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StrangerAtCastonbury2March 1 marks the release of my book A Stranger at Castonbury, the last book in the Castonbury Park series!!  (it’s up for pre-order at Amazon now…)  I will be giving away a copy to one commenter today…

When I was first asked to participate in a series described as “Downton Abbey in the Regency,” I jumped eagerly at the chance! Like so many other people, I am a Downton fanatic and have avidly followed the series from the beginning. (Mary and Matthew! Sybil and Branson! Bates and Anna! Thomas! The scandal! The clothes!). Mix it with another of my favorite things, the Regency period, and I was completely hooked. Also, I was very, very excited at the chance to work with so many authors whose books I love.

But then the reality set in. There were eight of us, and we had to work closely together to create a world as colorful and complex as that of Downton, with interlocking characters, upstairs/downstairs dynamics, scandal and passion. And I had to write the last story, tying it all together and making sure I stayed true to the world of Castonbury and other authors’ characters. Easy and simple, of course. Not!

Luckily one of the things I love best about Downton is how everyone’s lives interlock and entwine, and having the chance to create the same thing at Castonbury was great fun. (And luckily many of the other authors are much more organized than I am, and created spreadsheets and images that made the place come really alive for us all). Through the other stories, I could easily envision the house and the people in it, and by the time I finished writing Stranger at Castonbury, it felt like home.

For more info on the series, visit my website’s Castonbury Page!  Do you like continuity series?  What are some you have followed?  What did you like/not like about series like Downton??

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Today we’re welcoming Harlequin Historical author Joanna Fulford, to talk about Book 7 (of 8!) in the Castonbury Park series!  Comment for a chance to win a copy…

Redemption of a Fallen womanRedemption of a Fallen Woman is the seventh book in the Castonbury Park series and is due for release in February. Hoping to save his family from ruin, my hero, ex-soldier Harry Montague, reluctantly returns to Spain to seek vital information about the death of his brother, Jamie. On arrival in Madrid, Harry meets fiery Spanish beauty, Elena Ruiz. Elena is a fallen woman whose chequered past is about to result in her being incarcerated in a convent. Among her transgressions are the two years she spent with a guerrilla group, fighting the French.

The ideas for this story arose from the years when I lived in Madrid. It was the base for subsequent explorations of Iberia, including the wonderful cities of Seville and Cádiz which feature in the book. My travels often took me up-country as well. One weekend, quite by accident, I discovered Patones, a small hillside village in the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama. I suspect that most people find Patones by accident. Even by modern standards it’s pretty remote, but at the time of the Peninsular Campaign (1808-1814) it was truly isolated. In spite of their best efforts, Napoleon’s forces never did find the place so it was spared the ravages inflicted on other villages and towns. It must have been an ideal base for guerrilla fighters during that conflict. Years later the memory of that trip gave me the idea for my heroine’s backstory.

The word guerrilla means little war. Although it was an old established method of fighting, the term was first coined in Spain during the Napoleonic Invasion. The guerrillas used hit-and-run tactics in their insurgency against the occupying French. A French sniper called Mignolet wrote home: “We are surrounded by 40,000 Spanish brigands whom we must fight every day – and the situation gets no better, but worse…”

Mignolet’s pessimistic assessment reflects the part played by the local topography. Spain is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe. At its centre are high plains crossed by mountain ranges and rivers. It’s a wild and spectacular landscape, but it’s also ideal terrain for guerrilla warfare. There were numerous bands involved, each with its own agenda. My guerrilla leader, Juan Montera, is fictional, as is the brigand, El Lobo, but they are representative of the different groups in action at the time.

Being undisciplined irregulars, the guerillas were of little use in open battle against cavalry. Where they really came into their own was in providing accurate military intelligence. Wellington had good cause to be grateful for this. After Talavera, for example, he marched off with a force of 18,000 men to attack what he believed to be a detachment of 10,000 French troops. The ‘detachment’ turned out to be three army corps numbering well over 50,000 men. But for a timely warning from the local guerrillas it is likely that Wellington and his force would have been annihilated. Fortunately, he was able to retreat in time.

Spain has been accurately described as a beautiful blood-soaked land. It has shaped my hero and heroine in different ways, and created the deep emotional conflicts that they must resolve. It was fun to go with them on that journey. I hope you’ll enjoy it too.

