Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Writing Tips #4: Thinking is Writing Too

Welcome to the fourth post in our series of writing tips. Today, Elizabeth Bailey offers us her top tips.

Writing is not always about sitting at the keyboard and bashing out words. You have to let ideas pop up. When they do, they need to germinate before they will start frothing enough for you to churn out a story.

A writer called Burton Rascoe once said, “What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.” How true!

Beginning writers generally operate on the basis that “work” is done when they’re actually sitting down and doing it. With writing, this is asking for a miracle and a horribly blank mind. No writer begins a story without having some idea of what it’s about.

Stories on the go have a tendency to jump around in the writer’s head when they least expect it: in the bath, in a car or train, on a walk, even while watching TV or a movie. Also, annoyingly, in bed when you're trying to sleep - ideas can start leaping about and going places. If this happens, let it run - it's all good stuff.

This is what thinking time is, and it’s all part of the writing process. It’s thinking without having to sit and decide to think. It’s that imaginative spark that is set free so it can run without effort. And it won’t happen if it’s forced at the keyboard.

So it’s worthwhile letting your imagination have free rein at any time it starts to generate ideas. In the bath, when I am relaxed, is one of my favourite times for developing stories. I can sometimes be heard talking out loud, as the characters, working out some tricky plot point.

Other people may also spark ideas, but I’d suggest sticking with a fellow writer if you want to bounce ideas off someone. They understand. Non-writers are liable to suggest outrageous plot points that don’t fit your story, or try to persuade you to incorporate elements from their lives that they feel would make a fantastic bestseller. The key thing here is that any offers of plot points need to spark the ideas in your own head, otherwise the story won’t buzz for you.

Here’s the thing, though. Memory is a wayward customer, so I would encourage you to jot down the general points, or make a digital note somewhere as soon as you can once the thinking time starts paying off. I've lost more plot points by not writing them down than I care to remember – because I can’t remember them.

I have filled several small notebooks with ideas, and occasionally I browse through them. Anything used is crossed out, so I can’t use it again. But I’ll jot names, plot points, characters, germs of an idea – anything, just so I’ve got it there when I need it. Because when I haven’t done this, I’ve always come to regret it.

Usually when the plot starts rolling like this, it hasn't got much to do with the bit of the story that’s currently being written (or even another story altogether). That doesn't matter. The important thing is to get it written down somewhere and let it sit there, because it will be growing in your writer’s head without you realising it.

When you get back to writing the story, you will find the plot points you’ve thought about start to get built into the story without any real effort on your part. You might not even have to look at the notes.

And if they don’t get used, they may well be picked up for another story later on. Ideas are never wasted.

One of my heroines is a writer who has trouble controlling her wayward imagination:

An Angel's Touch
Outspoken Verity Lambourn berates the mentor of two lost children, having no idea that the lame young man with the vibrant black eyes is the widowed Henry, Marquis of Salmesbury. When she knocks him flying in Tunbridge Wells, Verity realises she has not been able to get him out of her mind.

Tumbling towards a promising future, Verity must confront the shadows of Henry’s tragic past. Matters come to a head when the children are kidnapped, but it takes a threat to Henry himself to test the strength of Verity’s love and the truth of a gypsy’s prophecy.

