Our Romance Top Pick for August is Anna Bradley's Regency romp A Season of Ruin, part of the Sutherland Scandals series. We asked Bradley a few questions about her new novel, her favorite romance and her work at the Chawton House Library, a rare books library straight out of a Regency tale.
Describe your latest novel in one sentence.
What begins as a notorious London scandal flames into fiery passion between a prim, proper young lady and an infamous rake.
Before becoming an author, you worked at Chawton House Library, a beautiful rare books library located in an English manor house that once belonged to Jane Austen’s brother and now houses works by British women writers from the 1600s through the Regency period. What was the most interesting book or fact that you discovered while working at Chawton House Library?
I learned so much while I was at Chawton, but the one piece in the collection that never failed to give me shivers was a small stack of closely written scraps of paper of different sizes, housed in an unobtrusive hardcover box—the manuscript of Jane Austen’s play, Sir Charles Grandison.
To actually have the opportunity to read lines in Austen’s own hand—to see where she blotted out words or crossed out lines—well, that never ceased to be an incredible thrill for me. I used to look at those lines and wonder what Austen would think if she knew her writing was at the heart of a literary tradition that still thrives today. Do you think she’d prefer Colin Firth or Matthew McFayden for Mr. Darcy? Would she be a historical romance reader?
Chawton has posted some photographs of the Sir Charles Grandison manuscript online, which you can see here. Chawton has, I believe, since released a facsimile copy of the play.
How has your time at the Chawton House influenced your novels?
Working at Chawton made the historical aspect of the writing easier for me. I was already a 19th-century British novels addict before I started working there, but at Chawton I had access to dozens of books and authors I never would have otherwise, and reading that deeply into a period really gives you a sense of it. I’ve had readers ask if it’s difficult to be historically accurate with my novels. It isn’t, because that historical piece feels natural to me—so much so that I catch myself thinking and dreaming in “Regency-speak”!
I also find myself coming back to classic plotlines and characters, and I’m sure that’s a holdover from the novels I read while I was working at Chawton. When I first started writing historical romance, I didn’t even realize how heavily those works influenced me, because they are so much a part of who I am as a writer, but now that I have a little more writing experience, I can see how they played a significant role in the way I look at both historical romance and historical fiction.
What do you think is so alluring about the ever-popular Regency era?
For me, the allure has always been that it’s an era of such extreme contradictions. There’s the glittering aristocracy, with their debauchery and excess, and I think we’re fascinated with the titles and the manners, the gowns and the balls and the extravagance of the age. But the aristocracy and landed gentry during the Regency was a comparably tiny section of the population. Common people struggled with poverty, disease and, in London in particular, violent crime. When you juxtapose those two realities and throw the rise of industrialization into it, it presents a compelling picture of an era of a society at odds with itself, and to me, that’s a fascinating mix.
What was your favorite part of writing Lily and Robyn’s love story?
Well, I admit I had a terrible crush on Robyn from the outset, so I had a lot of fun writing his character, particularly his dialogue, but I think my favorite part of this story is the way Robyn and Lily fit together like two puzzle pieces. They appear to be so utterly wrong for each other, and yet each turns out to be the one person the other needs the most. I love that it is only Robyn who can free Lily from her fears, and only Lily’s love that can transform Robyn from a hopeless rake into a hero. I also loved writing the final scenes in this book. I won’t give it away, but the book ends with a bang, and those sections were so much fun to write!
If you had to bring one romance novel to the proverbial desert island, which would it be and why?
Just one? Oh, no—tough question! I hate the idea of leaving my Lorraine Heath and Lisa Kleypas favorites behind, but I’m going to have to go with Julie Anne Long’s The Perils of Pleasure, because I fell madly in love with her hero, Colin Eversea (he’s still one of my favorite book boyfriends!) and because it’s the first novel in the Pennyroyal Green series, which is the series that inspired me to become a historical romance writer.
What’s next for you?
More historical romance! I hope to bring readers the rest of the Sutherland Scandals, and I also have a new historical series I’m working on. I’m supposed to be on a little writing vacation for the next week or so, but I’m so excited about this new series, I keep sneaking off to write little bits and pieces of it in secret. No titles yet, but think spinsters, rakes and hussies, with a hoyden or two thrown in for good measure, and that will give you an idea of what I have planned!