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Interview

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

Jessica Fellowes and The Chronicles of Downton Abbey

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Jessica Fellowes

Today marks the US release of the second companion book to Downton Abbey, The Chronicles of Downton Abbey, and I have Jessica Fellowes here once again for an exclusive interview about the book and upcoming third season! You can read the interview I conducted last year, for the release of The World of Downton Abbey, here.

We are almost exactly one year after the publication of The World of Downton Abbey: how thrilling has the response been to the first companion book, and did you ever expect to pen another?

The response to the first book was absolutely amazing. I saw my name at the top of the UK Sunday Times bestseller list (yes, I have it framed and hanging in my bathroom!) and in the New York Times bestseller list, and that’s not something I had ever dared hope for. But even better than that were the hundreds of positive comments online from readers, as well as emails and tweets that were sent to me by people who had enjoyed reading it. The best thing for me was that readers liked the rich photography and the behind-the-scenes details but they had also been pleasantly surprised to find that they were learning by stealth, taking in the history of the period and so understanding even better the attention to detail that the production achieves. In other words, I think the book enriched the viewing and that was what I really had hoped for. I was actually very surprised when the publishers said they not only wanted a second book but wanted one with as much text as the first! But I was, of course, delighted to be asked.

The Chronicles of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes

Compare and contrast the process of creating The Chronicles of Downton Abbey versus The World of Downton Abbey? Did you feel more confident this time around?

We made the decision that this book would be even more personal – both in terms of my own voice and take on the show, and also in terms of it being much more led by the characters. We also brought in a brilliant researcher, Matthew Sturgis, who was able to bring a fresh eye to the material, which helped. It was great for me, as it meant I more or less sat in my corner at home and after a good read around was able to just get on with the writing. I did feel more confident, yes, just because I feel that much more knowledgeable about the period, also because I know the characters so well and because I felt that readers had told me that I managed to do a good job before. But it’s still nail-biting when you hand the manuscript in and wait to hear back from your editor!

What are some things readers should expect from the second companion title to the series?

It’s much more character focused than the first book, so each person is analysed in three different ways: their own storyline and how that has developed across the series; how the production (costume and so on) contributed to making their character come alive, as well as what the actors think of their own characters; their historical counterparts and what their cultural reference points might have been – the books they might have read, movies they might have seen, newspaper stories that might have inspired them.

Downton Abbey has made an even greater cultural impact in 2012 than in 2011—what predictions and speculations do you have about the future (i.e. period dramas, books, clothing, etc)?

Now that ‘Dowager gems’ has become a Twitter hashtag, it’s hard to know how much further it can go! The republishing of previously forgotten books from or about the period, has been a joy to me. Some of the clothes are obviously rather wonderful to see, although I hope the comeback fashion doesn’t extend to corsets. Nor would we want our dentists or doctors to go down any kind of retro road! But perhaps it’s possible that a reflection on what the previous generations struggled to achieve that we might reap the benefits today – women’s vote, equality of opportunity – will revive a social conscience and political interest that would be a good thing to see.

Now that the denizens of Downton Abbey have moved into the 1920s, what is their outlook on their post-WWI society? What differences or similarities will we see eight years after our first meeting with Crawleys and their servants?

What’s interesting about that time is that there was a real divide between the generations. The older ones tended to want to get back to the way the world was before the War. But the younger generations seized the opportunity for change with alacrity. War had turned everything upside down, as well as escalated change – social, scientific – and they could see that if they didn’t make the most of it immediately, it might fade away. The hardest time was had by the men and women who had fought on the frontline or worked in hospitals witnessing gruesome injuries: no one wanted to hear their story. I was very struck by the lack of sympathy shown to former soldiers, when one might have expected the opposite of what we think of as a gentler time in history. But people were keen to either get back to business or celebrate a life they now knew to be short and not always glorious.

Name some of the amazing sources you uncovered whilst writing The Chronicles of Downton Abbey!

I’d recommend to anyone interested in that time to try and read the newspapers – they give such a good sense of what people were interested in, what they were buying (always look at the ads, too!) and who the personalities of the day were. That was my best tip, received from Juliet Nicolson (‘The Perfect Summer‘, ‘The Great Silence‘). For Chronicles, I drew a lot from Grace and Favour, the memoirs of the Duchess of Westminster, Loelia Ponsonby. Lots of wonderful detail about the time – she was great friends with the Bright Young People, particularly the instigators of the Treasure Hunts and the Bottle Parties. A great read!

Last but not least, any hints you can give us about the third series? 😉

Ha haa. Of course not. But I can say that you won’t be disappointed – it’s the best yet.

