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.
Gosh, it’s so fascinating to have insight into the family and world you created here.
Celia, in ‘Innocent in the Sheikh’s Harem’, was my introduction to your books, and I then spent the next wee while gobbling up as many of your books as I could. I love the historical authenticity of your work, but I love your fabulously well developed, real characters even more. Looking forward to Isabella’s story!
I don;t know why this posted using a defunct blog name! Sorry – it’s Susan Allan!
Hi Susan (I did wonder at the name!), good to see you here. Another thing that I remembered now, reading your post is that Innocent in the Sheikh’s Harem was the last book I did with my first editor. Since then, it’s been Fab Flo with every other book, and I am so very lucky that way. I remember too, that putting Peregrine on the page in Innocent was the first time I’d written a character just for the sheer fun of it. I wonder now, what happened to him…
Your sheikh books are hard to find on the secondary paperback market in the US. Consider that a compliment, LOL – apparently everyone who’s bought them wants to keep them instead of passing them along to the next reader.
Looking over my LibraryThing records, I seem to only have 2 of your original Armstrong sisters books (I thought I had at least 3), so I’ll definitely need to rectify that soon. I’ve found a new source of paperback crack (ThriftBooks) and have wish listed a couple of your books there.
I thought I was doing pretty good in catching up with your backlist until I saw that Metro UK article you mentioned on Twitter, about having written 60 books for M&B/HQN. I certainly don’t have 60 on my shelves yet, LOL!! No worries, though – the collector in me loves the thrill of the hunt!!
60 sounds a lot, even to me and I wrote them! A good few, maybe as many as half, are novellas and on-line reads and only available on digital. There’s links to the on-line reads on my website though, and they are free to read if you have a Harlequin login. Good luck with the book hunt – I am very flattered that you are making the effort – and I do hope that it proves worthwhile
According to my LibraryThing records, I have 22 of your books/anthologies, so maybe I’m not as far behind as I thought 🙂 Also not bad, considering I started with your Matches Made in Scandal series in 2018. When I find an author I like, I tend to hoard up their backlists on Mount TBR, in hard copies whenever possible, so I know that I’ll always have something worthwhile to read!
I am seriously honoured. No pressure now, to make the next one good!
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