It may take me longer to reply as I am heading into deadline mode for the next two months with writing STEALING THE ROGUE’S HEART, Rookery Rogues book 4.
Please know that I read all notes from readers and am grateful for your questions and comments! I appreciate your patience as I work heartily on my next book for you
Teddy is probably my nerdiest hero to date, with his love for logic, law, and routine. He’s afraid of heights, black pudding, spiders, the outdoors, and being refused by his lady love, but he’ll face all his fears to keep Claire safe and break her family’s curse. (If you love nerdy heroes, check out my novel, Secrets in Scarlet too!)
Claire has been dubbed the Mad Daughter by the ton, and still mourns for the mother she lost to the fringes of lunacy. Her deepest fear is that she will be locked away in her own mind, a danger to Teddy. She should stay away, yet she just can’t.
Check out my Pinterest board to see what inspired this novella!
And for more information on the Ticehurst asylum where Lady Brauning was imprisoned, check out this blog post I did here.
The Haunting at Castle Keyvnor series is here! Four books with three novellas each, all interconnected. Characters, settings, and even supernatural elements will reappear in different books. For instance, in my novella The Mad Countessin Mystified, you’ll find mention of Ava Stone’s Jack and Cassy (Vexed), Renee Bernard’s Elethea Fairfax and her coven (Mystified too!), Michelle Willingham’s Jane and Devon (Bedeviled), Claudia Dain’s Hal Mort (Spellbound) and Kate Pearce’s Violet and Letty (Bedeviled). So to get the full experience, you’ll want to read all four books! You can start anywhere in the series and still be able to follow along.
Purchase your copy of Mystified:
In regards to the Matter of the un-entailed Estate of the late-Jonathan Hambly, 10th Earl of Banfield, be advised that your attendance is urgently required at the reading of his lordship’s Last Will & Testament, to take place on November 1st of this year at Castle Keyvnor in Bocka Morrow, Cornwall.
Mr. Timothy Hunt, Esq.
When the late-Earl of Banfield’s distant relations descend upon Bocka Morrow, they’ll find gypsies, witches, pixies, smugglers, and one very haunted castle. And if they’re lucky, they might just fall in love while they’re there.
MYSTIFIED, The Haunting of Castle Keyvnor includes:
Renee Bernard’s The Sweetest Curse
Jerrica Knight-Catania’s Possessed by a Stranger
Erica Monroe’s The Mad Countess
Theodore Lockwood, Earl of Ashbrooke, has been in love with his best friend, Lady Claire Deering, for as long as he can remember. Claire too harbors a secret desire for him—but a witch cursed her family with madness, and she’s terrified she’ll only hurt him if they act on their feelings. When a will reading at a mysterious castle in Cornwall brings them both together, they’ll work to break her family’s curse…and find true love.
What are early readers saying about The Mad Countess?
“I was transfixed – reading from beginning to end. I didn’t put it down until the end. Erica Monroe does an excellent job transporting the reader from Cornwall to the very haunted walls of one very dark, dank castle. This is a slight departure from Ms. Monroe’s other stories. But she does a phenomenal job with all of the paranormal facets of the story – as with everything else. She is an excellent writer.”
“The hero and heroine are brave, very much in love, and tug at your heartstrings. Each of the strong secondary characters fits a niche in the story and fills the role beautifully. There are twists and surprises in this well-written story. Read and enjoy this one. You’d have to be mad not to (couldn’t resist).”
“Monroe shines...[she] is a wizard at creating convincing characters, I love her heroes, and Teddy might be my favourite so far…THE MAD COUNTESS is full of unexpected plot twits, and the romance is almost too gorgeous for words.”
This post was originally written for Deb Cooke’s blog, and can be seen here as well.
I have always been drawn to the darker, sadder side of history, the facts that aren’t told much because they aren’t pleasant to talk about. I believe survivors of tragedy deserve to have their stories told, and that the greatest hope can be found in facing the darkness with light. I’ve written about the London underworld of the rookeries, the devastation of grief when a family member is murdered, and now with The Mad Countess I’ve explored the dismal lives of patients in Regency lunatic asylums.
