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Tule Author Q&A: Katherine Cowley relates to Mary Bennet!

Katherine Cowley stopped by the Tule blog to discuss the second book in The Secret Life of Mary Bennet series, The True Confessions of a London Spy!

 

Your character, Mary Bennet, comes from the classic book, Pride and Prejudice. Is she your favorite character from the book? Did you always imagine a different life for her? 

For many years my favorite character in Pride and Prejudice was Elizabeth Bennet. She’s the main character, and she’s clever and witty and not afraid of anyone. She also likes to read and play the piano—two of my favorite things. And of course she ends up with Mr. Darcy. What’s not to like?

While I always felt a strong connection to Elizabeth, as I grew older, I realized that in many ways I am actually more like her younger sister Mary. Mary also likes to read and play the piano, but she’s not always comfortable in social situations. In fact, sometimes her social interactions go horrifically. Sometimes she feels left out, and she is often underestimated.

A few years ago, I was rewatching the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film and I realized that if Mary’s life went as everyone around her expected it to go, then she would probably be rather miserable. I decided that Mary had a secret, and after a few months, I figured out what it was: Mary Bennet is a spy for the British government.

 

Where did you get the inspiration for The True Confessions of a London Spy?

I wanted to tell a story that occurred not long after Pride and Prejudice and involved Mary Bennet solving a murder mystery in London, while participating in her first London Season. I also wanted the story to incorporate real historical events, so after a deep dive into Regency history, I decided to set the book in January and February of 1814:

  • Britain was still fighting a war with Napoleon Bonaparte
  • It was super cold. Many places got over five feet of snow, and the Thames River froze over and they held a giant frost fair on the frozen ice
  • The customs house exploded
  • There was a scandal around a giant hoax involving Napoleon Bonaparte

This seemed like the perfect setting for a murder mystery. 

A lot of my inspiration for the novel also came from thinking about how it feels to want to prove yourself—what it’s like to wonder if you’re enough.

I also wanted the story to be about Mary finding her place in her family. Many times, adult siblings find a way to get along better than when they are teenagers, and I wanted to see if Mary could develop a better relationship with at least one of her sisters.

 

What kind of research did you need to do for this story?

I did a lot of traditional research—online searches, books from three different libraries, and two newspaper archive subscriptions. However, the favorite part of my research was my visit to London in October 2019. I had already written a first draft of the book, so I visited a number of the places in the story—I walked along the Thames River and climbed the Monument to the Great Fire of London.

Katherine near the Thames. Tower Bridge did not exist in 1814, so did not end up in the book.

Katherine next to the Monument to the Great Fire of London.

Katherine and her daughter on a London street.

The Museum of London was particularly helpful. They’ve recreated Victorian city streets, which really helped me understand what it would have felt like to walk through London in the early 1800s. They also had tons of dresses, fans, shoes, watches, and other physical objects that appear in my book.

Katherine in front of Westminster Abbey.

In addition to helping me revise what I had already written, my London trip provided inspiration for new scenes. I loved seeing the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, and I ended up using that location for a key scene near the end of The True Confessions of a London Spy.

 

What was your favorite scene to write and why? 

My favorite scene to write was one of the ball scenes. Mary attends a ball in disguise, in order to observe and talk to the murder suspects. But unbeknownst to Mary, her family is at the same ball. She fears that they will recognize her, despite the disguise. I loved the tension in the scene and building the character interactions.

Mary found she was enjoying herself, dancing with a man she did not know in a persona that was not her own. There was something freeing about a different identity: it was like slipping on a new glove and finding that it fit her hand perfectly.

Suddenly, she was wrenched from her complacency. Across the room, she saw Georgiana. Georgiana Darcy, dancing with Mr. Johnstone. She felt as if there was a gaping pit in her stomach. Georgiana was supposed to be at a different ball.

“Miss Kendall, is something wrong?” asked Mary’s partner, Mr. Walmsley.

“I am quite fine. Do you ever have dreadful thoughts attack unawares? Do memories of unpleasant things besiege you?”

“No, I cannot say that I do,” said Mr. Walmsley. “How could a woman such as yourself have memories of unpleasant things?”

Her neighbour, Mrs. König, was dancing nearby, and her stomach gave a lurch at her knowledge of Mrs. König’s actions with Mr. Sharp in the tent. Then she noticed Mr. Darcy at the edge of the dance floor, watching his sister. He seemed to sense Mary, and his eyes caught hers for a moment. She tore her own eyes away, looking straight into Mr. Walmsley’s, and she leaned on the story she and Fanny had crafted. “My mother is long dead, my father, long away, and the mistresses of my finishing schools were not always kind.”

