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Check out the interviews held with talented writers and others who contribute to promoting the Belle Epoque!

Interview with Alison Atlee, Author of The Typewriter Girl + Giveaway


I am delighted to present an interview with Alison Atlee, whose debut novel, The Typewriter Girl has been released to rave reviews (including my own!). Alison Atlee spent her childhood re-enacting Little Women and trying to fashion nineteenth century wardrobes for her Barbie dolls. Happily, these activities turned out to be good preparation for writing historical novels. She now lives in Kentucky.

Alison has also produced a special treat for Edwardian Promenade readers, so read on to the end to find out!

The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee


When Betsey disembarks from the London train in the seaside resort of Idensea, all she owns is a small valise and a canary in a cage. After attempting to forge a letter of reference she knew would be denied her, Betsey has been fired from the typing pool of her previous employer. Her vigorous protest left one man wounded, another jilted, and her character permanently besmirched. Now, without money or a reference for her promised job, the future looks even bleaker than the debacle behind her. But her life is about to change . . . because a young Welshman on the railroad quay, waiting for another woman, is the one man willing to believe in her.

Mr. Jones is inept in matters of love, but a genius at things mechanical. In Idensea, he has constructed a glittering pier that astounds the wealthy tourists. And in Betsey, he recognizes the ideal tour manager for the Idensea Pier & Pleasure Building Company. After a lifetime of guarding her secrets and breaking the rules, Betsey becomes a force to be reckoned with. Now she faces a challenge of another sort: not only to outrun her sins, but also to surrender to the reckless tides of love. . . .

Do you have a background in Victorian history (grew up reading Dickens, Eliot, et al, education, etc), or was the period completely new to you when you were inspired to write The Typewriter Girl?
I wasn’t starting from zero, even though I’m not a historian. A lifelong interest in the 19th century has always steered me to studies and reading and travel that fed it.

Betsey is one of the more unique heroines I’ve read in historical fiction—did she come to you fully formed, or did you snag bits and pieces of her personality as you wrote?
It took me a while to get to know her. But in an early draft of the story, Betsey was in Idensea (the seaside town which is the main setting) first, and then returned home to London. When she walked into her flat, there was a man in her bed. I said, “Hey, you’re single, so who’s this?” From that point, I knew she was not the traditional Victorian miss, and she just kept surprising me (see below for more on that). Listen, I was once highly skeptical when authors talked like this, as though their characters acted outside the writer’s imagination or will. But then it happened to me.

Nosebags Cartoon

Issues of social status amongst the lower middle classes in late Victorian England are an important aspect of The Typewriter Girl. Did you find dealing with this layer of society more interesting than the more typical aristocratic protagonists we usually see?
The research led me on this. There were so many class issues surrounding these seaside towns as they grew into tourist destinations. Cheap rail fares meant you had rich and poor spending their leisure time in the same places, and it was an uncomfortable shift, at least for some. Like the conflicts surrounding the town of Idensea in The Typewriter Girl, controversies arose as developers had to decide what class of patron they wanted to attract. There were even types of amusements considered appropriate for the upper class, and others for the lower class. In the book, a pleasure railway (sort of an early version of a roller coaster) is an issue because it’s considered vulgar by some.

There was also something of a practical side to this. A book like The American Heiress (Daisy Goodwin), with such an extravagant, exclusive world, is fun and fascinating for me. And my original idea for Betsey’s love interest was an aristocrat. But when I came to write him, I felt, What does this guy do all day? The options that sprang to mind just weren’t that interesting to me. I knew two working class characters as the leads would make my story different from most of what I’d been reading. I liked that, even though I knew it was a risk that could discourage an agent or a sale. Luckily, the story found people willing to take the chance.

I could taste, smell, and see the seaside resort where Betsey is so anxious to work—have you visited any existing English seaside resorts, or did you construct this setting from research?
Both. One time I landed in London with a couple of weeks before I had to be anywhere in particular, and decided in baggage claim that I would head for Lyme Regis (because of Jane Austen, of course). I ended up traveling along the coast and falling in love with it. Research fleshed out the rest of the setting; Idensea is a mix of some of my favorite seaside places.

