Friday, August 10, 2018

Singles or Doubles? Melinda Hammond Ponders Romance Covers...



With the release of our latest Regency Romantics Box set, A Summer of Dukes, I have been thinking about covers recently and wondering just what readers – and authors – prefer. Perhaps a single gentleman on the cover is favourite, our "Duke" certainly seems perfectly at home in the picture above, doesn't he?  And the cover of The Ton's Most Notorious Rake, my current Sarah Mallory Regency, has a very handsome hunk gracing the cover.  
Yet the recent Italian version of the same book features a painting of an actual scene from the book and I find I quite like that, too, or perhaps it is just the author in me kicking in, because I like to think that someone has read the book!


And I have now received foreign copies of two of my Sarah Mallory books from the Scandalous Arrandales Series – Lithuania, in fact! – plus The Duke's Secret Heir in German, and they ALL have couples on the covers.




To balance this, several of my own Georgian or Regency Romances have pictures of the heroine on the cover, including these two:-



 So, do you prefer to see a couple on a romance cover, or a single man or woman? Or perhaps it depends on the title  or the story? I confess that I don't think I have a preference,  but I am always intrigued to know what my publishers will choose next!

Do let me know what you think.

Happy reading
Melinda Hammond /Sarah Mallory

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Jane Austen: Mr Bennet's Failure as a Father

In every film or television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice I’ve seen (and I’ve seen many)   Mr Bennet comes across as a sympathetic character; a man we could like. We enjoy his irony with regard to the oleaginous Mr Collins: ‘It is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?’  

He finds Mr Collins ‘as absurd as he had hoped; and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance…’ And we laugh with him.

But there is a less admirable side to Mr Bennet, one which leads to a great deal of unhappiness for his elder daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, and near disaster for the flighty Lydia who runs off with the caddish (though handsome) Wickham.

 
 
19th Century Reticule


At the end of Chapter 1, Jane Austen sums up Mr Bennet’s character. He was an ‘odd mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve and caprice...’ He enjoys winding people up. He allows his wife to think that he has no intention of paying that essential courtesy call on the newly-arrived Mr Bingley, a young, unmarried man with £5000 a year, without which Mrs Bennet will not be able to introduce her attractive daughters to him. He leaves her in ignorance until he’s extracted the maximum enjoyment from her agitation before telling her that he has paid the call.

He can be unkind, too. At the Netherfield ball, his middle daughter Mary eagerly sits down at the piano and begins to sing. ‘Mary’s powers were by no means fitted for such a display; her voice was weak and her manner affected.’  Elizabeth is in agonies of embarrassment and ‘looks at her father to entreat his interference.’  

 


Mr Bennet telling his wife and daughters that he has called on Mr Bingley by Charles E. Brock
 


He picks up her hint and says, after Mary’s second song,‘That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let other young ladies have time to exhibit.’  Elizabeth must have heard the irony in his tone for she felt ‘sorry for (Mary), and sorry for her father’s speech.’ He could have done it more kindly.

But Mr Bennet is not a particularly kind man. When Mr Bingley suddenly leaves Netherfield without having made the expected offer to Jane – and it’s obvious to Elizabeth that Jane and Bingley are very much in love – Jane is deeply upset, and Elizabeth and Mrs Bennet are full of sympathy.

Mr Bennet’s reaction is quite different. He says to Elizabeth: ‘So, Lizzy, your sister is crossed in love, I find. I congratulate her. Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed in love a little now and then. It is something to think of and gives her a sort of distinction among her companions.’ He suggests that Elizabeth will not want to be outdone by Jane, and recommends Wickham for the role: ‘He is a pleasant fellow, and would jilt you creditably.’

It is callous, inappropriate, and he completely ignores Jane’s very real distress.

 
Regency man

The tone of Elizabeth’s response is interesting: ‘Thank you, sir, but a less agreeable man would satisfy me. We must not all expect Jane’s good fortune.’ On the surface, it sounds as though she is content to echo her father’s irony, but I wonder? She doesn’t call her father ‘Papa’ she calls him ‘sir’, as if distancing herself, a reaction further emphasized by her use of ‘We’ rather than ‘I’. The reader suspects that Elizabeth is hurt by her father’s reaction and that this conversation will not be passed on to Jane.  
 
 
Mr Bennet in his Library about to be harangued by Mrs Bennet on Elizabeth's obstinate refusal to accept Mr Collins' proposal, by Charles E. Brock
 

Then there’s the question of the Bennet girls’ education. When Lady Catherine de Bourgh cross-questions Elizabeth about her and her sisters’ education, she discovers that they grew up without a governess; and that, although Elizabeth and Mary are both musical, they never went up to London to be properly taught.

‘My mother would have had no objection, but my father hates London,’ Elizabeth tells her.

Lady Catherine might be nosy but she asks questions to which the readers, too, would like answers. ‘Why did you not all learn? You ought all to have learnt. The Miss Webbs all play, and their father has not so good an income as yours.’

