SPECIAL INTERVIEW WITH NICOLE KELLEHER
Romance and fantasy blend seamlessly together in Nicole Kelleher’s unforgettable Aurelian Guard series. I was first introduced to the series with her second installment, The Queen’s Dance and now I can’t get enough! Fans of both genres will love this new author and her spectacular world building as well as the wonderful cast of humorous and sympathetic characters.
I was beyond ecstatic when she agreed to our exclusive interview!
1) Thank you so much for being here. I can’t tell you how impressed I was by your series. It has completely enchanted me. Your writing seems so seasoned. Have you written anything before this series?
Thank you for inviting me! That’s a wonderful compliment considering that my writing before the Aurelian Guard Series was limited to hotel training manuals, memos, and employee reviews. As a newbie author, I was fortunate enough to land a publisher with an excellent editor; he always knew the exact amount of spice to add or take away.
2) I'm so glad you did! Fantasy and romance are my two favorite genres. So your books are a dream come true. What compelled you to write such an ambitious series? Where did you get the idea for Aurelia?
I’ve always been drawn to the writing and world-building of Herbert (and son), Tolkien, King, Greg Keyes, and some of Clive Barker’s work. Then I read Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. All of these author’s books and series span such great distances and time, and I wanted my novel to do the same. I naively set out to write an epic—the first draft of Wild Lavender was 304K words! I’m not saying this can’t be done by a new author, but in romance, there are rules. Luckily, a friend and fellow romance writer set me straight. When I argued that if Gabaldon could do it… Her reply is one that I will forever cherish: “Honey, you’re not Diana Gabaldon.”
As for the fantasy realm of Aurelia, I must give some credit to the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. The BSBI helped me make the switch from historical romance to historical fantasy romance. When I started writing Wild Lavender, I envisioned the story taking place in France or England. While researching the deadly-to-livestock cocklebur for the chapter, “Trouble in the Stable,” I discovered that the plant is native to North America and would not have existed in Medieval Europe. This is when the internet comes in handy, especially at 1:00 a.m.. I found the BSBI website, hit the “contact us” button, then clicked on the general “enquiry desk” link, and shot off an email asking about similar deadly plants in the UK. The next morning, I was amazed to see a reply:
There are no such deadly plants in the UK.
Introducing…The Bogbur. Suddenly, I had unlimited artistic license. Even though I research quite a bit to remain true to the time period, I was free to create names, plants, weapons, and entire realms. I then drew from my language studies to come up with place names. Chevring, where Anna’s family raised destriers, comes from the French word for horse, cheval. And I used The Google to find translations for Old Welsh, Old Irish, Old Every Language. Eventually, I made a spreadsheet* to keep track. This is just a sample:
* self-professed Excelaholic
3) Wow, that is so cool I'm glad you decided to create your own world- a lot more interesting! BTW, I loved Lady Claire from the Queen’s Dance and Lady Anna from Wild Lavender. Both completely transform to their full potential. Did you know when you were writing the first book in the series you would be writing about Claire in the second? How many books do you plan to write?
In Wild Lavender’s first draft, Claire was a total brat. Most of her shenanigans were cut from the final draft. In fact, I had to argue that her character was necessary not only as a counterpoint to Anna’s, but to the overall story arc. Writing Claire’s interactions with Trian near the end of Wild Lavender coincided with the epiphany that this would be a series, and using the Aurelian Royal Guard seemed a logical way to link the stories together.
I recently finished the first draft of book three and am working on revisions. There is a possibility for three more; I like the symmetry of six books, six Fenrhi Castes, six prophecies, and six pairs of heroines and heroes.
4) Yes! Were there any women in history that inspired you when writing about Claire and Anna?
Definitely Queen Boudicea for Anna. And there’s a little Joan of Arc in Claire, with all of the faith, stoicism, and spirituality, but none of the religion.
5) I have to say Claire is my favorite! Was Claire a difficult heroine to write about and why?
