At the age of fifteen, Mary Robinson was married off to an unfaithful wastrel. During the next seven years, her spellbinding talent, beauty, and drive would lead her from the denigration of debtors’ prison to the London stages, where a star was born. With the heart of a poet and face of an angel she was sold as society’s darling. Though dubbed “the priestess of taste” for her dashing style, her unabashed exploits made her the queen of scandal, envied by women worldwide, and desired by every man within reach.
From Mary Robinson’s shocking affair with the Prince of Wales and the fortuitous liaisons that titillated the country, to heartbreaking betrayals and a restless pursuit of true romance, this breathtaking novel paints a vivid portrait of a woman who changed history by doing as she pleased—for money, for fame, for pleasure, and above all—for love.
Amanda Elyot is a pen name of Leslie Carroll, a multi-published author of contemporary women's fiction. She is an Ivy-League graduate, a professional actress, and currently resides in New York City with her husband Scott. ALL FOR LOVE is Amanda's fourth historical novel. Welcome Amanda. Tell me about ALL FOR LOVE: The Scandalous Life and Times of Royal Mistress Mary Robinson. What inspired this book?
In 2006, when I moved from Crown to NAL for my historical fiction after they bought TOO GREAT A LADY: The Notorious, Glorious Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton (released in Feb, 2007), I pitched a number of story ideas to my editor. I’d had this idea of creating a niche for myself by writing about a certain type of woman, rather than limiting myself to a specific historical era. Notorious Redheads was essentially the subject, one I had inadvertently begun to explore with my first historical fiction novel, THE MEMOIRS OF HELEN OF TROY (Crown, 2005). Emma Hamilton was, of course, also a redhead with a scandalous life story. On my proposal to NAL for future feisty redheads to write about, was a relatively lengthy précis about Mary Robinson. Interestingly (to me, anyway) was the fact that three biographies of Mary Robinson were published within about a year and half of each other in 2004/2005, which were a big hit in Mary’s native country, England. Beautiful, talented Mary Robinson, with her life that precariously seesawed from glamour and celebrity to debt and despair, seemed to be the perfect subject for historical fiction.
How long did it take to write ALL FOR LOVE? Did you find Mary's story easy or difficult to write?
I started writing the novel on spec, after I finished TOO GREAT A LADY, because I felt Mary’s story was bursting to be told, and I had about 80 pages of the manuscript when my editor asked to see the first 30 or so pages. So, quite a bit of it was written by the time I actually received the contract. Mary’s life was so interesting that one challenge was choosing what to keep and what to jettison, since my editor had more or less given me the parameters of a page count. At the time I was also writing a contemporary women’s fiction novel for Avon Trade (CHOOSING SOPHIE, under my real name, Leslie Carroll, which just came out on Jan. 22 of this year). I find it very hard to split my focus between writing two genres simultaneously. And in this case, because both books were coming out almost at the same time, it meant that all the revisions and copyedits and galleys were showing up back-to-back as well.
During your research, did you discover any facts about Mary's life that surprised you?
A surprising historical fact that I discovered along the way is that Mary, who had Quaker sensibilities and was very anti-slavery, wrote parliamentary speeches for her longtime lover, Banastre Tarleton, an MP for Liverpool whose family had made its wealth through the slave trade with the West Indies. If you saw the recent film, AMAZING GRACE, although the filmmakers made several factual errors in creating the character of Tarleton (played by Ciaran Hinds), it’s true that he was one of the chief antagonists of William Wilberforce and an outspoken enemy of the abolitionist movement. Knowing that Mary had written the speeches that vociferously endorse what she personally found repellent, was a fascinating, and rather moving, discovery. Chilling, even. It makes my title, ALL FOR LOVE, even more resonant. She must have really loved him to be able to set aside her own strong convictions. As the author, I found it to be the only way I could justify her actions. But it really happened, and I suppose there are many of us who have sacrificed our convictions from time to time (even if we felt guilty or angry about it) to support the man we loved.
Writing about famous historical people requires a great deal of research. Tell us about your research and some of your favorite sources.
In the case of ALL FOR LOVE I had a number of excellent biographies to go to, not just of Mary, but of Tarleton, too; and for TOO GREAT A LADY, I probably read 35 books on Emma, Nelson, Sir William Hamilton, Charles Greville, and their era, including a lot of primary source material, especially their letters. However, for general research sources, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online subscription), though somewhat pricy for Americans, is an incredible treasure trove of well-researched academic biography—far more trustworthy than the often-inaccurate hodgepodge you find in Wikipedia entries.
For my novels set in the Georgian and Regency eras, there’s a treasure trove of information for novelists who belong to Romance Writers of America, available through the beaumonde site. The members themselves are a brain-trust of invaluable arcane, and their website has several links to other sources. Additional favorites include The Georgian Index (http://www.georgianindex.net); romance novelist and costume maven Candace Hern’s website (http://www.candicehern.com/collections/index.htm); and the Republic of Pemberley (http://www.pemberley.com).
You enjoy reading about and exploring the subject of royal mistresses, as do I. What attracts you to this particular subject?
I love sex. What else can I say? Joking aside, I’ve always been drawn to the beautiful, “bad” girls of any era, those who survived and thrived by their wits and their brains and their bodies and were unashamed of doing so. I write historical fiction, which is different from historical romance, in that my central characters are fictionalized representations of people who actually lived. And royal mistresses were real women who often managed to pull themselves out of a squalid existence or a loveless marriage and, at least for a brief shining moment in their lives, achieved ecstasy—materially and sexually. They’re the real-life Cinderella stories. But midnight always arrives for these women, and the denouement isn’t always pretty. Not all readers are prepared for that, especially the breed of romance reader that demands a happily-ever-after in every story. Any historical fiction writer with integrity will not monkey around with the facts by twisting them so that they fulfill some sort of “contract” made with genre fiction readers.