Later she says: ‘No governess? How was that possible? Your mother must have been quite a slave to your education.’

 


These are pertinent questions; and surely it is Mr Bennet’s duty as a parent to see that his daughters have a decent education, especially considering that they might have to work for a living if they don’t find husbands. We also learn from Lady Catherine that Mr Bennet’s income could well support proper music teachers.

Of course, the reader knows that it is extremely unlikely that Mrs Bennet would have taught her daughters. So how were they educated? Possibly they went to a girls’ school in Meriton, to an establishment like Mrs Goddard’s school in Highbury in Emma, where ‘a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price.’

The Bennet girls can all read and write and are numerate. They would have been taught to sew (Lydia pulls apart a newly-bought hat prior to redesigning it) and they had obviously had dancing lessons – they are all good dancers. We know that Mary and Elizabeth were taught the piano by somebody (even if not a London professional) and they had singing lessons.

 
Two Girls at School, 1817


The sisters would have learnt a modicum of British History, even if only through Miss Mangnall’s Historical and Miscellaneous Questions for the Use of Young People (1798). They know various card games. Jane, at least, can ride.  

As Elizabeth says, ‘We were always encouraged to read, and had all the masters that were necessary. Those who chose to be idle certainly might.’ It is not very satisfactory.

In my view, Mr Bennet should have seen to it that none of his daughters were allowed to be idle. And he certainly failed Mary.

Mary isn’t pretty like her sisters; instead, she tries to be ‘accomplished’. But, although she is obviously intelligent, Mr Bennet doesn’t bother to teach her to think clearly. Her trite observations are allowed to stand and, doubtless, give her father some amusement, but that is, surely, not enough. He could have helped her – he is a thinking man - but he can’t be bothered.

Furthermore, a man of breeding should treat his wife with respect – even if they have very little in common. To do otherwise sets a bad example to their children. Sir Thomas Bertram in Mansfield Park, for example, always treats Lady Bertram courteously, even though she does very little apart from lying on her sofa and petting her dog, Pug. The Bertram children are expected to treat their mother with the respect which is her due. 
 
Mr Bennet's reaction on hearing that Lydia has eloped with Mr Wickham 

Mr Bennet also allows himself to criticize his wife in front of his children. He says of Charlotte Lucas’s engagement to Mr Collins: ‘It gratified him … to discover that Charlotte Lucas, whom he had been used to think tolerably sensible, was as foolish as his wife and more foolish than his daughter!’ And he obviously enjoys Mrs Bennet’s distress about the Lucas-Collins match – and we sympathize – after all, the Netherfield estate is entailed and it is Mr Collins who will inherit it when Mr Bennet dies not Mrs Bennet and her daughters. They will be homeless.

It is not Mr Bennet’s fault that he only has daughters, but it is his responsibility to see that his wife and children are properly provided for after his death. We are told, towards the end of the book, that he had ‘often wished that, instead of spending his whole income, he had laid by an annual sum, for the better provision of his children, and of his wife, if she should survive him.’ It was his duty to have done so, as he eventually recognizes.  

His income is £2000 a year. If he’d saved 10% - surely not too difficult – it would have meant that the marriage settlement of £5000 would now be worth well over £9000. Luckily for Mr Bennet, Mr Darcy’s generosity enables Lydia to marry Wickham, and Mr Bennet himself ‘would be scarcely ten pounds a year the loser.’

Reading Lady 

And it is Mr Bennet’s refusal to listen to Elizabeth’s advice to forbid Lydia to accept Mrs Forster’s invitation to go to Brighton, which precipitates the final catastrophe of Lydia running off with Wickham. Elizabeth’s plea is heartfelt: she points out that she and her sisters’ social acceptance and ‘respectability in the world must be affected by the wild volatility and disdain of all constraint which mark Lydia’s character.’ And she sees Kitty, who follows her sister, being drawn in, too. ‘Vain, ignorant, idle, and absolutely uncontrolled! Oh my dear father, can you suppose it possible that they will not be censured and despised wherever they are known, and that their sisters will not be often involved in their disgrace?’

He listens, and he has an answer to her points which satisfies him and he gives Lydia permission to go to Brighton. When push comes to shove, he always goes for the option which will cost him the least trouble.

 
Jane Austen, after Cassandra Austen. National Portrait Gallery.


At the end of the book, Mr Bennet has married off three of his five daughters, so money will be less tight. He could, if he so chose, start saving for Kitty, Mary and his wife’s futures. But he doesn’t, ‘he naturally returned to all his former indolence.’  Perhaps he assumes (probably correctly) that his two rich sons-in-law will make sure that his wife and unmarried daughters will be comfortable, financially.  It is not an admirable trait.

There are other fathers in Jane Austen’s novels whose characters may be worthy of censure: General Tilney’s bullying, for example, or Sir Walter Elliot’s snobbery and financial fecklessness, but it is Mr Bennet’s disengagement from his daughters’ upbringing which makes him the most blameworthy, in my opinion.  