Elizabeth Bailey

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain

I’m lucky enough to be invited to a number of interesting previews at the Victoria & Albert Museum, but they rarely pulsate with such an erotic charge of sexiness and power as the footwear on display in Shoes: Pleasure & Pain, the V & A’s new exhibition. It ranges from Ancient Egyptian gold leaf sandals, to Chinese lotus shoes for ladies with ‘lily bud’ bound feet, to 17th century musketeers’ boots with wide tops – the original ‘swagger boots’ surely, and all the way to modern Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos. En route there are enough 18th and 19th century shoes to allow me to write a suitably historical post which I hope will interest you.
The exhibition has been designed to display the power and seductiveness of shoes. It opens with an invitation to consider shoes’ mythic role as objects of power. Take Cinderella, whose story’s ancient roots spread across Europe to China. The glass slippers have the power to transform Cinderella’s life, but it is important that she be a worthy recipient of the shoes’ gift. Shoes can be dangerous, too, as in Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Red Shoes; these shoes will condemn the person who wears them to death. Shoes, we realize, have the power to be many things but they are rarely just shoes.
Moira Shearer’s ballet shoes in the 1948 film, ‘The Red Shoes’
The exhibition moves on to seduction. The next few ground floor display cases exude a bordello-like feel, with padded and buttoned walls in crimson velvet with dark, sultry lighting to suit. In the background, you can just hear a woman’s husky laughter and a man murmuring – what? When I arrived, a hunky photographer with a tripod was crouched intently over a 19th century, dark red leather high-heeled laced up boot with fur round the top. Its legend told us that whenever fashion dictated that corset lacing tightened, so, too, did the lacing on boots, adding to the erotic frisson, doubtless. 
A photographer concentrating
In the 18th and the 19th centuries, mules were popular. The most obvious thing about mules is that you can’t run in them. In fact, that’s the whole point, they are only ever temporary attached to feet. Somehow, the V & A seems to hint, wherever a woman is wearing mules, somewhere in the room there is a bed or a sofa. And, of course, men, too, had their own mules which could be easily kicked off!
Male mules, 18th century
Later, the display cases turn deep purple – the colour of power – and here the curator, Helen Persson, invites us to see shoes as ‘Beautiful, sculptured objects; they are also powerful indications of gender status, identity, taste and even sexual preference.’ The shoes themselves dictate the wearer’s stance and how she, or he, walks. Here shoes are about status.   
Pompadour shoes, 18th century
Take the Pompadour shoes above. They are beautiful but wholly impractical; they tilt the wearer forward so that she is forced to take small steps. But that doesn’t matter because these shoes demonstrate her power. Other people will run about doing her errands for her.
Italian shoes, 1770-1789
These Italian shoes in black silk satin and leather with embroidered and decorated pointed toes and peg heels are designed to show off a small foot and shapely leg under an ankle length dress. The lady concerned will have to balance carefully on those heels but, doubtless, a maid – or a gentleman – will be on hand to help. 
Men’s slippers with red heels. French 1725
Men’s status, too, can be gauged from their shoes. Take the slippers with red heels. These indoor summer shoes are elegantly made in green velvet with gold embroidery and their crowning glory is the red heels. The red heels indicate that their owner has been presented at Versailles which, naturally, he wants to show off.
Flat shoes, 1851
Above is an example of ladies’ ordinary flat silk-satin shoes with thin flat soles that were ubiquitous throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. One can easily imagine Jane Austen’s characters wearing them in the house or at an evening party – perhaps decorated with ‘shoe roses’ like those acquired by the Bennet girls from Meryton prior to the Netherfield ball.  
Leather, pink silk and linen flat shoes, 1790-1800
What is interesting about the pink shoes is, not only that they are very similar in style to the 1851 pair, but that, unusually, they could be bought ready-made from a warehouse in Jermyn Street, which made them much cheaper than a made to measure pair. In fact, they are one of the earliest examples of a ready to wear item.  
Queen Victoria’s flat shoes, 1840
Lastly, here is a pair of flat shoes in silk, gold thread and leather from 1840 and once owned by Queen Victoria. They are top of the range; they fit perfectly and the black silk rosettes were made especially for the shoes. 
Shoes: Pleasure & Pain runs until 31st January, 2016. It is sponsored by Clarks, supported by Agent Provocateur lingerie and with additional thanks to The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers.
I thought the exhibition was terrific. I emerged exhausted but energized.
Photographs by Elizabeth Hawksley.
Elizabeth Hawksley

Friday, July 03, 2015

Getting To Know You - Elizabeth Bailey

We’d like to welcome Elizabeth Bailey to the blog as one of our regular bloggers. Elizabeth will already be well known to many readers for her wonderful historical romances written for Mills & Boon. Tell us a bit about yourself, Elizabeth.

