Twenty Years Ago

Tea at the museumNicola here, inviting everyone to join me in a small celebration! Twenty years ago this year my first book for Harlequin Mills & Boon was published. True Colours was named in homage to Georgette Heyer; the writing style probably owed a fair amount to her as well for she, along with Alice Chetwynd Ley, Clare Darcy and others had been strong influences on my developing love of the Regency romance.

Even now I can remember the sense of disbelief to see a book I had written actually in print. For Cyprian years I had written in my spare time – 12 years to be exact. True Colours was begun when I was at college and was a long time in the writing and re-writing. Life went on around it – marriage, moving jobs, moving house… And then suddenly there it was in my hand and on the shelves. It was an extraordinary and almost unreal feeling. I also remember being a tad disappointed by the cover which looked rather vampirish to me (the US version that came later was much prettier!) I also remember spending my first royalty cheque on a new bicycle! Later that same year (August, in fact) my second Regency romance, The Virtuous Cyprian, was also published. I wrote two books a year in those days even though I was working full time in an office as well. Her I am in a bookshop looking very excited to be on the shelves with Penny Jordan and Sidney Sheldon! This is a photo of an old photo so apologies that it isn't that good!)

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Talking Regency Scandal with Louise Allen!

Louise Allen Nicola here. Today it’s my very great pleasure to welcome Louise Allen to the Word Wenches. Louise is one of Mills & Boon/Harlequin Historicals star Regency authors and a long time friend and colleague of mine. Louise has been described as "one of the most gifted writers in historical romance" and her books as "sheer reading delight" and I won't argue with that! Her heroes are to die for and her books are on my autobuy list. Next month Louise launches Harlequin's fabulous new Regency continuity series Regency Silk and Scandal with The Lord and the Wayward Lady.

NC: Louise, welcome to the Word Wenches! Please could you start by telling us a bit about yourself?


LA: Well, first of all thank you very much for the invitation to Word Wenches, it is an honour to be here! I’m a Regency enthusiast who has the great good fortune to be able to write about the period – I’m working on my thirty-eighth story for Harlequin Mills & Boon, and all but two have been set in the early 19thc. When I’m not writing I am trying to escape to North Norfolk where I hope my husband and I will move later this year; walking around London with an 1809 guidebook; plotting the next holiday or adding to my collection of Regency ephemera which I justify as essential for research.


The Pleasures and challenges of writing series


NC: Your Regency collections are the source of much envy in this household and I completely accept that this is essential research! We'll talk about research and sources in a little while; first though, let's discuss Regency Silk and Scandal! Your new book, The Lord and the Wayward Lady, launches this exciting new Harlequin Regency continuity series. Could you give us a little taster of the book – and of the new series?


LA: It is an eight book continuity with six authors, and I had the challenge of writing the first and the The Lord and the Wayward Lady US cover seventh story. A twenty-year old scandal and tragedy lies at the heart of the series and the now-adult children of the original protagonists find themselves entangled with a mysterious and shadowy figure, apparently bent on vengeance. Who he is, what he wants, is a mystery, but his presence weaves though the eight books and acts as a catalyst for the love stories of our heroes and heroines.


The Lord and the Wayward Lady introduces the Carlow family. Lord Narborough, was a key player in the original tragedy and his sons Marcus and Hal are the heroes of my two books, his daughters Honoria and Verity are the heroines of two others in the series and their companion, Diana, also has her own book. When Lord Narborough receives a sinister and alarming object Marcus has the deepest suspicions of the woman who delivered it – the apparently innocent and impoverished milliner, Nel Latham. Nel is not what she seems and Marcus, determined not to trust her, has a hard time keeping his emotions out of the equation as things become increasingly dangerous – and passionate.

NC: I'm sure I'm not alone in loving series with intertwined characters and I can't wait to get my hands on the first book and meet the Carlows! What is special about the Regency Silk and Scandal series other than that it has such a stellar line up of contributing authors?)

LA: I am blushing modestly in some great company, believe me! The really special thing, we all agreed, was that we were given a completely free hand to come up with both the overarching plot and the individual stories that hang off that. We were given aspects that the editors would like included – scandal, a range of social backgrounds for the protagonists and so forth – but we were allowed a wonderful, and scary, free hand – subject to editorial approval, of course. Our first suggestion was turned down because it was too similar to a contemporary continuity that was rather further along, but our second proposal was accepted and off we went!

NC: I imagine that having a free hand to devise the series was wonderful freedom but possibly tricky to control in practical terms! What was it like to work on a series with so many other authors? What were the aspects that you enjoyed the most? And the challenges?


The Lord and the Wayward Lady LA: There were only two challenges. Firstly most of us had never met any of the others, or knew them only by reputation and from brief encounters at conferences and secondly we were hundreds (thousands!) of miles apart. Three of us are widely spaced in the UK, three even more widely separated in the US. Emails (going on 3,000 now) and a Yahoo group were the answer.


But the aspect that was so special was how quickly we bonded and became friends. Despite the pressure and the unfamiliarity of working in this way, there wasn't a single cross word. Everyone developed their own role in the process and found their characters with apparent ease. The spirit of co-operation and ownership of the whole project was even more vital because of how tightly the books interweave. We were all using each other's characters in our own books to a greater or lesser extent and, as we were writing simultaneously, we had to rely on each other constantly for advice. As an example – I wanted to use one of Annie Burrows minor characters in a small, but vital, role in my second book – The Officer and the Proper Lady. And I needed to put him in the middle of the Battle of Waterloo. How badly could I injure him? Annie was generous in lending him – and all his details – but I was very firmly reminded that he was her heroine's favourite step-brother and she wanted him back safe and sound!


