Please note: during our conversation we talk briefly about Lady Darby’s first marriage, which was abusive, and about trauma response and memory, but we don’t go into specifics.
Thank you to Brittanie Black, Anna’s publicist at Berkley, and to Angela James for some of the questions this week.
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Sarah Wendell: Hi there. Thank you for hanging out with me. I’m Sarah Wendell, and this is episode number 452 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. My guest this week is Anna Lee Huber. The latest book in her Lady Darby series is out this week, and she is my guest to talk all about it. Now, if you haven’t read the book yet, do not worry; there are no spoilers. And if you haven’t read the series, this might tempt you to try it – it’s a great series – because we’re going to talk a lot about history. A Wicked Conceit, which is the newest book, has several relevant parallels to life right now: there’s a cholera pandemic happening in the book, and the characters aren’t sure how it’s spreading or how to protect themselves, and there’s a popular play based on a book that everyone is talking about, which includes characters that are thinly disguised versions of Lady Darby and Gage, which I liken to Ye Olde Social Media. Basically, history has totally gone through the mimeograph machine – remember those? Deep breath – and the way in which history parallels itself is, is just fascinating.
Please note that during our conversation, we talk briefly about Lady Darby’s first marriage, which was abusive, and about trauma response and memory, but we don’t go into specifics.
I want to send a very special thank-you to Brittanie Black, Anna’s publicist at Berkley, and to Angela James for some of the questions this week.
I will have information about where you can find this book and where you can find Anna Lee Huber in the show notes at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast. And after the podcast epi-, episode – interview, interview part? The interview part – after that’s done, I not only have a bad joke, but I want to share my favorite quote from this book, because I really enjoyed it.
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I had so much fun doing this interview, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Stay tuned at the end of the episode for a terrible, terrible joke and, as I said, my favorite quote from this book. But for now, let’s get started: on with my conversation with Anna Lee Huber.
Anna Lee Huber: I’m Anna Lee Huber, and I write historical mysteries. I write two series. The first one is the Lady Darby mysteries that are set in 1830s Scotland, England, Ireland, and the heroine is a portrait artist with a macabre past. And then I write the Verity Kent mysteries, which are set in post-World War I England, and she was a spy for the British during the war. And then I also write the Gothic Myths series, and I’m also part of the anthology The Deadly Hours with Susanna Kearsley, C. S. Harris, and Christine Trent.
Sarah: So you do a few things.
Anna: Yes –
Together: – just a few.
Sarah: Okay, just a few deadlines here and there. Wow! Well, congratulations on A Wicked Conceit!
Anna: Thank you! I’m so excited about this one. [Laughs]
Sarah: I have to tell you, I have such strong place memories of, of the Lady Darby series, ‘cause everyone had been telling me, you need to read them, you need to read them, you need to read them! Like, okay. So a couple of years ago I was in Japan with my family, and we’re, you know, they have these wonderful hotel rooms in Japan where your whole family can be in the hotel room, but everyone has their own –
Anna: Oh wow!
Sarah: – bed? Like, there’s a double bed –
Anna: That’s nice.
Sarah: – and then two twins, so my kids were asleep, and I was not asleep because jet lag is brutal, and I had pulled the covers up over my head, and I was reading one, one after the other after the other after the other, so all I can think of when I think of the early part of the series is being under a duvet with jet lag, just completely content that I – I did not care that I wasn’t sleeping because I was following this woman around as she solved a lot of murders.
Anna: I love that!
Sarah: It, it’s, it’s one of my favorite, like, sensory reading memories?
Sarah: Is this release a little different than prior books? Does it ever get old now that you’ve published so much, or is it always like, yes!?
Anna: I, I would say it never gets old, that’s for sure. I would say you get more used to it. I think the first one is such a high, even the first few, and you’re nervous and you’re like, you want everything to be perfect and all these things, and then I think as you, as you, you know, have had multiple releases, you realize there’s always hiccups, and so it’s – but it’s still exciting, definitely, and, you know, this book, you know, definitely is different. I, I, it just so happens this is my fourth release since the pandemic and we shut everything down, so I’m kind of old pro at this new way of promoting? [Laughs] But it’s the first book that I wrote during the pandemic, so, ‘cause I was in the middle of writing it when everything shut down and my kids back at home learning and, you know, so it was an adjustment. I’m proud of it just because it was kind of like, oh my gosh, I did it! I finished it, even though, you know, that kind of thing. In some ways I feel like I was lucky ‘cause I was already working at home.
Anna: I was already, all these certain things –
Sarah: Me too.
Anna: – but in other ways it’s, it was, you know, that creative brain, it was really, you know, when you, when your job is writing and being creative, you know, like, there are moments when you’re in the zone and it’s awesome and it’s comforting and it’s, you know, cathartic, but there’s other times when it’s your job –
Anna: – and you just have to make yourself do it, and with, you know, the pandemic, it just added another level of difficulty in forcing yourself to go there, you know.
Anna: I mean, there was a lot of times, I had to just shut everything off and everything out, and, like, you know, just put blinders up and headphones on just to make myself go there –
Anna: – so yeah.
Sarah: And on one hand it’s, it can be very hard for me, I know, like I have five different playlists of music and different headphones that have varying levels of noise cancelation, but at the same time, when you really get in that zone, I imagine your being able to be like, and now I’m with hang-, hanging out with Verity. Now I will hang out with Lady Darby.
Sarah: Now I am in Scotland. Yes, there’s cholera, but it’s better than here right now. That escaping is, must be as, as powerful for you as the writer as it is for the reader, which is really lovely.
