Featuring A Refuge at Highland Hall
Interview by Brock Eastman
Brock: How did you come up with the idea for this book or series? or What was your inspiration for writing this book or series?
Carrie: Early in 2012 I attended the American Library Association Conference in Philadelphia with another author friend. I spoke to an editor there and asked what she was looking for. She said she’d love to see and English historical romance series set in the same time period as Downton Abbey. I’d enjoyed watching the first season of Downton, and I especially liked the way the screenwriter gave equal time to developing the storyline following wealthy family as well as the loyal servants. I didn’t know much about Edwardian England, but I jumped into the research, and fell in love with the time period. The ideas for the characters and plots rose out of my research and the issues of the time. The titles of the novels in the Edwardian Brides Series are The Governess of Highland Hall, The Daughter of Highland Hall, and A Refuge at Highland Hall, which releases October 20, 2015.
Brock: Tell us about the main characters? Who are they, what makes them unique.
Carrie: Each novel in the series includes members of the Ramsey Family and their loyal staff, but each story stands alone and is complete because different people step forward to take on the role of heroine or hero. In A Refuge at Highland Hall, Penny Ramsey, a wealthy young aristocrat, sets aside her dreams for the future to help her family and do her part for the war effort. When she meets Alex Goodwin, a Royal Naval Air Service pilot in training, her dreams reawaken, but should she give her heart to a man headed off on such a dangerous assignment?
Brock: Give us one fact about each main character that no one else knows.
Carrie: Penny used to sneak out on the roof of her family’s home to view the stars and dream about the future. Alex rode an elephant in India as a boy.
Brock: In three sentences (or you can choose three words) what is this book about?
Carrie: Trusting through trials
Brock: Do you outline the entire book before starting, or do you write as you go and let the characters take control of the story?
Carrie: My publisher asks for a synopsis, so I usually have a good idea of the main events in the story before I start writing. My editor gives me feedback after she reads the synopsis, and I often incorporate her ideas. But I like to let the characters show me how we will arrive at those turning points in the story. That’s the fun part.
Brock: How do you believe this story relates to the lives of readers?
Carrie: I think readers will identify with Penny’s hope for love and a happy future and also with her willingness to sacrifice her desires for the benefit of others and make a difference during the war. I think readers will enjoy watching Alex and Penny’s friendship blossom into romance through the letters they exchange. And I think they will be encouraged by the growth of their faith through the hardships of war.
Brock: What is your favorite genre to write for?
Carrie: I have written inspirational contemporary romance, women’s fiction, and historical romance. I love that last genre most, because I like stepping back in history and learning about another time and place. I have especially enjoyed writing these last three stories set in England.
Brock: What is the biblical background or basis for the series?
Carrie: The theme of this book is God’s faithfulness and finding strength in Him through times of trial and testing.
Brock: How many books are planned for this series?
Carrie: There are three books in the series. The Governess of Highland Hall, The Daughter of Highland Hall, and A Refuge at Highland Hall (October 20, 2015)
Brock: Any certain research required for the book, or is it all from your imagination?
Carrie: This series required quite a bit of research, including two trips to England and hours reading books about the time period, customs, and issues in Edwardian England. Understanding life “below stairs” was just as important as understanding the aristocratic class in England in the Edwardian era. I watched several documentaries that were helpful, and read one biography about a brave, young British pilot that was a wonderful inspiration for the hero. I also took an online course about World War One aviation to help me write the hero’s scenes set in France.
Brock: Can you tell us about your research trip to England?
Carrie: My husband and I visited England in 2012 and focused our time in Oxfordshire, the Peak District and the Cotswolds. Our tour of Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey is set was the highlight of that trip for me. I loved seeing all the rooms where Downton is filmed, including the great hall, the library, the upper gallery and bedrooms. The gardens and greenhouse were lovely, and I had those in mind for several of the scenes in The Governess of Highland Hall. But I wanted to find a unique estate and setting for my books. My online research led me to Tyntesfield, a beautiful estate near Bristol in southwest England. It was a perfect choice. Tyntestfield is featured on the cover of A Refuge at Highland Hall and The Governess of Highland Hall, and I used the interior design of this house to help me envision the scenes in my novels.
I was very excited to visit Tyntesfield in May 2014. What a thrill to see all the rooms and take a private tour of the day nursery and the governess’s bedroom! It’s even more beautiful than my online research revealed. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit to Tyntesfield. I have a Pinterest board filled with photos to help me remember everything I saw there.
Brock: How was culture changing during the period in which you wrote, and how do the books in this series reflect that?
