editor's choice




We’re utterly delighted to welcome wonderful Welsh–Canadian romantic-historical fiction writer Mary Balogh to The Literary Lounge.

Described as the ‘superstar heir’ to the legacy of late, great Georgette Heyer, Mary is the recipient of numerous awards and has graced the New York Times bestseller list thirty-six times in her career thus far. Her latest book, Someone to Honour, a novella and part of the Westcott series, is published in the UK by Piatkus.



LS:  First of all, a huge welcome, Mary. Thanks so much for joining us. This is such a pleasure.

You’re a great Georgette Heyer fan, something we share in common – in fact, you’ve said that she first inspired you to start writing books based in Regency England. What is it about her writing that first captured your imagination?

MB: That first question is not an easy one to answer. I find it hard to explain what exactly evoked the response of utter enchantment I felt, and still feel, with most of her books. She brings the whole Regency world so brilliantly to life with all its foibles and intricacies. And her heroes and heroines are the perfect embodiment of what gentlemen and ladies ought to be. Her language too is lively and peculiarly her own though quite historically accurate, I think. I was a voracious reader of all types of literature when I picked up Frederica. But there was something quite unique about that book that sucked me in within a few pages and kept me entranced throughout. That book sent me off in search of everything else she had written. I like some of her books more than others, but it’s a relative thing. And it is quite impossible to pick a favorite. I suppose I will always have a soft spot for that first one, though. It quite literally changed my life.

LS: Georgette Heyer’s one of our Old Familiar writers, the ones we go back to again and again. Frederica and Venetia are among our favourites. But there are so many!


LS: How long did it take you to write your first novel? Did you publish it?

MB:I believe [it was] between two and three months. I wrote it longhand and then had to type it into a typewriter (no computers in those days). No, the first two books I wrote were not published. They were contemporary romances, which, I later realized, were not my style at all.

My first Regency – A Masked Deception – was published [in 1985], and I have not looked back since.


LS: Several of your characters reappear in later books, sometimes as protagonists, including the Bedwyns, Joseph, Marquess of Attingsborough and Gwen, Lady Muir. How much of that is planned when you start to map out a series?

MB: Part is deliberate, part not. When I introduced the Bedwyn family in A Summer To Remember, they were there purely to give the heroine a rough time. But as soon as I created them, they leapt to life and tried to take over the book. I had to rein them in but I knew I would have to write a series for them – the six Slightly books. And when I created the hard-done-by but courageous former governess of Lady Freyja Bedwyn, I knew that she had set up her own school in Bath. So it was a natural progression to make a series out of that school and four of its teachers, including the ex-governess. Those stories became the Simply quartet. Particular pairings of hero and heroine often are a chance thing. The maimed ex-soldier, Sydnam Butler, was an interesting character in A Summer To Remember. Anne Jewell, also a deeply wounded soul from Slightly Scandalous, was one of the teachers in Bath. It struck me that they would make an interesting couple. They are the hero and heroine of Simply Love. I wanted to tell Gwen, Lady Muir’s story. She was a minor character in One Night For Love and A Summer to Remember. When I started the Survivors’ Club series, I needed a heroine for Hugo, Lord Trentham, hero of the first book, The Proposal. She fit the role perfectly. More recently, I planned an eight-part series for the Westcott family. I am on track with that. But I have already written a lengthy novella for Matilda, one of the minor characters who was not originally intended to have a story of her own. And two other minor characters in the series, twins Estelle and Bertrand, are crying out to have their stories told too. Characters constantly appear and reappear in the books of a series, and they also occasionally spill over into other series, as Gwen did.


LS: Your books meticulously evoke the period, setting, dress, etc., in which they’re set. How important is historical accuracy to you? And how much research do you do personally?

MB: Historical accuracy is very important to me. Why write historicals if one is not going to get the facts right? Then they would simply become contemporary stories in fancy dress. I hate reading that type of historical! In fact, I don’t. I stop reading as soon as I realize that it is not accurate enough to enable me to suspend my disbelief. An occasional slip is, of course, understandable. I make them myself. But consistent inaccuracy? No. …

I live in Canada, but I grew up in Britain and until the passing of my mother several years ago spent six weeks of every year there. Many of my settings, including almost all the country ones, are imaginary but based upon what I have observed. I have had to research London because I don’t know it well. I know Bath very well. Other research I have done gradually over the years. Most of my books are set in Regency England or Wales. One body of research fits them all, though there are always some details that must be brushed up on for a specific book. Whenever I set a story around the Battle of Waterloo, for example, I have to read just about every book ever written about it so that I know every shot that was fired! And that is so even if I don’t use more than one per cent of the research I have done.

… Plot is [also] important. So is character. So are a number of other aspects of the novel, like the love story itself, for example. But all must fit into the historical context or they must change! If a heroine, for example, behaves or speaks out of character for a Regency lady, there had better be a very good explanation for it, and even then it must be believable. A Regency lady dazzling the hero, for example, by constantly swearing like a trooper (or a twenty-first century heroine) – and yes, I have come across that more than once – is absolutely and uncategorically unacceptable to me.