There is a fairly strong romance thread in The Typewriter Girl, which surprised and pleased me. It is, however, very unflinching and difficult. Did you have a clear view of its outcome, or was that up in the air until you completed the book?
The power dynamic between John and Betsey made things complicated–he has some authority over her in the pier company where they work, while her sexual knowledge gives her certain advantages over him. But in Victorian society, that knowledge puts her at a disadvantage, too, and causes John to see her in a limited way at first. Plus, they have conflicting ambitions. So yes, some tough elements. Despite what people kept trying to tell me, I thought I was writing romance, so I knew from the start there’d be a happy ending for John and Betsey. Just not how.

Who were your most challenging characters to write?
Betsey was hard, because she kept saying and doing things that made me say, “Are you sure about that??” I constantly questioned her in a way I didn’t the other characters. And I hated Sir Alton (the landowner and president of the pier company) through several drafts. I didn’t know what to do with him and was annoyed that he kept becoming more important in the plot. I finally figured out that while Betsey needed to see what could happen when she went after a dream (something John shows her), she also needed to see the consequences of suppressing a dream. And then I knew what to do with Sir Alton.

Was The Typewriter Girl the original title?
Some writers struggle with titles, but I usually have a moment when I just know a book’s name. When “Good Betsey” surfaced, I knew it was a bad, bad title and would never make it to a cover, but that was the book’s name. I was attached to it, but not at all surprised or upset when my agent suggested a change. “The Typewriter Girl” is something people can connect to more tangibly.

Any interesting research tidbits you were forced to delete from the book?
There’s a scene in the book where the pleasure railway breaks down. In the original, my entire development of this consisted of something like, “and then it stopped and refused to move again.” During revisions with my agent, she very rightly made the note, “might want to flesh this out a little.” Researching the mechanical minutiae of roller coasters sounded like the most horrible chore. “If it sells, I’ll fix it,” I promised myself, and hoped my agent wouldn’t notice that I had skipped that part.

The book did sell, thank goodness. Eventually I had to face that scene again, and like most things we dread, fixing it turned out to be not bad at all. I found a period account of a breakdown where passengers on the ride had to help push the car to the top of the coaster. Coming from an age of litigation and safety regulations, I was floored to read this and had to put it in The Typewriter Girl. And yes, that’s the opposite of what you actually asked. But that’s the tidbit that sprang to mind.

Convince skeptical readers why they should try your books in less than ten words!
Whatever you’re expecting, you have satisfying surprises ahead.

Can you share what’s next on the horizon?
I’m working on a story that explores the origins of a fairy tale.

Alison’s special treat is a giveaway of a vintage office-themed sticky notes, a copy of Kate Alcott’s The Dressmaker, and The Typewriter Girl, all in a canvas bag with a Gibson Girl print! Leave a comment below to be entered into the drawing!!

EP Giveaway 2

Purchase The Typewriter Girl at the following locations: Amazon | Indiebound | B & N | Powell’s

Connect with Alison on Twitter, Facebook, and her personal Website, and visit her amazing Pinterest board for the book!

Interview with T.J. Brown, author of Summerset Abbey


T.J. Brown

Reminiscent of Downton Abbey, this first novel in a new series follows two sisters and their maid as they are suddenly separated by the rigid class divisions within a sprawling aristocratic estate and thrust into an uncertain world on the brink of WWI…

Rowena and Victoria, daughters to the second son of the Earl of Summerset, have always treated their governess’s daughter, Prudence, like a sister. But when their father dies and they move in with their uncle’s family in a much more traditional household, Prudence is relegated to the maids’ quarters, much to the girls’ shock and dismay. The impending war offers each girl hope for a more modern future, but the ever-present specter of class expectations makes it difficult for Prudence to maintain a foot in both worlds.

Vividly evoking both time and place and filled with authentic dialogue and richly detailed atmosphere, Summerset Abbey is a charming and timeless historical debut.

T.J. Brown begins a sweeping trilogy set in Edwardian England with Summerset Abbey, her historical fiction debut. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Summerset Abbey

What sparked your interest in telling the story of your three characters and their lives on the cusp of WWI?

