on June 28 with HEIRESS IN LOVE. In this story, a very prim widow must marry a rake to restore a fractured estate and keep the little boy she loves. Publishers Weekly gave HEIRESS IN LOVE a starred review, saying “Each scene is more passionate and sensual than the last.” You can read more about HEIRESS IN LOVE on my website:

What about you? Do you like marriage of convenience stories, and if so, what are your favorites? Would you like to share a tale of ‘true romance’? Two lucky readers will each receive a signed copy of HEIRESS IN LOVE!

*This story is told by Sir William Napier in The Life of Charles James Napier. Additional detail may be found in Lady Russell’s The Rose Goddess and other Sketches of Mystery and Romance.