NC: Which character did you have the most fun creating and why?


LA: I enjoy them all while I’m writing them, but I think the one I found most interesting recently was Hal Carlow, the hero of The Lord & the Proper Lady, the seventh of the continuity. Hal is a major in the 11th Light Dragoons – a paragon of a soldier but a completely irresponsible and hard-living rakehell with the most shocking reputation. I loved getting inside his head and seeing what happens to a man like that when he comes up against a virtuous young lady. Behave himself? Hardly. Marriage? Run a mile. And then along comes the Battle of Waterloo and his proper young lady proves she is as courageously unconventional as he is – which leaves him with a most uncomfortable dilemma!


NC: I must admit that having seen a sneak preview of the cover of Hal's book, I fell in love with him straight away! That is one sexy uniform he's half-wearing! Anyway, (clearing throat), your previous series, Those Scandalous Ravenhursts, was an absolute delight to me as a reader as well as so being so hot that at several points in the reading I had to fan myself with damp rhubarb leaves to calm myself down! You do seem to be drawn to series as you also have a new book out in the UK in June, Practical Widow to Passionate Mistress, the first in your Shelley Sisters series. Can you tell us a little about the background to this book? What was the inspiration for the series?


LA: I wanted to explore what would happen to young women who fell into sin by the standards of the time – Practical widow which were pretty unforgiving of feminine “weakness”. The three Shelley sisters are brought up in the stifling atmosphere of a vicarage dominated by a dourly repressive father. They want to escape, and in doing so find themselves social outcasts – Meg elopes and it all goes horribly wrong, stranding her in the middle of the war-torn Peninsula;  Bella believes she has fallen in love – and is left pregnant and alone and Celina runs away to her mysterious aunt only to find she is the Madam of a high class brothel. It was interesting to see what would happen with three “sinful” heroines and three, apparently respectable, heroes – who aren’t so respectable, as it turns out! In the process all three sisters are transformed and Meg, whose story comes first, changes from dreamy romantic into a strong foil for the dark, wounded hero.


The Lure of the Regency Genre


NC: If you could describe your writing with a word or phrase, what would it be?


LA: Scandalously witty Regency romance is what I have on my website  – and that's what I hope to achieve every time.


NC: You're certainly hitting the mark!  Why the Regency genre?  What was the draw for you?


LA: I love the period because it seems to be on the cusp of the modern world, with all the glamour and squalor of the Georgian period merging into an age of massive change in politics, arts, technology – every aspect of life was in transition. And I do love the style of the long Regency. My period is the one where waists were high, roughly 1795-1822. I try hard not to think about the my heroes having to grow massive side whiskers and my heroines encumbered with vast skirts as they enter the Victorian period.


NC: I'm not too disturbed by the vast skirts but I have to admit that massive side whiskers don't really work for me in a hero. Why do you think that the Regency genre is so popular with readers?


LA: For the reasons I love it – and the fact that it has been made so accessible by classic TV series and authors such as Austen and Heyer. It is exciting, glamorous, different enough from our age to intrigue and close enough to be tantalisingly familiar.


NC: One of your other hats is as the UK Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers' Scheme Co-ordinator and as such you have a lot of experience of the market. What do you believe are the most important ingredients in a historical romance novel?


LA: A really strong dynamic between hero and heroine is key, I think. They need to be people with interesting internal lives as well as existing in an appealing historical milieu. Accurate historical detail is important to me as are humour and adventure, and I enjoy novels that explore the less familiar aspects of a period.


NC: And now for that Regency ephemera… Which aspect of your research do you enjoy the most?


Napoleon Bonaparte's carriage LA: Visiting places and seeing objects. Book research is interesting and can be fascinating, but there is nothing to beat standing on the wide sloping floor of Berry Bros and Rudge in St James’s Street and knowing Byron stood on those very boards before being weighed on their famous scales; or standing in the steamy heat of a Calcutta cemetery reading the epitaphs of the men, women and children who made up the British settlement there in the 18th and 19th centuries; or holding the boot bill from Hoby’s to the man who captured Napoleon’s carriage after Waterloo.


NC: What resources did you find most helpful for this period? Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?


LA: There are so many sources! To name a few that I wouldn’t be without: Original newspapers and magazine; the London Topographical Society’s wonderful London A-Z series (Regency London lives on my desk); the Cunnington’s series of books on costume and the treasure trove that is the London Library.


My advice to aspiring authors would be – find your characters first then immerse yourself in their world so it will become alive for you and the reader. But keep 99% of your research in your head so the characters still stand out from their background.


NC: Louise, thank you very much for coming to chat with the Wenches!


Louise's website is here and you can find out more about the Regency Silk and Scandal series and her other wonderful books. I also recommend checking out her Et Cetera page where there are always some fascinating snippets of research.


Now, over to you! If you have questions for Louise, or comments on reading – or writing – series, don't hold back! Louise is very generously offering a copy of her new release Practical Widow to Passionate Mistress plus a copy of the anthology Wicked Regency Nights to one commenter. Here is her question:  Do you prefer the world of High Society – the ton and the drawing room – or do you prefer grittier backgrod glimpses into the world below stairs, on the streets and in the countryside?