Saturday, August 01, 2015

Lace, Stays and Powerful thighs: How could I resist?

Today, Elizabeth Bailey shares her reasons for loving reading and writing Regency romance.

Huge picture hats and charming straw bonnets; lashings of lace and tulle; yards of gathered floating muslin and bosoms upthrust by tightly boned stays.  Powerful thighs encased in close-fitting breeches; elegant colourful tailcoats with flowing hair brushing the collar; white starched cravats and tasselled polished boots.  Horses and carriages, vast estates and mansions filled with treasure.  It’s a world of privilege and slowed down time, far from the rush and bustle of the twenty-first century.

Although the fictional Regency and Georgian worlds are necessarily a romanticised version, they hark back to an era of endless fascination.  We know that the sharp class divisions and the inequities in life were unfair, that those who worked had to toil for hours to produce articles that would now be cut out in minutes by machine.  We know life was harsh, that odours we would consider offensive were legion, that disease was rife and often incurable.  But somehow the harshness adds to the piquancy of the period, pointing up the glamour enjoyed by the rich.

For the novelist, it’s an era riddled with possibilities.  Where your modern author struggles to find legitimate obstacles to put in the way of achieving goals, the historical writer has them readily to hand.  Communication can take days instead of being instantaneous; rules forbid women access to male dominated areas; travel is long and arduous; clothing is restrictive; food and drink can be inaccessible; and it is all too easy to become lost in a maze of dangerous alleyways or vast acres of uninhabited countryside.

But restrictive clothing adds spice to the hero's hunting instincts. Long coach journeys provide opportunities both for scintillating dialogue and hands-on getting to know you. Heroines found in the wrong place provoke heroes to gallant deeds of rescue. And getting lost together is almost certain to end in dalliance. As for food and drink, remember that outrageously sexy meal in the film Tom Jones?

The period element offers an endless variety of situations to tickle an author's imagination. That's why I love working in this Regency and Georgian world.

My own fictional world may be similar to that of other historical authors, but each is unique, reflecting the writer’s personal enjoyment of that past time. What I love most about writing in this period is that I can invite readers into my particular world, which is close to the real one but belongs exclusively to me.

Journey into my world with Friday Dreaming:

Bookish Friday Edborough’s secret dream looks set to come true when childhood friend, the gorgeous Nicolas Weare, proposes—if only he was behaving like a man in love. All too soon, Friday’s worst fears are confirmed when she finds Nick has been forced into the betrothal to stop him marrying the beautiful but ineligible Hermione.

Caught between love and loyalty, Friday ends the engagement, leaving Nick to realise the value of what he’s lost just as he discovers Hermione’s true worth. But with the lines joining love and hate beginning to blur, has Nick’s change of heart come too late?

Elizabeth Bailey

Friday, July 31, 2015

Getting to know you - Amanda Grange

I expect most people reading this blog already know quite a bit about me but I thought it would be fun to add some new information and images. I'm probably best known for my series of Jane Austen retellings - Mr Darcy's Diary, Mr Knightley's Diary, Captain Wentworth's Diary, Colonel Brandon's Diary, Edmund Bertram's Diary, Henry Tilney's Diary and Dear Mr Darcy, as well as my paranormal sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy, Vampyre. I've also written a lot of Regency romances, a Regency whodunnit called Murder at Whitegates Manor, and an additional Regency romance which is lighter than my other, more adventurous Regencies, called The Rake, published under the name of Amy Watson.

So where did it all begin? Well, I was born and bred in Yorkshire, a beautiful county in the north of England. Yorkshire is famous for its moors, which look particularly lovely when the heather is out. You can see for miles when you're actually on the moors, but the towns and cities are often in bowls, with the moors rising up around them. We often went for family walks on the wild and windy moors. Yes, that's a link to Yorkshire's most famous authors - no, not me, but the Bronte sisters, famous for the brilliant novels Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Yorkshire is also famous for its food. Yorkshire puddings  are a must at Sunday lunch time. Despite their name, they're not sweet. They're traditionally eaten with roast beef, but they taste so good they're often served with other roast meats or stews as well. Another famous Yorkshire food is the Yorkshire fat rascal, which is a special kind of fruit scone with cherries and almonds making a face. These are best eaten at Bettys tea rooms , famous for their afternoon teas and their traditional English ambience. (The absence of an apostrophe is deliberate - Bettys no longer use one.)