Purchase the US edition on Amazon, visit Jessica’s official website, the Macmillan website, or follow her on Twitter! The UK edition, which went on sale Sept 13, may also be purchased on Amazon. Look for the official scripts for S1 and S2 early next year!

Interview with Juliana Gray, Author of A Lady Never Lies

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I am delighted to present and interview with a brand new voice in historical romance, Juliana Gray. I had my eye on her debut trilogy to moment I saw the words “Victorian Italy”, and luckily, book one, A Lady Never Lies, more than lived up to my expectations! Thankfully, our clandestine author (you will find out why at the end!) was able to squeeze an interview between her busy schedule.

Beatriz Williams aka Juliana Gray

Juliana Gray began writing as a child to relieve the tedium of being sentenced to her room, and later turned to romance to relieve the tedium of unsatisfactory suitors. Sadly, despite five years’ residence in the most exclusive areas of London, she never met a single duke, though she once shared a taxi with a future baron.

Juliana’s debut romance trilogy, including A Lady Never Lies, A Gentleman Never Tells, and A Duke Never Yields, was largely written when she should have been sleeping. She enjoys dark chocolate, champagne and dinner parties, and despises all forms of exercise except one.

A Lady Never Lies is the first in your “Affairs by Moonlight” trilogy. I know Shakespeare’s Love Labour’s Lost was an inspiration, but how did you tie all of your ideas together to create each romance?

I’d always thought that Love’s Labour’s Lost made an intriguing premise for a romantic trilogy: three men (four in the actual play, but I love working in threes!) swear off women for a year of academic study, and naturally three irresistible women show up first thing on their doorstep. And having used Shakespeare as my starting point, I really wanted to invest the trilogy with all those things that make Shakespeare so wonderful: the Italian setting, which occurs so frequently in his works; that sense of comedy alternating with seriousness and even pathos; the telling interactions between master and servant; the magical realism in which curses and ghosts invade and overturn the well-ordered world of the protagonists. Those elements then led me into Verdi, who’s such a perfect match for Shakespeare — he adapted many of the plays to opera, in fact — as I went hunting for subplots to bring each couple’s story to life. So there’s really nothing random in any of the books: it’s all thought out carefully and winds up in a classic all-hands-on-deck finale in the last installment.

Our intrepid hero, Finn, is the inventor of an early motorcar. Whilst researching this exciting period in automobile history, what were some of the things that surprised you?

By the time I came to write ALNL, I thought I knew a fair amount about the development of the automobile. I became obsessed early on as a fan of the outrageous Blake Edwards comedy The Great Race, which takes place in the early 20th century around a New York-to-Paris car race, so I knew that there were all types of automobiles competing for technological precedence, and the internal combustion engine was something of an also-ran until various social elements all fell into place. But the one thing that really astonished me — my copyeditor even queried me on it, as in “Really? This isn’t a typo?” — was that automobiles in 1890 weren’t allowed to exceed speeds of four miles per hour (walking pace, essentially) and had to have three accompanying men with flags to ensure public safety. This was all a put-up job by the railroad interests, of course, but it made life pretty difficult for early automobile enthusiasts, as you can imagine!

A Lady Never Lies by Juliana Gray

My primary source of enjoyment of ALNL was how heroine-centric the story was. I’m one of those semi-rare types who reads for the heroine, so who was conceived first—Alexandra or Finn? How important is the relationship between the three women to the overall plot running through all three books?

Alexandra was definitely conceived first! She sprang from a secondary character I’d created for an earlier manuscript effort, who ended up taking over the story. I knew going in she might be a little difficult for readers to take — she’s full of flaws, and not the usual faux flaws of romance heroines — but she’s just so witty and so larger-than-life, I couldn’t bear to stifle her. The other two heroines have their own distinct personalities, and may surprise readers when their own stories are told, but they are related, they love each other, and they complement each other very well. Everyone seems to be looking forward to Abigail’s romance with the Duke of Wallingford in the last book, but I do have a soft spot for my quietly passionate Lilibet, who travels such a long and difficult road to her happily ever after with dashing Roland.

The entire trilogy takes place at roughly the same frame of time—any challenges keeping everything tight to this time frame? Did choosing this method of plotting lead to any unexpected developments?

Well, it was all very easy in ALNL: I could just write the story as it unfolded, having the secondary characters pop in and out as needed. Of course, when I came to write the next books, I had to figure out why Roland came strolling into the peach orchard at midnight, composing poetry, and why the Duke of Wallingford burst into Finn’s workshop covered with goose feathers! But I did have an overarching story in my head when I began, and I kept to the same schedule with each book, giving me a natural structure to work with. So in many ways the second and third books were more straightforward: the architecture and the characters were all in place, so the challenge was to keep it fresh and interesting, to surprise the reader who will go into the sequels with certain preconceptions that I hope to overturn!

