What’s in a Cover?

One of the questions I’m asked most frequently (especially during school visits) is some iteration of  “Did you have any say in designing your cover?”

The answer (thankfully) is always, “No.”  I’m not design-oriented, nor do I have a strong head for the market and what might be visually appealing to the target audience, so I happily await that thrilling e-mail with Cover! in the subject line.

MANOR OF SECRETS was no exception.  When this landed in my inbox, I was thrilled.

MANOR OF SECRETS cover

The model looks like a cross between Lady Mary and Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey.  Her dress is stunning, the jewelry gorgeous and the manor stairs and window behind her historically and visually evocative.

And a little sinister.

Do you see it?

My reply to my editor was I love it!, to which she responded, “Don’t worry, we’ll edit out the creepy face in the window.”

Now you see it, right?

A few weeks later, I got to see the full spread, complete with amazing cover copy and that color!  I love the blue (even more now that I’ve discovered that a blue Sharpie is exactly the same color, and makes a pretty autograph).

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I especially love that Charlotte is pictured close up, and thoughtful (probably imagining some grand adventure).  Janie is in the distance, as if she’s trying to be unobtrusive, as a good servant should.  But of course, a downstairs maid would never be caught on the main staircase… And if you know anything about historical costume, you’ll realize that Janie’s wearing what is typically an upstairs maid’s costume (the black is a giveaway), but we’re willing to presume that things are different at The Manor.

What I love most about this cover is that it illustrates one of the themes I try to get across within the pages of the book itself.  Unfortunately, I’m not tech-competent enough to enlarge the photograph for you to get a good look at these two girls (you’ll just have to find a copy of the book!) If you look closely, you’ll see that they are the same model.  To me, this just reinforces the idea situation and costume are all external and underneath it all, we’re all basically the same.

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photograph by Keely Parrack

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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.

Synopsis:

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.

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.

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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?