Friday, November 22, 2019

'The Blue' Is the Kindle Daily Deal Today

Amazon selected my historical thriller THE BLUE to be the Kindle Daily Deal for subscribers to its newsletter for Saturday, November 23rd. For today only in the United States, the ebook costs $1.49--for everyone!

Set in the 18th century, my novel tells the story of a young Huguenot woman, a painter, who agrees to become a spy at a porcelain factory to discover the formula for the most beautiful color in the world--but she soon finds herself in danger.

To order the ebook of THE BLUE, click here.

If you'd like to order the original paperback or audio book, that's great too! And remember, you can order THE BLUE as a holiday gift for a friend or relative :)

Sharing some of the endorsements that the novel received:

‘Nancy Bilyeau's passion for history infuses her books’ – Alison Weir

'Fascinating' -- Ian Rankin

'Definitely a winner!' -- Kate Quinn

'Bilyeau is an impressive talent who brings to life a heart-stopping story of adventure, art and espionage during the Seven Years War.' - Stephanie Dray

'...transports the reader into the heart of the 18th century porcelain trade—where the price of beauty was death.’ -- E.M. Powell

If you don't live in the U.S., my book is still available at a low price in the UK, Canada, and Australia in ebook, paperback, and audio.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Tudor to Georgian: When a Novelist Jumps Centuries

By Nancy Bilyeau

Sometimes an idea for a new novel is part of a carefully worked out strategic plan, and sometimes it pops into your brain seemingly out of nowhere. In the case of my historical novel The Blue, it was the latter.

While touring Hillwood Estate in Washington D.C. with my sister in 2013 and gazing at the spectacular 18th century porcelain collection, I heard the guide say, "Porcelain was very competitive in Europe--during this time it was like the Space Race." I was excited at the thought of writing a spy thriller set among the porcelain workshops of the 18th century.

Before I knew it, I was creating characters. This meant making some big changes in my writing. My novels The Crown, The Chalice and The Tapestry take place in Tudor England. For my new book, I plunged forward into the era of Rococo art and Enlightenment thought, of war and revolution. This was the Georgian period.

When it came to my protagonists, I exchanged a Catholic novice for a Huguenot artist. And since I like to weave "real" people from history into my plots, I read up on the monarchs, artists, and scientists of the 18th century. The similarities and the contrasts were highly interesting. Allow me to share a few.

Henry VIII to Louis XV

King Henry VIII is one of the most famous kings of England--or any European country for that matter. He was of course married six times and the monarch who broke ties with the Pope, which led to the English Reformation. In his time, Henry was also known for being extremely handsome--over six feet tall, with red hair and glowing skin--and accomplished, but the latter part of his reign was marked with tyranny and sudden, fatal reversals of favor. No one was safe, not his wives nor his ministers.

Since the main character of my trilogy is Joanna Stafford, a Dominican novice fighting for her way of life, Henry VIII is an ongoing source of fear and frustration. But Joanna is from an aristocratic family related to the royals, so at times she is pulled into the court, particularly in the third book, The Tapestry. Her talent with tapestries wins the admiration of her cousin the King, ironically. My research confirmed that Henry Tudor was a dedicated, if not obsessed collector of Renaissance tapestries. He spent the equivalent of a warship on one series of tapestries in the early 1540s.

Louis XV, "The Beloved"

In most people's minds, Louis XV is overshadowed by his predecessor, his great-grandfather Louis XIV, and his successor, his grandson, Louis XVI. Yet during his long reign, he was often regarded as the most powerful man in the Western world. Few celebrate that reign today, though. His inability to curtail spending or to deal with famine and poverty set France on the road to revolution. He led his nation into expensive wars. His most famous words are "Après moi, le déluge."

While his character was reserved and melancholy, Louis, like Henry VIII, was outstandingly handsome, and many of the women in his court were eager to be his mistress. He is famous for his taste and is not given enough credit for his role in supporting architecture, art, and music.  In the 1750s, the time of my novel The Blue, France was considered superior to England in art, fashion, science--and, most significantly, porcelain. Louis was obsessed with France being the creator of the most beautiful porcelain in the world.

