Mimi Matthews’ latest book in her Belles of London series is Belle of Belgrave Square. It tells the story of Julia Wynchwood, a shy, anxious romantic who is 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 terrifying, has a severe scar on his face and is said to be devilish as he fought in the military. He is also known as a man looking for a wife to be the mother of his bastard children. Not the match most young women want to make.
But Julia is not like most young women, and the more time she spends with Captain Blunt, the more she realizes that he is not the man everyone thinks he is. And he might be the hero she’s looking for.
Culturess was lucky enough to speak to Mimi Matthews about her characters, Victorian medical practice, horses and the next books in Belles from London series.
Cultureless: When you started Belles of London series, did you guys plan each couple before they started writing, or did that come later? When we see Jasper and Julia inside The Siren of Sussexwere they planned to be the next book?
Mimi Matthews: I would like to say that I plan things so thoroughly, but the truth is that I mostly discover them as I go. It wasn’t until the middle of The Siren of Sussex that I knew Jasper and Julia would be the stars of the next book. The early threads of their story really captured my imagination.
Mimi Matthews discusses her new book, The Belle of Belgrave Square
Cultureless: Belle of Belgrave Square has some distinct notes of Beauty and the Beast (along with a few other adventures). There is even a secret room. Was that the plan when you started writing, or did it just fit the story?
Mimi Matthews: I didn’t have a plan when I started. But as I wrote, I realized that Julia and Captain Blunt’s love story had many of the same elements as Victorian sensation novels of the 1860s – dark secrets, hidden identities, and threads of mystery and danger. I really wanted to play with these elements so that the finished story echoed the style of that style of the nineteenth century novel. Belle also has nods to several popular fairy tales, which worked well with the style of the thriller, sometimes softening the darker themes and sometimes echoing them. For example, in the story of Bluebeard’s wife, there is a secret room that a new wife is forbidden to enter. I really loved the threat of danger that added to my story.
Culture: 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 Matthews: I have had horses since I was a little girl. Until a recent neck injury, riding was a big part of my life. The bond you form with a horse is special. They are not just a pet, they are 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. In the end, it takes courage for the rest of her 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 is important to mention in your books?
Mimi Matthews: Victorian medicine could be quite barbaric, whether it was a treatment as mild as vein ligation or something as brutal as forced commitment to an asylum. I think the horror of it comes down to the loss of bodily autonomy. It is something that frightened the Victorian public as much as it frightens 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 that come about in the writing process?
Mimi Matthews: Again, I had no good plan. But when I wrote that scene and Julia was in danger, I just knew how Jasper would react to hearing about her situation. He is a man of action. A hero who will do what is right regardless of the consequences. And of course he was already half in love with her, so there was no stopping him.
Culturess: As much as Jasper saves Julia in the book, Julia saves him right back. With his writing, with his children and with his secrets. Can you talk a little about that dynamic and how they balance each other out?
Mimi Matthews: Part of Julia’s journey was learning to be strong – to fight for herself and for her found family. As she gains confidence, she realizes that she has a whole inner reserve of strength to draw upon. It both helps and hinders Jasper as he tries to both protect her and protect his secrets. In the end, one character is not necessarily stronger than the other or more of a savior. They simply work together, giving each other what they need when they need it most, while still staying true to their own core values.
Culturess: Are there any historical pieces you sneaked into the story that we might not notice? Or did any part of your research surprise you for this book?
Mimi Matthews: I hope there are lots of unremarkable historical bits in my novels! I like my research – whether it’s fashion, technology or real life events of the day – to blend effortlessly into the narrative. I don’t want my romances to read like history books. Unfortunately, this means that I cannot include all of my research. And yes, there were a few little things that surprised me – although I can’t reveal them without spoiling a major plot!
Kulturinde: Can you tell us a bit about Julia’s character development? While many of the characters change, Julia’s development is probably the biggest as she goes from very shy and shy to quite brave.
Mimi Matthews: A large part of Julia’s development is due to a change in environment. At the beginning 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 ruthless competition of London’s social season and it’s no wonder that a sensitive young lady like Julia would rather hide in bed with a book than go to a ball. Once Julia is married, the environment changes drastically. Her world becomes bigger and far more supportive and nurturing. It is the main reason why she is able to flourish.
Culturess: How did Jasper’s backstory come about? Without giving too much away, it’s complex and heartbreaking, but it shows so much of why he is the way he is.
Mimi Matthews: I can’t say much without spoiling the plot, except that Jasper’s backstory was partly inspired by my own interest in the conflict that sometimes arises between law and morality. Faced with that conflict, Jasper chose to honor a moral right, even if it meant breaking the law. His choices have had consequences he never imagined.
Culturess : The four Belles are separated for most of this book. Will they be together again in the next books?
Mimi Matthews: Yes! All four Belles reunite in Book 3, The lily of Ludgate Hill. There are lots of scenes with them together. Readers even get to see Evelyn Maltravers’ wedding to Ahmad Malik!
Culturess: A Modest Independence is one of my favorite of your books, so I love seeing the Finchleys in this series. Will they be in the rest of the books too?
Mimi Matthews: I’m so glad you enjoyed A modest independence! Yes, the Finchleys will reappear Belles from London, Book 4. In fact, characters from my Parish Orphans of Devon series are sprinkled throughout my Belles of London series in ways both big and small. Alex and Laura Archer and Teddy Hayes appear in The lily of Ludgate Hill. And Teddy is the hero of book 4, The Muse of Maiden Lane. You can also expect to see Justin Thornhill and Lady Helena in Book 4 along with Neville and Clara Cross.
Belle of Belgrave Square is available on Tuesday, October 11, 2022 in e-book, paperback and audiobook formats.