Chatting with Lauren Willig, Author of The Betrayal of the Blood Lily: and a Glorious Giveaway

Gentle Readers: Please join me in welcoming author Lauren Willig today as she answers questions about her new book The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, Jane Austen and what’s next in her writing career.

 Thanks for chatting with us Lauren! Your latest novel in the Pink Carnation series The Betrayal of the Blood Lily has just been released. This is your sixth venture into the Regency era and espionage during the Napoleonic Wars. Looking back on your first book in the series, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, could you share your original inspiration and what continues to spark your storylines? 

Thanks so much for having me here!  The Pink Carnation emerged from years of overexposure to dashing swashbucklers in knee breeches, usually played by Errol Flynn—the sorts of men who could hold the villain at bay with a rapier with one hand while writing sonnets to the heroine with the other, all without missing an iamb.  The more specific inspiration was Baroness Orczy’s demmed, elusive Pimpernel, that masked crusader known for whisking aristocrats from the very teeth of the guillotine.  There was just one problem.  The Pimpernel had it way too easy.  His men did as he ordered; the French were, well, French; and when he swung through a window on a rope, he always landed on his feet.  What if, I thought, one were to take that classic paradigm and complicate it?  The possibilities for slapstick—um, I mean, adventure— were endless…. 

Six years later, I’m still having fun playing with the conventions of the classic adventure story.  The Napoleonic Wars, during which my books are set, are a rich resource for plots.  So far, my characters have given English lessons to Napoleon’s stepdaughter, participated in an actual 1803 rebellion in Ireland, been eyewitness to the 1804 madness of King George, and narrowly escaped danger in the Maratha Wars in India.  I learn something new every time I sit down to write a book.  On top of that, another of the joys of writing a series is getting to play with a broad spectrum of characters and characterizations. 

And, of course, the knee breeches. 

Your new heroine Lady Penelope Staines is brash, opinionated and quite stubborn, all qualities that make for great conflict with hero Captain Alex Reid. Their sharp dialogue is priceless! What other similarly strong heroines and heroes do you admire in fiction? 

Thanks so much!  The Betrayal of the Blood Lily was written in part in tribute to M.M. Kaye, one of my favorite historical novelists.  Kaye wrote three massive epics, two set in India and one in Zanzibar, all featuring a variety of strong-willed heroes and heroines.  Alex, the hero of Blood Lily, is, in many ways, a composite of Ashton Pelham-Martyn and Alex Randall, the heroes of The Far Pavilions and Shadow of the Moon, both men of honor with serious issues with the Anglo-Indian establishment.  My heroine, Penelope, owes a great deal to the hero of Kaye’s Zanzibar book, Trade Wind; like Penelope, Rory Frost is a black sheep, scornful of conventions, wary of emotional attachments.  Other inspirations included Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey novels (I re-read the whole series while writing Blood Lily).  Penelope has a little bit of Harriet Vane in her, too. 

Blood Lily is set in exotic India in the early 1800’s. Your historical references are fascinating. What was your research process and can you share a favorite resource? 

I generally start out with an immersion period.  Months before I start writing, I pile up everything I can find on a topic and read my way through it: memoirs, biographies, monographs.  Since India in 1804 was such a new area for me, in the case of Blood Lily, I read everything from contemporary travel journals to military histories. 

The most notable influence on my story was William Dalrymple’s White Moguls, a detailed monograph chronicling the drama surrounding the secret marriage of the Resident of Hyderabad, James Kirkpatrick, to a Hyderabadi lady of quality.  It was bristling with the sort of characters one can’t even begin to make up: the mad young ruler, Sikunder Jah, who entertained himself by strangling his concubines with silk handkerchiefs; the courtesan, Mah Laqa Bai, who was considered one of the foremost poets of her day, and so renowned for her wisdom that she was awarded a seat on the ruler’s council of advisors; Mir Alam, a Machiavellian prime minister, once buddy buddy with Wellesley, but now slowly rotting away with leprosy and intent on revenge; and, of course, the English resident (basically ambassador), James Kirkpatrick, who had “gone native”, secretly contracting a marriage with a Hyderabadi noblewoman, a fact that pleased neither the Hyderabadi court nor Lord Wellesley, who launched an extremely detailed investigation into the love affair.  All of them play large roles in the book.  