(From Amanda–Last year, I was invited to take part in a very exciting project, a continuity series pitched as “Downton Abbey in the Regency”.  As a huge Downton fan, of course I immediately said yes, and I’m so glad I did!  It was so much fun getting to work with the other authors and watch our new world take shape, and now the hard work is paying off as the first Castonbury Park title launches next month.  Here is more info on the books in the series.  Be sure and comment to win a copy of the guidebook from Kedleston Hall, our inspiration for Castonbury…)

From the eHarlequin website:  “Are you a fan of the Upstairs/Downstairs genre made famous by the UK series Downton Abbey? Then be on the look out for the new Harlequin Historical DIGITALLY EXCLUSIVE series Castonbury Park! Now, the series is not set in the same time period as Downton Abbey, but fret not–these Regency romance novels are a great way to while away those dog days of summer, PLUS they’re written by some of the hottest Harlequin historical authors!

Marguerite Kaye’s prequel short story, Flirting With Ruin, is free here for a few more days!  Be sure and pick it up for an intro to the Castonbury world…

The series kicks off with Carole Mortimer’s The Wicked Lord Montague (August):

“Lord Giles Montague has always lived his life just the way he wants—fighting on the battlefields and fighting off the fawning ladies in London’s clubs. But after the death of his older brother in Spain, the notoriously wicked Montague is now reluctant heir to Castonbury Park!
Having grown up with the Montague family, Miss Lily Seagrove finds her least favourite by far is Lord Giles! He’s arrogant, rude and oh, so infuriatingly handsome… But she’s a girl of Gypsy heritage, and although she might be able to get under Giles’ battle-scarred skin, she can never be Lady of the Manor…”

Helen Dickson’s The Housemaid’s Scandalous Secret (September):

Ross Montague is a colonel in the East India Army. Raised at Castonbury Park in Derbyshire with his cousins the Montague children, he has come to look on the six siblings as his brothers and sisters. Ross is no celibate, but two things obsess him – India and the East India company. On receiving a letter informing him that one of his cousins has been killed at Waterloo and another – the Montague heir, listed as missing – and the Montague family in dire financial straits, bound by the ties of present and future relationship to the house of Montague, Ross has returned to England.
Having spent all her life in India, Lisette’s parents have died of cholera and she is forced to return to England to earn her keep, but her heart remains in India. Before leaving India Ross saves Lisette from drowning. Because she is disguised as a native girl, he believes that is what she is.

In London Ross again meets Lisette. Although she is familiar to him he cannot remember where he has seen her before. Intrigued and attracted by her, when he learns she is to lose her position as lady’s maid, he persuades his sister to take her on. Lisette engages his emotions at some deeper level, but Lisette is constantly reminded of her lowly position in life and that men of Ross Montague’s ilk are not for the likes of her. To protect herself from his passions – and her own, she is determined to stay out of his way, and yet there is a bond between them which tugs at her heart.

Marguerite Kaye’s The Lady Who Broke the Rules (October):

Shunned by society since she ended her disastrous engagement, Lady Katherine Montague is determined never to allow any man to hurt her again. Instead, Kate invests all her energy and emotions in philanthropy, building a village school, rescuing fallen women and supporting the abolitionist cause.
Virgil Jackson was born into slavery in Virginia, but sold into the north when he led a rebellion which had tragic consequences. Hard work, a brilliant mind and a fierce determination to succeed have earned him freedom, power and wealth, but it seems nothing will ever be enough to satisfy Virgil’s need to pay penance for his past.
 Two outcasts, two rebels, Kate and Virgil are instantly drawn to each other. But the past, for each of them, has taken a heavy emotional toll. Can they cut themselves free from its fetters, and take a chance on a love so shocking that even the most liberal of Kate’s aristocratic family will find it impossible to accept?

