Friday, May 26, 2023

Interview with Alison Goodman

Like Alison Goodman, as she notes below, I first encountered Regency London through the novels of Georgette Heyer, which I discovered in my early teens. Even now, I go back to my favorites every so often, although as I have matured, so have my views on which stories I consider favorites.

Heyer wrote her first novel at eighteen, and her early heroines were teenagers. Over the course of her long life, the heroines aged into their twenties, but women over thirty remained bit players—chaperones, governesses, and, worst of all, poor relations, doomed by the dreaded word “spinster” to secondary status even in their own families. So to encounter Alison Goodman’s 40-something unmarried twins—Lady Augusta Colebrook and her sister, Lady Julia—is a pleasant surprise. That the two women, each in her own distinctive way, resist the society that would relegate them to back rooms and lace caps just adds to the fun. And then there’s the disgraced Lord Evan Belford, escaped convict and highwayman, a charmer in his own right.

Alison Goodman was kind enough to answer my questions, so read on to find out more, then seek out The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies when it comes out on Tuesday. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, I can’t help thinking that if Heyer were writing today instead of in the last century, this is exactly the kind of story she would produce.

Your previous novels cover quite a range, from contemporary mystery to fantasy—including the Dark Days Club series, which might be considered Regency historical fantasy. How did this path lead you to The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies?

It has been quite a winding path through many genres to The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies. I suppose it is because I love to challenge myself when I write, and part of that is to write in different genres or to mash them together in ways that I hope will create surprise and delight. I would say the path to The Ill-Mannered Ladies started when I was twelve years old and my mother gave me my first Georgette Heyer historical novel. I immediately fell in love with historical fiction, and particularly books set in the Regency era. So, that love of all things Regency has been sitting in me for a long time. It first showed itself in my Dark Days Club series, which is like Pride and Prejudice meets Buffy, and is now in full throttle with The Ill-Mannered Ladies. The Ill-Mannered Ladies has no fantastical element like the Dark Days Club series, but it is as historically authentic and accurate as that earlier series and has as much action, romance and adventure. Plus it’s funny.

Lady Augusta Colebrook is quite a character. Tell us a bit about her.

Lady Augusta, or Gus as she is known to her twin sister Julia, is the main character and narrator of The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies. She is 42 years old, unmarried, smart, and a wee bit snarky. She is bored by the high society life she leads and is looking for purpose in her life beyond what society says a woman of her age and rank is allowed to do. And so, the Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies is born—Gus and her sister decide to use their privilege and invisibility as “old maids” to help other women in peril.

Her sister Julia is quieter and more biddable, yet she always seems to come through in a pinch. How would you describe her?

Julia is, I think, very much the “middle” child. She is the peacemaker between her fiery older twin, Gus, and their younger brother Lord Duffield or Duffy, as his family calls him. Julia seeks harmony and peace in her life, but that does not mean she won’t answer the call to adventure. She has a grounded serenity, and if Gus is ever in any trouble, Julia will come out swinging on her twin’s behalf. She has a lot of quiet gumption.

The twins, like many twins, have a special bond. Among other things, they often communicate without words. Why did you include that element?

I love the idea of a secret language between twins, which has been well documented in real twins, and it provides a lot of fun in the book. Gus and Julia communicate through their expressions: a flick of an eyebrow, a frown, a particular smile. Their secret language gives them an advantage in both social situations and on their adventures, and it really adds to their closeness as sisters in the novel.

Do introduce us to Lord Evan Belford. He is an absolute delight.

Ah, Lord Evan. What a honey! He’s had a bit of rough time of it: fought a duel twenty years earlier as a young man and apparently killed his man so was charged with murder, found guilty, and transported to Australia. Now he’s back in England for his own reasons and happens across Gus and Julia on one of their adventures. And when I say “happens across,” I mean he attempts to hold up their coach and Gus accidentally shoots him. However, he is exceptionally forgiving and so starts a wonderful partnership. His circumstances have forced him to live outside the privilege of his upbringing as the son of a marquess and so he is a rather appealing blend of gentleman and rogue.

In contrast, neither the twin’s brother, Lord Duffield, nor Evan’s, Lord Deele, could be considered at all delightful. Could you give us a brief description of them?

To be very brief, Duffy is Mr. Pompous! He is very much a man of his time—literally titled and very much entitled. Since their father’s death, he is the head of the Colebrook family and he believes it is his right to control his unmarried sisters’ lives. As you can imagine, that does not sit well with Gus at all. Lord Deele is Lord Evan’s younger brother but through circumstances has inherited the family title and wealth and is guardian to their younger sister. He, too, feels that as head of the family he can control the women within it, with disastrous consequences. Both of these characters are emblematic of the misogyny of the period but also have their own needs and goals that, unfortunately, get in Gus’s way. And woe betide anyone who gets in Lady Augusta Colebrook’s way!

