Friday, June 17, 2016

It's that time of year...

It’s that time of year to don one’s best bonnet and go gallivanting again to Regency events and the ever so delightful balls and assemblies. Some friends and I will be dancing at the Alton Ball tomorrow, and those of us who have more love of Austen than sense [putting my hand up ;) ] simply can’t wait to get there.
If my scheduled post were next week, I could have brought new photos, but as it’s today I had to look for photos from previous years in Alton and Chawton.

The lure of Chawton is ever so great for those of us who revere Jane Austen and the legacy she left us. 

The beautiful cottage whence her genius was released into the world...

...the Great House with its tranquil beauty...

...the whole village and its picture-perfect cottages...

...and the surrounding countryside with the English verdure she writes about with so much affection in ‘Emma’

We can easily imagine Jane Austen walking the very same woodland paths – I think that, like Elizabeth Bennet, she enjoyed a good long ramble, and might well have returned home on more than one occasion with her skirts six inches deep in mud.

As always, I wonder what she would say were she to somehow learn of the amazing following she and her work still have, two centuries on; were she to see the crowds gathering in Alton in their finery to honour the Regency period, largely because of her. I think she would be surprised, hopefully gratified, but greatly entertained as well. Much like Elizabeth Bennet, I think she, too, dearly loved a laugh.

There will be laughter aplenty ‘on the morrow’, and dancing and good cheer, and hopefully we would continue to meet in years to come, to play dress-up (odd as non-Janeites think us :) ) and flutter our fans, dance and party like it’s 1799.

Monday, June 13, 2016


Looking at images of Georgian life, one gets the impression that the use of tobacco was neither general nor widespread. Caricatures tend to depict an exaggerated truth, and only in a few does one find a pipe smoker, and in none a man taking snuff.

Rowlandson shows one soldier smoking in a group of five, and similarly one working man among seven in a pub. A few men are depicted taking a pipe at their own hearth. Ackermann’s Fleet Prison yard, with groups enough to form a crowd, has one lone fellow with smoke issuing from his long clay pipe. Only Hogarth has half the males smoking pipes in a single group, and that is in a scene of drunken debauch!


It seems fair to assume, then, that although smoking was prevalent not everyone indulged in the habit; those who did confined their pipes to the pub, the coffee house or home. One can also be confident that far fewer women than men took tobacco at all, although an image of an elderly working class dame with a pipe pops up occasionally.

Clearly many did use snuff, because it was a high production trade and is mentioned in contemporary accounts. But although tobacco had a place, it seems unlikely that its use was anything like as widespread as it was during the earlier years of the twentieth century. Yet those Georgians who disapproved of the use of tobacco appear convinced that it was highly prevalent in their own time.

The dangers were known. Tobacco is listed in a late 18th Century treatise on poisons. According to the writer, there was evidence to suggest it was an active poison, “yet everyone knows that under the influence of habit it is used in immense quantities over the whole world as an article of luxury, without any bad effect having ever been clearly traced to it.”

Much was made of the effects of snuff on workmen who manufactured it, some sources claiming it gave them bronchitis and dysentery among other ailments, but others managed to prove that workmen became used to it and didn’t suffer any ill effects. As ever, those with a vested interest will find a way to prove their point!

Such symptoms as were noted are known to us now: speeded up heart rate, giddiness, shortness of breath, spasms, fainting, sickness, weak pulse and sleepiness. One doctor suspected apoplexy (heart attack) “is one of the evils in train of that disgusting practice”, referring to taking snuff. Two young men actually died from tobacco poisoning, having smoked about “seventeen pipes at a sitting”. One wonders how that compares with 20 or 40 a day now?

We are indebted to a French chemist of the era, Vauquelin, for naming the killer substance in tobacco as nicotine. Later chemists argued about which precise part of tobacco caused the problems, but it was generally agreed that tobacco contained an “acrid, alkaline principle and an essential oil to which the alkaloid adheres with great obstinacy”, which was bad news.

