Author Interview: Caroline Stevermer

Caroline Stevermer

Please join me in welcoming Caroline Stevermer to Damsels in Regress. Ms. Stevermer is the author of several fantasies including A College of Magics and A Scholar of Magics, and co-author with Patricia C. Wrede of the Sorcery and Cecelia series.  Welcome, Caroline!

Thank you so much for asking me to participate in Damsels in Regress. What a terrific resource you have!

1. How did Frederick’s story come about?

When Patricia C. Wrede and I finished The Mislaid Magician, our editor, Kathy Dawson, then at Harcourt Brace, suggested that I might like to try my hand at a middle-grade novel set in the same world. I jumped at the opportunity.

In one of my earliest books, The Serpent’s Egg, the heroes are aided and abetted by a grouchy yet competent servant named Frederick. I’d begun to wonder where Frederick came from originally. The Frederick in Magic Below Stairs is a completely different character, but that’s where the story began, wondering about that earlier Frederick.

2. Tell us about the creation of Billy Bly.

Who wouldn’t want a brownie to help with housework once in a while?

In The Personnel of Fairyland, K. M. Briggs mentions Billy Blind, a hobgoblin or brownie from the ballads of the border between England and Scotland. Billy Blind is the inspiration behind Billy Bly. Of Billy Blind, Briggs says his “chief function seems to be to give good advice.” Billy Bly gives Frederick pretty good advice too.

3. You have a lot of details about the daily operation of a lord’s house.  What kind of research did you do?

The single most useful reference was The Complete Servant by Samuel and Sarah Adams, originally published in 1825. The authors were in service themselves. The book goes into all kinds of detail about what kind of duties each sort of servant performed. It even talks about wages—circa 1825, of course. Currency conversion is required.

From MRS HURST DANCING. Here ladies are putting up wallpaper!

I tend to learn visually, so it helped to find references that let me imagine how the house looked inside. I visited the period rooms at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a favorite haunt, to look at furniture and tea sets. As for books, I found The English Country House in Perspective by Gervase Jackson-Stops really helpful. Also Mrs Hurst Dancing (and other scenes from Regency Life 1812-1813) with the authentic regency watercolors of Diana Sperling and accompanying text by Gordon Mingay. I also studied Women’s Worlds (The Art and Life of Mary Ellen Best 1809-1891) by Caroline Davidson.

4. You’ve revisited characters from your other work in Magic Below Stairs.  Do you plan to write any more stories that do the same?

I certainly hope so! I have nothing formally planned at this time, but I love the characters and the setting.

5. What are some of your favorite historical fantasy novels?

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

The alternate history aspects eluded me when I originally read them—I was in grade school—I’d never heard of Hanoverians—but I’ve always loved Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Black Hearts in Battersea, along with the other Dido Twite books.

Not fantasy, but vividly historical, Rosemary Sutcliff’s books give me what I love in historical fiction, a sense of a worldview authentically different from our own. In particular, Simon, in which for once the hero of a novel set in the English Civil War is a Roundhead and not a Cavalier.

Most recently, Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis, which I enjoyed so much I read it in a single sitting. I’m looking forward to more from her.

6. Some great recommendations! What were your favorite books when you were a teenager?

The Lord of the Rings, predictably enough. Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books.

Because Ballantine Books brought out the works of E.R.R. Eddison in a paperback edition very similar to The Lord of the Rings, I tried Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros. The first sixty pages or so were very rough sledding, I admit, but ultimately I fell in love with the language, the bad guys, and most of all, the vainest and laziest fantasy hero I’d ever encountered, Lord Brandoch Daha. I still have a soft spot for him. How could I resist a character, who when his cousin the king comes to tell him about a prophetic dream he’s just had, does this:

Brandoch Daha snuggled him under the bedclothes and said, “Let me be and let me sleep yet two hours. Then will I rise and bathe and array myself and eat my morning meal, and thereafter will I take rede with thee and tell thee somewhat for thine advantage. I have not slept in a goose-feather bed and sheets of lawn these many weeks. If thou plague me now, by God, I will incontinently take horse over the Stile to Krothering, and let thee and thine affairs go to the devil.”

And then his cousin the king just laughs at him and goes away and lets him sleep. Heady stuff, when you’re 13 and living on a dairy farm, let me tell you.

7. I can imagine. What are you working on now?

I’m polishing the rough draft of a YA novel set in a different regency London from the Kate and Cecy books, but it has magic. (Wish me luck.)

Thanks so much for the good questions and for letting me natter on answering them.

You’re so welcome. And thank you for joining us on the Damsels. Good luck on your new novel!

For more information on Caroline and her work, check out her website:

Be sure to visit us on Friday when I’ll post a contest to win an autographed copy of Magic Below Stairs.


4 Responses to Author Interview: Caroline Stevermer

  1. QNPoohBear says:

    I love Sorcery & Cecilia. Thanks for the interview. It’s nice putting a face to a name and knowing what an author thinks.

  2. Tricia says:

    I agree! 😀

  3. Having a fan girl moment here…A College of Magics is one of my absolutely most favorite books, and I recommend it constantly on LibraryThing. Thanks for the interview!

  4. Tricia says:

    Heh, Marissa. 😀 I’m glad you found this. I meant to post a comment on your FB wall in case you were interested. Guess you are!

    I also love A College of Magics. I’m among those clamoring for a sequel to a A Scholar of Magics.

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