As the 19th century writes its final chapters, change cannot come to Spain fast enough. Gaudí’s architecture, Sorolla’s paintings, Ramon y Cayal’s scientific breakthroughs, and Blasco Ibáñez’s writings are matched with illness epidemics, poverty, inequality and conservative landowners still reigning supreme.
In Valencia, Mireya de Centelles y Aragon, the sixth Countess de Valencia, holds a Happy New Year 1885 ball at her husband’s palace, to raise funds for earthquake victims in Spain’s south. But Mireya is unlike the other women of the Spanish nobility; the daughter of a Spanish duke and a French princess, she is a botany student at Valencia University, the only woman in her field. When Mireya meets an architect, Tiago Ríbera Herestoza, who is new to the city after studying in London, an idea is born.Mireya, married off at 15 to a nobleman twice her age, and Tiago, a middle-class man of esteemed education, have more in common than imagined. Both have a treasury of secrets and dreams that clash with their position within the class system. With Tiago’s London life threatening his future, and pressure on Mireya to produce the next generation of noble-blooded Valencians, the pair embark on an intense professional relationship. But one glass of tainted champagne will threaten Mireya’s 400-year-old noble family line forever…
Here we are at last – Intense Professional Countess is ready to been seen by eyes all over the world. Thanks for all the questions sent in for this Q+A session. Rather than order them from simplest to most random, as I usually do, instead I have condensed them by answering by which questions I get asked the most. Questions about me, being an author, and all about Intense Professional Countess are mixed in together, so enjoy…
YOU’RE A WRITER? WHAT DO YOU WRITE?
I write mostly historical fiction now. My first completed series, Canna Medici, is the exception, and in the psychological thriller genre. It covers abuse, depression, bipolar disorder, drug use, rape, adultery, abortion, domestic violence, opera, yacht racing, sex toys, murder, self harm… you get it. It is a series based in dialogue around Canna, a very troubled byronic heroine, and everyone she encounters on her very alternative lifestyle.
My Secrets of Spain series is about two families, brought together in Spain’s civil war of the 1930s, then separated, only to reconnect in the 21st century. It is based on real events and real people through the 20th century, showing how life in Spain impacts multiple generations. I am very proud to put all these life stories together.
Intense Professional Countess is historical fiction, set in Spain in the late 1800s, based on real locations and lifestyles of the time. This story is a romance, which is not my genre, though I used a lot of my Valencian research to make this fun short story.
IS BEING A WRITER AN ACTUAL JOB?
Yes, it is. I write books, publish books, get money from books, and do awesome stuff with said money. Would you ask a photographer if taking photos is a real job? Would you ask a tutor instructing students if teaching is a real job? A plumber installing pipes? I bet you wouldn’t. I do have other roles as well as writing, but that’s because I have the flexibility and I desire to conquer the world.
HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU PUBLISHED?
Intense Professional Countess is number 9 of 13 currently published works.
WHAT IS YOUR NEW BOOK ABOUT?
Intense Professional Countess is set in the period 1885-1891, in Valencia, Spain. It follows the life of Countess Mireya Centelles, and her life with her much older husband, Vidan Albufera, the sixth Countess de Valencia. Mireya was born the daughter of a Spanish Duke and French Princess, and given away in marriage to the Marqués as a girl, taking her a step down the aristocratic line. Mireya has lived a highly privileged life with the indulgence of her Duke father at the royal court in Madrid and has had an education usually only given to boys. But because of the class system and traditions of the time, Mireya has to enter into marriage, to another man of similar social standing. The book starts ten years into Mireya’s marriage, where she finds herself at the side of a man who owns land around Valencia city, where life for ordinary people was still similar to the old-fashioned feudal system of the middle ages where landowners rule supreme. In addition, Mireya’s husband has his fingers in every pie in the city.
