Deanna Raybourn

Toasting The Berkeley Square Affair

Toasting The Berkeley Square Affair

Excited – and a bit nervous – to hear what everyone thinks! Even after multiple books the excitement and butterfly nerves of a new release remain. Meanwhile, head over to Deanna Raybourn’s blog to read some thoughts on fashion and plotting and what went into The Berkeley Square Affair.

Friday update: you can also head over to Catherine Delors’s blog to read about the connections between England and France that permeate The Berkeley Square Affair.

Happy Reading

Raybourn MS-150 RETWe have a special treat today – the lovely and multi-talented Deanna Raybourn,  author the fabulous Lady Julia Grey series of Victorian mysteries, agreed to chat with me about her much-anticipated stand alone  novel A Spear of Summer Grass.  I recently had the chance for an advanced sneak peek read of this book, and I can report that it is just as rich and wonderful as one would expect of one of Deanna’s novels, filled with vibrant characters and wonderful details of Kenya in the 1920s. One lucky commenter on the interview will have the same opportunity, as Deanna has graciously agreed to give away an advanced copy of the book. The contest closes at 6:00 pm Pacific Time on Thursday, April 18. Let the questions begin!


TRACY: A Spear of Summer Grass is set in Kenya in the 1920s. After writing a number of books set in the Victorian era, what inspired you to explore this new setting and time period?

DEANNA: My publisher wanted to take a break from the Victorian series, so my editor’s brief to me was, “Pitch us anything, literally ANYTHING, you want to write about.” So I made a list of all the subjects I read about for fun between writing novels. And once I got to twenty or thirty, I circled five that seemed to fit together in an interesting way—Africa, flappers, 1920s, safaris, rose farms. I added in a snippet of an idea I’d had a few years before for a book—about a fairly hardboiled young woman who has a scandalous mother and whose life has been influenced by her mother’s absence—and tossed it all together. I eventually changed rose farm to pyrethrum because it was more appropriate for the time period, and because the floral industry in Kenya is very politically charged right now, and I didn’t want to draw into the story all of the hideous environmental impacts that the flower farms have had on Africa. So, pyrethrum and scandalous flappers it was!

TRACY: Your books have such a wonderful sense of time and place, from sweeping visual vistas to exquisite details of clothing. What were your favorite research sources for A Spear of Summer Grass?

DEANNA: For years I’ve read memoirs of people who lived in Kenya when it was British East Africa. You simply will not find a more colorful, interesting group of people in one place. There were farmers, hunters, debutantes, aristocrats, and criminals, and they all had the same goal—to somehow make a home in what must have felt like the most remote place on earth. And those people wrote memoirs and inspired biographies that make for delicious reading. I also had to amass a collection of history books on Kenya as well as books on the cultures, flora and fauna, etc. But the reading I enjoyed the most was about the people—both the native tribes and the settlers.

TRACY: You recently released a wonderful “prequel” novella, Far in the Wilds, featuring many of the characters in A Spear of Summer Grass. Did you always have the events of that novella in mind or did you later go back and flesh out the backstory?

DEANNA: I didn’t even know there was going to be a novella until after SPEAR was written. I was offered a contract to write a Julia Grey holiday novella, and before we’d even signed the contract, my publisher amended the offer to include three additional Julia novellas and two prequel novellas for my next two stand alone novels. At that point I was casting around for an idea and my editor suggested a novella focusing on Ryder. We happened to be at a conference last summer, and I sat in the hotel lobby scribbling notes for about ten minutes, pitched it to her as she waited for a taxi, and she said, “Write it.” The whole thing took less than a quarter of an hour to plan. Ryder had two really interesting incidents in his backstory that left him with some baggage, and once I hit on an idea of how to tie them together, the novella wrote itself. It was an incredibly smooth process, thank goodness!

TRACY: As a writer of a series, one of the things I enjoy is knowing how my characters talk. After writing a number of books about Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane and their friends and family what was it like to explore the voices of a whole new set of characters?

