Interview: Meg Mardell

Meg Mardell lives in England where, after a decade of exploring Victorian history in a prim scholarly fashion, she realized that fiction is the best way to delve into that period’s great female-focused and LGBT+ stories. Meg’s delighted to now have a whole raft of quirky and queer characters to cheer for on their quest for Happily Ever After.

Your 2nd book, A Highland Hogmanay, comes out on 23 November. What was the inspiration for the story?
I’m an absolute sucker for a good Highlander Times romance! And my favourite time to visit Scotland – in books at least – is winter. Could there be anything more romantic than curling up in the same tartan blanket with your lover before a log fire in a castle with the snow falling outside? I wanted to give this ultimate fantasy setting to an F/F romance because I’ve never read one. So I speedily set my heroines, Sharda and Fin, on route for the Highlands in time for the New Year’s Eve celebrations of Hogmanay.
But I’ve tweaked the classic formula too. I write late Victorian romances rather than Highlander Times. The carriages and coaching inns are replaced by steam trains and fancy railway hotels. The crumbling ancestral castle turns into a modern-build castle designed for aristocratic shooting parties. And the hatred between the Scots and the English is updated to reflect that the colonialism situation had become just a wee bit more complicated by the late nineteenth century.
So I guess my inspiration was classic Highland romance, but my motivation for writing A Highland Hogmanay was to make that setting queer and modern too.

If you could be one of your characters – Who would you be? And why?
Oh gosh, I’m quite smitten with both my heroines but I don’t know that I could be either of them. So I’m going to choose the septuagenarian hostess of the Christmas Eve masquerade ball where Sharda and Fin meet. Lady Belleville is generous and mostly gracious but not too fussed about following rules. She strikes me as a woman who considers her own pleasure as much as any else’s. Also, she and her husband have one of those decades-long relationships where both are entirely comfortable with the other’s failings. And also entirely comfortable making jokes about said failings. An ideal relationship, imo:)
A close second would be Tom Travers, the grumpy steward at Balintore Castle. I’m far too much of a people pleaser to ever pull off a proper sullen work-shirk – but I would love to!

What is one book you could read over and over again?
The first Highlander romance I fell in love with as a teen was Johanna Lindsey’s Love Me Forever: Sherring Cross and I still pick it up every couple of years when I’m visiting my mother’s house. It’s got a wonderfully bad-tempered heroine and a sweetheart hero – which felt revelatory at the time – and an entire undiscovered Highland family.
I’ve now got a whole trove of classic Historical Romances stored on my Kobo (hello Klepas, Chase, Kinsale, and Brockaway!) but if I was pressed to read the same book say, every year for the rest of my life, I’d probably go all the way back to the 19th century classics. And I’d skip the Brontës and pick Anthony Trollope’s The Warden. Maverick move, I know!

If you could go back in time for a year, which historical era would you choose to live in?
Haha, an easy one! Obvious I couldn’t resist the temptation to see the bustles and parasols of Victorian times in person. I would absolutely love rattling about in Hansom Cabs and running for slowly-escalating steam trains. And that’s before I set off on a first-class voyage around the world. I’m being sent back as a rich person, yes?
I don’t know that I’d want to travel back further than the late 19th century when they had at least some idea of microbial germs. I’d like to survive the year! Actually, the new year they celebrate in A Highland Hogmanay, 1880, would be pretty perfect for me. As a bonus, my round-the-world journey could fetch up at the Melbourne International Exhibition.

What is the one thing you can’t resist buying (aside from books)?
Do stationary supplies count or are they too book adjacent? I cannot resist a journal because they’re beautiful and necessary. And I cannot stop buying fountain pens because I break or lose them all the time! I really wish I was one of those people who could invest in a Montblanc. But, in this lifetime at least, I’m a Twisbi Eco user.

Blurb: A Highland Hogmanay

When orphaned heiress Sharda Holkar meets the intriguing proprietress of a Highland castle at a masked ball, she leaps at the chance to escape her controlling cousins with a holiday hop over the border. Estate manager Finella Forbes is shocked that this delightful stranger wants to come home with her for the raucous celebrations of Hogmanay. But Balintore Castle desperately needs a rich new owner. Can the mischief of a Highland New Years’ Eve turn their hasty mistakes into holiday magic?

Buy: A Highland Hogmanay

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