Hello Catherine & Eleanor! Thank you so much for visiting Written Butterfly with me today! It’s such a pleasure to chat with you. So tell me…
Q) How did you dream up the dynamics of your characters?
CC: I write fiction as one half of a partnership with Eleanor and each of us is responsible for their own characters, so the dynamics are naturally very organic and our novels and stories usually spring from some fairly innocuous bit of inspiration. Once we’ve talked that through, we’ve usually got the bones of a plot and the characters who will fill it. Then we lay our the plot as a series of short paragraphs (one per chapter), and dive in.
EH: Henry begins the novel as a very buttoned down tweedy sort of chap, the typical repressed, inwardly fuming English gent. He contrasts with George, who is far more outgoing and personable – he’s another English type, the cheeky rogue to Henry’s stuffy gent.
Q) Is this book part of a series? If so, can you tell us about it?
It’s part of the Captivating Captains series and the blurb definitely does the talking.
“Throughout the ages, the image of the stern, unyielding captain, resplendent in his immaculate uniform, has been a staple of fiction. He instills loyalty, devotion and sometimes fear in the hearts of his men, and they’ll follow him anywhere.
It’s time to meet a new generation of captains, who still make their men tremble, but for very different reasons. From the oh-so-proper ballrooms of the Regency to the hellish trenches of World War One, the flashing cutlasses of the Golden Age of pirates to the chilly bunkers of the Cold War, these captains will have you hungry to join their ranks.”
Q) Can you give a fun or interesting fact about your book?
CC: A horse in the house might not be common, but it definitely happens in my corner of Yorkshire.
EH: My nephew has a cameo role in the opening scene as an entrant in the Bonny Baby competition.
Q) What do you think is your strongest asset as a writer? …what is your weakest factor as a writer?
CC: I think my strongest is focus. I’m lucky enough to be able to write books as my day job, so I can’t afford the time to procrastinate. Luckily, I rarely want to. My weakest is self-discipline when it comes to switching off. After one too many days when I was still at my desk at 4am, I decided to put a stop to my all-night writing jags and actually get to bed at a decent hour!
EH: I fiddle with my writing a lot. I could spend far too long rearranging the same sentence over and over again so I have to force myself to stop. It’s a strength in that I’m careful with words I use, but it can be a weakness as all that fiddling about can slow down the creative flow. I learned a couple of years ago to just write and leave most of the tinkering about until after the first draft.
Q) Do you have any habits that get you in the writing frame of mind?
CC: A cup of tea, some good music and my wee dog, Pippa, at my side. I also write in cafes a lot. Here in my corner of Yorkshire we’re super dog-friendly, so Pippa is welcome at all my favourite haunts.
EH: Before writing, I deliberately drift off into a daydream to get into the imaginary world of the story. It’s probably quite annoying for my boyfriend, as quite often I’ll find out he’s asked me a question and I haven’t heard him!
Q) Do you plan all your characters out before you start a story or do they develop as you write?
CC: I know them very well before I start, but they can still surprise me.
EH: In order to write together effectively, we need to plan in advance. We’re lucky that we have the same approach to that side of writing – I know some writers who plan everything to the nth degree with spreadsheets and Post-It notes, and others who are very free-wheeling, but we sit somewhere in the middle. We have a plan, but we give the story and characters room to grow too. We often write test scenes before we start a novel, to get to know the characters and how they interact.
Q) How much real life do you put into or influences your books?
CC: Quite a bit, I think. Our contemporary characters share our world so George is no stranger to Bake Off or Pet Shop Boys and his tour of duty in Afghanistan is obviously entirely taken from the headlines of the past few years. We’re both historians so accuracy is super important too, and both our historical and contemporary works are meticulously researched, which means our readers are hopefully sucked right into the world that our characters inhabit.
EH: My brother did two tours in Afghanistan, so my anxiety while he was away fed into how Hery had felt while George was over there. And my dad’s exploits in village cricket inspired some of the events in the novel, although in his case they had to deal with a peacock on the pitch, rather than a dog. I have tweed in my wardrobe, although not as much as Henry does. That all said, I can see Henry’s house, George’s cottage, the pub garden and Longley Parva’s village hall as clearly as if I’ve actually been there, and I definitely haven’t because it’s invented. So the imagination blends with elements of real life to create the world of the novel.
Q) What are your upcoming projects?
EH: We’ve also got a cosy Christmas short story out in December, as well as something spooky for September. And later in the year, I’m giving talks on Victorian forensic science in the unusual settings of an historic cemetery and an auction house.
When an uptight countryside vet and a sexy TV star meet on the cricket pitch, they’re both knocked for six!
Henry Fitzwalter is a solid sort of chap. A respectable rural vet and no stranger to tweed, he is the lonely inhabitant of crumbling Longley Parva Manor.
Captain George Standish-Brookes is everyone’s favorite shirtless TV historian. Heroic, handsome and well-traveled, he is coming home to the village where he grew up.
Henry and George’s teenage friendship was shattered by the theft of a cup, the prize in a hard-fought, very British game of cricket. When they resolve their differences thanks to an abandoned foal, it’s only a matter of time before idyllic Longley Parva witnesses one of its wildest romances, between a most unlikely couple of fellows.
