Nicola here. Today it is my very great pleasure to welcome bestselling author Sally Mackenzie to the Word Wench blog to talk about her new book, How to Manage a Marquess, which is released tomorrow! I first came across Sally's writing in her wonderful Naked Nobility series and I love the way that the humour in her books combines with poignancy and emotional depth. I enjoyed How to Manage a Marquess so much I went straight out and bought the rest of the Spinster House series and glommed on it. Sally, welcome to the Word Wenches! Please tell us a little about How to Manage a Marquess.
How to Manage a Marquess is the second full-length novel in my Spinster House series, preceded by a novella, In the Spinster’s Bed (which was first released as an e-book, but will be included in the print edition of Marquess) and the first novel, What to Do with a Duke.
The series is built on events that happened in the village of Loves Bridge two hundred years earlier. The then Duke of Hart got spinster Isabelle Dorring pregnant and almost immediately married another woman. Legend says that Isabelle, understandably distraught, cursed the duke’s line and then drowned herself and her unborn baby in Loves Water. Before ending her life, however, she left instructions that her house could be occupied only by a spinster, and that whenever there was a vacancy, the Duke of Hart had to come himself to choose the next tenant.
Whether the curse is real or not, the fact is that for two hundred years, no Duke of Hart has lived to see his heir born.
How to Manage a Marquess is set during Duke, so the story events intersect in a few places. In Marquess, Nate, who has promised his mother on her deathbed that he will put Marcus’s safety above all else, is trying desperately to keep Marcus from falling into parson’s mousetrap with the parson’s daughter, Catherine Hutting. Cat’s friend Miss Anne Davenport just as desperately wants Cat to marry the duke and so vacate the Spinster House, giving Anne another chance to win it. Anne’s father is on the verge of marrying a young widow with two young sons, and Anne is determined to move out of her childhood home before that happens.
The Spinster House series is a great idea – I love the concept of a house where a woman can live independently a life of her own choosing. What sparked the idea for the series?
A real spinster house!
I take trips to England every so often—dragging my longsuffering husband along—to hunt for inspiration. In 2013 in Exmouth, I stumbled on A la Ronde, a fabulous—and fabulously odd—house built in the late 18th century for two intrepid spinster cousins. The last of the cousins to die provided in her will that the house would pass down only to spinster relatives. Here’s a link to the A la Ronde web site My Spinster House doesn’t look anything like A la Ronde, however.
I had no idea that A La Ronde was a spinster house! That's fascinating. I always find, though, that so many story ideas are generated by "real" history. Which brings me to my next question: The Dukes of Hart family curse is also an excellent twist. How did you come up with that?
The curse developed from a research trip, too. In 2012 we visited Levens Hall near Kendal, Cumbria. The place has a wonderful Alice-in-Wonderland sort of garden, but it also has some wonderful legends, one being about a curse involving an angry woman and a male heir. Here’s the story from their web site:
“The most famous legend is about a gypsy woman who is said to have died cursing the house, claiming that no male heir would inherit until the River Kent ceased to flow and a white fawn was born in the Park. Strangely, the estate passed through the female line for four generations until the birth of Alan Desmond Bagot in 1896 when the river did indeed freeze over and a white fawn was born in the park. The three male heirs since have all been born on freezing winter days. A grey lady still haunts the drive near the river and has often been seen by visitors, including one that had to swerve to avoid a collision with a mysterious figure near Levens Bridge.”
How cool is that? AND the curse came true! It gives me delightful shivers. If you want to check out Levens Hall, here’s the link to the web site.
I'm glad that the curse came true in a positive sort of way! How do you feel about magic, curses and the paranormal?
If you mean in real life, I’m definitely a skeptic, but then, I’m also a writer. Every time I finish writing a book, it feels like a miracle.
If we’re talking about books, I was quite a fan of the magical when I was growing up. I gobbled up children’s books by British writers C.S. Lewis, E. Nesbit, Mary Norton, and P. L. Travers, and American authors Lloyd Alexander and Edward Eager.
I’ll admit, though, in my Regency reading I can be a bit of a purist and not entirely delighted with a strong paranormal element, which is why I tried to thread the needle with the Spinster House series. Except for Marcus and Nate, the Spinster House characters doubt whether the curse is real. And there are some indications in the story that perhaps Isabelle Dorring never actually cursed the duke. So I’m not all in on the paranormal element.
And yet...there is that fascinating Levens Hall curse. Somehow that story—a curse that came true!—makes my curse feel less paranormal to me.
As for Poppy, all cats are a bit otherworldly, aren’t they?
Yes, that's certainly true! I always have the feeling that cats see a great deal. I must admit that Poppy is a real favourite of mine (hence the question below) but before we get to her, which character in the series did you most enjoy writing?
