Greetings boys and girls–happy Monday. I’m so lucky to introduce an amazing author I discovered a couple of months ago, Ms. Mary Lancaster. Like I’m known to do, I randomly purchased, A Prince to be Feared, the true story of one of my favorite historical characters … Vlad Dracula. Wow. I loved it. Let’s get to know this talented writer.
Mary Lancaster’s first love was historical fiction. Since then, she has grown to love coffee, chocolate, red wine, and black and white films – simultaneously where possible. She hates housework.
As a direct consequence of the first love, she studied history at St. Andrews University, after which she worked variously as an editorial assistant, researcher, and librarian. Although she has always written stories for her own entertainment, she began to make serious efforts toward publication in order to distract herself from a job she disliked. She now writes full time at her seaside home in Scotland, which she shares with her husband and three children.
Such an enchanted life … Scotland.
What inspired you to become a writer?
Reading! I wanted to write the kind of stories I most enjoyed. And the past is full of inspiration for me!
Are you a plotter or panster?
Half and half probably (Planster?) I used to be more of a pantser – got an idea and started writing, followed where it led. But I found this can lead to very rambling and not very coherent stories that need a lot of work to lick into shape. Now I tend to plan at least a vague story outline before I start – although it’s always subject to change! – and sometimes I plan difficult sections in more detail.
At what age did you write your first novel?
I was probably twelve or thirteen, but in all honesty, it wasn’t much of a novel! I was in my late twenties before I began to write anything I was prepared to let anyone else see. And in my early thirties before I finished A WORLD TO WIN in any publishable form.
Give us some background on your books/series. Share your favorite scene. Who’s your favorite hero/heroine?
My books are all from widely differing backgrounds and periods of history. AN ENDLESS EXILE is largely eleventh century England, focusing on the outlaw hero Hereward and his strong-minded if long-suffering wife (who tells the story).
A WORLD TO WIN features another rebel, a Hungarian revolutionary of 1848 and his love affair with a Scottish governess.
And the unlikely hero of A PRINCE TO BE FEARED is Vlad Dracula, fifteenth century Prince of Wallachia who was not, I believe, nearly as black as he’s been painted! Like my other heroes, Vlad is a somewhat larger than life character. I love writing about people like that, people who stand out in their own time. I don’t think I could choose a favourite, because they’re all favourite when I’m writing them, and stay with me afterwards too.
Hmm, a favourite scene…Since A PRINCE TO BE FEARED is my latest novel, I’m torn between this innocent, romantic scene when Vlad first falls in love with Ilona, and a more traumatic reunion much later when they haven’t seen each other for twelve years. Here’s both, and Violetta can choose.
We’ll share it all Mary!
First, the romantic one:
Stepping out, with her hand still in his, Ilona inhaled the scents of the night, delicate spring flowers, a hint of herbs drifting over from the kitchen garden, the fading remains of the splendid dinner. She lifted her face into the cooling breeze and breathed deeply as they walked toward the formal flower beds.
As if making a discovery, she said, “That’s the first time I’ve danced with you.”
“I hope it won’t be the last.”
“I can’t remember ever having so much fun.” The words spilled out because they were in her head. Once said, she realised they were probably unwise, but she couldn’t and wouldn’t take them back.
“Even among all those fine young suitors in Buda?”
“Some of them were old,” Ilona confided.
“Who found the most favour?”
“With me? None of them.” She was already spoiled, because her heart had been given long ago to a strange, driven man with a hard face and profound green eyes you could drown in. Those heavy-lidded eyes that seemed to leap now at her flippant comment. A smile played around his full lips.
“You are a difficult woman to catch. Elusive…You slip through my fingers like…” He broke off, pausing in midstride to lift a lock of her hair, letting it trickle over his palm and between his fingers. “Like that.”
Though she’d recovered her breath, her heart still beat like a drum. She said, “I don’t know what you mean.”
The smile tugged his lips higher and faded. “I know you don’t.” Gently, he pushed the captured lock of hair behind her head and rested his hand lightly on her shoulder. The butterflies in her stomach fluttered so hard it was almost painful. He bent toward her until his hair fell across her neck and she forgot to breathe.
His lips touched hers, brushed once, and sank into her mouth. Ilona closed her eyes, let the happiness consume her. It was a brief embrace, yet one so longed for and never imagined that it shook her utterly. When he released her lips, she opened her eyes and gazed up at him. In wonder, she lifted her hand and touched his rough cheek with her fingertips, pleading, though for what she barely knew.
“Again?” he asked huskily.
“Again,” she whispered, and he took her mouth once more, this time in a longer, much more thorough kiss. She felt his tongue slide along her parted lips and delve into her mouth, exploring, caressing. Shattered, she pushed one arm up around his neck and kissed him back while her free hand clung to his velvet mantle like a drowning woman to a rope.
He drew back at last, staring at her from eyes so dark they looked opaque. “Now it’s changed,” he whispered. “Whatever happens, it’s all changed.”
And much later, with A LOT of water under the bridge!