Yet with a golf-loving American billionaire and a money-hungry banker threatening this terribly traditional little corner of Sussex, there’s more than love at stake. A comedy of cricket, coupling and criminality, with a splash of scandal!
Another ruddy-cheeked mother passed her enormous child to Henry. He balanced it on his hip, smiling politely as he jiggled it up and down.“What a lovely boy!”
Puppies, kittens, foals, lambs, calves and piglets were more Henry Fitzwalter’s style, the daily business of a countryside vet. He was at ease around them. But not human babies—they were strange and alien beasts indeed. The infant reached out its pudgy hand and tugged Henry on the nose, yanked Henry’s neatly trimmed sideburn then grabbed a length of his hair and pulled.
Henry winced. “Certainly a strong ’un!”“Daniel, you bad boy!” His mother at least had the grace to be contrite regarding her infant’s outrageous thuggery, and wrestled the unfeasibly large child from Longley Parva’s vet.
Nestled in the South Downs, Longley Parva had been the home of Henry’s family for generations. And today, on this sunny Sunday afternoon, Longley Parva was closed for a street party to raise funds for the roof of the village hall.
Daniel was swapped for another child, who came accompanied by the odor of milk. Henry bounced the baby and it cooed at him. It appeared to be a little girl, judging by how frilly its outfit was, and although it was almost entirely bald, it was wearing a sequined Alice band.A car tooted, an engine revved. A nearby shout of, “The road’s closed for the party—what’s the bloody matter with people?”
Women’s Institute stalwart Mrs. Fortescue tutted. “Mind your language in front of the babies!”Henry, ignoring the baby’s grip on his knitted tie, stared from his vantage point at the top of the village’s High Street toward the other end, where barriers and stalls were being shifted as a car approached.
A classic car in British racing green nosed its way toward him. He knew it, because it had been tootling around the village for Henry’s whole life and for decades before that too. Everyone in England knew it, because this was the soft-top Jaguar of Captain George Standish-Brookes. This was the soft-top Jaguar that had transported its driver and his popular histories straight into the nation’s hearts.Henry clenched his jaw. That bloody man.
Cries of “It’s Captain George!” filled the street, the Longley Parvans nudging one another and grinning, some even waving as the car wound its way along the crowded road. The final of the Bonny Baby Competition was forgotten.
George drove into the center of the village like the returning hero he was, classic Wayfarers hiding his eyes, the car horn blaring merrily and a crowd following as though the Red Sea had just parted.
George—Henry’s childhood friend through thick and thin, until the day the Longley Parva Cup disappeared. George—the television historian with the knowing wink and dazzling smile. George, who sailed through life without a care in the world, waving now at the locals as he drove toward the podium with one hand on the steering wheel.
The handsome bastard.
Of course the road closure didn’t apply to George, even though the vicar on his bicycle had been turned away and told to come back on foot. Rules never applied to Captain George Standish-Brookes. Not at school, not in his Bohemian home, and now, not at the village fête.
George made his own rules.
Unable to raise a hand in polite though grudging welcome without dropping the baby, Henry gave George a terse nod.
“Fitz!” George turned off the ignition and the car, somehow, came to rest at just the right angle for a classic car shoot. He pushed open the door and hopped out onto the green, a vision of easy, casual confidence in cricket sweater and chinos, his dark hair tousled just so, the sun glinting from the face of his watch.
Who still wears a watch these days, anyway?
Captain George did, because then he could wear a regimental watch strap too.
“What a welcome.” George laughed, pushing the Wayfarers up into his hair. He looked around at the bunting and sausage rolls, the orange squash and bonny babies. “Have I crashed a party?”
Henry clenched his jaw. “I suppose those sunglasses prevented you from being able to read the sign at the top of the road, Captain George? ‘Street party—strictly no entrance’. You nearly mowed down half the village, you fool!”
He had forgotten that he was standing in front of a microphone. After a blast of feedback, his sarcastic reprimand echoed down the bustling street.
“Shut up, vet’n’ry!” someone shouted from the crowd.
“Yeah, you shut up! It’s Captain George!” someone else chimed in. Within moments, the street was full of jeers aimed at Henry. Even the baby joined in, yanking Henry’s tie so hard he nearly headbutted the microphone. George stepped up, his hands held in front of him in a call for calm. Naturally, he knew how to use a microphone, there was no wail of aggressive feedback to deafen him.
“Hello, Longley Parvans!” A chorus of greeting went up. “Sorry for nearly mowing you down—blame my enthusiasm to see this marvelous village once more. Some things, I notice”—he cast a long, comical look at Henry—“never change!”
Henry glared at the car and glared at George. “No, they don’t, do they?”
The baby started to grizzle, its face turning tomato red. Henry bounced it more energetically on his hip, just as a hiccupping noise started up in its throat. He looked over his shoulder, wondering where its mother had got to. A reporter from the local paper had slipped in between the locals and had clambered onto the podium. “Give us a smile, Captain George! Can we get a few words for The Bugle?”
