Leonie Charnock, the heroine of Cathy Maxwell’s If Ever I Should Love You, doesn’t believe she has a problem. It’s been years since the traumatic event that caused her and her family to leave their post in India for England, and despite her impending spinsterhood, Leonie has dear friends and stands to inherit a fortune. But she has to take an occasional sip of brandy to get through the day . . . sometimes more than one. When Leonie marries Roman Gilchrist and leaves her neglectful parents behind, she begins to realize that her habit is indicative of a far deeper problem—one she must face if she is ever to find true happiness.
We talked to Maxwell about writing a heroine who struggles with alcohol, the beauty of flawed characters and how the story would be different if the couple lived in the modern day.
Describe your latest book in a sentence.
Love does not require flawlessness because if it did, we’d all be in trouble.
Roman is often stubborn and arrogant, but he's also caring, devoted to his family and protective of his new bride. How did you strike that balance? Was there a moment that unlocked his character for you?
This is great! I love your description of Roman because doesn’t that describe any of us when we are desperate enough to do what we must to survive? He is actually disgusted with Leonie. Years ago, she chose the wrong man who wasn’t him. And now he gets to prove that she was wrong by marrying her. How is that for twisted logic?
I found his bitter insistence masked a wounded heart. He never forgot her. Think about it—he jumps at a chance to see her again.
How did I strike the balance? Love. Even when he is angry, his actions are motivated by love.
The people we love can make us a bit crazy, no?
I was fascinated by your exploration of alcoholism in the Regency period. When did that element of the story emerge and why did you decide to incorporate it into the rest of the novel?
What is the saying? That we are only as sick as our secrets? Leonie carries a heavy burden of guilt. She unknowingly orchestrated the incident that destroyed her sense of trust. And since that time, she has been struggling to reclaim that piece of her soul. Alcohol can make life bearable, but it also claims a heavy cost.
Writing the story, I knew what had happened to Leonie. I knew it had impacted her deeply and I believed her to be resilient. But for a long time during the writing, her character was flat and inauthentic. Then she took a nip out of one the many decanters in her family home, and the tension inside of her eased. Her character became real. From that point on, I followed the trail of the story.
Leonie has survived some deeply traumatic events. How did you approach writing those memories and the emotional repercussions of them?
I wrote a compartmentalized person. I believe that is how many of us handle trauma. We partition it away, focus on what is expected of us or easier feelings, and pretend with all our might the horror is not there. However, there is always a trigger and a reckoning.
Leonie is in control—or so she thinks. Then Roman reappears in her life with his cold honesty. His presence serves as the trigger. Her initial reaction is panic, but here is the interesting thing—by bringing everything into the light, by creating a situation where she must face her demons, Leonie begins to heal. She takes the doors off of those compartments; instead of bottling the pain, she can use it to help her become the person she believes she is.
How you do you think Roman and Leonie’s story would be different if it was set in the present day?
Roman would be a sneaker-wearing bicycle messenger with a dream of building his own company and Leonie would be an administrative assistant with a super stressful job and a wish to do something meaningful. Plus, the book would be made into a movie with a rocking soundtrack.
No, that isn’t correct. I know what you asking. The truth is, the book would translate well to present day because it is about finding one’s place in the world. Leonie has given up on being loved for herself. She can’t trust her judgment and she is too strong a personality to turn the decisions over to others. She is trying to make sense in a world that is filled with meaningless activities and frivolous people. In other words, she is fed up with online dating.
Meanwhile, Roman is on the hunt for the second chance he needs to succeed. Now cue the rocking soundtrack.
What do you read outside of the romance genre?
I read everything. I’m always looking for a good story—fiction or nonfiction. Right now I’m reading a book on curanderismo that is firing up my imagination in many different directions.
You’ve enjoyed a very long career in historical romance. Is there any time period or type of story you’d like to try that you haven’t yet?
I’ve been blessed to write exactly what I want to write. I enjoy the veneer of history. It makes storytelling fun.
The cover art for If Ever I Should Love You is really striking and a bit darker in tone than the norm for historicals. What notes did you give the marketing team on how it should look?
The cover was synchronicity. I don’t consider the book a dark one. I admire Leonie’s spirit to not only survive but to thrive. The cover does give the feeling of a woman ready to take on a great change in her life.
What's next for you?
I’m picking up the story thread of Leonie’s friend Cassandra Holwell. An heiress, Cassandra is determined to marry a duke. She has even found “the one.”
And then another “one,” the one she doesn’t want, steps into her path and turns her plans inside out. A Match Made in Bed will be out April 17, 2018.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of If Ever I Should Love You.