Regency romance author Eva Leigh chats with us about how she was inspired to create the new addition to her Union of the Rakes series, Would I Lie to the Duke, based on the music and movies of the 1980s!
Like many American kids growing up in the ’80s, the television was a constant companion. Both my parents worked outside the house, so when I’d come home from school, I’d have a snack of highly processed food and watch movies or music videos before eventually getting around to (maybe) doing my homework.
I’d view the same films over and over again, but in the era of cable television, I couldn’t be choosy about what to watch and when. Same with music videos. Want to see Duran Duran’s “New Moon On Monday?” Park it in front of the television and expectantly wait.
Not only did these movies and videos entertain me, but they sparked my imagination. Often, the things I watched would act as springboards into my own stories, especially if there was an element of a film or video that I particularly liked—or disliked, giving me the opportunity to correct elements that bothered me.
Long before I knew that there was something called fanfic, I wrote stories based on Duran Duran and Wham! videos for the entertainment of my friends in elementary school. Or I’d watch teen comedies and wish that the roles for the female characters were a little stronger, a little more dimensional.
I began reading romance novels in high school in the mid ’80s, when a friend used to lend me her mother’s books. Writing had already been established as one of my passions back when I was a small child, so it wasn’t long after reading my first romance novels (by authors such as Jude Deveraux, Joanna Lindsey, and Judith McNaught) that I started writing my own. At least, I attempted to write my own. It took me several years to finish my first complete book.
Flash forward to me a couple of years ago, having published over two dozen romance novels. It was time to pitch a new series of historical romances to my editor, and I had been rewatching movies like “Desperately Seeking Susan,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” The idea hit me—what if I took elements from these beloved films, films that I watched at the same time that I started reading romance, and put them in the Regency? To my shock and pleasure, my editor (who is fifteen years younger than me) liked the idea and gave the Union of the Rakes series the thumbs up. (Yes, it came back to Duran Duran!)
The whole series premise is based on “The Breakfast Club,” except instead of five American teenagers meeting in a library for Detention, we have five boys at Eton. While forcing students to write an essay wasn’t standard punishment at Eton during the late 18th century, I took a little artistic license. Each book in the series follows one of the boys as an adult, and in the case of Noel Edwards, the Duke of Rotherby, he’s “the popular one.”
“Working Girl” is a film that truly set the mood for depicting upward mobility, as well as the danger and volatility of the American business world in the late 1980s. For those unfamiliar with the movie, Tess McGill (played by Melanie Griffith) is a woman from the working class New York borough of Staten Island, who takes the ferry in to work as a secretary in Manhattan. Tess is a dreamer, but more than that, she has smarts and ambition and refuses to be held back by her gender and social status. When the opportunity arises for Tess to infiltrate the world of high end mergers and acquisitions, she jumps at the chance, and encounters obstacles and a romantic connection (in the form of sexy, savvy Jack Trainer, as played by Harrison Ford) along the way.
Another film, “The Secret of My Success,” starring Michael J. Fox had a similar premise of a talented outsider using their brains and subterfuge to enter the realm of business.
When I started thinking about who to pair opposite my extremely popular duke, my mind went straight to “Working Girl,” and “The Secret of My Success.” I loved the idea of someone shouldering their way into a place that’s barred to them, and if I made that person into a woman who was the very opposite of a duke—a woman raised on a farm in Wiltshire—then there would be all kinds of opportunities for drama and romance.
While I was at it, I drew inspiration from “Shark Tank,” (“Dragons’ Den” in the UK) as a place to put my heroine through her paces. It wasn’t ’80s, but it fit the bill. I made sure the stakes were high, namely the survival of her family’s soap business, and the necessity for pretending to be someone she wasn’t. Add one extremely attractive duke who actually appreciates my heroine’s intelligence and resourcefulness, but make him absolutely abhor liars and people who use him for his position of power. It was a delicious idea I had to write, and so Would I Lie to the Duke was born.
As I wrote the book, I listened nonstop to the British New Wave music that had inspired me in my formative years, including Duran Duran, the Thompson Twins, Adam Ant, and Tears For Fears. This music brings back all the memories I have of being a young, romantic girl growing up in Los Angeles, and I drew on those thoughts and feelings as I created my story of the charming but astute duke and the woman of ordinary birth but extraordinary ambition.
It may seem strange that the films of John Hughes and the music of the 1980s inspired a series of Regency-set historical romances, but for me, the journey made perfect sense. And it was awesome.