“I’ve just been around the world for my Secret History of Magellan, which you can watch this Christmas on the Beeb!” He winked, a twinkle in his eye that made at least one of the girls from the riding school fan her face. “And I still haven’t found anywhere as beautiful as good old Longley Parva!”
Applause rippled through the crowd, along with enthusiastic nods. And—for heaven’s sake, was it really necessary?—a cheer began.
“Hip-hip-hooray! Hip-hip-hooray! Hip-hip-hooray for Captain George!”
Mrs. Fortescue’s shoes banged loudly across the podium as she approached their returning hero. “Captain, could I possibly ask you to assist with the Bonny Baby Competition?”
“The divine Mrs. F.!” George kissed her on both cheeks. “It would be a pleasure!”
Henry knew better than to cross Mrs. Fortescue. She took the frilly child from his arms and deposited it in George’s embrace. Laughter echoed through the crowd, and the child’s mother now appeared, beaming up at George. Henry could do nothing more than stand there as George bounced the baby more and more, the hiccupping noise now a rumble.
The baby opened its little mouth and ejected a vast stream of curdled milk.
All over the shoulder of Henry’s tweed jacket.
“Brilliant!” The photographer tipped his head back, laughing. “What a great photo!”
“You can’t print that!” Henry stared in horror from the mess on his shoulder into the hungry lens of the camera. He dug in his pocket to retrieve a handkerchief and began to mop at the sour-smelling deposit. If it wasn’t enough that Longley Parva’s animal population voided their bodily fluids over him on a near-daily basis, now the human residents had joined in as well.
“You’re a poppet, aren’t you?” George bounced the now empty baby, who gurgled happily at him. Then the mother, who was even more thrilled by the celebrity in their midst, slipped her arm through George’s and grinned for the photographer.
“Would you mind just sort of utching up a bit?” The photographer gestured Henry to step to his right. “I need you out of frame, mate!”
Henry closed his lips in a tight line and nodded. “Of course. The local vet isn’t as exciting as a bona fide TV historian, after all.”
“And war hero,” the photographer reminded him saucily.
Henry manfully resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Still dabbing at his jacket, he walked past Mrs. Fortescue, only delivering a tight smile of acknowledgment, and hopped down from the podium. Henry was supposed to be judging the jam-making competition in fifteen minutes, but he wondered if he would be ousted from that gig too.
At least jam couldn’t vomit on your shoulder, though, there was that.
“God,” the stable girl told her equally flushed friend as Henry passed, “he’s even more gorgeous in the flesh than on the telly!”
Then she glanced at the sick-stained vet and touched her hair self-consciously. With a grimace, she murmured, “You missed some puke, Mr. Fitzwalter.”
Henry indicated over his shoulder with a jab of his thumb. “Will you tell Miss Watson on the jam stall that I’m going home? I can’t judge jam like this.” Once more, he pressed his lips into a thin, disapproving line. “But I’m certain that our resident celebrity will relish doing the honors.”
Somewhat proud of his pun, Henry went on his way. Longley Parva Manor was but a short walk from the main road and Henry would go home, sit in the bath with a whiskey and hope George left again soon.
“Fitz!” George’s voice again, full of laughter and carefree bonhomie, smooth and easy as hot chocolate, as one of his adoring Sunday newspaper critics once said. “I say, Fitz!”
Henry skidded to a halt on the gravel at the bottom of his driveway and turned to watch George approach. Behind him trailed a long line of smiling faces, the ladies who adored him and children who wanted to be him and men who wanted to buy him a pint. George the handsome, tan Pied Piper leading his faithful.
“What do you, of all people, want with me?”
“Mrs. F. tells me you’re on jam duty.” He slapped his hand down against Henry’s clean shoulder. “When I was stung by a ray, did I let it put me off finishing my secret shipwrecks filming? No. When I broke my wrist wielding a war hammer, did I give up my location work for Secrets of the Vikings? I did not! Come on, Fitz, are you going to let a bit of baby sick defeat you?”
“Defeat me? I smell of vomit, Captain bloody George. I can’t taste the jam with the tang of baby sick in my nostrils!”
“It’s a jacket, Fitz.” George laughed, a long, loud bray. “Take it off, man!”
Catherine Curzon is an author and historian.
She has written extensively for publications including HistoryExtra.com, the official website of BBC History Magazine, All About History, and Jane Austen’s Regency World. Catherine has spoken at venues and events including the Jane Austen Festival, the National Maritime Museum, Kenwood House, and the Royal Pavilion, Brighton.
Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine can often be found cheering for the mighty Huddersfield Town. She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill with a rakish colonial gentleman, a long-suffering cat and a lively dog. Visit her at www.madamegilflurt.com.
Eleanor Harkstead likes to dash about in nineteenth-century costume, in bonnet or cravat as the mood takes her. She knows rather a lot about poisons, and can occasionally be found wandering old graveyards. Eleanor is very fond of chocolate, wine, tweed waistcoats and nice pens. Her large collection of vintage hats would rival Hedda Hopper’s.
Originally from the south-east of England, Eleanor now lives somewhere in the Midlands with a large ginger cat who resembles a Viking.www.eleanorharkstead.co.uk