History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

18 March 2010

Romping With the Hoydens: A Conversation With Guest Author Miranda Neville

We hoydens not only love the ins and outs of history, we love the company of heroes and heroines who are not only bold and sexy, but brainy -- and sometimes as bookish as we are.

Which makes it a particular pleasure to help celebrate the publication of The Wild Marquis, set in the world of Regency bibliophiles, by chatting with historical author Miranda Neville. (Readers who leave comments: Miranda will be giving away a signed copy to one of you, chosen at random.)

Welcome, Miranda, and tell us a little about The Wild Marquis.

Hello, Hoydens, and thanks for having me.

While as to The Wild Marquis, first book of The Burgundy Trilogy:

The Marquis of Chase wants to recover a family heirloom, a rare medieval manuscript that is being offered for sale at auction. To help him he hires a bookseller, the widowed Juliana Merton who, despite her knowledge of her subject, has a tough time making male book collectors take her seriously.
In the process they are drawn into the obsessive rivalry of two deceased collectors and uncover secrets of both their pasts.

The Wild Marquis is set in 1819. Is there a particular reason you chose that year?

There must have been, though I can't now remember it. I tend to prefer the late Regency because I don't want to deal with the Napoleonic Wars. I don't see how you can write, even light romance, without some awareness of political and social context. This series will go into the reign of George IV and (editors permitting) touch on some the the big political issues of the 1820s.

On the other hand, I don't want to get anywhere near Victoria. I suspect in my next series I shall go backward to the pre-Regency years.

How did you become interested in this time period? What do you like most and least about it?

Like 100,000 other romance writers I started with Georgette Heyer. I don't know if she was the inspiration, but I always read a lot of non-fiction around the period, both English and French history. Despite my dislike of his wars, I find Napoleon and his era absolutely fascinating. Before I started writing romance, my only book credit was a biographical introduction to a volume of Redouté's flower paintings. Since the English Regency is still the most popular period for historical romance, why mess with a good thing?

That said, it's very hard to write Regency set stories that are both fresh and (reasonably) authentic. I endeavor to avoid the clichés of the genre: I've taken the no-Almack's pledge, for example.

Any gaffs or mea culpas you want to fess up to before readers get their hands on the book? I know I always seem to find one after the book has gone to press. ...sigh...

I confess (as I do in an author's note) that I advanced the division of Shakespeare's quartos into "good" and "bad" by a hundred years. And, darn it, I discovered after I'd returned the proofs that the Limbourg Brothers had not, by 1819, been identified as the artists of the Duc de Berri's books of hours. Don't you find you don't mind "fudging" things as long you know you are doing it? Doing it by mistake is maddening.

Tell us a little about your hero. Something fun, like his favorite childhood pet, or his first kiss.

Alas, Chase had a pretty depressing childhood under the lash of his father, a religious fanatic known as the Saintly Marquis. As he tells Juliana, "My long slide into iniquity began at the tender age of twelve when I leered at one of the maids during evening prayers." Not that the poor boy did anything more until he was thrown out of the house at the age of sixteen. Then he proceeded to live up to his father's low expectations. What I love about Chase is that he really loves women, as people not just as bedmates (though that too). He's the perfect counterpart for Juliana, who constantly smarts at male prejudice.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn't get out of your head?

I spent some years working in the rare books and manuscripts department at Sotheby's so I always had the setting in the back of my mind. The big auction in the book was inspired by the Duke of Roxburghe's sale of 1812, perhaps the most notable book auction of the 19th century. Chase first appeared as a secondary character in a (never published) book and immediately took on a life of his own.

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn't already know?

Does anyone but me care for the arcane details of book cataloging practices in early nineteenth-century England? Seriously, I'm always finding interesting things I don't know. It amazes me how often a serendipitous fact will pop up just when you need it. The finale to The Wild Marquis features a knife fight. I learned a lot about knife fighting on YouTube of all places. Very useful. I hope I got it right. Authors equally ignorant of combat techniques can check it out here.

What/Who do you like to read?

A fair amount of romance, mostly historical, though less than before I sold. Of the classics, most years I read or reread something by Shakespeare, Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Trollope, George Eliot. I don't like Dickens much. The New York Times. I can't always keep up with The New Yorker - once a week is too much. I don't read much new literary fiction unless a friend thrusts a book into my hands and orders me to read it. As a result I enjoyed a recent debut called The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers.

