Therese here. I’m thrilled to bring you today’s guest, my dear friend, author Michelle Diener. Last year, Michelle’s debut, a thrilling novel of historical suspense titled In a Treacherous Court, was published by Gallery Books imprint of Simon & Schuster. Earlier this year, her second novel, Keeper of the King’s Secrets, was published. In two days, on November 27th, her third novel–another gripping historical suspense–will be released: The Emperor’s Conspiracy. What’s the book about?
Set in early nineteenth-century England, this vivid and romantic historical novel goes from the most elegant ballrooms of London to the city’s most tawdry slums, as a spirited young woman helps unravel a plot by Napoleon to bleed England of all its gold.
Through good fortune, Charlotte Raven escaped the poverty of the London slums and is now an educated, wealthy Society lady. But she lives between two worlds, unable to completely turn her back on her old life—specifically Luke, her childhood protector and now a ruthless London crime lord.
When Lord Edward Durnham is asked to investigate the alarming movement of gold out of England, his search leads him to London, and his recent acquaintance with Charlotte affords him access to a dark world he barely knew existed. As they delve deeper into the underbelly of London, danger lurks at every turn, and Charlotte must navigate between her two worlds to save England.
And soon she faces a defining choice: to continue in the familiar limbo she’s lived in for years, or to take a painful and risky leap toward a happiness she never thought possible.
Michelle’s with us today to talk about the evolution of her story, and leaning into what she knew in order to make the story more authentic–and just plain more. She’s also offering to give away a copy of her novel to one commenter, to be chosen at random on Friday (US addresses only, please). Enjoy!
My mother is an educational psychologist who worked as a teacher for many years before going back to university to get her PhD in educational psychology. Her PhD was on the educational needs of street children. We lived in Durban, on the east coast of South Africa, and at the time, unfortunately due to HIV/AIDS, political turmoil and the social and economic problems created by apartheid and the colonial legacy, there were a lot of street children. My mother had originally become interested in the topic when she worked at the Durban street shelters during her internship, and saw the desperate need for a better educational system for street children, and also, saw how eager the children themselves were to improve their situation.
She went on to help establish a school for street children, and advise on the curriculum for other shelters’ programs, and developed a tutoring system using the B.Ed students she was teaching at university, assigning them to a specific child to help get them to an age appropriate level of education, after their years on the streets.
You may wonder what the connection is between the above information, and my latest release, THE EMPEROR’S CONSPIRACY, an historical novel set in London in the 19th Century during the Napoleonic Wars.
I started writing THE EMPEROR’S CONSPIRACY over five years ago, and it was going to be a light-hearted novel of manners, a Cinderella story that was witty and bright. The Cinderella in this case would be a girl who lived in the slums of London who is rescued by a wealthy woman, but who can never quite shake off her past.
But when I started researching the life my heroine would have led before her fairy godmother moment, I realized I was looking at the life of a street child in Durban, South Africa, or anywhere else in the world. A life I’d had a very good glimpse at through the work my mother did.
And as quickly as that, I realized I wasn’t going to write a light-hearted book of manners. I could have some light-hearted moments, but to do justice to the time, and be respectful of what the poor of London lived through, the book was going to be darker and much grittier.
I put the book aside and focused on other things as I got my head around the approach I needed to take, and read as much as I could about the life and conditions of London’s slums in the C19th before I sat down to write it. So much was reminiscent of the things my mother told me, or what I read in her research, or saw with my own eyes. Even the way the apartheid government dealt with the Durban street children was reminiscent of the treatment of street children at the hands of the British government at the turn of the 19th Century.
And so, even though I can’t time travel back to C19th London, I drew on the very real thoughts, aspirations and feelings of the children my mother spoke with and interviewed for her research and in her day-to-day work to inform some of the characters and the adult characters’ backgrounds. If there is one thing I’ve come to believe very strongly as I’ve researched various historical periods, it is that our response to problems is too often the same, no matter what time period we are talking about. ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’ is something I see as a universal truth about how humans react to and deal with what life throws at them. The children of London in 1811 may have been on the streets for different reasons to the children of Durban in modern-day South Africa, but their coping mechanisms, their thoughts and feelings, would be the same.
Do you find you draw on parallels in your own work? Use the feelings and thoughts you encounter in a certain scenario in real life in a very different scenario in your work because they are at heart similar reactions?