When Sophie receives a summons to act as temporary companion to her reclusive great-aunt in London, the sum of her ambitions is to enjoy some respite from her large, loving, but judgmental family. The last thing she expects is to become nursemaid to a spoilt pug, the object of obsession for an embittered artist, and the fiancé of the man she has dubbed the Stone Duke and who unsettles her more than anyone she has ever met. Sophie has always been the odd one out and she knows she is as far from the Duke of Harcourt’s ideal for his Duchess as imagination can contrive. But as circumstances and scandal force the Duke’s hand and expose the fault lines in his rigid control, Sophie is determined to risk her heart in her belief that the Duke’s stony exterior encloses a generous and passionate heart.
Ten years after his disastrous engagement, Max, the Duke of Harcourt, has every reason to be careful about choosing a bride the second time around. Sophie meets none of his criteria for a perfect duchess – she is impulsive, funny, artistic, talks to animals and strangers, and her compassion leads her time and again perilously close to danger. When malice and scandal force them into an engagement, Max does his best to show her how to fit into his world and the role of Duchess, but Sophie’s irrepressible character won’t be so easily molded. Their inevitable clash of wits, passions, and private pain lead to near tragedy and to the realization that the irrepressible Sophie and the Stone Duke are perfectly matched.
1. Hi Lara, welcome to Amanda Writes. Please tell readers a little about yourself.
Hi Amanda, thanks so much for inviting me on your blog! I write strong and sexy Regency romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon, and my third book ‘The Duke’s Unexpected Bride’ is out in April. I’m pretty new at the author business and loving it. Outside my writing I still do some business consulting work or try to keep up with my incredibly energetic 5 and 7 year olds and assure my equally lovely husband that he’s not been usurped by any of my fictional heroes (at least not permanently).
2. When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer and what inspired your first book?
I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember but I never thought I’d actually stop everything and be a writer. I dictated my first story to my mom when I was four years old, it had lots of dinosaurs and skeletons and secret stairways, which makes me wonder just what bedtime stories my parents were reading to me at that age. But then I ‘grew up’ to be a financial analyst and was quite happy ‘writing for the drawer’ until my kids were born and I started looking for less stressful careers. One day my mom drew my attention to Harlequin’s SYTYCW contest and we dusted off one of my for-the-drawer books and to our great amazement I made the top ten and was offered a contract. The story I chose was inspired both by my love of history (which I studied) and my love of Georgette Heyer (who started me down the Regency path when I was still a teenager) and it mixes romance with intrigue and real historical issues.
3. Plotter or panster?
Definite panster but trying to reform (at least a little). Part of what I love about writing is not quite knowing what my characters are going to do next – some of my best scenes (I think) are those that were a complete surprise to me and I actually go back to them and wonder a little where they came from. It’s like I sometimes look at my kids and am a little dumbfounded at how amazing they are (when they aren’t driving me up a wall, of course) and I wonder – could they possibly have come from me? But now that I write professionally there is always a point in my writing when I stop and take stock – when the story and characters are strong enough already to stand up to criticism and then I sit down and write an outline and begin to see what is working and what isn’t and then I go back to some more (now informed) pantsing.
4. What is the title of your upcoming release and can you talk briefly about it? Tell readers a little about your hero and heroine in this story.
‘The Duke’s Unexpected Bride’ is my third book with Harlequin and my favorite so far. It’s a reluctant betrothal story, but the spice is in the characters and the interaction between them. Sophie is one of nine children of a small town vicar and has been summoned by her reclusive great-aunt to London to act as companion and nursemaid to a pug. Sophie has always been the odd one out – she’s impulsive, compassionate, funny, gets along with eccentrics and animals and manages to unsettle everyone else. The last thing she expects when she comes to London is to be stalked by an embittered artist and betrothed to the thoroughly unsettling Duke of Harcourt, a man she has dubbed the Stone Duke. Max, the Duke of Harcourt, is all about duty – ten years after his disastrous engagement ended in tragedy he has every reason to be careful about choosing a bride the second time around. Sophie meets none of his criteria for a perfect duchess but somehow she, like the pug, are constantly underfoot and challenging his control and understanding of his duty and his own character.
