Series: Lady Helen #1
Published by HarperCollins Australia on December 14, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson
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London, April 1812. Lady Helen Wrexhall is set to make her debut at the court of Queen Charlotte and officially step into polite Regency society and the marriage mart. Little does Helen know that step will take her from the opulent drawing rooms of Mayfair and the bright lights of Vauxhall Gardens into a shadowy world of missing housemaids and demonic conspiracies.
Standing between those two worlds is Lord Carlston, a man of ruined reputation and brusque manners. He believes Helen has a destiny beyond the ballroom; a sacred and secret duty. Helen is not so sure, especially when she discovers that nothing around her is quite as it seems, including the enigmatic Lord Carlston.
Against a backdrop of whispered secrets in St James's Palace, soirees with Lord Byron and morning calls from Beau Brummell, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club is a delightfully dangerous adventure of self-discovery and dark choices that must be made ... whatever the consequences.
Happy release day to the regency supernatural fantasy, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club! Today I welcome Alison Goodman to the blog, to talk to about her writing process and inspiration for the book!
What research went into creating the regency period for Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club?
You should see my workroom: there are stacks of newspapers and magazines from 1812, at least forty books about the Regency, monthly calendars, moon phase charts, and weather reports stuck to the walls, bonnets, gloves, a pair of regency boots, and loads of pictures of carriages, regency hairstyles, reticules and beautiful gowns. Not to mention a wardrobe full of real gowns, pelisses, and petticoats!
When I first got the idea for the Lady Helen trilogy, I decided to set all three books during one year in the Regency: 1812. I also decided to make the books as historically accurate as possible and to weave real historical events and people into the stories, including Lord Byron, Queen Charlotte and the Prince Regent. That meant I needed to do an enormous amount of research into both the everyday lives of the Regency upper class, and also into those historical events that touch Helen’s life. It took me about eight months of solid research just to understand enough about the era to feel I could start writing with any authority.
I have two methods of historical research. The first method is all about reading. I get my hands on as many history books as I can to get an overview of the era. Once I have read those, I then read primary source material from the time such as letters, diaries, magazines, newspapers, novels and journals. The second method is called immersive research and it is all about collecting sensory information to help me build a richly observed world for the reader. For the Lady Helen novels I have learned how to Regency dance so that I could describe how it felt to dance those elegant figures. I commissioned a seamstress to sew historically accurate stays, gowns, pelisses and spencer jackets for me, and I have worn them all day to understand what it felt like to wear such restrictive clothing (it is quite hard to run and kick in a Regency gown!). I’ve watched countless documentaries, made my own bonnets, tasted Regency dishes, attended Regency balls, ridden in a horse drawn carriage, and visited England to walk along the same streets that Lady Helen walks in the novels. It all helps me to create a vivid and sensory Regency world for the reader. And, frankly, it is enormous fun too!
Despite struggling against the constraints of her society, Lady Helen still manages to be relatable to the reader. How does she maintain a strong persona during the regency period?
Helen’s life at the beginning of Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club is very constrained. Although she is privileged, she has no real freedom; she cannot even step outside her front door without being accompanied by a maid. She has precious little privacy, no access to her own wealth (a woman could not own anything other than her personal belongings), and she is expected to be “ornamental”, compliant and to marry for social and financial standing. At the time, it was inconceivable for a lady of her class to work for a living, so Helen’s life options are severely limited. While these constraints may seem a bit alien to a modern reader, the essence of Helen’s situation—the expectations placed upon her as a young woman and her search for her true path in life—still resonate today. I think Helen’s strength comes from her curiosity, innate compassion, adaptability, and her rather dry sense of humour. She can see the absurdities in life, and is willing to laugh at herself.
What interests you about the supernatural, and how are the powers portrayed in the book?
For me, the supernatural has always been a fascinating way of expressing our wonderment and fear of the unknown and the conflicting forces within ourselves. I’ve created my own demons in the Lady Helen books, and they are based on the yearnings of humanity. The Regency era was a time of great excess and turmoil—the divide between the rich and poor was huge, the country was at war, there was a great deal of civil unrest and…everyone was shopping! Sound familiar? I wanted to use the supernatural element to help mirror our own society within Lady Helen’s Regency world. The supernatural powers are also based within a Regency context. For example, some of the powers are generated through the body’s electricity. However, electricity itself was a very new concept in the Regency, so I had to be careful about how my characters talked about it, and I had to make sure I framed the descriptions according to how they would have thought the world worked.
Who is the heroine, Lady Helen inspired by?
Although it was not conscious, I suspect the creation of Lady Helen has been inspired by Lizzie Bennet and some of the Georgette Heyer heroines like Sophy from The Grand Sophy and Abigail from The Black Sheep: all intelligent young women, and all possessing a good sense of humour. I have a particular way of building my characters. I start by thinking about two or three main events in their past that have affected them the most. Those events become the building blocks of their personality and motivations. I also look at what the story needs, and it then becomes an organic give-and-take between the characters I am creating and the requirements of the story. Sometimes I have to nudge the story into a slightly different direction because a character could only make a certain decision according to their personality and motivations. Other times I shift a character’s background story (and thus their motivations) a little in order for plot cohesion. Nothing is ever set in stone—everything is always, to a certain degree, in flux until the book is typeset and sent out into the world.
What did you love about writing the novel?
I love most of the elements of writing a novel and each part has its own delights. The planning stage has all the thrill of the what if’s and maybe this would work. I also really like to think about structure so I spend a lot of time creating a storyboard to ensure that the plot and its causal links are strong. The actual writing is wonderful—finding the right voice and tone, creating the world, using some delicious old words from the era, and building emotion and meaning for the reader. And finally, there is always the rewriting. That is when the real story crafting happens. It is a chance to hone the characterization, story and thematic lines. All of these stages have their challenges as well, but overall it is a joy to be able to write every day about characters that I love and an era that fascinates me.
What do we have to look forward to in future books?
I’ve just finished writing Book 2 in the trilogy, which is set in Brighton during the summer social season. I can’t really say much about it because I’ll quickly get into spoiler territory for Book 1. Perhaps I can hint that things get more and more heated…in so many different ways! I’m about to start writing Book 3, which is set in Bath during the winter social season. In the meantime, I’m writing a short adventure story that is also set in the Regency called “The Benevolent Society of Ill Mannered Ladies” for a new anthology of adventure stories called And Then…The Great Big Book of Awesome Adventure Tales which will be published next year by Clandestine Press.
Thanks for your time and insight into Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club!
About the Author
Alison is the author of the upcoming Lady Helen series, a rip-roaring trilogy of Regency adventures. The first book–The Dark Days Club–is due for release in January 2016. Alison is best known for her New York Times bestselling fantasy duololgy EON and EONA, and her ability to dance a mean English contra-dance. She also writes award winning science fiction and crime fiction, and lives with her lovely husband and their machiavellian Jack Russell Terrier in Melbourne, Australia.
Follow the rest of the tour:
- YA Midnight Reads shares Alison Goodman’s tips on writing
- Thoughts by J shares 10 Things a Regency Lady is Not Allowed to Do (Guest Post)
Thank you to HarperCollins Australia for organising this blog tour!