As early as King James, who wrote “The Counter-Blaste to Tobacco” within a few years of its introduction into Europe by Sir Walter Raleigh, it was believed that the smoking habit would result in “evil consequences” because of its poisonous qualities. Some governments tried to stop its introduction, although their methods were harsher than our current bans on smoking in public places. Popes excommunicated those who smoked in St Peters; in Russia it was punished with amputation of the nose; and in the Canton of Bern it ranked next to adultery.

Did that make any difference? Not according to the treatise writer: “Like every other persecuted novelty, however, smoking and snuff-taking passed from place to place with rapidity; and now there appear to be only two luxuries which yield to it in prevalence, spirituous liquors and tea.”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chôse!

Guest blog by Elizabeth Bailey

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Melford Hall, Long Melford, Suffolk

View from the drive.
View from the front.
I try and visit a couple of stately homes every year. The first of 2016 was Melford Hall. The Hall was built on top of the original building which  belonged to the Abbots of St Edmundsbury. With the dissolution the abbot was forced to surrender the Abbey and all its possessions to Henry VIII in 1539.
The Great Hall
William Cordell, was a wealthy Long Melford man who made his fortune in the law and became Solicitor General in 1553. Queen Mary knighted him, as he was a Catholic, and chose him to be Speaker in her parliament. Even under Queen Elizabeth he remained a respected figure.
The bed that Beatrix Potter slept in.
 Cordell had no children so that the house passed to his sister Jane. Thomas Savage, the great-nephew of Sir William Cordell, inherited the house from his grandmother in 1602. Sir Thomas had nineteen children and extended the house – possibly to accommodate his enormous family.
During the puritan rule Countess Rivers, the owner,  sold the estate to a descendant of Sir William Cordell's grandfather. These new owners repaired and renovated the house and restocked the park.
Banquet Hall built in 1613
Sir Cordell Firebrace replaced the Tudor windows with Georgian sash windows, pulled down the old east wing and created a set of rococo style reception rooms in the north wing.

 I was surprised how small the banquet hall was, but a helpful volunteer explained that the meaning of the word has now changed. Banquet was derived from the word banquette which meant a small bench. This hall was set aside for dessert which was served to only a selected few of those that had been invited to dine. It was a place for conspiracy and secret conversations, which was why it was set aside from the main house.
Another fascinating thing I learned was that Beatrix Potter was a cousin to Lady Hyde Parker and visited Melford Hall frequently. The actual toy duck that Beatrix dressed and used for inspiration to write "The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck" is on view at Melford Hall.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this delightful stately home. The fact that the current owners live in the north wing makes the place more welcoming.
Kentwell Hall
Kentwell Hall is no more than half a mile away. They were built around the same time and it would be perfectly possible to visit both on the same day.
£1.99 / $2.99

Fenella J Miller

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Love and Friendship

I’m always a sucker for TV and film adaptations of my favourite historical novels and Jane Austen’s books are at the top of my list. Regardless of some people saying that the costume drama genre is stale, for me it never gets old. So I was very excited to see that there is a new adaptation of Austen’s book Lady Susan in the cinemas now, a film entitled Love and Friendship.

I loved Lady Susan from the moment I first read it in an anthology with Sanditon and The Watsons, two other lesser-known Austen books. The structure of the book, with the story told via letters, was new to me and I really enjoyed it. What I particularly liked, though, was the character of Lady Susan herself. Quite simply, I think Lady Susan is a monster. She’s a very clever, beautiful and interesting character but a monster nevertheless. I It took me a while to realise this. Jane Austen constructs her character so cleverly through her own words that I can still remember the shock I felt when I first realised “this person is not very nice!” In fact Lady Susan is ruthless, amoral and calculating, and all the more interesting for it. I imagine that Jane Austen, like so many authors, relished writing a villain.

Sometimes characters are entirely imaginary constructs, sometimes they have bits and pieces of real people in them, authors being like magpies in picking up and using things they observe, and at other times they may be inspired by a real person. So it is with the character of Lady Susan, whom Jane Austen was said to have based on a rather fearsome-sounding woman called “The Cruel Mrs C.”