Elizabeth Hawksley

 

 
 

 

 

 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Latest of my brides by chance

As I've just launched Book Six of my Brides by Chance series, I thought a little excerpt might be in order. This particular heroine has popped up in several earlier stories as the girl who is clearly going to end up a spinster. Her disadvantage is not so much pecuniary as just being too plain and ordinary to "take" as the saying went. She starts out being pushy and desperate, trying to attract the attention of every eligible male. But a couple of stories ago, another heroine advised her to relax and stop trying so hard. She took the advice to heart, but there were still no takers.

Delia is now resigned to dwindling into a maiden aunt. But a chance encounter on the road to Weymouth throws her helter-skelter into an adventure where she meets.... but that would be giving it all away.

EXCERPT:


The stallion lengthened his stride to a canter. Delia pulled him up as they reached the bridge, regarding it with disfavour. “It looks rickety to me.”
“Give me the reins!”
She relinquished them with alacrity, having no desire to attempt to negotiate the narrow wooden slats leading across, along with the aged and broken railing. Just as Giff guided Tiger’s steps onto the precarious structure, a familiar sound reached Delia’s ears.
Hoof beats. More than one set. And crackling twigs along with the swish of shifting leaves.
“Oh, dear heaven, I think they’re coming!”
“Damn them to hell!”
Her heart leapt into her mouth as the horse took the bridge at a pace that threatened to upturn the lot of them into the river below. The clatter of Tiger’s hooves on the wooden surface sent her senses flying into apprehension.
“They’ll hear that for sure!” Forgetting to be afraid of the crossing, she trained her eyes on the thickets behind and caught movement in the trees. “I can see them! Giff, hurry, for heaven’s sake!”
The horse’s hoofs hit terra firma again and Tiger shot into the forest, going straight through a gap in the trees. Delia looked back, trying to see if their pursuers were on the trail and saw instead the worn path winding away behind them. Oh, help! If those ruffians were able to cross the bridge, they could follow just as easily.
Impatience claimed her as Tiger’s pace slowed. “He’s tiring!”
She saw Giff glance up through the canopy of leaves. Was he finding the sun to guide them west again? “Not far now.”
“How do you know?”
“Should hit a lane at any moment.”
“But what if they get across the bridge?”
“We must hope they’re too faint-hearted to attempt it.”
Delia was not convinced. “They’ve shown nerve enough so far.”
“But not common sense. With luck, one of them at least will fall in.”
At which instant, Delia heard a loud cry and a splash. Elation soared and she laughed out. “They have fallen in!”
She was craning to try and see behind Giff and caught an amused look.
“It’s to be hoped they never find out how pleased you are about it.”
“Pleased? I hope the wretch has broken his leg. But I’m sorry for the horse.” Giff’s laughter echoed in the trees and Delia gave him a buffet on the arm. “Hush, for heaven’s sake! They’ll hear you.”
His brows flew up. “If I ever met such a bossy chit!”
“If it comes to that, I’ve never met such an autocratic fellow!” She regarded him a moment, a little concerned to see strain in his face. “Do you need another swig of brandy?”
He shook his head briefly, his gaze concentrated on path ahead.
Delia studied his face without meaning to, forgetful of everything save his danger. A pang smote her. He mustn’t die!


Elizabeth Bailey

Available at Amazon and other stores:

Amazon
http://mybook.to/DTR

Elsewhere
https://www.books2read.com/u/mgL7ZD

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Diversity in romance


 

