Just over a year ago, when my editor asked me if I’d like to be one of eight Harlequin Historical authors writing a continuity series, I leapt at the chance, even though I didn’t have a clue what I was letting myself in for. None of us had worked together before. Between us, we covered several countries and time zones. And aside from telling us that it was to be an ‘upstairs/downstairs’ style Regency, and that Harlequin wanted ‘scandal, scandal, scandal’, we had no brief. So after the initial euphoria wore away, the panic took over.
You would not believe how much debate can go into choosing a family name. Or the sequence for the books, and the timelines. What servants would we need? Who was where for each of the stories? Could we overlap? And as if things weren’t complicated enough, the tight timescales meant that the eight consecutive stories were almost all being written at the same time. How do you write the family’s reaction to the ending of the previous book when the previous book’s ending hasn’t been written and may not even have been decided? Believe me, it was complicated.
Some things fell easily into place. Two of our team had recently visited the beautiful Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, a Palladian house built by Robert Adam which looked just perfect for our rich and aristocratic Montague family. We had floor plans, descriptions, photos and vital first-hand knowledge which would make it much easier for us all to be consistent. As for the timing, we needed to kick off our series at a turning point in the family, and Waterloo came pretty quickly to mind, not just because it was such an important battle, but because of the economic and social unrest which followed twenty-odd years of war.
We had to populate our house with the key ‘continuity’ characters – servants, family and villagers. We set them up in our cast list database with names, characteristics and often pictures – the ailing head of the house, the Duke of Rothermere, his waspish sister, Wilhelmina, Lumsden the eponymous butler, the enigmatic housekeeper Hannah Stratton, the head groom Tom Anderson, are just some of the many characters who pop up regularly. But the cast list was by no means static. As we got into our writing, quite often one of us would invent a new character with a potted history, which others would pick up and use. Carole Mortimer’s vicar, the rotund and cherubic Mr Seagrove, was so endearing he became very popular. We shared places too – Ripley & Hall the cloth merchants which Sarah Mallory originally invented, provided fabric for dresses and school uniforms in other books, and the little island in the centre of the Castonbury lake which Bronwyn Scott dreamt up becomes a special place for my hero and heroine too. Between us we created a world so detailed that it felt real.
But the regulars of the Castonbury cast aren’t the only connecting thread which runs through the series. Although each book is a stand-alone romance, there’s also a mystery which is drip-fed, story by story – and that was a very tough nut to crack. Email upon email passed between us as we debated, and even when we’d finally decided on a ‘missing heir’ type story, keeping track of the detail, of who knew what and when, and what clue was to be revealed where – seriously time-consuming stuff, I assure you.
Meeting our editor’s demand for ‘scandal, scandal, scandal’ on the other hand, was great fun, especially when we teemed it with the ‘upstairs/downstairs’ theme. One of the series heroes is a chef, another a groom, mine is a freed African slave. There’s a ladies maid as a heroine in one book, and there are dark secrets in most of the stories. And while most of the stories are set in and around the family estate, there are trips to India and Spain in others.
My novella, Flirting with Ruin, introduces the world of Castonbury Park. The first of the full-length books, The Wicked Lord Montague by Carole Mortimer, is released this month. We are all really excited about the release of our series. Hopefully you’ll be just as excited about reading it!
Flirting with Ruin (Undone! Prequel) - Marguerite Kaye, June 2012
The Wicked Lord Montague - Carole Mortimer, August 2012
The Housemaid’s Scandalous Secret - Helen Dickson, September 2012
Lady of Shame - Ann Lethbridge, November 2012
The Illegitimate Montague - Sarah Mallory, December 2012
Unbefitting a Lady - Bronwyn Scott, January 2013
Redemption of a Fallen Woman - Joanna Fulford, February 2013
A Stranger at Castonbury - Amanda McCabe, March 2013
Excerpts, background and more about Castonbury Park and all of Marguerite Kaye's other books on www.margueritekaye.com.