When I first dreamed up the Armstrong family for INNOCENT IN THE SHEIKH’S HAREM, I had no idea that they would still be popping up in my books more than twelve years later. I invented a self-serving, extremely vain patriarch in Lord Henry Armstrong, a bit of a pantomime baddy, and I made Celia, my heroine, the eldest of five sisters because I am the eldest of four.
Large families, the constantly changing relationships between siblings, and the multiple ways we all interpret the same events have always fascinated me, so once I’d finished that first book it seemed like a logical and interesting idea to write a story about the second sister. My own experience, and I know it’s one that will be very familiar to lots of people in larger families, is that from a very early age you are ‘labelled’ and no matter how much you change, and how many years pass, it’s all but impossible to dispense with that label. In my own family, there’s a clever sister, a pretty sister, a baby sister, and a sensible sister. None of these labels are deemed either accurate or acceptable by any of us, yet they stick! There’s also the positioning element to be taken into account – the eldest who is expected to be the nurturer, the middle one(s) who fight to be noticed, and the youngest, supposedly the spoilt one. Again, in reality that’s absolute rubbish, but the preconceptions are there, a hurdle that constantly has to be overcome.
The Armstrong sisters are absolutely not me and my sisters, but in one way I did make art imitate life – my Armstrong gals and my own sisters (and me!) are feisty, independent and determined not to be kept in the box designed for them. In the first book, Celia was the eldest, and sensible one. Next came Cassandra, the pretty one in THE GOVERNESS AND THE SHEIKH. Cressida, in THE BEAUTY WITHIN is the clever one. Caroline (I confess, my favourite) is the rebel in RUMOURS THAT RUINED A LADY, but along with Cressida also has to fight to be heard, as the middle child.
Four books in, and I came to the youngest sister, Cordelia, Baby Sis who is also bookish. I didn’t like Lord Armstrong any better by this time, but he’d become a much more multi-faceted character than I’d ever envisaged. He was still manipulative, egotistical and self-serving, but his motivations interested me and there were gaps in his history that I found myself wanting to fill. A man like Lord Armstrong would have been desperate for a son. No matter how well his daughters married, no matter how much vicarious power and influence he acquired through them, they weren’t male so they couldn’t continue the precious Armstrong line. According to the family tree I had invented, his first wife, and mother of his daughters, had died just after giving birth to her fifth daughter, yet Henry had taken eleven years to re-marry. Why? I answered that question in UNWED AND UNREPENTANT.
The series ended when I ran out of sisters, but I wasn’t done with the Armrstongs yet. Henry filled a vital plot gap in CLAIMING HIS DESERT PRINCESS, and I gave him another chance to play diplomatic chess in the first and last of my PENNILESS BRIDES OF CONVENIENCE series.
Then I moved on a few decades in my writing, era-wise, to the Victorian period and alas, it was time for Henry to die. But…
Henry’s second marriage bore fruit – four sons and a (very unimportant to him) daughter. When I was looking for a classic patriarch to play another villainous role in my latest release, LADY ARMSTRONG’S SCANDALOUS AWAKENING, one of Henry’s boys seemed the obvious choice. Oh, I loved writing that opening Prologue which featured three of Henry’s sons, and I had such fun when I gave them their come-uppance through my heroine, Mercy, later on in the book.
You’d think that I surely would have done with the Armstrongs by then? Nope! I have just finished working on a Christmas duet with the lovely Bronwyn Scott set in the aftermath of the Crimean War. I needed a heroine who was alone in the world, and I remembered Isabella, the very last of Henry Armstrong’s children, who had the most fleeting of mentions way back, in Unwed and Unrepentant when she was a child. Now aged twenty-seven, I placed her on centre stage and gave her a voice. What did she say? What secrets did she reveal? You’ll have to wait until December to find out when THE LADY’S YULETIDE WISH will be released as one of two stories in UNDER THE MISTLETOE.
LADY ARMSTRONG’S SCANDALOUS AWAKENING is out now in print and digital, in the UK, Canada, US and Australia. All other books are still available in digital.