It's always difficult to answer that "tell me about yourself" question, isn't it? You either sound dry and dull, or horribly enthusiastic. The truth is, like the heroes and heroines of my stories, I fall somewhere between the two. Life has this tendency to throw you around, and you struggle to stay on top of it, while trying to follow your dreams. I feel lucky to have found several paths that have given me immense satisfaction - acting, directing, teaching and, by no means least, writing. Through the years, each path has crossed the other, honing and deepening my abilities in each sphere.
I've been privileged to work with some wonderful artistic people, and been fortunate enough to find publishers who believed in me and set me on the road. I’ve written many historical romances for Mills & Boon, as well as historical mysteries for Berkley. Now, with the advent of the ebook, I do it myself. What changeable times we live in!

None of us make it alone, and it's a joy to me to see other writers bloom and grow, and when I have a hand in their success, it's doubly rewarding. To invent a world and persuade others to believe in it, live in it for a while, is the sole aim of the novelist.

My own love of reading has never abated, and if I can give a tithe of the pleasure to others as I have received myself, it's worth all the effort.

I write "sweet" historical romances set in the Georgian era, in the tradition of Regency Romance. They are stories of adventure, intrigue or mystery, darkness and light, comedic romps and the violent or gentle travails of the human heart. They are set in the later years of the 18th Century, when fashion and custom dictated the rules, when social position was all important and a fall from grace meant exile. Treading the pages are a selection of courageous ladies and alluring gentlemen, all too vulnerable to the piercing of Cupid's malicious dart.

 Fated Folly will serve as an example. In the tradition of Regency Romance, it’s a sweet and poignant tale of the ogre and the minx. Clare’s mischievous adventures land her in a marriage of convenience to the dynamic older man with whom she’s fallen in love. Here’s a bit more about it:

When youthful Clare Carradale beards the ogre in his den, she is instantly smitten with Sir Rupert Wolverley’s raw and powerful attraction. In an attempt to prevent her brother eloping with Sir Rupert’s niece, Clare is herself compromised. She must either marry his young cousin, Lord Ashendon, whom she detests, or Rupert himself. Can Clare’s hopes of a radiant future be realised in this uneven and improbable match? Both Fate and Ashendon conspire against her. But Clare’s true battle lies in overcoming Rupert’s inner demons, if she is to save her marriage and win through to a promise of happiness. 

If you like Regency cozy mysteries, you might also enjoy The Gilded Shroud. Ottilia Fanshawe, some time companion and sleuth extraordinaire, has to unravel the clues to find a murderer. Against the background of late 18th century life, she must overcome the restrictions of being female and battle the odds for justice. Enter Lord Francis Fanshawe, stalwart at her back, fiercely loyal and more than a match for those who would seek to intimidate his courageous "Tillie".

I hope this has given you an insight into my world. I look forward to contributing to the blog over the coming years. You can find out more about my books on my website or on my Amazon page UK  US

Thank you, Elizabeth! We’re very glad to have you here.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Regency Brighton - a historical Wednesday post

Welcome to one of our new-look Wednesday posts on a historical topic. One of the things I love most about writing - and reading - historical romance is finding out something new about the past. It surprises me in two ways: one, how different things were a few hundred years ago and two, how similar they were. As it's a hot and sunny day here in England (for a change - this has been an awful summer so far) I thought I'd blog about the seaside, and what better place to blog about than Brighton? The town was immortalised by Jane Austen, who brilliantly portrayed two completely different attitudes to the town in Pride and Prejudice, by showing us Lydia and Elizabeth's feelings on the subject:

Lydia's attitude is typical: "They are going to be encamped near Brighton: and I do so want Papa to take us all there for the summer! It would be such a delicious scheme, and I dare say would hardly cost anything at all. Mamma would like to go too of all things! Only think what a miserable summer else we shall have!"

"Yes," thought Elizabeth, "that would be a delightful scheme indeed, and completely do for us at once. Good Heavens! Brighton, and a whole campful of soldiers, to us, who have been overset already by one poor regiment of militia, and the monthly balls of Meryton."

Lydia goes to Brighton after all, but Jane Austen never shows us the town. So what was it like? As with any town at the time, assembly rooms were very important. There were two rival assembly rooms at the two principle inns, the Castle, and the Old Ship and Lydia no doubt visited both of them. The Master of Ceremonies at the time was probably Cpt William Wade, who had a great influence on the social life of the town. I say "probably" because he died in 1808, and we're not certain when Pride and Prejudice was set (Jane Austen never includes the date). However, I'm sure the Master of Ceremonies, whoever he was, introduced Lydia to plenty of eligible partners!