Each of the novels in the Pink Carnation series has subtle allusions to Jane Austen characters or plots. You obviously admire her writing. Which is your favorite Austen novel and character?  How has she influenced your writing career? 

Despite the fact that my college nickname was “Emma” (for my matchmaking tendencies), I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Northanger Abbey.  Catherine’s youthful attempt to interpret the world around her through the lens of the novels she reads was all too familiar to me.  Note to self: sometimes fiction is fiction for a reason.  I also adore Austen’s sharp-witted send up of the snobberies and ambitions of contemporary society.  She skewers both the Thorpes and General Tilney brilliantly, while creating a perfectly lovable hero in Henry. 

As for how she influenced my writing career, I always come back to Austen whenever I get stuck in my own writing.  Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice are favorite re-reads for me.  (I’ll confess that I’m also a huge fan of the mid-90’s movie adaptation of Persuasion.  That bit where Wentworth helps Anne into the carriage….  Mmm.) 

Recently, Austen played a much more direct role in my writing life.  My next book, The Mischief of the Mistletoe, is directly inspired by Austen’s unfinished novel, The Watsons—and Austen herself features as a character! 

Will we see additional books in the Pink Carnation series? If so, can you share anything with readers about your next novel?   

With any luck, there’ll be many more novels in the Pink Carnation series.  I’ll keep writing them as long as you keep reading them!  I’m ridiculous excited about the next book in the series, The Mischief of the Mistletoe, which features the lovable bumbler, Mr. Turnip Fitzhugh, with guest appearances by Jane Austen and a great deal of Christmas pudding.  

Here’s the blurb for the novel, hot off the presses:

Arabella Dempsey’s dear friend Jane Austen warned her against teaching. But Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies seems the perfect place for Arabella to claim her independence while keeping an eye on her younger sisters nearby. Just before Christmas, she accepts a position at the quiet girls’ school in Bath, expecting to face nothing more exciting than conducting the annual Christmas recital. She hardly imagines coming face to face with French aristocrats and international spies…

Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh—often mistaken for the elusive spy known as the Pink Carnation—has blundered into danger before. But when he blunders into Miss Arabella Dempsey, it never occurs to him that she might be trouble.  When Turnip and Arabella stumble upon a beautifully wrapped Christmas pudding with a cryptic message written in French, “Meet me at Farley Castle”, the unlikely vehicle for intrigue launches the pair on a Yuletide adventure that ranges from the Austens’ modest drawing room to the awe-inspiring estate of the Dukes of Dovedale, where the Dowager Duchess is hosting the most anticipated event of the year: an elaborate 12-day Christmas celebration. Will they find poinsettias or peril, dancing or danger? And is it possible that the fate of the British Empire rests in Arabella and Turnip’s hands, in the form of a festive Christmas pudding?

If you could plan a tea with Jane Austen, who else would you include in your soiree? 

If it was to be a literary soiree, I would invite Samuel Richardson and Fanny Burney.  Both were a great influence on Austen and I’d be very curious to see what she had to say to them—not to mention that I’ve always been a fan of Burney’s Evelina.  For sheer humor value, I would invite the Prince Regent, of whom Austen deeply disapproved.  Would she be able to mock him without his noticing?  I’d like to see her try.

Thank you so much for having me here at Austenprose, Laurel Ann!  As a thank you, I’d like to share with your readers my favorite out-take from my Austen book, The Mischief of the Mistletoe

This was the original preface of The Mischief of the Mistletoe, a faux scholarly introduction to an equally faux collection of Austen’s letters. However, some concern was voiced that it might not be recognizable as faux on a quick glance, sowing confusion and nasty letters from Austen scholars, so the Preface was dropped….

From the Introduction to the Oxford Addendum to the Cambridge Companion of the Collected Letters of Jane Austen:

“… the Dempsey Collection, as it is called, was for some time denied a place in the Austenian epistolary canon. Due to the destruction of the bulk of Austen’s correspondence after her death, for some time there were believed to be only one hundred and sixty letters extent. The discovery of a cache of correspondence, preserved in an old trunk in an attic in Norfolk, underneath a series of shockingly gaudy waistcoats embroidered in a carnation print, tucked inside an early nineteenth century recipe book concerned entirely with Christmas puddings, was thought for some time by the Fellows of the Royal College of Austen Studies to be nothing more than a malicious act of sabotage on the part of unscrupulous members of the rival Dickens Society, who had turned to thuggery as the inevitable result of immoderate consumption of late Victorian serial fiction. Although the Dickens Society denied the charge, relations between the two groups remained frosty, culminating in the great Tea Incident of 1983, which scandalized Oxbridge and caused a rift whose reverberations are felt to this day. As footnote clashed against footnote, and members of warring factions refused to pass the port at High Table, the Dempsey Collection was relegated for some time to the academic abyss, discarded as nothing more than Austenian apocrypha.

