Mimi Matthews talks about her latest book, Victorian medicine, horses, and more.
Mimi Matthews’ latest book in her Belles of London series is The Beauty of Belgrave Square. It tells the story of Julia Wynchwood, a shy and anxious romantic stuck in a cage made by her parents. They demand that she stay home to take care of them but she wants nothing more than to be away from them.
Cut to Captain Jasper Blunt. He is one of the most feared people in London. He is intimidating, sports a severe facial scar, and was said to be evil when he fought in the military. He is also known as a man who seeks a woman to be the mother of his bastard children. This is not the match most young women want to make.
But Julia isn’t like most young women, and the more time she spends with Captain Blunt, the more she realizes he’s not the man everyone thinks he is. And he just might be the hero she’s been looking for.
Culturess had the chance to talk to Mimi Matthews about its characters, Victorian medical practices, horses and the upcoming books of the beauties of london series.
Cultures : When you started the beauties of london series, did you plan each couple before you started writing or did it come later? When we see Jasper and Julia in The Sussex Mermaidwere they planned to be the next book?
Mimi Matthew: I’d love to say I plan things out thoroughly, but the truth is that I mostly figure them out as I go. It wasn’t until the middle of The Mermaid of Sussex that I knew Jasper and Julia would be the stars of the next book. The first threads of their story really captured my imagination.
Mimi Matthews talks about her new book, The Belle of Belgrave Square
Cultures : The Beauty of Belgrave Square has some distinct notes from Beauty and the Beast (as well as a few other fairy tales). There is even a secret room. Was that the plan when you started writing or did it just fit the story?
Mimi Matthew: I didn’t have a plan when I started. However, as I was writing I realized that the love story of Julia and Captain Blunt had many of the same elements as the Victorian sensational novels of the 1860s – dark secrets, hidden identities and threads of mystery and danger. I really wanted to play with those elements so that the finished narrative echoed the style of that 19th century novel style. Belle also has nods to several popular fairy tales, which worked well with the style of the tabloid novel, at times softening the darker themes and at times echoing them. For example, in Bluebeard’s Wife’s Tale, there is a secret room that a new bride is forbidden to enter. I absolutely loved the threat of danger that added to my story.
Culturess: Horses are always a big part of your books. What draws you to them and what do you think they add to your stories?
Mimi Matthew: I’ve had horses since I was little. Until a recent neck injury, riding was an integral part of my life. The bond you create with a horse is special. They’re not just a pet, they’re a partner. For a shy character, like Julia, having a horse as a partner helps her to be strong. She is braver in the saddle. Eventually, this courage extends to the rest of his life. I think horses do that for people. Being with them, whether on the ground or in the saddle, changes you for the better.
Culturess: A few of your books, including this one, show the horrors of medicine in the Victorian era. Why do you think it’s important to be in your books?
Mimi Matthew: Victorian medicine could be quite barbaric, whether it was a treatment as gentle as bloodshed or something as brutal as forced confinement in an asylum. I think the horror comes down to the loss of bodily autonomy. It’s something that scared Victorian audiences as much as it scares us today. That fact makes it enduringly relatable, which is one of the reasons it features in some of my Victorian stories.
Culturess: Jasper has an epic rescue scene in the book (it’s so good!!). How did this come about in the writing process?
Mimi Matthew: Again, I didn’t have a big plan. But when I was writing this scene and Julia was in danger, I just knew how Jasper would react upon hearing about her situation. He is a man of action. A hero who will do what is right, no matter the consequences. And he was already half in love with her, of course, so nothing could stop him.
Culturess: As much as Jasper saves Julia in the book, Julia saves him right away. With his writing, with his children and with his secrets. Can you talk a bit about those dynamics and how they balance each other out?
Mimi Matthew: Part of Julia’s journey has been learning to be strong, to fight for herself and her newfound family. As she gains more confidence, she realizes that she has a whole inner reserve of strength to draw from. This both helps and hinders Jasper as he tries to both protect her and her secrets. Ultimately, one character isn’t necessarily stronger than the other or more of a savior. They simply work together, each giving the other what they need when they need it most, while remaining true to their own core values.
Culturess: Are there any historical elements that you slipped into the story that we might not notice? Or did some of your research surprise you for this book?
Mimi Matthew: I hope there are a lot of imperceptible historical bits in my novels! I love that my research – whether it’s fashion, technology, or real-life events of the day – blends effortlessly into the narrative. I don’t want my novels to read like history books. Unfortunately, this means that I cannot include all of my research. And yes, there are a few details that surprised me, although I can’t reveal them without spoiling a major plot point!
Culturess: Can you tell us a bit about Julia’s character development? While many of the characters change, Julia’s development is probably the greatest as she goes from very nervous and shy to quite brave.
Mimi Matthew: Much of Julia’s development is due to a change in environment. At the start of the story, she lives in London with her parents in what is, essentially, an abusive situation. Her mother and father diminish her and make her world small. Add to that the cutthroat competition of London’s social season and it’s no wonder a sensitive young woman like Julia would rather hide in bed with a book than go to a ball. Once married, however, Julia’s environment changes dramatically. His world becomes bigger and much more supportive and nurturing. This is the main reason why she is able to flourish.
Culturess: How did the story of Jasper come about? Without saying too much, it’s complex and heartbreaking, but it shows so much why he is the way he is.
Mimi Matthew: I can’t say much without spoiling the plot, except that Jasper’s backstory was partially inspired by my own interest in the conflict that sometimes arises between law and morality. Jasper was faced with this conflict and he chose to honor a moral right, even if it meant he was breaking the law. His choice had consequences he never imagined.
Culturess: The four Belles are separate for most of this book. Will they be together again in the next volumes?
Mimi Matthew: Yes! The four Belles reunite in volume 3, The Ludgate Hill Lily. There are a lot of scenes with them together. Readers can even see Evelyn Maltravers’ wedding to Ahmad Malik!
Culturess: A Modest Independence is one of your favorite books, so I love seeing the Finchleys in this series. Will they also be featured in the rest of the books?
Mimi Matthew: I’m so glad you enjoyed it A modest independence! Yes, the Finchleys will reappear in beauties of london, Book 4. In fact, the characters from my Parish Orphans of Devon series are scattered throughout my Belles of London series, both large and small. Alex and Laura Archer and Teddy Hayes appear in The Ludgate Hill Lily. And Teddy is the hero of volume 4, The Muse of Maiden Lane. You can also expect to see Justin Thornhill and Lady Helena in Book 4, as well as Neville and Clara Cross.
The Beauty of Belgrave Square is available Tuesday, October 11, 2022 in ebook, paperback and audiobook formats.