I love the interaction between the Max and Sophie, how they have an instinctive empathy (and attraction) for each other without really understanding or valuing one another. The story is really about letting go personal fears and rigid concepts of themselves and their position in life – it is a redemption through taking emotional risks story and I hope that really comes across.
5. What message do you anticipate readers to draw from this story?
It sounds trite, but there really is a message here about being true to oneself even when everything is telling you to adapt and fit yourself into a mold (and a moldy mold at that!). Max realizes that the price of trying to make Sophie become his Perfect Duchess is to lose precisely what draws him to her. The other message is that guilt, even when it is justified, has to be put into perspective – admitting fallibility can be frightening but it can also be freeing. Max’s guilt, which has shaped his whole adult life, has crippled his ability to take what he wants from life. His need for Sophie clashes with his need to keep guilt at bay – the choice he makes will determine what kind of life he wants to least.
6. What’s the most fascinating thing a reader has said to you regarding your books?
I’ve had people love my books but I think the comment that made me feel best was one that I’ve heard from a few sources – that my characters and their dialogue are completely believable. It might sound unexciting but for me that is author-catnip. The people I write in my head are so real to me but I never know if they make through the imperfect filters of my mind onto the page with any degree of authenticity. Sometimes trying to write is like trying to capture in words the last wisps of a very intense dream. I see the gaps between what was in my head and what is on the page so glaringly I almost want to throw up my hands in despair. So to hear that readers feel my characters and connect with them at a visceral level just makes me grin!
7. What kind of reader are you? Print or e-book?
I’m an I’ll-take-everything-I-can-get reader, but probably with a little bias towards print. I have lots of overflowing bookshelves and I love curling up with a book in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. I’m also very visual and I tend to remember whole pages from print books but not so much when it’s on a screen so I probably connect in a deeper way with print. But I love that I can access so many more books now online – it’s especially great for a history lover like me. Let’s say I’m glad I can choose!
8. What book is on top of your TBR pile?
Right now that spot is held by my fellow author Elizabeth Hobbs’ The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge’ – I’m definitely a regency reader but since a group of us Harlequin Authors got together on Facebook to form the Unlaced Group Club I’ve been learning so much about other historical periods and there are some amazing new writers out there.
9. How long does it take you to write the first draft of a story?
That’s a tricky question because my first drafts tend to be written in two stages – the first flush of love takes me halfway through a book in a few weeks but then I force myself to stop, put it aside, and work on something else. Then I go back, do a little plotting and fixing in my mind and get down to the serious business of writing the rest. So overall the first draft probably takes 2-3 months.
10. For you, what is the hardest part of writing?
There are two hardest parts, one is very general and one very specific. At the abstract level I can fall into the ‘nobody will like my stories’ hole and though I have gotten much much better at ignoring that critical inner voice these past couple years, it can still pop up its ugly head and trip me. At a more practical level the hardest part of writing for me is that second lap of writing – getting past the point where I have already enjoyed the first flush of falling in love with my characters which has taken me halfway through the story and now I have to earn that maintain that love by honing the story, the plot, deepening the motivation. It’s a higher level of commitment to the characters. In the end its harder but I love that work the best.
