(Today at Risky Regencies we’ve invited Andrea Pickens to be a guest blogger, and tell us about her newest release The Scarlet Spy! Comment for a chance to win an autographed copy…)
“Deftly blending an expertly realized historical setting and a deliciously subtle sense of wit, Pickens gives the popular espionage-tinged Regency plot a refreshing new twist as she brings the Spy trilogy to a spellbinding conclusion”–Booklist
Hi everyone! Amanda has invited me back to the Riskies to talk about my new book, which hit stores October 1. First of all, it’s so great to be back here among such a fun community of readers. I love stopping by and seeing all the smart, savvy discussions–and I never cease to be amazed by all the great things I learn here. It’s–well, it’s humbling. And inspiring, for I feel a knowledgeable, discerning audience challenges an author to try to create something really special.
Now back to the book! The Scarlet Spy is the third in my Regency-set “Spy” trilogy. The series revolves around the idea of a secret school for female spies. The students are orphans from the rough slums of London, who are trained in the art of swordplay and seduction. They’re tough, courageous, and smart (not to mention sexy!). Yet they also have an inner vulnerability.
For me, this was the foremost challenge–to create strong heroines who had very complex, and at times opposing, facets to their characters and use those conflicts to make them interesting and appealing to present-day readers. And I liked the idea of turning tradition on its ear by making women the kick-ass agents. After all, the Regency was really the beginning of the “modern” world, when so many old assumptions and attitudes were being questioned in art, politics, science, and society in general. The wars raging throughout the Continent reflected this clash of old and new. Women, in particular, were rebelling against the constrictions of the past. Many weren’t content with traditional roles and dared to explore their passions.
I’ve tried to make each of the three heroines very different individuals, and place them in different settings. Siena, from The Spy Wore Silk, is a brooding, introspective agent whose assignment involves attending an art auction at a rambling manor house in the wilds of Dartmoor. Shannon, whose explosive temper gets her in trouble, is the star of Seduced By A Spy. She sees action in Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland, where she teams with a rakish Russian spy to defeat a French assassin.
Sofia, who is featured in The Scarlet Spy, is the most ladylike of the three. Unlike her roomates, she has a natural grace and regal bearing. So it seemed right to put her in the heart of London, with a mission that calls for her to be introduced into the ton in order to learn who is running a ring of corruption operating in the highest circles of government. Not only does she spin through the glittering ballrooms of Mayfair, she also must explore the seedier parts of the city, where drugs and high-stakes gambling are just a few of the vices that abound.
I was very careful to base my plot on the realities of the time. For instance, smoking opium attracted a number of rich aristocrats who were drawn to “living on the edge.” One of the things that excites me about writing historical fiction is trying to make history come alive for those who might now know much about a particular era. For some odd reason, I’ve always been fascinated by the past–maybe because there are so many parallels to the present. I love trying to conjure up the taste, the smells, the feel of an era, so that it becomes richly textured, relevant, and real to readers.
That said, some readers have complained that my books aren’t “traditional Regency stories.” In other words, they are Risky! I take that as a huge compliment. Those who think the Regency just a polite world of formal tea parties and balls, governed by rigid rules of decorum that no one ever dared to defy have obviously never read the posts here. As all the Riskies have often pointed out, beneath the silks and satins was a darker side to Regency life. Sex, gambling, drugs, gossip, corruption–these forces were just as much in play in the 19th century as they are now. After all, human nature is human nature! So, while I may push the boundaries a bit, I take pains to be precise with historical details. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction!
I’ve been accused of being far-fetched in making women sword-wielding spies. But I like to point out that my research turned up a number of fascinating facts that show the era was anything but strait-laced. I wonder how many people know that there were actually women fighting onboard British ships at the Battle of the Nile, one of Nelson’s great victories. There are stories of females enlisted in the navy disguised as men, but Naval records confirm that Ann Hopping, who later remarried and was known as Ann Perriam, served as a powder monkey during the Napoleonic Wars.
And there’s the story of the cross-dressing Cound d’Eon, who disguised himself as a woman to spy in Russia–or was ‘he’ a ‘she’ who disguised herself as a man to spy in England? Wagers abound in the betting books of London regarding the true sex of the expert duelist. (An autopsy proved once and for all that d’Eon was indeed a man).
Research is always a fun part of writing a book. The Scarlet Spy is set in London, one of my favorite cities in the world, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit there a number of times over the years. So I’ve had a chance to walk through the parks and streets, studying the architecture and little details like door handles and window shapes. One of my favorite afternoons was accidentally stumbling upon St. George’s, Hanover Square, where many aristocratic weddings were held!
