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.
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.
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.