I love historical non-fiction, especially if I can call it research. Also cookbooks. I'm now reading a fascinating history of curry which combines the two last.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I used to be an obsessive plotter. I wrote about a quarter of The Wild Marquis before selling it and I had a detailed synopsis of the whole. But my editor asked for changes that altered the hero's principal motivation and eliminated a subplot and two characters. Rather than re-plot the whole thing, I just plunged in and somehow it worked. The next book I'd also sold on synopsis but I decided (with my editor's permision) to change the second half of the book. Now I feel completely liberated and I'm having a very hard time planning anything beyond a vague concept. A pantser is born. Since I'm a newbie compared to you Hoydens I expect my MO will change again.

Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

A bit of both. I write fairly cleanly but I leave gaps. And I don't finish the book - the last chapter or two -- until I've revised the rest at least once.

What are you planning to work on next?

As he becomes fascinated by book collecting, Chase makes friends with two other young collectors. Sebastian Iverley is his opposite: he loathes women and has nothing to do with them. And I mean NOTHING. Then he falls hard, for a woman who turns out to be trifling with him. The result is Regency Revenge of the Nerd, to be released in October as The Dangerous Viscount. I had more fun writing it than anything so far. And I've also started work on the third friend, a dandy and arbiter of fashion. Since those are traits more desirable in Oscar Wilde than a romance hero, I've had to make his life miserable. Currently he's suffering from amnesia and stranded on the Yorkshire moors in company with a governess who holds a grudge against him.

Misery for him, fun for us. ;-) Thanks so much for talking to us, Miranda.

And readers who chime in with questions and comments -- after our visit is over, Miranda will be sending a randomly-chosen one of you an autographed copy of The Wild Marquis.

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Blogger Unknown said...

Welcome to the blog! The Wild Marquis sounds wonderful.

I love old books. *sigh* I have a graduate degree in Book Arts (printing, hand set type, etc.) and had a wonderful time doing a study of the history of Hamlet (someday I’ll be rich and will buy a copy of the Cranach edition, it’s only $15K, right?).

Did you touch on the sixth Duke of Devonshire at all? He was supposed to have one of the best library collections in England. And it's easy to see how being deaf would lend itself to a love of books.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Virginia C said...

As a certified, life-long bookworm, I find it supremely satisfying that a sensual historical romance featuring book lovers has been written with such style! Intelligence is very, very sexy!

gcwhiskas at aol dot com

8:48 AM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

Great to be here, Kalen. As a book arts person I can see why you'd love the Cranach. The historical importance of books is what always excited me most, thought I adore the big color plate books, especially the botanicals. I bring the "bad" Hamlet quarto into The Wild Marquis, the one which starts that speech "To be or not to be? I, there's the point."

I didn't bring Devonshire into the book, though he certainly had a great collection (Chatsworth has great collections of just about everything). Two of the collectors of the day were Earl Spencer and the Marquis of Blandford. Spencer makes several off-stage appearances. I chose these two because their duel over the Valdarfer Boccaccio at the Roxburghe sale is legendary.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

Thank you Virginia! And yes, intelligence (plus humor) is the sexiest trait.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Deb said...

I have TWM on my TBB list. It sounds like a great story. I have enjoyed the interviews you've done in the last week or two, Miranda. They've all included something fun and different.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Kirsten said...

Hi Miranda,
Your book sounds wonderful. I too am a bookish girl so I think it's great that your Heroine is a brainy woman. Intelligence is a beautiful thing & I very much enjoyed this interview.
Take care, Kirsten

10:13 AM  
Blogger Kirsten said...

oh yeah, I forgot to add, about Dickens. Have you tried Our mutual friend. I don´t care much for his writing either but this book was a very nice read.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks for visiting us, Miranda! Your book sounds fabulous--I *love* old books (particularly Shakespeare, who my characters tend to quote incessantly). This sounds like a wonderful fresh new take on the Regency. I'm particularly fond of 1819, as that's the year Secrets of a Lady is set. Though now I'm back writing about the Napoleonic Wars...

