Come to Puddling-on-the-Wold, where aristocrats are sent to mend their ways after all parental scolding and punishments have failed. Twenty-eight days of a regimen specifically tailored to each Guest has never failed, and the residents of Puddling have prided themselves on a job well done over several generations.
But the village may have met its match in their current Guest, Henry Challoner, a former British army captain who has had trouble settling into the civilian life his father wants for him.
Schooling the Viscount was one of our picks for the best romances of January 2017, and we got on the phone recently to talk with Maggie Robinson about her new Victorian-set series that had us in stitches.
Amazon Book Review: How did the idea for your new series come together?
Maggie Robinson: When people ask me where I get ideas from, my husband says I have squirrels in my head that are very active and running around and zipping around [laughs], but really, I was thinking about how nowadays there are rehab centers everywhere, and people have so many issues, and supposedly as a society we are more compassionate towards people who have problems. And I read some just horrific stories about what happened to women, particularly in Victorian times, who did not conform to the expectations of society. I thought, "Well, gee, wouldn't it be nice if, at the time, someone had been less draconian in locking someone away and [instead] tried to make them come to terms with what their issues were, gave them a good healthy diet, and lots of exercise and fresh air—all the sorts of things that are supposed to be good for one but were not really in vogue in the nineteenth century? Wouldn't it be nice if there was a place you could just go where you could relax and refresh, like a Golden Door spa?" I'm a big traveler—my husband and I have spent time living in the Cotswolds on long vacations. I just grabbed these little bits of ideas all together and made up a place that I would like to go to relax and rest.
I loved how the setup was that the villagers had been doing this for a while now—the whole town was in on the rehab program. There are a lot of comic moments in the novel…but it also deals with Henry's trouble re-acclimating to civilian life after fighting in Africa in the First Boer War. Can you tell me why you focused on that challenge he had?
I had researched the Second Boer War [for an Edwardian series], and I didn't know much about the First Boer War. I decided to go back just a little bit to write about Victorian stuff and I discovered that the First Boer War lasted only, like, thirty days. But it was awful. It was a terrible time to be an English soldier. The English army was very poorly prepared, they were sending people all over the world, and they weren't even fed properly. Henry has seen too much. He's fought African natives; he's fought Boer farmers. Although he's seen some bad stuff, he's still has a pretty strong sense of himself and he has a sense of humor. So he did not lose that.
I think that almost everything I've written has been a combination of taking something that's serious, but yet not taking the serious thing too seriously. My characters have made mistakes but they don't let the mistakes make them. They try to overcome whatever obstacles have been in their past, and they don't sit around examining their navels saying, "Oh, woe is me." They are proactive about their lives.
Henry is one of my favorite characters. I was writing a little bit older characters, but in this case, he's only twenty-four or twenty-five, and the heroine is twenty-three or twenty-four, and it was fun to think that you could be so young and yet be so experienced. Nowadays we forget that people have always done things at a very, very young age. We think that teenagers and young adults don't know anything. But they've known stuff for quite a while.
I can. The heroine is a duke's daughter who has put up her dukes more times than a lady should. She's very feisty—I don't like the word "feisty" but she's very feisty, she's very independent. She has been bullied and pressured by her family to make a marriage that she's not interested in, so she of course has gone way out of her way to put everyone at a distance. And actually, when she gets sent to Puddling, she's enjoying that, because she doesn't have to marry the guy her father has picked out for her, and she just does all these naughty little things because she doesn't want to go home after twenty-eight days. She wants to stay indefinitely, because the longer she stays, the less she'll have to face the music. She's a tall, redheaded, two-fisted, brawling kind of person who is really larger than life. And of course she falls in love with a guy who's got a stick up his...rear end. He's very regimented, very strict, and he thinks that she's a crazy person. That book was also a lot of fun [to write]. There's a lot of humor in that as well.
What appeals to you about writing historical romances?
Well, I've always read them, [and] I'm really interested in history. It's funny, because I never took a [history] course in college, but I'm making up for that now because I do a lot of research. When you read historicals, you can lose yourself a little bit more. You can get away from all the crap that goes on in 2017 or whatever year you happen to be reading in. You're allowed to have a bit more fantasy. I've written a few contemporary novellas, which I've had great fun doing, but my first love is just historicals. It gives you that extra step away from reality that you could lose yourself in. And of course because I like to do the research and I like to find out how things were done, that makes it fun for me to write.
Even when I read mysteries, for example, I'd rather read a historical mystery than a contemporary one. I think I've just been born in the wrong century or something. I'm still enjoying myself, though.
Heat is nice.
[Laughs] Yes, and modern dentistry. Deodorant is really great.
For a long time Regency was the only thing happening in historicals, but there seems to have been a shift in the last five or so years toward Victorian times. Why do you think that is?
My very first series was a late Regency. 1820 or something. Speaking for myself, the conventions that are absolutely required when you write Regencies... I don't know. There were too many rules for me. If I made a joke or if I treated a certain trope too cavalierly, you get Regency readers who jump all over you and stomp you right to bits. It was almost self-protection for me. I wrote two Regency series and then I moved myself up to the twentieth century—oh boy!—and I wrote an Edwardian, and there was such freedom. I mean, my god, people were riding around in cars. You could get on a train. You didn't have to take a road trip in a carriage with four thousand other people on the roof. As much as I loved writing in the Edwardian series—it was a four-book series—historical readers would say, "I loved it but I really don't want to read about 1904. I want to read about 1804 or 1844 or 1884." I went back to Victorian times. But still I got away from the very specific rules and regulations of Regency. It's too restricting to me. I wanted everyone to have a bit more freedom. Me included.
My sense is that the Regency readership that used to be excited about setups like, "She's a virgin; he's a bad boy"…well, that doesn't fly anymore as the most exciting conflict. Now in Regencies the heroines are starting to be more interesting than they used to be. Like, she runs a newspaper, and nope, she's not a virgin.
I wrote a book like that actually. She did run a newspaper and she dressed in trousers, and everyone thought she was a man. And she was not a virgin, but she lost her virginity to the hero years before. But now I think there just has to be more of a twist without being ridiculous—without being so anachronistic that historians set their hair on fire. But the whole young virgin thing just does not interest me perhaps because I'm not a young virgin anymore [laughs], and I'd rather have someone with more experience or some sort of driving life force to read about. But not so modern that people say, "Oh, this is not realistic because this would never would have happened at the time." But if you do read about historical women, they were doing a lot more stuff than they got credit for. People just don't know that they were as wild as they were, or they were as inventive as they were. Gosh, you take the movie [Hidden Figures] that just came out about NASA and the three African-American mathematicians. I mean, why didn't we know this? Women have been doing stuff like this for centuries but they just don't get the coverage.
My final question: what is on your To Be Read pile that you're looking forward to reading?
I just ordered a book about Benedict Arnold, which has nothing to do with anything that I write, but I'm going to be reading that. I'm also going to be reading Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird. I'm going for some nonfiction, palate-changing stuff.
You might also like:
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