Why 1890 specifically?

I wish I could say it’s because the era has always captivated me and all that, but in truth I had in mind an early Edwardian setting in the beginning! But when I went to submit the proposal, my agent and I agreed that we were already going way off the beaten romance path with our automobiles and our Italian setting and our mysterious curses, so we should at least pull the story back into the more familiar Victorian setting. And since 1890 was about as early as we could go without losing the automobiles, well, that’s where we landed!

Did you conduct research before you began writing, or was it an ongoing task?

I’ve been doing the research for most of my adult life; the period before and during the First World War is my own personal hobby horse (as it is yours, Evangeline!). So any research I did while writing tended to be of a very specific nature: fastenings on women’s clothing, to bustle or not to bustle, technological state of lead-acid batteries, whether or not certain hotels had electric lighting or gas. At one point my copyeditor said I couldn’t use Baedekers guidebooks, and I was able to say, oh yes, they most certainly were available in 1890!

What draws you to the romance genre, and to historical romance specifically?

I am a romantic, I just am, and I don’t think I could write and sustain a story that didn’t have a love element in it somewhere. I’m just fascinated by the emotion of erotic love, and the havoc it plays in our lives, and the various ways it plays out for different people. Jayne Ann Krentz made the fabulous point once that popular fiction is about flawed people striving for the heroic virtues, and that’s such an essential human need — to have heroes, and to strive for heroism, and to become our better selves for the sake of someone else. So I love reading and writing about that struggle, and I love the way in which it plays on the historical stage, before irony and cynicism gobbled up our inherent human romanticism.

Any research tidbits you were forced to delete from the book?

I can’t remember whether I deleted anything, but I was absolutely determined to work Mercedes Jellinek into the story somehow. I had to twist a few facts to do it, for which I apologize in the historical note at the end, but I think I succeeded!

Convince skeptical readers why they should try your books in less than ten words

Your favorite English aristocrats, told in a fresh new voice!

At the risk of having my nose rapped with a fan for impertinence, dare I ask what is next on the horizon?

The next two books will be out soon, with A GENTLEMAN NEVER TELLS hitting bookstores in early November and A DUKE NEVER YIELDS concluding the trilogy in February. And Berkley’s asked me to do another three books, which I’m working on now. Same time period, same world, even a few recurring characters, but this time we have three princesses who disguise themselves among the staff in three aristocratic households, in order to hide from a mysterious assassin. (Royal assassinations were all the rage in those days, as I’m sure you know!) The first book, HOW TO TAME YOUR DUKE, will be out in June 2013.

Juliana Gray is also Beatriz Williams, author of the wildly romantic mainstream novel, Overseas. You may visit both incarnations of this immensely talented author online:

Juliana Gray – Website/Facebook/Twitter

Beatriz Williams – Website/Facebook/Twitter

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Jessica Fellowes and the World of Downton Abbey

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When Downton Abbey ended its first series, little did I suspect that a companion book was in the works. Once news of the book was confirmed, and its cover and drop date released to the web, I was determined to interview its author, Jessica Fellowes. The wonderful closeness of the world wide web made this easy, and I promptly typed up an email, nervous and hopeful that she would be available! Needless to say, she was, and her response was interesting, enthusiastic, and made me even more excited to watch the upcoming season!

Jessica Fellowes

Bio: Jessica Fellowes is an author and freelance journalist. She is currently writing ‘The World of Downton Abbey’, based on the hit ITV series, to be published by HarperCollins in September 2011. Jessica’s next book is ‘The Devil You Know: Looking Out For The Psycho In Your Life’, co-written with the forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes, it is published by Hodder and out May 12 2011. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Country Life, she has also been a columnist for the London Paper – her columns formed the basis of her book ‘Mud & the City: Dos and Don’ts for Townies in the Country’, published by Book Guild. She also writes for the Daily Telegraph, Telegraph Weekend, Psychologies and The Lady.

Before writing the companion book to Downton Abbey, were you familiar with the Edwardian era?
My favourite authors are from around late Edwardian time up to the second world war – from Edith Wharton and EM Forster to Graham Greene, PG Wodehouse, F Scott-Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh, Dorothy Parker… – so I had a general sense of that time already. Plus I was familiar to the degree that my grandfather was born in 1912 and Julian (Fellowes, who wrote the television series and is my uncle) has always had an interest in that period, so they both sparked a curiosity in me for that era. There is something in the nature of that time’s reaction to the Victorian sensibility, the partying heyday of King Edward VII and general naughtiness of the first decade that was then rushed headlong into a world war and all the ensuing tragedy, that is very compelling. But much of what I learned of the Downton Abbey time (1912-1919, for the purposes of this book, covering series 1 and 2) was new – and fascinating!

