Author Eve Edwards shares an insider's look at her new novel, The Other Countess, in this author interview. Find out what it was like to create this historical series starter, what you can expect to find in the next installment of the series — and how to win your own SIGNED copy of this new release!
RT BOOK REVIEWS: From the back cover of The Other Countess, readers know that Ellie is beautiful, penniless, and feisty. But which three traits would Ellie use to describe herself?
Eve Edwards: She would definitely include “penniless”—this weighs heavily on her mind. “At her wits end” (with her gold-mad father), and mercifully “still with a sense of humour” despite the first two.
RT: Ellie and Will have a run-in during the first few pages of the story because of her father’s study of alchemy, which Will’s family will no longer support. How does this initial interaction shape Ellie’s understanding of Will?
EE: She sees him from a huge disadvantage—like a grade-school child looking at a dauntingly attractive high school boy. She is a 12-year-old girl living on the edge of the household; he 14 and just become the Earl of Dorset. To her, he has all the power, could save or ruin her father, and is so far above them on the social scale that her neck would get a crick in it just looking up to see him. Her response is anger and fear when she and her father are told to pack their bags and hit the road. When she sees Will later, though she now better understands his perspective, she is still waiting to duck the next blow he might deal her family fortunes, so the sunny start to the romance threatens to cloud over at any moment.
RT: Ellie and Lady Jane are such complex characters, where did you get your inspiration for them?
EE: Ellie grew in place—I wanted someone who was bright, funny, and talented, but put in a position where she had to struggle to survive her bad parenting, like many a young person today who deals with an adult with an addiction of some kind. Lady Jane is a slightly different story. She began as the “blonde bitch” and I had a “whoa” moment when I decided she was becoming too much of a cliché. What if, I asked myself, she was also a heroine, flawed but with enough of her own story to make her lift off the page? I went back and rewrote her, falling for her myself, so much so that she becomes the centre of the next book, The Queen’s Lady.
RT: When you first began The Other Countess, did you originally plan for Ellie and Will’s romance to work out?
EE: Yes, I wanted to head for a happy ending, but I purposely kept back giving them everything. This is not a perfect fairy tale—she does not suddenly inherit a fortune or he become fabulously rich. They do give up something and sacrifice the future of other family members to be together. I hope it strikes the reader as more real that way.
RT: Ellie becomes part of Queen Elizabeth’s Court. What is a piece of advice that makes her life there easier?
EE: My first thought is “don't go there!”—it is a famously dangerous place to be as the monarch had a temper. Less murderous than her sister, however Elizabeth did box the ears of those she did not like. The best advice is to pretend to be rich and never talk about religion unless you say “I believe as the Queen herself believes”—that is the only “safe” answer.
RT: What do you think would be the biggest challenge for a modern girl transported back to Elizabethan times? What about for an Elizabethan girl who found herself in contemporary England?
EE: Modern girl: Lack of comfort, definitely—you’d be cold, feel trussed up in the clothes, and want far more baths than were permissible. You also feel decidedly odd not wearing panties (petticoats only)! I think an Elizabethan girl would be overwhelmed by the sensory input of the 21st century—communications, transport, and so many people. I think we would appear mad to her, all talking into boxes in our hands.
RT: Even though your stories are set in the Tudor time period, your characters often deal with issues that we find in today’s society—for example, James suffers from PTSD, which, of course, they didn’t call it back then. Do you find your readers being able to relate to your books because of several universal themes?
EE You’ve spotted a really central aspect to my writing. These experiences existed—PTSD, gambling addictions, credit crisis, dangerous sports—but without the modern label. I like weaving them into the story as way of reaching back across time to find common ground with our ancestors. Sometimes I do it for comic affect, such as when Will and his brothers have a post-match analysis in the bath with a beer and a grumble about the referee. The more things change, the more they stay the same. . . .
RT: To research your historical novels you’ve visited Tudor homes, attended jousts, and eaten at Elizabethan banquets. What would you say has been the most informative research experience?
EE: There is a Tudor house in Suffolk, England, called Kentwell Hall that devotes weeks each year to living in a certain year during the 16th century. If you visit, you can talk to the cooks, weavers, gardeners, lords and ladies, etc. They all speak as close to original Tudor English as they can and stay completely in role. It is a brilliant recreation of what life would have been like back then in one of the big houses. I learned so much from visiting this many times.
RT: You reside in Oxford, England, how do you think this story would differ if you lived somewhere else?
EE: My daily life is lived among buildings that have survived civil wars and a multitude of monarchs. Every day I cycle past a memorial to three victims of Queen Mary’s purge. I imagine this weaves itself into my books without me even realizing it! So, yes, Oxford is the background against which I am always writing. I think I’d struggle to evoke the same sights and sounds in Manhattan, for example.
RT: You write about actual historical figures, how do you try to insure that your fictionalized account is accurate—or are you more of an “artistic license” writer?
EE: I’m more a writer of the gaps. My history is as accurate as I can make it, but my family is fictitious and I slip them into what I think is a plausible space in history. I borrow real people, but only in contexts in which they could possibly be there. I like to nibble at the fringes of real events—war with Spain, founding of the first American Colony, crisis over Mary Queen of Scots—and explore what people might have felt being part of them.
RT: You write both adult and YA fiction. How does your writing process change when switching between the two?
EE: I suppose it is something of a sliding scale. Clearly some subjects and language choices are made when writing for younger readers, but it is no more difficult than the natural adjustments we make when talking to different age people.
RT: For readers who love your writing, what are two Elizabethan books or movies that you recommend?
EE: If you love Elizabethan, you must see Shakespeare in Love and A Merchant of Venice (2004). As for books, I’m going to recommend a nonfiction title, 1599 by James Shapiro—so readable. You’ll think you are in London in that year as you sink into it. Also, don’t forget to go to source—dip into some Shakespeare sonnets. Better yet, get a handsome partner to read you one over a candlelit meal . . .
RT: Do you think you would be up to the task as a lady-in-waiting? What would be the best and worst part of this position for you?
EE: I think I would be quite good. Before becoming a writer, I was a British diplomat, so I was taught all about protocol. I would know the correct order of precedence between an earl and a viscount, how to address the French ambassador, and how to cut deals on access. I’d be the most powerful woman at court in no time (or headless).
RT: You have absolutely stunning covers for your novels, what is your first reaction to seeing these?
EE: Aren’t the models beautiful? This is out of my hands, so it is a delight when the publisher gets it so right.
RT: How many more books can we expect in the delightful Lacey Chronicles?
EE: I’ve written three, but, like any good mother, have left room for growth.
RT BOOK REVIEWS: Can you share a detail from your upcoming work that RT Readers can keep their eyes open for?
Eve Edwards: In The Other Countess, look out for the May Day celebrations—the time for Elizabethan teens to go wild. It is a time for girl bonding followed by . . . well, let me only say that many a marriage was preceded by a May Day romance.
For more about this intriguing historical tale you can check out the links below, enter to win your own copy of the new series starter or pick up your own copy of The Other Countess in stores now!
GIVEAWAY ALERT: Three lucky winners will receive their own SIGNED copies of The Other Countess. To enter leave a comment below answering this question: If you could change one thing about history, what would it be? Or email your answer here with your US mailing address and the subject line “Eve Edwards The Other Countess Giveaway!” Winners will be announced on July 29!
BLOG UPDATE 7/29/2011: And the winners are ... Cories, Shanna and G Patarini