No Conventional Miss

Today we welcome debut author writing for Harlequin Historicals, Eleanor Webster, whose new book No Conventional Miss is out in October 2015.
She's always been different… Amaryllis Gibson is an unlikely debutante. She favors fact over fashion, cares not for "proper" conversation and is haunted by ghostly visions which could land  her in the madhouse! Marriage is definitely the last thing on Rilla's mind… But when she's caught in a compromising position with Viscount Wyburn, suddenly she finds herself betrothed! And worse, his powerful presence only increases her visions. By shedding light on the viscount's past, can Rilla gain his trust and win him round to her more…unconventional traits?

Welcome Eleanor, please tell us something about your journey to authorship and the research you undertook for this book.

I have always loved the Regency Period. Perhaps this developed from a youthful over- indulgence in Georgette Heyer but I think it is more than that. Regency society is one poised for change. The inventions of the Industrial Revolution are emerging, bringing with them the anticipation of societal transformation. Years ago, a friend got a summer job in Austria – we lived in Canada - by connecting his computer through the telephone lines. I was fascinated. It was a glimpse into the future and, although I could not anticipate its impact, I felt an emotional charge, an innate gut-level understanding that I was witnessing a game changer.

I wonder if people observing Richard Trevithick's first steam-driven railway journey in 1804 felt a similar charge. Or those brave passengers who boarded his ‘Catch-me-who-can’ locomotive  in London. Granted, many would have scoffed. Trevithick’s locomotives  had a habit of breaking the rails and falling over but I still think there would have been an atmosphere – a feeling – at least, for those with imagination and the spirit of innovation

My heroine, Amaryllis (Rilla) Gibson in the October Harlequin Historical release, No Conventional Miss, has exactly this spirit. Rilla is keenly interested in force, momentum and any number of ‘unladylike’ activities. She is working on an automated butter churn and has an eager enthusiasm for all things scientific.

As I began my research, I wondered whether any ‘real-life’ Regency woman might be similar to Rilla or were such accomplishments destined to remain in the fictional realm. Then I found Sarah Guppy (1770-1852). Sarah was born in Birmingham and patented numerous designs. Indeed, she achieved considerable financial success, earning a contract from the British Navy worth £40,000 for a device to prevent the growth of barnacles on ships. And then there is my personal favorite; her invention of a tea or coffee urn which also cooked eggs and warmed toast.

Needless to say, the number of female Regency inventors is limited – at least those publicly acknowledged. Indeed, women were not even permitted to become fellows of Britain foremost scientific institution, the  Royal Society of London, until 1945.

However, current historians are starting to rediscover people like Sarah and recognize female scientific accomplishments during the 18th and 19th century. Richard Holmes in the The Age of Wonder argues that women contributed to a far greater extent than is commonly acknowledged. Moreover, he states that they saw science in the context of a wider world, raising questions about its duties and moral responsibilities.

As for me, the Regency Period will always fascinate and I will continue to write about those women, both real and imagined, who had a zest for living, an imagination and the spirit of innovation.
Richard Holmes's The Age of Wonder won the Royal Society's Science Books Prize for 2009; its sequel, The Lost Women of Victorian Science, will be published by HarperCollins and Pantheon USA

Eleanor loves high-heels and sun, which is ironic as she lives in northern Canada, the land of snowhills and unflattering footwear. Various crafting experiences, including a nasty glue-gun episode,  have proven that her creative soul is best expressed through the written word. Eleanor is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology and holds an undergraduate degree in history and creative writing. She loves to use her writing to explore her fascination with the past.