This post is a little late, because I scrapped what I was going to write and went with this instead.
At the weekend, Suzanne Brockmann made the keynote speech at the RWA Convention in Denver. I think this marks a seminal moment in publishing, and sent people home determined to do something. 
She spoke about diversity, in particular gay romance. Suz is a pioneer of gay romance, especially in mainstream publishing. Her gay character Jules, a kick-ass FBI agent appeared in several of her Troubleshooter books, and is a reader favorite. There was a real development in these books, and his friendship with one in particular, Sam, turned Sam from a thoughtless homophobic to Jules’ best friend. Once you’ve read Jules, you’ll never forget him. He wasn’t there because he was gay, he was there because he was an FBI agent who happened to be openly gay. His career suffered for it, too.
Jules was no token character. He was distinctive, fully rounded, a man with faults. Someone you could fall in love with.
Tokenism is a tricky thing. The heroine’s gay best friend, the black drug dealer, the Chinese takeaway owner. While there are a lot of these in real life, when they are depicted as “typical,” with flat characterisation, it’s lazy and insulting. It’s a character the author sticks in for the sake of diversity, and miserably fails.
In historicals it’s even more difficult. Earlier this year, Kensington published my first gay novel, Sinless. I got tons of emails asking me to write his story, and I’m thrilled that Darius got his story. I thought I would have to do a quick novella and self publish it (with Kensington’s permission, since it’s part of the contracted Shaws series). And I’m so pleased it was part of a mainstream m/f series. But historically, “sodomy” was punishable by death. So there was deep peril in what came naturally, and most men lived closeted. Because to come out would mean persecution and possible death.
I also tried to write a story about the origin of slavery, as part of the Richard and Rose series. I had to give up. The language they used as a matter of course is just not acceptable today. They used it without being pejorative, but the words are far more laden with historical abuse and hatred when we look at it today. And I always try to be historically accurate. I could have used the word “black” which is just about acceptable, but that upset the rhythm of the book, and the way the words fell on the page. So I gave up. In fact there were lots more people of colour in history, but they were absorbed into the general population. Tradespeople, servants, the infamous black pages, freed slaves and the like. No aristocrats, not in the Georgian and Regency era, but some had ancestors who were poc, like Queen Charlotte, who was said to have African-like features.
The romance industry, particularly in the US, has been slow to accept diverse characters. That’s partly because they are not well represented among romance writers. There is a tradition of black romance writers in the US, and I’ve had the great fortune to meet some of them, including the lovely and hugely talented Beverley Jenkins. In the UK it’s even more dire. That’s not to say that you have to be a POC or gay to write those stories, but it would help if they were better represented.
The RNA is actively involved in encouraging more diverse stories. There’s a long way to go, but at least we’re on the way.
But read Suzanne Brockmann’s speech. It’s astonishingly good, and I do think it marks a new phase in romance writing. From the RWA shunning gay romance, erotic romance and others, rejecting those authors as members, to today, we’ve come some way. During her speech Suz pointed out how difficult it was to write gay characters, from her first book where one of her secondary characters was gay, and her editor made it change it, to the best-selling All Through the Night, she has explained how that came to happen. Mostly because Suzanne Brockmann is a Big Name in romance, and so she had that platform to base her stories on, something she knows only too well.
We’re getting there, but there’s a long way to go.
You can read Suzanne Brockmann’s moving and inspirational speech here. You won’t be sorry. And while you’re at it, pick up the first of her Troubleshooter series, The Unsung Hero. It’s so good.

Monday, July 16, 2018

All's Well That Ends Well - at least I hope it does.

£1.99/$2.99
Click Here To Buy
The Nightingale Chronicles - Book 4 - All's Well That Ends Well
This is the final book in a four book series and both Sarah Cooper and Alfie Nightingale will have to endure a deal of heartbreak and danger over the next two years to reach their happy ever after. Sarah becomes betrothed to Robert Billings and moves her family back to Colchester, and Alfie leaves to be a policeman in London. Somehow Sarah must hold the family together and pray that her man will come back to her. Alfie has a life changing decision to make but will he make the right one for himself and the family that he has abandoned?


I was sad to say goodbye to my characters, Sarah and Alfie Nightingale, after many years with them. I took them from twelve and thirteen years old to twenty-four and twenty-five with families of their own. The Nightingale Chronicles  are family sagas and also regional as they are set firmly in Essex and the East End.
There are now something called Exotic Sagas - ones set in foreign places - such as the Tea Planter's Wife. It would appear, according to agents and editors these are highly desirable titles right now - also anything about an orphan. 
I have already written what could be classed as an Exotic in Victoria's War. Victoria isn't working class (so not a clogs and shawls - which the others were) but Anglo-Indian and forced to give up her heritage when she marries an English army captain. The book starts in India, then moves to England, Africa, India, Bruma, America and ends in England. This book was inspired by my mother's memoirs (she was Anglo-Indian) and I love it. Not sure why it hasn't proved as popular as my other WW2 books.

I was going to write a series about a family involved with building the railway but now wonder if I should write something about an orphan. Victorian era is packed full of interesting stories. Henry Mayhew is my go-to research book and I can't wait to finish the Regency I'm writing and the edits for Aria and then I'll get started on my reading. 
best wishes
Fenella J Miller

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Lucasta, Gainsborough and the Long Regency


Publishing a new book (albeit a revised one) is always exciting, but searching for a new cover for Lucasta, my latest Melinda Hammond to be re-published on Kindle, turned up a fascinating true story that is the equal of any fiction.


You may be asking yourself why I have included a Georgian romantic adventure in this blog for Regency authors. Lucasta is set in 1780 and it can be argued that this was at the very beginning of a period known as the Long Regency, which covers a much wider time-span than the actual time the Prince of Wales was Regent (1811 – 1820). Generally, the Long Regency stretches from the late 18th century, when the Prince of Wales was coming into his own as a both a fashionable and a political figure, until 1837, when Victoria became Queen (and merited a historical period all to herself)

GEORGE IV

Lucasta is set around the 1780s, just before the French Revolution and the huge changes in society and fashion that followed. When I needed a cover for the e-book, it made sense to go to the leading artists of the day for my inspiration. And I came across this:
The Honourable Mary Graham of Balgowan by Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788)

 You can see how alike it is to my own cover (included at the end of this blog), which the talented Jane Dixon Smith designed for me.  The original portrait is now in the National Galleries of Scotland. It was painted after 1777, so it fits with the setting of my story (even if the style was influenced by the 17th century painter Van Dyck, so the costume and setting has echoes of an earlier period). When I looked a little deeper into the history of this painting, however, I discovered that the lady's own life was equally as interesting as any fiction.

