This holiday season we’re celebrating the release of Jennifer McGowan’s newest release, A Thief Before Christmas, a Maids of Honor novella.
Who better to steal a heart for Christmas than a thief? In this e-short story and prequel to Maid of Secrets, an actress plays matchmaker for two young lovers.
It’s December 1558 in England and a new Queen is about to be crowned, but thief and amateur actress Meg Fellowes and her Golden Rose acting troupe are focused on survival, not politics. In between performances of their newest play in the bustling town of Leeds, the troupe is picking the pockets of rich lords and ladies in preparation for their own ragtag Christmas.
At the end of each long day’s haul, the troupe’s spoils are divided up, with the useless bits cast aside. But on this particularly cold winter’s night, Meg notices two curious, sealed letters in the discard pile. Together with her roguish troupe master, Meg opens them and discovers they are love letters—never sent—between a merchant’s son and a landowner’s daughter, who do not know of their shared affection.
Meg resolves to give the two would-be sweethearts their most hoped-for Christmas wish by returning the letters to the pockets of the intended recipients, not the senders. Can Meg master the role of matchmaker in time for Christmas, or will the young lovers be forced to spend another holiday—and perhaps the rest of their lives—apart?
In classic Corsets, Cutlasses, and Candlesticks tradition, we’re toasting Jennifer’s new book with a group interview…
Sue: Jenn, do you have a favorite holiday tradition, book-wise, at your house? We drag out a basket of books like Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, and hey, presto! — the holiday mood is set.
Sue, what a great question! When it comes to works of fiction, the Christmas story that never EVER fails to hit me right in the heart is a fable called “The Christmas Apple.” Because the Internet is awesome, I found a version of the fable online: http://homeandholidays.com/fable-of-the-christmas-apple-the/. Just reading it takes me all the way back to the first Christmas I read the tale. Stories are an amazing thing.
Laura: We often see books with a sequel. What was the process like for penning a prequel?
Laura, I thought writing a prequel would be easier—after all, I knew what was going to happen next! But in many ways it proved to be an interesting challenge. I wanted it to be a romantic story (because that’s how I roll), but Meg meets her romantic match in MAID OF SECRETS, so she couldn’t fall in love a mere months earlier. In addition, many of the characters appear in both books—but for those meeting them for the first time in THIEF, I needed to stay consistent without revealing too much. Finally, I wanted to “reward” readers who took the time to read THIEF even if they’d already read MAID… so I included little “easter eggs” of details that will figure into future books or will round out readers’ knowledge of key characters. I even dropped a hint that won’t play out until book 5 of the Maids of Honor series. We’ll see how well I pulled that off!
Jess, it was easier in that it was shorter—so there was only one main plot line to follow. However, it was more difficult in that I had to tell a complete story with only a handful of words compared to MAID OF SECRETS, which was over 100,000 words. It was rather like cooking a full meal to serve in a thimble! But I enjoyed the process tremendously, and if all goes well, I will do more of these novellas to share additional adventures of the Maids of Honor between books.
Katy: So many Tudor novels are set in London or at court, how was it recreating Elizabethan Leeds?
Katy, as one Tudor fan to another, I can tell you it was fascinating! I knew I wanted to set A THIEF BEFORE CHRISTMAS in a bustling market town, not too far away from London (but far enough), and Leeds came up rather quickly as a possibility. I then spent way too much time researching the woolen market and guild halls, even the local church—all minor points in the story, but I wanted to try to be as factually correct as possible. Then I added the Christmas details, including the words of a famous carol of the time, and used it all as a backdrop to a story that would be relevant to Meg’s future adventures. I would never claim to be an expert on Leeds, but I hope to visit it one day to retrace Meg’s steps as she raced through town (a path that I based on a rough medieval map)!
Jillian: Tell us about one darling (a line, a scene) you had to cut from A THIEF BEFORE CHRISTMAS.
Jillian, it seems the more I develop as a writer, the more I find myself cutting. In THIEF, I had a moderately comic business in a courtyard involving a bombastic noblewoman in a furious encounter with a horse. The scene is still there, but finding words to describe the woman that were actually period-accurate proved more and more difficult as I sought to use increasingly colorful descriptions. My long-suffering copy editor at Simon & Schuster forced me to stay true to the time period – but I believe the scene rings more authentic due to her tireless efforts.
From Sharon: How did the idea for the novella come about?
Sharon, with the extremely long time between books in the Maids of Honor series, and knowing that not every reader would be willing to take a risk on such a non-standard time period for an entire novel, I wanted to write a shorter tale to highlight the adventures of the main players in MAID OF SECRETS. I also had never written a novella—or a Christmas story—and the idea intrigued me.
Speaking of Christmas, I’ll be setting a future Maids of Honor book at Christmastime, and the traditions of the time period will be on full display then—as well as the food! Elizabethans definitely liked their Christmas sweets.
From Cat: Which of your A THIEF BEFORE CHRISTMAS characters would you most like to invite to your own holiday table? Which would you least want to have in your home?
Cat, I love this question, too! Quite definitely, I would want to invite Meg and Master James… as long as I counted the silver before they arrived. I enjoy their relationship so much, especially as Meg continues to discover who she is as a person, and Master James reveals a bit more of his character with each scene I write about him. As to the person I’d least like to invite, I would have to go with the shifty-eyed jewel seller, Theodore Minsk. He’s a slippery character who has known Master James a long time, and readers may see him again in a future Maids book.
Thank you so much for allowing me to share my release of A THIEF BEFORE CHRISTMAS! It’s wonderful to be able to celebrate with my fellow history lovers.
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