I always say I don’t enjoy writing, I enjoy having written. It’s like exercise. I exercise pretty religiously and sometimes I do sort of enjoy it, but I’m always very happy to be finished. And a part of me feels that if exercise—and writing—aren’t a bit painful, I’m probably not working hard enough.
So I would say I most enjoy—and most hate—the character (hero or heroine) whose head I’m in when you ask.
On the other hand, writing secondary characters like Poppy or the gossipy Boltwood sisters or Anne’s young step-brothers is almost always fun. It’s a nice break from the intensity of being in the hero’s or heroine’s point of view.
Anne's step-brothers were delightful and almost stole the show for me. Poppy the cat is also a great character (and a proper character in the sense that she has a very strong personality.) Is she based on a real cat? I love that so many of your books feature pets. How did that come about?
Poppy is based on a real cat of that name—and here’s a picture of her in “her” chair.
She’s the hotel cat at the White Hart Hotel in Moretonhampstead, a town on the eastern edge of Dartmoor. (The hotel dates from 1639. Here's the link to the website. I made the mistake of sitting in Poppy’s chair one night, and she let me know she was not amused. She was too polite to brangle with me over it—she just gave me a speaking look and left. (LOL, Poppy really does own that chair!)
I do like including pets in my books, even though the only pet I’ve ever had was a dime-store turtle. They offer so many opportunities for humor—as do babies, young children, and gossipy old women, all of which you’ll often find in my stories.
If I had to point to one source of inspiration for my literary pets, I’d have to say it was Georgette Heyer, whose books I read when I was around middle-school age. Just thinking about her dogs Lufra in Frederica and Ulysses in Arabella makes me smile.
What do you like about writing a series? Do you find any drawbacks?
I’ve only ever written series. I think that’s just the way my creative mind works. When I sold my first book—by accident—I got a two book contract, which meant that I actually had to write a second book. Somewhat panicked, I turned to one of The Naked Duke’s friends—his story became The Naked Marquis. From there I went from friend to relative until the Naked Nobility was seven books and two novellas and we’d run out of titles.
I think smart and organized writers keep a series bible so they can go back and check names and dates and other details from previous books. Since I’d never planned the Nakeds as a series, I missed the smart and organized boat early on and I still haven’t caught up to it. I do scribble down notes, but they are more stream-of-consciousness pre-writing. Details usually change as I write and I don’t always (Often? Ever?) update my notes. Heck, I’m lucky if I can find my notes. So I rely on memory—uh oh.
The word processing “find” function is my good friend.
Sometimes I’ll have an idea for the current WIP and then realize I can’t go in that direction because of something that happened in an earlier book. But I also oddly enjoy having to write myself out of that sort of corner, as long as the corner isn’t too tight. I’ve learned over time not to go into too much detail about things I don’t have to—like a secondary character who will star in a subsequent book. This limits the amount of trouble I cause myself.
The Spinster House series is the most closely connected series I’ve tried. It’s fun, but also a bit nerve-racking, especially because I wrote the prequel novella—published first—after I wrote the first book. And it wasn’t until I started How to Manage a Marquess that I realized Marquess had to happen at the same time as Duke. So I did a lot of tweaking even at the page proof stage. I also really, really wish I’d done the detailed calendar I needed before I started to write. But I guess that’s the lot of a pantser.
I think some of us here would identify with that! What’s next for you?
I’m writing When to Engage an Earl, the final story in the Spinster House series, which is scheduled for June 2017. It picks up a couple months after the first two books end and concludes around the time the duke’s heir is born and we find out if the curse is indeed broken. Its hero and heroine are the last unmatched couple: Alex, Earl of Evans, and Miss Jane Wilkinson.
I'm looking forward to that book very much indeed! Thank you so much for joining us today, Sally!
If you’d care to read the prologue and first two chapters of How to Manage a Marquess, you can find them here: http://sallymackenzie.net/books/managemarquess.php
In researching an earlier book, I discovered that the Regency poet Lord Byron had a Newfoundland named Boatswain to whom he—or his friend, John Hobhouse—wrote the poem “Epitaph to a Dog.” But I just now ran across this article that includes an amusing 1821 quote from Byron’s friend and fellow poet Percy Shelley’s diary. My favorite part is:
“Lord B’s establishment consists, besides servants, of ten horses, eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow, and a falcon; and all these, except the horses, walk about the house, which every now and then resounds with their unarbitrated quarrels, as if they were the masters of it…
P.S. I find that my enumeration of the animals in this Circean Palace was defective…I have just met on the grand staircase five peacocks, two guinea hens, and an Egyptian crane.”
I just love this. My imagination is firing with story ideas—though I also wonder who cleaned up the mess from all those creatures.
So here’s my question—or questions: Do you like pets in books? Do you have any favorite literary animals? Or would you like to share one of your real pet’s antics? One commenter will get a signed copy of What to Do with a Duke. If the winner isn’t in the US, I’ll send a book via the Book Depository and a signed bookplate separately.