If some people think Henry Tudor is over-represented in books and films and television (he's been played by everyone from Richard Burton to Damian Lewis), Louis XV shows up almost nowhere. He's perhaps most familiar to audiences as played by Rip Torn in the 2006 Marie Antoinette movie starring Kirsten Dunst.

My main character, Genevieve, is a Huguenot, part of a French Protestant community that the Catholic kings hated and successfully drove out. Her family took refuge in England--the word "refugee" was coined to describe the French Protestants flooding London. Genevieve despises Louis XV and fears him, knowing that if England were to be invaded by France, as threatened to happen in 1758, it would not be good for her.

Anne Boleyn to Madame de Pompadour

All of the wives except Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr appear in my trilogy. Fifth wife Catherine Howard has the largest role in my novels, but in my opinion there's no question but that Wife Number Two, Anne Boleyn, was the most significant to English history. My personal sympathies may rest with the wife she dislodged, Catherine of Aragon, but Anne was the love of Henry VIII's life and a woman of remarkable intelligence, style, and taste.

Louis XV was the opposite of Henry VIII when it came to women. He married once but had many, many mistresses. His court was dumbfounded when he slept with four sisters in the same family, one after another over a period of years. But then came Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, known to history as Madame de Pompadour. She was the love of Louis XV's life. For almost twenty years, she was his cherished companion, even after the sexual part of their relationship faded. 

I like to think that Anne Boleyn and Madame de Pompadour would have been fast best friends. They were both sexy and smart, leaders in art and style, Anne being musical and Pompadour being a talented actress who loved performing in small productions put on for Louis. But neither woman was popular beyond a small circle of loyalists. This contributed to Anne Boleyn's downfall; as for Pompadour, being surrounded by people who hated her eventually wore her down. She died of illness at age 45.

In films and TV, Anne Boleyn has been played by a staggeringly long list of talented actresses: Merle Oberon, Vanessa Redgrave, Genevieve Bujold, and Natalie Dormer, among many others. But what about Madame de Pompadour? Like Louis XV, she's been seen onscreen comparatively rarely.

Hans Holbein to William Hogarth

Art plays a crucial part in my fiction. In the Joanna Stafford trilogy, the tapestries the sisters weave are important to plot and character. The Blue revolves around the creation of porcelain--and the longing of my main character, Genevieve, to become a real artist. I am fascinated by the lives of artists of the past, and I placed both Hans Holbein and William Hogarth in my books.

Hans Holbein

Holbein, court artist to Henry VIII, was the ultimate survivor. A German, he came to England under the sponsorship of Thomas More. When that man was beheaded, he switched over to Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. Holbein was sent to paint Anne of Cleves when a widowed Henry VIII was looking for a new wife. He decided to marry her based on the portrait--and was furious and upset when he met the "real" woman, saying, "I like her not!"

It's in the lives of the artists that the difference between the 16th and the 18th centuries is most pronounced. Holbein must have been nervous of Henry VIII, along with everyone else, and certainly painted him with flattery.

But that was hardly the career course pursued by William Hogarth.

William Hogarth
Coming for a lower-middle-class family, Hogarth, a painter and printmaker, used his talents to make blistering comments on English society, even those at the top.  Many of his works are satirical caricatures, showcasing the greed and heartlessness of the ruling class. Some of his work attacked politicians for their corruption and the aristocracy for making loveless marriages purely for money.

After Hogarth's death, the actor David Garrick composed this for his tombstone:

Farewell great Painter of Mankind
Who reach'd the noblest point of Art
Whose pictur'd Morals charm the Mind
And through the Eye correct the Heart. 
If Genius fire thee, Reader, stay,
If Nature touch thee, drop a Tear:
If neither move thee, turn away,
For Hogarth's honour'd dust lies here.

In The Blue, Genevieve's admiration for Hogarth--and her determination to use her talent to show society with all honesty--is what sets the entire plot in motion.:)

I could go on, but you get the picture. (So to speak.) Whether it's the 16th or the 18th centuries, these are fascinating people. I loved researching them and working them into my fiction.

Reviews for THE BLUE:
Ian Rankin: "Fascinating."
Kate Quinn: "Definitely a winner."
NB magazine: "Fast-paced and highly engaging historical thriller"
E.M. Powell: "Transports the reader into the heart of the 18th century porcelain trade—where the price of beauty was death."

