Grays Hill – Review and Author Interview


Grays Hill By Barbara T. Cerny

The Blurb


After her father committed suicide rather than face his mounting gambling debts, Oksana Wallingford knows she will have to work in order to keep food on the table and her younger brother, the new baron, in school. When her best friend finds her a position as the nanny of his brother’s children, it is the opportunity Oksana needs. But what she didn’t contend with was Rafe, the recently widowed Duke of Essex and her new employer.


Oksana and Rafe’s personalities are like oil and water. However, what begins as mutual hate slowly begins to change into something more. But what future can they have when Rafe has sworn off marriage for good?


As the mismatched pair struggles to come to terms with one another, a disaster that throws everything into question strikes them both.


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Grays Hill

Meet the Author


Barbara T. Cerny grew up in Grand Junction, Colorado. She served twenty-two years in the US Army Reserves, retiring a Lieutenant Colonel in 2007. She is an information technology specialist and supervisor. Barb writes historical romances good for late teen and adults. She puts a lot of history and adventure into her work. Words are her passion, they do matter.


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Barbara T. Cerny’s Grays Hill is an historical romance which gives glimpses into the 1770’s upper crust British society. After the suicide of her father Lady Oksana Wallingford faces a grim future. With nowhere to go and having to provide for her mother and young brother she is more than grateful when her friend, Geoff, places her as a governess to his brother’s–Duke of Essex–children. Even as she wins over the children and the staff at Grays Hill, Oksana feels nothing but contempt for her employer, Rafe. As they cross swords — both literally and figuratively — their mutual dislike for each other slowly begins to turn into something different. But Rafe has sworn off marriage and it seems like their future is doomed.

The book’s heroine Oksana — or OJ — is a character you can instantly empathize with. Though she belongs to the aristocracy she is not the typical airhead Regency heroine that one associates with historical romances. She is independent and has a pretty smart head on her shoulders. As a person who is tall and big built, she doesn’t quite make the grade as a typical “English rose” and this has had a big impact on her all through her growing up years. Resigned to living life as a spinster Oksana doesn’t wallow in self pity.  The Duke, on the other hand, is a tortured soul who wears the scars of his failed marriage like a shroud.

It took me a while to get into the story, the main reason being I couldn’t “place” the period of the tale. It was only towards the middle of the book that I realized it’s set in the 1770’s. However, Oksana pulls you into the story with her antics. The verbal and physical sparring between her and Rafe is quirky and fun. The highlight of the book is the very entertaining masque ball scene which is so vividly written, it runs like a scene from a movie!

One drawback is that in some places the dialogues and descriptions have a modern/contemporary tone and doesn’t quite fit in with the period in which the story is set. But overall, it is an enjoyable read.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

And now, over to Grays Hill author, Barbara T. Cerny.

Hello Barbara and welcome. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and how/when did you discover that you simply had to tell your stories?

I grew up in Grand Junction, Colorado, a dinky town of 30K when I lived there. The place was full of stories. Stories of the old west and ghost towns and back roads that led to nowhere and towns called No Name. The place was also full of beauty: The Bookcliffs where wild horses roamed, the Colorado National Monument with its rock formations such as Independence Monument, the Kissing Couple, and Coke Ovens. It was a quiet place that was safe and easy to live in. It was a place where the imagination could run as wild as the juniper trees and sage brush. My parents were readers so I became a reader, too. I remember books being in my life from the very beginning. I have wanted to write since the second grade. I was always coming up with stories to tell my friends at lunch or on the bus rides to/from school. I wrote through high school – on the journalism team, in creative writing class, on the teen page for the city newspaper.

My first story, Of Angels and Orphans, rolled around in my head for nearly thirty years. Life eventually got in the way and writing was shoved to the side. “Someday, I will write…” You know how it goes. Well, that someday came in the most unusual way. I am a retired lieutenant colonel in the US Army Reserves, a twenty-two year veteran in our military. And I, like hundreds of thousands before me, was called up by my country to serve in Southwest Asia (SWA) in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. When I first arrived, I read voraciously, downing four-five novels in a week.

