It’s a truth universally acknowledged that American readers have long been fascinated with stories featuring their British cousins. We gathered together six inspirational authors who set their novels across the pond in all different historical eras to get the inside scoop on their latest releases.
What drew you to choose the setting of this novel? What about it interests you?
Roseanna M. White: I’d gotten to know the Edwardian era while writing my previous series and fell in love with the time period—the world was really in a unique place, where the old traditions were still lingering, but new technology was quickly gaining a place. We have both automobiles and horse-drawn carriages, electricity in some places but by no means all, and still a startling gap in England between the upper class and the average person. I love exploring this meeting of old and new, in those years when the world was on the cusp of a revolution of ideas as well. Sensibilities were changing, and the world was beginning to be what we’d term “modern,” but there was still that charming something of an era gone by.
Julie Klassen: I chose to set the first book in the series in a Regency coaching inn typical of the period. In the early nineteenth century, before the advent of trains, the lifeblood of many small villages were their coaching inns. In this era, stage and mail coaches were the primary means of travel, and they stopped at coaching inns along the way to change horses, let passengers take a meal, or stay the night. Coaching inns were restaurant, hotel, “train” station, travel agency, livery, and repair shop, all rolled into one. I think it’s a wonderful setting for a series, providing a backdrop for a cast of regulars who work at or frequent the inn, as well as for new people who are traveling through.
Julianna Deering: I’ve always loved the classic mysteries written in the 1920s and ’30s, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham and Dorothy L. Sayers especially. And, being a writer, I couldn’t help trying my hand at something in this genre. My main character for the series, Drew Farthering, is the hero-sleuth I just wanted to read about. He’s handsome and wealthy, stylish and very British. He’s got just a touch of angst about his past, but not enough to keep him from being great fun.
Jennifer Delamere: I love the Victorians! People often think of them as stodgy and repressed, but the more I’ve read about them, I think a better description of them is energetic, inquiring, and multitalented. Their industry and inventiveness was incredible. They gave us much of the world we know today. While writing THE CAPTAIN’S DAUGHTER, I enjoyed pondering the events that would have taken place during the timeline of my characters’ lives. When they were born (in the 1850s), the railways, telegraph, and photography were still new. By 1879, when the book takes place, telephones and electric lights were just becoming established. In the not-too-distant future would come the use of bicycles as common transportation and the invention of the motorcar. Even the London Underground, which we think of as a modern invention, was already running and had several lines. Career choices for women were opening up too, which I will explore in this series. I hope to take people beyond the stereotypical view of the Victorians and show how they were like us in so many ways.
Kate Breslin: When planning HIGH AS THE HEAVENS, I wanted to write about WWI, but not focusing on the trenches, so I chose instead for my setting a large, cultural city like Brussels—which happened to be occupied by the German army. The Great War often conjures images of soldiers fighting in the trenches or Red Cross nurses tirelessly tending wounded behind the front lines. Their loss and suffering are by no means insignificant, but I hope readers will gain insight into the lives of others who aided in the war effort—civilians forced to live under German occupation, who often starved and endured hardship and abuse yet fought the enemy by whatever means they could.
Kristi Ann Hunter: The Regency era is a time of great transition in England. The hierarchy of society was being challenged by a rising middle class while the industrial revolution challenged everything else about life’s status quo. A spiritual shift was rising as well, making way for the Great Awakening of the mid-1800s. All of this change makes anything possible, which makes it a great time to set a story.
What’s an interesting fact you came across and included in the novel?
Roseanna M. White: Quite a few interesting facts actually inspired the novel! The first was that King George V changed his name during World War I from the German Saxe-Coburg to the English-sounding Windsor. It made me wonder if other people of German heritage may have done the same. That combined in my head with what I’d learned about how England employed artists and writers and musicians during the war to include propaganda messages in their artwork, and suddenly I had my hero, a novelist of German descent writing under a pen name.
Julie Klassen: My favorite kind of research is travel to England, of course, but second to that would be attending events like the national conference of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Because I write novels set in the Regency time period when Austen’s novels were published, I see the conference as a chance to conduct research and spend time with fellow Austen enthusiasts. Workshops on topics like English country dance, village life, crime, carriage travel, the military, marriage law, tea, and fashion all help me learn more about the era and sometimes spark story ideas. Other highlights of the conference included dancing at a ball in my Regency gown, and attending a 19th century church service—a chance to not only study the period, but to “live” it!
Julianna Deering: As a tip of the cap to possibly the most famous moor story there is, I couldn’t resist throwing in a little bit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. In my research, I found that according to legend, the barghest was a huge black hound that haunted crossroads where gibbets used to stand, a portent of death for anyone who saw him. And if he was seen lying across a threshold, it meant someone in that house was soon to die. Though it most often took the form of a large black dog with fiery eyes, sometimes it was headless or invisible and walked the night with the sound of rattling chains. Legends vary about the appearance and meaning of this specter, some even claiming a sighting was a sign of good fortune to come. I enjoyed adding aspects of this very British superstition to my story.
Jennifer Delamere: My primary inspiration for this series came from reading a biography of George Müller, who opened an orphanage in Bristol, England, in the 1840s. He never solicited donations or money; he was a man of fervent prayer and believed God would always provide. In time his work grew, along with the buildings, until by the end of the century the orphanage was caring for over 2,000 children! Supported only by faith and prayer, they provided a tangible example of God’s faithfulness to answer prayer and care for His people. That’s when the idea for this series was born. It follows three sisters who were raised in Müller’s orphanage. They each come to London to begin a new life, and each will find their trust in God tested and strengthened by the obstacles they must overcome.
Kate Breslin: I enjoy weaving intrigue into my stories, and so the spy craft of the Great War was my inspiration for writing HIGH AS THE HEAVENS. During my research on the real WWI Belgian underground network, La Dame Blanche, I was tantalized by the notion that secret agents like 007 worked in Belgium and France over one hundred years ago! I was amazed at their daring and sacrifice, and the courage of so many other French and Belgians who risked their lives collaborating with the British Secret Service to aid the Allies during the war.
Kristi Ann Hunter: For AN INCONVENIENT BEAUTY I learned a lot about the British Parliament and how it worked as well as how the end of the war impacted society. While bit and pieces of the fascinating law-making process were slipped in here and there, the most distinct moment in history that I borrowed was the way the Prince Regent was notified of Napoleon’s surrender. A soldier arrived at a ball the prince was attending, dirt and blood still adorning his uniform, with two golden eagles captured from Napoleon’s troops. That scene, with a good bit of creative license since my characters weren’t actually there, is included in the book.
If you’re a fan of British fiction as well, be sure to enter the giveaway of all of these authors’ latest books. Then settle down with a nice cup of tea and a good book—happy reading!