Brighton is famous for the Pavilion, but what was it like in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? In 1786, when the Prince of Wales first leased it, it was a small house on the Steine just to the north of the Castle Inn. Over the years he transformed it, first by rebuilding it in the classical style, and later by rebuilding it again in the Indo-Chinese style.

The image at the left shows it in 1804, and the image at the right shows how it was gradually transformed. I think Elizabeth would prefer the classical style, but I'm quite sure Lydia would prefer the more opulent building!

Lydia would almost certainly have visited the circulating library. The first library was erected in 1760, on the east side of the Steine. Books could be bought, borrowed or read, and there was also a billiard room. Later a rotunda was added where a small band could play. In 1767, another library opened on the south side of the Steine. Small shops were established round the libraries selling, amongst other things, tea, which was known to have been smuggled. Did Lydia drink some of this contraband tea? Probably! 

She would also have enjoyed promenading along the grassed area of the Steine, where she could flirt to her heart's content with any officer who happened to be passing. She would have had to watch her feet, however, as the Steine was also used by fishermen for spreading their nets and many promenaders complained about falling over them.

Other places of gaiety included the South Downs, which were perfect for horse riding and trips in horse-drawn carriages. One of the most popular destinations was Devil's Dyke, some 5 miles north-west of Brighton. It was the site of an Iron Age fort and Roman road and had impressive views from the summit. Although I suspect Lydia would have been more interested in the red coats of the officers who escorted her! The grassed area known as The Level was where formal festivities, such as celebrating the Prince's birthday, were held, including sports and ox roasting.

There were pleasure gardens, similar to the Vauxhall gardens, although on a smaller scale, known as  Brighthelmston Promenade Grove at their opening in 1793. Brighthelmston was the original name for Brighton. It's impossible to know exactly when the change of name occurred, since it probably gradually mutated, and had probably been pronounced Brighton, even when it was written as Brighthelmston. However, by the time Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, it had morphed into Brighton. 

When the weather was hot, what better than a spot of sea bathing? I can just imagine Lydia's squeals of delight as she ventured into the water. She would have rented a bathing hut and changed into her bathing dress inside. The hut would have been on wheels and it would have been pulled into the water by a horse, ridden by an urchin. She would then have been helped down the steps by a woman known as a dipper. Men and women bathed on different sections of the beach, but I wouldn't be surprised if Lydia had ignored the restrictions!

I set one of my own Regency romances in Brighton. You can see how the cover artist used the contemporary Nash illustration (above) as a basis for the book cover. It shows Cassandra attending an evening at the Pavilion. I thoroughly enjoyed the research. If anyone else is researching this period, then I can recommend The Creevey Papers. These diaries of Thomas Creevey (1768 - 1838) are full of information about the society, culture and politics of the day. It was in the Creevey Papers that I discovered what it was actually like to spend an evening in the Pavilion. In fact, one of the incidents in the book is based on an incident recounted by Lady Creevey.

Another interesting resource in A History of Brighton and Hove by Ken Fines, and for a video tour, see the Brighton Pavilion website , which also has an online shop.

I hope this has whetted your appetite to discover more about Regency Brighton.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Writing Tips #3 - Some Basics

Welcome to the third post in our new feature of writing tips. These posts will now have a regular Tuesday slot on the blog, so if you're a new writer in search of some inspiration, or you're just interested in how writers create their books, this is the place for you.

I was chatting to some new writers recently and I remembered how confusing everything can seem when you're just starting out, so here are the answers to some basic questions that were raised. The answers are for guidance only because there are no hard and fast rules, but this is a good place to start.

How long is a book?
I was asked this question by a new writer recently and it reminded me of the time when I found myself pondering the same kind of basic technical question. Different genres and different publishers have different requirements, but here are some guidelines on length.

A short story is usually 3,000 -15,000 words.
A novella is usually between 15,000 - 45, 000 words.
A novel is 45,000 words and above.