“After two decades of painstaking scrutiny, including chemical testing, textual analysis, and the consultation of several Magic 8 balls, the scholarly community has tentatively accepted the Dempsey collection as genuine, with some significant reservations. Although the dates of the letters and the identity of the author have, indeed, been authenticated, there are serious doubts as to the veracity of the contents. While Jane Austen writes in her own name, addressing the letters to a supposedly “real” young lady of her acquaintance, the events narrated within them are of such a sensational and fantastical nature as to defy all belief.

“The more serious members of the academic establishment adhere to the theory that Austen was, in fact, engaged in an epistolary novel, a style she employed for both the unfinished Lady Susan and the original draft of Elinor and Marianne, the novel that was to become Sense and Sensibility. There is some argument that the letters comprise a failed early draft of her incomplete novel, The Watsons. As in that work, the Dempsey collection features a heroine returned to the unaffectionate bosom of her family after being disappointed in her hopes of an inheritance from a wealthy aunt, who casts her from the household upon the elderly aunt’s imprudent second marriage to a handsome young captain in the army. Many of the names Austen uses in the Watsons appear in the Dempsey collection, although somewhat altered.

“There, however, all resemblance ends….

“That the letters and their contents were, in fact, the product of a contemporary correspondence conducted with an actual acquaintance in reaction to authentic events is a possibility entertained only by the most radical fringe of Austen scholars. This view is generally discredited…

“What Englishman, one may ask, would answer to the name of Turnip?”

Excerpt reproduced courtesy of the author, Perpetua Fotherington-Smythe, M. Phil., D. Phil, R. Phil, F.R.C.A.S.*, S.o.S.A.S.S.I..**, GAE (MEOAE).***

* Fellow of the Royal College of Austen Studies
** Symposium of the Society of Austen and Similarly Superior Interlocutors
*** Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the Austenian Epistle

Thank you Lauren for joining us. Your next novel The Mischief of the Mistletoe sound intriguing. Turnip Fitzhugh was one of my favorite minor characters and so worthy of a full novel. Can’t wait to read it!

Glorious Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one of five copies of The Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig by leaving a comment stating who your favorite Regency-era author is and which of their characters would make a great spy by midnight PST March 09th, 2010. Winners will be announced on Wednesday, March 10th, 2010. Good luck!


43 thoughts on “Chatting with Lauren Willig, Author of The Betrayal of the Blood Lily: and a Glorious Giveaway

  1. Austen! Now somehow Wickham, no matter how much of a shady & devious character he is, would make for an interesting spy… If only Darcy could be the foil in his side.


  2. Thank you for the interview! I am going to suggest the new title for our library.
    I do not have an answer for that question right now but I will ponder!


  3. My favorite Regency-era author? Oh, come ON!
    Who would make a good spy . . . well, Mrs. Bennet is pretty nosy. But indiscreet, so she’d get caught in no time. I think Mary Crawford would have made a glamorous, Marlene Dietrich-type spy. She would dazzle all the men and coax all their secrets out of them! So she is my choice.


  4. I don’t think Wickham will be a good spy. He’s too charming and will draw attention to himself. But there is a fan fiction with Darcy from India. Lauren, I admire your writing process. How did you get hold of original source materials?

    Steamy Darcy


  5. Austen all the way!!!! I think it would be interesting to see Bingley as a spy. I could totally see him putting up an act as the Bingley we know and than doing a 180 and being a whole different person.


  6. Jane Austen is my favorite Regency author, too, and I think Catherine Moorland of Northanger Abbey would make a good spy. She has the imagination for it!


  7. Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors and who would be a good spy would be for me Charlotte. Discreet, fading into the background and intelligent.


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  9. Austen is my all time favorite author, regency or no. I think it would be difficult for Catherine to be a duplicitous spy, she even says “I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.” But I would love to see her try – it would be a fun romp.


