I last interviewed Elisabeth after her sixth book; she’s been busy writing in the mean time and I’m chatting to her this morning about her nineth book, The Merchant’s Secret. Her tenth book is due out soon – see below for further details!
Hi – thanks for giving up some time to chat! I loved the location of The Merchant’s Secret. What inspired you to set this book in Brittany?
Brittany is one of my favourite parts of the world. I’ve been taking my family there on holiday for over a decade. The scenery is stunning with jagged rocks, hidden coves and dramatic clifftop views. There is so much history to discover in the medieval towns and castles. I initially developed the idea when I was on holiday a few years ago. We’d gone to see the area where Chaucer set The Franklin’s Tale with the ‘grisly rokkes blake’ and over a coffee in a particularly windswept café I read in a guidebook about the inhabitants of one village lighting fires in the church to lure ships onto the rocks. Later on, I came across Jeanne de Clisson, the ‘Lioness of Brittany’ and I knew the two ideas would work perfectly together.
Did your research throw up any surprises?
Because Jack has amnesia, I spent a lot of time researching that to make sure it was as accurate as possible. I didn’t want the magic cure-all where he suddenly regains all his memories. I discovered accounts of bilingual people remembering how to speak in both languages even when they couldn’t remember anything personal. It meant that Jack could convincingly not be certain whether he was English or French.
Blanche is a little older than the stereotypical romantic heroine – and she’s had two children. Why did you decide to do this when creating the character?
Creating Blanche was a bit of a reaction to the usual age gap in fiction. Blanche is my oldest heroine but she is also the first one I have written who is older than the hero (by around 5 years, although Jack is never sure how old he is). I’ve come across (and written) numerous books where the hero is older than the heroine so I wanted to reverse that. It is probably down to my own age (though by modern standards Blanche isn’t old at all). Blanche is my second widow but unlike Eleanor in A Wager for the Widow, her marriage had been consummated and she had enjoyed a fulfilling sex life with her first husband and a tolerable if dull one with her second. Lucy in Redeeming the Rogue Knight and Constance in The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge both had very negative experiences of sex before meeting their heroes. I wanted to write a woman who embraced that side of herself fully. I’m almost 45 and have just been confirmed as perimenopausal. I’m done having children and my youngest has just become a teenager. I guess you could say it is wish fulfilment that a younger man might still find an older woman attractive!
You clearly had fun creating Blanche’s alter ego, Bleiz Mor. Tell me a little more about your thinking behind that element of the story.
Originally I toyed with the idea of having a female shipwreck survivor but I like my heroines to be in a stronger position than the men, either by status, wealth or some other advantage. I’m conscious that in the periods I write the power balance was not equal so I think it gives the heroes more to work with if they have the odds stacked against them. Bleiz Mor (the Sea Wolf) was closely based on Jeanne de Clisson. She was a real woman who supported the English during the Breton War of Succession. Like Blanche, she preyed on the French along the coast with a fleet of ships to take revenge for the execution of her husband.
In terms of your writing in general, what comes first for you – the plot or the characters?
It very much varies. In this case as I’ve mentioned, there were the elements of the plot and I had to discover the characters. In my previous book, A Midsummer Knight’s Kiss, Robbie and Rowenna were the children of previous characters from my Danby Brothers series. Readers already knew that Robbie wasn’t Roger Danby’s true son and that his sense of identity would be a key part in the story but I had to decide what to do with them.
What else is in the pipeline?
My tenth book with Mills & Boon/Harlequin comes out in September. The Silk Merchant’s Convenient Wife is a departure for me because it is set in 1851. It is set around the silk manufacturing industry in Macclesfield where I now live so I enjoyed researching local history and finding locations for my hero Jonathan’s mill and Aurelia’s family home.
I’m working on a very exciting project at the moment for my new publisher, One More Chapter. It is set in Occupied France with a heroine working for Special Operations Executive (SOE) undercover as a dancer in a nightclub in Nantes. There’s a love triangle and lots of intrigue. I’m loving the research about life under occupation and the training that agents went through.
And finally – favourite colour wine gum? That’s an easy one. Black.
Excellent choice – everyone loves blackcurrant. Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions, Elisabeth, and good luck with the new books!
The Silk Merchant’s Convenient Wife (September, 2020)
A convenient marriage…
…an inconvenient passion
His parents’ loveless relationship has left silk merchant Jonathan Harcourt suspicious of marriage. But in order to expand his mill and have an heir, he must marry his neighbour Aurelia Upford. Even more surprising than finding himself with a clever, beautiful society wife, is the unexpected passion that flares between them, and the unsettling emotions it leads to. Sharing a bed was part of their arrangement, but can Jonathan risk sharing his heart, too?