Monday, December 27, 2010

Novelist Christine Trent Returns With A ROYAL LIKENESS

I am deighted to welcome back to The Lady Novelist my fellow lady novelist Christine Trent.

Last winter, Christine made her historical fiction debut with THE QUEEN'S DOLLMAKER [you can read her interview about it here], introducing a fascinating heroine, Claudette Laurent, with an unusual profession. Readers, myself included, wanted more. And Christine listened, penning a sort-of sequel, in her second novel, A ROYAL LIKENESS.

As heiress to the famous Laurent Fashion Dolls business, Marguerite Ashby’s future seems secure. But France still seethes with violence in the wake of the Revolution. And when Marguerite’s husband is killed during a riot, the young widow travels to Edinburgh and becomes apprentice to her old friend, Marie Tussaud, who has established a wax exhibition. When Prime Minister William Pitt commissions a wax figure of Admiral Nelson, Marguerite becomes immersed in a dangerous adventure—and earns the admiration of two very different men. And as Britain battles to overthrow Napoleon, Marguerite will find her loyalties under fire from all sides.

A ROYAL LIKENESS is both a love story and a war story. Did you get any flak from your editor about all the battle scenes that would necessarily be involved? If so, was she afraid that readers might not want to read a fairly gritty account of the Battle of Trafalgar, and prefer more bonnets and fewer bullets? Did you ever have those misgivings yourself; and if so, how did you decide to overcome them?

I’m fortunate in my editor at Kensington, Audrey LaFehr, in that she lets me write the book I want to write, and she trusts my judgment. However, I was personally a little challenged by the idea of a scene that was, as you say, gritty in nature. Knowing that I typically don’t read war-type novels myself, I tried to write a major historical naval battle in a way that would be appealing to the average female reader. It’s a little bit feisty heroine, a little bit romance-on-the-high-seas, and just a smidge of stark wartime terror.

One of the many historical figures you incorporate into A ROYAL LIKENESS is Admiral Nelson, the greatest hero of the era, who of course was killed during the Battle of Trafalgar. How much research did you do to create his character?

I tried to use as many of Nelson’s own words as possible in describing his death. My primary source for Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar was Roy Adkins’ NELSON’S TRAFALGAR. In fact, I ended up having to buy this book twice.

Here’s a little known story: I was carrying this book around with me everywhere, and it was filled with post-it notes marking bits of information I wanted to use in my manuscript. I’d left the book on my nightstand on Christmas Eve last year while entertaining guests. I also left the lamp on. After all of my guests left, my husband and I watched television for a couple of hours to unwind, then went to bed. Lo and behold, one of my cats had managed to knock my lamp over, sending it and my book to the floor, with the shade flying off and the bare bulb landing on the book’s cover. It was smoking when I found it, and the book was charred almost halfway through. I was lucky the house didn’t burn down!

I kept the burnt book as a strange sort of souvenir of writing A ROYAL LIKENESS, and bought another copy for finishing my research. I consider it my most dangerous research!

You also bring Nelson’s notorious mistress Lady Emma Hamilton into your story. Offhand, I can think of only one other novelist who wrote a novel about Emma and Nelson—oh, wait—that that was me. :) What was behind your decision to include Emma as a character and how does Emma influence Marguerite in A ROYAL LIKENESS?

Honestly, part of what brought me to using Emma was having read your TOO GREAT A LADY. I thoroughly enjoyed your portrayal of Emma, and adopted your engaging form of her verbal slang. It was easy to slip Emma in, since she once witnessed waxwork monuments made to celebrate Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile, and waxworks play such a large part in the novel.

Sensual, expressive, dependent Emma is a difficult character for independent, feisty Marguerite to understand. I think the two make for interesting opposites.

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

Other than the vastly fascinating Battle of Trafalgar, the other very interesting area my research led me into was early 19th century entertainment. The typical Regency novel is full of card parties, meetings at gentlemen’s clubs, and dances at the local assembly rooms for the well-to-do, but I discovered that there were many entertainments on par with today’s carnivals, theatres, and stage shows.

Most obvious to the novel were the waxworks shows that were sometimes in permanent locations, or, in the case of Madame Tussaud, traveling exhibits. Waxworks exhibits were popular with aristocrats and commoners alike, and shrewd entrepreneurs like Tussaud would set up separate opening times – and admission fees – to service both classes of society.

