Last week, Evelyn and I reviewed Her Heart for a Compass, a work of historical fiction based on the life of Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott, an ancestress of the book’s author, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. When the book was announced earlier this year, I was excited to see that the it had been co-authored by historical romance author Marguerite Kaye; Ms. Kaye is something of a favourite here at AAR and has received much praise (and many high grades!) for her books. If you are interested in how this partnership came about and in the authors’ working relationship, read on!
CO: Marguerite, thanks for taking the time to speak with me about this project. Firstly, for anyone who hasn’t yet had the chance to read it, tell us a little about Her Heart for a Compass.
MK: The heroine, Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott is the second daughter of the Duchess of York’s great-great-great grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch. The idea of writing a fictionalized account of her life first occurred to The Duchess fifteen years ago when she was researching her own ancestry. Very little is known about Margaret – she was a red head, she married relatively late, and she was a bridesmaid at Princess Helena’s wedding, and that’s about it. All of that is incorporated into the book, but that left a lot of gaps for us to fill in.
Born into one of the most powerful families in Great Britain, Lady Margaret is expected to conform to the rules of high society, her only purpose in life being to marry well and produce the next generation. But our heroine is a feisty young woman who has other ideas, and who wants to live her life on her own terms. So Her Heart for a Compass is primarily a coming of age novel, with the focus on the journey, literal and emotional, that Lady Margaret takes – from Scotland, to London, Ireland and New York. And of course, our heroine doesn’t only find herself, in the end she finds love too.
Lady Margaret’s story is imagined, but the book is full of real characters from history, the sort of people she would have mingled with – she is best friends with Princess Louise, for example. The story encompasses low as well as high society, with key scenes set in working-class Lambeth, and the notorious Five Points in New York. Because it’s a big book (almost double the wordcount of the Mills & Boon (Harlequin in the US) Historical romances I usually write) there was room for a lot more colour and history which suited both The Duchess and myself, because we’re both complete history geeks.
CO: I’m in good company in terms of the history geekery then! I confess that I knew nothing about Lady Margaret (other than her name) before I read the book – what about you? Did you know anything about her before becoming involved with this project?
MK: Nothing at all, about Lady Margaret or her family, but once I had heard the Buccleuch name, it seemed to keep cropping up all the time. A visit to my sister’s in Dumfries (in the Scottish Borders, where Drumlanrig Castle, the Buccleuch’s biggest Scottish estates are situated) was a real eye-opener, because it seemed every other street name was Buccleuch or Montagu. Nearby in Moffat there was a Buccleuch arms, and in Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, where Dalkeith Palace is situated, it was the same. There’s a statue of Walter, the Fifth Duke and Lady Margaret’s father in Edinburgh by St Giles too – so I very quickly came to understand how massively influential the family was.
By a complete coincidence, around the same time as I started work on Her Heart for a Compass, I was writing A Forbidden Liaison with Miss Grant, which is set in Edinburgh during the state visit of King George IV. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the king had stayed as a guest of the Buccleuch family (who moved out to accommodate him) at Dalkeith Palace. I love coincidences like that!
CO: It’s a small world – especially in such exalted circles! S0 how did you become involved with this project?
MK: My UK publisher, Mills & Boon, recommended me to The Duchess as a possible collaborator. I must admit, I was astonished when the suggestion was made by my editor, quite out of the blue, but of course I was also incredibly excited. Though at that point I knew very little about the story, I did know it was one I wanted to help tell, and I am always up for a new challenge.
The Duchess and I met up to discuss the project, and we immediately hit it off. Establishing a rapport was the most important thing for me – and as it turned out, for The Duchess too. It was vital, we agreed at that very first meeting, that we understood each other, that we could be open and honest through the writing process, and maybe most importantly of all, that we could have fun. I can say in all honesty, that we’ve done every one of those things.
CO: How did the collaborative process work for you and The Duchess? What were the fun aspects of it, and what were the challenges?
MK: We agreed from the start that we would work out our own way of collaborating, and that we’d work out what that was as we went along. We played to our individual strengths. The Duchess has an incredibly vivid imagination, she’s so creative, and has a way of describing scenes as if they were in a film that really brings them to life. My experience in the craft of writing helped translate what was in her head, her characters and storylines, onto the page.
