Riskies Welcome Back Andrea Pickens!


Tell us about Seduced by a Spy!

It’s the second book of my trilogy starring the swashbuckling students of Mrs. Merlin’s Academy for Select Young Ladies, which is sort of a Hogwarts for hellions! Trained as an elite cadre of female spies, they are England’s ultimate secret weapon–dispatched to handle the most difficult, dangerous missions. Shannon, the heroine of SBAS, appeared briefly in The Spy Wore Silk, where she crossed swords with a mysterious Russian as she and her roommate Siena sought to trap a traitor who was passing government secrets to the French.

In SBAS, she meets with Mr. Orlov again, but this time they’re allies on a joint mission for British and Russian Intelligence. Though neither is happy about this assignment, they’re sent to a remote castle in the Scottish Highlands to protect the family of a military ballistics expert from a French assassin.

Sparks fly as they rub together–igniting what I hope readers find is a fun, sexy, action-packed read!

What gave you the idea for this story, and the whole “Hellions” series?

I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy. As a kid, I wanted to be a knight who got to fight the dragons instead of the typical princess who needed to be rescued. I guess this never quite rubbed off (I’m still more comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt than a slinky black dress!), and I’ve always liked strong, unconventional heroines who challenge the status quo and aren’t afraid of breaking rules.

So in thinking of the Regency era, and how I might do something a little unexpected, I got to thinking–what would be the least likely endeavor for a female to be involved in? A ‘secret agent’ came to mind, and as a big fan of the old James Bond movies, I thought it would be a fun idea to pursue. And so the hellions of Mrs. Merlin’s Academy were born!

I’ve had so much fun creating stories for the trio of roommates, and I’ve tried to put each one in a different situation. Seduced by a Spy is very action-oriented, set mostly in Scotland. The final book, Sofia’s story, will hit the shelves in October 2008. It takes place in London, in the glitter and glamor of high Society.

What attracts you to the Regency as a setting?

For me, the Regency is so fascinating because in many ways it’s a mirror of our own times. There were such tremendous upheavals in all aspects of life, from literature, music, and philosophy to politics, science, and social conventions. So many new and exciting things were happening, and I love researching and discovering how people reacted to the challenge of change.

And of course I adore the romance of the era–the gowns, the tailored finery of the gentlemen, the glamorous balls and soirees! It has a fairy-tale aspect that makes it a wonderful setting for richly complex stories. I think all of us who write Regency-set books love the fact that we can have fun with those details while exploring complex themes that are so relevant to modern readers.

Did you come across anything new or interesting in researching this story?

I was lucky enough to travel to Ireland and Scotland during the time I was writing Seduced by a Spy! I discovered a wealth of fascinating facts there. Strangely enough, many of them revolve around–spirits (the alcoholic kind!)

1) There are close to 200 single malt scotches made in small distilleries throughout Scotland (If you have ever experienced the weather in the Highlands, where my fictional McAllister Castle is located, you will understand why!)

2) In both Scotch and Irish Gaelic, the words uisge beatha and usquebaugh mean “water of life.” This eventually translated into “whisky” in English (no doubt after someone consumed more than a few drams of the stuff). Another interesting aside is that it’s spelled “whisky” in Scotland and “whiskey” in Ireland.

3) The local brew of Dornoch (the seaside town where Shannon and Orlov first land to begin their trip to the hills) is Glenmorangie, which means “glen of tranquility” in Gaelic. It was founded in 1848, but illicit distilling in the area dates back to the 1700s.

4) Kenmare, the charming town of the Ring of Kerry where Shannon helps the wounded Orlov to the safety of a British naval cutter, has been renowned for its healing waters since the 1600s. Today, it’s also known as the home of Sheen Falls Lodge, a wonderful country manor hotel that has the largest wine cellar in Ireland. (Trust me on this!)

5) Saltpeter, one of the 3 essential ingredients in gunpowder, is found in nitrates, so during the Napoleonic Wars, the British government considered requiring tavernkeepers to save the urine of their patrons in vats. (Brandy was said to create an especially desirable end product)

LOL! What is “risky” about this story?

Well, I think I may have pushed my heroines to the edge with their swordplay and seduction! I wanted them to dare to shake things up–like many of the real-life Regency women, who weren’t afraid of breaking out of their traditional roles.

One online reviewer got all huffy about the first book in the series, saying “This isn’t how a Regency romance should be written!” I’m actually sort of proud of that. Obviously she believes that the era entirely revolved around drawing room calls and formal house parties. But we can’t forget there was so much more to the times, much of which was “down and dirty.” It was a time of war and intrigue, with actual characters like the cross-dressing Comte d’Eon, a double agent who changed his allegiances as often as he changed his sexual persona. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

What’s next for you?

I’m very excited about a new trilogy that I’m doing for Grand Central Publishing, about a trip of unconventional female scholars who formed a bond of friendship through the weekly meetings of their Scientific Society. Each has an expertise in a certain field of science–and each has a slightly shady past that comes back to haunt them. The books are scheduled for a 1-2-3 release starting in January 2010.

As for other projects, I’m trying to convince my new editor to let me do a book starring lord Lynsley, the head of the Merlins. And I’m fooling with a Regency-set YA book that has some paranormal elements to it. So I should be keeping busy for the next little while!

Not too busy to visit the Riskies, we hope!!

Be sure and comment on the post to win a signed ARC of Seduced by a Spy. And don’t miss any of our upcoming visitors and special events–sign up for our newsletter at riskies@yahoo.com!

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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