An Untitled Lady, historical romance novel by Nicky Penttila, was released last December by Musa Publishing and for all of us who swoon for an historically sound and emotionally nuanced tale set against one of the most inspiring time periods in history, reading Penttila's latest novel will be a sheer delight. If you love Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell, if you have developed an addiction for the most popular costume drama of the moment, Downton Abbey, keep a close eye on this author. I have had the pleasure and honor to chat with Nicky about her latest release: pull up a chair, pour a cup of tea, and enjoy the interview!
1) Nicky, your latest historical novel, AN UNTITLED LADY, is described as "not a traditional Regency". Can you tell us in which ways your novel differs from a conventional romance novel set in Regency England?
First, “traditional Regency” can mean a very specific category of romance. Think Jane Austen: a lot of home scenes, gentle manners—and absolutely no sex. My story does have some sexual situations, and since it is the first regency that my publisher is releasing that does, I want to be doubly sure that I did not surprise and shock people who wanted a “trad.”
Second, this story deals with themes and events that are outside the range of most regency romances of any sort. The main characters are not in High Society, and the people they interact with come from all classes.
The history—the politics of the time—is critical to the plot; this story is not a weekend at the country estate but a summer in a city of angry people, workers and bosses both afraid for their livelihoods. Weavers are losing work to the new “manufactories,” and think that if they got the right to vote they could improve their lot. But if they did get the right to vote, they would immediately be in the majority, threatening the peers and rich landowners who currently hold power.
Maddie and Nash straddle both worlds, but Maddie’s is the most fluid—having discovered she is not who she thought she was she now must choose which side she will take.
2) I read in your bio that you have authored also contemporary romance novels in the past. Which sub-genre was for you more difficult to master? Which one is your favorite?
Contemporaries. I love to put “real stuff” in my stories, but I am a slow writer. The heroine in my first contemporary was a court reporter; she attended trials and then walked back to the newspaper to file her story and then went home. By the time I’d finished it, court reporters were tweeting from the courtroom and filing multiple stories and video reports during the day from their laptops. To speed up, I started writing only novella length contemporaries, and those are the ones that sold. Last year, I thought I was clever to make up a “paparazzi camera drone” and put it in a story, and not a month later drones were all over the news.
For historicals, I can take my time and build stories within stories. The issues might stay the same, though: A surprising number of current-day problems were also present in the Regency (lack of opportunity for women, unequal distribution of wealth and a decrease in “noblesse oblige,” post-war economic slumps, speed of technological change, amazing scientific breakthroughs, war wounds and post-traumatic stress). On the other hand, the amount of research I have to do to world-build in the Regency is daunting.
I like to alternate between contemporary and historical, stories with lots of observation and stories with lots of research and contemplation. Both use my imagination and keep me fresh!
3) How did you come up with the idea of a novel set during The Industrial Revolution?
I like to set my stories in cities, but there are a lot of stories set in London! I’d read Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, which is set in Manchester but a generation later than the Regency, and I wondered what was happening during “my” time? I’m a former reporter, and learned that The Guardian newspaper was founded in Manchester at this time—as a direct result of the events I describe in the novel.
4) Which part of the genesis of a book is more exciting for you? The very first moment the idea is conceived in your mind, researching the time period and world-building, or the layout?
The moment the whole story idea comes together, when the people, places, events, ideas all click into place. I usually build my stories like a goulash, a dollop of this here and a pinch of that, this cool picture of a guy with that odd news story, this event and that odd way of looking at things. Unlike goulash, it can take years before a story is “ready” enough for me to start writing.
5) The "Downton Abbey" TV phenomenon has certainly inspired the production of many authors of historical fiction. Why do you think readers are still so enthralled by historical fiction and costume dramas?
I’m guessing, but for me it’s a chance to dance in someone else’s shoes. There’s an impression that things were simpler in earlier times, people dressed for dinner and took tea and waited to be introduced before speaking to each other. But what I really like is to see how, in the midst of all this difference, people’s reactions, their wants and needs, somehow mirror ours.
When I read stories written at the time that we write about, I’m so often surprised at how modern they feel. I just re-read Little Women, and Jo and Marmee talk about what could only be described as anger issues – and rightly so, as women’s lives had such rigid boundaries. Sometimes it seems that modern writers writing stories set in the past soften their lenses, sweetening what was probably as rough and tumble as our times. That can be comforting for readers.
6) Any work in progress you would like to share with our readers? More historical fiction or back to contemporary romance?
I get to go to New York for work each quarter, so I’ve set a modern story there. And last year I got to travel to Spain! So I’m working on a historical set near the start of England’s military action against Napoleon in that country.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my question, Nicky!
AN UNTITLED LADY
Publication Date: December 20, 2013
Shocking family news forces Madeline Wetherby to abandon her plans to marry an earl and settle for upstart Manchester merchant Nash Quinn. When she discovers that her birth father is one of the weavers her husband is putting out of work—and a radical leader—Maddie must decide which family she truly desires, the man of her heart or the people of her blood.
An earl’s second son, Nash chose a life of Trade over Society. When protest marches spread across Lancashire, the pressure on him grows. If he can’t make both workers and manufacturers see reason he stands to lose everything: his business, his town, and his marriage.
As Manchester simmers under the summer sun, the choices grow more stark for Maddie and Nash: Family or justice. Love or money. Life or death.
About the author
Nicky Penttila writes stories with adventure and love, and often with ideas and history as well. She enjoys coming up with stories that are set in faraway cities and countries, because then she *must* travel there, you know, for research. She lives in Maryland with her reading-mad husband and amazing rescue cat. She’s chattiest on Twitter, @NickyPenttila, and can also be found at nickypenttila.com and on Facebook.