They say that writers face their greatest fears when they put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as is oft the case now). For me, this has always been true—my historical romances are dark and gritty, where the stakes are often life or death. I tap into the scariest corners of my mind in crafting the suspense subplot that runs through every book I write to some extent. It’s only through writing that I feel like I have control over the terrifying elements of the world, because in romances the happily ever after is assured, and all the more sweeter for the many, many difficulties the main characters have to overcome to get to that happiness.
In The Mad Countess, I faced another fear—one far more internal than my usual suspenseful subplots, as Claire’s family is cursed with madness. Claire’s fears that she will become trapped in her own mind, separated completely from reality, is one that many people may experience. While today we have healthy, safe treatment options for patients with mental illness, during the Regency madness was highly misunderstood and often equated to a death sentence for people viewed as “abnormal” by society. If they weren’t left to wander on the street, they were imprisoned in a lunatic asylum, where they were treated more like criminals than patients. Many stories still circulate about the horrors of being trapped in the public Bethlem Hospital, which functioned as an asylum for those of the lower classes. (Indeed, “Bedlam,” as the hospital was often called, was so much a part of the culture of the time that the word came to mean the general state of madness as well as the hospital.)
In The Mad Countess, Claire’s mother, the Marchioness of Brauning, is imprisoned in the private lunatic asylum Ticehurst, a real-life nineteenth-century institution for aristocrats and other members of the upper echelons of society. (You can actually view the entire case records for Ticehurst Asylum online and it is a treasure trove of information about the historical treatment of madness.) Ticehurst, with its gothic summer house, aviary, pagoda, and many acres of gardens was considered the best treatment money could buy. Noble families could send their mad relative off to Ticehurst and hope the rest of society forgot this apparent stain on their reputation.
But as you can see in the online records of Ticehurst, the outlook for mental patients in the nineteenth century was still quite bleak. In The Mad Countess, Claire’s mother drowns from a forced submergence of water in “the chair,” which bound all of the patient’s extremities and kept them upright as cold water was dumped on their head and warm water on their feet. The belief was that the cold water would “kill the mad idea” and rid of the body of mental derangement. (Obviously, this is not true.) Water therapy was used as a method of sedation, as a method of restraint (foregoing physical shackles in favor of the chair, bath box, or shower room), and also to bring out behavior that society viewed as more acceptable. In asylums, patients were also often shackled to the wall, and kept in rooms with metal bars across the windows or doors. Instead of feeling like a hospital, the asylums became more like prisons.
The treatments which I have discussed were not practiced by all doctors, thankfully. During the nineteenth century, reform-minded individuals worked to better the conditions for the mentally ill. And as with any historical research, it is important to keep in mind that we view all things from our modern-day standpoint—these treatments sound absolutely appalling to us, but at the time they may have been the best care available and not meant to deal harm. We have made a great many medical strides throughout the centuries.
It is with compassion and understanding then that we as writers try and relay these disheartening parts of history, in hopes that by showcasing what happened we learn to not make the same mistakes or inflict the same kinds of wounds. Ultimately, with dark romance, the goal is to present those fears, and in doing so give the reader a feeling of empowerment over their own demons. Claire conquers her curse, and you too can conquer the darkness in your past. Your future need not be defined by the wounds of your history.
Erica Monroe is a USA Today Bestselling Author of dark, suspenseful historical romance. She was a finalist in the published historical category for the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Romantic Suspense, and her books have been recommended reads at Fresh Fiction, Smexy Books, SBTB, and All About Romance. When not writing, she is a chronic TV watcher, sci-fi junkie, and comic book fanatic. She lives in the suburbs of North Carolina with her husband, two dogs, and a cat. Visit Erica online at ericamonroe.com and sign up for her new release newsletter at bit.ly/mlem4.
Thank you for making I Spy a Duke an Amazon bestseller!
If you’ve already purchased or reviewed I Spy a Duke, then I am infinitely grateful to you. This week, my little book about a duke of spies and a governess with secrets rocketed to the top of the Amazon Regency Romance and Mystery Romance lists at #1. This is a huge personal best for me, so I was very, very excited. (It also put me on another “author rank list” for a short time where I was listed with J.D. Robb and Janet Evanovich as popular suspense authors, so THAT WAS AMAZING.)