Anna: Definitely. Definitely, yeah. There, there definitely is an escape element to writing in the past when your present is so kind of crummy. [Laughs]
Sarah: Oh yeah. Now, some of the questions I have for you come from your publicist, Brittanie Black, who is amazing, and in my experience as a –
Anna: Love her.
Sarah: – as a podcaster, publicists sometimes have the most interesting questions, because they have to shape how the book is pitched to the media, so they think about books in different ways. I love, love working with publicists like Brittanie. And she pointed out something that I was aware of, but I hadn’t fully appreciated until she wrote it down: this is your ninth book?
Sarah: But only two years have passed in the world of the books since The Anatomist’s Wife and I, she, her question was: what led you to keeping this timeline so tight? My question is: are people not, starting to not want to invite them because every time they show up there’s a murder? Or, or are they more attractive guests because they can just arrange to have really, like, annoying family members or people present and be like, well, if we invite Lady Darby and her husband, then someone will die, and maybe it’ll be you.
Anna: [Laughs] Well –
Anna: – so I initially, I initially set the, I kind of let the characters set the pace of how –
Anna: – how far the books were spaced, especially initially, you know, ‘cause the very early books, it’s really Kiera and Gage, their romance kind of developing, so it’s like, you don’t want to stretch them out and they’re separated for too long. And then after that it was like, sometimes it was an event in history or things like that, and I, and I was thinking to myself that I had to be very careful and conscious of, a lot of the books, it’s not that the death happens when they’re there? They’re, like, asked to go there, or that there’s an issue and they’re asked to go check it out. So hopefully they’re not always the ones that when they show up, the dead body drops. I mean, at, at some, you know, at some point this has happened so often to them that, yeah, their friends have to be thinking, I don’t know if I want to invite them – [laughs] – to my house party. But in another sense, I mean, they are the, you know, the investigators of the upper class. I mean –
Anna: – ‘cause this is in a time period where the police is really in the infancy. They didn’t really investigate! I mean, the police were initially established just to, like, keep order, you know, and keep bad things from happening. They didn’t have detectives; they didn’t have that kind of thing, and so, you know, like, in London they had the Bow Street Runners, but the upper class didn’t want to cooperate with them. They didn’t want them in their business, you know, so they’re kind of the people that the upper class are like, okay, something bad happened; I don’t want this riffraff in my home; you know, let me call the Gages, you know?
Anna: So in my mind I was, I was consciously trying to make that balance happen. [Laughs] Yeah. But, I mean, to a certain extent, yeah, they are, things seem to follow them around. [Laughs again] Or they sniff them out, anyway.
Sarah: So was it a deliberate choice on your part to compress their narrative timeline?
Anna: Yes, it was!
Anna: Yeah. I mean, like, for, for the romance initially, and then it was, there were certain events in history, and there were certain, you know, things I wanted them to do before – I will say, when I first started writing the series and the background that I gave Kiera, you know, in my mind I had the London Burkers in mind, which happened in late 1831, and I was like, okay, if, if I’m so blessed that I keep, get to keep writing this series, they have to be there. You know, and so –
Sarah: Right, the Resurrectionists.
Anna: Correct, yes!
Anna: The, yeah, the, you know, we had Burke and Hare in 1828, ’29 in Edinburgh and there’s, that’s that shadow that’s cast over everything in this time period, especially with Kiera and anatomy and the, you know, the body-snatching and all that. And so when they, they emerge in London in late 1831, it was like, she’s got to be there; she just has to be. And it’s such a fascinating historical event anyway that people don’t know about? They all know, a lot of people know about Burke and Hare, but they don’t know about the London Burkers, and so for me it was, you know, these certain things have to happen until, you know, before that. And so I was, it really shaped the early arc of the series, and so for me, that’s kind of how the spacing came into play: like, just making all the things I needed to fit in fit in, the stories that I wanted to shape before that. And so that’s why I kind of decided to just compress it and not have quite big, quite such big gaps, so.
Sarah: I, I love the idea that you have this very, very large calendar, but all of the action happens in, like, two years!
Sarah: It’s a very, very tight datebook. They’re very busy; their Google Calendar is completely filled with murder. Very busy people here.
Sarah: Now, one of the things that you mention in the introduction – and I try very hard when doing an interview to not include spoilers, so I will not be spoiling anything – but in the in-, in the introduction, you mention – and if you ever wonder if your introduction and your Author’s Notes are read, they are always read by podcasters, certainly by me, and I love them; they’re my favorite part, when you get, like, the sort of behind-the-scenes convo? – you mention that ways of addressing contagion and pandemic were very different in this period versus right now, and I, first, I appreciate that it was in your mind like, I’m writing about a pandemic during another pandemic, and obviously that’s going to be present in the mind of the readers –
Anna: Oh yeah.
Sarah: – and that signals some serious research. What did you learn about the cholera pandemic while researching this book? And also it was in the prior book; it was in A Stroke of Malice too, sort of this thing that was out there and it hadn’t come here yet –
Sarah: – and what was it like for you, writing about and living in two very different, very, very different pandemics?
Anna: Yeah, definitely. I mean, so when I wrote A Stroke of Malice, it was a year before it would even happen –
Anna: – and so I was writing this book, A Wicked Conceit, as it was happening, so of course I had no idea. I mean, that was like, some people had asked me that, and I was like, there’s no way I knew – [laughs] – we were going to have a pandemic!
Sarah: You going to play the lottery now?
Anna: Yeah! [Laughs]
Sarah: Like, have you thought about buying some tickets?
Anna: I know, right? Yeah.
Sarah: You seem to have some premonition going on here.
Anna: I’ve got some luck here, you know?
