It’s been a couple of months since I had a Book Addiction post, so to make up for it, this time it features two books! Renee Dahlia’s Bluestocking series is set in the late 1800s and features clever and determined heroines, both of whom have an interest in medicine. Josephine of the first book, To Charm A Bluestocking, is bookish and determined to become one of the world’s first female doctors. She goes to Holland to chase her dream – but unexpected romance and a villainous professor threaten to derail her plans. In Pursuit of a Bluestocking, the second of the series, Marie’s life plan is fitting together nicely. She’s about to become one of the first ladies to graduate medical school, with a wedding on the horizon. But the murder of her fiancé sends her on a dangerous quest to find the murderer, and save the innocent man who’s been accused.
I love an unconventional and determined heroine, and this time we have two! Renee kindly agreed to an interview about her series and included a few enticing snippets from her books, as well.
What was your inspiration for To Charm A Bluestocking and In Pursuit of a Bluestocking?
My great-grandmother was one of the first women to graduate from medical school in Holland. I thought about the challenges she would have faced, and which of those challenges are still faced by women today. Josephine in Charm is tall and shy, and is being harassed by her professor. Her friends invent a fiancé to keep the professor at bay. Marie in Pursuit thought she was happily engaged, but her fiancé turns out to be a conman. Together with Lord Stanmore, she has to hunt down the thieves.
The third book in the series, The Essence of a Bluestocking, is the story of Claire, the third of this trio of friends, and should be out early 2018.
Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?
Time is my greatest challenge. Like many writers, I balance family commitments, with a day job, and writing. I’m fortunate that a portion of my day job is seasonal, with not much work on over winter, so that provides a day or two a week for writing in the off season. In summer, I write while watching my kids play cricket.
What was your favourite scene to write?
Isn’t that like asking a parent to pick their favourite child? Some scenes wrote themselves, just flowing out, others took more work to craft the emotional context. Probably those scenes end up being favourites because of the work that they are built upon. In every book, I love writing the meet-cute scene, where the characters first crash (sometimes literally) into each other.
Josephine wrapped her cloak around her shoulders to brace against the frigid wind that cut right through her clothes. She strode along with a textbook open, one hand holding her cloak, the other on her book. Her gloved fingers were spread to hold the pages open against that cold wind. Consumed by her book, Josephine digested the information written on the pages. She shivered and wished she’d also worn a scarf to counter this dreadful weather. She closed the book, sliding it under her arm. With her head still down, she adjusted her heavy bag on her shoulder and picked up her pace.
‘Oomph.’ She crashed, hard, into a solid object. Her breath burst out of her and she flailed backwards with the force of the impact. Her arms flew up and grabbed onto something, anything, for balance, only to realise that she had smacked right into a man. A man who hadn’t budged with her impact.
What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?
Necessity has taught me to be able to write anywhere under any conditions. I tend to do well with deadlines, so sprints with other writers works well, as does a snatched half hour here or there. If I have all day to write, I tend to meander and get distracted.
Your protagonist, Lady Josephine, is determined to become one of the world’s first female doctors. Did you come across any surprising research about medical practices of the time?
I had to research how to treat burns victims, and discovered an early scientific paper on the use of carbolic acid to prevent infection. Here is an extract where I used this research:
‘Do you have the paper with the new recipe?’ asked Claire.
‘Yes. I brought Father’s carriage so I’ve read the whole paper. The results they have been getting are really encouraging with regards to infection, or lack thereof. The recipe is equal parts linseed oil and lime-water with five per cent carbolic acid and a small amount of cocaine as pain relief. I made some up in the kitchen at home and have soaked it in absorbent cotton. If we remove your bandage and lay it over the wound, the paper suggests that we cover it with impermeable rubber. I couldn’t find any at home, but perhaps you have something,’ said Marie, digging in her bag to get out the poultice.
If you could pair your book with any drink or snack, what would you suggest?
Potatoes. They were a staple food in Holland at the time of To Charm a Bluestocking, and feature strongly in the formal dinner that occurs in that book. For In Pursuit of a Bluestocking, I researched a luxury train menu from the 1880s and even cooked some of the dishes on that menu before putting them into that book.
The next course arrived. A welcome interruption. Pork rillettes with candied fennel, potato mash and a verjuice dressing. The Dutch obsession with potatoes highlighted by the richness of the pork.
How can we stay updated on your book news?
From the book jacket, To Charm A Bluestocking:
She wants to be one of the world’s first female doctors; romance is not in her plans.
1887: Too tall, too shy and too bookish for England, Lady Josephine moves to Holland to become one of the world’s first female doctors. With only one semester left, she has all but completed her studies when a power-hungry professor, intent on marrying her for her political connections, threatens to prevent her graduation. Together with the other Bluestockings, female comrades-in-study, she comes up with a daring, if somewhat unorthodox plan: acquire a fake fiancé to provide the protection and serenity she needs to pass her final exams.
But when her father sends her Lord Nicholas St. George, he is too much of everything: too handsome, too charming, too tall and too broad and too distracting for Josephine’s peace of mind. She needed someone to keep her professor at bay, not keep her from her work with temptations of long walks, laughing, and languorous kisses.
Just as it seems that Josephine might be able to have it all: a career as a pioneering female doctor and a true love match, everything falls apart and Josephine will find herself in danger of becoming a casualty in the battle between ambition and love.
From the book jacket, In Pursuit of a Bluestocking:
When he goes hunting a thief, he never expects to catch a bluestocking…
Marie had the perfect life plan: she would satisfy her father’s ambition by graduating as one of the first female doctors in Europe, and she would satisfy her mother’s ambition by marrying a very suitable fiancé in a grandiose society ceremony. Only weeks away from completing the former, Marie is mere days away from achieving the latter. But her whole life is thrown into chaos when her fiancé dies, mysteriously returns, and then is shot and killed, and Marie risks her own reputation to save the life of the man falsely accused of the murder.
Gordon, Lord Stanmore, finally tracks down the conman who stole from his estate, only to find himself embroiled in a murder plot. The woman he rescues offers to rescue him in return, by marrying him and providing an alibi. Gordon’s ready agreement to the scheme grows the more time he spends with his new wife. Her wit, her intelligence, her calm, her charm: Gordon finds himself more and more enchanted with this woman he met by mistake. But as the clues to the identity of the murderer start to align with the clues to the thief, they reveal a more elaborate scheme than he could have imagined, and though he might desire Marie, Gordon is unsure if he can trust her.
As their chase leads them out of Amsterdam and into the UK, both Gordon and Marie must adjust to the life that has been thrust upon them and decide if marriage came first, can love come after?