I first came across “the cruel Mrs C” as a result of my research into the Craven family of Ashdown house because she was a member of the Craven family. Jane Austen, as many of you will know, was great friends with Martha and Mary Lloyd, whom she first got to know because their mother rented a house in the next village from Jane’s father, George Austen. Their grandmother was the Mrs C in question, a beautiful woman who had moved in the first circles of society as a member of the aristocratic Craven family, but who had apparently treated her three daughters very badly indeed. She beat them, starved them and locked them up, treating them like servants. One eloped with a horse dealer and another with a farmer. The third married the Reverend Mr Lloyd. The picture here is of Elizabeth Craven as a child - I couldn't find a portrait of her as an adult.

One can imagine Jane Austen hearing tales of the shocking behaviour of Mrs C from her grand-daughters, and it may well be that after the death of Mrs Lloyd in 1806 she felt free to draw on the character of Mrs Craven as inspiration. Yet however unscrupulous and selfish Lady Susan is, she does not have the genuine cruelty of the mysterious Mrs C, the accredited beauty who was so brutal to her daughters in private.

Has anyone seen the film Love and Friendship? What did you think of it? Which is your favourite Jane Austen adaptation?

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Visit to the Park of Monsters

My first thought on visiting the Park of Monsters, a.k.a. the Park of Wonders or the Sacred Grove at Bomarzo, in Lazio, Italy, was that it would be a wonderful place for a heroine in jeopardy to have all sorts of hair-raising adventures. So this post is an account of what's in this amazing place - and you can decide for yourselves.
This is one of the first things you see. It is so huge that you can stand up inside the gaping mouth and there's enough room to stretch your arms up to touch its teeth. There is even a bench inside.
 The Mask of Madness

The park is the creation of the 16th century Italian condottiere, Pier Francesco Orsini. It is situated on the edge of an extraordinary volcanic landscape strewn with huge tufa boulders the size of a house. Orsini turned this chaotic landscape into a place which is unlike anything else in Italy. Many of the statues have carved inscriptions which are designed to provoke thought and to challenge assumptions, as well as to entertain.

Fighting Giants: the standing giant is about to tear the upside-down giant apart
 The sheer scale is impressive. When I stood by the railing in front, my head just reached the eyes of the upside-down giant. It's not easy to make out what's going on in the photo: the upside-down giant's right arm is on the floor with his hair flowing over it. His head is resting on it. An enigmatic inscription carved nearby reads: If Rhodes of old was elevated by its colossus, so by this one my wood is made glorious, too, and more I cannot do. I do as much as I am able to.

What does it mean? This was an age when the aristocracy, both papal and secular, enjoyed displaying their superiority by their interest in philosophy and hermetic knowledge. The statuary is full of obscure classical allusions. Are the giants Titans? If so, they represent the ancient gods who were defeated by Zeus and the gods of Olympus. But why are they here?

The Leaning House

This is a full scale building carved out of one of the tufa boulders. I climbed the stairs and went inside. The floor is tilted at a vertiginous angle and my instant reaction was to feel sea-sick. And that, I think, is exactly what Orsini wanted. An inscription nearby reads: Dedicated to Cristoforo Mandruzzo, Archbishop of Trent. The mind becoming quiet becomes wiser thereby.

I got the distinct impression that Orsini didn’t altogether approve of the archbishop. Maybe he was a know-it-all and Orsini felt he needed to be jerked out of his complacency. If you suddenly feel nauseous, at the very least you'll stop talking!

Carthaginian War Elephant

A war elephant has lifted up a Roman soldier and is about to hurl him to the ground. The elephant towers above you - my head reached about halfway up its legs. This is a reference to Hannibal and the Carthaginian Wars – which almost defeated Rome. This is not about the (eventually) victorious Romans; here, the elephant perhaps represents the power of the unconscious mind. One might argue that, about 350 years before Freud, Orsini is acknowledging the power if the Id.
 Dragon and Lions in Combat

This vast statue looms out of the undergrowth. What does it represent? Normally, one would expect the lions to defeat the dragon. Here, I’m not so sure. The Park of Monsters also seems to be about turning one’s expectations upside-down.

