Six Questions for Vanessa Kelly [INTERVIEW]

Vanessa Kelly

Vanessa Kelly visits with Jathan and Heather about her new Regency romance. (Photo courtesy Vanessa Kelly, Facebook)

Vanessa Kelly may have studied British literature in graduate school, but today she spends her time writing bestselling, award-winning historical romances of her own, including the popular Clan Kendrick series which takes place in the heart of the Scottish highlands. What does it take to write stories that Booklist praises as “completely charming?” Find out in our exclusive interview with the author herself. Enjoy!—J&H

J&H: In your latest novel, The Highlander’s Christmas Bride, your protagonist, Donella Haddon, begins the novel as a woman in hiding. Although she wasn’t raised Catholic, she decides to become a nun anyway, which seems like a foreign concept in Scotland. Why did this appeal to her and how would her fellow countrymen feel about this decision? Also, what were the differences between the nuns at the Convent of the Sacred Heart and the Franciscans which Sister Bernard suggests Donella join?

VK: Given that Donella’s family was Church of Scotland, her decision would certainly be considered unusual. Generally speaking, Scottish Catholicism after the Battle of Culloden mainly survived in remote corners of the Highlands—although Irish Catholics were beginning to immigrate to cities like Glasgow, looking for work. As they were both Catholic and working class (and Irish), they would be subject to bigotry, as I touch on in my book. As for Donella, she was always a pious girl, and also serious and shy. Given the problems in her family, the idea of a quiet life in a convent held great appeal. To a certain extent, Donella was running away from life—as her superiors in the convent deduced.

My fictional Scottish convent belongs to the Discalced Carmelites, an order founded by St. Teresa of Avila. The heart of Carmelite life is contemplation and prayer, to a very high degree. During the late Regency period, convents were just beginning to be re-established in England (a bit later in Scotland, actually), and some of the nuns were refugees from France—including from aristocratic families.

Technically, Franciscan nuns were Poor Clares—originally called the Second Order of St. Francis. Like Carmelites, they were contemplative nuns. Franciscans, however, followed a rule of strict poverty, probably more so than any other female order. There were a number of Poor Clare monasteries in Ireland, including one in Galway.

Sister Bernard’s comment has more to do with the fact that she’s a bit of a snob than less exacting standards on the part of the Poor Clares. They are two different orders, entirely.

J&H: Logan Kendrick is the rich, hunky widower who is sent to retrieve Donella from the convent. When he helps her with her injured foot, it is evident that he admires her courage and temperament. Why would a proud woman like Donella appeal to a man like Logan back in 1819? And what traits did most men seek in a woman at that time?

VK: Donella appeals to Logan because she’s smart, resilient, and brave—universal qualities that I believe would appeal to any good man, in any time period. And although aristocratic women certainly faced more restrictions in the Regency Era than we do now, they were also not the hothouse flowers we sometimes see in bad Victorian stereotypes. Aristocratic women like Donella were trained to run large households, help educate their children, take care of injured or ill servants, assist the village poor and do other charity work, and generally help their husbands and families keep large, complicated estates running smoothly. No doubt some men of the period only wanted the Regency version of a trophy wife, but any fellow with a brain would want an intelligent wife who could assist him with his many responsibilities.

J&H: When gossip breaks out after an episode at a sweet shop, Donella expects the entire Kendrick clan to shun her. Today, news spreads at lightning speed because of social media. How did the gossip chain work back then, and just how powerful was it?

VK: The gossip chain back then worked the traditional way—by word of mouth. And it could ruin reputations, especially a woman’s reputation. Aristocrats, especially in a smaller city like Glasgow, would have moved in a fairly tight social circle. Visiting, chatting, and writing notes and letters took up a substantial part of the day—all great vehicles for exchanging gossip. Plus, everyone tended to attend the same events. Under those circumstances, it’s easy for gossip to make the rounds.

Think of a novel like Jane Austen’s Emma: gossip travels quickly in the small town of Highbury. And if one received a letter from one’s acquaintance, the contents of that letter were often shared widely. People liked to gossip just as much back then as we do now—maybe even more so, since visiting and socializing were primary forms of  entertainment.

J&H: It is obvious that you have a true affinity for Scotland. When did that begin? Also, as you write about places like Breadie Manor, which aspects of your settings do you find yourself most drawn to and what is your favorite place to visit in Scotland today?

