Character Interview: The Earl and Countess of Malvern as created by Australian author Cassandra Dean
Surprisingly, Malvern House is not in the fashionable part of London. It’s set a few streets back from Hyde Park, in a little cove populated by only four townhouses. Of course, this fits with the Earl’s notorious disdain for society, so it’s with not a small amount of trepidation I find myself seated in the front parlour, awaiting the presence of the lord and lady of the house.
The butler opens the door and announces the Earl and Countess of Malvern. Hastily I stand, but I don’t quite know how to proceed. Should I curtsey? As soon as I think this, I discard the notion. If I curtsied, I would look ridiculous, as I wore my usual uniform of jeans and a t-shirt.
Damn, now I feel woefully under-dressed.
Before I can make the decision on how to greet them, the Earl and Countess enter the room. The Countess, Lady Malvern, comes forward to greet me, taking my hand and shaking it vigorously. Somewhat bemused, I let her do so and then turn to the Earl.
The Earl looks at me, then my hand, and then back to me.
I curl my fingers into my palm. There’s no way he’ll offer to shake my hand.
Lady Malvern bids me to sit and I do, watching as they do the same. The Earl has still said nothing, merely arranging himself on the settee next to his wife. I try not to let his presence put me off.
I thank them for finding the time to meet with me and Lady Malvern offers a wide smile. There’s something delightfully infectious about her, and I find I can’t help but return her smile. I congratulate them on their marriage.
The Countess beams. “Thank you! It’s been a wonderful two months!”
The Earl’s mouth quirks, but apart from that, no response.
I ask about the big day, and Lady Malvern is only too happy to talk of it. “Our wedding was lovely, and exactly what I wanted, even if there were a few mishaps. We had this ice sculpture, you see, even though it was still summer when we married, and thus there was a bit of a race to ensure the wedding and celebrations would be done before it melted completely out of shape. The sculpture was woefully impractical, but James thought we should have one because…um, because…”
Lady Malvern turns a bit red, and I’m interested in exactly why an ice sculpture should make her blush. Before I can ask, though, she continues on. “Oh, and then there was the mountainous cake with the too-sweet icing, the ring bearer’s sad fascination with stray cats and my mother’s insistence on drinking too much champagne.”
Finally, the Earl of Malvern speaks, and his voice is rich, deep and overwhelmingly cold. “I believe Lady Malvern is inferring our wedding was an imperfect affair.”
She grins at him, and it’s plain from her expression she has noted the imperiousness of his tone but, amazingly, bears it no mind. “Now, James, I thought it was rather wonderful.” On the last word, her voice breaks and I can tell Lady Malvern truly thought her wedding was wonderful, imperfections and all.
The Earl says nothing.
I look between the two of them and all I can think is, what on earth drew these two together? And so, I ask how they met.
Here, the Countess reacts interestingly. Her smile dims somewhat, and she seems for the first time a bit uncomfortable. “We met when I…Well, when…” Her eyes brighten. “We met at a ball, which sounds odd, as James never goes to balls and my family is not as, um, lofty as his, but, you see, James had decided to come to this particular ball on a whim, and I went because my sister bullied me into it, and during the second or third waltz, I can’t quite remember, we made our acquaintance and, well, it was love at first sight!” She finishes with a flourish and beams at me.
I smile rather weakly back. Lady Malvern might be a lovely person, but she’s really bad at creating falsehoods.
The Earl, however, has been watching me closely. “Lady Malvern, I don’t believe she is convinced.”
His wife still smiles at me, though it now seems rather forced. “James, that is how we met.”
“And it is patently false.”
She turns an exasperated look upon her husband. “Well, you didn’t have to confirm it.”
“Tell Ms Dean the truth.” The Earl looks at me, and it’s all I can do not to shiver under his icy perusal. “She did ask.”
Lady Malvern exhales, and I can see her cheeks have turned pink. “Forgive me, it is only—It’s a bit—Well, you’ll see.” She folds her hands in her lap. “All right. Well. We met because… I wanted to learn… Good Lord, this is difficult.” She takes a breath. “I wanted to learn of pleasure. Of an erotic nature. Erotic pleasure.” Her hands tighten. “Thus, in pursuit of this, I applied to a madam of a brothel, and she decided James should be the one to instruct me, and so when I arrived for my first lesson with the madam, instead there was James, and we arranged to meet for lessons, and that was how we met.” The deluge of words delivered, Lady Malvern sits back, slightly out of breath and flushed.
The Earl, meanwhile, had turned to look at his wife. “That is how you chose to describe our meet, Lady Malvern?”
With a scowl, Lady Malvern crosses her arms. “It answers the question asked, James.”
“But not its intent. And I will not have Ms Dean think it a mundane occasion.”
“Mundane? I have just described how we met in a brothel.”
“That is how we met, madam, but it is not how we arrived here.”