Anne Lethbridge’s Lady of Shame (November):

When the scandalous Lady Claire returns home to Castonbury Park with her daughter, she is determined to redeem herself in the eyes of the Duke and marry well this time, for the sake of her daughter.
Up and coming chef Andre has his career all planned out, and his employment at Castonbury is an important stepping stone. He cannot allow an alluring woman, particularly one in a position to destroy all he has worked for, to distract his purpose.
Yet how can he use his talents with food to help her catch a husband, when what he really wants is her in his bed…

Sarah Mallory’s The Illegitmate Montague (December):

Adam Stratton hasn’t seen his mother Hannah for ten years. Fiercely independent, he has overcome his dubious birth to become a wealthy manufacturer and now he returns to Castonbury to make amends. Hannah is housekeeper at Castonbury Park, where the family have their own problems and she is reluctant to leave them at this difficult time. Adam therefore has to kick his heels at Castonbury, where he meets the equally proud and self-sufficient Amber Hall.
Amber is a cloth-merchant, a successful woman in a man’s world, but she must fight to maintain her place there. Sparks fly as she and Adam realise their mutual attraction, but dark forces threaten them and when disaster strikes they are thrown into a dangerous game of passion and intrigue, where no one is quite what they seem to be…

Bronwyn Scott’s Unbefitting a Lady (January):

Phaedra Montague’s always been wild. Wagering her mother’s pearls on a desperate dream is just the beginning of the adventure. Wagering her heart on Bram Basingstoke might just be the end.
The shocking losses of the past year have sent Phaedra fleeing to the stables, her traditional place of refuge in times of trouble. It’s a place she once shared with her brother, Edward. Only now, she flees there alone. Her beloved brother, Edward, is dead. The only thing left of their childhood together is a shared dream of winning Epsom. Phaedra is determined to make that dream come true as much for Edward’s memory as for herself. Life as she knew it has changed dramatically. She can rely only on herself for securing her future. A win at Epsom would secure that future, giving her a reputation as a breeder.
Ladies have never held any charm for Bram Basingstoke….until Phaedra Montague.
Exiled to the hinterlands of Derbyshire in order to escape his latest scrape with scandal, Bram Basingstoke knows he’ll die of boredom before his six months are out. When an opportunity to work as a groom presents itself at a horse auction in Buxton, Bram takes it. It will give him something to do while he kills time and it’s the perfect revenge on his father , the earl, who’d sought to send his son out of scandal’s way. Bram will show him—his errant second son can create scandal anywhere he goes.
But Bram may have torn off more than he can handle.

Joanna Fulford’s Redemption of a Fallen Woman (February):

Elena Ruiz needs a miracle if she is to escape a life behind convent bars, and Lord Henry Montague seems heaven sent. However, he has his own reasons for returning to Spain and those certainly don’t involve her. Nevertheless, when Elena’s well-intentioned plans unravel he becomes more closely involved than either of them ever anticipated…

Amanda McCabe’s A Stranger at Castonbury (March):

The final installment of the Castonbury Saga!  Catalina lost her husband Jaime in the midst of battle in Spain, and broken-hearted she has come to his family’s home at Castonbury hoping to feel close to him just once more.  But she finds more than she ever bargained for in those palatial halls, when Jaime turns up again…very much alive…

Do you enjoy continuity series?  Are you as intrigued by the idea of “Downton Abbey in the Regency” as I was???  Comment for a chance to win!!

Book number two in the Castonbury Park series, The Housemaid’s Scandalous Secret by Helen Dickson, is out in September!  Helen visits us today to share the duties of a Regency-era maid–do you think you could carry them out??  Comment for a chance to win a copy…
Her education should be superior to that of the ordinary class of females. She must be neat and clean in her person and dress, have strict regard to religious and moral obligations, be of a cheerful disposition and courteous in demeanour. Her character must be remarkable for industry and moderation and her deportment for modesty and humility. She must never betray her lady’s confidence, and must devote herself to those she is engaged to serve.
It is her duty to put in readiness everything her mistress may require to wear during the day and for dinner. She must dress and undress her mistress, and in this she should be knowledgeable, quick, and to manifest good taste by suiting the jewellery and decoration of her dress to the complexion, age and general appearance of her lady’s person. She must be an excellent hairdresser and have a good knowledge of remedies for beauty treatments – from getting rid of pimples, freckles, thickening and strengthening hair, to bad breath and toothache.
She is responsible for repairing and removing stains, to wash the lace and fine linen. When not in attendance she retires to her workroom where she employs herself at needle-work and to be available at all times if needed. 
She must wait up for her mistress to return from evening engagements, and when she has retired she has to carefully examine her clothes and do all that is necessary to be done to them before she folds them away and puts away her jewels. Only then can she seek her own bed.
If her mistress is elderly or infirm, she will be required to bring her work and sit with her, to sometimes read to her and administer her medicines.
She is allowed to walk out in the afternoons (depending on her lady’s indulgence) and to attend church on Sundays. 
The wages of a lady’s-maid vary depending on the income and expenditure of the family that employs her – between eighteen and twenty-five guineas per anum.
Helen Dickson

The Riskies welcome back Marguerite Kaye, who is here to talk about her new release, the third in the “Castonbury Park” series from Harlequin Historicals….

