Launch: Celeste Connally’s Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Lord
INTERVIEW BY MALLY BECKER
Celeste Connally is an Agatha Award nominee and a former freelance writer and editor. A lifelong devotee of historical novels and adaptations fueled by her passion for history—plus weekly doses of PBS Masterpiece—Celeste loves reading and writing about women from the past who didn’t always do as they were told.
How would you describe this book and its themes in a couple of sentences?
Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord is set in 1815 England and introduces Lady Petra Forsyth—four and twenty years of age, the daughter of the Earl of Holbrook, and having scandalously announced that she will remain unmarried after the death of her fiancé. But when she discovers a presumed-dead friend may have been relegated to an asylum run by a dangerous, sham physician—and was sent there by her husband, no less—Lady Petra does the most perilous and unladylike thing she can: she begins asking questions.
What drew you to write a mystery set in England in 1815?
While the English Regency period is such a short time in history—from 1811 to 1820, officially—it continues to have a firm grip on the zeitgeist and our imaginations, and I’m no exception. I’ve been fascinated with the Regency my whole life, long before I even truly researched it. Beyond Jane Austen’s incredible novels, my first introduction to the Regency era was when I was very young, via PBS and the BBC and their beautifully done period dramas. I loved the England settings, the formal way the characters spoke, the empire-waisted dresses, the courtly manners, and, I admit, that there were horses everywhere. (Hey, as a pony-mad girl, I had my priorities!) And as I got older, the handsome men and the romance took over, of course… Plus, it was watching all my favorite period dramas during the pandemic in the first place that gave me the idea of having a young, unmarried woman use her status in society to work to right wrongs; so England and the Regency period were simply a happy given.
How did you balance the challenge of making your independent, intrepid amateur sleuth, Lady Petra, both true to her times and relatable to ours?
The balancing of Petra’s time and modern sensibilities was extremely important to me to handle well. I didn’t want her to be written off as too modern, but the idea of a prim and staid main character was not what I wanted to write. And yet, the more I read of the real women of the nineteenth century who were considered scandalous for any number of reasons—be it the way they thought, dressed, went against societal norms, or who they chose to love—it became clear I didn’t have to try all that hard to balance what was expected of Petra in the Regency era with what women today would experience. For example, when I read Jane Austen’s letters, there are many moments where she comes off as exceedingly modern and relatable, especially in wanting to be in charge of her own life. It really is no wonder she’s still incredibly popular today.
Kirkus Reviews calls your story, “[a] delightful period adventure with pitch-perfect banter.” What did you read, love, or study that inspired you to write dialogue that so echoes the world of Jane Austen?
I was so honored to receive that review! Banter is one of my favorite things to write, whether it’s between friends or potential lovers. Due to having a mother who loved classic movies, I grew up on the greats such as Singin’ in the Rain, His Girl Friday, The Thin Man, and others where the banter was exquisitely done. And then there’s the romcoms of my own generation, plus the fantastic Regency-era banter given to us by Jane Austen. So, honestly, I feel like I’m just paying homage to all my favorite scenes from all my favorite movies of many different eras, and if I’ve done it well enough to make a reader smile, then I’m happy.
Who is your favourite minor/secondary character and why?
While writing Lady Petra’s friends—Lady Caroline, Lottie, and Frances—was pure delight, my favorite secondary character was actually Teddy, the young street urchin Petra befriended. He arrived on the page fully formed, and charmingly took over every scene he was in. I almost felt as if I could turn and see him standing beside me when I wrote him because he was that vibrant.
Is there another Lady Petra novel in the works? If so, when can we expect to see it?
There is, I’m happy to say! Book two, titled All’s Fair in Love and Treachery, will come out in the fall of 2024. It will deal with the unraveling of some of Lady Petra’s long-held truths, as well as being set during the real-life three days of celebrations that gripped London after it was announced that Napoleon had been defeated at Waterloo, ending the Napoleonic Wars.
What is the best writing advice you have to share?
The best advice I’ve ever heard, I learned in journalism school. My professor said that “if the words weren’t coming, go do something else for a while.” That is, to not force the words onto the page. This advice taught me that the words, or the right way to revise a plot point, will come and I have to trust that they will. Thinking on something else for a time while my subconscious lets the pieces fit together, or unravels bunched-up plot points, is always beneficial in the end. Sometimes it takes a short time, sometimes longer, but it’s advice that has always worked for me.
What is the last great book you read?
The Three Lives of Alix St. Pierre by Natasha Lester.