And of course the museums and galleries offer a wealth of inspiration. The Victoria and Albert is a treasure trove of fashion and everyday items, from keys and dinner plates to tea tables and wallpaper designs. (I think the guards thought I was a little weird getting down on my hands and knees to study a carpet pattern…) The world class art galleries, especially the National Portrait Gallery, also show a fascinating array of people and scenes of everyday life from the era.
Closer to home, I’m very lucky to live near a fabulous resource of original material from the Regency. The Center for British Art at Yale has a wonderful study room, where visitors can peruse the collection of prints and watercolors. I’ve spent hours looking at prints by Rowlandson and Gilray. I’ve also been able to go through boxes of Turner watercolor sketches (yes, actually touch them!). That’s been such an inspiring experience I’ve made the hero of my current WIP a gentleman artist.
In case you’re wondering what’s next after the spies of Mrs. Merlin’s Academy, I’m working on a new trilogy for Grand Central Publishing, which revolved around a small circle of intellectual females. The new trio of heroines are beautiful, brainy ladies with an expertise in science–and each has a dark secret in her past that comes back to haunt her. They’re scheduled for release in 3 consecutive months, but they won’t hit the shelves until early 2010. I hope to be back sometime in the future to tell you more about it! In the meantime, please check out my website for chapter excerpts, arcane trivia, and the chance to win autographed books from me and other GCP authors.
Hi Andrea! I’ve really enjoyed this series thus far and I know I’ll race through The Scarlet Spy, as well.
Glad to hear of more great books in the hopper!
Okay, these books sound FABULOUS!! I LOVE the idea of female, sword wielding spies in the Regency! I mean they would literally be the LAST people men would expect to be spies which gives them a distinct advantage!
And the new series coming out in 2010 sounds intriguing as well! Sure we can’t push those forward a bit. After I devour the Spy series I would love to jump right on the next one.
Congratulations on your new book!Your series of women spies sounds fascinating. I am one of those people who was not very interested in history but as I’ve gotten older it has become much more interesting so I do enjoy visiting this site where they have these great posts that make correlate history with the books I love to read.
Santa, thanks for such nice comments. I’m glad you have liked the other books, and hope you enjoy Sofia’s story.
Louisa, I wish we could shake a stick at Grand Central, but schedules are planned so far in advance. And I actually have to write all three in advance, too (LOL) so it’s hard to hurry!
And Maureen, I’m so glad you are enjoying “history” and all the fascinating glimpse at life it gives. You have picked a wonderful site to visit often, because the Riskies offer so many interesting posts that truly make the past come alive.
Whoopeee! I enjoyed both of your previous “Spy” books and have been waiting patiently (okay, not so patiently) for the third.
Personally, I find history’s minutae fascinating and it adds depth and color to any story. Keep up the good work. (2010 you say? Sighing here.)
See, I’m not the only one who wants you to hurry! Gwynlyn is anxious to read the new series too!
When you write a series do you keep notes of certain things to make sure you keep it all straight. Do you write each book linearly or do you sometimes write them side-by-side?
Were there any specific pieces of research concerning the role of women in the world of nineteenth century espionage that helped you with the Regency Spy Girls?
I love history and especially love those instances when you find something in research and think “How cool! I never would have thought that!”
Thanks Gwynlyn and Louisa! Maybe GCP will agree to hurry things along. I’m also planning to write a short story prequel to post on my website, in order to keep readers aware that I’m still here!
Louisa, those are great questions. I write my books linearly. For me to try to craft two sets of heroines/heroes simultaneously would be too tough. I need to really get into my character’s head,and that’s hard enough as it is. That said, I sometimes get a flash of inspiration about a scene, or trait that is perfect for one of the upcoming characters. So I will stop and makes notes of the idea. Then I set them aside.
As for real life female spies, I was more inspired by the idea of the Napoleonic Wars, and the craft of espionage in general. I’ve read a number of books on codes, and I find that subject fascinating. And then, I just love the romantic allure of the Scarlet Pimpernel, so I thought it would be fun to change it up and let the girls be the hero, LOL
Hello, Andrea! Sorry I am so late getting around this morning. 🙂 I have to tell everyone I got a “sneak peek” at this story when it was in manuscript form, and Sofia is actually my favorite of the 3 heroines (though I loved the other 2 as well). I’m so excited to see her out there now!
Thanks, Amanda! I admit, I’m going to miss my “Merlins.”
nice to see you back here at the Riskies and congrats on the latest release.
Thank for having me, Janet. I love visiting here!