Anna: Yeah, so I would have always done research, but the fact that we were going through a pandemic had made me have to research even more intensely, because I knew, everybody’s so used to what we have to do now that I was like, they’re never going to believe that this is really what they did in the past, you know. So yeah, it was really interesting. You know, cholera is different, very different from COVID –
Sarah: Yes –
Anna: – but, I mean, this is two hundred years ago.
Sarah: – ‘cause it’s waterborne, right?
Anna: Yes! I mean –
Anna: – nowadays, if there was cholera, you’d boil your water and you’d be fine, you know. I mean –
Anna: – this is why we have modern sanitation and all these things. But two hundred years ago, they didn’t know this; they didn’t know, germ theory wasn’t a thing? Everything was, miasma theory was the big thing, where there was bad air that was coming from corpses and marshes, and, like, this is what was making people ill, and, you know, they just really did not have a grasp of what was really going on. I mean – which makes me think, two hundred years from now, what are we going to laugh about that we did, you know?
Sarah: Oh yeah. Are you kidding?
Anna: But yeah –
Sarah: It’s been a year, and I laugh at myself a year ago, wiping down my groceries –
Anna: Oh, I know!
Sarah: – with a, with a wipe because I was like, I don’t know how this is transmitted and I don’t know how – so I’m going to wipe down –
Sarah: – my Pringles.
Anna: ‘Cause we didn’t –
Sarah: I’m going to wipe down my bag.
Anna: Well, we didn’t know! I mean –
Sarah: I had, I washed everything?
Sarah: I wiped down the boxes; I took everything out. I –
Anna: Oh, us too!
Sarah: I unloaded my groceries with gloves on? And I look back at myself now, and I’m like, well, now I know, but I mean –
Anna: We didn’t know!
Sarah: – Past Sarah, I get it!
Sarah: You were just trying to keep everybody safe, and who the hell knew how this thing was spreading?
Anna: So, yeah, the, with the cholera, you know, it was – and it was the, this is the first outbreak in the UK. I mean, it was –
Anna: – really – well, and it was really worldwide. I mean it had been confined basically to the Indian subcontinent before this, and then with shipping, it just kind of spread, and it reaches the UK and it spreads, and I mean it, it was interesting, you know, several developments that did come of it was, this was the first time they had a central board of health, which now we have CDC, World Health Organization, all this stuff, but they didn’t have this before then, and so they actually set up a central board of health in London, and then all these other cities had their own, you know, offices, and they reported to them so they could get data, and, you know, they didn’t really have, you know, they didn’t understand germ theory at that point, but at least they had statistics about what was going on and where it was spreading and all these kind of things. They put up broadsheets, you know –
Anna: – everywhere, you know, saying, this is what you should do, and, and they were talking about being clean and –
Anna: – eating good food. You know, they understood that, but they just didn’t realize it was the water that was contaminated, you know –
Anna: – and, you know, it was, you know, it wasn’t until, it was 1854 – I thought this was interesting, too – that there’s a Dr. John Snow. So it’s twenty years later, he’s the first guy who realizes that, that it is the water, and he traces it to, another outbreak to this, you know, central well, this central pump in London.
Anna: And what’s crazy is, you know, and it was contaminated by a sewer. I mean, that’s why, what it was, why it was happening, but it was, this was the pump that, like, people would travel miles to get water from because they said it tasted the best. That’s what’s crazy –
Anna: – to think! Okay, these people –
Anna: – [laughs] – they’re, like, going to this neighborhood to get –
Sarah: Oh, y’all –
Anna: – the water because they think it’s the sweetest water –
Sarah: Oh, the –
Anna: – but it’s actually infected! You know what I mean? It just seems –
Anna: – that, that seemed bizarre to me. I was like, oh my gosh! Like –
Anna: Yeah. And, and I will say, I, I geek out a little bit about the science stuff on this, and if you are interested in it, you know, there is a, there’s a podcast called This Podcast Will Kill You, and it’s, it’s great. It’s these two ladies that, they’re, like, epidemiologists and things, and they talk about different diseases! So if you’re interested in that kind of stuff, they do the history, they do the, all of that kind of stuff. So I would totally, there’s a cholera episode on, somewhere in their series, so –
Anna: – yeah. [Laughs]
Sarah: Now, you mentioned also that you wanted to get them to a particular year, that it has been your goal to get them to a particular year.
Sarah: Is there a reason for that that you can talk about?
Anna: I mean, initially it was the London Burkers –
Anna: – and then now –
Sarah: ‘Cause her, her past intersects –
Sarah: – the well with that.
Anna: And then now it’s kind of moving them beyond that –
Anna: – and on – I don’t, I guess I don’t have – I’m not sure where I said that, the year thing, but I do have in my mind certain things that I want them to confront or –
Anna: – their side characters to confront? Now that we know Anderley’s back story, I’d love to get them to Italy at some point.
Anna: You know what I mean, that kind of thing. Just, so in my mind, I mean, I have, like, you know, I, I, I don’t know, I just work that way. I just, I work with the hope that I’ll just keep getting to write. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yep! I understand completely!
Anna: So, you know, ‘cause I’ve been asked before, do you ever, you know, make an end point? Or what if you don’t get a new contract? Then I’m like, no, I just write with the hope that I’ll just keep going! [Laughs] As long as I have stories to tell, I think that I’ll just, that’s just what I’ll do. I’ll just write like that and, you know –
Sarah: Keep going, yeah.
Sarah: One particular part of the book – and this is in the very, very first chapter, so this is not a spoiler – is, they are walking home, and they are accosted by one of the more nebulous characters in the series, and Gage is like, could you just stand back?