  10. Jane Austen is completely wonderful! As for a spy, hmm…. Lady Catherine de Bourgh might be a good one. She’s always fishing for information but in a most pompous way. It would be interesting to say the least!


  11. Laurel Ann, thanks so much for another wonderful interview! And, Lauren, you already know how fond I am of your series :). So glad to see you here!

    As for favorite Regency author, well, yes–that would be Jane, of course. I agree with Margay and Carrie that it would be great fun to see Catherine as a spy. (The comic possibilities would be endless if Mr. Collins got the role, though–LOL.) And I think the Gardiners would be a fabulous spy team, much like Nick and Nora in The Thin Man.


  12. Jane Austen is definitely my fav and I’ve enjoyed several books by Georgette Heyer. I read a blog the other day regarding Lauren Willig’s new book and was intrigued, so I went out and downloaded The Secret History of the Pink Carnation to my Sony ereader and absolutely loved it!! Rarely does a book cause me to laugh out loud, but this one did…over and over and over again! Love all the JA quotes, but also all the Greek and Shakespeare references in all the books I’ve read so far (first 4…LOVE that Lord Vaughn and Mary got their own story!!).

    Now, for who would be a great spy.
    Charlotte Lucas – she’s got the time for it and heaven knows she’s got to be bored out of her gourd with Mr. Collins!! I could see her being a bit like Jane Wooliston from Lauren’s books. Or maybe more like Gwen minus wanting to write a novel! LOL
    Anne and Captain Wentworth would make a great team! I could see them sailing off together with an adventure in every port. As would Admiral Croft and his wife.


  13. My favorite Regency author would have to be Jane Austen (of course). As much as I generally dislike her character, I think Caroline Bingley would make a good spy. She’s intelligent enough and moves in the right social circles. She seems to be the type that could observe the people around her without attracting too much attention.


  14. I could appreciate the “tribute” to M.M. Kay in Blood Lily. I thought Trade Winds was wonderful. I’ve only just started The Far Pavilions.
    Mistletoe looks great. I am very excited for that one. I hope we get to see some familiar faces too.


  15. As much as I love Jane Austen, my favorite Regency author is Lauren Willig, who also so happens to be my inspiration for writing my first Regency novel. I think Letty Alsworthy from ‘The Deception of the Emerald Ring’ would be a perfect spy because she’s unsuspecting and her lovely personality would be enough to throw anybody off.


  16. Jane Austen of course.

    Hmm, maybe Henry Tilney because he is such a smartass (which is why he is great) and since he’s a nice guy, no one would suspect him.


  17. This is probably cheating since I have actually read some mysteries based on Elizabeth and Mr.Darcy, but I definitely think Mr.Darcy would be an excellent spy. He’s so good at hiding his emotions.

    (oh, and by the way, my favorite is Austen).


  18. Mmm…I know exaaactly what part of that “Persuasion” adaptation you’re talking about. :)

    I haven’t had a very big Regency-era author exposure besides Lauren Willig and Jane Austen–but who cares? They’re all you need.

    Of COURSE I’d like to see more of Darcy; don’t you think he and Elizabeth would make a very sly and rather attractive pair of spies? They’d have fun making up a code of their own, at least. Work those masterful powers of observation!


  19. Jane Austen is my favorite regency author. As for the spy – Mary Crawford, definitely. I can’t wait for Mischief of the Mistletoe!!!


  20. Jane Austen, of course. Elizabeth Bennet would make an excellent spy. She’s highly intelligent and would certainly know that things are not always as they seem. She’s self reliant also. This is an important quality in a spy, since it may not be possible to contact headquarters for advice.



  21. While i adore Austen, I think that Caroline Trent from Julia Quinns “To Catch an Heiress” would make an excellent spy, as she has already been mistaken for one, by the hero of her story, Blake Ravenscroft.


  22. Jane Austen is my favorite author from the Regency-era. I have often wished for a story about Mary Bennett of Pride & Prejudice. So quiet, plain and overlooked. Yet so obviously observing everything around her. Intelligent as well, she would have made a wonderful spy! No one would have ever suspected what lurked beneath the surface!


  23. Austen is, of course, my favorite Regency-era author! And I think that of her characters, I could see Charlotte (Lucas) Collins making a good spy. She’s got a connection to the upper-class through Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but she’s unassuming enough to move through society without drawing too much attention to herself (though the same can’t be said about her husband!).


