Anne here. I first discovered Madeline Hunter through her superb medieval romances— By Design is one of my all-time favorites. These days however Madeline sets her books in the very popular
Georgian/Regency era and by doing so has expanded her devoted following. A New York Times and USA Today bestseller and a multi-award winning author — she's twice won the RITA — her books are always complex, compelling and unputdownable.
Madeline, welcome to the Word Wenches. What made you decide to become a writer?
Madeline: I am one of those people who began writing as soon as she learned to read. I thought my stories were better than the ones in the books I had as a child, so I sat down and pecked them out on a manual typewriter.
Anne: At the time of this interview, Madeline was in Paris. How did you come to be in Paris? Could you share something special you've done there?
Madeline: I take students to Europe over spring break every year, alternating Paris and Florence. The trips are parts of courses I teach. So I was there a week, visiting the museums and being part tour guide, part professor, part mom to this group of young people. We always go out to Versailles, which is special, and I have become very fond of the town that flourishes outside the palace grounds.
Anne: That sounds like a wonderful course. Your new book, The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne, is the first in a new series -- the Fairbourne Quartet. Could you tell us about this series? Is it linked to any of your other books?
Madeline: The new series is not linked to any other books. It takes place in the late 1790s, so it is earlier than any of my recent series too. There are four core elements that tie the series together. One is Fairbourne's auction house. It figures prominently in the first story and will be a hub setting for the others. There is also a group of peers who are old friends, and a diverse group of women who are as well, or becoming friends. Finally there is a thread regarding the death of one of the men right before the story opens, that will affect all the stories in one way or another until the questions about that death are resolved.
Madeline: I am an art historian and loved the idea of using that background in a more direct way than I normally get to do. I only have had one other book where my expertise in art was essential to the story, and that was Lord of Sin. Auction houses were businesses, but also colorful places full of interesting people, and the idea entered my head to use one as a setting. It all evolved from there.
Anne: You always do a wonderful job of bringing the past to life. In your research for this book did you come across anything that surprised you, or which might be of particular interest to our readers?
Madeline: I found it interesting that between the 18th century, when my book is set, and around the 1970s (when the biggest auction houses became corporations, and began dabbling in high finance), not much changed in the way auction houses were run, or in their policies. Back then the seller paid a commission to the house, as one does now. The seller would also pay for any special promotions. It was customary at the most prestigious houses, such as Christie's, to have a grand preview one of the nights leading up to a major auction of art. This would be a huge party to lure the weathy patrons to come and view the offerings.
Perhaps most interesting to me was the law passed in the 18th century regulating the auction trade, by licensing auctioneers and taxing the proceeds of auctions. At a time when most business was pretty free of regulation, this one, that we think of as being "buyer beware" was actually one of the ones facing the most government scrutiny. My book makes reference to some of the practical reasons for this.
Anne: Fascinating. Can you give us a small taste of The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne?
Madeline: In this scene, Darius has gone to call of Emma after their first confrontation at the auction house. He walks in as she is interviewing for a man to replace the exhibition hall manager who has quit because she won't marry him. Darius does not know any of her plans, however. Indeed, he assumes she has held the last auction and will submit to his judgment that the business must be sold. He has come to explain the particulars about all of that.
Maitland, the Fairbournes’ butler, did not open the door. Rather Obediah Riggles, the auctioneer, did the duty.
Obediah appeared just as surprised to see Darius as Darius was to see him.
“Has Maitland gone?” Darius asked quietly after Obediah had taken his hat and card. The young blood busied himself primping the hair around his face, making sure the artful wisps of his Brutus fell just so.
“No, sir. Miss Fairbourne asked me to man the gate, just for today. I’m to turn away unsuitable sorts.”
Presumably there were adventurers and even thieves aware that Miss Fairbourne was now a woman alone. Unsuitable sorts might well find excuses to impose on her, and it was unlikely she could identify who had been an associate of her father, seeking to offer condolences, and who had not been.
“I was told to bring visitors to the drawing room, sir,” Obediah said, angling his head for a private word. “I think it might be better to escort you to the morning room instead. I will tell Miss Fairbourne that you are there.”
“If she is receiving in the drawing room, take me there, Riggles. I will not have special accommodations made due to my station. I insist that you present my card exactly as you do the others. I can ask for a private word after her other callers leave.”
Obediah vacillated. The young blood cleared his throat impatiently.
“The drawing room?” Darius prompted.
Bearing the salver with two cards, the auctioneer led the way up the stairs. He opened the doors to the drawing room and stood aside.
Darius entered into a most peculiar scene. Miss Fairbourne had not come down yet. She had a great many callers waiting, however. Ten young men lounged around the chamber.
The callers gave the newcomers critical examinations, then went back to doing nothing. Darius turned to ask Obediah the meaning of this masculine collection, but the doors had closed and Obediah had returned to his post.