11. Have you ever been stuck with writer’s block? If yes, how do you deal with it?
Have I ever…?! I think writer’s block is just part of writing. A painful, infuriating, aggravating part, but not only unavoidable but maybe even necessary. In any relationship you stumble, fumble, draw a blank, get frustrated – and writing a book is like being in a relationship with your own story (or with yourself, which is worse). I deal with it by alternately trying to figure out if it’s there for good reason: has the story gone off the rails? Perhaps I need a little time apart working on other projects? (but always writing something! Writer’s block is not an excuse for not writing anything). And sometimes I deal with it by ignoring it completely – I grit my teeth and write until I shove through it by sheer brute force (amazingly this often works – I end up throwing out whole chapters written like this, but sometimes what comes out at the other end of the tunnel is quite good. I think everyone should have their own way of dealing with writer’s block, my only sweeping statement about it would be – don’t use it as an excuse not to write at all – write embellished shopping lists, if necessary, just don’t stop writing…
12. What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a three book series about three rake friends and betrothals that were made to be broken. The first (no title yet, but I call it Lord Hunter and the Cinderella Heiress) will be out in November and hopefully the other two soon after. There are three friends who are rakes but with a serious side – they were all very affected by the Napoleonic wars and each has found a way of dealing with this legacy. Lord Hunter allows his own tragedy drive him into a long-term engagement with the young and gawky horse-mad Nell Tilney and then has four years to regret the gesture. Nell is only informed of this arrangement when she comes into her inheritance at age 21 but she has other plans – to use her freedom and inheritance to tempt the man she has loved since childhood. She offers Hunter his freedom if he will help her catch her boyhood prince. Predictably things don’t work out quite the way either of them expected and the broken betrothal leads to a real one…
13. Any advice for aspiring writers?
I’ll give my standard three-pronged advice:
First – Write as if it’s a real job even if you aren’t published yet. That means sit down at a (fairly) regular time and write, write, write. This is a case where quantity shouldn’t wait on quality – you can edit later, once the ducts are flowing.
Second, and related – inspiration is overrated, so don’t wait for it! I often have wonderful ideas pop into my head at 4am (truly) but I don’t wait for them. Inspiration is not a driver of writing, but a wagon that tags along once you are going at full speed. If you have something interesting to say, it will come out in your writing or not at all.
Third – writing is a business and a product. I used to be a financial and business analyst but I never understood this aspect of being an author until I was in the middle. Your books are your products and you have to market and sell them. It may be something you hate to do but in this new world of social media, you would do best to embrace this reality early on. I didn’t and that would be the one thing I would do differently if I could go back a few years. This is the hardest area for me but I wish someone had told me early on how important it was!
‘What do we do now?’
Sophie looked up at him, her eyes wide with both anxiety and curiosity, and he realised that nothing would ever be the same again. Her question was so naïve as to be almost absurd. He knew he should answer her purely on a formal level because there was indeed a great deal to do now.
‘We seal our bargain,’ he said instead as his baser self elbowed its way to the front of the stage.
‘How do we do that?’ she asked and he laughed, more at himself than at her, swamped by relief that it was done, that she had agreed, and that he could now, finally, do what he had been waiting to do since that day in the gardens.
‘Like this,’ he said, raising her chin and bending to brush his lips across hers, very lightly, trying to find the right balance between feeding his hunger and not scaring her, especially after what Wivenhoe had put her through. But the slide of her mouth under his wouldn’t release him and he carefully placed his hand on her waist as he might in a dance, feeling the soft heat under his palm, the friction of the muslin cloth, just pressing his fingers into the curve of her skin.
He was standing at the very edge of a cliff, carefully balanced and fighting his need to just cast himself off, let gravity and nature take over.
Lara Temple writes strong, sexy regency romances about complex individuals who give no quarter but do so with plenty of passion. A serious tea addict (I mean serious serious), she lives with her husband and two children who are very good about her taking over the kitchen table for her writing (so she can look out over the garden and dream). She loves to travel (especially to places steeped in history) and hike and read as many books as possible while clutching a cup of Earl Grey tea (which just about sums up her dream vacation). Lara’s third book, The Duke’s Unexpected Bride, is due in April 2017. The Reluctant Viscount was published by Harlequin Mills & Boon in September 2016 and Lord Crayle’s Secret World in March 2016.