One of my favourite occupations as a child was visiting my local library, which was housed in this beautiful Victorian building. It's easy to see where my love of history came from! The children's library was on the right and the adult library was on the left. I can still remember my excitement when I graduated from one to the other. I quickly discovered some of the authors who were to become my lifelong favourites: Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, the Brontes, Anthony Trollope, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Henry James, as well as many others. I loved travelling to the different worlds opened up by the books. I enjoyed reading in the garden on sunny, summer days and curling up by the fire with a good book in winter. We had an open, coal fire at home and I loved dreaming as I looked into the dancing flames.

On leaving school, I went to Nottingham University. I loved both English and music and couldn't decide which subject to pursue, but in the end I chose music. The campus was gorgeous and the buildings were once again beautiful. I could just imagine Mr Bingley living here! I carried on reading, of course, and I wrote my first novel in my spare time. It was a children's book, similar to the C S Lewis Narnia books. I wrote it in the back of an old exercise book but I never thought about approaching a publisher. Sadly, over the years the book was lost but I wrote quite a few more books. A lot of them were unfinished as I tried out different genres and different styles.

I went on to teach, but at the back of my mind was an ambition to become a published novelist. I started writing in earnest, and, because I loved all things historical and the Regency period in particular, I started writing Regency romances. At the time, the only route to publication was through a traditional publisher and, after my fair share of rejections, my first book was accepted by Robert Hale Ltd I will always be grateful to them for taking a chance on an unknown author and putting me into print. Hale are a long-established publishers and it gave me a thrill to know they had published a lot of my favourite authors in the past, including Jean Plaidy. I was in very good company!

In 2003, my career took a turn that was going to prove momentous. I was working on a Gothic romance called Stormcrow Castle - Gothic as in a young woman goes to a lonely house, where she has to unravel secrets - when I became stuck. I didn't know what was going to happen next. I decided to take a break. I went into the garden - it was one of those idyllic spring days we sometimes get in England, when March or April throws out a few hot days as though it's midsummer - and for a treat I took Pride and Prejudice with me to read. As soon as I started reading it, I was struck by how modern it seemed. I'd read it many times, but I hadn't read it since becoming a published author. It had a lot of dialogue, a fast pace and a brilliant opening sentence.

I thought, 'The only thing it doesn't have, that an editor would be looking for today, is any scenes from the hero's point of view'. There were occasional glimpses into Mr Darcy's mind, but no whole sections entirely from his viewpoint.

I started wondering about the things that happened to Mr Darcy when he wasn't with Elizabeth and I found myself inspired to go inside and write the "missing scene". I wrote the scene when he visited London, to find Wickham and Lydia, and then I went back and wrote the scene where he went to Ramsgate. Once I'd brought him safely back to London with Georgiana, I couldn't stop writing. I wanted to know what he thought of Netherfield Park, what was going through his mind when he was so rude to Elizabeth at the Meryton Assembly . . .

Before I knew it, I had written Darcy's Diary (the hardback title; the paperback is called Mr Darcy's Diary). I hadn't intended it for publication, but once I was about half way through I knew that, if I hadn't written it, I would love to read it. I wasn't sure what my publishers would make of it. Jane Austen inspired novels were few and far between at the time, especially in England, where the genre is still not as popular as it is in the US. Luckily my publishers loved it and the rest is history. The diaries are now travelling around the world in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and a variety of other languages. But it all began in Yorkshire, when I sat dreaming by the fire and reading Pride and Prejudice.