“That sounds dreadful. Yet you seem to have turned out quite well despite all of it.”

“Thank you,” said Mary. “I do what I can.”

They lapsed into silence, and Mary attempted to lose herself in the dance. She let herself smile at Mr. Walmsley’s glances and attempted to feel as if she had not a care in the world. She felt her muscles loosen and her back grow less rigid, and she was surprised by the way in which her pretence impacted her reality.

She did not know how this had happened—the Darcys were meant to be at a different ball tonight. They had mentioned nothing about accepting a different invitation instead. Yet they were here.

Mr. Darcy had seen her, and since she had already been seen, there was no point in fleeing. It would be a test of Fanny’s transformation of her, but she would stay, and she would stay in the persona of Miss Kendall at all times, and she would attempt to learn something useful over the course of the evening.

The dance finished and her partner gave her his thanks and a gentlemanly bow. “May I escort you anywhere, Miss Kendall?”

Mr. Stanley stood near her sister Elizabeth, so it would be best not to walk in that direction. It was risky to be at the same ball as her family while in disguise, but she might be able to succeed, as long as she avoided any close encounters with them, which might lead them to recognise her mannerisms or her voice.

 

What are you currently reading?

I love reading books across a variety of genres. I just finished reading the nonfiction book Braiding Sweetgrass and the memoir The Best We Could Do. A few of the books in my to-read pile are Digging Up Love, Every Reason We Shouldn’t, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls

 

 

 

About the Author

Katherine Cowley read Pride and Prejudice for the first time when she was ten years old, which started a lifelong obsession with Jane Austen. She loves history, chocolate, traveling, and playing the piano, and she teaches writing classes at Western Michigan University. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan with her husband and three daughters. The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet is her debut novel.

Tule Publishing March 2022 Releases

Read more about our new releases for March!

GIVEAWAY: We will pick ONE winner to receive a digital book of their choice from the March releases. Comment down below saying which book you’re looking most forward to reading! Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY. The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month.

 

The True Confessions of a London Spy by Katherine Cowley (Tule Mystery)

Release Date: March 1, 2022

The Secret Life of Mary Bennet, Book 2

No one said being a spy for the British government would be easy.

When Miss Mary Bennet is assigned to London for the Season, extravagant balls and eligible men are the least of her worries. A government messenger has been murdered and suspicion falls on the Radicals, who may be destabilizing the government in order to compel England down the bloody path of the French Revolution.

Working with her fellow spies, Mr. William Stanley and Miss Fanny Cramer, Mary must investigate without raising the suspicions of her family, rescue her friend Miss Georgiana Darcy from a suitor scandal, and solve the mystery before anyone else is harmed—all without being discovered, lest she be exiled back to the countryside.

This is the perfect job for a woman who exists in the background. Can Mary prove herself, or will this assignment be her last?


She Gets a Happy Ending by Denise N. Wheatley (American Heart)

Release Date: March 3, 2022

A Fearless Fairytale, Book 3

Sometimes happily ever after arrives on its own magical schedule…

Devon Jacobs’s star is definitely in orbit. Despite the cancellation of her weekly sitcom, she lands a job writing for a television drama, then sells her Christmas script to the perfect producer. But her boyfriend, Ryan Roberts, is having no such luck. Down on himself and burning out from all the auditioning, his frustration puts a strain on their relationship, and suddenly they find themselves calling it quits.

A movie shoot in the holiday town of Leavenworth, Washington, is exactly the mental break Devon needs. Until their leading man quits and the producer replaces him with none other than Ryan. Finding the right level of professionalism isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when this opportunity means everything to their careers—and it’s becoming more obvious with each passing day that neither one of them is successful in saying goodbye.

Can Devon and Ryan find a way to combine their dreams and tie a bow around their relationship—this time for keeps?


A Tasty Dish by Kelly Cain (American Heart)

Release Date: March 8, 2022

The Everheart Brothers of Texas, Book 2

The show must go on…

Kasi Blythewood has spent most of her life in the shadow of her famous film producer father who’s deliberately kept her under his thumb with tough love. Ready to make a name for herself, Kasi secretly heads to Austin for a film conference to rustle up some financing for her dream project—an indie series that showcases cuisine from around the world.

