A conversation with Historical Romance author, Penny Hampson.
Welcome to Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots… Before we sit down for our chat, over a nice cup of tea, could you tell my readers a little about yourself, please?
Hi, I’m Penny. I was born in the north west of England and lived there until my late teens. My childhood was filled with books; I was a member of two local libraries, visiting them alternately each Saturday and taking my full allowance of six books from each. It was the most wonderful feeling to head off home, bag bulging with reading material to hopefully last me for a week.
I gave up my job in the civil service on becoming a mum; my husband’s frequent job moves meant it was difficult to maintain a career and balance childcare. I’d been a full time home-maker for several years when my youngest child started school, so with time on my hands, I decided to take the plunge and study for a degree. I’d always loved history and this was an opportunity to pursue the subject at the highest level. After gaining an honours degree, I continued studying and successfully completed a post-graduate degree. This led to my dream job, working in a world-renowned academic library, surrounded by the most fantastic rare books and manuscripts.
Did I mention that I’m an avid reader? I devour books, especially history and historical fiction; I’ve also a soft spot for crime, thrillers, and romance. Reading did not form part of my day job, but I got through lots of books on my daily commute.
Sadly, all good things come to an end; after nineteen years I was needed at home again to care for a family member with a long-term illness. But I look on challenges as opportunities, and being at home has meant that I can now combine two of my passions: history and books. Now I don’t just read historical fiction, but I write it too.
Could you tell us what inspired you to write A Gentleman’s Promise?
Writing for me is a welcome escape from the stresses of everyday life. I can create characters who (nearly always) do what I want them to, though sometimes they lead me up unexpected paths. I want to write the sort of stories that I enjoy reading; stories with honourable gentlemen, intelligent heroines, maybe a few villains, but always a happy ever after. If we can’t always achieve that in real life, it’s nice to escape to a world where everything does work out. That’s my excuse, anyway.
I love the Regency period; as a teenager, I enjoyed Georgette Heyer’s stories with their sparkling dialogue, enigmatic male characters and wonderful heroines. Jane Austen, of course was another inspiration. Although the early nineteenth century was a time of great change, war, and hardship, both these authors created stories that highlighted other elements of the time: the social snobbery, the manners and the mores, the restrictions of women’s lives.
It was also an age of great wealth for those at the very top of society; the Prince of Wales was notorious for his profligate lifestyle and spending, and where he went, others followed. With rich patrons wanting to display their wealth, the arts flourished.
So setting my novel in the early 1800s was really a no-brainer for me; I love the architecture, the fashions, the personalities.
A Gentleman’s Promise is a story that, while touching on some of the more unsavoury elements of life, contains humour, mystery, and romance, with believable characters who will find their heart’s desire by the end (did I mention I enjoy romance?)
I have read A Gentleman’s Promise, and I loved it. You can read my review, here! Were there any challenges you faced while researching this period of history?
It was the small details that sometimes flummoxed me; like how long would it take for a rider to travel from the small village of Minster Lovell to Oxford, a distance of some twenty miles? What would his route be? It definitely would not be along the A40 as today! Believe it or not, however, the toll bridge at Eynsham that my character Richard uses is still very much in existence and heavily used by today’s commuters.
I also had to ensure my heroine Emma’s journey back to England from Greece was feasible. Even thought the war against Napoleon was in full swing, there were British people travelling to the Ottoman Empire, particularly academics and scholars. I spent many a happy hour on the computer reading journals and articles describing their journeys.
It is very alien to us how long these journeys took. I also find that a challenge when I write. There are many books set in the Regency period, can you tell us three things that set your novel apart.
Well, one thing I have noticed is that many Regency novels are about aristocrats and the upper echelons of society. My hero, Richard, who at first believes he has inherited a title, is not in fact an aristocrat; he is wealthy, but he is an engineer, a mine owner … a practical, risk-averse businessman. Emma too, being the daughter of a second son, is not a titled lady, and having spent a large portion of her life secluded from her peers, has not mixed in society.
There are no ballrooms or society events in my story. So many Regency stories have scenes set in ballrooms and I wanted to avoid all that. Yes, there are some drawing room scenes, but the action takes place in seedy inns, a gentleman’s club, and the backrooms of an exclusive brothel (I used my imagination for that).
I’ve tried to be true to the period; there were women like Emma who wanted to be independent, who saw the dangers in marriage. I like to think that she could have existed. My villain was motivated by, what for him were very real fears of what would happen after his death. Without giving too much away, I can admit that I have some sympathy for his perceived predicament. Thank goodness we live in more modern times.
That is what I loved so much about your book. The setting was so different from what you read in many Regency Romances. Can you tell us what you are currently working on?
