Today I’m so excited to welcome my friend and fellow Harlequin author Nicola Cornick back to the blog so we can chat about our December books! My own release is my second Laurel McKee book, Duchess of Sin, Anna’s story, and Nicola’s is the third of her back-to-back releases, Scandalous Women of the Ton! I’ve been waiting for Merryn’s story ever since the first book came out, and now it’s here in Mistress by Midnight. We sit down to tea and cakes to chat about hunky dukes, intelligent heroines, and history….

“A one-of-a-kind read! Truly an amazing tale, a love to warm the heart and an adventure that never ended. I found myself enraptured by Conlan and Lady Anna, by the surprising love I felt for the Angel of Kildare, and the strong desire for the next story.” –Fresh Fiction, on Duchess of Sin

“(An) emotionally charged romance and a powerful love story!” –RT Book Reviews on Mistress by Midnight

Amanda (pouring the tea and helping herself to a chocolate cake): Welcome to the Riskies today, Nicola! I’m so excited to see the last book of your new trilogy on the shelves. Tell us about it!

Nicola (sipping tea, and trying to ignore that Amanda took the only chocolate cake): Thanks for having me here today! Well, my new series, The Scandalous Women of the Ton, is all about heroines doing outrageous things–traveling to the far-flung corners of the globe, working for a living, marrying five times. Each of my heroines manages to shock society’s sensibilities in a different way.

Merryn, the heroine of my December book Mistress by Midnight, is a bluestocking, very unfashionable, with total scorn for everything she sees as superficial about society. She prefers to attend lectures rather than balls and even has a job, although she has to keep this a secret. Merryn is a sweet girl but she does tend to see everything in black and white and a lot of the book is about how she learns that often the truth is nowhere near as straightforward as she thinks. She’s on a mission to ruin Garrick, Duke of Farne, because she holds him responsible for her brother’s death. But she hasn’t taken into account her raging attraction to Garrick or that fact that he’s out to stop her from revealing the truth!

Amanda: I do love scandalous heroines! Anna Blacknall, heroine of Duchess of Sin, doesn’t have a job like Merryn, but she does like a good party–a lot. She likes to dance, ride her horse fast, and find places she’s not meant to be. She also likes to sneak out of the house and look for adventure, something different from her constrained life as belle of the Dublin social season. But she’s also trying to cover up her deep-seated fears and some bad memories from the Uprising of two years ago. She’s looking for acceptance for who she really is, and she wants to find something useful in life beyond being a Diamond. She’s also looking for a strong man to match her, though she doesn’t know at first that she’s already found him…

Nicola: Oooh, a yummy dark hero! My hero Garrick, is a total sweetie to my mind (I do admit to a bias!). He’s a very honorable hero. I love heroes who are strong protectors and Garrick has made it his life’s work to protect those who are weaker than he is and who need him. When he meets Merryn he has a terrible conflict because she threatens to reveal all the secrets he has kept for years as part of his role as defender. He is very attracted to Merryn and he wants to help her too, but he cannot tell her the truth without betraying others. He’s completely torn.

Amanda: He sounds so much like my own hero, Conlan, Duke of Adair! Besides both being dukes, that is. Conlan’s whole life is dedicated to protecting his people from all the dangers of Irish life, and he’ll do anything to fulfill that responsibility. The last thing he needs is a beautiful Ascendancy lady finding out all his secrets! But Anna needs him too–and he needs her. They’re true soul-mates, it just takes them a while (and several dangerous adventures) to find that out! It doesn’t help that Anna is being courted by Conlan’s villainous cousin, either.

One thing I love to do is find actors or models that look like my idea of my characters, and then I make character collages. (It’s not time wasting procrastination, it’s Very Important Research!). Conlan looked to me like a dark manly-man, like Richard Armitage or Gerard Butler (sorry, Diane! I borrowed him for a bit…). Anna is an aristocratic blonde, like Gywneth Paltrow or Diane Kruger. What about your characters? Who did you “see” while you were writing?

Nicola: Well, one of the things I love about Garrick is that he has auburn hair. I know red-haired heroes aren’t every reader’s cup of tea, but I think a man with red hair can be very sexy. My inspirations for Garrick were Damian Lewis, Prince Harry, and Toby Stephens in his Mr. Rochester guise! If I was to cast Merryn, I think Kate Winslet would be a good choice to play her.

Amanda: Yummy inspirations all! I know that, like me, you enjoy doing research and finding historical tidbits to put into stories. What can we look for in this book?

Nicola: Mistress by Midnight is set against the background of the London Beer Flood of 1814, a real event in which 7 people died. It was a freak accident. the vat on the top of the brewery in Tottenham Court Road exploded, setting off a chain reaction from the other vats and releasing a tidal wave of beer that swamped the surrounding streets. Several people drowned, some were crushed by falling masonry, and one died from drinking too much alcohol. It was all reported in The Times newspaper of the day.

Amanda: OMG, how have I never heard of this??? A real beer flood? There’s no flood of booze in my book, but there is a visit to a pub. I set Duchess of Sin around the upheaval concerning the Act of Union of 1801. Things had calmed down (though the atmosphere was still very tense) after the Uprising of 2 years before, but this political act was like setting a match to gunpowder again. Conlan is right in the middle of the fray, of course, and Anna finds herself embroiled in it as well. I talked about the historical background last week on your own Word Wenches blog!

Nicola: I love how your Daughters of Erin trilogy captures the wildness and spirit of Georgian Ireland. What inspired you to write a book there?

Amanda: I’ve always wanted to do an Irish book, but I just had to find the right characters! You’re so right that Georgian Ireland was full of a wild spirit. It was a place of contrasts, between high fashion and gorgeous architecture (much of which can still be seen), and hot tempers and a love of partying. There’s also so much conflict, it’s ideal for a book! And I also love an Irish Christmas, so I was excited to find out this was to be a holiday release.

Nicola: Did you have an idea of what your heroines were going to be like when you started writing? The Blacknall sisters are all strong characters, but very different from each other.

Amanda: I was so lucky! Each sister kind of sprang into the story fully-formed. Eliza is the eldest sister, very strong and sure of herself, very protective of the others, but also idealistic and strong-minded. Anna was the middle one, the beauty, whose intelligence was sometimes disregarded as she grew up. She feels she has something to prove, to the world and to herself. And Caroline is my bluestocking, the quiet one who prefers reading to dancing. But she finds herself embroiled in quite an adventure with an unlikely hero in her own story, Lady of Seduction (June 2011)! I love each of them, by this point they feel a bit like my own sisters.

Nicola: I feel the same about my Scandalous Women! After all this time, I feel as if I know them so well.

Amanda: And what’s next for you?

Nicola: Next is the fourth book in the Scandalous Women of the Ton, Notorious, in August 2011!

Amanda: Wonderful! Have some more tea. We can toast to gorgeous heroes and the scandalous heroines who love them.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our little tea-table chat today! Comment or ask a question for a chance to win both Duchess of Sin and Mistress by Midnight, and be sure to visit our websites for excerpts, more historical background, and contests. You can find me here, and Nicola here!