When Kasi meets chef Declan Everheart, it’s instant lust spiced with an intriguing business opportunity. Declan’s father, a Michelin star chef, is interested in funding her film, but there is a sexy string attached—Declan must be a producer on her series. Not ideal. Kasi craves independence, and she knows business and pleasure never mix well, but she’s exhausted all other options.

Declan’s more than just eye candy and Kasi’s not blind. She immediately discovers Declan’s not just a natural producer and talented chef, he also shines on camera as the host. Can Kasi convince Declan to break away from his father and build the life he wants…with her?


Muzzled by Katja Desjarlais (Muse)

Release Date: March 15, 2022

Hellhounds, Book 3

Born in hell. Raised to serve. Destined to disobey.

Hellhound Ryan Echidna is hunting the final enemy of his master, Hades. Running point for his brothers, Ryan’s eager to corner his target and return to his mistress, Persephone. He knows his quarry hides among the crowds of the summer art festival, but for the first time in centuries, he’s unable to pinpoint a location. More confusing, a beautiful, enigmatic human artist is painting scenes straight from his memories.

Artist Micah Wheaton doesn’t understand the dark turn her art has taken when she’s compelled to paint the unsettling images from her dreams. Even worse, she feels she’s being stalked and is afraid to sleep. Her newest fan, a sexy but sweet accountant named Ryan, makes her feel safe—though she suspects he too has secrets.

While Ryan’s hunt hits one dead end after another, the images on the tip of Micah’s paintbrush foretell a fatal end. Ryan must race against time and destiny to eliminate the danger to the woman he now loves and complete his final hunt…before leaving Micah forever.


Reunion in the Outback by Nicole Flockton (Holiday)

Release Date: March 17, 2022

Welcome to Bunya Junction, Book 4

Everyone deserves a second chance…

Yolanda Watson thought she had left her hometown in her rearview mirror when she married her high school sweetheart and moved to the big city. Nearly a decade later, she’s returning to Bunya Junction newly separated and with her young daughter in tow. Maybe, surrounded by family, she can start again and rebuild her life. Although a piece of her heart is still miles away…

Michael Watson thought he had it all, until his wife left him and everything else in his life quickly crumbled at his feet. But Michael isn’t one to give up so easily, and he especially isn’t ready to end the marriage to his soulmate. Determined to put his family back together, he heads to Bunya Junction, willing to do whatever it takes to make Yolanda see that their story is far from over. Although telling her the truth about his circumstances is harder than he thought.

But secrets have a way of coming out. When Yolanda’s and Michael’s are revealed, it’ll be the ultimate test of their love.


A Bittersweet Murder by Kaz Delaney (Tule Mystery)

Release Date: March 22, 2022

Hart of Texas Murder Mysteries, Book 1

Everyone knows everyone in small town Airlie Falls, so where could the killer be hiding?

For one brief hour on a sunny Texas morning, amateur baker Rosie Hart glimpses the life she’s always dreamed about—thanks to a surprise inheritance from the late Miss Alice. But her benefactor is barely cold in the ground when Rosie is accused of her murder.

As the only stranger in the tight-knit Airlie Falls community, and the only person with an obvious motive, all eyes turn to Rosie. Especially when more bodies begin to pile up and mysterious letters from the grave start circulating faster than Rosie can pull a tray of cherry nut clusters out of the oven.

When Rosie begins to suspect the murders have links to a sixty-year-old suspicious death on the very property she’s just inherited, town locals become uneasy. But how can Rosie prove the two are related—and prove her innocence—before the killer strikes again?


Texas Cowgirl by Eve Gaddy (Texas Born)

Release Date: March 24, 2022

Texas True, Book 4

They’re made for each other, he just needs to prove it.

Pilot Nate Kershaw may be one of Whiskey River’s biggest players, but from the moment he met cowgirl Damaris Walker, he was smitten. After sharing a searing kiss years ago, she made her feelings clear so Nate doesn’t dare press for more than friendship. No other woman can win his heart, so when his beloved grandmother tells him her dearest wish is to see him settled down, Nate decides it’s the perfect opportunity to convince Damaris they’re meant to be.

After a devastating betrayal years ago, Damaris is still unable to trust or risk her heart—especially with a charming lady-killer like Nate. Against her common sense, she agrees to be Nate’s fake girlfriend and finds herself falling for him harder than she did two years ago.