Different kinds of novels have different kinds of lengths. If you're aiming at a specific publisher then check their website to see what length they require. Even if you're not aiming at a specific publisher, checking their submission requirements is a good way to see what length is usual for your kind of book. To find out which publisher websites will be relevant, just look at the publication details at the start of a book in your genre. It will give the name of the publisher and the imprint. It will sometimes give their web address as well.If you're self-publishing, you can write at any length for any genre, but you might still like to know what kind of length is usual.

As a general guide, series romances such as those published by Mills and Boon tend to be about 50,000 words. Historical romances tend to be about 70,000 words. Chick lit is usually 80,000 - 100,000 words. Historical novels are usually longer.

If you can't find out any specific details, then as a rule of thumb, 3 printed pages are usually about 1,000 words so you can work it out by looking at any book in your genre.

How long is a chapter?
Again, this varies. There are no specific rules, but chapters tend to be between 3,000 words and 5,000 words. If you have a lot of very short chapters, see if you can combine them, perhaps by putting a line break between them instead of a new chapter. If your chapters are very long, see if you can split them into two.

My own books vary in length. My Regency romances are about 70,000 words in length. My Jane Austen Heroes' Diaries are about 80,000 words and Dear Mr Darcy is about 110, 000 words. In the end, a book needs to be the length that feels right for that book. If you're not sure whether your book feels right or not, then why not follow Christina's advice and find a writing buddy? For more on this, see Christina's post here . If you're looking for more writing tips, then you can read Fenella's tips on viewpoint here

We hope you find this series useful. If you have any specific writing questions, then leave a comment and we'll try to answer questions in future posts.

Amanda Grange is the author of 25 novels. Her most recent publication is Regency Quintet Summer Edition, which contains 5 Regency romances by a variety of authors.  US  UK  

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Writing Tips #2 - Writing Buddies

The best writing tip I can give anyone is to find themselves a writing buddy/critique partner - it's been invaluable to me and I honestly wouldn't be published without the support I received from my writing buddies.

It can take a while to find the right one - and do take your time as it's a partnership that is probably going to last for a long time and it has to work - but if you persevere and connect with exactly the right person, you'll never regret it.

A writing buddy should be at more or less the same level as you (so if, for instance, you're new to writing, she/he should be too) and they have to like your type of book, even if they don't write in the same genre themselves.  I have two critique partners, one of whom writes the same sort of thing as me and one who doesn't, and that's worked out really well too as I get two completely different takes on my stories.

Your WB isn't just there to read through your manuscript when you're finished though.  She/he should be with you every step of the way - someone to brainstorm with, bounce ideas off, try out scenes on, a shoulder to cry on when things don't work out and, most importantly of all, a cheerleader for when things go well.  In short, your WB should be one of your biggest supporters, as you are for them!

This partnership has to be based on trust and respect.  You must like the other person and his/her writing and feel sure that they know what they're talking about when they send you critique, especially as it might sometimes be something you don't really want to hear (even if you can see that it's true).  Our manuscripts are precious and very often we don't see the flaws - that's when we have to trust our WB to see them for us.  Naturally you can disagree, in the nicest possible way.  As the author, you always have the final say and you may have certain reasons for putting in a scene your WB wants you to take out.  At the end of the day, it's a sharing of views, a discussion, which should ultimately make your book the best it can be.

So if you haven't got a writing buddy already - go and find one right now!

Christina x

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Jade Lioness

There are some secondary characters who just cry out for a book of their own and Temperance Marston (the cousin of Midori, heroine of The Gilded Fan) was definitely one of those.  Her story, The Jade Lioness, which is the final part of my Japanese trilogy, is now available as an ebook, with the paperback coming in October.

Set in 17th century Japan, the story features Temperance’s adventures after the end of the English Civil War.  Having heard so much about her cousin’s country of birth, Temperance wants to see it for herself, but she hasn’t quite realised how restricted foreigners are in the exotic empire of Japan. In fact, they don’t get to even set foot on the mainland!