I also learned about Phantasmagorias, which were wonderful projections of light and shadows using something called a “magic lantern” in order to resemble spirits, ghosts, and other figures. The Phantasmagoria show was the pre-cursor to today’s modern moving pictures.

Another fascinating entertainment that surfaced in my research was the geggy performance. These were traveling theater performances under big tents. Sort of like Shakespeare in the Park meets the Ringling Brothers Circus. They were very popular in Scotland.

A ROYAL LIKENESS is more or less a sequel to THE QUEEN’S DOLLMAKER, but was there anything else that sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

When my editor said she wanted a sequel to THE QUEEN’S DOLLMAKER, I knew Marguerite’s story was the one that needed to be told. I also knew there were some delicious characters, including famed waxworker Madame Tussaud and everyone’s favorite loathsome aristocrat, Nathaniel Ashby, who deserved more stage space than they received in THE QUEEN’S DOLLMAKER.

Many readers are interested in the writer’s process. Each of us has her own roadmap and toolkit that leads us to the finished manuscript. I happen to know that you are the Queen of the Spreadsheet. Can you explain how you use the technique to outline your novel?

This is a crown I proudly wear. :) I tend to plot my books out in heavy detail prior to sitting down and writing the first chapter. Once I know exactly what the story will look like I open my infamous writing spreadsheet. I calculate roughly how many words I think the manuscript will be (about 3,000 words for every page of synopsis). Then I figure out how long it will take to write my book if I write 5,000 words per week consistently. For each day of writing, I drop in the number of words written, and the spreadsheet tracks what I’ve written by day and by week, and how many words I have left to complete the manuscript. It also gives me good stats on what my best writing day tends to be (Sunday), and what my worst day is (Wednesday). It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to see my total number of words going up as I march towards my goal. It also keeps me from falling too far behind.

I know there are writers out there grinding their teeth to read about my obsessive-compulsive process. I know how to take all the fun out of things!

What are you currently reading? On balance, how much would you say you read for pleasure and how much for research—or is there a constant overlap? Do you (like I) actually find research pleasurable, depending on the subject?

Actually, I keep my research books completely separated from my pleasure reading books. Pleasure reading books stay upstairs, all research remains downstairs. As my deadlines begin to run closer and closer together, I find that I have less time for pleasure reading. After a day of staring at the computer screen and poring through maps, papers, and research books, it’s hard to have the energy to pleasure read.

That said, I’m just now starting Ken Follett’s latest, FALL OF GIANTS. I’ve also kept up with the latest from Alison Weir (CAPTIVE QUEEN) and Philippa Gregory (THE WHITE QUEEN, THE RED QUEEN), and I continue to order books that pile up on my nightstand!

What are you working on now and what can we expect to see from you next?

I’ve just wrapped up my next novel, tentatively titled THE PRINCE’S PAVILION, about a cloth merchant named Annabelle Stirling. Thanks to her patron and great architect, John Nash, Belle Stirling is a rising star in the homes of London’s fashionable elite. Even the Prince Regent wants her elegant, high quality fabrics used in the decoration of his new palace, Brighton Pavilion. But when those closest to her conspire against Parliament, she risks losing her reputation, her business. . .and even her life.

This story will be a look at the Regency England you’ve never known: the exploding cloth manufacturing industry, the deadly Luddite riots, and the radical Cato Street Conspiracy all play parts in the novel.

Next up, I’m working on a novel that will take place in Victorian England. You can expect a heroine with an unusual profession….and an unusual hobby. Stay tuned!

Please visit for more information about Christine’s books.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

And the winner is...



Sunday, September 26, 2010


It's the story

Of a babe named Abby

Who is hooking up nice boys

With lovely girls.

She has blonde hair,

Like the old TV show;

(She's not the one with curls).

It's the story

of a chick named Leslie

Who was once a single actress in New York;

But in her novel,


the boyfriend was a dork.

So, it all began when the lovely Jennifer of Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating & Marriage contacted me out of the blue and told me that she and her sister are huge fans of my novel TEMPORARY INSANITY. Who knew? Then she made me an offer I couldn't refuse...

Win a pair of tickets to an Off-Broadway show and an autographed copy of one of my novels!

The clever folks who have brought MISS ABIGAIL to Off-Broadway and I have teamed up; and one of my blog readers will win a voucher for a free pair of tickets to the show!

