Nicola here, following Cara/Andrea's wonderful interview with Lauren Willig this week with another great guest! Today award-winning historical author Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee is stopping by and I am thrilled to welcome her back to the blog! I started reading Amanda's Regencies a number of years ago and was immediately struck by the elegance of her writing and the marvellously evocative atmosphere of her books. We met for the first time a few years ago in the impressive surroundings of the Georgian Pump Rooms restaurant in Bath for a traditional afternoon tea, discovered a mutual heroine in Anne Boleyn, and had a wonderful chat. The photo shows Amanda really getting into the spirit of things in Regency Bath! Today Amanda is here as Laurel McKee to talk about her new series, The Daughters of Erin. Amanda, welcome back to Word Wenches! Please tell us all about your exciting new trilogy!
I’m so excited to be visiting the Wenches again, and especially excited to be talking about this book! It’s one that’s very close to my heart, and the first to come out under my “new” name, Laurel McKee. “The Daughters of Erin” are the three Blacknall sisters, Eliza, Anna, and Caroline, who are born into an old Anglo-Irish family in the Georgian era—but they are definitely not content to stay in the privileged, narrow roles set out for them! They’re passionate about their homeland and their family, and about finding men who can match that passion. Anna’s story, “Duchess of Sin” will be out in December 2010 (we get a glimpse of an Irish Christmas there!), and Caroline’s tale, “Lady of Seduction,” will be released in 2011.
There’s a strong “Romeo and Juliet” type theme to the first book, Countess of Scandal, with Eliza and Will on opposite sides of the fight for Irish independence. What did you find to be the challenges and opportunities of writing a book where the hero and heroine are on opposing sides in a monumental struggle?
There’s definitely a strong, built-in conflict there. Eliza is a supporter of the United Irishmen, writing seditious pamphlets, hiding fugitives in the basement of her large townhouse, even doing a bit of spying. Will, her childhood sweetheart who joined the British Army and left Ireland as a young man (and is now back in Dublin, hunkier than ever!) is sworn to uphold British rule. They both have very strong convictions. But there is also the challenge of overcoming such deep obstacles to give them their happy ending together, without one of them giving up what they feel to be right!
Tell us a bit about the historical background to your new trilogy. I love the setting and found it both refreshing and fascinating to read a book set in late eighteenth century Ireland.
The books are set against the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland and its aftermath, a time of very high emotions and great danger on all sides. I had such an interesting time researching the stories, and found fascinating tales of people from the time period, especially heroic women. (I have a long list of sources on my website, but a couple I really enjoyed for this aspect was Mrs. Thomas Concannon’s “Women of ‘98” and Janet Todd’s “Daughters of Ireland: The Rebellious Kingsborough Sisters and the Making of a Modern Nation”).
What drew you particularly to writing about Georgian Ireland?
I’ve wanted to set a book there for a very long time! Georgian Ireland was a beautiful place, with some of the most gorgeous architecture anywhere in the British Isles as well as a flourishing artistic and theatrical scene, but it was also considered a rather crude, rude place, full of people who loved to party and pick quarrels with their neighbors. What could be more fun? LOL! It was also a period where many people, especially educated people from old Anglo-Irish families were discovering Irish history and culture (a rather idealized, “Celtic” idea of the history and culture) and were beginning to think of themselves as “Irish.” The Hibernian Society was formed at this time to advance such studies, and a tremendous number of books and journals were being published. It’s also a time of violence and upheaval, setting into motion the ferment that wouldn’t end until after the Easter Rising of 1916 and independence in the 1920s, which makes it an intriguing—and complicated background to romance! Plus the clothes are great. That’s always a very important consideration for me!
You yourself grew up in a family of Irish descent –was there anything that you know of your own family history that has that inspired your writing?
LOL! My own family was not nearly so exciting as the Blacknalls, I’m afraid. They were farmers and middle-class merchants, who mostly immigrated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though I like to think they might have been involved in the doings of ’98. (In the course of my research, I did find a man named McCabe who was hanged in Antrim in the aftermath of the rebellion! Maybe he was an ancestor?). I did grow up hearing lots of Irish fairy-tales and myths from my grandparents (those stories are really pretty violent and gory, but I loved them!), and listening to old folk songs and jigs. I hadn’t realized it until I started writing “Countess of Scandal,” but all that contributed to the background of the story and the mind-set of the characters.
You’ve also written in other historical periods, including most recently the Elizabethan era for your book for Harlequin Historicals, The Winter Queen. I know that we share a historical heroine in Anne Boleyn! What is it that appeals to you about the Tudor period?
Where to start?? Well, the clothes, of course! And the architecture and literature. (When I was working on my degree, I specialized in Elizabethan poetry. Not at all helpful in finding a real-world job, but excellent if someone needs the symbolism in a sonnet analyzed!). Many of the things I love about Georgian Ireland I also love about the Tudor period—the sheer, raw energy and passion for life (which leads both to reckless romance and hot-tempered quarrels, I’m afraid), the way the arts are such a part of life (both periods had a huge love for the theatre), the strong role women played in society. They both make such colourful settings for stories and characters.