My next book in the Gentlemen series is already completed. I hope to publish it within the next few months. An Officer’s Vow follows on from A Gentleman’s Promise, where we learn what happens to Major Nate Crawford.
Hampered by his war wounds, both physical and mental, Nate is returning home to the family estate when runaway heiress, Lottie Benham, literally falls into his path. What follows is an exciting journey through England involving kidnapping, espionage, and murder. Can tormented Nate overcome his personal demons? Will timid Lottie discover her hidden inner strength? Can this autocratic officer and reticent young lady work together to achieve their goals? Sometimes it’s not physical strength that’s required to defeat one’s enemies.
I cannot wait to read Nate’s story. He really intrigued me in A Gentleman’s Promise. Thank you so much for coming onto the blog today! It has been fun. Would you mind sharing an excerpt of A Gentleman’s Promise with us?
Not at all!
There was no getting away from it; someone wanted him dead. The trigger had surely been the notice in the Gazette of his recently acquired title. But who begrudged him the title of Viscount enough to try and kill him? Richard Lacey’s mouth twisted, trying to fathom it out. Well, he was here now; come to see for himself what was so special about Easterby Hall.
He eyed the decaying façade of the house as he brought his curricle to a halt before the property’s front door. His gaze raked over pointed gables and large chimney stacks. No doubt at one time it had been an inviting house; now there was a definite air of neglect. The disappearing sun glinted off stone mullioned windows, and a lone curl of smoke ascended from one of the rear chimneys.
He dismounted to make a closer inspection; the horses snorted and pawed the ground, displaying their impatience. He turned and patted the nearside horse’s flank.
‘Steady, boys; soon have you rubbed down and watered.’
‘Shall I take them round to the stables, sir?’ his groom asked.
‘Yes, see what you can find.’
The front door at the top of the steps remained closed. Fool; obviously, he was not expected. What was he thinking? If the interior was in a similar poor state he would have to return to the inn at Minster Lovell. Not something he wanted to do; like his horses, he’d had enough of travelling for the day.
He stretched to ease his aching muscles; his hopes for a hot bath, a decent meal, and a warm bed were becoming obsessions.
Julia and David are right to tease me. I must be getting set in my ways if all I’m anticipating is a bath and an early night.
He smiled to himself and shook his head; this wouldn’t do. His boots thudded on the steps, jarring his stiffened knees. He tugged on the bell and chimes resonated through the house. Footsteps clattered over what sounded like a tiled floor; then a key grated in the lock. The door opened and a grey-haired gentleman peered out at him, a quizzical expression on his face.
‘Yes, yes, may I help you? I’m afraid the family are not at home to visitors at present.’
The man’s tone was querulous, as if he’d been disturbed from a far more pleasant activity than opening the front door to passing strangers. Controlling his first vexed impulse – this was now his property after all – Richard replied with his own question.
‘And you are…?’
The old chap pulled himself up to his full height and announced, ‘I am Wrighton, butler to the late Lord Easterby. Who might you be, sir?’
‘Richard Lacey, Viscount Easterby. Your new employer.’
‘Richard Lacey, Viscount Easterby. Your new employer.’
A Gentleman’s Promise
The year is 1810 and risk-averse Richard Lacey has inherited a title, a run-down estate and the attentions of a killer. To add to his problems the true title-holder, young Jamie Smythe and his beguiling bluestocking sister, Emma, turn up on his doorstep; they have braved the perils of Napoleon’s Europe to return home. Exchanging stories of attempted murder, missing letters, and the mysterious death of a scandalous uncle, it is obvious that someone means mischief and lives are at risk.
Their mutual attraction is immediate but unwanted. Richard sees Emma’s spirit and determination as a challenge; obsessed as he is with order and control, her apparent disregard for her own safety shatters his nerves.
Emma is wary of giving her heart; having tasted freedom, she is reluctant to relinquish it.
Danger forces them to collaborate, but proximity brings temptation; unwillingly drawn to each other, Richard and Emma endeavour to resist the pull of love whilst they try to catch a killer.
Having worked in various sectors before becoming a full time mum, Penny Hampson decided to follow her passion for history by studying with the Open University. She graduated with honours and went on to complete a post-graduate degree.
Penny then landed her dream role, working in an environment where she was surrounded by rare books and historical manuscripts. Flash forward nineteen years, and the opportunity came along to indulge her other main passion – writing historical fiction. Encouraged by friends and family, three years later Penny published her debut novel A Gentleman’s Promise.
Penny lives with her family in Oxfordshire, and when she is not writing, she enjoys reading, walking, swimming, and the odd gin and tonic (not all at the same time).