Sarah: She’s pregnant, and there is cholera; could you just give us some distance? And I was just like –
Sarah: Yes, Gage, yes! They need the space! Social distancing! Social distancing, Gage! Like, that one moment? Like, he could be an absolutely dastardly husband, which he’s not, but I was like, yes, I get it. Yes, I’m, I’m connected at this moment with you. It was so reass- – did you think about that while you were writing that scene? [Laughs]
Anna: I did, I did! It really was a balance of what did they do then –
Anna: – versus what we do now –
Anna: But making it translate to us now.
Anna: You know what I mean? Because to me, I’m like, even if they didn’t understand germ theory, he still would have been thinking, well, I don’t know where this guy has been and, like, what bad air is around him? Just stay away from wife. You know what I mean? It was like –
Anna: – that, trying to make that translation in our head, and I knew people today would get it. Like, they would totally get it. [Laughs]
Sarah: Oh yeah. Oh yeahyeahyeahyeahyeah.
The other aspect of this book that I wanted to ask you about, about, specifically about A Wicked Conceit, is the idea of, of narrative. And it’s very much a theme in the whole series, because even from the beginning, Kiera has never been able to control what people say about her. She is not in control about the narrative of her life, and now, in this book – again, not spoil – a lot of characters around her are dealing with the idea, that, that feeling that things are spread about you that you can’t control. They’re completely far from the truth, and no one believes the truth. Is that something you set out to explore in this book, or is that sort of something that arrived organically during the writing process? Because it was such an interesting reflection of the thing that has followed Kiera the whole series.
Anna: Right, yeah. It was, it was kind of half and half; it was conscious, but also kind of more organic?
Anna: I knew, narrative was definitely something in my mind, that’s been in my mind through this whole series –
Anna: – you know, and the power of it and the impact, and even, you know, how it, how it relates to us today, you know, but it also, I knew it was time to address that, and when I stumbled, I, I mean, this is based off an event that really happened in history. It was not about Bonnie Brock, but, you know, it, it, it happens in 1840, ten years later, but – or eight years later – but it was just so perfect, when I was reading about it, to use, and it just fit with what I needed to do here.
Anna: And, you know, I mean, a big thing for me with, with Kiera is, like you said, she’s never been able to control the narrative about herself –
Anna: – but – and she’s come to realize through the series, you know, I can’t control this, but I can control what I do.
Anna: And I think that’s just so powerful, and, and through the series, we see multiple times people that are, you know, you know, they believe the things about Kiera or they’re suspicious of her, and then after they meet her and they interact with her and they understand this is not her at all –
Anna: – and it changes them, and she has, you know, developed friendships this way and that kind of thing, and I think, I, I think that is so powerful, and I think it’s something that, to this, even now, everybody –
Anna: – you know, we have this, we have this tendency to think we know things about people, or, or even tell ourselves narratives. You know, like, oh, well, they said this; they must mean this. And we –
Anna: – it’s this narrative we tell to ourselves, and it’s like –
Anna: – if we would just sit down and talk to them, maybe that’s not what they meant at all, especially with our loved ones. I think it’s very, very important, ‘cause I just hear it so often. And, I mean, it’s just, just compounded with social media. You know, I mean, it’s just –
Sarah: Oh, absolutely!
Anna: – all of that, you can say all these things, but, you know, what’s really behind that, you know? And we see that. We have seen that so much over the last year and months.
Sarah: And it’s also so interesting, because everyone, much like Gage telling Bonnie Brock, y’all need to keep your distance, everyone can relate to, I know this isn’t true about me, but people really seem to think that it is. And then you start beginning to, like, doubt yourself. Like, gosh, what is, what if this is true?
Sarah: What if I am unnatural? What if I am terrible?
Sarah: And everyone can relate to the idea of not being able to control what’s said about you, whether you’re a public figure or, you know, you’re talking about other people you interact with every day in the –
Sarah: – school pickup line, yeah!
Anna: Absolutely. I mean, there’s, there’s a quote by, I can’t remember who it is, but it’s basically, you know, other people’s opinions about me are none of my business.
Sarah: Yes! I have read that –
Anna: You have –
Sarah: – same quote, yes!
Anna: Yes, it’s perfect! It’s so good because it is so true. You have to know yourself and who you are –
Anna: – and the people that you love and you’re closest to, they know. They know who you are –
Anna: – and they’re not going to doubt you. It’s those outside spheres that you just have to, to – and it’s hard! It’s hard nowadays, especially with social media and stuff and everything, but you have to just shut them off. You have to just, no, I know, I know who I am. I’m not going to let you change that.
Sarah: Yeah! And it’s a very powerful motivation for a character, especially one like Lady Darby who is dealing with the aftereffects of having been in an abusive marriage, that she has physical reactions to Gage, who she knows rationally will never hurt her –
Sarah: – but she’s terrified of making him angry, and she’s terrified of him being angry because – there’s a, a book about trauma recovery called The Body Keeps the Score? And her body does that; it keeps the score –
Sarah: – of her first marriage. It, it, it knows danger, and it reacts, she reacts instinctively, and that just makes him even more angry.
Sarah: And there’s a point where she has to, like, consider, okay, what is this like for him? What is this like for me? Because their narratives about these incidents are so different!
Anna: Exactly, yes. And, you know, speaking of that abuse and that react-, the reaction and the fact that she’s still dealing with it now, that was really important to me to not downplay –
Anna: – what people have been through!
Anna: You know, too often I see, oh, well, you know, now she’s fine! No, that’s not how it works!
Sarah: Five good orgasms and you’re good to go! [Laughs]
Anna: Yeah! It’s like, that’s not how it works!