Amanda Grange

You can find Amanda's books in all good bookshops and online from all Amazons including UK and US , or from your favourite seller.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Jane Austen's Home in the English village of Chawton

Jane Odiwe at Jane Austen's House Museum
I love visiting the Jane Austen House Museum and a recent summer trip was a wonderful opportunity to take photos of the house and other houses in the village of Chawton which are quintessentially English with roses blooming round the doors and windows and gardens stocked with cottage garden flowers. Chawton is a small village about a mile southwest of the town of Alton on the road to Winchester. I was visiting as part of Jane Austen Regency Week which is a fairly new festival celebrating Jane’s life and work. The festival is growing year on year with workshops and talks, and even a ball!   

Jane Austen came to live at the cottage in Chawton in July1809. It belonged to her brother Edward who lived up at the ‘big house’ further along the road. Chawton House is now a library which focuses on women’s writing, novels written from 1600 - 1830, but in Jane’s day it was home to Edward and his large family. 

View of roses and garden at Chawton
When theAustens moved there, Edward’s wife had recently died giving birth to their eleventh child, and I can’t help thinking that Edward must have thought it would be beneficial to have his family living close by.
Chawton cottage had been a coaching inn, and had formerly been tenanted by Edward’s steward before the Austen women moved in. A large pond was set in the angle between the roads along which rattled carriages off to Gosport, Southampton, Winchester and London. One of Jane’s nieces later remembered how comforting it was ‘to have the awful stillness of night frequently broken by the sound of many passing carriages, which seemed sometimes even to shake the bed’, and even Mrs Austen was said to have enjoyed watching the passing traffic.

The Bookcase
Some alterations were made before they moved in; both sitting-room windows looked out onto the road and the drawing room window was blocked up and the space filled by a bookcase. A new, Gothic window was cut into the wall which looked out over greenery and trees hiding the Winchester road. The garden is not as large as it was in Jane’s day, but is wonderfully stocked with the kinds of plants that Jane Austen would have known. One of the trustees told me that they are soon to be launching a new Jane Austen rose with Harkness roses - he wouldn’t go into any details because it’s a big secret yet to be revealed, but I got the impression it will be a strong colour to match the temperament of our famous writer.
Jane was looking forward to being settled at Chawton and having her brother Henry come to them for some shooting. She wanted to buy a piano ‘ … as good a one as can be got for thirty guineas, and I will practise country dances, that we may have some amusement for our nephews and nieces, when we have the pleasure of their company.’

A glimpse into the living/dining parlour
Jane is thought to have revised her novels in the general living/dining room, writing on small pieces of paper which were folded and attached to make small booklets. She is said to have insisted on keeping the creaky door unoiled so that she would have some warning of people coming in, so she could slip her writing out of sight under her blotting paper, thus keeping her work a secret from strangers.
She was in charge of ordering tea and sugar, and it was her responsibility to make breakfast though Jane is said to have started the day by practising on her piano so as not to disturb the others later on. 

The fireplace where Jane made tea
The kettle was warmed on the grate hob to make tea in the morning. Popular breakfast treats included bread rolls, toast, with preserves and marmalade, or ham and eggs. Tea, coffee or hot chocolate might be drunk, and gentlemen might take some ale. When staying at Stoneleigh Abbey, Mrs Austen wrote of a grand breakfast, though it
seems she declined the luxury treats of cake: At nine in the morning we meet and say our prayers in a handsome chapel, the pulpit &c now hung with black. Then follows breakfast, consisting of chocolate coffee and tea, plumb cake, pound cake, hot rolls cold rolls, bread and butter and dry toast for me.  

In my book, Mr Darcy’s Christmas Calendar, I had a lot of fun trying to imagine the scene where my heroine Lizzy walks into the dining room just after Jane has left it:
Jane's writing desk
Cautiously advancing inside, she found a cheerful parlour and the delicious aroma of hot, buttered toast. A dining table and chairs occupied the centre space upon which a pot of honey, a blue and white plate bearing a few breadcrumbs with a sticky knife, and the scatterings of pretty china, consisting of a flowered teapot, a sugar box and a milk jug, were the remnants of what appeared to be a breakfast meal. A kettle hissed and steamed on a trivet over the roaring fire in the grate and on either side of the fireplace, a cupboard and a cabinet held a variety of precious treasures: miniature portraits of loved ones, beautiful teabowls, and a box of candles. Every picture was decorated with a glossy sprig of holly, and a swag of the same, entwined
A view from the attics
with ivy, was held in place on the mantle with scarlet ribbons. Set before the window a small tripod table and writing desk were placed. Lizzy was drawn to it by the sight of several leaves of paper, a bottle of ink and a quill pen, but as she approached she saw that the even handwriting in brown ink was partially hidden by a plain sheet, which had been placed on top.
Jane’s bedroom was on the left at the top of the stairs and it’s thought that she and her sister Cassandra possibly shared the room.

