Stephanie Laurens

Stephanie Laurens's Profile

Q: How real are the Cynsters? And their houses?A: Not real at all. The Cynsters are not based on any family that actually existed. Some readers are convinced I'm working from some family's archives, but no—Cynsters, Bastion Club members, and all others are entirely figments of my imagination. The only characters in my novels who ever existed are historical figures such as the Prince Regent, the patronesses of Almack's and a few social and/or political figures mentioned in passing, like Wellington. Real people are never central characters in my works.Likewise their houses. No, you cannot go on a tour of England viewing the various "Cynster" houses—they don't exist, and never have. They are not even modeled on houses that exist, or have ever existed. That said, I lived in England for four years and visited many stately homes, so my imaginary houses are "conglomerates" of houses I've walked through—the bedroom from here, the Adams fireplace from there—all mixed up and swirled together in the melting pot of my memory.Q: So what is real?A: In my works, the geography map-wise is accurate—roads are where I say they are, and go from this town to the next as I say they do, and yes, it would take a curricle that long to travel that distance. My streets of London really are the streets of London, and the relative affluence of the various areas is as pertained during Regency times.However, my topography is fictional—if I need a hill with a certain view along this particular road at that point, then that's where the hill will be. I'm describing views that are known to exist in the neighborhood, and which in many cases I've observed first-hand, but the precise location of that lookout is my creation.As mentioned above, all known historical figures are accurately portrayed.Otherwise . . . one point to bear in mind when reading the works of storytellers is that we are writing to entertain you, not to educate you. Consequently, while we necessarily must use sufficient historical accuracy to create the right ambience and atmosphere for whatever period we're using, getting buried in historical detail isn't entertaining, nor is adhering to historical detail to the detriment of the story. If there's a point where minor historical detail gets in the way of telling a good story, then history has to give way to storytelling, because it's you, the reader, we have to satisfy, not the history police.As an example of that last point, think of men's shirts. Buttons down the front of men's shirts were not widely used until the early 1830s. However, I've decided that my Cynster and Bastion Club novel male characters all went to a shirtmaker who was ahead of his time - logically there must have been at least one shirtmaker who started the trend; they'd had buttons for some time. So my male characters' shirts often have buttons down the front. Why? Because all my heroines are significantly shorter than their respective heroes, and there is no way on earth a shorter female can divest a taller, much broader male of a shirt that doesn't have buttons down the front. And believe me, there are only so many ways you can write a love scene where the hero has to break away, step back, and pull his shirt off over his head. Yes, you can do it well once or twice, but routinely, shirts without buttons down the front are . . . limiting.On the other hand, what I write about society and its mores, social strictures, and boundaries is real—a fairly accurate portrayal of what went on in the upper echelons of society at that time. For those who are Austen fans and fondly believe she depicted how all English society behaved in terms of marriage and courtship—think again. Austen only wrote of one aristrocrat in all her works (Lady de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice), and that picture is widely accepted by Austen scholars as a caricature. Austen's works are socially accurate, but she wisely limited the social class of which she wrote to her own. She was a country vicar's daughter, and had no experience of, and so never attempted to write of, the aristocracy—the haut ton to which all my characters belong. And all the factual evidence suggests that in wider society, and especially the higher echelons of the upper classes, then as now, intercourse was considered an integral and normal part of courtship, albeit serious courtship; it was not something left to the wedding night except in unusual circumstances. The average age at which women married varied between 22 and 24 throughout this period.On matters such as politics, commerce, police and military actions, and so on—for instance the Peninsula War battles referred to in many of my novels, or the investment in building of railways in The Taste of Innocence—the actions described either did happen, or could have happened, at the time and in the way I have described them.Overall, I adhere to the one guiding rule any author writing historical fiction should follow: whatever you describe has to be possible. It may not be common, obvious, or even all that probable, but it absolutely has to be possible.Q: Why are so many historical romances, including all of mine, set in Regency England?A: Most books set in England between 1800 and 1840 have a "Regency" feel. The reason that era is so useful for romance authors stems from the wide-ranging social changes that were occurring over that time, and the parallels, or echoes, those create with our time, and the lives of our readers.To summarize these:a) whether it was the influence of the romantic poets (late 1700s) or simply the passage of years, by the early 1800s it was becoming increasingly acceptable for aristocratic couples to marry for love, as distinct from what prior to that