When I started indie publishing in 2013, I did it because I believed that there was a place in the historical romance world for dark romance that broke boundaries and crossed social classes. (For more reasoning behind my indie pub decision, see here.) In the past three years, I’ve had a lot of really, really wonderful moments and interactions with readers that I continue to treasure.
So thank you so very, very, very much to every reader who’s ever purchased my books or reviewed them–you’re the reason I have the career I dreamed of when I was a little girl, telling a story that started from the beginning of our car trip and didn’t end until we reached our destination. (Sorry, Mom, for all the racket!)
The story of Beauty and her Beast has appealed to me ever since childhood. As an awkward, bookish girl, I wondered when someone would truly appreciate the real me. I must have watched the Disney movie a hundred times. At the very core of Beauty and the Beast is the friendship that builds between the two protagonists. Though Beauty is initially hesitant to spend time at the castle—unsurprising, given the circumstances of her arrival—she starts to see the Beast in a different light the more time she spends with him. After a while, he is no longer this scary creature, but instead a man she’s come to love.
While the central focus of most of the folk iterations of Beauty and the Beast focus on the Beast’s transformation, the stories tend not to characterize Beauty beyond her obvious aesthetic appeal. I think that’s why I’ve always loved the Disney version the best: it shows that both Belle and Beast are affected by their newfound relationship. Beast is no longer trapped in his past pain, and Belle has finally found someone who thinks she’s incredible just the way she is.
I find this is a central theme in every romance I write. To me, true love is about acceptance. It’s about seeing the complete beauty of a person. That’s why Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite: their love becomes something more. It is not based solely on visual appreciation, but instead a bond between two souls.
There are several commonalities in the iterations that I chose to incorporate into writing this book. The basic premise that Beauty must enter this deal with Beast because of something her father has done. The presence of siblings: though in most texts only Beauty has two sisters, I chose instead to give both Strickland and Abigail sisters. Beauty returns home and then realizes she loves the Beast. And of course, there are a few scenes I snuck in as direct homages to the movie version.
When Abigail Vautille popped onto the page in Secrets in Scarlet, I knew that she needed a happily ever after. Her scars made her believe she’s the Beast, and she must learn to love herself again. Michael Strickland, who also debuted in Secrets in Scarlet, captivated me from the beginning with his devil-may-care attitude. While Michael is physically attractive, he has a lot to learn about life and love. In this sense then Abigail and Michael are both the Beast, and at times they’re both Beauty. This dichotomy interested me. I think we all go through moments where we are either beastly or beautiful; we are never just one thing. It is our flaws that make us beautiful, as much as our strengths.
This novel contains my first depiction of a real life person in the scene with Superintendent Thomas Bicknell, who really did lead the H-Division of the Metropolitan Police at this time. All characterizations of Bicknell as a bumbling egotist are mine and mine alone, bearing no historical relevance and added simply for story enrichment.
Beauty and the Rake also draws on historical setting details from the East London areas of Cheapside, Whitechapel, and Spitalfields. While the Crispin Street Market is still active today, the clothing markets in Petticoat Lane are sadly no longer in existence. Spitalfields, with its long history of weaving, remains a vibrant community rich in culture. I have tried to stick as close to the actual street layout and locations of shops, etc. that was relevant in 1832—though of course, some errors may occur in my placement. The Chelsea Bun-House mentioned by Abigail was indeed a real shop that closed in 1839.
I greatly enjoyed doing the research for this book, and I hope that it adds a feeling of authenticity to your reading.
The 1830’s are a fascinating decade for English history for many, many reasons. The country hadn’t shifted fully toward the morals of the later Victorian era, but the people started to separate from the Regency mindset as well. Particularly of note is the view of bastard children in England. What Poppy experienced is similar to many different accounts of women who had children out of wedlock, though of course I have dramatized it and changed it to fit the confines of my story. To be a ruined woman in England was a dismaying place in society to inhabit.
While I can’t find record of a particular Magdalen asylum in Surrey, these institutions existed in both Ireland and England at this time. They began originally as homes for prostitutes, but eventually expanded toward all fallen women and women who’d hit upon hard times. The asylums provided food and shelter, yes, but the women were often made to labor without little—or any—payment. The Magdalen laundries existed well into the twentieth century.