Countess Mireya is prized for her beauty – pale skin and red auburn hair from her French mother. But she is barren – an embarrassment for her and her ageing husband. Her arranged marriage means she spends little time with her husband, and devotes her time to education. Mireya is extremely intelligent and possesses more university education than any woman in Spain, as they are still discouraged from education. University was permitted for women by special dispensation in the 1870s, available to some in the 1880s, but not fully open to women until 1910. Mireya needs her husband’s permission for everything and has no rights in terms of any inheritance or ownership. Mireya is essentially owned by her husband, traded to him by her father.
Tiago Ríbera Henestroza is a commoner – a Madrileño new to Valencia, a brilliantly educated architect employed by Count Vidan. Mireya and Tiago bond over the building of a new hotel in her husband’s name, but the friendships between women and men are deemed as suspicious, and between a noblewoman and a commoner non-existent. An intense professional relationship forms between Mireya and Tiago, but when Tiago’s ugly secrets about his time in London re-emerge, Mireya is left with a difficult decision that will change her life, for better or worse, no one can tell. Their relationship threatens lives and destroys others as Tiago atones for all his past sins, and Mireya decides how many sins she needs to commit if she wants to become the leader she was born to be. Tiago is free to follow his dreams, but Mireya has a strong sense of duty and is essentially a prisoner in her own life.
IS YOUR BOOK BASED ON REAL PEOPLE?
No, Mireya and Tiago are people I made up myself. The buildings at the centre of the story are all real. Mireya lives what was once the Palacio de Dos Aguas, now the Museo Nacional de Cerámica y de las Artes Suntuarias González Martí (take a look, it’s amazing). None of the characters are based on that family who owned or built the palace, it is simply a building I adore.
Two other central locations in the book the Hotel Albufera, a fictional place based on the building of the Hotel Valencia. This hotel was one of the first in the area to be built in a time of regeneration of the city, and done at the behest of a woman, hence my inspiration to use the location. The other location is the amazing Palacio Ripalda, a castle built in Valencia by architect Joaquín María Arnau Miramón for a woman with whom he forged an intense professional relationship. That expression inspired my book, but the characters in the book are not based on the lives of real people. The Palacio Ripalda is a building I researched while studying Valencia’s architecture and saddens me that it no longer exists.
WHY DO YOU WRITE ABOUT SPAIN?
I used to live in Spain. I love Spain. Valencia is my home as far as I am concerned, though I live back in New Zealand. Yes, I speak the language. I have studied Spain, its culture, history, and civil war since 2005. Yes, I do visit Spain. Yes, I would live there again. Spain and I have an intense relationship and it’s not strictly professional, I love Spain with all my heart.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE A WRITE A BOOK?
I wrote Intense Professional Countess in a month. The research took a year. I study from six months to a year before I write, so I am often writing one book and already researching the next one. I usually allow about three months for writing the first draft, but the whole process from starting to publishing is around a year. I have done it in six months but it was tough, and I don’t have time to dedicate myself to writing like that anymore. My first book, Night Wants to Forget released in 2011, took 18 months, but that’s a reflection of my inexperience, and that fact it’s a huge book. My busiest year was 2014 when I had three releases, but now I aim for one book a year, because of the research needed.
WHAT DID YOU HAVE TO STUDY TO BECOME A WRITER?
I have been writing creatively since I was a child. I have never taken a writing course of any kind. I have never needed tips on what to write, where to gain inspiration, how to come up with plots, or how to move a story forward. I don’t suffer writer’s block, if anything, my mind needs slowing down. I have studied history, culture, war, politics, all the subjects required for my works. I interview people, hear real stories, and develop emotions for fictional people based on what real hearts have felt. No writing course can teach that.
DID YOU GO TO SPAIN TO RESEARCH THIS BOOK?
I didn’t go to Spain specifically for Intense Professional Countess, but all I needed was already in my research notes from my Vengeance in the Valencian Water research trip. I also have wonderful people in Spain who provide me with anything extra I need.