In January 2006, I was able to take a four-day break to Qatar and lay around reading seven novels. I read two romance novels in those four days, a genre I rarely read as I like Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, Clive Cussler, and their brand of book best.
So there I was, reading a romance novel and wondering why I was reading other people’s books when I had Of Angels and Orphans still wandering around in my mind.
So I started to write. I wrote on my days off. I wrote on my evenings I wasn’t dancing – I taught ballroom and country dance lessons for the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines on my camp. I worked directly for a general and when he wasn’t in, my workload was very light so I wrote when my boss went on leave, I wrote when my boss went on business travel. From the first week in February to the first weekend in June, I wrote that book that I had dreamed up so long ago. Bottom line, deployment gave me the time I had pushed aside for almost three decades so I guess I have to say, “Thank you, Uncle Sam!” for giving me the chance to actually put the life of Audra Markham and Nathaniel Abbot on paper. I haven’t stopped since.

Barbara, what a great story! In Grays Hill, Oksana (a beautiful name, by the way!) comes across as a very strong willed person. Did you have a real life role model for your heroine? Or perhaps some other influence?

Oksana is my daughter’s name. We took it from Oksana Baiul, the 1994 Olympic ice skating champion. Audra, from Of Angels and Orphans, is my other daughter’s name. Grays Hill is a tribute to my eldest child. The Grays Hill Oksana (OJ) is a lot like me. I don’t tend to do what is customary or normal. I joined the military in 1980 when only 6% of the military were women and the Vietnam War was still bitter on everyone’s tongue. I got my first degree in law enforcement and went through the police academy at the age of 20 and spent a year on the street as a cop. I found it wasn’t for me, so what do I do? I join the ROTC program at school. I was a fat kid, OJ was a fat kid. The sword training scene where she is describing to Rafe what it was like to be fat is all me. I did have classmates actually bounce up and down as I passed as if I could shake the earth. I did have people moo at me. Those are real, and painful, experiences. Oksana is 5’10” and I am only 5’6” so I wanted her to appear to be intimidating but it was a label she worked hard to defeat. She was a fish out of water and although the typical romance heroine is beautiful and petite and perfect, I want my gals to be REAL. None of us are beautiful and petite and perfect. We are just our wonderful, unique, and lovely selves, each and every one of us. I want to portray all our vices and our dreams. I am sure, in history, there were always REAL women with all their foibles and warts so they have a right to shine as well.

Oksana–or OJ–definitely comes across as a unique and independent individual with a heart of gold. Rafe, the Duke of Essex, on the other hand was not a very ‘likable’ character. What is your take on the ‘likability factor’ of your characters and its impact on readers?

I don’t think likability is a must. I think we need to “get” a character and recognize in them ourselves or others around us. It is that empathy that keeps us glued to the book. We’ve all met that brooding dark character or that cranky person who hates the world. They deserve to be captured in print and be redeemed, too. I wanted Rafe to be as different from Geoff as possible to give Oksana a different kind of challenge. What fun would it have been had she fallen for Geoff? Too easy. No fun.

How much research went into the story and did you have any particular process/method for it?

I love research and I love history. I pepper every novel with historical facts woven with the story. My readers always comment positively on the historical journey I take them on while telling my story. Grays Hill flowed fast. I had already done most the research for Of Angels and Orphans and I used all that research again for Grays Hill. What did we do before the internet? I spend hours wandering around finding little tidbits. Sometimes tidbits find me. For instance, a character in Of Angels and Orphans is Adair Cleveland, a duke. When the young lovers escaped Adair and her family for the unknown of America, I found, by serendipity, a county in Kentucky named Adair. That was worth a few laughs and a bit of dialogue.

