June 2009


C.A. Belmond is the author of the Rather series, starring Penny Nichols. A Rather Lovely Inheritance was her debut novel in 2007, followed by A Rather Curious Engagement in 2008. The third in the series, A Rather Charming Invitation, is due to be published next year. (Interview by Angela Smith)

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  1. 1. Tell us about your books A Rather Lovely Inheritance and A Rather Curious Engagement.

    My "Rather" series starts with A Rather Lovely Inheritance, and it's about a heroine named Penny Nichols, who goes from rags-to-riches from an unexpected inheritance. She's an American girl, with a French father and English mother. When we first meet her, she's working in movies as an historical researcher, which makes her a bit of a "low man on the totem pole", but she's determined to hang on to her belief that her life could - and should - be more glamorous, dignified, elegant and romantic. When she's summoned to England for the reading of her great-aunt's will, she realizes that, to protect her legacy from the "vultures" on the other side of her family tree, she'll have to do a little research - but this time, it's her very own family's history that she has to delve into. Along the way, she re-unites with an English guy she knew in childhood - Jeremy, who's also an heir. They're not entirely sure that they can trust each other, but they realize they must team up, so off they go on a romp across Europe, bickering and bantering all the way.

  2. 2. You chose beautiful settings for your "Rather" novels. Have you ever been to any of the places that Penny and Jeremy visit?

    Oh, yes, absolutely. London, Paris, Rome, the Cote d'Azur, Lake Como ... I've studied and worked in these European locales where my heroine bounces around. A Rather Lovely Inheritance was partly inspired by my first trip to the French Riviera, when I was awarded a writers' residency at the Karolyi Foundation in Vence, which is not far from Nice.

  3. 3. What was your inspiration for your series' main character, Penny Nichols, and her inheritance?

    The theme of the innocent American abroad is a recurring one in Western literature, and somehow I always knew that I wanted to write my own modern take on it. Geography is definitely a factor - there's just something about the Riviera that implies the possibility of a high-spirited caper, a stylish romp, a daring gamble . . . replete with surprise twists and red herrings. But inspiration really starts when an image comes into my mind, which I carry around for awhile. So, A Rather Lovely Inheritance began when I envisioned my heroine tooting about in a vintage 1930s car on those high, winding roads of the Cote d'Azur. I asked myself what's she doing here? Why's she in that old car? Where did she come from? In following the trail of such questions, I get as excited as Sherlock Holmes when he knows that "the game's afoot". I saw Penny as an idealistic girl, thrust into humorous, exciting, sometimes alarming circumstances. Her wry voice came naturally out of all this - slightly aggrieved, yet ever-hopeful.

  4. 4. Penny is very interested in history. Is that something that you are also interested in, or was it just created for the character?

    I love to unearth the "source" of things. History, I think, is one big inheritance story, where I feel I'm gathering the bits and pieces, like a detective or an archeologist. In Europe especially, one is always seeing the layers of each civilization built upon another. So it's only natural to want to know more about who's been here before you. And of course, family histories are great gold mines. In A Rather Lovely Inheritance and its sequels, I devised a family tree for my characters that was far more complicated than the one that Penny eventually makes for herself.

  5. 5. Will there be a third book in the series?

    Yes, indeed, there's more to come! The third book in my "Rather" series, which follows A Rather Lovely Inheritance and A Rather Curious Engagement, is called A Rather Charming Invitation, and it will be published by the Penguin Group in February 2010. This time, Penny explores the French side of her family, which involves an old French artifact, an elegant chateau and perfumery in Grasse, a Swiss chalet in Lake Geneva, and a very exclusive party in Monte Carlo. And, all the while that Penny and Jeremy are "on the case" in A Rather Charming Invitation, they are also trying to plan their wedding!

  6. 6. Are any of the characters based on real people?

    I love what Francis Ford Coppola said at the Cannes Film Festival this year, when he was asked the same question - he basically said: "None of it really happened - and all of it is true." In other words, all my characters in A Rather Lovely Inheritance and its sequels are fictional, but they are inspired by bits and pieces of my life and experiences, to the extent that it reveals what's rippling under the surface of all our lives. On a purely physical level, memory plays an important role, because I'll recall a tone of voice from here, a gesture from there, a personality quirk from years ago that I couldn't forget . . . and these things get woven together, the way a bird uses whatever she finds to make a nest.

  7. 7. How does it feel to know that so many people love your books?

    It feels wonderful! After all, to write a novel is to spend a lot of time alone, in silence, where I'm really not thinking about an "audience" at all; I just feel as if I'm "divining" something that I want to capture so that it won't vanish. Later, when I send my novels out into the world, it's as if I've put a message in a bottle; and somehow, I always think I'm sending it to an unknown reader in the future, who'll find it long after I'm gone. So, imagine my surprise when letters keep popping up unexpectedly from people in the here and now, and from all around the world, from all walks of life, all ages! Their messages are wonderfully gratifying, because they are all saying, in their unique and special way, 'I know how you feel, because I do, too!'

  8. 8. Have you always wanted to become an author?

    Oh yes, it began when I was eight years old, and wrote my first poem, which soon led to more poems, little novels, and short stories that I sent out to magazines, in utter seriousness, with a cover letter that began, "Dear Editor" and ended "If you do not want to publish this, kindly return it to me in the enclosed, stamped, self-addressed envelope." I collected friendly rejection letters from editors who told me that they only published grown-up writers; but I remember one editor in particular, who assured me that he "had no doubt that you will one day have that writing career".

  9. 9. What is next for you? Do you see any of your books being turned into movies in the future?

    Yes, many people have told me that A Rather Lovely Inheritance and A Rather Curious Engagement would make good movies, and we are actively pursuing this, so I do expect that Penny and Jeremy will make it to the big screen. As for my future books, I am already at work on the fourth novel in my "Rather" series, plus two stand-alone novels with entirely different characters. So, stay tuned! My website is:

C.A. Belmond has published novels, short fiction and poetry. She was awarded the Edward Albee Foundation Fellowship and was twice a Pushcart Press Editors' Book Award finalist. Belmond was a writer-in-residence at the Karolyi Foundation in the South of France, and her original screenplays were shortlisted at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute and the Eugene O'Neill Playwrights Conference. She has written, directed and produced television drama and documentary, and has taught writing at New York University. Belmond's mentor is the author Margaret Atwood. For more information about C.A. Belmond, visit her at her website:

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