Watching the British TV series Downton Abbey stirred my interest in England during the Edwardian period, especially life on a grand country estate. I have a good friend and fellow author, Cathy Gohlke, who wrote a beautiful book set in England during this same time period, Promise Me This, and that also piqued my interest in the period. Cathy and I attended the American Library Association Convention in Philadelphia in early 2012. While I was there I had a discussion with an editor about the success of Downton Abbey, and she encouraged me to create a story set in England on an estate like Downton. That got my mental wheels turning. But I was hesitant to follow up on the idea at first because I knew it would take a lot of research to create a story that rang true for that period. But Cathy encouraged me and loaded me up with research books . . . and the journey to Highland Hall began.
Julia Foster was a missionary in India before her family returns to England because of illness. Was her character inspired by a real life missionary?
Julia was inspired by Amy Carmichael, who was a missionary to India in the early 1900s. I’d read Amy’s biography, A Chance to Die, a few years ago, and when I wanted to write a book set in England in the early 1900s, I remembered Amy’s story and took it down from my bookshelf to read again. I wanted to understand the mindset of Christians at that time and learn what prompted her to go to India and spend her life there. Amy’s true life experiences provided a rich background for my heroine, and I enjoyed bringing some of the elements of Amy’s faith and character into my story.
As fans of the popular BBC show “Downton Abbey” know, there is a prominent divide between the upstairs family and the downstairs help. Where does the main character, Julia Foster, fit in to this hierarchy as a governess?
A governess had a unique position. She was usually an educated, respected woman from a middle or upper class family, but she was still a paid member of the staff and considered below the family. She reported to the housekeeper, but she was above the other female staff. She usually ate her meals with the children in the nursery, so she didn’t spend very much time with the rest of the staff. In The Governess of Highland Hall, Julia Foster became close friends with Sarah Ramsey, the sister of William Ramsey, the master of Highland and hero in the story. But she is also friends with Ann the nursery maid, so we see her connected to those upstairs and those below stairs.
Yes! Last summer my husband and I enjoyed a wonderful trip to England. We rented a car, and he drove over 400 miles on the wrong side of the road, seated in the wrong side of the car. He is an amazing man! We toured the Oxford area and visited Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey is filmed. That was the highlight of the trip for me. Then we toured the Cotswold area that has several lovely little villages that look very much like they did 100 years ago. We ended our time in England up in the Peak District and attended a country fair at Chatsworth which is an amazing estate with a very large and elaborate house and gardens. It was used as Mr. Darcy’s home in the latest version of Pride and prejudice. All of these travels were great inspiration for The Edwardian Brides Series.
Would you like to take a trip to England? What would you like to see there?