When Damaris learns Nate has been deceiving her about his true feelings, her fears and trust issues reignite. Will Nate be able to convince Damaris to overcome the pain of the past and take a risk on forever—with him?


Montana Cowboy Promise by Jane Porter (Montana Born)

Release Date: March 29, 2022

Wyatt Brothers of Montana, Book 5

Three and a half years ago, Tommy Wyatt was in Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo. He had only one thing on his mind—winning another national championship—until he met a beautiful young med student who changed his life.

Blake Eden is in the last few months of her general practice residency, interviewing for jobs and eager to move forward. But before she can seize her future, she needs to settle some things from her past—like bringing closure to her impulsive marriage to rodeo champion Tommy Wyatt.

When Blake shows up at the Salinas Rodeo demanding Tommy sign their divorce papers, Tommy makes it clear he isn’t interested in signing anything. When he married Blake, he meant his vows. Now Tommy has one week to convince his secret wife they’re meant to be together.

 

THE SECRET LIFE OF MISS MARY BENNET: Release day blog post featuring Katherine Cowley

Katherine Cowley on The Thrills and Dangers of Writing a Jane Austen-Inspired Novel

I am so excited to share a little about my book, The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet. My novel features Mary Bennet, the middle, often-forgotten sister from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, solving a murder mystery. My book starts about a year after the end of Pride and Prejudice, and I want to talk about some of the wonderful and challenging things about writing an Austenesque novel, or, in other words:

The Thrills and Dangers of Writing a Jane Austen-Inspired Novel

Thrill #1: I Get to Play with My Favorite Characters.

When I have a favorite character, I don’t want their story to end, and in Pride and Prejudice, this is the case for many of the characters. Are Elizabeth and Darcy as in love with ever? What is Mrs. Bennet wailing about? Is Mr. Collins still insufferable?

Writing a Jane Austen-inspired novel gave me the opportunity to spend more time with these characters and continue their stories.

Danger #1: Everyone has a different level of familiarity with Jane Austen.

Some readers have never read Jane Austen. Others have seen a film. Others have read Pride and Prejudice, but ten years ago, while other readers have read it dozens of times.

I decided to write in a way that no matter how much or how little you know of the original text, my book should be able to stand on its own. One of my critique partners has never read or seen any Austen, so having her read the book helped me see when I needed to add extra explanations and details. I also had several critique partners who are avid readers of Jane Austen, and they helped me notice errors and gave me advice on making my book feel true to the original text.

Thrill #2: I Can Mix Genres.

I love Regency stories and Jane Austen, and I also love mystery novels, so writing The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet gave me the chance to weave both genres together.

Jane Austen’s novels are all about characters trying to understand each other, which is also what investigators do in a mystery novel. For me, it felt very natural to mix mystery and Austen.

Danger #2: It is difficult to match Jane Austen’s language.

Languages change over time, and the way we use English has definitely changed in the last two hundred years, since Pride and Prejudice was published.

One of the things I liked to do was reread Austen to get me into the mindset of the sentence structure and approach to words. Then, as I was writing, I would speak aloud in a (very terrible) British accent, which helped me focus on how the characters might speak. 

I also spent a lot of time looking things up. There’s a Jane Austen Thesaurus where you can check if Jane Austen ever used a word. I also frequented the Oxford English Dictionary and Google Ngram, to check if other authors used words or phrases in certain ways in 1814.

Thrill #3: I Can Provide an Alternate Perspective

Mary Bennet actually only has seven lines of dialogue in the entire novel of Pride and Prejudice (though she has a few other noteworthy passages, such as when she can’t come up with something to say, when she plays the pianoforte poorly at the Netherfield Ball, and when she wishes that Mr. Collins had proposed to her).

In some adaptations, Mary is present mostly for the sake of comic relief—she provides someone for the audience to laugh at. And yet I felt like there’s so much more to Mary than just that.

I wanted to provide an alternate perspective on her, to let readers explore her thought process and why she acts the way she does. And I wanted Mary—overlooked, ignored, mocked Mary—to have her own story, her own adventures. Everyone deserves their own story, their own chance to shine and make a difference in the world.

 

Katherine Cowley read Pride and Prejudice for the first time when she was ten years old, which started a lifelong obsession with Jane Austen. She loves history, chocolate, traveling, and playing the piano, and she teaches writing classes at Western Michigan University. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan with her husband and three daughters. The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet is her debut novel.