Interview for Katherine Longshore to celebrate Manor of Secrets!

Manor_of_SecretsToday we’re thrilled to be celebrating the release of Katherine Longshore’s newest novel, Manor of Secrets, a novel containing all the sweep and grandeur of Edwardian England.


The year is 1911. And at The Manor, nothing is as it seems . . .

Lady Charlotte Edmonds: Beautiful, wealthy, and sheltered, Charlotte feels suffocated by the strictures of upper-crust society. She longs to see the world beyond The Manor, to seek out high adventure. And most of all, romance.

Janie Seward: Fiery, hardworking, and clever, Janie knows she can be more than just a kitchen maid. But she isn’t sure she possesses the courage — or the means — to break free and follow her passions.

Both Charlotte and Janie are ready for change. As their paths overlap in the gilded hallways and dark corridors of The Manor, rules are broken and secrets are revealed. Secrets that will alter the course of their lives. . . forever.

**Swoon.** And now for the questions!

From: Elizabeth May

While researching for Manor of Secrets, were there any interesting factoids you encountered about the era that you wished you could have included in the book, but weren’t able to?

There are so many, Elizabeth!  Some of the most interesting information I came across was about people actually living at the time.  Rupert Brooke diving naked into an icy pond at midnight.  Lady Diana Manners, with her “corrupt coterie”, playing parlor games that could never in a million years be called PC (one was called “Breaking the News”, where she and her friends acted out a scene in which a mother is told of the death of a child).  Though I do manage to get in an oblique reference to Siegfried Sassoon who spent part of the summer of 1911 playing cricket very near to the fictional Manor.


From: Jessica Spotswood

MANOR OF SECRETS has an upstairs/downstairs element as it follows both Lady Charlotte and kitchen maid Janie. Did you find one setting more fun to explore than the other?

As much as I love the upstairs opulence, I think I enjoyed exploring downstairs more.  As a visitor to some of these historic houses, most of what we see is the upstairs.  People want to live—even for a moment, and just in their imaginations—the life of the lord of the manor.  The upstairs is where the valuables are—the carpets and art and furniture.  It’s beautiful and awe-inspiring.  It’s where the history happened—that is, the history that was written down.  But I’ve always been curious about what happens behind the scenes.  What props up that beautiful façade?  What makes it possible?  And if we’re honest, most of us would have lived downstairs.  We would have worked ten hours a day, six days a week (with a half-day off on Sunday to go to church) in conditions that today would be considered intolerable for wages that were laughable.  Perhaps the upstairs was where the history was written, but I can’t help but feel that downstairs was where the living happened.


From: J. Anderson Coats

Without being too spoilery, what was your favorite scene to write in MANOR OF SECRETS?

There’s a scene early on where Charlotte—the upstairs girl—ventures downstairs and ends up in the kitchen while Janie is preparing hot chilies for an Indian curry.  Charlotte immediately feels out of her depth because she doesn’t know how the kitchen operates, she has no idea what the chili is, and there are boys.  The real tension comes when one of the boys challenges the rest to try the chili—it’s a dare, and a test of Charlotte’s ability to fit in.  It was inspired in part by events and people in my own life—my dad, who could eat a whole jalapeno without blinking, and my husband, who loves Tabasco sauce, but gets the hiccups when he uses too much.


From: Cat Winters

Although MANOR OF SECRETS is your first Edwardian novel, it is your third published novel, which is quite an accomplishment! Congratulations! How do you plan to celebrate the release of this particular book?

Thank you, Cat!  I’m celebrating this book just a little bit differently.  I love to have treats and readings at my local indie, but for this book, I also came in a costume, custom built by my friend Kristen Held.  As I said above, I would probably have been a servant in 1911, but my fashion preference runs distinctly haute couture.  I love the beautiful lines of Edwardian gowns, and the gorgeous tailoring of them.  Part of my research led me to look into the costumes designed for Downton Abbey, and I simply gushed over the vintage beaded bodices and gauzy chiffons.  I couldn’t quite aspire to the recreations Lady Mary wears, but I enjoyed swathing myself in silk and satin and playing lady of the manor for a day.


From: Jenn McGowan

In your writing career so far, you have traveled from Tudor England to Edwardian England. What has been the biggest challenge or difference in writing the new time period?