In another scene from my novella Lizzy has the chance to see Jane’s room. This is a timeslip novel and Lizzy isn’t quite sure exactly what is happening.

A replica of Jane's original bed 

Lizzy looked about her now she was alone. It was a very cosy room, she saw, with a chocolate rug on the floor and striped wallpaper on the walls. A jug of holly and ivy on the windowsill before the casement gave it a festive air, the scarlet berries glistening in the candlelight. The oval looking glass above the fireplace reflected her face, pale and slightly anxious, but she was comforted by the sounds of a clock ticking and wood crackling on the fire as it burned. There were bookshelves, and Lizzy couldn’t help picking up a copy of a volume of Camilla by Fanny Burney. She’d read once that she was one of Jane’s favourite authors - what a lot of trouble the curators of the house had made to get all the details right, she thought. There were all sorts of personal objects left lying around - a pair of spectacles, a thimble and a needlecase were left neatly on the mantelshelf at one side and an ebony hand mirror, a patch box and a bottle of lavender water were arranged on the other. Two pretty reticules dangled from a wooden chair by the fire, and a piece of lace was folded over the top. On a handsome tambour desk, two Tunbridge workboxes sat on top in pride of place. The lid of the desk was rolled back and Lizzy could see the contents inside. There was a pile of music, each carefully transcribed note beautifully sketched upon fine lines, and there were several songs, she noted: The Soldier’s Adieu, Robin Adair, and The Yellow Hair’d Laddie, looked well-thumbed and were covered in personal notes and alterations. A sheaf of paper in the middle of the desk looked like a manuscript file and there was a bottle of ink and a well-used pen, its feathers short and stubby. Drawn to the writing like a magnet, Lizzy tried very hard not to look and for at least a minute, she avoided reading the top page. However,
like a heroine in a novel, the temptation proved too much. What she read really surprised her!

A view over the garden wall
 I imagine Jane spent her mornings writing when she wasn’t required to help. Sewing or ‘work’ took up a lot of time in those days, and although they had some servants to help them, they were a small household. In the afternoons she and Cassandra would go on a walk, into Alton for shopping, to visit their neighbours or just to enjoy the countryside, weather permitting.

Jane first took out her novel, Elinor and Marianne, and began to revise it. Her brother Henry persuaded her to publish it and placed it with Thomas Egerton. She paid for its publication and was so convinced it would make a loss she planned her accounts in anticipation. To her great surprise she made a profit of £140. After that success she took down First Impressions, which was published as perhaps the most favourite of all her books, Pride and Prejudicewhich was published in January 1813. The other novels followed soon after, and I can’t help thinking that at Chawton Jane must have been the happiest time of her life. She was inspired to write some of the most beloved works of fiction in this small corner of England.

Jane Odiwe

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Georgian gentleman’s version of the Little Black Book - a historical Wednesday post

Welcome to another of our historical Wednesday posts. Today, Elizabeth Bailey takes a look into the underside of Georgian society with Harris's List.

Harris’s List was a fascinating little volume, started in 1757 by one Samuel Derrick, as a venture to get himself out of debtor’s prison. His lively descriptions of the ladies who made themselves available for a gentleman’s amours proved so popular that the book was revised annually until 1795.

“Harris” often explains how a lady “fell into the life”. Miss Char-ton of No. 12, Gress Street, “came of reputable parents…yet the address of a designing villain, too soon found means to ruin her; forsaken by her friends, pursued by shame and necessity; she had no other alternative...”