The Hon Mary Cathcart was born in 1757, the daughter of a Scottish baronet who was at the time Ambassador to Catherine the Great. She was born in Russia and spent her early years there, but returned to England when she was "of marriageable age".  She was married at the age of 17 to a Perthshire landowner, Thomas Graham, in 1774. It is said that he was so love-struck that when she forgot to bring with her the jewels she wanted to wear at a ball, he rode 90 miles to fetch her jewel box.

She suffered from  consumption and her husband took her to Brighton in an attempt to improve her health. It was there she met Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire and they became life long friends (and possibly even lovers). Gainsborough adored her and painted her three times, including the version shown above, which was exhibited to great acclaim at the RA in 1777.

Mary's health continued to be a concern and her husband took her to the Mediterranean in the hope that a warmer climate would prove beneficial, but she died onboard ship, off the coast near Nice, in 1792. Thomas brought her body back through France, which was by then in the grip of revolution, but his party was accosted by French soldiers and Thomas was forced to stand by and watch while they broke into the coffin and violated his wife's body. He had planned to bury her in France, but after this appalling incident he decided to bring her home: she now lies buried in the mausoleum which he built in the churchyard at Methven.
Thomas never recovered from this outrage and could not look at the portrait again. He hung it with white muslin and later passed it to her sister. Thomas then spent the rest of his life in the army, fighting the French. In the mid 19th century, the portrait was bequeathed to the National Gallery by one her descendants on condition that it never leaves Scotland, and it has been there ever since.

It is a fascinating story, and one that I might never have learned had I not decided that this lady would make a perfect model for my eponymous heroine.

 Happy reading!

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

Lucasta is now available on Kindle



Thursday, July 05, 2018

In the Gallows' Shadow


What must it have been like to be in a prison where the gallows was always visible? When you might soon be climbing those wooden stairs and feel the noose being put around your neck. These thoughts jostled through my head when I visited Downpatrick Museum in Co. Down recently – it was once a gaol.

My writing self thought – but a gallows is just what a novel needs. Think of the scene in Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) where the innocent Tom is climbing the scaffold's wooden stairs. The tension is almost unbearable. Will a pardon come in time? Or will poor Tom swing?
 
Downpatrick Gaol's scaffold and gallows as it would have looked in 1796

Downpatrick Gaol opened in 1796 and closed in 1830, and, during that period, it housed thousands of prisoners. Most of them were held for very minor offences, like petty theft, or being a public nuisance (which could mean practically anything). But it was also a convict gaol and hundreds of prisoners were held here in its cramped cells before being transported to New South Wales.

The very stones must have smelled of misery and hopelessness.
 
The outer yard of Downpatrick Gaol

It also held prisoners who fought for Irish independence from Britain in the 1798 rebellion, some of whom were hanged on the Downpatrick Gaol gallows. The most notable gallows victim was Thomas Russell, friend of the staunch Irish republican, Wolfe Tone. Russell met Tone in Paris during the French Revolution, together with another Irish revolutionary, Robert Emmet. Russell, Tone and Emmet were all executed for their beliefs. Russell and Emmet were hanged in 1803, Russell in Downpatrick, and Emmet at Rathfarnham. Tone was captured in 1798 and court martialed. He committed suicide when his plea to die a soldier’s death by shooting was refused.

These were violent times.

 
Downpatrick Cathedral, described by John Betjeman as 'the prettiest small cathedral in these islands.'

 

The Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, himself a staunch supporter of the French Revolution, had visited Paris a few years earlier, and famously wrote:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven.

But he was appalled by the violence unleashed by the Reign of Terror and, when things got too hot, he had no option but to leave his French sweetheart, Annette Vallon, in Paris with their baby daughter, hoping to return when things became more stable.  

 
The huge slab of stone said to mark St Patrick's grave

 

Downpatrick Gaol lasted only from 1796-1830, but they were years of exceptional violence, both in Ireland, in the rest of Europe and in the new United State of America. The scaffold and gallows were swept away and, nowadays, the place is a lively and interactive museum with exhibitions and events, showcasing Downpatrick’s rich history – St Patrick himself was buried at Downpatrick Cathedral in about 461 A.D..

It also tells the story of the gaol’s prisoners. Thomas Russell has not been forgotten.