Though I’ve always been interested in the time period, (I read Amanda, Miranda, by Richard Peck when I was sixteen) I can come right out and say it was Downton Abbey that got my creative juices going. There is just something so lush and poignant about that time period because in retrospect, we know we are watching the dying of a way of life. Yes, that way of life was highly romanticized…only a miniscule percentage of the population in England actually lived that way, but it is still great fun to watch.

What did you most enjoy about writing the book? Did you come across anything surprising over the course of researching and writing?

I think I enjoyed being immersed in the time period. I had some brutal deadlines with this series, so basically, I lived the time period for months. I think the most surprising aspect was how modern it actually was—they had cars, electricity and telephones for much of the Edwardian period, even though these technologies were fairly young. The other time period I write in is the twenties and I had no idea just how much difference ten years makes!

Describe your trilogy in the first three words that come to mind.

Lavish, moving, enjoyable

Which resources have you found must-reads for learning about the Edwardian era?

For me, my number one go resource (besides Edwardian Promenade!), was the book, The Perfect Summer: England 1911 Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson. Gorgeous, informative book.

What books and/or authors have inspired you to be the writer you are today?

Louisa May Alcott and her book Little Women. Edna Ferber’s So Big and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I have read each of those books at least a dozen times. Probably more in the case of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Summerset Abbey: A Bloom in Winter

How has the popularity of Downton Abbey inspired or impacted your writing?

As I said above, Downton Abbey was the spark that started my creative process when it came to the Summerset Abbey Series, but my agent and I actually pitched an anthologies of four different themed stories set in that time period by four different authors called Summerset Manor. The amazing Lauren McKenna from Gallery Books, loved the idea, but really wanted a series written by the same author. She asked my agent if that was something I was interested in and after a couple of phone calls and some brainstorming, I had a three book deal. The publisher later changed the name of the series to Summerset Abbey.

Random Q from the Proust Questionnaire: Your favorite heroines in fiction.

I think the heroines in the books I mentioned above are three of my favorites: Jo March, Selena Peake Dejong and Francie Nolan. Also, Maud Reed from A Maud Reed Tale by Norah Lofts is an amazing heroine.

What are some of the themes you find yourself drawn to in your novels, and in the novels of others?

I was sitting at a writer’s conference with a critique partner listening to the Amazing Jayne Ann Krentz talk about how as writer’s we tend to revisit the themes that resonate personally. My CP turned to me and said, fish out of water. For a second I was confused and then I realized that she was talking about my books, and she is right. All of my characters are fish out of water. And if I look at the books and characters I love the most, they are all fish out of water, as well.

What’s next on the horizon?

I am dying to write a companion book to the Summerset Abbey series on Elaine’s story. She not only has serious mother issues, but she had a year at a finishing school in Switzerland that mysteriously changed her life. I am also hard at work on the second book in my young adult series about Houdini’s illegitimate daughter. I’m also really excited about another Edwardian series set in both London and India.

Visit T.J. on the web and on Twitter!

The Trilogy
Summerset Abbey (Jan 2013)
buy from: B & N | Amazon | S&S | Powell’s | Indiebound

Summerset Abbey: A Bloom in Winter (March 2013)
buy from: Powell’s | B & N | Indiebound | Amazon | S&S

Summerset Abbey: Spring Awakening (August 2013)
buy from: Amazon | S&S | Indiebound | Powell’s | B & N

Radio Interview with LiteraryNewEngland!


Cindy Wolfe Boynton of Literary New England invited me to take part in an interview for the one-year anniversary of her radio program.

Happy birthday to us! It’s the one-year anniversary of the Literary New England Radio Show, and we’ve got quite the show to celebrate!! Join us for great conversations and giveways with:

Jessica Fellowes on her magnificent The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era … along with a list of Downton-like books with a New England connection, provided by the Edwardian Promenade’s Evangeline Holland
Will Schwalbe on the so very poignant The End of Your Life Book Club
Sebastian Junger on his powerful new short fiction e-release, A World Made of Blood
An exciting announcement about our new partnership with the Boston-based Grub Street creative writing center
And more!

Listeners will have the chance to win The Chronicles of Downton Abbey and The End of Your Life Book Club

Have a listen!

Listen to internet radio with LiteraryNewEngland on Blog Talk Radio
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