Not only that, the lucky winner will also receive an autographed copy of one of my novels about dating, mating, and marriage ... titled HERSELF.

The MISS ABIGAIL voucher is valid for Thursday and Friday performances at 8pm; Wed. matinees at 2pm; Saturday performances at 2pm and 5pm; and Sunday performances at 3pm and 7:30pm. The voucher expires on November 28, 2010.

MISS ABIGAIL'S GUIDE... is performed at Sofia's Downstairs Theater, 221 West 46th St. , NYC., right in the heart of the theater district.

The contest is open until October 15, 2010 at midnight, in order to give the winner ample time to redeem his or her voucher. Yes, you are responsible for getting yourself to NYC!

To enter: please submit your name and an email address where I can contact you. I will be contacting the winner to get your snail mail address to send you the ticket voucher and your autographed. book. To add to the fun, when you post your entry, tell me who you'd bring as your guest to MISS ABIGAIL'S GUIDE TO DATING, MATING, & MARRIAGE -- and why! :)

If you become a follower of this blog, or already are a follower, you get an additional chance. If you tweet about the contest, you get an additional entry, and if you post about it on Facebook, you get an additional chance as well!

Good luck to all!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Leslie Carroll's interview on NPR's TRAVEL WITH RICK STEVES

The marvelous and engaging Rick Steves, travel guru extraordinare, interviewed me in March 2010 about traveling in the footsteps of famous royals. It was a marvelous opportunity to discuss my 2010 nonfiction release, NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES, and thanks to the broadcast, my book sales have skyrocketed.

The interview aired in mid-August 2010.

Here's the link to the interview. Please note that via the magic of Mr. Steves' editing, my segment is preceded, quite serendipitously, by an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE, which was adapted into a major (and just released) motion picture, starring Julia Roberts.

Leslie Carroll's interview on Rick Steves' travel program on NPR: with the extras, including a discussion of Princess Diana, at

Enjoy -- and may you be tempted to hop on the next plane for your favorite palace!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

BY A LADY the subject of academic discourse? What Would Jane Say?

Every author I know can't resist the temptation to Google herself from time to time. And if she says she doesn't, chances are she's either shading the truth or has a core of steel.

As Oscar Wilde famously said, "the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. I can resist anything but temptation." But this reaction often exacts a price. Sometimes, we're not so thrilled with what we find online when we search our names or book titles. Other times we're delighted -- for example, when we find terrific reviews posted by book bloggers we had heretofore not known about.

And sometimes we're confused, bemused, and amused, or some mash-up of all three emotions.

An old friend recently emailed me to ask if I knew that my novel BY A LADY: Being the Adventures of an Enlightened American in Jane Austen's England (written under the pen name Amanda Elyot), was mentioned in the new nonfiction book by Claire Harman, JANE'S FAME. Harman's title says it all. And my book merits a mention from Ms. Harman among the crop of novels inspired by Austen's writing, or her very existence.

A subsequent Google search of my book title revealed that it is also the subject of discussion in a Spring 2010 article by Juliette Wells included in Persuasions online, the web version of the academic house organ published by the venerable Jane Austen Society of North America. The topic is Jane as a fictional character.

Few people know the lengthy and often fraught trajectory my manuscript took from conception to publication, so it feels rather odd (a) that the novel, or even I as an author, carries the sort of weight that makes it worthy for academic discussion; and (b) that a scholar can dissect what I had intended as a literary romp, absent deliberate social commentary on the life and works of my favorite author and attribute to it concepts or intentions that, well, had not occured to the author herself.

This author, I mean. Not Jane. Yet all I could think when I read Ms. Wells's essay (did she choose to include BY A LADY because my heroine's surname is Welles?) is What Would Jane Think? Because this sort of scholarly analysis is precisely what we do with Austen's own work. Or Shakespeare's for that matter. Or any number of famous (and, often, mostly dead) writers.

Please don't imagine that I think for even a nanosecond, that I deserve to be in the hallowed pantheon inhabited by the likes of Austen and Shakespeare. Or that I am in any way knocking Ms. Wells's intriguing essay. I was just gobsmacked to find my novel discussed as part of an academic topic in such a rarefied forum as the JASNA world stage. Ditto for the mention in Ms. Harman's well reviewed study of Jane's evergreen allure.