  24. Lauren Willig and Jane Austen would have to be THE favorites, but I also love Georgette Heyer, and I believe her enthusiastic heroine of The Corinthian, Pen Creed, would make an excellent spy :)


  25. Another Austinphile, of course… and drat, someone beat me to Caroline Bingley! I think she’s certainly cool enough and devious enough to pull it off, and that girl needs an outlet for her energies. And she is reputed to be an excellent horsewoman, which could lead to an exciting chase. Perhaps a C. Bingley- G. Wickham alliance? Oh, the scandal! Oh the deception! Oh the delicious tension of two cold-hearted players circling each other! The possibilities for redemption! Not unlike a certain flower-themed book we may be familiar with…


  26. I wish I could offer someone different but I fall in with the Jane Austen crowd in terms of favorite Regency-Era author. Who would make the best detective? I also agree with another poster who saw some detective potential in Charlotte. Charlotte is a realist and she realized her chances with Mr. Collins were as good as she was going to get in terms of marriage. If you can face reality of that sort knowing that Collins is a sanctimonious, parsimonious synchophant, you can face a gruesome murder or two!


  27. I have always and will always adore Jane Austen. I reread her books annually, and watch BBC’s Pride and Prejudice every 6-12 months (having kids is severely curtailing this indulgence!). I believe that Miss Eliza Bennet would make an excellent spy. She is discreet, observant, sharp-witted and I think could be a chameleon when the occasion necessitates.


  28. Thanks for the interview. I have seen this book at the book store but it’s yet to make it to the check out counter. Can I start here or should I read the other Pink Carnation books first. I’ve not heard of Faney Burney, have you read anything by her? The name sounds familiar but I can’t seem to remember any book names.

    I have to admit the only Regency author that I have read more than one book by is Jane Austen.


    • Hi Wendi, Each of the Pink Carnation books is a stand alone, but I did find it helpful to read them in order. Many of the characters continue through the series. Blood Lily is not as inter-related as the others. The heroine Penelope was introduced in the 5th novel and her friend Charlotte who appears breifly in Blood Lilly was the main heroine in #5.

      Fanny Burney was a contemporary author of Jane Austen. She wrote several novels that Austen mentions throughout her own novels. Camillia and Evelina come to mind immediately.


  29. My favourite Regency-era author are definitely Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. As for which character can make a good spy, I think it will be Anne Elliot because she’s good at observing her surrounding and fade in the background


  30. I am torn! I am a devoted Jane Austen fangirl and will be until the day I die, but I don’t really think any of her characters would make good spies. Wickham, maybe, would have the talent to make himself invisible and the observational skills, but then he’d be one of those unscrupulous types who worked for whoever had the most money at the time and who would inevitably come down with a case of acute stabbings.

    So I’m going to have to go with my second-favorite Regency-era author, Stephanie Barron, and argue that the character in her books who makes the best spy is none other than the inestimable Miss Jane Austen herself. May be slight cheating because I believe Jane acts as a spy occasionally in the books (The Jane Austen mysteries, they’re lovely), but I think that Barron is right. Jane Austen was observant, clever, and invisible by virtue of being a woman. She could’ve brought countries to their knees, easily.


  31. Well, Jane Austen seems to be the popular favorite… definitely understandable! She is the queen of regency fiction. But I also enjoyed Mary Balough’s book The Unlikely Duchess. Josephine Middleton, an audacious, unconventional heroine would make a perfect spy!


  32. Well I love Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell,
    Persuasion and North & South my fav, Margraret Hale is so strong will for a spy, John Thornton is so right for a spy.
    Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth would make great spies as well!!!!!
    can’t wait for The Mischief of the Mistletoe!!!!!!


  33. Jane Austen is my favorite author of all time, especially of that time.

    I think that Darcy would be an excellent spy.

    1. He’s wealthy so he could travel and it wouldn’t seem amiss.
    2. He seems sort of stuffy so no one would believe he would be a spy.
    3. He’s clever, well-educated, intelligent, and thorough.
    4. He’s devoted.


  34. Jane Austen of course! I think little Margaret Dashwood would have made an excellent spy when she got older! She loves to be in the know with her sisters’ love lives and has super spy hearing when it comes to conversations she isn’t supposed to know about. She also likes to play decoder guessing games with the letter “F”!


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