For me, the biggest challenge was changing the way I write a story.  My Tudor books are all about people who actually existed, living through events that actually happened.  It’s a huge challenge to integrate a story within this framework, but at least it was something I’m used to.  In MANOR OF SECRETS I had much more freedom—I could invent and delete characters at will, make them fall in and out of love and alter their histories as it suited me.  I love that kind of freedom (sometimes, I rant and rave at history because I wish I could change it and can’t), but it was a challenge to settle on a particular story, when there were so many I could possibly write.


From Susan Hill Long:

Katy, can you tell us what inspired your character, Lady Charlotte? Are there ways in which you connect with her?  

Charlotte is a daydreamer, just like I am.  I pushed that even further to make her more of a Walter Mitty-type character—someone who projects herself into adventurous situations in her imagination, sometimes forgetting that the real world exists.  And I can’t think about Edwardian England without thinking of E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, so perhaps there is a bit of Lucy Honeychurch in Charlotte, too.


From: Sharon Biggs Waller

I adore your cover.  Can you tell us the story behind it and a little bit about that dress! Also I heard you made the dress for yourself.  How did that go?

I honestly thought I was going to be able to make a dress, but in the end had to call upon my friend Kristen, a former costume designer, and a person who really knows her way around a French seam.  The dress is gorgeous and really added a sense of festivity to the launch party.

The cover is entirely the creation of Scholastic, and I absolutely love it.  I’ll be writing a “Behind the Scenes” post about it during the week of February 17—and divulging all manner of secrets.


From: Laura Golden

Katy, this is your fourth novel, right? Are there any tips you can offer for balancing writing time with social time?

I find I need to set aside time specifically to spend with friends and family.  When I write, I get incredibly focused, and I can stay that way even as I’m driving my kids’ carpool.   I have to make an effort to take a complete break and be absolutely present in the moment, but it’s always worth it.

As far as social media is concerned, I sometimes I have to unplug my Internet entirely, because I am such an eavesdropper on Twitter and use it as a distraction.  So I have to set aside time specifically to spend writing, too.

I wrote MANOR OF SECRETS and BRAZEN (my third Tudor book) at the same time, so I know that having super-tight, sometimes conflicting deadlines can be incredibly stressful.  But I also know that taking a little time off to take a twenty minute power walk or have dinner with family or coffee with a friend can be just the refreshment my tired brain needs.  What I’ve learned from writing four books is that I can take that time and still meet my deadlines and write a good book.  For me, that’s what finding the balance is all about.


Sharon Biggs Waller + A MAD, WICKED FOLLY

Today we’re thrilled to celebrate the release from Viking Juvenile of Sharon Biggs Waller’s debut novel, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY! Below the gorgeous cover, the Corsets, Cutlasses and Candlesticks team has asked Sharon some questions about the book BCCB calls,  “[A] compelling coming-of-age tale that’s as good as any British period drama,” and School Library Journal, in its starred review, says is a “must-have.”

The year is 1909. After posing nude for her illicit art class, Victoria Darling is expelled from her French finishing school and returns in disgrace to her home in London.  Shamed and scandalized, Vicky’s parents inform her that she is is to marry the man they’ve selected.  But Vicky dreams of so much more, of the freedom to pursue her ambition of becoming a painter.  When she falls in with a group of suffragettes and when she connects with a working-class man who might be her artistic muse—or might be the love of her life, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?

MadWickedFollyFrom Jennifer McGowanSharon, in your book you manage to combine suffragism AND the high-society whirl of 1909 London AND the dynamic art scene of that time. What was the most interesting/challenging to write about, and why?

The suffrage movement was pretty challenging to write about because there was so much material to draw from and I started to get really overwhelmed. The curator of the Museum of London recommended a book called The Women’s Suffrage Movement by Elizabeth Crawford, which is over 800 pages and just packed with good stuff. In the end I decided to stick with a timeframe. I chose the year for the first forcible feeding and I was lucky enough to have several events fall into that time frame, such as the Women’s Exhibition, where Vicky helps paint the murals, and Emmeline Pankhurst’s deputation, where a riot broke out and many women were injured and arrested. I reached out to Elizabeth Crawford via email and she very kindly answered many of my questions. I also made contact with Dr. Helen Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst’s granddaughter, and she answered some questions about her grandmother. So although the suffrage storyline was tricky to research and write, it ended up being a lot of fun.