Darius positioned himself in front of the fireplace and took stock of his company. All of them were of similar cut—young, fashionable, and handsome. Miss Fairbourne was an heiress now, and perhaps these were suitors, lining up to court her.
He pictured the earnest entreaties that would be made as each one pressed his case in turn. Considering his own experiences with Miss Fairbourne, these young men would likely get their ears burned. He was rather sorry that he would miss the show.
He strode to a divan and sat beside a polished blond swain wearing a striped red and blue waistcoat of considerable cost but questionable taste. The fellow smiled an acknowledgment but scrutinized Darius at the same time.
“A bit old, aren’t you?” he said.
“Ancient,” Darius replied dryly. Thirty-three probably did look old to a pup barely out of university, he supposed. It had to him when he was that age.
His new companion thought the response droll, but seemed to realize the question had not gone down well. “My apologies, sir. I only meant that I think she is looking for someone younger. Perhaps not, though, and your maturity will put us all to a disadvantage.” He angled his body, the better to chat. “John Laughton, at your service.”
Darius believed that etiquette existed for good reasons, but he prided himself on not being a stickler. Therefore he introduced himself in turn. “Southwaite.”
Laughton frowned, perplexed. “Oh? Ohhhh.” He glanced around the chamber. “You are not here—that is, it goes without saying you are not competition.” He laughed. “I confess that is a relief to me.”
Darius was about to reassure him that he certainly was not competition, when a door opened at the end of the drawing room and a woman emerged from the connecting library.
It was not Miss Fairbourne. Rather Lady Cassandra Vernham, the notorious sister of the Earl of Barrowmore, immediately garnered the attention of every man in the chamber.
A tumble of black curls fell around her face and neck from beneath a white lacy cap perched high on her crown. The palest green diaphanous cloth flowed around her body from where a white ribbon bound it high under her admirable breasts. Her large red mouth pursed and appeared shockingly erotic while she opened a journal book and peered at its page.
Laughton sprang to his feet, smoothed his coat, and walked forward. He followed Cassandra into the library and the door closed.
Laughton had left behind a newspaper. Darius noticed that the page showing had been marked. He picked it up and read the advertisement that been worthy of John Laughton’s attention.
Wanted: For a very special and most pleasurable employment, a handsome young man of amiable disposition and notable wit, with excellent manners, advanced education, and unquestionable discretion. Must possess a fashionable appearance, a strong physique, an enjoyment of female company, and undisputed charm. Inquire at the chambers of Mr. Weatherby, on Green Street.
It was a peculiar and somewhat startling notice. Someone clearly sought something other than a footman or secretary.
Darius looked at the very amiable and fashionable young men lounging in the drawing room. Presumably they had all been sent here when they visited Mr. Weatherby.
Evidently there was much more to Miss Fairbourne than he had surmised. Her judgment left much to be desired, however. What was the woman thinking? Maurice must be turning over in his grave.
He strode from the drawing room, to go and find Riggles. Out on the landing a sound made him pause in his tracks. Clear as could be, he heard two women speaking around the corner.
“He is definitely the best of the lot so far, and we should ensure he will pass muster, Emma.”
“We can do that while he remains dressed.”
“I only asked him to remove his coat so his physique would be visible. Much is obscured by coats, and strong shoulders can become quite narrow once a man is in his shirtsleeves and nothing more.”
“He will be wearing coats all the time, so that does not signify.”
Silence then. Long enough that Darius assumed the ladies had returned to the library.
“Emma, I fear that you do not comprehend the practicalities,” Cassandra Vernham spoke again. “Do you really think that men forever remain in their coats when they charm and flatter to the extent you expect?”
Darius turned on his heel and returned to the drawing room. Standing at the door, he eyed the young men waiting to impress Miss Fairbourne with just how charming they could be.
Anne: Lovely. There's another excerpt here, on Madeline's site. Madeline, you usually have a strong suspense or mystery thread in your romances. Have you ever been tempted to change the balance and write mysteries/thrillers with a romantic subplot?
Anne: You often write about people who are outsiders in society in some way. What's the appeal of outsiders do you think?
Madeline: As a writer, outsiders are useful because they come with a built in conflict with the established order, whatever that order may be. I also like to have them in my books because they poke a few holes in the view of the period as being all about drawing room conversations and worrying about clothes. I think the outsider's view of that world grounds it in a sense of reality, and permits a bit of commentary via the outsider's perceptions.
Anne: I enjoy that, too. So, what's next on the Madeline Hunter agenda?
Madeline: I am writing the second book of the series, The Conquest of Lady Cassandra. It will be published in October 2012.
Anne: I'm looking forward to it. Thank you so much for chatting to us here, Madeline.
Madeline will be giving away a copy of her new book, The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne, to someone who leaves a comment or a response to this question: if you could take a tour in the company of an art and writing expert, such as Madeline, where would you like to go?