19 October 2013

Review and Author Interview: The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

For fans of Downton Abbey (isn’t that everyone?)

Illness has forced the Foster family to return to England from their missionary school and orphanage in India. Julia gains employment at Highland House, the home of Sir William Ramsay, as governess to his children, Andrew and Millicent, and to his teenage cousins and wards, Katharine and Penelope.

Sir William is looking for a governess who won’t mind staying in the country, because he has only recently inherited Highland Hall, and the death duties are placing a lot of financial pressure on him. Julia hasn’t told him she plans on returning to India with her family as soon as her father is well again, and as she spends more time at Highland Hall, getting to know Sir William and his family, she has to rethink her future plans.

The story and characters captured my attention from the start. I like an intelligent heroine who isn’t afraid to have her own opinions, so I liked Julia. William was a man with many troubles, but made a fitting hero. I liked the romantic subplot featuring Sarah, William’s sister, and I liked the Christian aspect of the story—Julia, especially, has a strong Christian faith (she’s partly modelled on Amy Carmichael, a real-life missionary to India).

The novel combines elements of classic British fiction like Jane Eyre with the Edwardian era, currently made fashionable by the TV series Downton Abbey. I'm a huge fan of Downton Abbey and fiction set in England, and it always bugs me when I’m pulled out of the story by silly factual errors, or by English characters using American vocabulary (like fall or pavement). Carrie Turansky contacted me to ask if I’d read her draft to find any such errors. I was pleased to help, and can only hope I found them all!

The Governess of Highland Hall is the first of a trilogy, and I look forward to reading the next in the series. Recommended.

Author Interview

Carrie was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the background to The Governess of Highland Hall:

First, congratulations on the publication of The Governess of Highland Hall, the first in your Edwardian Brides series. What was the inspiration behind that?

Thank you! Like many viewers, I fell in love with Edwardian culture when I watched the British series “Downton Abbey.” That prompted me to think about writing a novel set during that time period and also to visit England in 2012 as part of my research. The beautiful countryside and lovely historic homes captured my imagination, and the story and characters came to life in my mind. And I’ve always admired the English missionary Amy Carmichael who travelled to India during that time same time period. Reading her biography gave me several ideas to help me create the background for my heroine, Julia Foster. My research led me to a beautiful country estate near called Tyntesfield, and I used that as my setting. Tyntesfield is actually pictured on the cover.

What was the best part about writing The Governess of Highland Hall?

Most of the books I’ve written in the past have been shorter contemporary novels or novellas, but I’ve always wanted to write a longer historical novel set in England. After I submerged myself in the research for a few months, the story seemed to pour out of my heart, and I felt like I found my writer’s voice as I typed out this novel. That is a wonderful feeling!

And what was the hardest part?

The hardest part was the rush to finish at the end. There was a bit of confusion about the date I needed to turn the book in, and it turned out that the editor needed it two weeks early to stay on schedule. So I was working long hours those last few weeks to finish it up so I could turn it in on time.

Some of your novels have been historical fiction, others have been contemporary. Which do you prefer to write? Why?

I enjoy writing both, but for now I am very happy to have the opportunity to write historical novels. At first I was hesitant to write a historical novel, especially one set in another country, but as I did the research I fell in love with the Edwardian Era and the story and characters rose up out of the research.

It’s said that authors should write the kind of book they like to read. What is your favourite genre? Who are your favourite authors?

I agree! That’s great advice as I mentioned above. I enjoy reading both contemporary and historical novels. When I find an author I like, I don’t really care what genre it is, I will follow them and keep reading whatever they write. Some of my favorite historical authors are Cathy Gohlke (Promise Me This and Band of Sisters) Laura Frantz (The Colonel’s Lady, and Love’s Reckoning). Some of my favorite contemporary authors are Becky Wade (My Stubborn Heart and Undeniably Yours) and Katie Ganshert (Wishing on Willows).

What was the last novel you read? Would you recommend it? Why/why not?

I just finished Burning Sky, which is Lori Benton’s debut novel, and I loved it! She is such a gifted writer. I hated to see this book end. It’s one of the very best novels I’ve read all year and I highly recommend it!

Thank you, Iola, for your help with The Governess of Highland Hall! I appreciate you being one of my early readers and your help catching some of the phrases that sounded too American.

You can find more about Carrie Turansky at ber website.

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