Carrie: As the Victorian era came to an end, the moral climate became less strict. This is reflected by incidents in both The Governess of Highland Hall and The Daughter of Highland Hall. William Ramsey, the head of the family, is impacted by the choices of other family members and must decide how to respond. The differences between the classes were also changing. Working-class people were less satisfied with being “in service” as maids and butlers, and they wanted increased wages and benefits, putting pressure on the upper class. Taxes, especially death duties, put tremendous financial stress on families who inherited large estates. This plays a role in books one and two in the series. All these changes were even more apparent in the later half of the era because of the changes World War I brought to English society. The Ramsey family and the staff at Highland will be going through World War I in book three, A Refuge at Highland Hall.
Brock: What do your readers think about your latest series?
Carrie: I enjoy connecting with readers on Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, and through my blog and website. Their comments and reviews have been very encouraging to me. They are enthusiastic about the series and eager for this final book. The Governess of Highland Hall was a finalist for the ACFW Carol Award and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. The Daughter of Highland Hall has been nominated for an Inspy Award.
Brock: Why did you choose to focus on both the male and female protagonists?
Carrie: Most of my readers are women, so I give the heroine a few more scenes than the hero, but in this book the hero, Alex Goodwin, has several key scenes showing his role as a pilot chasing German Zeppelins across the front lines in France. Those are quite exciting scenes that are inspired by real events, so I think male and female readers will enjoy those. I also try to balance the number of scenes given to the staff with those of the family so readers have a view into both sides of life.
Brock: Do you plot or outline the entire series before you begin writing, or do your books take on lives of their own? Or is there a combination?
Carrie: I’d say there is a combination. When I propose a series I write a paragraph or two about books two and three, but I don’t plot out the second or third book until I start writing them.
Brock: How much leeway do you give yourself with facts in a Historical Romance?
Carrie: All my books are inspired by real events and real locations. There is historic precedent for what my characters do, and I am often inspired to create a character based on someone who really lived through an event. In this book the hero is based on a real person, and I used many facts about his background and actions in World War One in the story. But the rest of the plot and characters are fictional and the result of my imagination.
Brock: How do you hope parents will use this book with their kids?
Carrie: My husband writes parenting books and speaks at homeschool conferences, and when we are there, I often meet teens who have enjoyed my novels. Reading historical fiction is a great way for young people to learn about a time period, so I hope parents will consider giving my books to their teens.
Brock: What do you hope kids take away from this book or series?
Carrie: My heroes and heroines are in their late teens and early twenties, so I think teen readers will be able to identify with the issues they face and be encouraged to see how their faith can help them as they move ahead in life.
Brock: Where do you like to write?
Carrie: I use a laptop, so I write in several different places in my house: in my kitchen, at my desk in the dining room, and in the living room in a comfortable recliner.
Brock: Are you a full-time or part-time author/writer?
Carrie: I am a full-time writer, but also a full-time wife, mom and grandmom, and part-time ministry leader.
Brock: How long does it usually take you to write a single book?
Carrie: When I’m working on a series it usually takes me a year because I am revising the last book and promoting a book that is coming out, and writing the next one.
Brock: What is your "how I got published" story?
Carrie: Our family spent a year in Kenya, and when we came back to the US, I missed Africa so much I decided to write a story set there as a way to relive my experiences. I had written reports and papers in college, but never a novel. I poured out the story and enjoyed the process, but when I showed it to an editor at a writers’ conference, she told me I needed to learn fiction techniques. That was disheartening, but I joined a local writers’ group at my library and also American Christian Fiction Writers. I kept writing, reading, and submitting my books over then next five years. I finished five books before the first one was accepted and published in 2005. It was hard to keep going in the face of rejections and waiting, but through ACFW I met other writers who encouraged me and helped me improve my writing. You learn to write by writing…so that’s what I needed to do.
Brock: What was your favorite book as a teen or child?
Carrie: My Great Aunt Frances was a teacher and she loved books. She often gave me award-winning books as Christmas gifts. Some of those early picture books are still some of my favorites: Make Way for the Ducklings and One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey. Then I read Charlotte’s Web, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Bronze Bow, Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables. All were wonderful stories that have stayed with me all these years.
Brock: In what ways does your faith impact how you approach writing?
Carrie: My faith is the central core of who I am, and that comes through in my writing. I believe God has answers for the struggles we face, and I like to show how my characters wrestle with their faith and discover how God is at work in their lives. I am learning a new level of dependence on Him as I write and pour my heart into these stories. He is a wonderful creator, and it’s exciting and fulfilling to partner with Him as I write.
Brock: Favorite place to vacation?
Carrie: England, especially the Lake District!
Brock: Favorite season?
Brock: Do you have a particular drink or food you consume when you write? Like coco, raspberry tea, animal crackers?
Carrie: I’m a tea drinker…Earl Grey….Plantation Mint….Good Earth.
Brock: Favorite color?
Brock: Do you listen to music while you write? If so what are some examples?
Carrie: Yes, I like to listen instrumental soundtracks from movies while I write. A couple of my favorites are Little Women and Cider House Rules.
Visit Carrie Turansky at carrieturansky.com