DEANNA: It really was like throwing open the windows and letting in fresh air! Julia and Nicholas inhabit a very specific time and place—late Victorian London. Their lives, unconventional as they are, are confined in certain ways. But Africa and the 1920s and Delilah and Ryder—that was just a wide open space to play in. Plus, I’ve written over half a million words in the Julia series, so creating new voices was just FUN, particularly because Delilah is pretty shameless. She says things aloud that Julia wouldn’t even think!

TRACY: Like your Lady Julia series and your previous standalone, The Dead Travel Fast, A Spear of Summer Grass is written in the first person. What is it you enjoy about writing in this form? How do you find it different from writing in the third person, as you do in Far in the Wilds?

DEANNA: I adore first person point of view, probably because so many of the authors who influenced me used it—Harper Lee, Agatha Christie, Victoria Holt, Elizabeth Peters, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Joanne Harris. It gets a bad rap which is absurd. It’s difficult to do well. As a reader and as a writer, I love it for the immediacy it provides. You are pulling someone instantly into that fictional world by offering up a testimony, a confessional, a travelogue, a memoir. It will always be my default because it’s the POV I enjoy reading the most. I did appreciate the challenge of writing the novella in third person, and I’m quite sure I will do it with another novella I’m writing later this year. I’m also plotting out a project which will probably demand third person because some books just cannot be written from a first person perspective.

TRACY: What’s your favorite place to write?

DEANNA: In my tiny pink study. Our house was built in 1940, and as near as we can figure, my study is what used to be the sewing room. It’s very small—eight feet by nine—with no closet and it faces south with excellent light. It has a tiny alcove my husband shelved in for me, and he put up shelves on two other walls. The walls are pink, the ceiling is turquoise, and I hung a small chandelier my great-aunt gave me. I have a copy of the queen’s coronation portrait as well as inspiration boards with rotating displays and a cross-stitched saying of mine that a friend made for me: Be pretty like you mean it. It’s a tiny, wildly feminine room and it’s my favorite spot.

TRACY: Your books have wonderfully intricate plots. Do you work them out in advance or discover things as you go along or a combination of both?

DEANNA: Always a combination. I write out a synopsis of three to five pages for my editor before I begin, and then I pretty much don’t look at it at all when I’m writing. I know I’m starting at point A, and I know I mean to end up at point Z, and I may know what points D, L, and R will be, but everything else is discovery. Because they are mysteries, the Julia books have to have a more linear structure than my stand alones, so I always proceed logically forward with them. The stand alones need a more organic process. I figure them out as I go along, which isn’t my favorite way to write because it’s very much working without a net.

TRACY: I love the Shakespeare references in your books. What’s your favorite Shakespeare play?

DEANNA: No fair! It’s almost too difficult to narrow down because Shakespeare was so incredibly diverse. The solemnity of his histories, the actual human pain in his tragedies—those would be genius enough but then you look at his bawdy side with the truly filthy puns in his comedies and realize this was a man who really could relate to everyone, from the most elevated royal to the lowliest commoner. And he appreciated every kind of struggle—searching for identity, for love, for revenge, for peace. He explored it all! But I will say I have a soft spot for Much Ado About Nothing. There’s a beautiful bit from the play where Beatrice is in conversation with the prince and he says he thinks she was born in a merry hour. And her reply is to tell him no because her mother cried, but that “’there was a star danc’d, and under that was I born.’” I stitched that onto a pillow for my daughter’s crib when she was born because that summed up so beautifully how I felt about her. And that to me is the glory of Shakespeare—that this man who lived centuries ago, writing what was at the time popular entertainment not cultured, highbrow literature, could know and articulate something so beautiful in so few words.

TRACY: I can’t resist asking a variant of a question you asked me. What ten literary characters would you invite to a cocktail party?

