Historical romance has always been a look at the past through the lens of the present, with stories and characters finding inspiration through problems and challenges we still have today. Authors have been shifting away from characterizing the ideal heroine as a demure or overly-sweet young lady, instead creating independent, strong women capable of anything. Eva Leigh has been at the forefront of this movement, with her last series The Wicked Quills of London bringing to life three women with careers long before they meet the men who understand their drive. I had the chance to talk with Eva about the self-reliant characters in her new London Underground series and how they fit into a time that wasn’t as easy for a woman to navigate on her own.
Sara: Eva, welcome to All About Romance. It’s a pleasure to have you here today.
Eva: Thank you so much for having me!
Sara: I read a lot of historical romance and I’ve noticed more authors are thinking outside the box for their heroines, giving them aspirations that don’t always include finding a suitable husband. Is it difficult to balance those modern ideas with a historical setting?
Eva: I feel that women have always had aspirations that didn’t include matrimony and family, regardless of the era. Women have been involved in every field, from scientists to artists to business. We often don’t get to hear about these women because it fits the dominant paradigm’s narrative to keep them domestic and complacent. And if we think about how we learn of women’s (lack of) contributions, the majority of these histories are written by men. Women seldom get to tell their own stories. So I don’t think it’s anachronistic to have women desiring more for themselves besides domestic life.
Sara: Your last series The Wicked Quills of London focused on three women writers; a reporter, a playwright and a novelist. In researching your books were you inspired by any real life counterparts to these successful heroines?
Eva: Women have had a very special relationship to writing. It’s literally giving them a voice. Almost from the beginning of the printed page, women have used their writing to earn a living. There was an 18th century periodical called The Female Tattler, and though the authorship was never decided, there’s a good chance it was written by women. Playwrights like Aphra Behn and Elizabeth Inchbald proved that female writers could find commercial success. Novels, of course, have been written by women almost from the start. The whole Regency subgenre stands on the shoulders of Jane Austen, naturally.
Sara: Part of the charm of these stories was the glimpse of middle-class life in London at the time. In your new series The London Underground you’re taking readers into another rarely seen strata of society, the criminal underbelly?
Eva: I love reading about balls and teas and musicales, but there was also a very colorful, complex world beyond the neat confines of the ton. The underworld has been a part of London since it was founded by the Romans. I wanted to tell stories that bridged the two worlds of the aristocracy and those that lived on the margins of respectability. I think it’s important to affirm that everyone deserves love, not just the gentry.
Sara: The heroine of From Duke Til Dawn, Cassandra Blake, calls herself a Swindler. What makes her unique from a regular thief or criminal?
Eva: The term “confidence artist” or “con artist” hadn’t come into use yet, but the profession was there. Cassandra uses her wits and her knowledge of people to get them to willingly give her money. No threats or violence are used. It’s all in the telling of the tale and in making yourself sufficiently convincing. Writing under my real name (Ami Silber), I wrote a literary novel years ago about a con man in Post WWII Los Angeles. I did a lot of research into that world, and learned that con artists are the top of the criminal underworld because they finesse money from their marks and don’t resort to violence. It takes a very smart and cunning individual to manipulate people so effectively that they don’t realize they’ve been conned until much later—if at all!
Sara: Was it fun creating a female character who was cunning and able turn a sticky situation into an advantage for herself?
Eva: I’m definitely a good girl. I obey rules. I was not one of those teens who enjoyed potentially getting into trouble. So it’s a ton of fun to be able to really let my amoral side out to play.
Sara: In Cassandra’s story you show just how cutthroat life on the streets could be you also highlight how much harder poverty was for many women of the time. How to do keep your leading ladies strong in the face of these incredible challenges?
Eva: Resilience is a quality I greatly admire. Not everyone has it, but those that do are extraordinary. My heroines’ will to survive in the face of steep odds make them admirable, in my opinion. They aren’t willing to give up when everything seems bleak.
Sara: The only mark that ever got past Cassandra’s defenses is Alexander Lewis, Duke of Greyland. Tell us a little about him.
Eva: Alex grew up knowing that one day, he would be a duke. He, and his late father, take the responsibilities of the title very seriously. Duty, responsibility, propriety—these are his bywords. He tries very hard to do the right thing. The first time he met Cassandra was at a spa town in the country. He believed her to be a destitute but proud genteel widow. The attraction between them was hot, and when he and Cassandra went to bed together, he was acting completely out of character. She disappeared in the night, and two years later, he still hasn’t forgotten her. He’s shocked to find her running a gaming hell, but that shock is nothing compared to learning she’s a swindler and had conned him out of five hundred pounds when they’d been at the spa.
He’s fully prepared to completely cut her out of his life, but Cassandra finds herself double-crossed and in danger. She turns to Alex out of desperation. Alex thinks hating Cassandra should be easy, but he starts to learn that not everything or everyone fits into neat boxes. He learns, too, how to step outside of his proscribed role as virtuous duke and get a little wild.
Sara: From Duke Till Dawn introduces a whole other side of London, with a criminal network and clubs that cater to every vice imaginable. What can we expect next from the series?
Eva: I’m continuing the shady lady theme with the next book, Counting on a Countess (2018). It’s a marriage of convenience plot, but what the hero doesn’t know is that the heroine—his new bride—is also a smuggler. The third book in the series features a heroine who runs an underground sex club, which is featured in Temptations of a Wallflower, as well as all three London Underground books. In case you’re wondering, underground sex clubs did exist in Regency England. I did the research!
Sara: I’ve seen on some of your Twitter and Facebook posts that you enjoy painting. What are some other creative hobbies you have when you’re not writing?
Eva: Baking is one of my creative outlets. It’s a nice contrast to writing because at the end of it, I have something tangible (and tasty)! I also sometimes crochet amigurumi, which are little soft toys that can be anything from teddy bears to pieces of toast, all with cute smiley faces.
Sara: Eva, thank you so much for joining me today. I’ve been a fan of your books across many different romantic genres and I’m always eager for more.
Eva: Thanks again for having me! It was fun!