From Cat Winters: My own 2014 release deals with turn-of-the-century suffragists in the United States, but I admit, I’ve envied you a bit for getting to dig into the really fun side of women’s voting history: the militant suffragettes of 1909 England. What was your favorite real-life story you uncovered about English women’s fight for the vote?

As a YA writer, my favorite story has to be about the 16-year-old baby suffragette, Dora Thewlis. I was worried that the British suffrage story would not be a teen’s story, but the Museum of London curator assured me that teens were very much involved. They marched in poster parades, helped make banners and sashes, and even took part in a Fife and Drum band. All that stuff is very well and good (and I used it for walk-on characters) but it was a bit staid; I was looking for a teen with a bit more moxie. I know I don’t need to have a historical counterpart, after all it just has to be plausible, but I feel more confident if there’s evidence that it actually happened. And then I found it, a photo taken in 1907 of Dora Thewlis held between two police constables, her skirt torn, hair in disarray, and mouth open wide as though shouting at the crowd. Dora was a tabloid sensation, and when she was arrested, she stood tall at her trial, never flinching.

From J. Anderson CoatsIf you could introduce your main character to any other fictional character, who would it be and why?

I think Vicky would love to meet Meg Murry from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I think Vicky would take to Meg immediately, treating her as the little sister she never had. Vicky knows what it feels like to be an outcast and misunderstood so the two girls have that in common. And since Vicky has issues with her father; Meg, with her own missing father, might be able to help Vicky see her papa in a different light. And I can just see Vicky and Meg holding hands and tessering to another planet together.

From Laura GoldenWhich character in A MAD, WICKED FOLLY is closest to your heart? Is there a character you’d like to take to task? Why?

Aside from Vicky, I really love Freddy. He’s such a good brother and he really wants what is best for his little sister. He’s torn between what he knows would keep her safe and what he knows would make her happy. He’s the kind of guy you can turn to and who will never let you down. I’d love to take Rose to task for being so judgmental of Vicky. I kind of wish I would have shown Rose’s softer side, because Freddy does bring out the best in her, but there are people in life who only show their prickles to most people, and that’s certainly Rose.

From Katherine LongshoreI know that you were inspired by the time period and by the suffragettes, but I believe you were also inspired by art, and certain pieces in particular. What drew you into Vicky’s world as an artist, and what is it about those particular pieces that inspired both of you? And are you an artist yourself?

I really wish I were an artist, I’ve tried but I just don’t have the talent. I grew up around artists; my dad is an artist and he used to be on the board at a sculpture studio. We hung out there all the time, and I remember the art students treating us like little grownups. I remember watching the artists as they worked and how their faces would change, and how intent they were. It fascinated me. We were so accepted by the students and I just loved that. When I was about five my dad took me to the Art Institute of Chicago and held my hand in front of Georges Seurat’s a Sunday on La Grande Jatte. So art has always been inspiring for me. I can get lost in a painting. As far as Vicky goes, I was searching for a painting that she would find inspiring and the theme of mermaids kept popping up while I was writing the first draft. Mermaids are independent creatures, yet they are cast as wanton creatures out to drag men down into the ocean! So I think mermaids and suffragettes have a lot in common. Waterhouse’s A Mermaid is one of my favorites, and it hung in the Royal Academy of Arts during my book’s timeframe, so it was the perfect choice. Sadly, the painting isn’t on display anymore so I’ve never seen it in real life.

From Jessica SpotswoodIs Vicky’s interest in art something you share? Who are some of her favorite painters – and who are some of yours?

I’d always loved the French Impressionists. I’m a big Monet and Renoir fan and I’ve been to Monet’s Garden twice, but I didn’t really want Vicky to be a plein air painter, I wanted her to paint the figure, so I thought about the Pre-Raphaelites. I became interested in the Pre-Raphaelites when I moved to England in 2000. I love their passion and use of color and myth, plus they have such a lascivious background! The Pre-Raphaelites were like rock stars are today, and their models were like today’s supermodels. The artists were always in the Victorian tabloids for their scandalous behavior. JW Waterhouse was an inheritor of the PRB’s legacy, and since he created Vicky’s favorite painting, A Mermaid, I decided that Waterhouse and the Pre-Raphaelites would be Vicky’s favorite artists.