Further evidence of change in society can be attributed to the Industrial Revolution. This brought a migration to the cities and new advances in machinery. I touch on a few inventions in this book, but there’s so much more to this period that I couldn’t fit within the framework of Secrets in Scarlet.
Poppy and Thaddeus live in Spitalfields, London. This little pocket of the East End was at this period in time considered a rookery, for great economic downturn had passed through the area. Once, Spitalfields was a teeming community of Huguenot weavers, who had emigrated from the great weaving cities in France of Lyons and Tours. Those weavers benefited from London’s desire for lustrings, velvets, brocades, satins, paduasoys, mantuas, and of course silk. A series of acts throughout the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries made it harder import fabrics from France, and so the weavers became more in demand.
The repeal of the Spitalfields Weaving Acts in the 1820’s struck the small weaving community hard. Coming upon the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the weavers no longer had the financial control they’d maintained over England’s silk industry for centuries. The call for mechanization took hold, and these hand loom weavers who had grown up perfecting this one tedious, delicate way of weaving were left unable to match the easier, less taxing efforts of the mechanized looms. The need for so many weavers was gone. Families were left without incomes, forced to find new jobs in an already highly overpopulated city. Some families, like the Vautilles, went to work in the factories, while others turned to different trades.
Previously, weaving had been a family vocation, with each member of the family involved. The children served as a draw boys for the hand looms, while the adults worked the shuttles, etc. One type of mechanized loom that I mention throughout Secrets in Scarlet, the Jacquard loom, required no draw boy. Though it’s often referred to as a “Jacquard loom,” it’s actually an attachment that can be used with many mechanical looms. It could be operated by one person, and because of its punch card system, suddenly it was possible to work complex patterns into the silk without having to reset the loom each time. The Jacquard loom, invented by Joseph-Marie Jacquard, is one of the most fascinating pieces of machinery out there and the basic structure of it is still in use in today’s fabric industry. In fact, the Jacquard loom has been cited as having a great impact on the development of computers.
While the structure of a factory like the Larkers’s could have existed in London, most textile manufacturing moved out to Manchester and Lancashire. There, large cotton and weaving factories were run, utilizing steam power. In Secrets in Scarlet, because the Larker factory is set in Spitalfields, steam power isn’t used.
And one last note: until the creation of Scotland Yard later in the nineteenth century, London had no real detective force. The Metropolitan Police, created in 1828, were put into place to prevent crime. The belief behind their establishment was that increased patrolling of the streets, organization between districts, etc. would effectively eradicate crime before it could ever happen. They may not have been entirely successful in accomplishing these goals, but the crime rate did decrease after the founding of the Met.
This post originally appeared on History Hoydens. For more information on Spitalfields and weaving, check out my Pinterest board.
Thank you so much for having me again at History Hoydens! It’s such a joy to be here. Today I’d like to tell you a little about the setting of my latest novel in my historical romantic suspense Rookery Rogues series, Secrets in Scarlet. Now, a rookery is an old term for the poorer neighborhoods in London (basically the slums).
While the first book in the series (A Dangerous Invitation) largely took place in the Ratcliffe rookery down by Wapping and the London Docks, Secrets in Scarlet is contained to the Spitalfields rookery in East London. Spitalfields borders up against the surrounding rookeries of Bishopgate and Whitechapel.
Spitalfields wasn’t always a rookery though—once it was a busy community teeming with prosperity. The area was home to many Huguenot weavers, who when they emigrated from France they brought with them the secrets of the silk weaving in Lyons. The entire family would help weave on draw looms or hand looms.
Everyone in Britain wanted silk woven by these ex-French weavers. Skilled weavers were certainly not a dime a dozen, and though the process was incredibly time-consuming, they were able to make a better living than they would in many of the other occupations available to the lower class.
But during the 1820’s, all that changed. Britain revoked the Spitalfields Act, and now people could trade freely with France, so the Spitalfields weavers were no longer the ones producing this silk. Coupled with the new machinery that dramatically reduced production times—and the need for so many weavers—the small town descended into hardship. As Charles Dickens states in his 1851 “Spitalfields” article for the Household Worlds journal, “From fourteen to seventeen thousand looms are contained in from eleven to twelve thousand houses – although at the time at which we write, not more than nine to ten thousand are at work.” Most of the production moved to factories in Manchester or Lancashire that utilized steam power. In my upcoming novel Beauty and the Rake, my heroine, Abigail has weaved—either in a factory or in her own home—since she was a child, and it’s all she knows.