Sketch for us, please, the cases that occupy Augusta and Julia in this book.

Without giving too much away, I have structured the novel into three cases (a nod to the wonderful Conan Doyle), each with its own story, but each also part of the overarching story. The first case takes Gus and Julia to a country house to save a wife in dire peril. The second takes them to Cheltenham and a nefarious situation in a brothel. And the third case takes them to a heinous asylum. I call the novel a serious romp, because it is fun and full adventure but also deals with some of the darker aspects of the Regency period.

This novel leaves Lady Augusta with an uncompleted mission. Are you working on the next book now, and can you give us any hints about what to expect?

I am, indeed, working on the next book and having as much fun with this one as I did while writing The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies. It’s another serious romp, this time with two longer cases rather than the three cases in the first book (yes, I’m having fun playing around with structure again!). Anything more, I think, would start to head into spoiler territory for the first book, so I will end by saying you can expect Gus and Julia to be just as resourceful, ill-mannered, and indomitable.

Thank you so much for answering my questions!


Alison Goodman is the award-winning author of eight novels—The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies,  the Dark Days Club trilogy, the fantasy duology EON and EONA, Singing the Dogstar Blues, and A New Kind of Death. She lives in Melbourne, Australia. Find out more about her at

Portrait of Alison Goodman © Tania Jovanovic. Images of Regency ladies, gentleman, and highwayman public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Overlooked Women Artists

Although as a Russian specialist I had long known of the abstract art that became popular in the early twentieth century as part of the Bolshevik experiment, I hadn’t realized until I read this novel that the first abstract painters included a group of five Swedish women, three of whom—Hilma af Klint, Anna Cassel, and Cornelia Cederberg—were painters. The Friday Night Club—so called because the women met every Friday—counterposes the historical story and letters of the group with a contemporary timeline featuring Eben Elliott, an employee of the Guggenheim Museum charged with organizing an exhibit of Klint’s paintings.

Like the Friday Night Club itself, the novel is a collaboration among three authors—Sofia Lundberg, Alyson Richman, and M.J. Rose. I was eager to find out more about both their subject and their writing process, so read on to find out what they have to say.

Although I’ve long known about Wasily Kandinsky, it was news to me that Hilma af Klint preceded him and the other, better-known abstract artists. Indeed, like one of your characters, I at first confused Klint with Gustave Klimt. What made you all want to write a novel about Hilma and her collaborators?

The inspiration for our novel, The Friday Night Club, first came about after a visit to the Hilma af Klint exhibit, Paintings for the Future, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2019.

At the museum, one of us noticed a small caption underneath a black-and-white photograph of Hilma that mentioned the artist had created a special group called the Friday Night Club, which consisted of her and four other women—Anna Cassel, Cornelia Cederberg, Mathilda Nilsson, and Sigrid Hedman—who gathered each week to provide one another artistic and spiritual sustenance and often performed séances in an attempt to channel spirits to guide them in their work. None of the other four were mentioned anywhere else in the exhibit, and, as we later learned, for all intents and purposes, they have since been relegated to being just a footnote in the now famous and celebrated Hilma’s personal history. Immediately, the question of who these four women were began to simmer, and the idea of a novel started to unfold around our desire to discover more about them.

The three of you collaborated on this novel. The end product is seamless, but what was the experience of collaboration like? What pluses and minuses come from working together?

It was actually seamless. While all three of us would divide and conquer our research—Sofia Lundberg in Sweden examining the journals and written materials of Hilma af Klint and Mathilda Nilsson in the Royal Swedish Archives, and Alyson Richman and M.J. Rose using materials written in English—we transcended the distance between us to work on a unified objective. We wanted to learn what drove these women to come together to seek higher knowledge and to pursue an artistic endeavor like The Paintings for the Temple, at a time when women had such few opportunities, outside of their traditional roles as wives, mothers, and homemakers. There really weren’t any minuses to the collaboration because we all had tremendous respect for each other as writers and we were always exchanging information we were uncovering through our research. Probably the only challenge was trying to make sure when we began working on each of our sections each morning that we retrieved the most current manuscript from Dropbox!

How did you decide to counterpose the late nineteenth-/early twentieth-century story of Hilma and her friends with a twenty-first-century (fictional) story about the (real) exhibit at the Guggenheim that inspired your work?

Being an art lover usually means being curious about the shows themselves and how they’re curated—so we wanted to build upon those parallels. The idea of showing the creating of the modern-day exhibit was part of the idea from the beginning. Once we began doing our early research about the Friday Night Club, or De Fem as they called themselves, we realized there were serious questions about how the group helped Hilma. And it seemed only natural that those questions should be explored in the present-day storyline.