“Fine.” She sits back. “You tell it.”
The Earl trains his gaze upon me. “I believe you wished to know our tale?”
I nod, a bit intimidated. Okay, a lot intimidated.
The Earl inclines his head and begins. “It is as my wife said. I was asked to see to her education. Upon our meeting, I didn’t think much of her, but, you realise, I was then a complete fool.”
“You weren’t a complete fool, dear,” the Countess interjects. Her arms are still crossed, but her expression displays a hint of humour.
The Earl’s mouth quirks but the movement is swiftly quelled, as if he wants to smile but my presence restricts the expression. “Ah. I was not a complete fool. Lady Malvern, as always, you slay me with your affection.” He turns his consideration back to me, and any warmth to his countenance has disappeared, if ever it existed. “I did not think much of her, as I’d said. A mouse of a widow, I believe I thought her. Ridiculous, as is plain, but I was once ridiculously ignorant. I met Lady Malvern—”
“At a brothel.”
The Earl raises a brow at his wife. She grins back.
He continues. “At a brothel. After that meet, we arranged to meet in my town house after dark. This proceeded for some months, with twice-weekly lessons.”
“No, my lady, twice a week.”
“Oh. Right.” She waves a hand. “Do continue.”
At his wife’s words and actions, the Earl’s mouth quirks again and his eyes warm with humour before he quells the emotion once more. “As I said, I did not think twice about her, and if I did, she was simply that widow I tutored. However, one lesson she wanted to discuss kissing, an endeavour I thought pedestrian when compared to other pleasures. She told me of some courting couple she had witnessed, and that she wanted to explore a simple kiss, and I—I could only…” He falters, as if gripped by emotion, which in him is ridiculous.
Clearing his throat, he continues. “After that, she could only ever be Elizabeth.”
“James, you don’t have to say anything further.” Concern creases Lady Malvern’s brow. “Truly, what you’ve said—”
He holds up a hand, and I can see a barely perceptible shaking. “Elizabeth, I am fine.”
“I am fine.”
She isn’t convinced, though. Lady Malvern shoots me a glance, and I am taken aback by the fierceness of her gaze. Could it be she seeks to, I don’t know, protect the Earl? From what? Me?
The Earl clears his throat again. In another man, this would surely be panic. “We continued our meets but she… I…”
Lady Malvern takes his hand. “We grew close.”
The Earl looks down at their joined hands and his fingers tighten. “Yes. Close.” He takes a breath. “You cannot imagine the affect my wife has had upon me. Prior to her, my life was serviceable, you realise. I enacted the legacy my father had bequeathed, acted the degenerate he trained me to be. I would have continued thus, and been none the wiser.”
Lady Malvern says, “James, you would have changed your life eventually—”
“No.” He turned his gaze to me, and my breath catches at the emotion I see in him. “My wife knows I am uncomfortable with a public display of feeling, and she does not detail our story as she knows I value our privacy, but I will suffer this discomfort. I will not have it said she is less than the person she is, or that she did not change my life, wholly and completely. She has given me more than I had ever even thought to imagine, and I would have you all know of her magnificence.”
I realise my mouth hangs open and abruptly close it. Dear God. That is why they are together. He loves her. He truly loves her.
My gaze drifts to the way she holds his hand, the expression she wears as they look at each other.
And she loves him.
The time has come for me to depart. I thank them both for their time, but they seem wholly occupied with each other. I see myself out, and as the mid-afternoon sun warms my face, I grin to myself.
It so nice when your characters live happily ever after.
Thanks for hanging with me, peeps! Hope you enjoyed.
Now it is my turn to be the interviewer. Cassandra, where do you find inspiration for your stories?
Everywhere! When I thought of the plot for TEACH ME, there were quite a few ‘experienced dude teaches innocent lady about sex’ stories out there. I thought of my own version and, while on holidays in Scotland, plotted the whole thing. Pretty exotic start, hey? However, it was either plot out TEACH ME or stare at the back of the grey heads of the retirees on tour with me. I found TEACH ME more stimulating, funnily enough.
Yes, I’m sure your plot thoughts was more fun at the time.
What drives you to be a writer?
I’m not sure, it’s something I’ve always done. I’ve always created stories, from the time I could first think of characters and situations. Learning to write only solidified it for me.
Now, it’s become something that I have to do, or I get a bit antsy. It’s also one of those jobs where I just can’t switch off. I’ll find myself thinking about my characters all the time, and literally anything can spark off an idea for the current story, or for a new one.
As a writer, I totally understand.
Do you have some “words of wisdom” for other writers, especially new writers?
Keep writing, every day if you can. I know it sounds obvious, or perhaps silly, but I can’t stress it enough. Back in the day, I thought this was terrible advice. Pshaw, I don’t need to write every day, thought I. However, like anything, the more you write, the better you get at it.
