The Amazing Sutherland Sisters by Karen Harper

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Enjoy this excerpt from an article written by the author about The It Girls:


In the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras, two very different British sisters overcame poverty and obscurity to carve pioneering paths through the restrictive rules and rigid regulations of society. Both worked their way to fame and fortune in an age in which being divorced, going into trade on one’s own, especially for women with strict upbringing and some aristocratic ties, was strictly taboo. I was thrilled to find such amazing women and make them my heroines in The It Girls.

Both Lucile and Elinor Sutherland were career women in an age in which the only proper career was marriage and motherhood. When the eras they knew best were over, they shifted gears and sped into the Roaring 20s. Elinor eventually wrote for the silent movies in Hollywood and hobnobbed with early film stars. After an international fashion career, Lucile designed for the common woman in the Sears Catalogue. Yet these sisters, reared in the wilds of Canada and then on the backwater Isle of Jersey, were not common for their time.

Lucile Sutherland, later Lady Duff-Gordon, (1862 – 1934,) was rebellious, charming, determined and outgoing. When her husband deserted her and her daughter to run off with a “pantomime girl,” Lucile began to design, cut and sew fabulous fashions on her dining room table. She forged a path for women designers, which was then strictly the realm of men. She dressed the rich, famous and royal and fought for innovative changes.

In her 1932 autobiography Discretions and Indiscretions, Lucile relates an incident when she was fitting a gown in her shop for Mary, Duchess of York, wife of George, Duke of York, later King George V. Lucile spilled pins all over the floor, and the duke knelt in front of her to help pick them up. Ah, a future king kneeling before her!

Lucile forged the way to get women out of corsets and boldly put side slits in long skirts so women would not have to take little steps. She certainly was taking big ones! She was one of the first to design silky, lacy lingerie instead of stiff linen or cotton pantaloons and petticoats. She weathered the “immoral woman” accusations (mostly from “moral” married men) because woman dared to love her light-weight, fancy but racy designs.

Lucile first used fashion shows with live “mannequins”/models, rather than showing her costumes on stuffed, faceless dummies. She personally recruited tall, slender woman, even raiding salesgirls from Harrod’s. She called these women her ‘goddesses,’ gave them romantic names and taught them social graces.

They rose from genteel poverty, two beautiful sisters, ambitious, witty, seductive. Elinor and Lucy Sutherland are at once each other’s fiercest supporters and most vicious critics.

Lucy transformed herself into Lucile, the daring fashion designer who revolutionized the industry with her flirtatious gowns and brazen self-promotion. And when she married Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon her life seemed to be a fairy tale. But success came at many costs-to her marriage and to her children…and then came the fateful night of April 14, 1912 and the scandal that followed.

Elinor’s novels titillate readers, and it’s even asked in polite drawing rooms if you would like to “sin with Elinor Glyn?” Her work pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable; her foray into the glittering new world of Hollywood turns her into a world-wide phenomenon. But although she writes of passion, the true love she longs for eludes her.

But despite quarrels and misunderstandings, distance and destiny, there is no bond stronger than that of the two sisters-confidants, friends, rivals and the two “It Girls” of their day.

About the Author:New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Karen Harper is a former university (Ohio State) and high school English teacher. Published since 1982, she writes contemporary suspense and historical novels about real British women. She is the author of The Royal Nanny, and several Tudor era books that have been bestsellers in the UK and Russia. A rabid Anglophile, she likes nothing more than to research her novels on site in the British Isles. Harper won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for Dark Angel, and her novel Shattered Secrets was judged one of the Best Books of 2014 by Suspense Magazine. The author and her husband live in Ohio and love to travel.

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The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper – Spotlight and Giveaway


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MediaKit_BookCover_TheRoyalNannyIn 1897, a young cockney nursemaid takes her first train ride, leaving London for the lush and sprawling Sandringham Estate, private home to Britain’s royal family. Hired by the Duke and Duchess of York to help rear their royal children, Charlotte Bill is about to become privy to all the secrets families hide, and caught between the upstairs and downstairs worlds.

Enjoy an excerpt:

Truth was, I used to wish the widowed Dr. Edwin Lockwood, my former employer, would marry me, though I knew that was quite out of the question. But when I first went to work at his house as nursemaid, I was only thirteen and such a dreamer. People think I’m a no-nonsense person, but I still harbor flights of fancy in my head and heart, and to mean something to someone else is one of them.

But in the nearly ten years I worked in London, I knew it was not that I loved the doctor, but that I did love his two little daughters and hated to leave them, especially after I’d been promoted to nurse after five years there. Now his new wife didn’t want me about because her stepchildren doted on me. But the doctor gave me a good character, which the Duchess of York’s friend, Lady Eva Dugdale, had somehow seen. So here I was, headed to the Duke and Duchess of York’s country house to help the head nurse of two royal lads, one called David, nearly four years of age, the other, Bertie, a year-and-a-half; and a new baby to be born soon.