Spiritualism plays an important part in this novel, represented by the characters Mathilda and Sigrid. Could you talk a bit about that element and what, if anything, it meant for you as authors?

At least one of us is heavily interested in spiritualism and we knew it had to play an essential part of the book once we learned through our research that every Friday night this group of creative women held séances in an effort to speak to the spirits and find artistic guidance and inspiration for their work.

Since Hilma, although underestimated, has still received more recognition than her fellow painters Anna Cassel and Cornelia Cederberg, could you tell us a bit about them?

Anna Cassel and Cornelia Cederberg’s early artistic training mirrored Hilma’s. They both received artistic training in Slöjdskolan (now known as Konstfack), a premier art school in their teenage years, and this is actually where they met each other. After they graduated, only Anna and Hilma were accepted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, which was a very big milestone for a woman and aspiring artist in the nineteenth century. Anna leaned toward landscape painting, and from what we learned from our research and interviews with family members, she was perhaps more reserved than Hilma but still extremely determined to carve out a unique life for herself as an artist.

We learned Cornelia also made a significant contribution within the group as she was responsible for making the automatic drawings during the Friday night séances. She also allegedly created many of the shapes that occur in Hilma’s paintings.

And what of the fictional Blythe and Eben Elliott? Could you give us a brief description of them and how their story parallels or contrasts with the lives of “The Five”?

Eben and Blythe are both art historians and lovers in the past who attended graduate school together at the Courtauld in London. She is very engaged in spiritualism, and Eben doesn’t believe in it—and that is part of what drove them apart. In some ways we think their relationship will mirror some of our readers who will come to this story as skeptics but in the end might wonder if there is another realm out there.

Where do the three of you go next? Will there be more collaborations?

We are each working on our own novels now but very much hope we can find another topic to collaborate on!
Thank you so much for answering my questions!

Images: Photograph of Hilma af Klint (1895), Late Summer (1903) and Primordial Chaos, no. 16 (1906–7) by Hilma af Klint—all public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Sofia Lundberg is an internationally bestselling author, journalist, and former magazine editor. Lundberg is the shining new star of Scandinavian fiction, translated into nearly forty languages. She lives in Stockholm with her son.





Alyson Richman is a USA Today and #1 international bestselling author. She is an accomplished painter, and her novels combine her deep loves of art, historical research, and travel. She lives on Long Island with her husband and two children.






M.J. Rose is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. She grew up in New York City exploring the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Out of Ireland

The United States, as people say, is a nation of immigrants. There have been waves of immigration from various parts of the world, as well as a shameful history of involuntary immigration, but—although some people like to deny this part—what most of us have in common is that our ancestors came from somewhere else.

People don’t pick up and leave home unless driven by a need more powerful than the natural love of all things familiar. Poverty, hatred, fear, desperation, the yearning for a better life—these are natural sources of tension and drama. As Marion O’Shea Wernicke discusses in our New Books Network interview, she found inspiration in her grandmother’s story. Read on—and listen—to find out more.

As always, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

Most people have heard of the Irish famine in 1848 and of the resistance movement against British sovereignty that consumed much of the twentieth century. In this attempt to understand her great-grandmother’s life, Marian O’Shea Wernicke examines the years between the famine and the Easter Rebellion of 1916. In the process, she creates a compelling tale of a young Irish girl, Mary Eileen O’Donovan, whose impoverished family forces her to marry a neighboring farmer in his forties when Eileen, as she’s known, has barely passed her sixteenth birthday.

In material terms, it’s a good match, but it is not what Eileen wants from life. A bookish girl, she has ambitions of studying to become a teacher, but pressure from her family puts paid to those plans. Eileen grudgingly agrees to wed John Sullivan and does her best to make him a good wife. When she becomes pregnant, the couple’s newborn son unites them for a while, but John’s morose nature and frequent drunkenness make him a difficult man to love, especially for an idealistic girl.

When the crops fail and Eileen’s younger brother falls foul of the Fenians, Eileen and John decide their only choice is to emigrate. But leaving Ireland turns out to carry a high price as well …

Friday, May 5, 2023

Interview with Shelley Noble

It’s 1899, and Louis Comfort Tiffany is preparing a series of dramatic artworks made of colored glass to show at the Paris World Exposition the next spring. His workshop is unusual by the standards of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: not only does he hire women artists, but he pays them at rates similar to those of his male employees. Shelley Noble’s new novel, The Tiffany Girls, due out on Tuesday, follows the intertwined stories of three of these women: Emilie Pascal, Grace Griffith, and the real-life Clara Driscoll—whose obituary was republished by the New York Times earlier this year. Shelley was kind enough to answer my questions, so read on to find out more.