From Susan Hill LongWhat about your writing day, Sharon? Early bird or night owl? Soundtrack or silence? Plotter or pantser?

I love to write in the morning, but not too early because I’m out feeding the farm animals, mucking out, that sort of thing. I’m usually at my desk by 9 or 10 and I write for two to three hours. After that I go for a walk in the woods with the dogs and mull over the story and any problems I’m having. I jot any ideas down when I get home and then I’m done writing fiction for the day. I will, however, do research or work on ideas, but I try not to let my work take over (ha, ha). I love to write to music. I make a soundtrack—I’ve found lots of good songs while listening to Pandora—music always inspires me as I’m writing. FOLLY’s soundtrack includes lots of Florence + The Machine, Tori Amos, Mumford and Sons, and Vienna Teng. I have it on my website if anyone wants to have a listen. I am definitely a plotter, but I don’t do anything formal. I scribble down ideas in my notebook for scenes, especially “signpost” scenes that I know are important to the plot. I have a general idea of how the story is going to play out but I’ll change it as I need to. After I make a draft I create a scene tracker and a plot planner, which is something Martha Alderson, the Plot Whisperer, teaches. I’ve worked a lot with Martha and she is absolutely amazing. So the plot planner helps me see the story stripped down to its bare bones. I can see what works and what doesn’t work. After that I write and re-write and then show it to my critique group and my agent. And then rewrite some more!


Find out more about Sharon and A MAD, WICKED FOLLY at her website,

at amazon,


barnes and noble, and


Online Research Tips

Be realistic

It’s highly unlikely you’re going to find exactly what you’re looking for with a single search (and if you do, the information is quite possibly suspect). Be prepared to wade through a lot of information looking for the right information.

Be patient

The information you need will not always come predigested on someone’s webpage. Be willing to read tables of contents and download articles and comb through entries in a database. It may seem to take longer, but fruitlessly running web searches that don’t turn up any useful results takes time as well, and it’s frustrating and annoying.

Build on what you learn

Say you’re researching Avicenna and you learn another way to spell his name is “Ibn Sīnā”. Now you can search for both versions and probably turn up more results. If you come to the end of an article or a webpage and there’s a Works Cited section, try looking up some of the sources the original writer used. Each search you make doesn’t need to be a blank slate.

Think outside the (search engine) box

Most of us just pull up Google when we need something, and if you’re looking for something superficial (“What year did the Opium Wars begin?”), it’ll probably fit the bill. But if you’re looking for specialized information (“Was there a specific name for the bag an American Civil War doctor carried medical equipment in?”), you’re going to want to search in a more targeted way.


Academic libraries’ subject-specific pages. Sure, some of the resources will be unavailable to non-students, but some of them are available to everyone. Subject librarians have already done some of the legwork for you; use it to your advantage. For example, I found the African e-journals project via the History: Africa subject page at UW Libraries.

National libraries. Try searching for “national library” and the country you’re interested in, then dig through the site for freely available materials. For instance, I found a a lot of freely available digitized journals relating to Welsh history and culture via the National Library of Wales.

National archives. These often have considerable digital collections. Find them the same way you’d find national libraries. Some examples:

United Kingdom

Evaluate like a mofo

We all know just because something is on the internet doesn’t make it true. For all but the most superficial inquiries, be very wary of materials online without citations.

Some well-cited resources:

Gatehouse Gazetteer – A database of medieval structures in England and Wales
Food Timeline – Details the first recorded appearance of different foods worldwide
The Old Bailey Online – Legal history in the UK

Find your people

Most of the best resources I’ve found have come from Twitter. I follow historians, independent scholars, librarians, medievalists, and just about every stripe of history geek there is. They tweet some really great stuff.

Being connected to people with similar interests on all types of social media will often bring you resources that won’t turn up on a standard Google search. Don’t forget to retweet/favorite/comment or otherwise be in touch to let them know you appreciate their efforts!

Leverage your existing resources

Your public library most likely has access to databases and resources you can access from home with your library card. Also, don’t be afraid to ask the librarians for help or advice. Believe me, they will love answering a question that doesn’t involve the location of the bathroom or what’s wrong with the printer.