What did you most enjoy about writing the book? Did you come across anything surprising over the course of actually researching and writing the book?
I really felt very privileged to write this book because it gave me such a wonderful excuse to indulge in reading about and around that time. What I really loved was reading memoirs of people at that time that are now beginning to be republished, which I’m thrilled about – there are some extraordinary voices out there that have been silent for such a long time. The lady’s maid, Rosina Harrison, who worked for Lady Astor at Cliveden, as well as all the male staff she interviewed for a book. The sad but illuminating tales of Lady Diana Manners, Consuelo Vanderbilt and the Countess of Warwick. I think the thing I found that was not so much surprising as revealing was that there is a general assumption now that people 100 years ago sat within the class system as we see it now. That is, that to be a servant must have been a demeaning and awful life and that everyone else was a heartless aristocrat. Of course, they were just as human as we are in the 21st century – some enjoyed the life, some didn’t; some were nice, some were horrid; some fought for change, others preferred to leave things as they were. I think we often patronise the people of the past and we are deeply wrong to do so. The thing I also found really interesting were the parallels between then and now. While the look of everything circa 1912 feels positively ancient – corsets and top hats – it wasn’t that long ago, just two or three generations. And they were living in times of huge scientific and technological change which impacted on the way they organised and lived their lives, just as we are now.

The World of Downton AbbeyDid you expected Downton Abbey to be so popular? Why do you think it struck a chord with so many people across the globe?
Well, as Julian said when welcoming the cast back to the first script reading for series two (when the first one wrapped, of course, no one knew what the reception would be like – they departed unknowns and came back together as huge stars), one doesn’t like to say that one didn’t expect it to be a success because that makes it sound as if one didn’t have faith in it. But the reception it received did feel extraordinary – like some fairy tale where all the wishes come true at once. I think that there is a combination of factors that all just came together at the right time: a great script, beautiful location, gorgeous actors and costumes – these are all a part of it. But where Julian and Gareth Neame (the executive producer) were so clever was in giving all of the characters, above and below stairs, equal weight. There is a fascination with class still and in our rather pressured and constantly changing times we do hark back to the old days and wonder if they did everything so much better. On top of all that, there was something wonderfully cosy about everyone sitting down and watching the same programme on Sunday nights.

What are some things readers can expect in the official companion book?
I really hope readers feel they get a lot from the book. We (that is me, and the amazing team at Harper Collins that put it all together) wanted to do more than just a ‘making of’ book. That element is certainly there but we put something together that has three major layers – the series itself, in which we discuss the characters and the storylines of both series, looking at backgrounds and motivations; the cast and crew, where we see how it was put together and explore the locations and costumes; and, finally, the context of how life actually was at that time, with stories from real-life counterparts. These layers are sandwiched together with sumptuous photography and period illustrations. It was very hard work putting something like that together in record time but I’m thrilled with the results.

Matthew Crawley in the trenchesWho is your favorite character and why? On that note, who is your least favorite character?
Well, you’re not quite asking me to name my favourite child, but….! It’s hard for me to say because I have such a different relationship with the characters now – it’s so much more than having simply watched them in the programme. And I hope readers at the end of the book will feel the same way as I do. I researched so much into what Julian’s ideas of their backgrounds were, what the actors thought in playing them and then in looking at how life would have been for them then, that you feel something for all of them. Even the bitter and twisted Miss O’Brien has her sympathetic side (admittedly, you have to look hard for it) – and I admire her, because she’s at the top of her career tree and she would have worked hard and sacrificed a lot for that (not least a husband and family). No, I’m sorry – I just can’t select two in that way! They’ve all got something one enjoys watching and hearing about.

When watching the first series, what are elements you hoped series two will explore?
We knew, of course, that we would be going in to the First World War for series two, and I was fascinated to see how Julian and the production would handle that. I think they’ve done it brilliantly. The horror of war is in both the statistics and the individual stories and they’ve conveyed both aspects very movingly. I was intrigued to see how the characters would handle the demands of war – from Violet who detests change of any sort to Daisy and her superstitious fears. No one is left untouched in that regard, and I think viewers will find that gripping. At the same time, it is not overtaken by the war – we still get to enjoy the beautiful world of Downton Abbey, the girls still have wondrous clothes and the romantic tangles are just as entangling….What more could one want?!

Sum up why we should rush to buy “The World of Downton Abbey” in less than ten words!
Because it’ll make watching it even better.

Visit Jessica on her website or follow her on Twitter.

Purchase The World of Downton at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, or The Book Depository US. The audiobook (read by Elizabeth McGovern!) is also available through Amazon.co.uk or The Book Depository.

New interview with Jessica about the new Downton Abbey companion book, The Chronicles of Downton Abbey.