Mary Balogh Author Interview

Beloved author Mary Balogh writes sweeping Regency Romances that feature stories about all aspects of life during the era. This month, the author is treating readers to a prequel to one of her most popular series, the Mistress books, with this story about the sister of the original Mistress heroes, Angeline, and the man who wins her heart. Get all the details about The Secret Mistress and then don't miss your chance to find out what's coming next from this talented historical romance author.

RT BOOK REVIEWS: With this July’s The Secret Mistress you give your popular Mistress series a prequel, what prompted you to go back to the beginning?

Mary Balogh: The original Mistress books--More Than a Mistress and No Man's Mistress--were the stories of two brothers. But in both books there is a younger sister, Angeline, who is married to the Earl of Heyward. She is loud and self-contradictory and has atrocious taste in clothes, especially hats. She adores her brothers. Her husband is known to those two as a dry old stick, though both agree that the marriage was a love match. I had no intention of telling Angeline and Heyward's story until readers started to ask for it. Then, of course, I started to wonder myself. What lay behind the flamboyant outer appearance that is Angeline, Lady Heyward? And was Heyward just a dry old stick and no more? How did they meet? More to the point, how on earth did two such seemingly mismatched people come to fall in love? Eventually, after almost ten years, I had to write their book just to find out the answers myself. It is, of course, a prequel to the other two books and therefore shows the two brothers, Jocelyn, Duke of Tresham, and Lord Ferdinand Dudley, at an earlier stage in their lives.

RT:  Your heroine, Angeline, is the younger sister of a duke, but hates the strict rules of society. Which one grates on her the most?

MB: I don't think it's so much that she hates the rules. She is no deliberate rebel. On the contrary, she longs for a respectable husband and a respectable life, quite different from what her family has always known. But she is a Dudley, and Dudleys, she knows, find it difficult to conform to society's rules as other people do. When she sees Tresham, her elder brother, for example, leaving the house for an early ride in Hyde Park on the morning of her presentation to the queen, she cannot resist the temptation to go after him, though she does take a groom with her. He is not in the park as it happens, but her younger brother is and so she joins him and his friends for a ride. And despite the fact that it is raining and the ground is muddy and slick and there are other riders in the area (all male) she cannot resist galloping her horse along Rotten Row and whooping with exuberance as she goes and otherwise making a spectacle of herself.

RT: Your hero, Edward the Earl of Ailsbury, has a reputation for being quite proper. What is the wildest thing he had ever done before Angeline came into his life?

MB: I am not sure Edward has ever done anything wild. He grew up in the shadow of his charismatic but wild and rakish elder brother. He always saw Maurice as irresponsible, especially toward his wife and daughter. He saw the suffering Maurice caused within his family although he was much adored. Edward tried to atone by being very different himself. He is no coward, however. That is proved by the opening incident of The Secret Mistress. He also showed considerable courage a year before the start of the book when he berated the formidable Duke of Tresham (yes, Angeline's brother) for attending Maurice's funeral when it was in a mad curricle race against the duke that Maurice had been killed. 

RT: A hoyden heroine, an old grudge, and a potential fiancé who is everything the heroine isn’t — The Secret Mistress stacks many obstacles between Angeline and Edward. But we want to know what makes this mismatched pair perfect for each other?

MB: Angeline has been surrounded by wild, selfish people all her life. Her father was a rake and neglected his family. Her brothers are rakehells. Her mother, a great beauty, spent most of her time in London with various lovers, neglecting her children at home in the country. All Angeline wants of life when she comes to London for her come-out is to find a husband who is the opposite of her father and brothers. That is what she finds in Edward. She falls in love with him and decides to marry him on her first encounter with him even though at the time she does not even know who he is. Edward spends much of the book disliking and actively avoiding Angeline, who is everything he most disapproves of in a woman. But she is everything he needs. She adds adventure and the unexpected to his life. She brings him fun and ultimately passion. And as he gets to know her, he discovers the lovable, vulnerable side of her character just as she discovers the depths of his.


RT: You often write about Regency families, and so it’s not surprising that you have a large extended family of your own. As both Angeline’s and Edward’s families play a large role in the story, can you share one timeless tip for dealing with family members?

MB: Something it has taken me the best part of a lifetime to learn is that every family member is a distinct and separate person as well as a member of the whole. It seems a rather obvious truth, but it is one thing to know it and quite another to shape one's own life around it. One ought never to expect anyone to behave or believe or think a certain way just because he/she is a member of the family. Accepting one another's differences and uniqueness, one another's right to take whatever path through life that individual chooses, no matter how seemingly disastrous, is one of the best virtues any family member can cultivate. This applies particularly to one's own children, whom one would love to shape into being just the sort of people we think they ought to be!

RT: You have a particular flair for bringing the Regency era to life, what is your favorite part about writing about this time period?

MB: I see the Regency period as a little gem of history between the flamboyant, licentious, brilliant Georgian era before it and the restrictive, heavily respectable, equally brilliant Victorian era after it. I love the structured life of upper class Regency life, the manners and morals, the code of honor--and yet the freedom that could be carved out within the structure. I love taking the challenge of creating characters that can act believably within the structure and yet be strong and independent enough to live lives of their own choosing. It is fun to bend rules without breaking them.

RT: You’ve been a published author since 1985, congratulations! What is the biggest change you’ve seen in readers’ expectations over the years?

MB: It's an interesting question, and there should be all sorts of obvious answers. But I can't think of any! I still know many readers who enjoy my oldest books as much as they do the newest ones, and some who even prefer them. I think readers have always enjoyed a good story and strong, well-developed characters grappling with difficult circumstances in a principled, believable way. Most of all, readers always enjoy a great love story. I don't think much about any of that has changed in 25 years despite all the fashions that have moved in an out of the romance genre. I have always largely ignored fashions and bandwagons and continued to write my historical (usually Regency) love stories. I am sure I would have noticed real differences if I were writing contemporaries, for of course our society has changed enormously in 25 years.

RT BOOK REVIEWS: And finally, even though we know Almost a Gentleman won't be out until next August, are there any details you can share about your next delicious hero Hugo Emes, Lord Trentham?

Mary Balogh: Almost a Gentleman will almost certainly acquire a new title before the book is published. The heroine is Gwen, Lady Muir, who has appeared in a number of my earlier books and whose story many readers have been anticipating for a long time. Hugo Emes, Lord Trentham, is a middle class man who acquired his title as a reward for an act of extraordinary bravery during the Napoleonic Wars. He is uncomfortable with his title and with the fame it has brought him. He is uncomfortable with that act of bravery, which to him did not seem so very brave at all. He has a lot to work out before he can be a happy man capable of love and commitment to a lady of the very upper echelon of society. He is a member of the Survivors' Club, a group of six men and one woman who spent several years together on a country estate in Cornwall recovering from various wounds and experiences in the wars. All of them have issues to be dealt with, and each of them will have a story in a new seven-part series. Hugo's love story with Gwen is the first.

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