Beat down the butterflies in my belly and practiced saying, “Your Grace, milord, milady, sir, ma’am,” and all that. What if Queen Victoria herself ever popped in for a visit, for the duke was her grandson—well, there were many of her offspring scattered across Europe in ruling houses, but he was in direct line to the British throne after his father, the Prince of Wales. And since the Prince and Princess of Wales often lived on the same Sandringham Estate, so Lady Dugdale said, I wager I’d see them, right regular too, that is if the head nurse, name of Mary Peters, let me help her with the royal children when their kin came calling.

“Ticket, please, miss,” the conductor said as he came through the carriage. I had a moment’s scramble but handed it to him and had it marked. When he passed on, I put it as a keepsake in my wooden box of worldly goods, which sat on the floor next to my seat. The carriage wasn’t too full, not to Norfolk with its marshy fens and the windy Wash my papa had described to me. Oh, I was so excited I could barely sit still. I was to disembark at a place called Wolferton Station where someone was to meet me. I was just so certain everything would be lovely, and fine and grandly, royally perfect.

About the Author: MediaKit_AuthorPhoto_TheRoyalNannyNEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY bestselling author Karen Harper is a former university (Ohio State) and high school English teacher. Published since 1982, she writes contemporary suspense and historical novels about real British women. Two of her recent Tudor era books were bestsellers in the UK and Russia. A rabid Anglophile, she likes nothing more than to research her novels on site in the British Isles. Harper won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for DARK ANGEL, and her novel SHATTERED SECRETS was judged one of the Best Books of 2014 by Suspense Magazine. The author and her husband divide their time between Ohio and Florida.


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Friday Spotlight: Karen Harper


As a author I have a split personality as I switch back and forth between writing contemporary romantic suspense and historical novels set in Tudor England. I find King Henry VIII, his six wives and his three children who ruled after him fascinating. That’s true especially of Queen Elizabeth I, one of the greatest “CEOs” of all time, especially because—in a man’s world—she managed to rule on her own.

Elizabeth’s family is the original family from hell. The Tudors make the modern-day Windsors look like the Brady Bunch. Her father had her mother beheaded on (I believe) trumped up charges. Elizabeth had to survive more than one stepmother and a sister nicknamed “Bloody” who imprisoned her in the Tower of London where her mother had met her fate. Elizabeth loved deeply and loved being adored, but she managed to remain (I believe) an actual virgin queen. I’ve written about her at various stages of her life in The Last Boleyn, Mistress Shakespeare (out in paperback this month), and The Queen’s Governess, (out in hardcover this month) not to mention my 9-book mystery series where the young Elizabeth is the amateur sleuth. (By the way, I wrote The Last Boleyn about Mary Boleyn twenty years before Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, and we have very different views of the Boleyns.)

When I taught high school, my Brit Lit students put on an Elizabethan Festival. Each of many times I’ve been to England, I have haunted (and have in turn been haunted by) Tudor sites. I’ve loved the Cate Blanchett movies on Elizabeth’s life and even watch The Tudors on Showtime, however much those movies and TV show scramble Tudor history.

I hope there’s no cure for Tudormania for myself and thousands of readers, because I’m currently writing another novel called The Irish Princess about a bold woman who both admired and hated a royal family called the _______. (You fill in the blank—and hopefully enjoy these books!)

Thursday Spotlight: Karen Harper

The Muddle of the Book

Since having my first novel published over twenty-five years ago, I have always been quite confident writing beginnings and endings. But it has always been the middle (the muddle!) of the book that makes me nervous and causes me the trouble.

Sometimes when I get to the middle of a book I totally panic and think, “Oh, no, I’ve got a novella, not a full novel here! I’ve covered so much, how am I going to write another half of a book?” That, however, is never the way things end up, so I don’t know why I have to fly into that frenzy on a fairly regular basis. I just have to trust my main characters.

At that point in the story, I often turn into a control-freak in my “real life.” It is as though I could control the many plot and multi-character “balls I am juggling” in the middle of the book by straightening up my office or the entire house. Granted, that rearrange-my-immediately-world is good for a clean house which too often gets short shrift at other times, but it really doesn’t help the book—except maybe in giving me more time to think about the story when not staring at the computer screen.

For example, Down River, a romantic suspense novel due out next month is full of action in the first half. The heroine falls (or is pushed?) into a raging, icy river in Alaska. Her former fiancé jumps in a kayak and goes after her, risking his own life. But once out of the river, they face dangers in the wilds and in their own painful past.

But halfway through the book, they return to what is supposedly civilization at his rural wilderness lodge. I knew I needed to transition quickly into the dangers they faced there—for someone is out to kill the heroine.

It’s that middle of the book transition that makes me want to jump into a raging river myself. It’s always my characters who save me, even as they push me back into their swift-moving story.

Wednesday Spotlight: Karen Harper

To Know Or Not To Know Whodunit?

I have author friends who write mysteries, thrillers or suspense, who claim that if they knew ahead who the bad guy or gal in their work in progress was, they would be too bored to write the book. On the other hand, I know writers who could not navigate their way through such a complicated plot unless they knew who the perp was from page one.

I’m a fence-sitter on this, so I’ve written my historical mystery series (nine books with Queen Elizabeth I as amateur sleuth) and my contemporary romantic suspense novels, fifteen so far, using both techniques.