DEANNA: Hoist with my own petard! Sir Percy Blakeney, Flora Poste, Elizabeth Bennet, Flavia de Luce, Atticus Finch, Julian Kestrel, Precious Ramotswe, Miss Marple, Vianne Rocher, and Dr. John Watson. I realize we’re at odd numbers there, so I hope the gentlemen won’t mind. And I should point out that if you asked me tomorrow, I’d give you an entirely different set! I’ve also left off some compelling characters who I think would be completely tiresome at the dinner table—Heathcliff, Rochester, Amber St. Clare, Scarlett O’Hara, Sherlock Holmes. I chose Atticus instead of Scout because I already had a young person in Flavia, and I selected Dr. Watson because Holmes always gets all the love but Watson would be a much more congenial guest. I am afraid that Miss Marple might hunker down in a corner over the sherry, but I’m quite sure Precious Ramotswe and Vianne Rocher could draw her out–certainly Julia Kestrel would show her every courtesy! And Percy would be sitting at my right hand for my own personal entertainment. In fact, if I had only Percy, I’m not entirely certain I would miss the other nine…

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

The Paris Affair has now been out for two weeks, so I thought I would start a place for discussion and comments. The Reading Group questions are below in case any of them stir thoughts and discussion, but feel free to post thoughts or questions on anything relating to the book. And since it’s difficult to discuss the book without mentioning plot points, don’t worry about spoilers (so if you haven’t read the book yet, proceed with caution).

I’ve been having a lot of fun blogging and talking about The Paris Affair, including a very fun interview with Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose on Word Wenches, and Mélanie and I had a great time at Book Passage for my author event (photo above). In case you missed it, RT Book Reviews ran a piece on “celebrity look alikes” on April covers, including a comparison of Suzanne on The Paris Affair cover to Bérénice Marlohe who played Sévérine in Skyfall (rather appropriate for Suzanne to look like a Bond girl :-).  Take a look and see if you think she’d make a good Suzanne. Also, The Paris Affair is one of RT’s nominees for April “cover of the month” (huge thanks again to the Kensington art department!).

On April 15, I have a special treat in store. I’ll be interviewing the fabulous Deanna Raybourn about her forthcoming, much-anticipated A Spear of Summer Grass, and Deanna will be giving away a copy of the book.

Finally, thank you so much to everyone who has bought The Paris Affair and/or has been posting about it on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere online. The support is hugely appreciated!

1. Compare and contrast the marriages of Suzanne and Malcolm, Cordelia and Harry, Rupert and Gabrielle, Paul and Juliette. How do secrets affect each marriage?

2.How does the solution to the mystery of Tatiana’s child parallel the issues in post-Waterloo France?

3. Discuss the different ways in which issues of inheritance drive various characters in the book.

4. Did you guess who was behind Antoine Rivère’s death? Why or why not?

5. How are Malcolm and Suzanne similar to a modern couple struggling to balance family and the demands of careers?

6. Which new characters in this book do you think might play roles later on in the series?

7. How do you think Malcolm and Suzanne’s relationship will change if they move to Britain?

8. What did Suzanne gain in giving up her work as a French spy? What did she lose? Without that work, is she more or less herself?

9. How do you think Paul and Juliette and the Lacloses will resolve the question of Pierre’s inheritance?

10. What do you think lies ahead for Rupert, Bertrand, and Gabrielle?

11. How do the events of the book change Malcolm, Suzanne, Harry, Cordelia, Wilhelmine, and Dorothée? How do the relationships among them change?

12. What do you think Gui will do after the close of the story?

13. How has the outcome of the battle of Waterloo shaped the choices faced by the various characters?

14. Discuss how both Talleyrand and Raoul O’Roarke have influenced Malcolm in the absence of a strong relationship with his own father.

15.   Suzanne says, “Sometimes honesty can make things worse.” Malcolm replies, “Than living a lie? Difficult to imagine.” Would their situation improve if Suzanne told Malcolm the truth? Or would it make it impossible for them to go on living together?

Happy March! Hard to believe the publication of The Paris Affair is just over two weeks away. We’ve updated the sidebar with some interviews and events I’ll be doing to promote the book. On March 15 I’ll be doing an interview (and ARC giveaway) on Deanna Raybourn’s blog. On March 25 (they day before the book’s publication) I’ll be on Susan Spann’s blog. On March 30 at 4:00 pm I’ll be talking about and reading from The Paris Affair at Book Passage in Corte Madera. If you can’t make the event but would like a signed, personalized copy, you can order one through the link. And then on April 5, Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose will be interviewing me on Word Wenches.