LS: In a Romantic Times interview (YouTube) you say that writing historical titles for a modern audience is like a ‘tightrope walking act’. Do you think that your English teacher background has made you better informed as to what modern audiences can deal with in terms of language and detail?

MB: Once I divided a senior high school class into groups and gave each group a book to read and discuss, according to what I perceived to be their interests and abilities. I gave my brightest group of girls Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. After a week or so they came to me, rather shame-faced, and asked if I could change their book as none of them could understand it. I was gobsmacked! But I always remember that group of earnest girls when I am writing. Authentic Regency language and sentence structure can be difficult for modern readers. So I try to give the illusion without the full reality! And as far as characters and behavior are concerned, yes, I try to be true the historical era, but at the same time I want to give my readers heroes and heroines they can admire and with whom they can identify. Heroes who dominate their women and demand obedience from them are not going to be well liked by modern readers, for example. Neither are sweetly submissive heroines. Both would be historically accurate. Going to the other extreme, however, would take these characters out of their time and make them too contemporary. So – I think the tighrope-walking analogy is an apt one!


LS: Do you think being British has helped give your characters greater linguistic authenticity?

MB: Oh, yes, definitely. I speak British English, as do my characters. I immediately recognize Americanisms in Regency novels. They leap off the page at me – gotten, walk around the block, vest (for waistcoat), for example. In a similar way, if I decided to set a book in the old American West, I would expect some of my British language to leap off the page for American readers no matter how conscientiously I did my research. I have had to adopt American spelling, by the way, because I have an American publisher. Interestingly, my newest book, Someone to Honor is Someone to Honour in Britain!


LS: When you write a book do you have a particular audience in mind?

MB: I write for lovers of historical romance, particularly those set in Regency Britain. However, during the process of writing, I have no one in mind, including myself. I don’t try to write what I think readers want. That would hamper my vision and voice. And I don’t even know where my ideas come from or how my characters gradually acquire depth as I write. I only know that when I set my fingers to the keyboard and start writing characters and a story emerge. It is neither a swift nor a magical process. It involves writing and revising and agonizing and rewriting a rerevising over and over until eventually I limp across the finish line. I have been fortunate to discover over the years that the resulting stories please readers of historical love stories all over the world, men as well as women.


LS: Do you think the publishing world has changed significantly since you first published A Masked Deception in the mid-1980s?

MB: The publishing world has changed so enormously since I was first published that I can’t begin to comment upon it. It doesn’t help, perhaps, that I tend to be a bit head-in-the-sand as far as my writing career is concerned. I want to write. I am not particularly interested in the publishing scene. I do know that I have been extremely fortunate. I wrote fourteen books unagented and had them all published. Then an agent found me, and she has been representing me ever since. I have always had contracts ever since that first one in 1984. Now I belong to a group of local writer friends, most of them published. Their experiences are vastly different from mine. They have to do so much in the way of self-promotion and, in some cases,  self-publishing, that they almost have no time left for writing itself. I have a website and a Facebook page and that is about my only foray into the world of social media. I have the luxury of doing just that because I am already a well-established writer. Others, I know, have no real option but to be constantly putting themselves out there in order to gain name recognition and some publicity. There are definite advantages to the way things are now. A writer’s whole world need no longer come crashing down on her head just because her manuscript had been rejected by several publishers. She has all sorts of other options. However, the writing itself has to suffer. And that is the only thing that has ever really mattered to me.


LS: Canada sometimes features peripherally in your books – in Deceived, for example, your protagonist flees there to escape a scandal, only to return to England when he inherits an earldom. Have you ever considered writing a historical book with a mainly Canadian setting?

 MB: I did once write a book that began in Regency England and then moved to Canada. The hero, who was a bit of an aristocratic ne’er-do-well, was packed off to Canada (it happened quite a lot in real life) and joined a fur-trading company. He went off into the interior (modern Saskatchewan, where I live now) by canoe and lived and worked in trading forts. He entered into a “country marriage” with a Métis woman, whose mother was First Nations while her father was a Scottish trader. I thought the book very romantic and I did a pile of research for it. Alas, both my editor and my agent felt that, though the book was up to my usual standard, there was no market for it. Readers weren’t interested in Canadian settings, they said.

LS: We’d love to see that published. Canadian history, particularly that period, is so interesting and to have a mixed-race female protagonist, too. Perhaps that’s something that could be self-published.


LS: If you could go back and begin your writing career all over again, would you still write in this genre?

MB: I think Regency England is where my writer’s heart and my writer’s voice lie. The settings, the language, the whole social scene seem to fit me perfectly. And I enjoy writing love stories.  I have no desire to write anything different, only to get better and better at what I do.