Try not to let rejection set you back. Authors always tell you how hard it was to get published, how many rejections they suffered, but it doesn’t seem real when you are the one who isn’t published and are getting rejection after rejection. I know I was mightily depressed before my first contract, absolutely convinced I would never be published. It was a horrible feeling and I don’t wish it upon anyone. I heard a great quote recently from a writer who said the only difference between a published writer and an aspiring writer is perseverance. I think this is astoundingly true.
Accept constructive criticism from those you trust. Maybe your story DOES need some tweeking. When I first started seriously writing with the aim of publication, I was arrogantly convinced I knew everything and if people didn’t understand me, that was their fault. Yeah. What a doofus. I have a wonderful critique partner who has helped me immeasurable, and a fabulous editor who does the same. However, if you passionately believe something should stay the way it is, defend it succinctly and logically. If you can justify why something should be there, it may just need some tightening.
Above all, develop thick skin. Your story is your baby, and anyone commenting on it stabs you through the heart, whether they intend it to be negative or not. However, take some time, shore your courage, and then try to view their comments as objectively as possible. It’s really, really hard, but it’s worth it in the end!
Now let’s talk some specifics about your book Teach Me…
Genre: Victorian Romance
Publisher: Decadent Publishing
Release Date: February 10, 2012
Buy Link: Decadent Publishing
Cassandra, did you have a favorite character in this book?
I love both Elizabeth and Malvern equally. This book exploded after a difficult period in my life, and Elizabeth’s joy and humour really helped me regain my own. As for Malvern, well, he’s just the embodiment of every closed-off-but-secretly-emotional hero I’ve ever sighed or squeed over.
Did you have a favorite scene?
My favourite scene would have to be the final one, which is now the epilogue. When I first conceived of the story, I had this vision of an unaffected, imperious man surveying a ballroom, and the only thing able to pierce his cold demeanour was a woman, who we’d eventually discover was his wife.
Apart from that, I do love the ‘black moment’ scene, the bit in your story which is the bleakest. I channelled a bit of Joss Whedon* in that scene, and came up with something I’m really proud of.
*I admire Joss Whedon’s writing so much, I have no words. There’s only OHMIGODHESSUPERAWESOMEFUNTIMESWOW!!!!
Did you have a scene that was particularly hard to write? Why?
Oh my lordy, the dinner party scene! It’s more the mechanics than anything else — I had to invent eight extra characters just for this scene and it drove me insane! To make it believable, I had to invent backstories and motivations for each, had to make the characters distinct enough that the interaction would be interesting, and also further the plot. It took F O R E V E R.
Will there be any sequels to this book?
Yes! I have an idea for Elizabeth’s sister, Bella, and her garrulous husband. Somehow, I don’t think they’re as indifferent to one another as they pretend…
Great teaser! Now you have to give us their story.
Ever curious, Elizabeth, Viscountess Rocksley, has turned her curiosity to erotic pleasure. Three years a widow, she boldly employs the madame of a brothel for guidance but never had she expected her education to be conducted by a coldly handsome peer of the realm.
To the Earl of Malvern, the erotic tutelage of a skittish widow is little more than sport, however the woman he teaches is far from the mouse he expects. With her sly humor and insistent joy, Elizabeth obliterates all his expectations and he, unwillingly fascinated, can’t prevent his fall.
Each more intrigued than they are willing to admit, Elizabeth and Malvern embark upon a tutelage that will challenge them, change them, come to mean everything to them…until a heartbreaking betrayal threatens to tear them apart forever.
Moments passed, the Earl’s impassive gaze weighing heavy upon Elizabeth. An overwhelming urge to twist her fingers assaulted her, but what if her fidgeting made him refuse?
He seemed to make some decision. “I shall show you carnal pleasure, madam. As you say, both to receive and to give. However, pregnancy should be avoided at all costs.” His eyes flickered, the first sign of something resembling emotion crossing his face. “I will not marry you, no matter the circumstance.”
Well, of course he wouldn’t. She wouldn’t wed him either. In any event, conception was not a concern for her, not after a marriage that had never yielded—
Good Lord. He spoke of practical application. He spoke of touching and kissing and—Was it warmer of a sudden?
He continued with barely a pause. “Actual penetration will be avoided. While many people extol the virtues of withdrawal, I remain unconvinced. We will discuss methods of contraception during your education, but the most effective method is always avoidance. You are in agreement?”
Still confused but now with cheeks aflame, Elizabeth nodded. In all her life, no one had ever spoken so frankly. This, combined with his matter-of-fact manner and lack of emotion, banished any lingering apprehension and left only the excitement. Glorious, thrilling excitement.
“Excellent.” Stepping close to her once more, he brushed his hand from her neck to her shoulder, the back of his fingers now warm against her skin. “Shall we begin?”
AUTHOR CONTACT INFO
Author Web Site: Cassandra Dean
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Email: [email protected]