Downpatrick Gaol: the inner prison yard
 

The museum’s director, Mike King, told us how the gallows returned to the museum. In 2015, the director of The Frankenstein Chronicles (starring Sean Bean) wanted to film there – and they would build an exact replica of the scaffold and gallows in its original position in the prison yard. With great presence of mind, Mike offered to waive the fee if the museum could keep it once the filming had ended. A lot of school groups visit the museum and he thought they’d love it. He was right. 
 
Gruesome or not, it’s a very visible reminder of the terror the scaffold and gallows must have once inspired.
 
Elizabeth Hawksley
 

 

 

 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Dauntless

This month I have the absolute honour to share an excerpt from my new book, out with Kensington this Tuesday.
This one is set mainly in London, and I got to research the cluster of bookseller shops and stalls that clustered around the bottom of Ludgate Hill, Paternoster Row, and around St. Paul's.
In the mid-eighteenth century, if you wanted to buy a book, that was where you went. Or you sent your servant, of course! These days the area is under yet another development, but for most of the twentieth century it was a bleak place that attracted every gust of wind going.
But back then, some cheeky traders even used the walls of the newly built St. Paul's Cathedral as support for their stalls! Print shops depicted the scandals of the day in graphic detail, and this is the area my heroine, Drusilla Shaw, is drawn to.


Lady Drusilla Shaw may be a bit introverted, yet she has the observant mind of a writer, capturing all of society’s quirks and scandals. But when the novel she’s been working on disappears from her room, that is just the beginning of her problems. Confident, magnetic Oliver, Duke of Mountsorrel, has taken an interest in Dru, and when he proposes, she is both thrilled and anxious. Her book depicts a ruinous family story that is uncannily similar to Oliver’s real-life, not to mention libelous. The manuscript could surface at any moment—and eventually it does, in published form, for all to read . .
Oliver is bewildered by his new wife and her blasted book. Worst of all, how can he love a woman he no longer trusts? But when it becomes obvious that someone is taking their cues from the book in a series of attacks, he has no choice but to stick close to her. Their explosive connection in bed should take care of the heir-making, but for that to happen, Drusilla has to stay alive—and so does Oliver.