Oh my gosh, yes! When I started The Queen’s Dance, I couldn’t stand Claire. Her character was shy to the point of stubbornness—she just didn’t want to be written. I realized that I was trying too hard to make her likeable. She wasn’t, not really. She was aloof. She never let anyone get close to her. Worse, from the prologue and on, she came off as a snob. When I realized how important her standoffishness was to her character, I embraced her, and writing her story became a breeze. No matter what I threw her way, she came back stronger.
6) But it isn’t just about the women in your stories, the Aurelian Guard are hunky men! (sigh) Where did you get the idea for them?
I thought this would be easy to answer, but it turns out to be one of the tougher questions. I’ll start out by saying that I love the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I wanted to create a group of noblemen without land or title. Hence, the Aurelian Royal Guard.
I think most writers would agree that it’s more satisfying to write sexy, beefcake heroes, particularly in romance. It’s more fun, too. I don’t care how hip “dad bods” are, I want to read about washboard abs and tight tuchuses, so that’s what I write.
When I think specifically of the individual male characters, I knew straight away that Roger, Anna’s blond-haired and blue-eyed husband, would have to be a perfect specimen of a man. She had to be physically attracted to him despite her dream of meeting the mysterious stranger who’d once almost kissed her. But Anna’s path was never easy or perfect, so her hero’s couldn’t be either. Here’s a deleted passage where a younger Anna talks about her dreams of marriage and love, and the strong hero she imagined she would one day meet:
“I began to daydream, to imagine the perfect man. Only the image of the man I desired was far from perfect. He was difficult and stubborn and definitely not the type of handsome that my friends were always talking about. He was dark and brooding and, taken apart piece by piece, imperfect. As a whole though, he was something to behold. Imperfect by himself, and flawed like me. And once together, only then would we be complete.”
Now, if you want to know who I imagine when I think of Lark, look no further than Ioan Gruffudd’s portrayal of a scruffy, irreverent, and irascible Lancelot in the 2004 movie, King Arthur, right down to his expressive eyebrows and curly black hair. As for Trian: Joel Edgerton’s Gawain from the same movie. Trian might be the closest I’ll ever come to writing a hero with a “dad bod.” But then, he was purposefully trying to make himself look barrel-chested with extra layers of clothing—at least in the beginning. Trian had his hang-ups too.
7) Please keep them coming. I’ve enjoyed reading about the characters you created from different countries, their personalities and their worlds. I have to admit your world spanning books reminded me of the best-selling Belgariad series by David Eddings. Except your series has more romance and character development which is even better! How difficult is it to create new worlds and make them ‘fit’ into your story?
I think when I write, the character development and world-building go hand in hand. My characters’ origins help define not only their personalities, but their actions as well. And vice versa. Claire was too self-reliant; she didn’t push herself, nor was she interested in expanding her talents. She only ever modeled herself to match the expectations of those around her. I needed to pull the rug from under her comfortable existence and drop her in a world where her own preconceptions held no value. The more alien the world, the bigger the challenge. Nifolhad, Naca’an, the Fenrhi temple, the Fyrost Desert—these places developed alongside Claire.
(By the way, I haven’t read the Belgariad series yet—I’ll be sure to check them out.)
8) In your books, Anna and Claire illustrate the suffering and injustice that women even today suffer. You don’t hold back. Did you intend to point this out? Will you continue to express serious issues that woman confront in future books?
Definitely, to both questions. Medieval times were brutal: women had no rights; marriage was a business; brides were traded like chattel. The first draft of Wild Lavender was so violent that a couple of agents turned it down due to the content. For two years, I worked with an agent who wanted me to remove the wedding night rape scene. I didn’t, found a new agent, and the scene made it through to the final book. I won’t lie, it was a tough chapter to write. There’s a thin line between excusing the behavior because, in that time period, it was a husband’s right. However, I couldn’t marginalize what happened to Anna. She needed to see it for what it was—rape—before she could heal and become the kick-ass warrior that was inside her all along.
9) I think you handled the issue of women's 'rights' beautifully. I admired both your heroines so much because they stand for female empowerment. What are your plans for your next book? Can you give us a sneak peek into your next heroine?
