Frequently Asked Questions
Is it true that you fell in love with your husband "at first sight"?
That's always been my description, though it might more accurately be termed "instant crush." Long ago and far away...when I was a graduate student, I spotted a stranger descending a staircase as I was going up. I soon learned he'd just entered the same M.A. program I'd already begun. Fate came to my assistance when he audited the studio tv production course I taught (the teacher was years younger than the student). As soon as the class ended, we started dating. Within three years we married. Here I am outside my studio--which we recently re-visited.
How do you get ideas for novels?
The ideas typically find me. Source material for novels: family folklore, friends' or acquaintances' stories or experiences, fascinating facts gleaned from background research, places I've visited, and historical events. One book came to me as a situation in a dream, featuring a person I knew. Some ideas sit on the shelf for quite a long time before I expand them into a book.
I shamelessly co-opt names of family members and friends for my fictional people!
When writing, do you listen to music or do you require complete silence?
I need music in the background. Occasionally it's instrumental and associated with the era I write about. More often than not, it's popular music by my favourite artists--some of them really rock! People would be surprised to know how many of my Jane Austen-esque Regency romances were written to head-banging tunes from Nirvana, Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, and the ever-essential R.E.M.
My Big Five are Mark Knopfler (solo and with Dire Straits), Warren Zevon, Elton John, Elvis Costello, and Dar Williams.
I can also work with the television on. Usually it's tuned to HGTV, the Food Network, or a classic film.
So many of your books feature dogs. Are you a dog lover? Do your character dogs reflect real-life dogs?
Definitely! I was raised by a Weimaraner and I've had a dog--if not two or three--for much of my life. In books I sometimes change the breed to something period-appropriate, but the personalities match dogs I have known and loved. And while I've not had a cat since childhood, I don't discriminate. The Manx cat in Kissing a Stranger is based upon a real-life non-Manx cat I knew well in England.
Is there any connection between characters in your novels and your own life?
In certain ways--pastimes, professions, activities. I've written about actresses--I was an actress. I've written about dancers--I was a dance student. Oriana in Improper Advances plays the mandolin--so do I. Sophie in The Proposal is an avid gardener--as I am--and grows striped roses--me too. My male characters and I have shared interests as well.
I've had the chance to sample experiences my common to my characters. I've sat upon a sidesaddle, ridden to hounds in a fox hunt (no foxes were harmed!), and I've driven carriages and been driven in them. I've occupied a stage box in an 18th century theatre. As an actress, I was frequently in period clothing. Studying costume design as a theatre student fostered my fascination with fashion history. Like any lad--and a few bluestocking lasses--of the Regency, I endured years with Latin (in retrospect rather useful...at the time I wasn't so sure!)
I've occssionally bestowed my personal possessions on my characters--jewellery, garments, books.
You've been involved in theatre and film-making. Encountered any famous actors?
A few. Bill Nighy, Meryl Streep, Alan Alda, Carol Burnett, Rita Moreno, the late great Ernest Borgnine, Frank Langella, Sean Cassidy, and several less well known but highly talented British actors. Dame Judi Dench sat behind us the night her daughter made her London stage debut.
My husband lunched with Sir Derek Jacobi in Bristol one time, during the recording of an Oscar Wilde radio play--on a day I went to nearby Bath to research a novel. I have very few regrets in life, but missing out on that encounter is one of them!
Haven't you been featured in books yourself?
A theatre professor wrote his memoirs, and his book includes a mention of me as well as several production photos of my stage roles. My friend Emma Jensen aka YA author Melissa Jensen wrote me into some of her Regency novels--as "actress Margaret Porter," toast of the London stage. In my dreams!
Which authors do you most like to read?
My reading tastes are so broad, but I can categorise.
Classic authors from the English Canon that I most enjoy: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, Frances Hodgson Burnett.
20th century British: P.G. Wodehouse, Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, Georgette Heyer, Daphne du Maurier, Diana Norman, Hilary Mantel.
American: Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Esther Forbes, Anya Seton, Pat Conroy.
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most significant novel for me, and I know I'm not alone in that. A Chance to Sit Down by Meredith Daneman changed my life, by helping me make the transition from stage performer (which she was) to writer. Every year or so, I re-read A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh books. My inner child is alive and well and still reading!
I read lots of nonfiction, from humour (Tina Fey, Merrill Markoe, John Stewart) to theatrical and musical memoirs to true crime. Mostly I read English social history for research, and loads of biography--favourites include Margot Fonteyn by the aforementioned Meredith Daneman, Richard Ellmann's Oscar Wilde, and any subject taken on by Clare Tomalin, Hester Davenport, or Richard Holmes.
I delve into all genres of popular fiction--romance, mystery, thriller, historical. I'm grateful to so many authors for keeping me well-entertained!
That's really just the tip of the iceberg, but it gives an idea of my tastes.
Are you only interested in writing historical romance, or have you considered other genres?
As Margaret Porter, I've produced two biographical historical novels in which all the characters are real people: Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr, about the 20th century actress and inventor, and A Pledge of Better Times, set in the late 17th century English royal court Information about these can be found on my other author website.