Do check out the interviews, as I have lots more to share about the book and the series. And if you can make it to Book Passage, I would love to see you or love to sign a book if can’t make it but would like to order one. Meanwhile, here’s a new teaser featuring Malcolm and Harry Davenport. More soon!

Harry stared after him as the door closed and his footsteps retreated down the stairs. “Wellington gave you no clue?”
“Interesting man, our duke. Do you think Rivère approached him about the Laclos affair himself?”
“Then why Rivère’s dramatic approach to me last night?”
“They wouldn’t need the cover for the Laclos affair, since Rivère brought it up to me. But if he approached Wellington about something else—”
Harry met Malcolm’s gaze for a moment. “Wellington can be ruthless.” It was a flat statement about the man they had both served for years and risked their lives for. “We considered in Brussels that he might be capable of murder.”
“But in the end he wasn’t behind Julia Ashton’s death.”
“Which doesn’t mean he isn’t behind Rivère’s death. Julia was an English lady. Rivère was a French double agent who was trying to blackmail the British.” Harry kept his gaze on Malcolm. Uncompromising, yet oddly compassionate. “War isn’t played by gentlemen’s rules. You know that.”
“Neither are politics or diplomacy.”
“Go carefully, Malcolm. Wellington can be dangerous.”
“At least I know him.”
“That’s precisely what makes him dangerous.” Harry cast a glance round the room. “You take the boxes on the left. I’ll take the right.”

11.17.12TracyMelHappy mid-winter holiday season! I’m starting to relax into the holiday season despite the seemingly ever-increasing To Do list – this year complicated by a certain one-year-old birthday party and having a new release out.

As I’ve been taking time to promote His Spanish Bride, it occurs to me that the story of Malcolm and Suzanne’s wedding combines two literary traditions – wedding stories and holiday stories. I have a fondness for both types of story, from wedding stories like The Philadelphia Story and Busman’s Honeymoon to holiday tales like Lauren Willig’s delightful The Mischief of the Mistletoe and Deanna Raybourn’s new novella Silent Night. I think what i like about both types of story is that they bring together friends and family with plentiful opportunity for conflicts, reunions, and revelry. Parents and children, sibling rivalry, ex-lovers home for the holidays or attending the same wedding–or perhaps one disrupting the wedding of another. Jane Austen recognized the benefit of such gatherings for bringing characters together. Emma opens with a wedding and includes a holiday party.

Both weddings and holidays involve certain traditions which give a frame to the story yet to which individual characters give their own unique spin. It’s fun seeing fictional characters, even historical ones, go through some of the same traditions we go through ourselves, and also fun to see the differences. Malcolm and Suzanne’s wedding takes place at the British embassy and is wrapped up in the investigation of a missing letter that could drive a wedge between Britain and her Spanish allies in the war against the French.They slip away from their betrothal party for a bit of skullduggery, and Suzanne arrives at the solution to the mystery on their wedding night. Both their motives for entering into the marriage are complicated, and perhaps they are even deceiving themselves about the true reasons. The story ends at an embassy Christmas party at which, again typically for them, Malcolm and Suzanne are wrapping up the investigation.

What are some of your favorite holiday and wedding stories?

Speaking of the holidays, with this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition, I’ve jumped to December 1815 with letter from Mel/Suzette to Simon.

I had a fascinating exchange this week on Facebook with a new reader who read Beneath a Silent Moon and now is reading Secrets of a Lady. I’m always intrigued by hearing from readers who read the books in the order in which they’re set chronologically rather than the order in which they were written. I’m often asked which order to read the books in, and I answer that I deliberately wrote them so they could be read in either order, but I think there are differences in how the story unfolds depending on the order in which one reads them.