Follow Nancy on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for her author newsletter to read nonfiction posts about history and get the news first on novel giveaways and chapter extras.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Andrew Planche: A Huguenot Porcelain Visionary

In all the fiction I've written so far, the main character is a product of my imagination, as are many of the secondary characters. But I also weave into my stories real people from history. Some are quite famous, such as Henry VIII and Catherine Howard in my Tudor trilogy, and Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour in The Blue. But some "real" people who populate my books, while far from well known to the general public, are important to me and to my story.

Such is certainly the case with Andrew Planche, a character in The Blue.


When I was first sketching out my ideas for this historical thriller, I knew I wanted to write an espionage story set in the porcelain world of the 18th century, but I hadn't developed the main character beyond  "female spy." I had a true "A ha!" moment when, in my research, I discovered that Huguenot artists played a pivotal role in the early days of many English porcelain factories. I had long been wanting to write about the French Huguenots. I myself am descended from a Huguenot settler who came to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in 1661.

But before I go any further on the Huguenots, it's important to explain the state of porcelain-making in England in the 1700s. For centuries, porcelain was the provenance of China, with hard-paste porcelain produced there beginning in the 13th century. When Western markets opened up, it was exported to those who could pay. In Europe, porcelain found an eager market, with the royal families of several Western European countries spending a fortune on their collections.  King Philip of Spain, who tried, and failed, to invade England, was a porcelain enthusiast; King Louis XIV of France a porcelain fanatic.

Not surprisingly, in Europe there were many efforts to create porcelain without needing to import it at such tremendous cost, but no one could figure out the correct formula for turning clay into fragile objects of ravishing, sparkling beauty. Then came two breakthroughs--one of them thanks to a mission of espionage in China--and by the early 18th century the competition was on. 

Porcelain workshops sprang up in Germany, France, and England to try to snatch up this luxury market. One museum curator described it to me as "the space race of its time." Ironically, these same three countries became embroiled in the Seven Years War in the mid-18th century, known as the French and Indian War in America. They were vying for dominance in many spheres. One was colonial exploitation, yes. Another was manufacturing the most beautiful porcelain.

As for the Huguenots, they were French Protestants who, faced with hostility from the Catholic powers-that-be in France, immigrated in waves.  They formed a sizable community in England--in fact, the word refugee was coined to describe these Protestants seeking refuge in another country. Many Huguenots  were highly skilled artisans such as silk weavers, potters, and silversmiths, and it is now acknowledged that France erred in driving out these valuable citizens. The destruction of this burgeoning middle class played a part in the outbreak of the French Revolution.

Andrew Planche is in many ways a classic Huguenot of his time. However, there are gaps and contradictions in his story. 

He was born in either 1727 or 1728 to Paul Planche, a French refugee, and his wife, Marie Ann Fournier, and baptized in Soho. Some accounts say that his father was a coffee merchant whose name was actually Blanchet, others that the father was a ceramicist trained at Meissen, one of the leading porcelain workshops in Europe, who taught Andrew what he knew. It seems that either the father died while Andrew was a teenager or he remarried and Andrew and his brothers had to "shift for themselves."

By the 1750s, Andrew Planche seems to have found a home in Derby, one source said "in reduced circumstances." According to various documents and papers, he was there in 1756 at the formation of Derby Porcelain Works. William Duesbury, who had London experience in "enameling," and a banker named John Heath set up this business. Planche is thought by some to have been the creative force. 

One book published in 1878 described the situation:

"There has always been a tradition that the first maker of China [porcelain] in Derby was a Frenchman, who lived in a small house in Lodge Lane, who modelled and made small articles in China, principally animals--birds, cats, dogs, lambs, etc., which he fired in a pipe-maker's oven in the neighborhood belonging to a man named Woodward....He was evidently a very clever man and ... had the secret to making China body, Duesbury the energy and other requirements and Heath the money to start out and carry out the famous Derby China Works."

"Chinaman and Boy," attributed to Andrew Planche

Above is a photograph of one of the very few porcelain objects attributed to Andrew Planche. As you can see, it is far from a simple cat or dog but a sophisticated figure of an Asian man, swirling in motion. The art and fashion of the Far East fascinated the aristocrats and wealthy merchants of England  during this time.