If you graduated from college, your alumni association may have arrangements to provide alums with access to resources like JSTOR. And even if you didn’t, public universities typically provide access to their online resources to anyone who comes physically to campus; if you live near one, ask the librarians about the policy on guest use.

Do the right thing

There will come a time when you encounter a great resource that has been uploaded without the creator’s knowledge and/or consent, but there are plenty of ways to access content without engaging in piracy. Please explore those options so the creator will be able to continue to produce content you find useful. In particular, your local library wants to help connect you with the information you need. It may take longer, but it benefits everyone in the long run.

Other starting points: – An open-source clearinghouse of primary and secondary sources
Bamboo DiRT – Not a information site per se, but free tools to organize and efficiently use the information you gather.
Directory of Open Access Journals – A searchable collection of peer-reviewed journals available without a subscription
Hathi Trust – A digital library that provides access to scanned books and articles

Happy researching!

Research–The Delight is in the Details

I love research.  I can spend days—even months—surrounded by books and articles and dusty magazines, avidly soaking up information.  Most of this doesn’t get into my books, but I feel that by immersing myself in my story world and by knowing every aspect of it, I will be able to immerse my characters in it, too.  That I will be able to create characters and a setting that feel very real, even if I don’t use all the details I glean.


One of the reasons I love Downton Abbey is because it makes the fictional world seem so real that visiting Highclere Castle, where it was filmed, was like stepping back in time.

Because I especially love the details.  I’ve never been much a one for remembering specific dates (after ten years and three books with Henry VIII, I still can’t remember the exact dates of his birth and death—thank goodness there are some things we can depend on Wikipedia for).  But I love to know what life was like—how food was handled and what fabrics were made into clothes.  What time people woke up and how often they bathed.  Where the silver was kept and what the roads were like.

But of course, I can’t put all of these things in a book.  The purpose of historical fiction is to tell a story, so those details must be used to move the story forward and to set the scene.  If they’re extraneous, it’s entirely possible they have to be cut.

But that doesn’t stop me from loving them.  And being surprised by them.

I read dozens of books while researching MANOR OF SECRETS.  Books about life in a country manor, about what it was like to be a servant, about the history and politics of post-Edwardian, pre-War England.  And I struggled with the darlings I had to cut or not include at all.

Things like a popular cocktail of the day rather loathsomely called a Bosom Caresser—made from brandy, milk, raspberry (or pomegranate) syrup and a raw egg.

Or the belief that birds killed during shooting weekends should be allowed to “ripen” for several days before being cooked and consumed.   I leave those details to your imagination, though Jean Rennie offers a rather horrifying account of trying to cook a gamey game bird in her book Every Other Sunday.

An hour could be required to get a lady ready for the evening.  She could use white powder on her face and blue crayon to emphasize the veins at her neck, temple and cleavage (this indicated sensitivity).  Straight hair was a sign of obstinacy, so curling tongs were essential and false hair was often added to provide volume.

There was a strict code of conduct for any lady paying calls on female friends and neighbors.  Only after being introduced in a neutral zone (a ball or another person’s house) could a girl be invited to call.  But on the first visit, she could only leave a card with the footman.  The second visit, she could be announced and perhaps invited to take tea, staying only fifteen minutes.  She could remove her coat, but not her hat.  And so on.

The kitchen of a large country manor would have separate larders for raw meat, cooked meat, and vegetables.  There would be a still room for making drinks, jams and baked goods, and a separate scullery where vegetables were prepared, birds plucked, fish filleted and all the dishes were washed.  There would be a butler’s pantry, a silver safe, an ice room, a dairy (for churning butter and ice cream) and a laundry.

Downstairs in a strictly-run household, meals were preceded by what some servants called a “Pug’s Parade”, where the upper servants lined up according to precedence (butler, under butler, housekeeper, cook, etc.) and processed to the servants’ hall for the meal.  After the main course, the senior servants would go to the “Pug’s Parlour” for dessert—lesser servants might get fruit, but no cakes or tarts or other sweets except on special occasions.  And meals (unlike those at Downton Abbey) were often conducted in silence.  But of course, a silent meal is deadly boring in a book, so I broke that rule, as well.