11:05 AM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

Thanks Deb. I'm afraid I've been ubiquitous since the book came out. I try not to make all my blog appearances identical and I'm relieved to hear that you, at least, are not sick of me.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

Kirsten: I don't believe I have read Our Mutual Friend. I haven't read much Dickens since we were stuffed with him at school. It's probably time I gave him another go.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

Tracy: I've been participating in the Risky Regencies' Venetia read-along. The H and H of that book constantly trade quotations. They were the common cultural references people shared, just as now we quote song lyrics, or lines from movies and TV shows. A well educated Englishman/woman would know Shakespeare. The man might been even better versed in the classics, thus all that swapping of Latin tags. (Better to stick with Shakespeare for the sake of our audience )

11:26 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I love that scene in Venetia and stole the idea for Lord Scandal (though I didn't use much Shakespeare, and the topic that runs throughout the book is "sin"; I had a great time tracking down period quotes).

Sayers has all kinds of French and I think some Latin in her books. I just struggle along . . .

12:20 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I adore Venetia and love the quotes! I always think of my characters trading Shakespeare quotes as the way my friends and I trade X-Files and Buffy quotes. (Though we actually trade Shakespeare quotes as well).

Kalen, as a teenager I struggled to translate the French and Latin in Sayers, particularly the bits that are obviously erotic :-).

12:29 PM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

I seem to recall reading that Sayers deliberately didn't provide translations, even indirectly, for her quotations. Slightly obnoxious one-upmanship. For real untranslated filth I've heard the footnotes to Gibbon's Decline and Fall are pretty good.

BTW I've been reading your recent Sayers discussion. I went to the same college so we were all mad keen on her (preferring her to our other most famous alumna Margaret Thatcher ). The dining club at Somerville was named the Shrewsbury after the college in Gaudy Night.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Dorothy Dunnett doesn't provide translations either (fun but maddening). I confess my copy editor suggested I translate the Fraser family motto in Beneath a Silent Moon, and I didn't, because it seemed too obvious.

Very cool about the Somerville dnign club being named Shrewsbury for Gaudy Night. I'd also much prefer to be able to identify with Sayers as an alum than Thatcher. Of course my university has a tower named after Herbert Hoover...

1:15 PM  
Anonymous LizA said...

Hi! Your book sounds lovely - I will definitly have a look for it.
Would you mind sharing the title of the curry book? I love history and Indian food so it sounds like the perfect book to me. Thank you!

1:19 PM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

I adore Dunnett but I often wish she didn't make one work quite so hard.

Liz: The book, which I recently bought from the Oxford Univ. Press sale catalog, is by Lizzie Collingham: Curry, a Tale of Cooks & Conquerors. Full of riveting (to me) information, like Vindaloo curry being a bastardization of a Portuguese dish introduced to India via Goa.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Great conversation -- and very dear to my heart, as my first romance novel, The Bookseller's Daughter, was set in the forbidden book trade in pre-revolutionary France.

Miranda, do you have any plans to write about forbidden or censored books?

And why am I not surprised that our Kalen knows about stuff like "hand set type, etc"

2:18 PM  
Blogger Alexis Lorenz said...

Miranda, your book sounds wonderful! Could you maybe list some of your resources so those of us who are like minded could do some behind the scenes reading? Thanks!

3:16 PM  
Blogger Mary Anne Landers said...

Thank you for your guest blog, Miranda.

" . . . it's very hard to write Regency set stories that are both fresh and (reasonably) authentic. I endeavor to avoid the clichés of the genre: I've taken the no-Almack's pledge, for example." Thank goodness you're taking this approach!

I wish editors and publishers would allow more settings than the three that make up (I estimate) 95% of current historical romances: Regency Britain, Victorian Britain, Georgian Britain. But until they do, it's great for us readers that authors like you look for and write about period themes that are authentic and fascinating, but underused.

My response to the discussion on untranslated foreign-language quotations in English-language texts: You're not the only ones who find them annoying. They used to drive me nuts. But nowadays, hey, isn't that why the Google Translator was invented? Well, maybe not; but still . . . . And after using it frequently, I've gotten to the point where I can actually understand many of the translations!

BTW, this is pretty irrelevant, but it struck me as such a coincidence that you and Tracy Grant have come out with novels set in 1819. I'm now preparing to write a guest blog on Pop Culture Divas about a major British literary figure who wrote most of his best-known works between March and September of that year. Quick, history hoydens; who am I talking about? I'll post the answer here tomorrow evening.

Keep up the good work!

3:51 PM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

I read Pam's The Bookseller's Daughter a long time ago, before I got back into historical romance with the idea of writing and selling one. I picked it up somewhere because of the subject matter and loved it, for the historical background. (And the sex too. I was so happy when I discovered historical romance had progressed beyond Heyer and got sexy).