Slave to Love! And a Giveaway

The Lady Who Broke the Rules is my book from the Regency upstairs/downstairs series Castonbury Park. My heroine is Lady Kate, the eldest daughter of the wealthy Montague family, a philanthropist and abolitionist. My hero is Virgil Jackson, a freed slave.
The Riskies welcome back Marguerite Kaye, who is here to talk about her new release, the third in the “Castonbury Park” series from Harlequin Historicals….
‘We want scandal, scandal, scandal,’ our editor told us eight authors when we first embarked on the ‘Castonbury Park’ journey, and a freed black slave seemed to me like a brilliant starting point. Any man who could survive the horrors of slavery and succeed on his own terms as Virgil does would have to be unbelievably strong-willed, yet at the same time, coming from such a traumatic background, he had to have some deep-seated issues of his own to contend with. Virgil is a free man, but he’s still a slave to his past
The history of slavery is a complex, emotive and controversial subject, one that has always fascinated me, but I have to admit there where times when I thought I’d taken a step too far in making a freed slave a romantic hero. However, with the Castonbury Park series is set at a time when slavery was being challenged in both the Old and the New Worlds, I’m always keen to push boundaries in my stories, so I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did.
The Lady Who Broke the Rules is set in 1816. In the United States, the trade of slaves was abolished in the north in 1804, after which manumission in those states gathered momentum. In the south though, cotton was in increasing demand (paradoxically thanks to the north’s industrialisation of textile manufacture), slaves were a hugely important part of the economy, and resistance to abolition was significant.
Virgil was born into slavery in the south and freed in the north. He was one of the fortunate ones who came to true eminence and used his wealth to give others the chances he had had to make for himself. Though in reality this kind of success was rare, it was not unheard of. Robert Purvis is just one example of the black philanthropists from whom I took inspiration for Virgil, but his entrepreneurial side is an amalgamation of a whole number of black men and women who flourished in Nineteenth Century Boston, renting out real estate, setting up restaurants and beauty parlours, making shoes and clothes for the mass market, taking on the Establishment by training as lawyers and doctors.
Across the pond, a huge number of aristocratic families had derived a large part of their wealth from plantations in the West Indies which relied on slavery, but their influence was on the decline. The actual trade of slaves became illegal in 1807, and although it was not until 1833 that slavery itself was abolished, by 1816 the growing Abolitionist movement, coupled with the decline of the economic significance of the West Indies plantations, made the idea, if not the reality, of slavery much less politically and socially acceptable than it had been a decade or so before.
My research for The Lady Who Broke the Rules taught me that a large number of the British abolitionists were women, and so I made my heroine, Lady Kate Montague, one of them. It was one of the few political causes in which it became acceptable for women to participate, and in which women took a leading and influential role. I relished the opportunity to create a heroine who could, without it seeming a historical anachronism, be active politically and philanthropically. Josiah Wedgewood’s daughter Sarah, who introduces Kate to Virgil, was just one real life example I drew on when writing her.
There’s a huge difference between perception and reality. Kate, like me, had only read about slavery. Virgil had experienced it. As a writer, I had to try and imagine myself in both sets of shoes. Whether I’ve managed it or not – well, that’s for you to decide.
I have a signed copy of Kate and Virgil’s story to give away. Just leave a comment for a chance to win.
The Lady Who Broke the Rules (Castonbury Park 3) is out in October in the UK, digital only in the US and Canada, though it will be released in a print duo (Ladies of Disrepute) with Book 4 in December. Here is the blurb:
‘Your rebellion has not gone unnoticed…’ Anticipating her wedding vows and then breaking off the engagement has left Kate Montague’s social status in tatters. She hides her hurt at her family’s disapproval behind a resolutely optimistic facade, but one thing really grates…For a fallen woman, she knows shockingly little about passion! Could Virgil Jackson be the man to teach her? A freed slave turned successful businessman, his striking good looks and lethally restrained power throw normally composed Kate into a tailspin! She’s already scandalised society, but succumbing to her craving for Virgil would be the most outrageous thing Kate’s done by far…
There’s excerpts, background and more about my books on
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