So here's an bit from the first chapter.
“Just look at him,” Livia murmured.
“Who?” Dru peered around the magnificent room.
“Mountsorrel.”
“Mmm?” Not wanting to appear anxious and doing her best to forget the brief but memorable encounter, Dru shrugged. “Is he upsetting people?”
“No, he’s dancing nonstop. Paying attention to all the young ladies. The unmarried ones, anyway.”
Dru caught sight of the duke whirling a girl in pink around until she breathlessly laughed into his face. “She wants him to take her into supper. Or more likely, out into the garden for some air. Our sainted aunt ensures all parts of the garden are well lit. She’ll have to work hard to find a dim spot.”
Livia laughed. “But I’ll wager you could discover one.”
Dru shrugged. “I’ve visited this house many times. You could find a secluded spot too. Don’t even pretend you could not.”
She won another laugh for that. But Livia had drawn her attention to the one person she had wanted to ignore, and now she could not look away.
The vigorous country dance left the participants tousled and out of breath. All, that was, except the duke, who bowed calmly to his partner and took her back to her parents. After exchanging a few words with them, he moved on, leaving the girl staring after him wide-eyed. Until her mother delivered a sharp jab to her ribs. Now back with her parents, the girl seemed even younger than when she was on the floor. She was, Dru noted, possessed of a particularly fine bosom. Unlike herself. It took clever lacing to give her the cleavage she was sporting tonight. Another reason Dru tolerated Forde’s behavior. The woman could tight-lace so well, she could force breasts up where there were none.
But on the one cavorting around the floor with yet another schoolroom miss? From their brief contact, she knew how little of his appearance owed to clever padding. His chest had not given way, not a bit of it. His arms, while clad in blue twilled silk, had revealed nothing but firm, well-exercised muscle.
She shivered. What could a man do with all that power? Men often made the mistaken assumption that women were innocent merely because they had little practical experience. Dru read a lot, and not all the books would have been approved by her mother. Had she known her daughter had read the full version of Fanny Hill, for example, she might have tried to regulate every book her daughter read. “Tried to” being the important words.
She knew what men and women did in the bedroom. She had even anticipated it with some eagerness, but these days, she’d stopped torturing herself and tried not to think about it. She cursed Mountsorrel for bringing that feeling back to her.
He appeared not to notice her at all. Once, when he was stripping the willow, separating from his partner to skip down the outside of the central column of dancers, he glanced up and caught her staring. Dru flipped her fan open and lifted it to cool her heated cheeks, lowering her eyelids in an expression of icy disdain.
He laughed.
She must stop looking at him. He danced with one young woman after another. He was hunting for a bride.
Dru curled her lip and turned away. The set was coming to a close. She had no desire to see another young woman make a fool of herself over this man. “When are they serving supper?” she asked Livia. “I swear I am famished.” Flicking her fan before her face, she turned abruptly, with the aim of heading to the back of the room. Only to almost collide with her aunt, the hostess of this benighted ball.
Dru sank into her accustomed curtsy. She had of course made her obeisance on arrival, but her aunt enjoyed the attention, and it cost her nothing to give it again.
“Drusilla, is it not?” the duchess said.
Dru concentrated on lifting her head at exactly the perfect angle as she rose, but to no avail. Her stumble nearly overbalanced her completely. For standing next to the duchess was the duke. The Duke of Mountsorrel, not her aunt’s husband. She regained her equilibrium, hopping from one foot to the other, making her hoops wobble, feeling like a complete beginner. Anyone meeting her would imagine she had been dragged up by careless servants, not nurtured by loving parents to become the best person she could be.
Perhaps that was as well. After all, she didn’t wish to become further acquainted with his grace. Did she? She gave a tiny shake of her head. She should not indulge herself. He had no interest in any woman over twenty. That was for sure. If he danced with her, it would be a pity dance.
Heedless of anything but her own interests, the duchess plowed on, making the formal introduction. At least she could curtsy properly this time, but she did not make it as low. When she lifted her head she met his dark gaze directly. Let him be the first to look away.
He bowed over her hand. At his touch, skin to skin, she had to fight to repress her shudder. Only one word described the way she felt—recognition. Of what, she did not know. Nor did she care to find out.
Unfortunately, he stared back. A smile curved his lips. Had he noticed her reaction? He behaved as if he did, as if they shared a private joke. She refused to give in, absolutely refused to. “Lady Drusilla, I’m delighted to meet you…formally. May I request the honor of your company for the next dance?”
She could hardly say no. That would entail more touching, but she couldn’t help that. At least she knew what contact with him meant. The sensation would wear off in time. She absolutely knew it. Gazing at him, she caught sight of a defect. A thin white scar cut across his lower jaw, leaving a clean line where the incipient stubble of his beard should be. Another smaller scar bisected his left eyebrow. Not noticeable at first, but once seen, never forgotten. The upper scar gave him a devilish look, as if he were perpetually quirking his brow. Her imagination went off on its own happy journey, as it often did.
When he led her on the dance floor, she was careful to keep her hand on his sleeve, needing all the armor she could find. The duchess had employed an eight-piece orchestra. They made an unholy amount of noise. That meant she did not have to converse. Except that he led her to the far end of the large room, away from the musicians. And to make matters worse, they were to dance a minuet. Partners did not change in this dance that required elegance and confidence for its effect. Neither of which she had right at this moment.
But she wasn’t a marquess’s daughter for nothing. Steeling her spine and schooling her face into immobility, she prepared for her ordeal. Unfortunately, immediately after she rose from her initial curtsy, she said, “You are very kind, spending time with the old maids.”
He tilted his head to one side and offered his hand to help her up and display her as she paraded around him. “I have not seen any yet.”
“Truly? Allow me to take you over to meet them.”
“That, my lady, would not be proper. A single lady should not put herself forward, you know.”
Was he goading her? Undoubtedly. Sadly, the slow simmer of annoyance burned her stomach and made itself known to her fevered mind. “I am sure my aunt would be delighted to introduce you. My sister and cousin are over there with the others. We have quite a society underway.”
“Interesting. What do you talk about?” As she moved past him, her powdered hair grazed his mouth. “Eligible gentlemen? The latest fashions? Or patterns for knitted stockings?” He pointedly fixed his gaze on her sleeve. “Or how to get ink stains out of lace.”
She pulled in a breath, trying very hard to control her outrage. She absolutely refused to rise to his bait. Except that she did. “The abolition of slavery and the utter ignorance of some menfolk.”
His laugh told her she’d hit a mark. “Touché, Lady Drusilla. I stand corrected. Such women can change the world, can they not?”
“Indeed. And they are often possessors of the best family secrets. Together, we probably know every dirty little secret the highest in society are doing their best to conceal. We know how to keep secrets, too.”
She danced a perfect round and lifted her chin.
His silence came as a surprise. Tension ratcheted up between them. Dru could hardly hear the music over the thudding of her heart. What had she said? “There is no obligation to share your secret with me, sir. I fear, however, that I will probably know it shortly. I can hardly help it. Let me speculate.” She couldn’t stop. Considering the angry stares he shot at her, she should be dead of shock and awe, but Dru had never given in. She decided on a few light sallies until he regained his temper. “Perhaps you have a secret sister, or your parents were never married officially. Or you keep a killer locked up in the attic of your remote house in Scotland.” She didn’t even know if he had a remote house in Scotland, but it sounded good. She had taken to reading Gothic romances recently, like the one written by Horace Walpole. Ridiculous things happened, enough to tickle her fancy and far removed from the world she lived in. Walpole poked fun at the stories while he dived in, and that appealed to Dru’s sense of the ridiculous. She recalled the plot of the story she was working on. “Or maybe you are sheltering a secret heir, one who is so oppressed he dare not think for himself. He is kept hidden from society—”
Releasing her hand—positively throwing it at her—the Duke of Mountsorrel turned his back on her and strode away, leaving her stranded in the middle of the floor.
Rigid with shock, Dru stared after him. He didn’t look back. Not that she expected him to, because she’d caught the expression on his face before he left. He was incandescent with fury. His eyes had flashed wide open before his mouth thinned into a hard line and the creases at the sides deepened. He’d spun on one heel, executing a perfect turn. She admired it even as she went hot and cold, the chill running down her spine turning her into ice.
And still the orchestra played the minuet.