VK: Well, my fraternal grandmother’s family was from Scotland (Glasgow, actually), so perhaps I got it from her! I enjoy researching all sorts of settings, from majestic castles or manors, to the less savory parts of Glasgow and Edinburgh during the Regency Era. It’s all pretty fascinating. Making any particular setting come alive on the page is the challenge.

If I were planning a trip to Scotland tomorrow, I would visit Loch Long and the Arrochar Alps, which is where my fictional Clan Kendrick castle is located, Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine, and further north to Inverness. I would also love to visit Skye someday, and the Shetland Islands.

J&H: You studied eighteenth-century British fiction in graduate school, which includes serious authors like Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Thomas Paine. What was it that compelled you to write historical romances, which some may consider frivolous in comparison? And what parallels, if any, do you see between today’s romances and books written three centuries ago?

VK: The historical romances of Georgette Heyer, set during the Regency and Georgian Eras, are what drew me to study the period in the first place. I began reading Heyer, Victoria Holt, and other historical romances in my early teens. I fell in love with the period, and began reading Austen and other female authors in university. And both the Georgian and Regency period saw their share of popular novels, what we might call their version of mass market, genre fiction—those included novelists like Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and even Jane Austen. Back in the day, there were people who looked down on just about any novel reading as frivolous. Austen herself jokes about that in Northanger Abbey.

J&H: Finally, how did you feel when you sold your first manuscript, and do you still feel the same way when one of your books is published today?

VK: I was gobsmacked when I sold, because it was the first manuscript I ever wrote. I was extremely lucky to connect so quickly with the right editor—who is still my editor today. I don’t think anything quite equates with the thrill of seeing your first book on the shelf. I’m still happy when one of my books is published, but I’m also now very cognizant of the work that goes into getting a book from my head, to the page, and then into print.

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In bestselling author Vanessa Kelly’s irresistible Clan Kendrick series, Christmas in the Highlands means family, celebration—and for one brother, the beginning of a passionate adventure . . .

Being thrown over by the man she expected to marry was humiliating enough. Now that Donella Haddon, grandniece of the Earl of Riddick, has also proven a failure as a nun, she has no choice but to return to her family’s estate. The brawny Highlander sent to escort her is brash, handsome, and the only thing standing between Donella and a gang of would-be kidnappers. But the scandal in her past can’t be so easily outrun . . .

Wealthy widower Logan Kendrick was expecting to meet a plain, pious spinster—not a gorgeous, sharp-tongued lass who can hold her own in any ambush. Though she’s known as the Flower of Clan Graham, Donella is no shrinking violet. In fact, she might be the perfect woman to bring happiness back to his lonely little son’s life, just in time for Christmas. But first he must protect her from ugly gossip and a mysterious threat—and convince her that their wild, unexpected desire is heaven sent.


Vanessa Kelly is a USA Today Bestselling, award-winning author who was named by Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association, as one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance.” Her Regency-set historical romances have been nominated in a number of contests, and she has won multiple awards, including the prestigious Maggie Medallion for Best Historical Romance. Her books have been published in nine languages.

Vanessa’s latest book, The Highlander Who Protected Me, was a USA Today, Barnes & Noble, and BookScan bestseller. Her Renegade Royals Series was a national bestseller, as was The Improper Princesses Series. My Fair Princess was named a Goodreads Romance of the Month and is a USA Today and BookScan bestseller. The Highlander’s Princess Bride, book 3 in the series, was a Barnes and Noble top 50 bestseller.

When she’s not dreaming of plots for her next Regency novel, Vanessa is writing USA Today Bestselling books with her husband, under the pen name of V.K. Sykes.

You can find Vanessa at or at For all of Vanessa’s latest news and contests–and to receive a free story–please sign up for her newsletter on her website. Like her on Facebook or join the Clan Kendrick Facebook Group. You may also follow her on Pinterest, Twitter, and Goodreads.

By Vanessa Kelly
432 pp. Zebra. $7.99

Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours bannerPurchase The Highlander’s Christmas Bride on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

The Highlander’s Christmas Bride is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

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About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

One Response to Six Questions for Vanessa Kelly [INTERVIEW]

  1. Amy Bruno says:

    This was a great interview! Thank you so much for hosting Vanessa’s blog tour!

    HF Virtual Book Tours

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