(I think the guards thought I was a little weird getting down on my hands and knees to study a carpet pattern…)
I feel vindicated! Amanda can tell you that on our 2003 England trip, I constantly asked the guards about the carpets.
Welcome back, Andrea! The Scarlet Spy sounds marvelous and I’m delighted you have another trilogy coming, even if it is in 2010.
Congrats on the new release. I look forward to reading Sofia’s story. Which spy is your favorite?
Hi, Andrea! I haven’t read these yet, but they sound fantastic! I’m always glad to find romances featuring strong, smart heroines–though they may seem unconventional for the time, I think that those characteristics in women are timeless! Although I’m as impatient as the next reader when it comes to release dates, I do love when a series is released in consecutive months–yay! And thank you for considering a prequel to give us a taste while we wait! Thanks for blogging today!
Hi, Andrea. It’s great to “see” you back here and congrats on the new release!
Diane and Andrea are in charge of organizing a Regency period carpet inspection tour of the British Isles for us. Whose with me?
Hi, Andrea. I’ve only recently “discovered” you and look forward to reading your books! Two first for me: discovering you, and my first comment on Risky Regencies!
Loved your interview!
Sorry—had to run a LONG errand, and will now catch up with all the lovely comments:
Jane, that’s a tough question about which is my favorite spy—like asking a mother which is her favorite child! Each one is dear to my heart .. .hopefully you will read the books and let me know YOUR favorite.
Elena and Diane, it’s great to be back. Loved seeing you at RWA . . .wish there were more conferences!
Fichen1. I’m so glad you like the idea of a consecutive month release. It seemed neat to me, so I agreed to the long delay, since that was the only time it could be slotted in. I will definitely work on that prequel and keep everyone here posted about when it might appear. And I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview.
Sherrie, How nice that we have finally “connected.” I’ve seen your name so many times, and am friends with most of the “Wenches” so I’m not sure how we have missed each other. Anyway, thank you for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the spies!
Doglady—A trip to England? I’m there! But we might need a rich “protector” to sponsor a trip to the UK these days. Anyone got any ideas? LOL
Doglady!!!! You are back!
Sherrie!!!! It is so nice to see you here with the Riskies.
Andrea, I wish we could all see each other more. Somebody needs to invent a transporter.
Divine One, apparently Google/Blogger decided I needed to be doglady again! Too funny! I’m thinking Gerrard Butler would be a very generous protector and could afford to foot the bill for several “companions” to accompany him on a fact finding trip to England. What do you say, O Divine One?
“Diane and Andrea are in charge of organizing a Regency period carpet inspection tour of the British Isles for us. Whose with me?”
I would SO go on that trip! Especially if GB was out sponsor… 🙂
Do you think if we all put our heads together and wrote a VERY sweet letter, GB might be convinced escort a bevy of witty, fabulously interesting women on a house tour? Tee Hee. (Ladies! Don’t trample each other to get to the head of the line)
Oh, please, me, too! I’ll try to avoid being too pushy, but asking for witty and fabulously interesting might be beyond what I can pull off! 😉
I vote we ask the Divine One (Diane G.) to hand deliver our petition to Mr. Butler. There is nothing like a hand delivered note to seal the deal. I KNOW it would be a great sacrifice but I am SURE she could be persuaded to take one for the team!
I second the suggestion! Diane, you are the GB designated hitter! LOL
I go away for a few minutes and all of a sudden I’m “volunteered” to ask GB to escort us on a tour of England???
Well, okay….but only if he can take us to Scotland, too, and if my friend Patty Suchy (who did that tour where I examined carpets) can come, too. She’s the one who told me to watch Phantom of the Opera.
You go, girl!
Thanks for guest blogging today, Andrea!
Diane and Andrea are in charge of organizing a Regency period carpet inspection tour of the British Isles for us.
I’m in! If Gerard’s there, anyway. Or Hugh Jackman would be good. Or David Tennant! (Okay, I better shut up now, or Janet will make fun of me.) 😉
Can I come? Can I come? Can Toby Stephens also accompany us? Sort of get that every period piece feeling to it all?
I have never read any of your books and in fact did not even know about them until now.
The poremise sounds fascinating and has interested me. I will be searching my local bookstores for copies.
All the best.
I love your books. And I like to read about non-traditional females in Regencies. In my opinion, we need more of them. Keep it up.
Linda, thank you so much for the lovely compliment! I’m so glad you like my books, and hope you’ll enjoy The Scarlet Spy. She is certainly unconventional!
And Buddyt, I’m glad you stopped by, and hope you will give the “Merlins” a try. Come by here often because you will discover lots of wonderful writers and interesting info!
I have never read any of your books but would love to. They sound like they would be a fantastic read.