Xystus with Acorns and Pinecones

But there are also places in the Park where one can relax and enjoy oneself. A xystus (my word for the week, though heaven knows when I’ll use it again!) is an open colonnade or walk designed for relaxed conversation and recreation. The plinths support alternate pinecones and acorns. Pinecones represent enlightenment and the third eye (the god Dionysus, or Bacchus to the Romans, always carries a Thyrsus, a wand of fennel with ivy wound round it and topped with a pine cone to represent the importance and power of the unconscious mind). Acorns represent spiritual growth. You can indulge in philosophical thoughts, or you can just enjoy the walk!

 The Mouth of Hell

The Mouth of Hell is another monstrous head. Inside the mouth is a large cavernous space with a stupendous echo – I sang Donne Nobis Pacem (somewhat incongruously) and the echo reverberated right through my body. The inscription here reads: Abandon all thought you who enter here.  This is obviously a reference to the message above the door of hell in Dante’s Inferno, which reads: Abandon all hope all ye who enter here. But Orsini doesn’t want his visitors to abandon hope. He wants them to put aside all preconceptions, which is a very different matter.  

Cerberus: the three-headed dog who guards the entrance to Hades
And, in case you haven’t got the point, a statue of Cerberus guards Hell’s open mouth.
All in all, I could envisage plenty of places for a heroine to be frightened, hide in, be imprisoned in and, generally, have her mettle tested. There are also some statues of more friendly goddesses, like Demeter, to offer sanctuary or advice.
 Mermaid with double tail

I leave you with a statue of a double-tailed mermaid which defies explanation. Who is she and what are the two creatures in front of her? I have no idea. And that is one of the attractions of this intriguing park. You have to be content not to know. Maybe that is the lesson Orsini is trying to teach us: sometimes we don’t know, and that is all right.

Photos by Marilyn Palmer

Elizabeth Hawksley

Friday, June 03, 2016

Writing tips - Avoiding the Sagging Middle

Okay, you have an idea for your book, a really great idea, a fantastic love story! You start writing in a flush of enthusiasm and its all going well, until..... some point you begin to feel that you are flagging, that the book is going nowhere, that it is (hushed whisper) boring.

Many, if not all writers get this at some point. I know a lot of authors who say it kicks in at around 30,000 words. Sometimes they have finished the whole book and looking back they find the middle is stodgy, They have introduced the characters, set up the scenes, but then everything seems to flounder.  This is the bit commonly known to writers as the Sagging Middle.  Let's face it, if you as the author don't like the book at this point, it's unlikely that your audience is going to enjoy it.

So, what can you do about it?  It is unlikely that you can cut the whole middle section out, after all, you need to get from A to B somehow! So here's a few tips that might just help.

Interview your characters. They are your creations, and if you have done your job well then they can help you a great deal at this point.  Are they saying/doing what is right for them? Are they being forced in directions they don't want to go?  Talk to them, ask them what they want to do (I know, I know, this may sound slightly crazy, but believe me, once you have created characters they can take on a life of their own and the most difficult thing can be keeping them in order. So if you have great characters, then interview them, ask them what is wrong.  They might just tell you.

Go back and check your overall plan.  Does is still make sense? Is it going in the right direction?   Often when we are writing, a book takes a turn that we had not anticipated and if we manhandle it back on track that may not be the way the story really should go. Be prepared to change it, if it feels forced or unnatural.

Read your manuscript as a reader. Be objective, if you can.
If you feel too close to it then perhaps you can put it aside for a while and then read it with fresh eyes. Remember, though, readers read for entertainment and pleasure, not for grammar or spelling or construction. If bits of the story don't excite you, take them out or re-write them. Make sure everything you put in adds value.  Are you adding too much information, is it slowing the story and detracting from the pleasure of reading?

Discuss your work with someone. Perhaps you have a critique partner/group,  or a fellow writer who is on the same wavelength. Ask them to read your work and comment.  However, be careful not to ask too many people, or you could get too many differing opinions!