Anna: You know, and, you know, Gage is a great guy, and he’s the perfect guy for her, and –
Sarah: Oh –
Anna: – they have a good marriage, but she still has these residual things, you know, and I mean, and so –
Anna: And he, he even realizes it. It makes her, it makes him angry, but he, and still, he knows, you know what I mean. Like, he knows, but it’s still the narrative he’s telling himself at that moment, and it’s totally it, and then when they can step back and re-, you know, -address it later, they –
Anna: – understand each other.
Sarah: Thinking about what you said about social media, I don’t think this is too much of a spoiler, that one of the things they’re dealing with is a fictional account –
Sarah: – of another person that includes them and, you know –
Sarah: – this, this writer changed one letter of their name so it’s –
Sarah: – Dalby instead of Darby.
Sarah: Like, yeah, whoo, that’s, wow! That was –
Anna: I don’t know who that is!
Sarah: Gosh, couldn’t figure that out for many pages.
Sarah: But that is sort of like the, the corollary to social media, because the play is in –
Sarah: – the play, this play is being, this, this book, rather, is being turned into a play –
Sarah: – on multiple stages at multiple class levels, and depending –
Sarah: – on the class level, you get a different – it’s very much a form of social media for them.
Anna: It is, yeah! And when I was rec-, like I said, it was based, it’s based on a real murder that happened in London in 1840, and it’s –
Anna: So there was a book written by William Harrison Ainsworth. It’s about Jack Sheppard, this, this thief that escaped Newgate multiple times, okay, and it was this form of novel, so it was really popular right now, that at that time called Newgate novels, and –
Anna: – they were just hugely popular, and the book was popular, and then at that time they didn’t have to pay authors to use their books. All these theatres in London put on this play, and they were all different, and they all had different things; they were all for different class levels, like you were talking about. And it was just this huge cultural thing, and the, the music, even, that was in the play, like, the upper classes were – you know, it was a thieves cant song. Like, they had no idea what they were singing about, and they were still, their kids playing the violin with this tune, and I mean –
Anna: The bells, there was a cathedral in Edinburgh that, they were, they had a, a, the bells were playing the song. I mean, it was nuts, okay? And, you know, then there was this murder that happened, and the, the man who was accused of it said that he had seen the play, and it became this whole thing and, and, like, there was a crime spree that was inspired by it, and it was like, it was the whole, I kept thinking of the videogame thing when we were in the ‘80s: oh, videogames are going to make our kids violent. And so it was the same thing: this play, these books are going to make our –
Sarah: Making people violent –
Anna: – people violent –
Sarah: – yeah.
Anna: – and they’re going to make them steal, and they’re going to make them kill their, you know, employers, and – so, yes, it was, it was, reading that, I was like, I have to use this. I have to! And it so fit that, the narrative thing and the, it is, it was like a form of social media. I mean, the, the play especially, because that’s what people did! They went to –
Anna: – see these plays, and they would go –
Anna: – multiple times, and especially the cheaper theatres, you know –
Sarah: Yeah –
Anna: – and they would just stage them and, you know, days, several a day sometimes, or these penny theatres that would pop up –
Anna: – you know? Yes.
Sarah: That’s incredible. It’s so interesting when you do research, isn’t it, that everything that is, everything that we think is new is just a, a reimagining of something that has already existed –
Sarah: – several times over.
Anna: Absolutely. [Laughs]
Sarah: Zooming way, way, way out to look at the series –
Sarah: – as the whole, do you remember what inspired the character of Lady Darby, what led you to create her character? Was she the starting point for the series?
Anna: She was! When I think about my earliest writing of, writing that book, I was actually working on something else at the time. I have multiple books that, you know, I was trying to get published for a while that didn’t ever get published, and I was trying to finish one, and, like, she just kind of started talking to me in my head. You know, it’s your subconscious, and she just started talking to me, and I was like, okay, I’m going to give myself – and she wouldn’t go away – and I was like, okay, I’m going to just set thing aside, and I’m going to let myself have like a week to just kind of play, and the first like couple chapters were just her talking to me, like just telling me, and I stopped and I finished the other book, and then when I came back to it I was like, okay, I, I need to figure out who she is, and that’s when I really, like, rather than just letting her talk, was like, okay, why is she like this? Where does she come from? And, and I started really shaping her backstory and who she was, and, you know, that’s kind of how she started! I just knew there was a spark about it? Like, I was like, oh, this is good. I know this is good. Like –
Anna: And I don’t know how to describe why you would know something is better than another within yourself, but you just do. I mean, just –
Sarah: I don’t know; some things just resonate.
Anna: Yeah. Yes! It just resonated, and it was, it was right on. And I mean – [laughs] – so.
Sarah: And I call it the, the Crockpot in the back of my brain? Something that I’m not thinking about, it’ll be like, presto!
Sarah: You’re done! Like, oh! Well, thanks, brain! That was really good work! I appreciate that very much!
Anna: [Laughs] Absolutely! I mean, I get asked a lot, you know, do I confuse my heroines? But I’m like, for me, it’s like they live in different areas of my imagination?
Sarah: Oh, for sure!
Anna: And so when I’m writing one character, I just have to tap into that, that area? It’s, I, I know that sounds odd, but – and it’s also the language, ‘cause I write in different time periods, and so if, you know, Kiera starts talking and she comes out with 1920s slang, I know it’s not the right voice!
Anna: You know, it’s, it’s, so for me it’s never been tricky to, to, to confuse – I don’t confuse them. They’re always so separate, so.
Sarah: Ever thought about writing a sort of paranormal novella crossover where they talk to each other?
Anna: [Laughs] That would be fun!
