When I turned in the fourth book in the Countess of Harleigh series, I wrote my first ever Author’s note. I needed one because I used some real people as characters in that book, and they take part in parties and events that are fictional. I also sent one of them on a trip that he really took 20 years earlier.
After writing that note, I wondered if I should have included notes in the earlier novels. I get lots of questions asking why I chose to do one thing or another—and I love getting questions—but more than any other choice, I’m asked why I don’t call Frances the Dowager Countess of Harleigh. There’s a story to that.
First, there’s a case to be made that she isn’t the dowager in the strictest sense of the term. She’s the widow of the previous earl, but not the mother of the current one. Under normal circumstances, she’d still be called the dowager, but that leads to the second reason.
This is the tricky part. There can’t be two Dowager Countesses of Harleigh, and Frances’ sister-in-law, Delia, the current countess, won’t be able to use the term dowager, if Frances gets to it first. Delia would not let that go uncontested, particularly because she feels she has a stronger claim to the title since she’s the wife of the current earl and mother of the next. I didn’t think Frances would care enough to fight Delia on this issue. But then things got even trickier.
The last reason is timing. After an early reader, an author I respect, told me that she thought Frances ought to be the dowager, I contacted Debrett’s about the matter. I’d already used their reference material in making the decision, but maybe I was misinterpreting it? Their determination—unless the title was from Scotland, she would almost surely be called dowager. Delia would just have to deal with that. I called my editor, who called production, who said, sure, we can change it. But it was too late. So, the main reason Frances isn’t called the dowager countess, is timing. Maybe in the next edition.
There you have my author’s note for A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder. All that for one word! If you have more questions about anything in the books, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll be doing a Zoom event with Alyssa Maxwell and Murder by the Book Tuesday, September 1st at 8:00 pm EDT. I can answer your questions there too!