Do something else! This is the one that appeals to me most often. It doesn't matter whether its ironing, washing up, walking the dog, shopping, gardening, or even watching TV.
Get away from your work in progress for a while. Allow the ideas to settle, ferment, evolve. Give yourself permission to think of something else and very likely your brain will continue to work on the problem in your subconscious.

So that's it.  I hope these ideas might help to get you over the point of that sagging middle.

Happy reading (and writing)

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

Published July 2016 - The Outcast's Redemption (Harlequin Historical)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

In An English Country Garden

Flowers have been much on my mind recently. A trip to the Chelsea Flower Show reawakened all my enthusiasm, partly because of the show gardens and partly because of the enormous range of flowers in the marquee. I think my favourite show garden was the Harrods Heath-Robinson inspired garden, which had revolving flower beds and window boxes that went up and down, as well as a roof that lifted on and off the folly. If you haven't seen it, you can watch it here . But although the eccentric British touches were wonderful, it was the planting that really won me over.

It set me thinking about Jane Austen's garden and all the flowers she would have known, as well as the uses to which they would have been put. Celia Simpson, the head gardener at Jane Austen's House Museum, writes a regular blog about Jane Austen's garden , which is full of interesting information. Alongside flowers in Jane Austen's garden there were herbs for the kitchen, for medicinal use, for nosegays and insect repellents. Additionally, there were plants that could be used for dye.

This reminds me of one of my other favourite gardens at Chelsea,  which showed traditional techniques for extracting dyes from the leaves and flowers of various plants as well as their roots. It impressed the judges as well, winning a silver gilt medal.

If you're thinking of visiting Jane Austen's garden, summer is the perfect time. You can sit on the seat which rings the oak tree - believed to be descended from a tree planted by Jane Austen - or you can picnic on the lawns, imagining Jane choosing some choice blooms for the house or picking a sprig of mint to go in with the potatoes!

Monday, May 30, 2016

In Memory of Jo Beverley

We have all been immensely saddened by the death of Jo Beverley. Jo fought a brave battle against cancer a few years ago and appeared to have beaten it but unfortunately it returned and she passed away last week. Jo was an immensely popular author and  won many awards for her fabulous books. She was also inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame. Her death has come as a sad blow to her many, many fans on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world. It has also come as a blow to those of us who knew her. Jo was a very generous author who gave a great deal of help and advice to those who were starting out as authors, as well as those with more experience. She had an enormous knowledge and willingly shared it with others.

She was a calm and gracious presence at RNA conferences, where she became a familiar face after her return to England, having lived in Canada for many years. She joined our Historical Romance UK blog , where she entertained readers and supported writers through her lively blog posts. Her last blog post was written only a few short months ago, in March. It was about one of her favourite plots, the marriage of convenience, a familiar plot she brought vividly to life with her own unique style. That was the key to Jo's success. She could take a familiar plot and stamp it with her own unique voice.

We are all thinking of her family at this difficult time and offer them our condolences. We would like to thank Jo for the joy she brought into so many lives. She will be sadly missed.