Sarah: Wouldn’t that be fun?
Anna: That would be fun! [Laughs]
Sarah: Like, we’re reaching through time to solve this crime –
Sarah: – and –
Anna: Oh my goodness!
Sarah: I think, I think –
Anna: I do get asked, are they related? And I’m like, maybe! You know. [Laughs]
Sarah: I think Verity and Kiera would get on so very well.
Anna: I do too. I do too. Yeah.
Sarah: It’d be like two and a half hours of them going, and men. Can we talk about men for a minute? What is with men? I swear!
Anna: [Laughs] Oh yes.
Sarah: Speaking of men, what about Gage?
Sarah: What, what, what led you into him? Do you remember? Or was, did he sort of evolve – ‘cause he functions in the very early series as, like, a foil for Kiera –
Sarah: – in a lot of ways, and then he becomes –
Sarah: – his own person, and she is just fascinated with him! Do you remember what led you into his character?
Anna: Yeah, so initially – so Kiera, to me, was always very awkward socially. She’s just not the person who’s the social butterfly that in that era would have flourished, you know –
Anna: – as a, as a gentlewoman, you know.
Sarah: Very introverted.
Anna: She’s awkward and just, you know, this is not her, you know, place. This is not her, where she, where she –
Anna: – excels. So I wanted the hero, I deliberately wanted the hero to be the opposite, to be that charming, attractive, you know, he can fit in anywhere.
Anna: And so the genesis of him came from that, and then – and this is probably, probably foolish that I did it this way, but it worked great: I did not plan out a lot of who he was, because I wanted him –
Anna: – Kiera, it’s all in Kiera’s, you know, first person, so I wanted him to be a mystery, and I kind of wanted him to be a mystery to me! I didn’t really want to know – I knew –
Sarah: A distinctive point of view, yeah!
Anna: Yeah! I wanted to know, especially in the first book and, or two, you know, I, I knew he worked with his father, and I knew that, certain things, but I didn’t really want to know too – I wanted it to be a mystery. I wanted to unveil like it does Kiera, and, and like I said, that might have been really risky to do, because, you know, you might have put something in and later been like, oh shoot, I wish I hadn’t done that, but I, I think I tried to keep it so vague that I could go anywhere, if that makes sense. I mean, like, I feel like you still get a really good sense of him –
Anna: – but you also, it’s also very vague about where he’s coming from, and a lot of it’s her thinking, why is he doing this? You know. So a lot of his, in the first book is very much his actions. You know, like, that he, when she vomits, he kneels with her to help her.
Anna: You know what I mean? Like, you know, that tells you a lot about him, just –
Anna: – in one simple act, you know what I mean? Like –
Sarah: And he listens to her.
Anna: Correct, yes.
Anna: So I, I, for me, he was a man of action in those first several books, and then we really get to see – and it fits his character, because he very much does not share who he is. He very much has this persona, and unless you are close to him, he’s not going to let you know who he truly is, and so it, it ended up working beautifully –
Anna: – how, how I ended up doing it, so – [laughs] – lucky me!
Sarah: And, and, and it, it’s, it’s an interesting fit for Lady Darby because she’s not necessarily going to trust somebody who isn’t honest about who they are, because she has been down that road and it ended –
Sarah: – ended very badly for her –
Sarah: – and she’s not going to be really excited to deal with someone who’s not that forthcoming, and yet she has that instinct of, but he, he listens to me. He may not like that I’m right –
Sarah: – and I’m often right, but he listens. And he –
Sarah: – clearly demonstrates without – he, he demonstrates that he cares in the early books without really meaning to.
Anna: And I think that goes along with the narrative theme –
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely!
Anna: – that she’s recognized you can’t trust necessarily what people say and what people say about people –
Anna: – but I can, I have an instinct, and I can trust when I see someone –
Anna: – acting – they’re not doing it in front of people; they’re doing it instinctively. This is how they really are –
Anna: – you know what I mean?
Anna: And –
Sarah: You’re seeing that glimpse of their true selves –
Anna: In those quite moments –
Sarah: – yeah.
Anna: – you know, and so it’s her, it’s her reasserting that she does have good instincts, she does, can understand who someone is and how someone is and, you know, and, and that trust in herself again –
Anna: – so.
Sarah: Which was eroded by her first marriage.
Anna: Correct, yes.
Sarah: A lot of the series is also her gaining back trust in her own instincts, in her own –
Sarah: – sense and senses of how she experiences the world, yeah.
Anna: Yes. Yeah.
Sarah: So this question comes from Angela James, who wants, who loves these series and wanted to know – and you mentioned this a little bit earlier – do the Verity Kent series and the Lady Darby series, do they have a planned series arc? Do you have a sense of where you’d like them to end up? Or are you sort of, I’m here now with these characters, and I will continue to enjoy them where they are?
Anna: At this point with Lady Darby, I have like four books ahead in my mind, like –
Anna: – but then it’s kind of open-ended. I don’t really plan out that?
Anna: And, and with Verity, it’s Verity, very similar: I know where she’s headed –
Anna: – and she has her archnemesis in Lord Ardmore that, we’ve got that whole arc that’s got to develop. And so, but it’s, yeah, it’s really open-ended. I, I live in optimism, I guess. [Laughs] So, you know, and I love get, that I get to, to bounce back and forth between the series so they’re fresh and I never get tired of them, and I always say to myself, if I’m getting tired of the characters and if I’m not challenging myself anymore, that’s when I know that I need to wrap the series up, because it just, it’s probably time.
Anna: [Laughs] But I’m not there yet! I’m not there yet –
Sarah: But that hasn’t happened yet.