I’ve always written connected books, and I’ve always tended to move back and forth chronologically, in the Anthea Malcolm books I wrote with my mom, in my historical romances, and in the Charles & Mélanie books. Now with Vienna Waltz I’ve gone back still further in Charles and Mel’s history. Answering reader questions about Secrets and Beneath this weekend, I realized that I’ve also tended to read series out of order. My first Dorothy Sayers book was Have His Carcase, well into the series and the second of the Peter & Harriet books. I then read Busman’s Honeymoon (the fourth Peter & Harriet book, because it was the next I could find, my wonderful father drove me to a bookstore on Sunday, and it was the only one they had), then Strong Poison (the first Peter & Harriet book), and finally Gaudy Night (the third book). I didn’t mind reading the series out of order. In fact, I rather enjoyed getting to know Peter and Harriet, seeing them married, going back in time to when they met, then reading the book where they get engaged. I found Lauren Willig’s series with The Deception of the Emerald Ring, Deanna Raybourn’s with Silent on the Moor, Laurie King’s Mary Russell books with The Moor. I think I actually enjoy starting a series at a point where the characters and their relationships have progressed and then going back to see how it all started.

My friend Penny Williamson started Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles with The Ringed Castle, the fifth book in the series. She says she was very confused but also fascinated. She went on to read the other four books that had been published at that point completely out of order, before reading Checkmate, the final book in the series, when it was published.

How do you feel about the order in which you read a series? Do you tend to start with the first book or in the middle? Do you think you view the story and characters differently depending on the order in which you read the books? Writers, do you like moving back and forth in time or do you prefer to write in chronological order?

Speaking of chronological order, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition continues in the build up to Waterloo with a letter from Isobel to Mélanie.

After some typical Bay Area summer days of bone chilling fog, it’s lovely and sunny today. A slight breeze, not too hot. The sort of day that cries out for lolling in a hammock or sitting by the pool with a good book. Of course I’ve spent the day in a whirl of Saturday errands (which included the fun of finding a great summer bag on sale at Nordstrom’s). Now I’m updating my website and I need to write at least 700 more words on my new book and a get a workout in somewhere. Between finishing Vienna Waltz revisions, working on my Waterloo book, Porchlight Theatre’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses production, and the start of the Merola Opera Program (we had our Meet the Merolini event last night, where we met the 2010 Merola artists), my summer so far has been a bit chaotic if fun.

But I’m at least dreaming of lazy summer reading time, and this seemed a good time to post a summer reading list. Most of my suggestions this year are series, perhaps not surprising as I write series myself :-):

The Lady Emily books by Tasha Alexander. Vivid characters, both real historical people and fictional ones. Exotic locales, exciting mysteries, a wonderful ongoing romance, and Lady Emily’s fascinating character development over the series, as she struggles to be independent amid the strictures of Victorian society.

The Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid series by Deborah Crombie. I had the fun of catching up on recently on several books I’d missed in this series. I used them as bribes–write 100 words, and I got to read a section. The page-turning plots kept me up far into the night, while the rich character development made me feel I was visiting old friends. I don’t cry over books often, but these stories brought tears to my eyes (sometimes happy tears) more than once. And though Deb is American, you absolutely feel you’re in contemporary London.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. Compelling, surprising, tragic, and ultimately surprisingly hopeful. This historical novel set in 1907 Wisconsin drew me in from the first page, and I found it almost impossible to put down.

The Sebastian St. Cyr books by C.S. Harris. Wonderful series set in Regency London. Each book is its own intricate mystery, but there’s also a fascinating mystery about the hero’s life (and his relationships with his family and romantic interests) that runs through the series and makes one eagerly await the next installment.

The Julia Grey books by Deanna Raybourn. Another series I discovered this year and eagerly devoured. Wonderful Victorian atmosphere, a fascinating ongoing romance, and an intriguing deftly drawn ongoing group of supporting characters in Julia’s vivid, eccentric family.

The Pink Carnation books by Lauren Willig. Napoleonic spies. Adventure. Mystery. Romance. One of the best parts of my New York trip last fall was talking books with Lauren and getting a sneak peek of what’s to come in the series. If you haven’t already discovered Lauren’s books, go find them–now!

What’s on your summer reading list?

I’ve just posted a new letter from Mélanie to Raoul in the Fraser Correspondence. I’m having a lot of fun telling the days after Napoleon’s escape from Elba through my characters’ eyes.