Of course it was at times, as with all books, sheer hard work, but more than anything, it was an incredibly enjoyable process, and a very honest and trusting one. We were both passionate about wanting to produce the best book we possibly could, which generated a lot of intense discussions about every aspect of the book. The story evolved significantly as we got to grips with the character of Lady Margaret, and tailored her journey accordingly. The Duchess had been imagining Lady Margaret’s history for a very long time, and so my early attempts to get her on the page needed quite a lot of rework. I’d say this was the first test of the strength of our partnership, and it was back in the days when we could meet face to face. The Duchess found it pretty difficult to say, “no, this isn’t right” because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings, but she wanted Lady Margaret to be true to her vision. I’m so glad that she did find the courage to come straight out with it though, because it really established an atmosphere of honesty and trust between us.
Mills & Boon Historical romances focus almost exclusively on the hero and heroine, with very little space for secondary characters. There’s a huge cast of characters in Her Heart for a Compass, some with significant roles, some with walk-on parts. Keeping track of who was where when, being as true as we could to the history, and breathing life into all of them was certainly one of the biggest challenges. Though we were very fortunate to have two incredible researchers to help us, I’m not only a history geek, I’m a bit of a control freak, so I did a massive amount of reading, as my Goodreads list from the last couple of years will testify.
And then there was the challenge of lockdown. Originally, we had hoped to do a lot of the work face to face, but that wasn’t possible, so we used WhatsApp, email and a lot of phone calls instead, and I think that the pandemic, forcing us to work like this actually brought us much closer together. Working on Her Heart for a Compass was a fabulous way to escape from reality. The Duchess and I have become close friends, and as I’ve said, above all, we have fun working together. In fact, I have a character called Sarah in my next Mills & Boon Historical (The Earl Who Sees Her Beauty), a small tribute to The Duchess – with her permission, of course.
CO: Were there any particular challenges you faced in writing about actual historical figures?
MK: As I’ve said, with Lady Margaret we had a lot of scope to let our imaginations run wild, while still keeping her positioned in the society she occupied. You may have noticed, that while Lady Margaret’s two sisters, Victoria and Mary feature, her four brothers are notably absent. One of the reasons for this is that we know a lot more about them, and a key theme in her Heart for a Compass, and one of The Duchess’s strongest reasons for writing the book in the first place, was to try and tell the story of the ‘invisible’ women from history.
That said, we do have some women in the book about whom a lot is known. Princess Louise, for example, who became the Duchess of Argyll (another local connection for me), has had a great deal written about her, so we’ve had to be very careful about the times when she is ‘on the page’, checking her whereabouts, and making sure, as far as possible, that we have stuck to her history (Queen Victoria’s diaries, which are available online, are a fabulous source). Similarly with Julia, Lady Powerscourt, who is actually another real-life ancestor of The Duchess.
Other characters though, simply wrote themselves into the book. The aptly named Lewis Strange Wingfield, who is Lord Powerscourt’s brother, turned up in our research and we couldn’t resist including him. Lewis is one of those historical characters that you simply couldn’t make up. He acted in burlesque, he was an acclaimed artist, he assumed a variety of disguises to work in a lunatic asylum and in a prison, and he had a penchant for drinking in the worst of London’s slums. His brother, Lord Powerscourt, loathed him (as he does in the book) but we fell in love with him.
CO: Oh, yes – I remember Lewis’ character; he’s certainly memorable! Is this the first time you’ve worked on a project such as this one?
MK: I have worked on a few projects with other Mills & Boon authors, in particular Bronwyn Scott, whom I have collaborated with on a number of occasions, creating a shared world and characters, though writing our own individual stories (and I’m delighted to let you know that we’ll be working together again next year, on another Christmas duet). However, this was a very different project, a truly collaborative way of writing, and incredibly intense. Her Heart for a Compass is also the biggest book I’ve ever written, and we were working with a new (wonderful) editor too – so there were a lot of ‘firsts’ in the process.
CO: Before we wrap up, Marguerite, can you tell us a little bit about what’s next for you?
MK: The Earl Who Sees Her Beauty, the first in my Victorian duet, Revelations of the Carstairs Sisters, will be released by Mills & Boon in October. It Started at a House Party is a prequel, a free on-line read, starting 5th August on the Harlequin website (you can find this and many other free reads at https://www.harlequin.com/articlelist.html.) The series focuses on the ‘invisible’ woman theme which runs through Her Heart for a Compass, and as I’ve already mentioned, there’s a secondary character called Sarah who gets her own romance.
Writing-wise, I’m working on the second of the duet, but I can also reveal that I’ve started on a new project with The Duchess. We’re a few chapters in, and though I can’t say much about it yet, it will be another period drama and will build on the world we created for Her Heart for a Compass.
CO: That’s all really exciting news! I’m sure all of us at AAR wish you and The Duchess every success with the novel, and a big thank you to you for taking the time to answer my questions.
MK: Thanks so much – it was a pleasure!
You can connect with Marguerite at: