Jess Armstrong introduces Ruby Vaughn and The Curse of Penryth Hall

This month, we are delighted to introduce debut author Jess Armstrong and the memorable heroine of The Curse of Penryth Hall, Ruby Vaughn. Ruby has faced her share of drama and trauma at the pinnacle of American high society and behind the wheel of an ambulance on the Western Front. Life as an antiquarian bookseller should be less eventful, but a trip to the Cornish countryside mires Ruby in a shocking killing and forces her to deal with superstition and suspicious locals. You can get 50% off the hardback of The Curse of Penryth Hall from us this month, and here Jess Armstrong writes about what you can expect in the story and why the setting of Cornwall called to her.

I am thrilled to introduce you to The Curse of Penryth Hall, the first book in the Ruby Vaughn Mysteries, my new gothic historical mystery series. Ruby Vaughn is an unconventional American heiress who has been living in Britain for over a decade after having been sent away by her parents in hopes of avoiding scandal back in New York. Since the end of the First World War, she has made a life for herself working at a rare bookshop in Exeter alongside her octogenarian housemate and employer, Mr. Owen.

The Curse of Penryth Hall opens with Ruby being sent deep into the Cornish countryside to deliver a box of grimoires to a folk healer living in a small village called Lothlel Green. At first, she is reluctant to return there – it’s a place that holds painful memories from her past – but once she arrives she is thrust into a world of folklore, curses and murder.

I often get asked why I set this story in Cornwall, especially as Ruby and I both are American, and in retrospect, I cannot imagine a place more perfect than Cornwall to set this story. However, at first, I had intended it to take place in North Wales. I fell in love with the area during a trip I took in 2017 and had wanted to write a story set there.  In the first drafts, Ruby was going to be a folklorist, traveling through the countryside collecting and preserving oral histories before falling into a folktale of her own—and it was during the research process that the entire story pivoted and became what it is today.

I am a historian by training, and tend to do an absurd amount of primary source research while developing my characters as I find it helpful in understanding who they are as people and the space they would have occupied in the world.  Early in the process, I was reading accounts of 19th century folklorists, to better understand Ruby. While reading, I kept coming across stories of Pellars from the Cornish tradition. According to multiple accounts, Pellars were people who were born with the power to heal the sick, break curses and find stolen things. These figures were revered in their communities and people would travel great distances to seek their help. Once I latched onto that idea, the entire story shifted to Cornwall.

That geographical shift changed everything else in the story, because once Ruan Kivell, the Pellar, entered the story he (and the lore surrounding him) began to drive the narrative, and by extension changed Ruby into the heroine she is now.  That same tension between tradition and modernity that was growing in the post-war world came to a head within the two main characters and really propels the mystery forward.  This book was such a joy to write, and I hope you have a great time getting to know Ruby, Ruan and the world of Penryth Hall. 

Recommend This:

Leave a Reply