BY A LADY was born from an experience I had performing the role of Jane Austen in a beautiful two-character drama written by Howard Fast, a prolific novelist himself. I was so inspired by Fast's script, and the set and costume design of our production that I could not help thinking "what if" I were to be transported back in time to Jane's era. The photograph that forms this blog's banner is of me, playing Jane.

The very notion of writing a time-travel (and I began to write the manuscript way ahead of the Jane-Austen-as-a-meta-character-curve in late 1998, finishing it in the early months of 1999) in itself (so I believe, anyway) telegraphs to the reader that because we are in an alternate universe, that universe is intended to be a fairly fun place to inhabit as a reader, even if it is not exactly a walk in the park for my heroine).

I had researched the era, manners, mores, fashions, etc., but the tip of my tongue (though not all of it) was in my cheek. My original title, SENSE AND SENSUALITY, supported that premise. I was having a lark and hoped that readers would enjoy the novel in a spirit of fun. This is precisely why I'm sort of tickled to find BY A LADY analyzed for the author's motivations and intentions as though it was MANSFIELD PARK.

Nowadays, I could throw in a few zombies, sea monsters, and werewolves and probably waltz all the way to the bank (or at least the bookstores) with it. But because my manuscript was mining new literary territory at the time, it took half a dozen years for BY A LADY to reach the shelves. My stellar agent Irene Goodman submitted it to numerous editors, all of whom rejected it for various reasons, most of which had to do with the fact that they didn't know where a major bookstore chain would shelve it, and therefore, how the publishing house should market it.

The process began a dozen years ago; we were way ahead of the Jane as a fictional (though supporting) character/time travel curve. Editors would ask: Is this a romance? Is this historical fiction? Is this a paranormal? Before they would consider publication, a few editors requested rewrites from me, the better to fit it into a more specific niche. The manuscript went through myriad incarnations as I twisted myself into a pretzel to give them what they'd asked for.

My favorite rejection letter came from one of the business's top romance editors, someone I admired (and still admire and adore). Ironically, a few years later we ended up working together in a different fictional genre. But her rejection letter contained the sort of sentence that authors always remember: she wrote something along the lines of "this has the most sensuous love scene I have ever read..." Then she wrote that they nonetheless had to reject the manuscript because they didn't know what to do with it.

My response? The little voice that remained inside my head replied, "Publish it!"

In any case, what ultimately became BY A LADY was a romance and a paranormal (time-travel) and a work of historical fiction. And the road to publication widened several years later when the meta-Austen curve that I had been traversing began to resemble a straightaway, with other referential novels pouring over publishers' transoms.

So I just thought I'd share the backstory of BY A LADY, in case people are curious, after reading any of the recent references to the novel online or in print. It still feels truly weird to me to find my little literary volume a subject of scholarly analysis. I have to say, I'm strangely flattered to have been invited to the party even if the hostess may not be entirely sure what I'm wearing.

Has anyone else been the subject of an academic discussion? I'd love to hear your reaction to it.

P.S. Amanda is available for interviews.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Land of Misfit Toys

I've always rooted for the underdog. My heart melts into a puddle at the sight (or even the mention) of something someone else derides. If it's a team, I'm inclined to support it. If it's a toy, I'll surely want to hug it. If it's a book, I'll likely want to read it.

And I can never get through an annual viewing of the yuletide television perennial "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" without wanting to adopt every single one of the playthings that have been deemed (by society? Santa Claus?) "misfits."

So, as the calendar says we're closer to Valentines Day or St. Paddy's than Christmas, why do I have Rudolph's plastic and furry pals on the brain?

Spring Cleaning (and that phrase always makes me think of another classic -- James Barrie's Peter Pan) is coming early to my house. We're doing a major de-clutterfying and I am discovering things I haven't used, or even seen, for years, and forgot I owned. That qualification would seem to make the item destined for either the scrap heap or the thrift shop.

I have no problem consigning my husband's area rugs to that category, but when I come across an old and beloved childhood toy -- the long-since-bald doll, the one with now-wonky legs, or the stuffed animal that has so many patches it's hard for a civilian to tell what species it once represented, a current interpretation of a "misfit toy," I can't imagine doing anything but wanting to love it.

So, as we're about to stare down another blizzard here in NYC, I raise my iced coffee glass to Spring Cleaning and the re-discovery of Misfit Toys. You gotta love 'em.

