So. It is Almost Out (just like one of Heyer’s hopeful young ladies of the Regency). The Highborn Housekeeper. My book about a noblewoman turned cook. A kind of Regency Nigella.
And funnily enough, my heroine resembles her, too. In my head.
A few years ago I wrote about the fallen women of Compton Parva. (That was my working title. It was published by Harlequin/Mills & Boon as The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake.)
One of the “fallen women” was Nancy, the big-hearted, big-bosomed earl’s daughter who was the mother hen of the group, looking after everyone.
Controlling Nancy? She was far too large a personality to be confined to a bit part in one book.
I fought it, I truly did, but no. She would NOT lie down.
She persuaded me to let her have a role in Beauty and the Brooding Lord, where she masquerades as the widow of a rich tradesman to help bring down a villain…
…possibly NOT quite like Gillray’s “Lyoness!” (shown right)
A BIG mistake.
Having taken an inch, Nancy wanted a mile!
Or, in this case, her own book.
What is it with the characters we create?
Mary Shelley knew a thing or two, when she wrote Frankenstein. He puts together a creature that he cannot control.
And so it is with authors everywhere. Even after we are long gone. Just think of all the fandom sequels that have been written, featuring Jane Austen’s characters. They will just not give in.
We authors think we dream up the character, but do we, really?
Perhaps they are already there, waiting for us to let them into our consciousness, and then they stay there, banging on the inside of our skulls like a woodpecker…
…until we let them fulfil their potential.
And are they grateful for all our hard work?
Take Nancy, for instance. She is a jolly good cook.
But who was it spent hours poring over 18th cookbooks, reading Elizabeth Raffald’s “The English Housekeeper”, published first in 1769 and containing such gems as how to dress and make a sauce for a cod’s head, how to souse pigs ears and feet?
Even how to fricassee ox palates, should you have a couple you don’t know what to do with.
Not Nancy, but yours truly. Hmmph.
Not that these delicacies ended up in the book. Keeping the modern reader in mind, Nancy prepared much simpler dishes such as pork ragout, brisket and stewed mushrooms. And, channelling a certain “Mr K”, she does make exceedingly good Bath cakes (a type of breakfast roll, served fresh and warm from the oven. FYI)
Then there is her soulmate, Lord Gabriel Ravenshaw. Nancy’s equal in birth — not that she would have worried about that — and intelligence — much more important to our Nancy! Amongst his many skills he is an expert lockpicker.
Now that’s all very well for Gabriel, but as the author, I feel I need to know something about it.
So it’s off to the internet, trolling through websites for information on eighteenth century locks and ways to pick them. (I sometimes think, if MI5 really are screening everyone’s online searches, then authors must be constantly popping up as prime suspects for any number of varied and nefarious crimes.)
Not that Gabriel is a criminal, you understand. Oh no. He is on the right side of the law, but he needs to know these things. He is a Good Guy.
Like Cary Grant. Trust me.
Out of control heroine?
In an even earlier book, The Wicked Baron, there is Carlotta, the heroine.
Carlotta is the daughter of an Italian artist. She’s capable of taking over from her father to paint the ceiling frescos of the hero’s grand mansion (as you do).
For someone who barely knows her Rubens from a Rubik’s Cube and who thought Raphael was a ninja turtle, this was a vast learning curve!
[Do I really need to explain?]
Suddenly, I was studying fresco technique, (virtually) grinding pigments and mixing colours. And learning about Italian snails (don’t ask). Not to mention experimenting with a ballet shoe to see if it really was possible to drink champagne from a lady’s satin slipper (messy).
That last piece of research was on behalf of my hero, you understand.
Not my idea at all.
Not the author’s fault…honest
So please, dear Reader, when you next wonder why a book takes an unexpected direction, don’t blame the author. It’s the characters. Sometimes they just get away…
Me: “No. No! Move away. You are not meant for one another!”
Yours, in frustration,
The Highborn Housekeeper is published on 27th June and available to preorder now.