Szelényi said, “Prince Vlad is here to speak with Countess Ilona, if the lady is here…”
The lady was here. Vlad could feel her. He moved, forcing Szelényi to step inside. The woman fell back in alarm, and Vlad strode past them both.
He saw her at once, wide-eyed with shock, her pale lips falling open. She stood the length of the room away from him, framed in the doorway of her bedchamber. The grey wraith of the morning had become a grey frump. Ugly clothes, an unbecoming veil askew on her head, revealing a clump of straggling grey hair, and behind it, one strand of dark red-gold.
Vlad drank her in, saw what she’d become, what she was hiding. Her beauty, her life. Behind the dull, ugly garb of the penitent.
No, oh no, I will not allow that.
He kept walking, ignoring the moan of fear that escaped her parted lips, the squeak of protest from her attendant. She jerked once, as if trying to back away, but she seemed paralysed, unable to move. Her eyes grew huge, racked with pain and memory like his, surely like his.
He didn’t stop until he was right in front of her, could feel the trembling of her body. In one swift, deliberately startling movement, he raised his right hand and swept the grey veil from her head.
As it fluttered to the floor, she made an instinctive grab for it and missed. Through the tangle of her lovely, burnished hair, streaked now with grey down one side, she returned her gaze to his. Huge and wet, her desperate, dark eyes stared at him—with shame, it was true, but also with an echo of the old defiance.
“Tag,” he said. “What now, Ilona Szilágyi?”
Any advice for mastering the art of writing a book/series?
I think everyone has to find their own way; what works for one writer doesn’t necessarily work for another. My advice would have to be very general: to keep reading as well as constantly writing, to listen to critical advice that you trust – and never to give up!
What’s your personal favorite out of all the novels you’ve penned? Why?
Oh dear, I don’t think I can pick one any more easily than I can pick my favourite hero! I’ll say A PRINCE TO BE FEARED because it’s probably the best constructed of my three books.
When did you first realize you were a sensation with readers?
LOL – I wish I was! My first e-mail from a fan who’d read AN ENDLESS EXILE (the first of my books to be published) was a huge high; but I still get that whenever I hear from someone who’s enjoyed my books. That’ll never go away!
What’s your most successful marketing strategy?
When I find one, I’ll let you know!
What is the most romantic place you’ve ever been?
That’s another hard one! Some places are just romantic because of who you’re with; others because the place itself has that atmosphere. The ruined cathedral in St. Andrews, Scotland, has that effect on me. And in my youth, a train journey through the Romanian hills made me think of romantic fairytales.
Name your favorite real-life or fictional hero… How have they influenced your life?
My husband, who makes me laugh and drives me nuts; and who’s always supported me and has been there for me.
Name your favorite books from childhood and adulthood.
From childhood – LITTLE WOMEN. From adulthood – KING HEREAFTER by Dorothy Dunnett; and everything else she’s ever written!
What’s your astrological sign? Do you fit the characteristics associated with it? How?
Aries, and no, I don’t think I’m as difficult as I’m meant to be – although other people might not agree.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned from your journey as a writer?
That you have to survive the knocks of rejection and criticism and keep striving to be better without losing all your self-confidence.
Favorite Color: Red
Favorite Actor/Actress: Too many! Johnny Depp?
Favorite Movie: The Princess Bride
Favorite century and why?: That’s my problem! I can never choose a century and stick to it – it would make research so much simpler if I could.
Favorite Food: Cake
Least favorite vegetable: Mushroom
First boyfriend/How old?/Why did you like him?: I was 16 and I found him different and funny.
Describe yourself in 5 words: Imaginative, persistent, introverted, empathic, easy-going.
Here’s Mary’s fabulous cover for A Prince to be Feared…
Europe’s most fearsome prisoner, Vlad Dracula, gifted military commander and one time Prince of Wallachia, the notorious Lord Impaler himself, is about to be released after twelve long years, in order to hold back the tide of Ottoman aggression. The price of his new alliance with his Hungarian captors is the king’s cousin Ilona.
Ilona does not wish to be married. In particular, she doesn’t wish to marry Vlad. Gentle, faded and impossibly vague, Ilona is hardly fit for court life, let alone for dealing with so difficult a husband.
But Ilona’s wishes have nothing to do with Vlad’s reputation and everything to do with a lifelong love affair that finally broke her. Ilona’s family blame Vlad; Vlad vows to discover the truth and sets out by unconventional means to bring back the woman who once enchanted him. Among court intrigues, international manoeuvrings and political deceptions, Vlad reveals himself more victim than villain. But he’s still more than capable of reclaiming his lost rights to both Wallachia and Ilona; and Ilona, when it counts, has enough strength for them both.
Where to discover more about Ms. Lancaster books…
Mary is the author of three historical novels:
An Endless Exile – the story of Hereward, 11th century outlaw hero
A World to Win – a Scottish governess finds love in revolutionary Hungary
A Prince to be Feared: the love story of Vlad Dracula
Find out more about Mary and her books at www.MaryLancaster.com.
Thanks for hanging out with us, Mary. Hope you’ll stop by again.