In 1911 (the year MANOR OF SECRETS is set), the Ballets Russes came to London and after Nijinsky’s first performance, it only took a week for all the whites and creams and pastels to disappear from Harvey Nichols (a luxury department store) and be replaced by the purples and reds that became the height of fashion.

The garden of Hardwick Hall--close to Chatsworth and originally owned by the same person.

The garden of Hardwick Hall–close to Chatsworth and originally owned by the same person.

An estate like Chatsworth in Derbyshire employed as many as two hundred sixty people, including two rabbit-catchers forty-four woodmen, fifty-five gardeners, forty indoor staff members, five electricians, two full-time florists and a resident fireman.

However, forty percent of the population of Great Britain lived on the poverty line and most working class families got one meal a day.  In 1911, Parliament debated a National Insurance scheme that would help those most in need by taxing income and employers to pay for some medical care and sick leave, as well as an unemployment benefit.

So is it any wonder that Janie, the kitchen maid in MANOR OF SECRETS would do anything to keep her job—a guaranteed roof over her head and three meals a day?

And with her entire day being taken up by calling cards and multiple changes of clothes, how could Charlotte do anything but imagine a life beyond The Manor’s walls because she had no way to experience it?

Historical research is full of surprises, which is part of what makes historical fiction so much fun to read.  Read between the lines, and sometimes you can get a glimpse of those devilish details.

What are some of your favorites?

Research Surprises and A MAD, WICKED FOLLY

This week’s assignment is to write about surprises unearthed during the research process.  When I started writing A MAD, WICKED FOLLY several years ago I realized that I wanted my protagonist to be an artist and I wanted the story to be set against the women’s British suffrage movement.  But I was stumped on how to stitch the story together using art and the women’s movement. It was a problem that plagued and frustrated me for a long time, and in early drafts the story felt clunky and the plotlines unrelated.   When I went back to England in 2009 I met with the curator of the Museum of London and she let me go through the museum’s massive collection of suffrage ephemera.  In it I found a lot of illustrations, and the curator told me that art was important for the suffragettes, it was how they got their message across.  After that it was like following a breadcrumb trail.  I purchased a few books in the museum gift shop on suffrage and, with highlighter and notebook in hand, started reading.

In Sylvia Pankhurst’s biography, A MAVERICK LIFE by Shirley Harrison, I found out that Sylvia was a very fine artist and considered the WSPU’s artist in residence.  Her greatest achievement was painting a huge mural for the Women’s Exhibition in 1909.  There were even pictures of her beautiful work.  Sadly, police burned the canvases after a raid.  I knew that Vicky loved the Pre-Raphaelites, but I read in the biography that Pankhurst did too, finding inspiration for the murals from the Pre-Raphaelites Brotherhoods’ work.

Sylvia Pankhurst's murals at the Women's Exhibition in 1909

Sylvia Pankhurst’s murals at the Women’s Exhibition in 1909

Sylvia's Pre-Raphaelite inspired murals for the Women's Exhibition 1909

Sylvia’s Pre-Raphaelite inspired murals for the Women’s Exhibition 1909

The exhibition also happened during my story’s timeline and other artists had helped Sylvia, so it was plausible for Vicky to help, too. The book included the address, and I found out that it still exists and is still an art studio.

The Avenue Studios in Fulham, where Sylvia Pankhurst worked.

The Avenue Studios in Fulham where Sylvia Pankhurst worked.

One by one the details were starting to click into place.  And then, at the curator’s suggestion, I purchased what is considered the compendium of British suffrage: THE WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT: A REFERENCE GUIDE (1866-1928) by Elizabeth Crawford.  In it I found a passage about the Suffrage Atelier, founded in February 1909 (a month before my story begins), which strove to “encourage artists to forward the Woman’s movement, and particularly the enfranchisement of women by means of pictorial publications.” The Atelier had an educational element; classes were given in life drawing and printing and work was submitted for criticism.  But what jumped out at me were the two words life drawing.  Life drawing classes are almost always done from a nude model.  I had known all along that Vicky wanted to draw from the nude figure, and I worried that it wouldn’t be plausible for a young Edwardian woman to do so, but seeing those two words in print gave me the confidence to forge ahead.  And I’m so glad I did!