As a writer of historical fiction do you ever worry that you may be making characters more contemporary in their “attitudes” and “behaviours” and attributing to them our 21st century sensibilities? And how do you avoid this pitfall?

All the time! My editor is brilliant. She catches most of my booboos. I also have a document of historical sayings I have collected as well as a 14th century Scottish dictionary I found on line. That is a gem. I actually talk to myself out loud as I write dialogue and if I use an English accent and try to act proper, a lot of times I can capture the right mood as well as the right language. Anyone watching would think me looney!

I loved the scene where Oksana dresses up as a man and a woman at the masquerade ball. How easy or difficult is it for you to visualize scenes that are set in an era so different from ours and yet make them plausible?

For Grays Hill, I have to admit up front that I stole the Masquerade Hall lock, stock, and barrel from the castle of Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic. My family visited it while I was on my two weeks off from my deployment in 2005-2006. I was stunned at its magnificence and creativeness and the story of Grays Hill came crashing into my brain while I stood in that glorious room. That kind of inspiration has only happened that one time. The character I describe for Oksana was on the wall of the ball room in that Czech castle. Not as original as you thought, eh? Actually, as I write, they go through my mind as if a movie was being shot in my head. I also look at pictures of old houses, costumes, etc. to help set the places and the characters. Research, imagination, more research, and a good editor.

What is your next book about and when will it be out?

I have two books with editors. My regular editor couldn’t get into my paranormal, The Tiefling, so I had to find a new one. My new editor, is changing every word, I think. But the novel will be pretty darn cool. It is set in Scotland, 1053, and first person male. I really had to get in touch with my masculine side for that. I would like it out this year but I am not going to promise.

The sequel to Shield of the Palidine, my first fantasy romance, called Magic Thief of Gavalos, and is through my editor (the regular one) and it is well over 425 pages. It is with the illustrator at the moment. As editing is simply the start of writing, they both are still “current”. This will go to the publishing-on-demand company I use in about a month. Look for it in mid-to-late-summer 2014.

I am also developing three new novels: one romance is set in Sweden in the 1600s (researching the 30 Years’ War for background history), a second is a modern murder mystery called The Walled Cat (you will have to read it to understand that strange name!), and a biography of an amazing woman I know. That biography is by far the hardest book I have written and will probably be the only non-fiction I will ever write. It takes a special kind of writer to do biographies and I don’t think I “have” it.
My cup overfloweth and there is not enough time in the day to put all my thoughts and ideas on paper. One day, I will retire from my day job and write like there is no tomorrow.

Thank you Barbara for sharing your thoughts and good luck with your writing! 🙂

6 Responses to Grays Hill – Review and Author Interview

  1. Great review Adite, I too loved the ballroom scene. I remember bursting out laughing in the middle of the night and waking everyone else. 🙂


  2. sundarivenkat says:

    Nice 🙂
    both review and interview. I loved that scene at the masquerade too. Glad to see that the scenes run in your mind like a movie Barbara. I have a similar experience while writing too


  3. Thank you, Adite, for the review and interview. I hate wrapping up this blog tour as I have had so much fun. All my books run through my head like movies. That is how I write – I visualize them piece by piece. I am great a descriptions because of that – every detail is in the “movie” in my mind. However, that comes with a price, I have found out. I write 3rd person omniscient and today’s publishers (at least romance publishers) look for 3rd person limited. Writing that way is counter to the “movies” in my head and I find I just can’t to it. Even my editor is trying to see the subtleties of the two methods. We are completely rewriting Tressa because of it. I don’t think I have the energy or desire to rewrite Grays Hill or OAAO. And you are right, the masquerade ball is the best scene in the book, hands down.


    • You’re most welcome, Barbara. I too prefer “third person omniscient” even though it is a lot of hard work. Seems like many historical fiction writers like the first person narrative which doesn’t quite work for me as it tells only the protagonist’s story while not giving enough play to the secondary characters who are often just as interesting.


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