Anna: – so – [laughs].
Sarah: Good to know! So are you currently working on a Verity book? What are you working on right now?
Anna: So I am working on Lady Darby 10 –
Anna: – which is out next year.
Sarah: Isn’t it fun to talk about a book that you already wrote, that you’re writing the next one and you have to be like, wait, which one?
Anna: I know, right? [Laughs]
Sarah: Which book am I talking about right now?
Anna: I know! I know; I, I actually had to get a whiteboard because I was mixing things up and so I could just look at it and be like –
Sarah: This is what happens in this book.
Anna: – a column for each book –
Anna: – you know, like, of what I need to do and, like, what’s going on and, oh my goodness, yeah. Yeah, so I’m working on book ten, and, and, you know, then I’ll be working on the next Verity. Book five comes out later this year, and I’ll be working on book six. I have – I recently posted about this on social media that I had this idea just, like, come to me, like, two weeks ago, that I would really like to have the time to explore. So I mean I’d love to maybe do another new project? I think it’s great every once in a while to have something new and that’s –
Anna: – that you’ve never worked with, ‘cause it really keeps you fresh –
Anna: – and it, I’m just excited about it. I can’t really say a lot yet, ‘cause it’s still germinating –
Anna: – but, but yeah, I would love to have something new. I also – so my Gothic Myth series, book one is out; it’s been out for a while, and readers have – it’s self-published.
Anna: Readers have been asking for the second book, and it’s almost done, and I really hoped to finish it earlier this year, ‘cause I’m, I’m grateful that people are asking for it, but I just, I, after last year, you know, pushing through everything, I got to like January and I just crashed!
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Anna: And I just –
Sarah: It’s a lot, right?
Anna: It was a lot, and I just needed that time to just, you know, mentally and everything else, just –
Anna: – and so I did not get it done, but I’m hoping it will eventually be done – [laughs] – ‘cause it is almost done! That’s what’s crazy; I’m like, keep going. Finish it! You know. But you’ve got to honor your contracts first, so –
Anna: – so hopefully that will be out later this year or next year, depending on timing and all that stuff. Which, that’s been fun. That series has been Regency-set, and it’s been exploring, like, local myths and, like, are they, you know – which have twists of, like, ghost stories or, you know, fairies or those kind of things –
Anna: – and so is it true? Is it not true? What’s going on? And they have different heroines, so it’s almost more of a romance format –
Anna: – where it’s like the friend of the heroine of the previous book, you know, so it’s been a lot of fun to, to do that. It’s just kind of something, kind of a refresh, so.
Sarah: I can, I can already imagine the people who will be listening saying, what’s the name of the book? What’s the name of the book? So, uh –
Sarah: – what’s, what’s the name of the book?
Anna: Of the Gothic one?
Anna: Yeah. So I haven’t named the second one. [Laughs] Trying to decide. It’s something with Netherwood Hall, because that’s the –
Sarah: And the first one is called –
Anna: – the manor. The first one is called Secrets in the Mist. I’m sorry.
Sarah: Yes! Yes, okay.
Anna: [Laughs] So –
Sarah: ‘Cause I will, I will hear about it. People’ll be like, you talked about a book with ghosts and fairies? Which one was that? And it’ll be like two months afterward, and I’ll be like, I don’t remember a lot of books in my brain, so thank you! [Laughs]
Anna: Yes, Secrets in the Mist is the first one, yes! So yeah, it’s set in Norfolk, so yeah. [Laughs]
Sarah: And Gothics are definitely experiencing a resurgence.
Anna: Oh yes, and I love that! I love that!
Sarah: Oh yeah!
Sarah: Speaking of not being able to trust your own instincts.
Sarah: Major theme in those too, yeah!
Anna: Yes, yeah. I love them and, you know, they’re my jam. I mean, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, that kind of stuff; oh, good stuff, yeah.
Sarah: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I did an interview recently with Rose Lerner, who wrote a –
Sarah: – f/f retelling of Jane Eyre –
Sarah: – with a very Gothic, Gothic setting as well, and she mentioned that historically, Gothics have become popular after moments of great social upheaval and change, which, of course, we are experiencing right now, especially as –
Sarah: – social change affecting the rights and, and abilities of women to live their own lives, and I was like, well, I, I guess it’s, now is the time!
Anna: [Laughs] Right, it’s –
Sarah: That’ll work!
Anna: – it’s the time!
Anna: Yeah! [Laughs] Definitely! Yeah.
Sarah: So what books are you reading right now that you would like to tell people about?
Anna: I’ve been doing a lot of research for Lady Darby 10, and, and some fun, one fun one that I read recently, it’s, it’s called Punch; it’s by David Wondrich?
Anna: And it’s actually about, like, the alcoholic beverage punch. This is what people drank –
Anna: – before cocktails, you know what I mean? They made –
Anna: – the big bowl of flowing, the flowing bowl, you know. And he has a lot of really fun anecdotes, social anecdotes, just story about things that happened in the past, and there’s one, I can’t remember the date, but the, the British Navy was, like, in Spain, and the admiral decided to host this party, and they filled the fountain with punch; it was that much. I mean, they had a boy –
Anna: – that was rowing around in a little boat to fill people’s punch cups. I mean, and it’s like, this is recorded by several different people, so they think it really happened! You know, but just lots of fun stuff in this book, other than, and also punch recipes, so.
Anna: Yeah. [Laughs] So that’s that, that, and I’ve been reading a lot about, like, art forgery and stuff, which, kind of a hint about what the Lady, next Lady Darby book will be about. And I can recommend The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick. That was really fascinating; it talks about the Verm- – and The Last Vermeer, I think maybe the new, the new movie that’s coming out, I just realized it may be kind of the same – you know, it’s about the man who forged Vermeers and that the, some of the Nazis bought, and all these kind of things, so it’s really interesting.