Miss Le-, of Berwick-Street, Soho, “was debauched by a young counsellor, from a boarding-school near town, where she was apprentice.”

The majority of ladies featured in this entertaining directory for the pleasure-seeking young buck, which abounds in witty euphemisms, were in their teens or early twenties. For example, there is Miss Townsend, 19: “the use of the needle first fired this lady’s imagination with the use of a certain pin”.

Strong liquor was the preferred anodyne apparently. Miss Godfrey, a commanding female, “will take brandy with any one, or drink and swear, and though but little, will fight a good battle.”

It’s rather tragic to find women’s attractions (or otherwise) delineated in detail:
“she is amorous to the greatest degree, and has courage enough not to be afraid of the largest and strongest man that ever drew weapon in the cause of love”.
“but a middling face, with large features, a coarse hand and arm, and in stature short and clumsy”, but she is “an excellent bedfellow”.
“of a middle size, black eyes, plump made and her skin good”
“fine blue eyes that are delicious”.
We are told about good teeth and “sweet breath”, in a day where these were rare.

We also find out what it may cost our young man about town to enjoy a particular lady’s charms. One or two guineas appears the norm, with here and there a more expensive luxury on offer.

The genteel Miss Le-, who was led into sin, is only seventeen and “has a piece of the termagant about her”, but she commands three or four guineas for her services, which include birching for those so inclined. While Miss - of Wardour Street, who is “but newly arrived” and “darts such irresistible glances as can scarcely fail to engage the hearts of the beholders” will not accept less than five guineas. Mrs Ho-fey, on the other hand, who “calls forth all her powers to give delight with uncommon success” will happily settle for half a guinea.

A guinea (one pound, one shilling) seems a pathetic sum to us, yet in today’s money is worth around £60. A lady’s maid was paid less than that in a year, and no doubt worked a lot harder. The downside was the future. There are very few females over thirty in Harris’s List. Assuming one could avoid a dose of “the pox” or any other disease and live, what to do when the charms of youth faded? How many of them were canny enough to salt away a quantity of takings as insurance?

A few, one assumes, if they had garnered sufficient fortune, might be lucky enough to marry. Others are mentioned as having moved into brothel-keeping themselves. But the rest?

What happened to Sally Robinson, who was given five shillings at the age of fifteen to cure her of the clap “which she got from her deflowerer”? On the town in 1761, what hope had “a tall, fat girl” of any kind of living thirty years later? Or Kitty Buckley, who was one of the few older females and already 35 in 1761? She was “reported to have ruined twenty keepers” because she was “as wicked as a devil, and as extravagant as Cleopatra”. Since she had been in the bailiff’s hands about three times a year, did she end her days in prison?

The life was pitiful, if there was nothing else, but there’s no denying Harris’s List is a riveting read and has a lot to tell us about the less glamorous side of life in the 18th century.

My heroine in An Undesirable Liaison narrowly escapes falling into the prostitution trap:

In the tradition of Regency Romance, scandals past and present unravel in the path of destiny. Caught by an overwhelming attraction to her new employer, Florence struggles against temptation. Can Jerome withstand Florence’s allure, when his desire can only mean her ruin?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Writing Tips #6 – Melinda Hammond on Creating Characters

Today, Sarah Mallory shares her writing tips with us. Sarah also writes as Melinda Hammond.

If a reader is going to love your books they have to love the characters – or hate them. The point is, readers have to care about the characters and what is going to happen to them. So how do we go about creating them?  I am sure writers have many different ways of doing this, but here's a whistlestop tour of points that works for me.

Most important, know your characters before you begin.

 I use pictures to help me visualise my characters.

I print out or cut out pictures of actors, models, celebrities who look like my character and put them on a storyboard so that when I am writing the physical description I can glance across and see it. For example Jake Gyllenhaal looks the way I imagine my latest hero to look, dark and enigmatic.

Describe their appearance succinctly, today's readers don't have time for pages of information.

I know that some authors advise against beginning your character-creation with a name, because we have a lot of preconceived ideas about names.  