In Secrets in Scarlet, I created a factory that exists on White Lion Street. This factory has somewhat factual basis, because it was marked on a map I found of the Spitalfields/Whitechapel areas during the Ripper slayings (so as to whether or not there was a factory actually on this site in 1832, your guess is as good as mine, but I thought it was an interesting coincidence). My textile factory solely does the weaving of the raw silk, so no steam power is needed. My heroine, Poppy O’Reilly, goes to work as a weaver in this factory not only to pay rent, etc, but so that she can save up enough money for her daughter to attend a finishing school someday.
The new attachment made by Joseph Marie Jacquard hastened the downfall of these skilled weavers. I show this loom in Secrets in Scarlet, as my heroine Poppy works in a textile factory devoted to the weaving of silk. Though it’s often referred to as a “Jacquard loom,” it’s actually an attachment that can be used with many mechanical looms. It could be operated by one person, and because of its punch card system, suddenly it was possible to work complex patterns into the silk without having to reset the loom each time. You’ll see in the next picture that a portrait of Jean Marie Jacquard was actually woven on his jacquard loom! (I find this terribly clever and punny.) Modifications of this loom are still in use today in many clothing factories. In fact, because of its punch card system, the jacquard attachment is cited as one of the first steps toward modern computing.
For Poppy, the Jacquard loom makes her feel independent and in control. She’s in London under an assumed name, so that people won’t find out she’s really not a war widow—and that her daughter isn’t legitimate. It’s exhausting, excruciating work in the factory, from sun up to sun down, but it allows her to at least be able to make an honest living. Surrounded by immigrants like herself (she came to England from County Cork as a child), she feels at home. I loved being able to draw these parallels between residents struggling to embrace the changes forced upon them, to Poppy and her fight against society’s harmful views of her life.
Today, Spitalfields still boasts a charming community. One of my favorite blogs for research during writing Secrets in Scarlet was Spitalfields Life. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Confession: I have no idea where this post originally appeared, as I saved this file as “EBGuestPost” and wrote no other notes. I am awesome. So if this post originally appeared on your blog, uhhh, drop me a line, and thanks for having me way back in 2014.
I met my now-husband when we were both juniors in high school. We had similar social circles, but we had never really spent time together until he started to hang out with our mutual friend in the morning. There was something about him that drew me in. He was so quiet and unassuming, but when he’d smile it changed his entire face. I am a very outgoing person, and I made it my new mission to make him smile. But I didn’t really realize that I loved him until a few months into our relationship. We’d had a big fight, and not only did he apologize, but he made sure that all my anger was smoothed over. He was always doing things like that, making sure I was absolutely taken care of, going out of his way to do something special for us, etc. It was then that I understood that I’d found my soul mate (yes, even at sixteen!). We’ve been together now going on twelve years and we’ve been married seven.
If you could time travel, what time period would you most like to visit?
I’d like to visit romantic era England in 1832, and I’d specifically like to go to London. I would track down all the various rookeries (ie, the poorer neighborhoods) that I write about. While I’ve been to a few, like Whitechapel when I went on a Jack the Ripper tour, I haven’t seen them with the eye of someone who has done research. I’d particularly like to see Spitalfields, the setting of my last novel, Secrets in Scarlet.
If you could be a superhero, what power would you choose and why?
My favorite superhero is Batgirl/Oracle (for Barbara Gordon has been both of these heroes). Batgirl’s power is her eidetic memory, which would certainly be nice considering I’m incredibly scatterbrained. She has the ability to look at great amounts of information and find patterns in them. But if I couldn’t have her incredible analytic skills, I’d really like to be able to teleport places.
If you could have only 3 electrical appliances in your house, what would they be and why?
The coffee maker, because I am very scary without coffee. The microwave, because while I do like to cook now I don’t think I could survive without the microwave. My laptop, so that I could still write!
Where do you go for inspiration when the creativity well is running a little dry?