LS: You have published many books with traditional publishers, like Piatkus in the UK. Have you self-published any books? What are the benefits or disadvantages?

MB: I have written a few stories specifically for the ebook market. A few years ago I wrote a novella for Eleanor Thompson, a leftover character from the Bedwyn series. It was e-published privately in a duo with a novella by Grace Burrowes and did very well. We bypassed any middle men and made all the profits ourselves. I was about to do the same thing last year with a novella about Lady Matilda Westcott, a minor character in the Westcott series. However, since that series is ongoing, I thought I had better tell my agent what I was doing. She thought we had better tell my publisher! The result was that they agreed to publish it as an e-book. The disadvantage was a lower share of the profits for me. The advantage – huge! – was a larger market. When the novella was written, however, my editor liked it so much she decided to publish it also in hardcover and paperback. It will be out in November, 2019, Someone to Remember.


LS: Have your writing patterns changed over the years? Do you plan out your books meticulously or do you let the characters have free rein?

MB: A book usually takes me three or four months to write. I work seven days a week so that I don’t lose the continuity. My writing patterns have more or less stayed the same over the years, though I used to write five-day weeks. Then on Mondays, I would have a hard time feeling my way back into the story. I can’t plan a book or really know the main characters ahead of time. I start with a vague idea of what this story is going to be and who the hero and heroine are. But until I start writing, I can’t flesh anything out. Fortunately I have always had editors who don’t ask for any sort of synopsis before I write. And very fortunately my muse almost never lets me down. When I need an idea, it is there waiting for me to start typing.


LS: Where do you write?

MB: I sit in a comfortable armchair with my laptop on a lapdesk on my lap (lots of laps!). I have my coffee mug on one side of me, my papers to keep track of characters etc., on the other side. If I am indoors, I burn melts – a different scent each day. My favorite writing place, though is outdoors on the screen deck behind our house in the summer. I love the fresh air, the grass and trees, the birdsong. I work during the mornings until I get my quota of 2,000 words done.


LS: Birdsong, how lovely. Is music important to you? Do you listen to particular tracks when you are writing?

MB: I love music. Hey, I’m Welsh! However, I don’t play any when I’m writing. I have tried it. I rather like the idea of having some relaxing classical or romantic music playing in the background. But I always found that after a while I would realize the room was silent and the album I had on must have finished … er, something like two hours ago and I hadn’t noticed. So putting on music seemed rather pointless.


LS: Do you read within your genre? Are there any particular authors you admire?

MB: I read very little romance. Not because I don’t like it (!) but because I want to read books that are quite different from what I spend my days producing. And because I don’t want to be influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by trends or what others are writing. When I do read romance, it’s mostly writers of contemporaries, like Kristan Higgins, Robyn Carr, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Debbie Macomber.

LS: All great. It was Susan Elizabeth Phillips who referred to you as the ‘superhero heir’ to Ms Heyer.


LS: Are you writing at the moment?

MB: I have the Westcott series to finish.  Six books have been published. Someone to Remember, the novella I mentioned earlier and Book 7, Someone to Romance, Jessica’s story, are written. I still have Book 8, Someone to Cherish, Harry’s story, to write. After that? Perhaps a couple of books for twins Estelle and Bertrand Lamarr, minor characters in the Westcott series.


LS: Finally, Mary, we know you often give fledgling writers help and encouragement, if you could give them one piece of advice, what would it be?

MB: Simply write. Don’t wait until you have read one more how-to book or attended one more workshop. Don’t wait until you have time. You’ll never have time. Just do it.


That’s wonderful, Mary. Thank you so much for spending time with us in The Literary Lounge. It’s been a delight.

We wish you every success with your new books.



The following books in the Westcott series are published this year:

Someone to Honour (July, 2019)

Someone to Remember (November 2019) 

Please support independent bookshops and libraries

Also of interest: ‘The emotional bond between character and reader’ by Mary Balogh; ‘Mary Balogh’s The Escape, finding a haven in a heartless world, a review’





Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Mary Balogh for spending time with us. Mary was one of the authors who first supported The Literary Shed, when it was just a gleam in our eyes – along with wonderful Caroline Mortimer, Anne Gracie and other romantic-fiction/historical-fiction writers, for which we are most grateful. The original interview wasn’t published due to illness many years ago; this is an updated version. Photo of the author writing © Mary Balogh 2019. The book covers are used purely for promotional purposes only. To find out more about Mary and her writing, please go to her website.



Also of interest:By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Permission by Saskia Vogel‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘; ‘Helga Flatland’s study of A Modern Family’;  ‘The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone’; ‘Call Me Star Girl’; ‘Blood Orange’; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

Select Q&As/interviews: ‘Some like it hot – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning novelist’; ‘Meet Grace Burrowes‘; ‘Louise Voss’;‘Lilja Sigurðardóttir’; ’Tom Cox’; ‘Vanda Symon.


This Q&A is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.



Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,