The Dishevelled Duke by Eleanor Harkstead

Eleanor Harkstead

Give us the one to two sentence tagline for your book.

This Valentine’s Day, will a photographer be swept off his feet by a duke who’s more dishevelled than dashing?

What surprised you the most while writing this book?

“The Dishevelled Duke” started life as a novel, or at least, an idea for a novel involving someone who worked in a café and the customer they’d fallen for. It didn’t quite work as a novel, though, but once we shrunk it down to its essentials, the novella-length story emerged. It can be frustrating when an idea doesn’t pan out, but no ideas are ever wasted.

Why did you pick the setting you used for your book?

“The Dishevelled Duke” is set in London. Our stories almost always have a British setting (being British ourselves!) and a big city like London seemed perfect for the story, rather than a rural village. In a village, everyone knows each other, but London offers meetings with random people whose backgrounds you might never know. And that’s what happens in this story – Billy gets on really well with Charlie, but there’s some things about him that Billy is clueless about.

What is the sexiest trait of your hero?

Billy’s creative, a daydreamer, who’s having to come to terms with hard reality. And Charlie is a sparkly bit of a magic who will make Billy’s dreams come true. They might not be shiny, muscly blokes, but daydreams and magic can be just as sexy as a handsome face.

What is your favorite scene/moment in your book?

The moment they realise who each other really is!

What scene did you have to cut but wish could have been included?

We never see Billy’s boss from the café on the page, although she’s on the phone to him at one point. In the novel version, we would’ve met her and even been inside her house where Billy was sofa-surfing, but she hit the cutting room floor, alas, when the story turned into a novella.

Tropes get a bad name, but they’re often the biggest draw for readers. What tropes do you love to write and read?

One of my favourites is “it’s nearly the end of the story and the protagonists must be together, and look, they’re actually running towards each other!” Who doesn’t love that sense of urgency as the story reaches its climax?

And the meet-cute. I do love a meet-cute. Whether it’s love at first sight or antagonistic verbal sparring at first sight, give me an awesome meet-cute!

What are your favorite genres/sub-genres to write in? Are there any you love to read but cannot write in?

Catherine and I have dabbled in many, but romcom seems to be our natural home. With a dash of history!

Which do you love to write best: dialogue, setting, action, love scenes, or other?

Conversations work really well in the books that Catherine and I work – because we each take a character so you really are seeing a conversation between two people!

Which do you hate to write: dialogue, setting, action, love scenes, or other?

Those potentially clunky bits of action where a character has to do something necessary but not very exciting. It can’t be left out, though, in case a reader thinks, “Why is he suddenly wearing a coat/holding a cup/sitting in a car?”

It’s Valentine’s Day and it’s Billy last shift at The Chelsea Bunn. His photography career never took off, so it’s time to leave London, parcel up the leftover heart-shaped cakes and head back home to Hampshire. Rumpled Charlie and his two mischievous dogs are Billy’s favourite customers, so when Charlie turns up at closing time with a mysterious wrapped gift and the offer of a whirlwind trip on the London Eye, Billy can’t say no. But Charlie is keeping a secret that could turn Billy’s world happily upside down. As the snow falls over London and the big wheel grinds to a halt, Billy discovers that wishes aren’t just for Christmas.

Excerpt from The Dishevelled Duke

All the champagne cupcakes had gone. Only a few slices of red velvet cake remained, sharing a plate with the last three heart-shaped cookies. Imogen had said that Billy could take them home with him. What a way to arrive. Ten years in London and Billy would appear on his parents’ doorstep with leftover Valentine’s Day cake and hundreds of unsold photographs.

At least I tried.

For the last time, Billy loaded the café’s dishwasher. In a couple of minutes he would turn the sign to closed for the last time, shut the blinds for the last time and leave The Chelsea Bunn forever. He would lug his case through the crowds, clamber onto a packed train and say goodbye to London.

But he wouldn’t say goodbye to Charlie-who-has-no-surname, who came in five times a week for a cup of tea and a bun for the two wolfhounds that dragged him around like slightly undersized donkeys. Charlie with the peppery hair and laughing eyes and the lines that crinkled around them when he smiled. And he smiled a lot.

Billy wouldn’t say goodbye to Charlie because for the last two weeks, his shifts had changed to fit around the shop’s new hours and he hadn’t seen him since. For the Bunn to be busy enough for extended hours was great, but it meant no more Charlie. Charlie didn’t come in late, it seemed, only for that mid-morning tea and cake.

Not having seen Charlie for a fortnight had made Billy realise how much he would miss the friends he had made in London. People from art school, and Imogen, who had given Billy enough shifts to eke out his life in London for just a few more months, even a place to sleep when his love life had turned sour. And most of all Charlie, who always had a smile for him, who always found the time to speak to him.

Billy’s favourite customer.

Not that Charlie would have missed him. Billy was only a server in a café, a barista if he wanted to make his job sound fancy. But he already missed Charlie, and as he wiped down the counter one last time, his gaze fell on the table where Charlie usually sat with his dogs beside him. The table was empty now and the next time Charlie and the dogs came in, Billy would be long gone. And we never got a chance to say a proper goodbye. Billy drew in a deep breath then crossed to the door and turned the sign to closed.

He buttoned up his coat and, looping his scarf around his neck, he glanced outside.

A light snow had begun to fall, bringing a romantic sparkle to Valentine’s Day that Billy’s life was completely devoid of. He’d enjoyed nothing but romantic failures in his time in London, and spending his last day in the city in a café filled with every kind of Valentine’s-themed cake imaginable had merely reminded him of how little success he’d had in the big city.

It was time to go home.

Catherine Curzon and Eleanor Harkstead began writing together in the spring of 2017 and swiftly discovered a shared love of sauce, well-dressed gents and a uniquely British sort of romance. They drink gallons of tea, spend hours discussing the importance of good tailoring and are never at a loss for a double entendre.

They are the authors of numerous short stories and two novel series, the de Chastelaine Chronicles, and the Captivating Captains, published by Totally Bound and Pride.

About Catherine:
Catherine Curzon is an author and royal historian of the 18th century.

In addition to her four non-fiction books on Georgian royalty, available from Pen & Sword, she has written extensively for a number of internationally-published publications, and has spoken at venues and events across the United Kingdom. Her first play, Being Mr Wickham, premiered to sell-out audiences in September 2019.

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine can often be found cheering for the mighty Huddersfield Town. She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill with a rakish colonial gentleman, a long-suffering cat and a lively dog.

About Eleanor:
Eleanor Harkstead likes to dash about in nineteenth-century costume, in bonnet or cravat as the mood takes her. She knows rather a lot about poisons, and can occasionally be found wandering old graveyards. Eleanor is very fond of chocolate, wine, tweed waistcoats and nice pens, and has a huge collection of vintage hats. She is the winner of the Best Dressed Sixth Former award and came third in the under-11s race at the Colchester Fire Swim.

Originally from the south-east of England, Eleanor now lives somewhere in the Midlands with a large ginger cat who resembles a Viking.

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