Monday, July 30, 2012

The “Grand Estate” Fantasy and Pushing Boundaries, by Gail Eastwood

Who doesn’t love the fantasy of being ultra-rich and living “the life” on a fabulous estate with servants at your beck and call? At least once in a while? I think that fantasy fuels the appeal of the classic “house party” romances you often find set in Regency England, and in mystery fiction, too. My second Regency e-book reissue, An Unlikely Hero, is a house-party story, and I confess I really loved creating Rivington, the grand ducal estate where the story takes place. The challenge, of course, was to put my own twist on that sort of story, and in doing so I ended up pushing boundaries, too –not intentionally, mind you, it just seems to happen!

An Unlikely Hero is the sequel to A Perilous Journey, which I wrote about here recently. I want to thank Hannah for having me back again –especially so soon! Readers who loved the heroine’s brother in that first book kept asking me for his story, but it took a while (two years) for me to discover the beautiful identical twin sisters who stand at the heart of the sequel. I wrote two other romances in the meantime (being reissued later this year). The daughters of the Duke of Roxley, Venetia and Vivian, seemed to have it all –beauty, brains, wealth, rank. The simple fact that they were “beyond the reach” of an impoverished viscount like Gilbey Kentwell was not enough of a story problem for me, there had to be something more. And sure enough, it turned out they were hiding a secret –a disability that even in modern times people still sometimes try to hide. Add a blackmailer and –then- I had a story!

The question was, could I balance the romantic elements, the grand estate fantasy, and the mystery subplot, and not have the realism of a character with a greatly misunderstood medical condition dash it all like a bucket of cold water? Author Laura Kinsale famously wrote a hero who had suffered a stroke, but her book wasn’t set in a Regency house party, and few of us have her amazing talent. I wanted to make a social comment with my story, too, but knew it had to stay in the background.

There’s plenty of temptation for social comment any time we do a “grand estate” setting for a story –beneath all the grandeur there’s the reality of a caste system that rankles our modern American sensibilities if we forget to check them at the fictional door. I recently visited a couple of the fabulous “Golden Age” mansions in Newport, R.I. with fellow Regency author and friend Elena Greene, and it really made us pause when we thought about the army of 40 servants who had been employed to keep one family’s great estate running in style!

Do you enjoy escaping to a fictional grand estate? Like house-party stories? Have any favorites? Or do you find it hard to keep track of all those “guest” characters? What about stories with characters who have physical challenges? Does a medical disability turn you off in a romance, or do you find it can make a character more sympathetic and real?

An Unlikely Hero was critically acclaimed, a Holt Medallion finalist and a “Top Five Regency” pick from Under the Covers. I will give away a copy to someone who leaves a comment, by random drawing of names, so please do join the conversation, and be sure to leave your email address so we can contact you if you win! And thanks again to Hannah for having me as her guest!

Gail Eastwood Bio:

The award-winning author of seven Regency romances published 1994-2002 by Signet/NAL/Penguin, Gail Eastwood gave up writing for ten years to take care of family members with health issues. Now her books are being reissued for the e-book market and she has started work on a new one. For more information, visit Gail on Facebook or her website:

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AN UNLIKELY HERO story synopsis:

Pried from his books at Cambridge, scholarly Gilbey Kentwell, Viscount Cranford, is a reluctant guest at a house party featuring many of the highest ranking members of the ton. Trying to meet the expectations of everyone around him is challenge enough for his wits. His best friend Nicholas, son of the Duke of Roxley, has invited him particularly to help keep an eye on Nicholas’s twin sisters “the lamb and the lioness”, who are meant to choose husbands from among the gathered guests. The Duke himself has made it clear that Gilbey is not an eligible parti and must keep his distance from the beautiful twins. The suitors among the guests have made it clear they don’t appreciate any perceived competition from Gilbey. But Fate seems to have other ideas, landing him repeatedly in the twins’ path and the unwanted center of attention. When he discovers the identical sisters are hiding a deep secret and that a blackmailer seeks to thwart the purpose of the party, how can a hero worth his salt not step in to help them? What help is there for his heart, irretrievably lost to a twin he can never have?


The path Venetia had taken was much narrower and obviously less traveled than any that had been used for the race. Ducking tree branches, Gilbey guessed that she had chosen a shortcut in an attempt to catch up to the main group. He did not think she knew that he was following.

The path led generally downward and Gilbey was careful to keep his weight centered. He was not at all prepared to pull up quickly when he and old Jonquil rounded a curve and nearly ran into Venetia’s horse. The roan was standing riderless by a fallen tree across the path.

What had happened was clear at once. The ground sloped downhill rather steeply on the other side of the tree trunk, and the horse had obviously refused the jump. Unprepared and riding a bit too fast, Venetia had sailed over it without him. She sat hatless in a muddy pool at the bottom of the decline with leaves sticking to her habit and her hair halfway unpinned. To Gilbey’s relief she did not appear to be injured.

Gilbey dismounted. Pushing some branches out of the way, he climbed over the fallen tree and started down the leaf-strewn slope toward her. He spied her hat and retrieved it from a bush, brushing more leaves from the lace veil. He noticed that there was a rip in it. In the meantime, he heard Venetia mutter a few rather unladylike phrases.

“Forget something?” he asked as he reached the bottom. “I noticed your horse decided not to join you.”

“It would have to be you that came along,” she said ungraciously.

“It was me or no one.” He grinned. “Where on earth were you going? Besides down this hill, I mean.”

She did not answer.

“I found your hat. Looks a little the worse for wear.” He held it out to her and she jammed it onto her head.

She looks ready to spit, he thought, and reflected that he had never seen her angry before. The fact was, he thought she looked particularly charming, with her hair coming loose and a smudge of mud on her nose. This was the real Venetia, not the perfectly groomed beauty he was used to seeing, and he liked what he saw.

“This happens to be a shortcut,” she said finally. “I lost my hat earlier and had to go back for it. I wanted to catch up.”

He waved a hand at her sitting in the puddle. “Looks like an odd way to go about it, if you ask me. But then you didn’t ask, did you? I’m certain you know best.”

He turned and started back up the slope.

“Where are you going?”

“To get Jonquil. I want to show her that there is a place to land on the other side of that tree.”

“You aren’t going to help me up?”

“Oh, I doubt if I have enough wit to do that.”

Retribution might not be gentlemanly, but it tasted very sweet. Behind him he heard the sounds of her struggling to get up.

“Ooh, you wretched man! I hate you!”

Something struck him just below his shoulder blades. He put a hand back and brought away gloved fingers covered with mud. The little vixen! He turned and saw her standing there, her heavy skirts soiled , wet, and clinging to her. As she bent down to scoop up another handful of ammunition, he bounded back down the hill.

“Is it full-fledged war, then?” he asked, grabbing her arm. “Flinging insults is no longer enough?”

But something happened the moment he touched her. He did not feel at all warlike. “Rumor has it that you think I am witless and utterly boring.” He stared down into her beautiful eyes, searching for the truth.

“Well, I –”

She did not finish. The very air around them seemed charged. In her eyes he thought he saw a message quite different from anything she had said.

“Tell me if you find this boring, then,” he said softly, his voice husky. Quite ignoring the mud that covered her, he slipped his arms around her and brought her against him. He found her sweet lips and proceeded to kiss her as thoroughly as he knew how.