Despite its promising launch as a business, Andrew Planche extricated himself from Derby Porcelain Works just as it was gaining its first acclaim. I could never find an explanation as to why.

Catherine Beth, Lippert, the author of Eighteenth Century English Porcelain in the Collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, said Planche's work displayed "a vitality and crispness of modeling that the later pieces lack." After Planche's exit, Lippert wrote that Derby's style of the porcelain was strongly influenced by Sevres, the French manufactory sponsored by Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV.

By the 1760s Andrew had changed his name and was actively pursuing a career as an actor. He toured the north of England and by 1768 worked as a prompter at the Old Orchard Street Theatre in Bath where he supposedly "stayed for thirty-one years." Andrew Planche died in January 1805.

As for Derby Porcelain Works, it did not suffer long from Planche's departure. By 1770, Duesbury, described by all as an astute and assertive businessman, acquired some of his competition in the respected Chelsea China Works and the Bow moulds, and brought a number of their craftsmen from London to Derby. He opened a large London showroom in 1773.

A figure created in Derby after Planche's departure

According to the website for the factory, "A Royal Warrant from King George III, dated 28th March 1775, appointing William Duesbury and John Heath 'Derby China Manufacturers to His Majesty', and in recognition the factory adopted a new mark with a crown surmounting the script Duesbury ‘D’ used earlier."

Royal Crown Derby "is one of the few original fine bone china manufacturers that still remains in Britain today, 100 percent producing in Britain," states its website. "Ours is a history with an illustrious heritage in British society."

Royal Crown Derby porcelain made in 1770s, showing influence of Sevres.
From the Victoria and Albert Museum Collection.

Royal Crown Derby today

To circle back to The Blue, I was so intrigued by the mysteries of Andrew Planche, described by one 19th century writer dismissively as "an apocryphal French refugee," that I decided to make him the cousin of my main character, a Huguenot artist who I named Genvieve Planche. In the novel Andrew plays a small but pivotal role, yet he's as much of a fundamental mystery to Genevieve as he is to history. :)

Monday, November 4, 2019

DREAMLAND Is Ready for Pre-Order

My fifth novel of suspense, set in Coney Island of 1911, can be ordered today!

The publication date is January 16, 2020, but you can order the book now. Pre-order numbers are very important to publishers and bookstores in gauging the appeal of a novel :)

I'm honored to receive these advance reviews from bestselling authors:

'I could practically taste the salt-water taffy and smell the ocean air as I read Bilyeau’s latest, set in 1911 Coney Island. Beautifully written and impeccably researched, Dreamland is a rollicking ride.' - Fiona Davis, bestselling author of The Chelsea Girls

'Dreamland is a vibrant maze of desires, scandal, and mystery that pulls you in and doesn’t let go. A marvelous book!' - Ellen Marie Wiseman, bestselling author of What she Left Behind and The Life She was Given

'Bilyeau’s thrilling novel plunges deep into Dreamland’s maze of pleasure and menace' - Marlowe Benn, bestselling author of Relative Fortunes


I also just received a trade review for Dreamland, appearing in Publishers Weekly. It's my very first starred review:

Peggy Batternberg, the 20-year-old narrator of this outstanding thriller set in 1911 from Bilyeau (The Blue), chafes against the societal restrictions on women of her class, who are expected to have no ambition but to marry well. She has managed to carve out some distance from her elitist family by working in a Manhattan bookshop, until her younger sister, Lydia, begs her to spend the summer with the entire clan at the Oriental Hotel, a once-grand oceanfront resort on Coney Island, to please Lydia’s wealthy fiancé. Peggy resists, until she learns that Lydia’s marriage would save the Batternberg family from financial ruin. Peggy goes along, only to find herself in pursuit of a serial killer and in love with the police department’s prime suspect. Bilyeau populates her story with achingly believable, realistically flawed characters. Peggy is naive and far from perfect, but her heart is in the right place, and one can’t help feeling for her predicament. This fascinating portrait of the end of the Gilded Age deserves a wide audience.

Dreamland is available for pre-order as an ebook or paperback with Amazon, and as a paperback with Barnes & Noble and IndieBound. Prices are nice and low :)

Click here for U.S. purchases:
Barnes & Noble

For links in UK, Canada and Australia, go here.