I've spent quite a lot of time in the British Library reading 18th century porn, mostly French. (Guided by the scholar Robert Darnton whom, I know, Pam has also read). There are brief references to those books in both The Wild Marquis and the next book. However, the book I'm writing now has a hero who collects English poetry and French erotica. I intend to make extensive reference to an unintentionally hilarious book called The Genuine Amours of Peter Aretin, printed in 1797.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

Alexis: I was in the rare book business in the pre-internet age and I have a decent reference library, so much of my research was done at home with resources on hand.

On book collectors: William Younger Fletcher, English Book Collectors. NY 1902, reprinted 1969.

In general, one of my favorite gossipy books is The Dukes, by Brian Masters, a general history of the 26 dukedoms extant when he wrote the book (1980s?). Given that having Duke in the title is supposed to be worth 5000 copies in sales, I don't think one can do without with this one. (I haven't done a Duke yet. I'm saving up.)

4:47 PM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

Mary Anne: I feel I'm beginning to know you well. And we agree on the lack of variety in settings (although I am quite comfortable in the preferred English periods so I have no real reason to complain)

Re. your question. I'm taking a guess at Keats. It has to be someone short-lived and he's the one who immediately comes to mind. Pam and I have corresponded about Bright Star, a lovely movie with absolutely brilliant music.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I agree with Miranda about Keats in answer to Mary Anne's question. Pretty much has to be a poet for him to have written "most of his best-known works between March and September of that year" (unless it was an incredibly prolific novelist or playwright). I still haven't seen "Bright Star"--really need to rent it. 1819 is also the year "Ivanhoe" was published, and the year Queen Victoria was born. I think it's interesting that Miranda chose it so the Napoleonic Wars wouldn't be part of her book, and I chose it because I was writing about the aftermath of the wars.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

Tracy: just because there was no major war going on, it doesn't mean everything was lovely. My next books follows on chronologically from this and touches on the Peterloo Massacre in the summer of 1819. But I wouldn't want to give anyone the impression my books are concerned with weighty matters. They are essentially frivolous.

5:14 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Totally agree, Miranda--there were definitely a lot of serious events happening in 1819, and it's a particularly fascinating year for social unrest. But as you say it is enough after the Napoleonic Wars they don't have to be part of the story. I just thought it was ironic when you mentioned that that I actually set a book there that was rooted in the Napoleonic Wars--but I chose 1819 because I needed time to have passed since Waterloo for my characters to, in effect, think they were "safe" before the past came back to bite them :-).

6:51 PM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

And I certainly didn't mean to imply that wars are forgotten after the last battle is fought and peace signed. On both a personal and socio-political level the consequences are endless.

Have you read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks? A brilliant and incredibly disturbing novel about WWI. The protagonist doesn't speak for something like three years after the war ends. And in the middle east we are still paying for the decisions of the Peace of Versailles.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Barbara E. said...

I was fascinated by your interview Miranda. The Wild Marquis sounds like a wonderful story. I love the premise - it's always fun to see a woman depicted in a regency that has brains and education and can still find love.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I haven't read "Birdsong," Miranda, though it's on my to-read list. I have read Faulks's "Charlotte Grey" (World War II and harrowing) and "On Green Dolphin Street" (1960). He's a wonderful writer.

10:44 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Welcome, Miranda! Thank you for a delightful and witty interview! And I'm looking forward to delving into THE WILD MARQUIS.

5:18 AM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

Hi Barbara. I completely agree. Plenty of Regency women had brains and even education (think of Mr. Darcy's definition of an accomplished woman). The challenge was to find a way to use them to make a living. It's why I find heroines who need to support themselves so interesting to write. I'll admit they inevitably find themselves a rich man in the end. But really, I believe Juliana is going to be happier in the large house in Berkeley Square than in her poky rooms over the shop. One of these days I'm going to blog on the importance of real estate in historical romance. (Back to P&P again: Elizabeth's first sight of Pemberley)

9:29 AM  
Blogger Mary Anne Landers said...

Miranda and Tracy: You answered my trivia question correctly. It was Keats.

Yes, I've seen "Bright Star". But I want to maintain an upbeat tone; and I don't want to spoil the experience of viewing the film for anyone who wants to see it, but hasn't yet. So I'll keep my opinions about it to myself!

5:24 PM  

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