My tastes are pretty eclectic, and that is definitely reflected in how I brainstorm ideas. I watch a massive amount of television, from soap operas to crime shows, comic book-based shows, and sci-fi. I tend to create characters from certain archetypes that I like, and I adapt them to my version of late regency England. I also listen to music (Taylor Swift really helps me), or take a long walk with my dogs.
This post originally appeared on Deanna Raybourn‘s blog.
Inevitably, during the holidays, we turn to reflection. Perhaps we find a few things about our lives we want to change (hence the theory of New Year’s resolutions), or perhaps…we start to become amazed at how wonderful our life truly is. The things we thought were dooming us to fail have cleared away, and swiftly, we have the entire world poised before us. A brand new world ripe with possibilities, from new friends to new business endeavors to remembering that above all, we are loved.
To say that 2013 was a whirlwind year for me would be an understatement. Not only did I finish drafting my first novel, A Dangerous Invitation, but in December I published it. Now I can look at myself in the mirror and say, “hey, you fancy girl, you’re a published author.” There’s something bold and beautiful about that, and the knowledge that I’ve got all these stories inside of me just waiting to come out is powerful. I am utterly aware now that I control my fate. I’m starting to make a place for myself in the world of historical romance as the girl you turn to for anything vulgar, creepy, or related to London’s underworld. I have become, due to my obsession with suspenseful writing, the romance writer for nonromance people—if it goes boom, has dead people, or any element of gritty mystery, I’m your girl.
I could sit here, on my couch in front of my blissfully roaring fire, and I could tell you all of my accomplishments in 2013. The things that have meant so much to me, and how much I’ve changed (I bake things now. It’s incredible. I used to not be able to find where the kitchen was located in my house). But really, all of that wouldn’t have happened without this tremendous community in publishing of writers. And romance readers, bloggers—and those crazy readers who take a chance on me even though I write those books they don’t normally read, but hey, they’re feeling up for a change.
I joined Twitter in 2011. It changed my life. You might think I’m exaggerating, but in 2011 I lived in a small town in Florida. It was lovely, and I was close to my family, but it didn’t have a strong community of romance writers and hence I felt like I was floundering professionally. Through Twitter, I met up with writers who loved the same thing I did–Jane Austen, ahoy!—and they were willing to give me all this advice and support. My dear blog host, the lovely Deanna Raybourn, was one of the first writers to reach out to me. I remember squeeing to my husband that this woman whose book I had on my shelf was talking to me. Me! I was deemed important, and that club of published authors didn’t seem so impossibly far away.
Suddenly, I had a plan. I could do this writing thing. All those doubts I’d drilled into my mind over the years were somewhat mitigated by this constant flow of help from other writers just like me. And in July of 2012, I moved to North Carolina so that I could be closer to the writer’s group that had adopted me on Twitter—Heart of Carolina, a chapter of the Romance Writers of America. My husband found a job that was more fulfilling to him in the field of computers, all because I’d made some friends on the Internet. To say that I’ve grown in my writing in the past two years because of this group is an understatement. At my fingertips, I had access to over forty of the brightest minds I’d ever met. I went to conferences, workshops, meetings, coffee dates to discuss writing. I lived my book. As I settle down to write the next book, and the book after that, on and on…I keep these memories close to me.
I think now, as I look back on the year, what I’m most grateful for is this sense of community. Writing is at its heart, a lonely job. You pound away at your keyboard and you try and make sense of this ridiculous idea in your head. Nothing ends up the way you want it to and you start to fear that you are the world’s biggest hack. But then there’s people who reach out to you in your darkest days. They remind you that while your work right now might be wretched, it’ll be salvageable with a bit of editing. You aren’t horrible at your art. You just need to find new ways to express yourself, ways to communicate this deep-seated message within you.
This community pulls me back every time I think about quitting. I’m hard-pressed to remember a time when I didn’t have these great writing friends, these reading friends—how did I exist without you? I think I’m drawn to writing about stories about love and relationships because of this. I want badly to believe that love truly does conquer all. That there’s perfect people out there, who understand your flaws and your follies. I think I’ve found one in my dear husband, but it’s my hope that there’s a proper person for everyone.
If it happens that this year was harder than most for you, and you feel yourself wondering how in the world you’re going to get through another year, have hope. Things can change. You may find that life suddenly has promise, all because of one little thing you did that changed your life irrevocably.
Happy New Year!