Amanda Grange

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Jo Beverley

I didn’t want to have to write this. Jo Beverley was to me, as she was to many others, a friend and mentor. First of all, she was a great writer of historical romance.
Her first love, and the one closest to her heart, was the medieval. Her lesser-known medieval romances are well worth reading, if you can find them. There are four. I’m a “Shattered Rose” girl myself.
But at the time medieval romances weren’t selling and so Jo turned to the Regency romance. Her first books were for Signet, as were many American-based authors (Jo was born and brought up British, but moved to Canada in her twenties). “Emily and the Dark Angel” dates from this time, and is many people’s favourite.
She hit the big time with her first Fallen Angel book, “An Arranged Marriage,” which as she was often proud of saying, broke all the rules. In the first chapter, the heroine suffers a rape, (not by the hero!) Even when “rape into love” books were popular in the market, this caused a ripple through the reading community. Back then, the US and British markets were very separate, so while we were wallowing in clogs and shawls, the US had a wave of Regency romances with lashings of sex. Sometimes literally.
From the first Rogues book onwards, Jo was a premier author. She won the prestigious RITA award so often that she was put in the RWA Hall of Fame, an honour very few writers attain. She was a rock star writer, selling millions of copies and often teamed with Mary Jo Putney and Mary Balogh as the three at the top of the tree. They were the queens of historical romance.
I discovered Jo with her Malloren series. It’s set in my favourite Georgian era, in the first years of George III’s reign. I devoured the books. I had written the first of my Richard and Rose series, which was very different, but set in the same era, and I joined a critique forum. Two people were of inestimable help; the science fiction writer Linnea Sinclair, and Jo Beverley. She was a wonderful teacher. She taught me what a professional writer needs to do, how to go about getting published, and she wrote my first query letter for me, the one that got me published.
Jo was selfless, kind and generous, but she didn’t take fools gladly. That made her a wonderful critique partner, (yes, I had the privilege of critting her work – she was fussy about tweaking and details, but that made her even better). She would tell it like it is, but as she said, it was better than being rejected repeatedly by publishers and agents.
When she came back to the UK to live, she was already ill, but her cancer went into remission, and we thought she’d beaten it. Not quite. It lurked, came back this year and got her.
I can’t believe she’s gone. A world without Jo Beverley is sadder and a lot less fun. I’m going to miss her.
Please share your memories of Jo, and what you enjoyed about her books. I'm sure I'm not the only Beverley fan around here!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Playing quoits with 'Miss Darcy's Companion'

In this day and age of entertainment available at the touch of a button, it is hard to imagine a time when teenagers or even adults would amuse themselves with games that modern-day eight-year olds might find too childish for their taste. Yet we have romps, forfeits and blind-man’s buff in Charles Dickens’ ‘Christmas Carol’, alphabet games in ‘Emma’ and a game of quoits in the 1995 adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, played with gusto by Kitty and Lydia Bennet.

And their real-life counterparts might well have played it. They might have played sticks-and-quoits too, or ‘ringtoss’, if this 1817 engraving is any indication. 

Opportunities to flirt? Perhaps. Rosy-cheeked young ladies scampering about chasing the circle and dissolving into fits of giggles – definitely! Childish? Yes, that too, but still great fun 200 years on, when some of us go to beautiful Bath to play dress-up and go back in time.

Which is one of the reasons why I have included the game in the opening chapter of my latest ‘Pride and Prejudice’ variation, ‘Miss Darcy’s Companion’. It is another ‘what if?’ story. What if Miss Elizabeth Bennet got to know Mr Darcy not as he would present himself to strangers in some remote corner of Hertfordshire, but as his nearest and dearest know him? What if their first encounter was not at the Meryton assembly, but in the garden of a fashionable London house, where several young ladies were amusing themselves with a game of sticks-and-quoits?

* * * *

Miss Darcy's Companion
(Excerpt from Chapter 1)

The peal of laughter that came to greet Darcy’s words was not his cousin’s – too light and sparkling, and the wrong pitch as well. In the same instant, both gentlemen turned to its apparent source, somewhere beyond the open windows. Glass in hand, they wandered closer to cast a glance outside.

The sight that caught their eye was at the very least surprising, for neither could remember the last time they had seen young ladies playing sticks-and-quoits on the lawn of Malvern House. One of them, Darcy noted with a surge of pleasure, was Georgiana. She had just caught the beribboned circle and flicked it with uncommon skill towards Lady Amelia, who caught it in her turn and made it fly sideways to her eldest niece. Margaret caught it too and squealed delightedly, making Darcy wonder if she had been the one whose peal of laughter had first caught their notice. But it mattered not, and he sipped his drink, a smile warming his countenance as his glance drifted back to his sister.

How many years were there since he had seen her thus? Cheerful and carefree, thrilled by a childish game, rather than burdened by their parents’ loss, by loneliness and the proverbial Darcy shyness. Georgiana was in dire need of companionship her own age, yet in all her years at school she had formed no special friendship with any of the other young girls entrusted to Mrs Rossiter’s care. Which was one of the two reasons he had suggested she remain with Lady Malvern while he visited in Kent.

