Over the last few weeks I have so enjoyed reading Underestimating Miss Cecilia by Carolyn Miller! I asked Carolyn if she would stop by and answer a few questions about Miss Cecilia for Becky's Bookshelves. She agreed. Here's to House Parties, Prodigal Sons, and Finding True Love! I hope you enjoy!
Tell us about your new release, Underestimating Miss Cecilia that is coming out July 23!
Underestimating Miss Cecilia is the second book in the Regency Brides: Daughters of Aynsley series. It’s about shy, sweet Cecilia Hatherleigh who has always been in love with Edward Amherst, the boy next door. Yet he’s never seen her as anything but the quiet girl in the background as he flirts with the other vivacious women of the ton.
When a near tragedy brings Edward’s attention to his family duties, this prodigal son decides he needs to settle down with a proper wife. Cecilia hopes to convince him to choose her—but God may want her to forget the wayward nobleman and put her future in His hands alone.
These two try to find their way toward happiness, but prejudice, political riots, and the changing face of England’s societal structures begin to block them at every turn. Can their struggles turn to triumph—or will their paths permanently diverge?
How do you picture the Aynsley family? How do you picture Cecilia, Edward?
We’ve met the eldest sister, Caroline, in A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh, and seen something of her strained family situation. Caroline and her sister Cecilia are both blondes, like their mother, in contrast to their youngest sister, Verity, whose dark, petite looks some might consider elfin. Cecilia is a much quieter, more reflective person than Caro, her softer nature meaning she is often talked over, or ignored. She is ladylike, and enjoys writing in her diary, and needlework and other domestic accomplishments.
Edward has “blond hair that never needs curling tongs” and handsome (of course!). As someone who works as a lawyer, he spends a great deal of time indoors - so he’s not the super-buff cliched hero! He is kind, thoughtful, and aware his reputation needs to be lived down. It was fun to write about them!
I noticed you have compared one of the main characters to the prodigal son. Can you tell me more about that?
Have you ever wondered what life would have been like AFTER the prodigal son returned? His father was glad to have him back, but there were definite signs of strain with his brother, which I can’t imagine would have been easily resolved. Coupled with this is the guilt I imagine he would feel, something that can be a lot harder to shake off than we think. So it was interesting exploring the ‘what if’s’ of his personal remorse and this family dynamic, and what ramifications it might have had for the wider community.
What do you love about the Regency period?
Oh, there is so much to love! The Regency period (1811-1820) was a time of great change and excess (such as the extravagances of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton), adventure and exploration ('Elgin's marbles' - Greek artefacts brought to London by Lord Elgin - were first displayed at the British Museum in 1817), and social upheaval, such as the Luddite uprisings, as rural workers fought for their traditional ways of life to be maintained against the rise of industrialisation.
Social division was strictly upheld, the social order ranging from royalty to aristocracy to gentry to the middle and lower classes. A person 'in trade' tended to be stigmatised by the upper classes, whilst the servants, labourers, and poor could only dream to have life be so fine. Yet despite the warfare and social unrest, this was also a time of great achievement in culture and technological advancement, leading to the Britain of today.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was interested to explore what life would be like for the prodigal son after his return, and Edward was the perfect vehicle for this. Plus I wanted to include something about the legal system, which I hadn’t really explored previously, and how different subsets of English society (such as the gypsies, Irish, and working classes) were treated by those in authority.
Does the cover fit your image of Miss Cecilia, or do you have another image in your mind?
I love the thatched cottage on the cover, and I think Miss Cecilia has something of the soft shyness I envisaged. I’ve had lots of lovely comments about the eye-catching pink that has been used!
What is the most interesting thing you learned doing research for Underestimating Miss Cecilia?
Did you know that in Regency times it was illegal to have anything to do with gypsies - and that even talking to a gypsy could be punishable by death? In fact, in the late 1700s a 14 year old girl was HUNG for talking to a gypsy! Isn’t that terrible? So the Regency era was not all roses and country manors, despite what the movies might imply!
What is your favorite Regency event to write about?
I really enjoyed writing about the country house party, in particular the Regency games. That was fun to research.
Cecilia is a quieter character in my opinion. Did you enjoy writing about her? How did she come to be?
I loved writing about Cecy! Yes, she’s a quieter character - unsurprising when she’s sandwiched between two loud, headstrong sisters - but delving into her personality, her thoughtful, considerate persona, was loads of fun. I knew she had to be quieter because she had to be different to her sisters (readers don’t want the same type of characters all the time) and I wanted to make her kind and gracious, and employ elements of unrequited love which a quieter character can demonstrate a little more easily.
I would love to hear more about a Regency House Party?
In Regency times people would be invited to stay at a country manor belonging to a wealthy aristocrat in an attempt to bring eligible young ladies into the circles of those gentlemen looking for a wife. Depending on the tie of year, this might involve picnics, balls, horse-riding, shooting, hunting - and would definitely involve plenty of fancy meals, dancing, and games. These activities provided opportunity for conversation to get to know each other - and possible flirtations! A surprising element of the games employed was the amount of kissing involved - something which can definitely be incorporated into the fun and angst of burgeoning attraction.
How did you grow spiritually writing this book?
One of the main things I learned was considering how guilt, condemnation, forgiveness and grace are linked. Sometimes as Christians we can hear a focus on our sinful state, and regard ourselves as sinners, even after we’ve repented and asked God to forgive our sins and accepted His mercy. I think seeing ourselves as forgiven, rather than as sinners, leads to a different emphasis. I believe the Bible shows us that God sees the sin of Christians as covered by Jesus’s blood, so why do we focus so much on our sin, rather than God’s mercy and grace? Focus on sin tends to lead to a focus on our own efforts, on trying to be good enough - to relying on works. If we’re aware of God’s grace, and focus on that, then we’ll be seeing God move in different situations, and be looking at people with grace-filled eyes, rather than seeing their shortcomings and sin.
I hope the struggle Edward undergoes will resonate with readers, and help people move from condemnation to the freedom of knowing that God has forgiven them. It’s something I’m still learning, but I think it’s central to living life to the full, as Jesus promised in John 10.10.
Carolyn Miller lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, with her husband and four children. Together with her husband she has pastored a church for ten years, and worked as a public high school English and Learning and Support teacher.
A longtime lover of romance, especially that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s Regency era, Carolyn holds a BA in English Literature, and loves drawing readers into fictional worlds that show the truth of God’s grace in our lives. Her Regency novels include The Elusive Miss Ellison, The Captivating Lady Charlotte, The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey, Winning Miss Winthrop, Miss Serena's Secret, The Making of Mrs. Hale, A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh, and Underestimating Miss Cecilia are all available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Koorong, etc