I’m actually working on three books right now, but Anwyl’s Oath (working title), the third book in the Aurelian Guard Series, has priority. The rough draft is done, and I’m in that phase of beefing up the characters and adding depth to the subplots. Princess Anwyl, introduced in The Queen’s Dance, will definitely give the Aurelian Royal Guards, as well as several unmarried noblemen, a run for their money. She is unapologetically perfect—her flaw—but her heart is pure gold, and everyone who meets her comes to love her. Everyone, that is, except the man who fate has determined will be her one true love.
10) Speaking of future book, your charming Aurelian Guards are so sexy. I do confess a weakness for that rascally Warin. Will he be featured in your next book?! Will there be any other guards we will meeting soon?!
Oh, poor Warin. Always the groomsman, never the groom. Wouldn’t it be great if he and Princess Anwyl hooked up? ;)
As this may be a six-book series, one focus of my revision stage is to bring to life to more of the Royal Guards. Tomas definitely will be featured, as will a new character and former guard, Lord Ronan of Meramont. Competition among them will be as fierce as the heroines who will steal their hearts.
Whew! I appreciate you answering all my questions. Thank you again for gracing us with your presence. Your writing is a true inspiration.
It was completely my pleasure! I’m so happy that you enjoyed the series and gave me this opportunity to talk about my writing. Thank you!
Interviewed by Steph from the Bookaholics Romance Book Club
For Additional Information about Nicole Kelleher, check her out at:
Recent and Upcoming Romances by Nicole Kelleher:
The Queen's Dance: The Aurelian Guard -Book Two -May 16, 2017
To save a kingdom, she may have to sacrifice her heart.
Lady Claire is the brightest addition to the queen’s retinue, but she hides a secret that could change the fabric of Aurelia: she can foretell another’s fate. This curse has only brought her sorrow, and because of it, she vows never to give her heart to anyone. But Trian, a shy Aurelian Guard, has fallen hard for Claire, and when King Godwin assigns him to escort her across the realm, he jumps at the chance.
When they are thrown together, Claire discovers that Trian may be the one person who is immune to her powers, and friendship takes hold. Trian teaches her his unique way of seeing the world, and Claire tutors him in the healing arts. She realizes too late that she has done that which she promised she would never do: she falls in love.
Her greatest fear is realized when Trian is knocked down by deadly quarrels. His assailants transport Claire far from Aurelia to the foreign lands of Nifolhad. To return home, Claire will need to cross the most treacherous parts of the kingdom, from the merciless desert to cities where spies listen to every whisper. She allies herself with the women from the Fenrhi Temple, who possess powers beyond Claire’s comprehension. Their customs and secrets seduce her, while plots and machinations drag her into the very heart of the battle for Nifolhad’s throne.
If she ever hopes to return to those she loves, Claire must overcome the most perilous challenge of her life and embrace her curse as a gift.
Wild Lavender: The Aurelian Guard - Book One March 8th, 2016
This gorgeous, sweeping historical romance will enchant the readers of Deanna Raybourn, and introduces a wildly talented new voice.
Anna was born of Chevring, a territory renowned for its valorous war horses, in the kingdom of Aurelia. But peace reigns, and her family’s fortune has dwindled. Her father brokers an alliance with the wealthy Lord Roger of Stolweg. The price: his eldest daughter and the secrets to her family’s once great power. Soon after they are wed, Roger proves himself cruel and calculating, a harsh lord who sows the seeds of fear in his people.
He has an ambitious secret, and nothing will stand in his way. Not his new bride, nor his older brother, heir to all that he covets. But secrets have a way of getting out, and the people of Stolweg quietly bide their time, coming to love Anna for her noble bravery in standing up to her scoundrel husband. She will prove the leader they need to rise up and bring their underground resistance to flourish.
But it is Larkin, a guard of Aurelia, whose presence brings Roger’s treachery to the forefront, igniting the spark of war. Larkin comes to Stolweg to investigate Roger for treason against the realm and ends up giving all of his attention to Anna. For she not only captures his heart, she may be the only person who can stop the battle that will tear the kingdom apart.