Monday, January 11, 2010

THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS: A Mottley Crew of Vibrant Characters

My own book research offers me scant opportunities for pleasure reading these days, but I knew that THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS was a novel that wouldn't wait for my schedule. My hunch was correct. It's a triple whammy in my wheelhouse: historical fiction, the 18th century, and the Theatre; and I can't remember the last time I could not bear to put a novel down.

Innocence is lost; retribution won. Worlds collide with noisy bursts of energy in the late Peter Mottley's novel, THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS, the first in a trilogy loosely based on the series of paintings titled "A Harlot's Progress," painted by William Hogarth in 1731.

Hogarth's Moll Hackabout is transformed into "Yorkshire Molly" Huckerby, who arrives in London intending to meet her cousin, a magistrate, with the hope of marrying him. But when the York Wagon dumps her outside The Bell, what she is led to believe is a coaching inn for weary wayfarers, she is seduced by The Bell's bawd, Mrs. Wickham, and subsequently ravished by the evil Colonel Charnell. With her stolen maidenhead went her reputation. Thrust into the life of a destitute, demoralized and debauched harlot, Molly embarks on a series of unexpected adventures belied by Mottley's classic set-up of country lass thrust into a life of vice upon her first visit to the big city.

Mottley is a master at world building, with an uncanny ear for period dialogue. His pages teem with sensuality, from the odors of ordure and vomit to the perfumed periwigs of playgoers. Sweat mingles with saliva in the haze of candlelight. His London is a place of heavy velvets, cheap cottons, gossamer thin lace and linen, the topography of a heavily embroidered cuff.

His heroes and heroines are the disenfranchised -- those who society does not permit to speak up, for whom justice is denied, those who the "quality" gentry has either forgotten or despised (or both): harlots, blacks, children, Jews.

His villains are society's sacred cows -- the military, the clergy, and the judiciary. But in THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS, we are shown the underbellies of the beasts; their dark side: corruption; vice; hypocrisy.

Peter Mottley was a playwright, actor, and director and employs his theatrical experiences and background to great advantage here. He doesn't miss the chance to incorporate specific play titles and glimpses at life backstage (including a running gag involving a pair of actors desperate to finish fornicating before their cue). In one scene the rutting leading man complains at having to play Macheath in John Gay's "The Beggars Opera" because he thinks it will ruin his reputation. It's another allusion of Mottley's, an inside joke in our theatre world: "Satire is what closes on Saturday night."

Other aficionados of classical theatre, particularly the plays of Shakespeare, Vanbrugh, and Gay, may see certain scenes coming a mile away; I'm thinking of one in particular. I'd correctly surmised what was about to happen, and yet Mottley sufficiently builds the tension, as well as our sympathy for the right characters, that you find yourself drawn in, fingers shielding your eyes as you peep through them at the scene you knew would take place, but dread watching.

Yes, there are a few implausible elements within the novel: for an early 18th century Yorkshire farm girl Molly is awfully well educated (she's familiar with the story of Leda and the Swan -- yet [as might be expected] has never heard of Tarquin and Lucrece). Colonel Charnell's wife was an heiress when she married him (for love), admitting that he had only been a captain at the time. Yet seventeenth- and eighteenth-century marriages were financial arrangements, and unless she'd managed to get pregnant out of wedlock, her father would never have allowed such a marriage to take place. Lavish gowns are stitched up in less than a day. In truth, the turnaround time at best might have been a few days, with the modiste's entire staff hard at work on the creations.

But these are quibbles. And most readers wouldn't even know that Mottley had cut a few corners. Better to focus on the quirks he gives his characters: a hunchbacked Jewish moneylender has more humanity than most people in London; a childlike harlot who routinely adopts the names of Shakespearean heroines, dreams of a stage career (astute readers would grasp the unexpressed irony here: actors were considered no better than harlots in that era!)

If only Mottley had lived to see THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS published. But his daughter, Jocelyn Pulley, to whom the novel is dedicated, has recorded a book trailer with such tremendous expressiveness and gusto that you'll be panting for your copy to arrive in the mail!

This is not your candy-colored Georgian novel. THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS: Yorkshire Molly is properly bawdy and sordid, gritty, grimy, violent and vibrant -- yet ultimately, incandescently, hopeful.