And then it’s, it’s funny; I’ve been going through my To Be Read pile, and I’ve been, I, I’m, I was posting about this on social media, and a lot of people chimed in: I missed Liz Carlyle. I realized I had a couple of her books that I had not read. So I just love her; I think she’s great.
And then a mystery I recently read is called The Unquiet Dead, and it’s called, it’s by Aus- – I’m going to say this wrong, I bet – Ausma Zehanat Khan. She’s from Canada.
Anna: And it was just really interesting. It was something, a departure for me, but super fascinating. It’s more of a contemporary-set, and one of the detectives is a Muslim, and it just, it was a different feel, so I –
Anna: – I liked it.
Sarah: I have a book that I wanted to make sure to mention to you, and I’m going to be pretty surprised if you haven’t heard of it. Have you read Dark Archives by Megan Rosenbloom? It is a nonfiction about a lib-, a medical librarian who is researching books that are bound in human skin.
Anna: Oh my gosh, I have not heard of this! I mean –
Sarah: Okay, I’m reading it right now. It is so fascinating. So she starts off at the, I think it’s the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, where they have books that are proven to have been bound in human skin, and she takes a very methodical deep dive into research and how you test and how you verify that something is human skin and why is someone –
Anna: Oh wow!
Sarah: – saying this book is bound in human skin? And it’s super, super macabre. Like, it is straight-up Lady Darby’s street.
Anna: Oh, I’m totally looking up that. Oh my goodness!
Sarah: But it’s so good because she also writes about her own reaction. Like, why is this book being said that it was bound in human skin when it wasn’t? It was obviously, if it’s rare and it’s creepy it’s going to be worth more money, but then –
Sarah: – if you do find a book that’s bound in human skin –
Sarah: – why the hell would you do that?
Sarah: And what about the person –
Sarah: – what about the person whose skin you used? And you will be utterly shocked to know –
Anna: Oh my gosh.
Sarah: – that it was wealthy doctors who had lots of, just lots of bodies! ‘Cause there was cholera, and there’s lots of bodies. So they would just –
Anna: Oh my gosh!
Sarah: – be like, oh, no one’s using this; I’ll just take this piece of skin! No big deal!
Anna: I, I, I knew that they had made, like, there’s a book bound in Burke’s skin –
Anna: – in the Surgeons’ Hall Museum in, in Edinburgh. I knew about that, and I, so I figured that there was probably other ones like that –
Anna: – of famous criminals who were murder-, were executed and things like that, but that’s crazy that there’s some hidden in archives and, I mean, oh my gosh!
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Anna: That’s, wow! Okay, yeah, I’m looking this up. [Laughs]
Sarah: It’s so good; I’m reading it right now. And it’s very strange when this happens to me, but I absolutely love it, so I’m reading Lady Darby to prepare for this interview, and then I’m reading this nonfiction about human skin, and I’m like, I, there, these, these two go together! In a creepy way!
Anna: [Laughs] Oh my goodness, yes, yes.
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. I will have links where you can find all of the books in the Lady Darby, including A Wicked Conceit, in the show notes, and thank you to Brittanie Black and Angela James for the questions this week. I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did.
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I want to say thank you to everyone who has left a review for the show wherever you’re listening. Thank you so much. You are helping new folks find the show, and you’re also making my whole, entire week. RedAugust wrote, “I have but immense love for this podcast. I’m currently driving about 4 hours a day and SPTB gets me through!” Thank you! I am honored to keep you company while you do all of the things you do. You are doing fabulous. And thank you for leaving reviews to help other people discover the show.
I will have links to everything we talked about, never fear, all of the books we talked about and some of the podcast episodes we referenced as well, including This Podcast Will Kill You, ‘cause I’m totally going to listen to that; no question.
But as always, I end each episode with a terrible joke, and this is a terrible joke inspired by Wilbur, who is, insisted, while I’m trying to record, that he needs to jump to every loud location in this room, and this is not a big room! I don’t know what his problem is. He’s just a precious, loud, adorable, orange ball of sunshine. [Clears throat] So here is this week’s joke; are you ready?
Why do so many creative people have cats?
Good question. Why do so many creative people have cats?
They’re hoping to find their mews.
[Laughs, mews] Muse! Yeah, he totally looked at me when I did that, too. That joke was from Alanna. Thank you, Alanna! I really appreciate that one! I love bad jokes. I love cat jokes! I love bad jokes about cats, so if you want to send me one: [email protected].
And I also promise that I wanted to share my favorite from the book, and, you know, this is super indulgent, but I’m going to share it with you anyway, ‘cause I really, really, really like this book, and I like this part. This is Lady Darby getting very frustrated, because everywhere they go, people get murdered and then they have to investigate and people are annoyed about it.
We spent so much time in the pursuit of truth and justice, and yet all it seemed to do was reveal how dubious and unjust the world truly was.
I really like series like this one with Lady Darby and Gage because the restoration of order is deeply soothing, especially amid so many historical parallels.
So if you read this book, I hope you’ll let me know what you think of it. You can email me at [email protected], or you can leave a message at 201-371-3272, but if you like this series as much as I do, I’d love to hear from you. I love talking about books. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that that’s a thing I do?
But on behalf of everyone here, especially Wilbur the Gravity-Defying Cat – actually, he wouldn’t make so noise, so much noise if he was defying gravity; isn’t that right, buddy? – we wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend, and we will see you back here next week.
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This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.