The first was of course Lady Catherine. No one in his right mind would think her suited to drawing a shy child from her shell and putting her at ease. The other was Amelia, Lady Malvern’s youngest daughter. She was of Georgiana’s age and of Fitzwilliam’s open disposition, and Darcy had long thought that fostering a greater closeness between her and his sister would be to the dear child’s advantage. Yet the scene before him was even better than he had allowed himself to hope. Perhaps, to some extent, he had wronged Lady Stretton. It was plain to see that Georgiana took great pleasure in spending time with her two daughters.
Darcy smiled again as the youngest, Hetty, tottered into view, balancing the circle on the crossed tips of her well-polished sticks. She cast a quick, uncertain glance to her companion, the governess perhaps or another minder of some sort, judging by the dark, utilitarian attire.

“Just so?” the child asked and her minder promptly crouched beside her.

“Yes, Hetty,” the assurance came in kindly tones. “Keep pointing the sticks up, then spread your arms wide as fast as you can.”

The little hands shot sideways, but the quoit had already fallen into the grass at Hetty’s feet. She gave a cry of disappointment and her lip curled, but her distress was instantly forgotten as soon as her companion reached for the circle and, covering the tiny hands with hers, she guided them into sending it high up into the sky, the white and purple ribbons fluttering behind it.

“It flew, Miss Bennet!” Hetty cried excitedly. “Did you see? It flew!”

 * * * *

Why would Miss Bennet engage herself as a governess to Colonel Fitzwilliam’s nieces?
And where does the story go from here?

The synopsis at Amazon might give a hint or two.

And if you would like to see more snippets of places and details that have inspired my stories, do check out ‘AllRoads Lead to Pemberley’ on Facebook, and I hope you’ll like what you see. Because, no matter what obstacles are set in her path, Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s journeys should always finish at Pemberley!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Are you clubbable?

Later this month, the last in the series, “Even Gods Fall In Love” is released. At least, it’s the last for now. I have many more stories to tell about the gods in the eighteenth century, but this book brings the series to a natural hiatus.
The series centres around a club set up by my hero, Mercury, or Amidei, the Comte d’Argento, in St. James. I wanted the club to be as true to its period as possible, with one exception––it allowed women to be members. With goddesses and immortal woman wandering around, that had to be possible.
In reality, women were explicitly barred from the world of the gentleman’s club. They had their own literary salons and gatherings, but not the kind of clubs that would rival the likes of Whites, Boodles and St. James.
Since I set most of my books in the 1750’s, this was a very early time in the development of the club. So I dived (or dove?) down the rabbit hole of research.
Very enjoyable it was, too.
The first club to have its own purpose-built premises was White’s, in St. James’s, across the road from St. James’s Palace, the official residence of the monarch, although the Georges usually preferred to live somewhere else.
White’s was soon followed by others, like Brooks', Boodles and the Atheneum, which were castigated as dens of iniquity by the moralists of the age. Here the fever for gambling gained its height, and the likes of Fox gambled their hearts out, in between attending Parliament to govern the country.
Before the big clubs of St. James’s, and even during it, came a plethora of smaller places, more gatherings of people (men!) than premises. It’s generally acknowledged that the clubs evolved from the coffee-houses of the City of London, but establishments like the Pudding Club, and inns like the Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street, the favourite haunt of Johnson and his crowd, gathered.
Men also formed clubs for more nefarious activities, many of them sexual. The Hellfire Club may have been a kinky sex club, or it may have been more, but orgies definitely went on there. What was the Royal Society but a club of like-minded gentlemen who decided to study the sciences?
While it’s natural to condemn them for their single-sex policies and their more debauched activities, the clubs were an important part of the development of British society, and the furtherment of knowledge. As well as being a way to have a jolly good time away from the ladies!
But what were the ladies getting up to? Ah, that’s the question!

Monday, May 09, 2016

Is it a sound professional move to write in several genres and eras?