For an impetuous young woman like Temperance, that is intolerable and she takes matters into her own hands.  And that’s when she meets Kazuo …  Here is a short excerpt showing what happens:-

The Jade Lioness, excerpt:-

‘By all the gods, a water sprite in broad daylight!’
The voice, low pitched but strong, carried across the water and made Temperance flip to an upright position instantly while she searched for its source. She found it on a large, flat rock on one side of the bay, where a young man stood gazing at her with an astonished expression that swiftly changed to one of delight. He leaned forward for a better view and Temperance reacted instinctively by covering her chest with her hands and attempting to tread water at the same time. Her insides turned cold with fear and she cast an anxious glance towards the shore where her clothes lay discarded, so near yet impossible to retrieve. She’d been so careful before removing them, making sure she was alone, but now suddenly here was this intruder.
‘Hanarero! Go away,’ she ordered, too shocked to care whether she sounded rude or not.
The young man’s eyebrows rose. ‘You can speak?’
‘Of course I can speak.’ Her Japanese was far from perfect, but she could make herself understood well enough even if the finer nuances of grammar still eluded her. ‘Now leave, please, this is a private bay.’ She had no idea whether it was or not, but the lie was worth a try.
He looked around slowly. ‘I was under the impression that this stretch of the coast was wild, no matter which daimyo owns it. But perhaps it is reserved for water sprites?’
‘Yes, no, I mean … oh, please, just leave.’ Temperance tried to imbue her words with imperious command to hide the fact that she was panicking, but it didn’t have any effect. The young man smiled and shook his head. He seemed very much at ease and Temperance realised it would have been better if she’d kept quiet.
‘If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stay for a while. It’s not every day I come across a water sprite, and one who talks to me no less.’
Was it a trick of the sun, or were his eyes twinkling? Temperance wasn’t sure, but she suspected the latter.
‘Please, won’t you tell me why you are here?’ he continued. ‘Are you the guardian of this bay? Is there something special, perhaps holy, about it, or are you one of the unfortunates who have drowned hereabouts?’
‘I am not a water sprite, as I’m sure you are fully aware. I am a perfectly normal human being and if you are an honourable man, you will turn around and walk away now. I shall dive under the water and when I come up again, I expect you to be gone.’ She turned and did just that, hoping against hope that the man would do as she asked without arguing further.
Having spent her entire life living next to the sea, Temperance was an expert swimmer and could hold her breath for a long time, thus giving the man ample opportunity to leave. When she surfaced at last, she was much further out than before and resolutely stared out to sea for a while to give him even more time to depart. She heard nothing, so she finally turned around to make sure he’d gone. She had to put up a hand against the glare of the sunlight in order to scan the shore and a sigh of relief escaped her when there was no sign of him. The feeling of dread subsided.
‘Phew, that was close,’ she muttered, then gave a little shriek as the man’s head suddenly popped out of the water not three feet away from her. Her heart went into panic mode again.
‘I thought I would join you instead.’ He smiled. ‘That way you don’t have to feel embarrassed.’ He looked pointedly at her hands, which she had raised automatically to shield her near-nakedness from his view.
Temperance stared at him, momentarily lost for words, then scowled fiercely while trying to put some distance between them. ‘How on earth did you reach that conclusion?’
He followed. ‘Well, if we are both without clothes, you are not at a disadvantage.’
‘But you are a man and I’m a …’
‘Female, yes I know.’ He grinned. ‘Surely you have bathed with other people before? Or do water sprites not mix with humans?’
‘For the last time, I’m not a spirit of any kind and no, I am not in the habit of bathing with others, especially not men. Why do you think I’m here in this bay by myself?’
‘I was hoping you would tell me that. If you’re not a magical creature, what pray, are you? And why is your speech so strange?’
The man was staring at her hair now, the silvery blonde strands that floated all around her shimmering in the sunlight even when wet. She noticed him studying her blue eyes with an expression of fascination too. Anger took hold of her, pushing the fear aside temporarily. He was teasing her again, he had to be.
‘I’m a foreigner, as you must know, still trying to master your language, and I am not allowed to mix with your people. We gai-jins have to remain on the island of Dejima and not set foot on Japanese soil. I was desperate for a swim, so I borrowed a rowing boat before first light and made my way here. There, are you satisfied now? I warn you, if you are thinking of reporting me to the authorities, I will not come willingly.’
‘Why would I want to do that?’ His grin broadened. ‘I’m a ronin.’
‘An outlaw? Dear God …’

Christina xx

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