period had been considered the right and proper and indeed only acceptable reason for marriage—the transfer of property and the getting of an heir.So for the first time, aristocratic heroes and heroines were faced with a real choice—to marry for love, or not. That is a choice that resonates with today's readers—to marry for love, or not.b) aristrocratic females had a greater degree of freedom provided they were wealthy enough, and remained unwed, or married a man amenable to allowing them their independence. In other words, aristocratic females, unlike their more lowly born peers, could be sufficiently independent to create their own lives—like Phoebe Malleson in To Distraction, and Sarah Conningham in The Taste of Innocence. Such women could create lives that did not revolve around marriage, yet still remain accepted within their social circle. Some, like Penelope Ashford, could be quite eccentric, but because of their social standing and that of their families, remain accepted by the ton.Sadly, this relative freedom did not long survive Victoria's marriage to Albert, hence the "Regency" period is something of a window for independent women, and again, that independence, the search for their own lives outside of or beyond marriage, resonates powerfully with women today.c) the haut ton—the upper echelon of society—lived in a fabulous, glittering world, with massive houses, expensive clothes, dashing carriages. The background to stories set in the haut ton is attractive to readers—a glimpse into a glamorous world of wealth and consequence. Just as the lives of wealthy modern-day celebrities exerts a powerful attraction for readers, so too do the lives of their historical counterparts.d) there was a great deal of social upheaval going on throughout the wider Regency period, leading to the emergence of social and political conscience that went further than noblesse oblige. This creates a background with a wide range of potential avenues to exploit for story plots—such as employment agencies, orphanages and investment schemes—as well as adding edge to the more usual intra-family plots.Q: Why are heroes and often heroines usually wealthy aristocrats?A: The answer lies above. It was only those belonging to the haut ton who were faced with the question to marry for love or not—and who were free to and could decide either way. In all other social strata, the reason for marriage had for centuries been largely because of physical attraction. In Regency times, the middle class had not yet come into being. Below the aristocracy, there came various levels of gentry, then those involved in commerce, and the shopkeepers and traders, and then the workers and peasantry. As Austen's works demonstrate, within the gentry, even if there was a token nod toward wealth and family standing as criteria, liking for a partner played the major role in determining marriages.Not so for the members of the haut ton—for them, this period is the first when they, free of all other constraints as no other class could be, came to face the question: To marry for love, or not?Today that is still the crucial question in any romance.So it's the characters and the social world of the aristocracy that most strongly resonate with modern day readers and the questions and challenges modern readers face. This is why in Regency-set novels, the aristocratic world is the favored setting.Q: Why aren't the books always in chronological order?A: I've always resisted labelling my works a "series", because to readers "series" implies one of two things—the books are written in a fixed chronological order, and/or the plots are such that you must read the books in a fixed order, namely the order in which they were published. With my works, neither of those is true. The only aspect that links every book into the group are the characters. Each book can be read entirely on its own, without loss of meaning.Much confusion is generated when readers assume that a long running group of novels are necessarily written in chronological order. Since the release of The Taste of Innocence, I've been inundated by emails from readers wishing to point out that in that volume, Simon Cynster and Portia are not wed. "But they were married in book #10!" the readers cry. "Ah," say I. "But have you noticed that The Taste of Innocence is set more than two years before the events of The Perfect Lover?" So no, Simon and Portia are not yet married in The Taste of Innocence.Q: Why jump around in time?A: Because of characters' ages. There's a gap of nine years between The Perfect Lover and the book before it, On a Wicked Dawn. But after On a Wicked Dawn, readers wanted to hear Simon and Portia's story straight away as the next volume, and because of their respective ages in On A Wicked Dawn, that meant jumping from 1826 to 1835.The following Cynster novel, The Ideal Bride, then had to step back to 1826, to pick up the story of Michael Anstruther-Wetherby immediately after he'd left a wedding breakfast that occurred midway through On a Wicked Dawn.The subsequent Cynster novels were about a group of friends who were also Cynster connections, and were set in 1831, 1831, then 1833, and the upcoming Cynster novel, Where The Heart Leads, is set in November 1835—the first book to be set after The Perfect Lover. And yes, Simon and Portia are married in that.But we're then going to swing back again, to 1826 for the story of Jonas Tallent, and then advance through time once more as we move through the romances of the five as-yet-unwed Cynster girls. Again, the year in which each of their stories are set will be determined by their ages. The month and year in which each novel commences is always stated at the start of Chapter One.

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