Which real life historical sites have you used as settings in your books?
I used quite a bit in “Countess of Scandal”! The characters attend The Queen’s Birthday ball at Dublin Castle (the seat of the English government), and a play at the Crow Street Theater, and they also visit the less-savory part of town, an area known as Porto Bello. The Blacknalls’ estate, Killinan Castle, is based in part on the grand house at Castletown, which was owned by Lady Louisa Conolly, one of the famous Lennox sisters. She married one of the richest men in Ireland, and Castletown became her great passion. A tour of the house is a must when you’re in Ireland, it’s unbelievably gorgeous! (Another of the Lennox sisters was Emily, Duchess of Lennox, owner of nearby Carton, which is now a luxury hotel/spa, and Leinster House, which is now a government building in Dublin. One of her 22 children was Edward Fitzgerald, great hero of the Rebellion—we “meet” him in my book, too!)
If you could travel anywhere in the world for your research (no expense spared!) where would you like to go and what would you like to see and do?
Wow, I can go wherever I want!!! Let’s see. I would love to go back to France. I went last year and was able to see only a tiny fraction of what I wanted. I would go back to Versailles and explore the less-seen areas of the palace that are closed to tourists as well as more of the extremely extensive gardens, as well dig through the archives. Then I would move on to England for an Anne Boleyn tour of Hever Castle, the Tower (with access to more hidden areas), etc. I guess it would be a Doomed Queens vacation (which I am geeky enough to think sounds ideal!!)
Do you have a favourite amongst your books? And a favourite hero and heroine?
Eeek, that is very hard! It’s usually the last one I finished that’s a favourite, since it is done and over, and the hard work is past so I can start to like the characters again. I do have a great fondness for Anna Blacknall and her hero the Irish Duke of Adair, who will appear in “Duchess of Sin.” She was a heroine of hidden depths who kept surprising me, and he—well, he’s a black-haired Irishman with a yummy accent and a tattoo of Celtic knotwork. Of course I liked him!
Who are your favourites authors/writing influences?
Too many to list, I think! There’s Austen and the Brontes, of course. I started reading them when I was very young and I’ve never gotten over it. The same with Shakespeare—it’s amazing how many of our plots and characters seem built on his, and the timeless truths about human nature we can learn from him. (Though my editor would kill me if I tried to slip past some of the inaccurate historical and geographical aspects of his plays, LOL!). In romance writing now, I adore Laura Kinsale’s books (she’s just not writing fast enough for me!), Liz Carlyle, Eloisa James, and your books, Nicola. (Especially your wonderful heroines!). And I just read Gail Carriger’s “Soulless,” which was so much fun! I’m intrigued by the steampunk genre, but I don’t think I’m smart enough to write it.
Thank you *blushing*! What is the best part about being a writer for you?
Working in my pajamas! I know lots of writers say that, but it’s so true. There’s nothing I love more than a day at home, when I can just get up, have some tea, and start working on a story (if I can stay away from the temptations of the Internet!). I love “meeting” characters and discovering more aspects of them as the story goes on. They do seem to take on a life of their own, which is wonderful—until they refuse to do what I want them to and carry away the plot.
Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
Write, write, write! That’s the best advice anyone ever gave me, and the hardest, and it’s so true. The more you write the better you get at it, and the more likely you are to finish a publishable manuscript and get it sent off. The books don’t write themselves, and they are a lot of hard work. I still have to tell myself this every day. (Also, attending conferences, listening to other writers and editors, and educating yourself on the craft and the business is very helpful! I couldn’t do without my yearly RWA fix)
I know that 2010 is a very busy year for you! Can you give us a preview into the next books in the trilogy and other future projects?
Well, “Countess of Scandal” is out in February (available for pre-order now!) and “Duchess of Sin” will follow in December. In my Harlequin Amanda McCabe world, I have a back-to-back trilogy coming out in April, May, and June! “The Muses of Mayfair” follows the adventures of 3 daughters of a famous antiquarian in Regency England as they find love amid archaeological shenanigans and stolen artefacts. “To Catch a Rogue” (Calliope’s story) is out in April; “To Deceive a Duke” (Clio’s story), May; and Thalia’s book, “To Kiss a Count”, will round things out in June. There will also be a connected “Undone” short story out in March, “To Bed a Libertine,” where we see a real Greek Muse come down to Regency England and wreak some havoc! I loved writing these stories, being a thwarted wanna-be archaeologist myself. Right now I’m working on the third “Daughters of Erin” book, Caroline’s story “Lady of Seduction,” and a Regency for Harlequin which is connected to the “Diamonds of Welbourne Manor” anthology I did with Deb Marlowe and Diane Gaston.
I'm thrilled that we have so much to look forward to from you, Amanda. Thank you very much for giving us an insight into what promises to be a fascinating trilogy, and as someone who has bee privileged enough to read Countess of Scandal already I can only encourage everyone to get to a bookshop and snap it up – this book is a real gem! There's lots more information about the Daughters of Erin series on the Laurel McKee website and Amanda is giving away a copy to one lucky person who comments between now and midnight Friday. Amanda, thank you!