The fact that the women I write about struggled, rose, and fell, that they often reinvented themselves (several times, in some cases) in order to survive, is, for me another factor that makes their stories even more compelling—not only what they were fighting for, but what they were up against. I am always amazed by what they went through—and it really happened! Of course my author’s imagination fills in the gaps, imagines what might have transpired during an incident that actually did take place (that’s why it’s called historical fiction), but I am drawn to these women because the facts of their lives are so remarkable, “stranger than fiction” in a way, that they make perfect subjects for novels.
And of course if you think about it, EVERYONE who lived during that era is dead now. So I want to say to readers who seem surprised (or “betrayed”) that my heroines die (not during the narrative of the book, but the circumstances of the rest of their lives, post-narrative, are discussed in an Author’s Note)—Get over it!
You love history as much as I do. What is it about certain time periods that appeals to you and draws you to research and write about that particular era?
I adore the eighteenth century, and the Age of Enlightenment, although one discovery I made in researching ALL FOR LOVE, was that the tenets of the Enlightenment didn’t embrace women, or apply to them. They were cut out of the picture. I am drawn to the colorful bawdiness of the Georgian era. I also love the Restoration for the same reason, and Renaissance Venice, both of which I intend to explore as the years go on. For all three of these eras, I’m also drawn to the clothes (if it would look good on my body, then I could have lived in the period; we’re talking low décolletage, a certain silhouette of sleeve, and tightly corseted torsos with nipped-in waists). Long, curled hair and big hats work for me, too! Oh—I’m talking about the women. Men look great in tight breeches and tall boots, as long as they’ve been going easy on the beer and roast beef. Jesting aside, I am drawn to the eras I write in because they produced a number of outspoken women who were unafraid to be themselves.
Another thing that draws me to the eras I enjoy depicting is that they chart a morphing of sexual mores from a more licentious era toward a more prudish one, and my heroines tend to have been born during a feistier, lustier era and have to learn how to behave (or not) as time goes on in a world where the pendulum is swinging toward a conservative way of determining what sort of conduct is acceptable from a woman.
Tell us how you began your writing career and what drew you to writing?
I always enjoyed writing when I was in school. And I have, or had, professional writers on both sides of my family. Being able to express yourself verbally was much prized in my family. And I was one of those little girls who loved to imagine herself somewhere else (my early literary heroines were Dorothy and Alice). But I became a professional actress instead, although I did have a couple of survival jobs in journalism. And I had adapted a few literary works, from the page to the stage, for a non-profit theatre company I founded. I started writing fiction in the summer of 1998, when I lamented to a friend that I wanted to get paid [well] to write. At the time I was just beginning another job in journalism that paid so little that I had two other survival jobs at the same time. My friend suggested I consider writing romance novels (he thought my personality and sensibilities were suited to it). So I took his advice and started writing. But, I confess I’d never read any romance novels, so I had no inkling that it was a genre, like science fiction, or mystery or thriller. I just thought a romance novel had a love story in it and a happy ending. But somehow, by writing the story I wanted to tell, clueless that there even were any rules, let alone how to write according to them, I got an agent in 1999 and my first contract in 2001. I began writing contemporary women’s fiction, variously pigeonholed from time to time as “contemporary romance” and “chick-lit.” I received my first historical fiction contract in 2004 and my first historical novel was published in November, 2005.
What career challenges did you have to overcome on your journey to becoming a multi-published author?
At the beginning of my career, I was working three day-jobs, so it was hard to find time to seriously pursue it, but I persevered because I really wanted to make it. Living in Manhattan is very, very expensive. And until last year, I was single so I had no one to help share the expenses. Ultimately, I got it down to one survival job, but I was working full-time for the first five years of my career. I worked about 17 hours a day, no exaggeration, spending every spare moment on my writing career when I wasn’t at work (and sometimes when I was!) Also, the publishing business is a fickle one. There have been years when I did very well, and other years when I despaired about how I was going to make it without having to slip backward and get another survival job. And after I left my last survival job in June, 2003, I promised myself I would never get another day job. I would be a full-time writer come hell or high water.
Tell us about your writing schedule. Did you accomplish your goal of writing full-time?
I do write full-time now, but I’m a newlywed, and I promised myself when we first became a couple, that I would make sure that no matter how busy my writing schedule got, my husband and I would share quality time every day, eat dinner together, enjoy weekend activities, etc.. He is phenomenally supportive and understanding, especially when I’m on crazy short deadlines, which is all the more reason for me to step away from the computer when he’s home in the evenings and devote the time to having fun with him. I’m a multi-tasker, though, so I can be sitting on the couch watching TV with him and also be reading research material and taking notes on it. Besides, if I could manage to write four novels (that got published—and a couple more full manuscripts that never saw the light of day) while I was working full-time, I can find time to enjoy my marriage as well as my career.
What are you working on now?
I’m in the process of putting together a proposal (background material and sample chapters) for my next historical fiction contract. It’s a different era than what I’ve been writing in, and a different structure as well; nonlinear and primarily in third person narrative. But the novel is based on the life of another scandalous redhead!
In addition to promoting this winter’s two releases, ALL FOR LOVE and CHOOSING SOPHIE, I also recently submitted the revised manuscript for my first foray into historical non-fiction, and I expect the copyedited manuscript to show up in the mail any day now. Written under my real name, Leslie Carroll, It’s called ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy, and it will be released by NAL on June 3.