You can read more and buy the book here:
https://www.amazon.com/Dauntless-Shaws-Lynne-Connolly-ebook/dp/B078LJMV57 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Inspirational Ruins


This month I’m thinking about ruins: castles, abbeys, more humble dwellings – it doesn’t matter. As a writer of historical fiction, I have always known, as I’m sure you have, that a ruin can be immensely useful in a novel, both as a suitable location to test your hero or heroine, and for what it can add to the atmosphere.   

I’ve just come back from a holiday in Northern Ireland where I saw a number of ruined monastic buildings. And the thought stuck me immediately that they’d offer ideal opportunities for hiding or pursuit.

 


 Grey Abbey; the east wall - note the buttresses

Take Grey Abbey, a Cistercian abbey dating from 1193, overlooking Strangford Lough. What my novelist’s eye noticed at once, was that, at some point, part of the abbey had become unstable; you can see three buttresses propping it up along the east wall.

 


Looking from a doorway along the line of buttresses; note the deep shadows

Take a Regency heroine (let us call her Angelica); she is in jeopardy – naturally. We find her inside the ruined abbey, peering cautiously through a side door, desperate to escape from the loathly Sir Tancred . She spots the line of buttresses, their width and depth could be useful in concealing her. But, could Sir Tancred be hidden behind one of them?  The abbey’s architecture allows your characters to play a deadly game of hide and seek amid the shadows.



Grey Abbey from another angle

It is evening, and the shadows begin to lengthen. In one corner, where plants grow in the crevices, there are some protruding stones going up the wall. Could that be an escape route? Angelica spent her childhood climbing trees but does she dare crawl over that huge arch?

 
Dog tooth decoration on the ceremonial arch at the west end of the church

Angelica freezes. The moon has floated out from behind a cloud and a dark figure has just stooped under the arch and there is a glint of a sword. Could it be Sir Tancred? But he’s too tall…   
 

Struell Wells, the ruins of a medieval church and the beehive-shaped drinking well

However, ruins can also be useful in other ways. Take the complex of buildings at Struell Wells, once a healing centre, dating from at least the 8th century. St Patrick himself is supposed to have visited it. The buildings spread out over a field, and comprise the Drinking well, the Eye well, and two separate bathhouses for men and women, as well as a medieval chapel. A stream with exceptionally pure water runs through the field and connects them all. The historical evidence suggests that this has been a place of healing since pagan times. An 1831 map shows that a holy thorn also once grew in the field.
 
 
 Close up view of the drinking well

Suppose your heroine (who needs a name change – Agneta?) lives in pagan times and comes from a long line of women healers. We all love proactive heroines, and pagan healing women were powerful and respected in the community. The arrival of Christianity brings problems to Agneta’s community, and St Patrick arrives to convert the holy springs and wells to Christianity. He is known to have spent hours in the Drinking well building, singing psalms.
 
And I don’t imagine priests at that date would have been keen on pagan women healers as guardians of Struell Wells, either.

 


The Eye well. Note the Men and Women’s bathhouses in the background.

The Eye well is a small rectangular building with a corbelled roof which is pyramidal in shape. Very little is known about it but this is an area which is rich in wild flowers and I don’t doubt that once special herbs were used to help cure eye complaints. Again, this could useful for a heroine. What Agneta actually does at the eye well is up to the author and you don’t need me to tell you that there could be much at stake… even her very life.

 
 
The Women’s bathhouse is small and poky compared with the men’s; you can just see a low ledge, perhaps for a bench on the right.

 
The Women’s bathhouse was once also known as the Limb well, and the Men’s bathhouse as the Body well. The current building dates from somewhere between the 13th and15th centuries. The men’s section is much larger; whether that was true originally, we don’t know. The water running (via a tap) in the Women’s bathhouse is silky smooth. 

 


General view of the landscape around Struell Wells

Society continued to have problems with powerful women who were trained in anything – and accusations of witchcraft continued until well into the 17th century. Even midwifery underwent an attempted male takeover. (Would Princess Charlotte have died with an experienced female midwife, one wonders.) The notorious ‘witch finder’ Matthew Hopkins hanged sixty women in Essex alone in 1645. Agneta could be a healer anytime up to the 18th century, which gives writers a lot of scope.
 
So there we are. All the imagination needs are a few ruins! 
 
Elizabeth Hawksley