In my earlier works, I always tended to plot everything out, afraid I would never get the clues, red herrings, etc. to mesh otherwise. As a matter of fact, I used to always know my beginnings and ending and just hoped the middle of the book (my bane—the ‘muddle of the book’—see tomorrow’s mini-essay) would work out. But as I became more adept at juggling characters and a sub-plot or two and as I came to trust my characters to be themselves, good or evil, I began to change the way I worked.

I was once honored to sit next to famed British mystery author P.D. James at a banquet in Florida where we were both presenters at a conference. She told me that she had learned if she put 3 – 4 (no more, she said!) possible suspects in her book and let them interact with the protagonist and each other, they would let her know ‘whodunit.’ I found that worked well for me, at least in my contemporary books where all the characters are fictional and, therefore, indeed could have done the evil deed that gets the story rolling.

In my Queen Elizabeth I Mystery Series, where I was peopling my plots with many real characters, I could not pin a murder on someone real who had not been a murderer, though there were enough shifty characters loose in Tudor England that I never had to look far for villains.

Now I find that the perp reveals himself or herself to me (hopefully, not to the reader) about three-fourths of the way through. Sometimes I have to go back to rewrite a bit, but the motives and moves are usually there already. Actually, I think the whydunits of my books are almost as interesting as the whodunits, whether I’m writing stories set in the here and now or the days of yore.

Tuesday Spotlight: Karen Harper

Why An Amateur Sleuth?

I enjoy books with private eyes, forensic and detectives. But, I must admit, I prefer reading and writing amateur sleuth heroines. I find it easier to identify with a main character who is an “average” woman, who suddenly encounters a terrible, often deadly, situation—and, perhaps with the hero’s help, solves it, saving her own life and maybe that of others.

I have written romantic suspense novels in which the heroine was a scuba diver, a midwife, a cancer researcher, a rose grower, a lawyer, an Amish woman—ah, variety is the spice of my novels. That’s also the teacher instinct in me: I write to entertain and entrance but also to educate—to let my readers learn something new about a life they will never live but can identify with.

Another reason I write amateur sleuths is that it is easier for an author to make the heroine deeply involved with the crime she must solve. An “average” woman would probably not be solving a kidnapping or murder if she were not personally impacted, and that ups the emotional impact for the reader. Granted, in professional sleuth novels, it’s possible to have the hero or heroine police officer, P.I. or forensic tech know the person murdered or abused, but it’s more of a stretch. However dedicated, those sleuths do their work as part of their job, not because it was their child (Dark Angel) or their sister (Below The Surface) or their mother (Deep Down) who has been lost.

And one reason I always have a new pair of heroes/heroines in my romantic suspense novels, even if I’m occasionally writing a series: I find it really challenging to sustain a romance book after book between the same two main characters. Some authors do a great job with that, but I prefer the feeling of falling in love anew in each novel. Once that happy-ever-after happens, the story is over for me, and I move on, though my characters never really leave me. So one of my mottos is, “Professional author in search of amateur sleuth!”

Monday Spotlight: Karen Harper

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

I really think “Where do you get your ideas?” is the number one question authors get from readers. My own mother has asked me this question during the entire twenty-seven years I’ve been published.

I did a booksigning years ago in South Florida with a very veteran author sitting next to me. (So veteran, she had once worked at an Atlanta newspaper with Margaret Mitchell, author of GWTW.) A reader came up and asked that idea question of both of us. Having been a university instructor (hint—Go Bucks!) and high school teacher for years, I was ready with my ‘teacherly’ answer: I used to explain that I get my ideas for my books either off the page or off the wall.

That is, I either find them through intentionally researching for them or by stumbling into them. For example, the idea for my romantic suspense novel Down River was something I just stumbled into when my husband and I visited Alaska. A rushing salmon river, the wildlife, a wilderness lodge and the independent people I met hit me over the head with ideas that would make a great backdrop and plot for a love/adventure story. Two estranged former fiancés, reunited and forced to survive the wilds together struggle against a killer and their rekindled feelings for each other.

On the other hand, my novel Deep Down was something I researched to get ideas for. For years, I’d been saving articles on the Appalachian-area herb ginseng, that amazing root that many believe gives long life and vitality. I then got several books on the subject, read a lot on line, did interviews—research from which I ‘grew’ my book. With either of these methods, once I get a core setting or idea, I play the game of “what if?”

What if a researcher who is studying ginseng as a cure for cancer had to return to her Appalachian roots to help the sheriff locate her mother who has gone missing in the woods while counting the rare ginseng for the government? What if this heroine/hero has a difficult past together? And what if her mother’s murderer is a forest monster which now seems to be stalking her? What if…

But back to the reader asking me and another author where we get our ideas. As I was about to give my answer for where I get my ideas, the other author blurted out, “Honey, either you’re born with them or you’re not!” And that’s the truth. It’s in the genes or it isn’t, a gift of God, an inexplicable talent, just as others receive different abilities authors do not have. Some authors say they dream their plots, others comb the newspaper for ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ characters. Authors get their ideas anywhere and everywhere. Ask one sometime.