However, sometimes I have a name before I have anything else, e.g. for my book LUCASTA . It comes from a poem called To Lucasta, Going to the Wars and was written by Richard Lovelace in 1649. It's quite short, so here it is in full.
Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To wars and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shalt adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more.

I loved the name Lucasta and couldn't believe it hadn't been used more in books, so I dreamed up a character from the name. (On another note, I also like to think that my heroes might have the same noble sentiments at the poet is expressing here).

Give every person in your book a different voice – this means knowing each one of them to a greater or lesser extent.

 I have never included a real person in one of my books, but I do draw on character traits that I observe in people. For your inner character you need to live the story through your character's thoughts, feelings and words – show don't tell. 

Describe a character through action, mannerisms, body language, speech, voice etc.  e.g. if the hero is an energetic man, he strides, paces, runs rather than walks; he jumps up from his seat if he is prone to impatience.

Drip feed the information about your character – no need to have pages of description, feed it in slowly, bit by bit, so it doesn't turn into a boring catalogue of points.

You can also give a character's whole family background quite briefly. Remember Pride & Prejudice, when Lady Catherine de Bourgh is questioning Elizabeth about her upbringing and Elizabeth tells her they had no governess:

Lady Catherine "…without a governess you must have been neglected."
Elizabeth "Compared with some families, I believe we were; but such of us as wished to learn never wanted the means.  We were always encouraged to read, and had all the masters that were necessary. Those who chose to be idle certainly might."

That explains a lot about all the Bennet sisters in only half a dozen lines.

Make the characters true to their time – don't project 21st century values onto an 18th century man or woman.  Okay, sometimes one has to compromise a bit, to bring modern day readers and historical characters closer together, but you can do this subtly, explain the character's viewpoint. In my recent Sarah Mallory book, A LADY FOR LORD RANDALL, my heroine Mary doesn't believe in marriage – a modern point of view, perhaps but not unknown in 1815. I explain in the book that she is the daughter of radical parents - followers of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary also has a circle of radical friends, but outside that circle her views are frowned upon. Her beliefs would allow her to become Randall's mistress, but she is made fully aware of the disapproval all those around her and she also knows that taking such a step will jeopardise her livelihood as a teacher.

Flaws are human, so use them. Flaws work for heroes and villains.  Don't just create a great hero, make sure he has a worthy opponent, whether it's his love interest or the villain of the piece. Most character traits can be both positive and negative.  One person's love could be another's obsession

Motivation – for good or evil – needs to be clear and logical: a reader must be able to believe in what is going on, especially when the character makes a mistake: it shouldn't be out of character.

Make use of the physical setting – is your character at home in the landscape, or is it alien, does it make him/her uncomfortable? For example in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliffe's character is reflected by the wild Yorkshire moors. Imagine how different he would appear if you set him in a London salon.

How will your character react in a given situation?  Some writers say they never know what is going to happen in their story, or that they suddenly have to re-write a chapter because they realise at that point that the character would never react in that way. If you know your characters, they can even help write the book for you!

You can use books on psychology, take role models from mythology, some people use the zodiac.  It doesn't matter where you get your inspiration from, as long as you make your character a real person with hopes, fears, strengths and weaknesses.

So finally, here's a short check list you might find useful when creating your characters.

Name / nickname – remember this might well fix her/him in a time or a place. Sometimes a name will come fairly late in the writing stage, but as I have said earlier, it might be the starting point for your whole story.
Appearance -  I like to know how my characters look before I start.
Background - Where does he/she come from – what period of history
Academic or a physical? Is this character brainy or sporty, or a combination of both? Does he/she act first or think first?
Introvert or extrovert
Relationships – a loner, or lots of friends

So that's roughly how I create my characters, but one word of warning - if you make your characters too real they may take over the book! That's fine if they are the main characters, they will sort the plot out for you. However, if they are minor characters you may have to rein them in with the promise of a book of their own at some point. That has happened to me on several occasions. Then of course you have to write another book. And another, and another……

Of course this is only one point of view - you may find that something very different works for you. Perhaps you would like to share with us your tips for creating characters
Happy writing!

Melinda Hammond