Who wants to be An American Duchess?
Are you a fan of Downton Abbey? I’ve been a fan of the 1920s since I first read The Great Gatsby as a teenager. I’d written several Regency romances and Downton Abbey’s popularity gave me the courage to try something new. I sat down and wrote a funny exchange of telegrams between an austere British duke and his brash American bride—a couple on the brink of divorce.
Here’s an excerpt:
dear madam stop the duke of langford does not divorce his wife stop
In response, the next day he received a telegram that read:
my dear husband stop our marriage is a drafty and leaky institution stop with sagging roof and no modern plumbing stop we are not comfortable in it anymore stop we have outgrown the edifice stop
So once again, he found himself at the telegraph office in the village:
speak for yourself madam stop
To which she replied:
there must be some scandal stop that would make you willing to let me go stop intend to cause embarrassment in the extreme stop
This became the inspiration for An American Duchess, an October release from Harlequin HQN.
Why was it so exciting to write in the 1920s, the era when automobiles, jazz, and the brassiere became household words? I had as much fun as when I watched the Dowager Duchess of Grantham sit in a swivel chair and utters her now-famous line about daily battles with Americans. I realized it’s entertaining to see how people reacted to the technology we now take for granted, and to watch how people survived so much social change.
My heroine, the American Duchess, is Zoe Gifford, an American heiress and aviatrix, who needs a hasty marriage to gain access to her trust fund, and save her mother from disaster. Zoe has endured rejection by snobbish New York society, and she craves change and excitement. Nigel Hazelton, the Duke of Langford, and Zoe immediately spar over women’s rights, jazz dancing, coping with grief, and electric lighting—or lack of it. They drive each other mad but can’t resist each other.
I thought I’d share a few tidbits of my research for the “set” of my story.
The inspiration for Brideswell, the Duke of Langford’s estate:
Nigel’s home, Brideswell Abbey was inspired by details from several English estates. In one scene in the book, Nigel follows his brother Sebastian to the gallery and they get into a fight over Zoe. My gallery setting was inspired by the scene in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice where Colin Firth walks his hounds down a long gallery. I also read up on Highclere Castle, the “real” Downton Abbey, which is still occupied by the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. (The photo is of the staircase of Highclere Castle)
I created complete menus for some of the meals, such as Zoe’s first dinner at the estate. I planned out four courses, though I only mention some of the food in the story, such as the Hors D’Oeuvres of Grilled Oysters in Lemon Garlic Butter and Caviar Cucumber Canapés. “The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook” by Emily Ansara Baines was a helpful resource.
Creating jazz clubs was a lot of fun. Murray’s was a real club in the 1920s, and there was a cabaret of women performing in scanty costumes that included grass skirts. After a disastrous night out at Murray’s, Zoe and Nigel—along with his sister and brother—spend the night at the Savoy hotel. I loved having the chance to recreate the hotel’s lobby, smoking room, and some of the suites for the story—it was almost like staying there.
The Wedding Dress
It’s funny how distracted you get in the first draft. In revisions, my editor reminded me that I forgot to describe Zoe’s wedding dress! This made me think of the anticipation surrounding Lady Mary’s dress on Downton Abbey. I studied old wedding photos, paying special attention to hemlines. Zoe pushed the limits when it came to short skirts, but what kind of choice would she make for her wedding dress—something edgy and scandalous or more traditional? (The photo shows Princess Mary’s wedding dress in 1922.)
For the wedding ceremony, I had a plum dropped into my lap. In this time period, the word “obey” was taken out of certain wedding vows. That was too intriguing not to include in a scene.
My research always inspires me to write more. I read up on World War 1 to understand my hero Nigel, and was inspired to write a prequel novella to An American Duchess. The Heaven that is Home, about Nigel’s experiences around the war, is now available.
I’m giving away a digital copy of The Heaven that is Home to everyone who comments (any format). And one lucky winner will receive a signed print copy of An American Duchess!
Thanks so much for having me here.
Thanks for joining us, Sharon, and for your very generous giveaway! Readers, for a chance to win a copy of An American Duchess tell us if you watch Downton Abbey. If you do, who’s your favorite character? One person will win a copy of Sharon’s new book. And anyone who comments will bet a digital copy of the novella!
And do check out Sharon’s website for more info, excerpts, and buy links!
I do love raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, but there are a few things I favor even more. One of the most fun things about having friends on Facebook is that they know what I love, and they support my addic–I mean, my interests. There isn’t a week that goes by that one of my readers doesn’t send me a photo of Kate Middleton, a cute hair style, or Flynn Rider.
Pictures of cats, antiques, and the Frozen princess also make people think of me. I think that’s a good thing. I mean, I could make people think of weeds or garbage or something, right?
If I were to die tomorrow, I could live with being remembered for admiring the Duchess of Cambridge and watching Downton Abbey. What about you? What would you be remembered for?
Recently a friend of mine was telling me about a story she heard on NPR about the Downton Abbey Law. Since Princess Galen prefers to listen to the soundtrack to Frozen non-stop in the car, I hadn’t heard the story, but I listened to it (and so can you) here.
Some of you may know that the British Parliament recently changed British law so that the first-born child, be it boy or girl, can inherit the throne. We haven’t tested this yet, as The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had a boy, Prince George, but going forward females will be equal to men in terms of inheriting the throne.
I suppose it follows then that British aristocrats would want the same rights. The laws of inheritance in the Regency period I write about are much the same as they are now in England. If one is a the first-born daughter of a duke or an earl or a marquess, or any of the peers, you get neither the land nor the title. It goes to your brother. If you don’t have a brother, it goes to the next closest male relative.
This is why the law is called the Downton Abbey Law. If you watch Downton, you may remember in the first episode that Lord Grantham’s heir and his son are killed on the Titanic. The earl has no sons, only daughters, and so a search for the next male relative begins. It’s a distant third-cousin, a lawyer (shudder—he works for a living), and so the story continues.
I believe the law has a good chance of passing, and I support it. After all, sexism is sexism, even if it’s rooted in history and tradition. The history and tradition are quite lovely and dear to me, as I spend most of my days immersed in them. I’ll be sad to see the laws change, sad to see one more thing from the past turned over, but I am glad to see women given more rights.
What do you think?
Anne won a copy of TRUE SPIES. Congrats, Anne!
This blog originally appeared in January. 2013. I’ve updated it at the end…
RELAX: NO SPOILERS IN THIS BLOG
On Sunday, January 6, season 3 of Downton Abbey premiered in the U.S. Many of you, like me, have been waiting months and months for it to resume. We’ve had to carefully avoid any spoilers from over the pond, where it was already showing, and we had to watch the first and second seasons again in preparation.
Some of you are wondering what all the fuss is about. That’s easy.
1. The Clothes
Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Sybil wear fabulous clothes.
2. The on-again-off-again love affair between Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley is riveting and often surprising. It doesn’t hurt that Dan Stevens, who plays our hero, is easy on the eyes.
3. The conflicts dealing with the servants below stairs are just as fascinating as those dealing with the gentry. In fact, sometimes they’re even more interesting. Love, hate, money, scandal, treachery, murder…that’s what makes Downton Abbey so popular.
Are you watching Downton Abbey? If not, why not? If so, what do you like about it? Warn us if you include any spoliers!
It breaks my heart to read that blog. Little did I know what awaited our dear Crawley family. So much tragedy. Guess what? Downton is starting again in September. September? What? Yes, it’s playing in the UK. Want to watch it when the Brits do? I found this information on how to watch Season 3 using Tunnel Bear. It’s only $4.99/month. Here’s the link with the info for Season 3. I’ll be watching Tunnel Bear for season 4.