I noticed on your website that you have published, in addition to a lot of contemporary novels, a historical mystery series set in the early twentieth century. Did this lead into The Tiffany Girls, and if not, what did spark your interest in Tiffany and his female staff?

My latest Gilded Age Manhattan series literally led me to the Tiffany Girls. I was researching turn-of-the-century (19th–20th) psychology for A Secret Never Told, which dealt with a group of particularly murderous psychoanalysts, when an article about the discovery of Clara Wolcott Driscoll’s family letters appeared in the feed. Being easily enticed into unexpected rabbit holes, I opened the link and read about the almost simultaneous discovery of two batches of her personal letters (1906) that shed light on this little-known department in the Louis C. Tiffany Glass Company and led to an exhibit and book titled A New Light on Tiffany. I was captivated. The Tiffany Girls became my next novel.

Emilie Pascal is the first of your women artists that we meet and the most troubled. How would you characterize her personality and her goals as an artist?

Emilie is passionate and driven—passionate about art, about creativity, about life. But she has seen how passion can destroy, and she is determined to succeed in her art no matter what she must sacrifice.

And what takes Emilie away from Paris?

Her father, a respected Parisian portrait painter, is abusive and is finally outed as a notorious art forger. He is sought by the police and Emilie knows she must reinvent herself far from the scandal if she is to realize her future as an artist. She has seen an exhibit of Tiffany’s glass works, has heard of his division of anonymous women artists, and determines to become one of them.

Grace Griffith helps Emilie out from the moment of their first meeting, but the two don’t entirely share the same goals. What does Grace want from life, and what stands in her way?

Grace is down-to-earth with “the new woman” notions. She is fair and compassionate, and is one of the best drafters in the women’s division, but she aspires to be a political cartoonist and change society through her drawings. Of course, she can do this only under a pseudonym, because journalism is still a male domain. But one day …

Each of these young women has a male interested in her—indeed, Emilie has more than one. But both are reluctant to encourage romantic relationships. Why, and what can you tell us about Emilie’s Leland (and Amon) and Grace’s Charlie?

Women of the time were just encountering widening work opportunities. “The new women” of the early twentieth century were interested in getting an education and pursuing a career, not only as teachers and nurses but as shop “girls,” typewriter “girls,” telephone “girls,” and so on. No married women need apply. And when a working girl became engaged or wed, she was immediately let go. Many of the girls at Tiffany’s were anxious to be married, but those who wanted careers had to make the decision to stay single. Grace and Emilie are both young, pretty, and intelligent, and they naturally attract young men. Charlie is older, a seasoned journalist, a bit world weary, but he sees Grace’s potential and nurtures her career. The glassblower Amon calls to Emilie’s passion, but she is afraid to allow him to get too close. Leland is cultured, rich, an art dealer who is charming and comfortable with an artistic eye. Of course, both men appeal to Emilie’s warring nature. But neither Grace nor Emilie is willing to sacrifice her goals by ceding them to matrimony.

Clara Driscoll is the third of the Tiffany Girls to merit inclusion in your book description. She’s in a very different place in her life from Emilie, Grace, and their cohort, though. What’s most important for us to know about her?

Clara was an actual person, the manager of the women’s division, but she was also an artist, responsible for some of Tiffany’s most iconic pieces. She did this, as did all the women, mostly without receiving personal recognition for her work. But from everything we know, she never resented Tiffany. It took several workers to complete a lamp or window or decorative item, a collaborative effort. But Tiffany was the driving genius of the work, and I like to think that his artists recognized that.

Last but not least, we have Louis Comfort Tiffany, who is simultaneously the center of the women’s working life and peripheral to their personal stories. Was he fun to write? What should we take away about him and his art?

Tiffany himself was harder to write. He was definitely the center of his artists’ world; he is also a bit of an enigma. We have bits and pieces about him: he had to fight his father (the jeweler) constantly in order to be free to follow his own art. He was a philanthropist, loved the new automobiles and fast speed, was evidently a loving husband and father, and stuttered when he became upset. He did leave a few writings about art, and these helped me with his work and attitude to his art and artists. What I did imagine was that, most of all, besides being an artist and creator of brilliant works, he was also human.

And what of you? Are you already working on something else?

I’m currently working on a new historical novel about three women who in the early 1900s must overcome scandal, the male patriarchy of New York society, the overbearing morality of the times, and their own preconceptions about each other to establish the first women's only club in Manhattan.
Thank you so much for answering my questions!

Shelley Noble is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of sixteen novels of historical fiction, historical mystery, and contemporary women’s fiction—most recently, The Tiffany Girls. Find out more about her at

Images: poster for the 1889 Exposition universelle de Paris, photographs of Clara Driscoll in 1901 and of her famed Dragonfly lamp all public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Photograph of Shelley Noble from the author’s website.