I know of several writers who are successful in a variety of genres but they all use a different pseudonym for each genre. I write Regency romance and World War II family sagas using the same name – my own.
I've now released the first of a two book series set in the Victorian era – also the same author name. This book was written eight years ago when I had an agent and Victorian books were the flavour of the year. It got as far as an acquisitions meeting at Orion but no further.
These are the only books that I've written that haven't been published. I'm known for my Regency and World War II books and I am concerned my readers won't enjoy something so different.
The heroine and hero in this book are brother and sister, rather than a romantic couple. Also, as you can see from the cover, they are not from the privileged class from which I usually take my characters.
I had the books edited and proofed and by the time "For Want of a Penny" was ready to go I had a further three stories in my head for Sarah and Alfie. It remains to be seen if I think it's viable to continue writing this series.
It would be interesting to know whether readers search more for a particular author rather than a genre. I certainly search author name first on Amazon and if I can't find anything new by one of my favourites then I look at the recommended list of similar books that are so helpfully provided. Christian Cameron has three series ongoing, all different eras, and I love them all.  Bernard Cornwall has done the same but writes one series at a time. I would try a new genre/era from an author I like and I hope my readers feel the same.

For Want of a Penny is the first part of a two book Victorian saga –The Nightingale Chronicles and is set in 1840s Colchester and the east end of London. A family tragedy means Sarah is forced to go into service at Grey Friars House as an under nursery-maid. Meanwhile her younger brother Alfie, to avoid being taken into the workhouse, runs away to London to seek his fortune.
£1.99 & $2.99
Although the situation wasn’t of her making Sarah thrives, but just as she is becoming established in the household her past returns to shatter her happy life and she is dismissed without references.
Alfie arrives in London but is tricked and sold to work as a slave on a coal barge. However, eventually he prospers and begins to make himself a better life.

'One Good Turn' the second and final part of this series will be published in July.


Saturday, May 07, 2016

Tips for Authors (and others) on Public Speaking

Most writers I know would rather be writing than anything else. It sounds self-evident but these days there’s a lot more to being a writer than putting the words on the page. There’s marketing and PR for example, the art of selling our books, and this may well include talking about them. In fact speeches and presentations are the kind of thing we all get called upon to do sometimes either for professional or personal reasons, and it helps to be well prepared. Some people love standing up and talking. Others hate it. Whatever the case, if you get the call to perform at a literary festival or talk to the WI, it’s an opportunity to get your book out there into people’s hands – so it can speak for itself.

On Monday I’m doing a talk at the Swindon Festival of Literature and as I was running over my notes I remembered an article I’d seen which summed up beautifully some top tips on making a speech.

Start with the idea, because the only thing that really matters is having something worth saying. It could be insights that will inspire other people who are aspiring authors. It could be practical writing tips, anything that will help.

Have what’s called a “throughline.” This is the theme, or message, of your talk that you come back to
in order to hold it all together. On Monday I’ll be talking about how historical authors blend imagination with historical fact. Fact and fiction will be my throughline.

Make eye contact from the start. Smile at a few people. It’s easy when your nervous to look down or stare at some point at the back but you need to make personal contact with people. On that basis, there’s no hard admitting to being nervous if you drop your notes or fluff your words. Admitting to vulnerability is human; it’s like creating a character that gains the reader’s sympathy.

Laughter is a great way to build a connection with your audience but cheesy jokes are to be avoided. Humour is so personal. I’ve lost count of the talks I’ve been too where the speaker has made a joke I’ve considered to be sexist, racist, political, offensive or just un-amusing. Humour comes from amusing-but-true stories that are related directly to your topic, or from a quirky use of language that appeals to people.

Even if you are a genius, let people work this out for themselves! Name-dropping and showing off turn people off; be yourself and let your passion for your subject shine through. The nicest feedback I’ve ever had on my talks is when people say they were interesting because my love of history shone through.

Be prepared for the worst. Last time I did a talk at this particular venue the projector didn’t work so we all ended up crowded around looking at the presentation on my laptop. It was a great way for the audience to  get to know one another and as it was a talk about the history of romantic fiction, maybe the proximity even generated some sparks. Passing glitches off with humour and not panicking endears you to your audience.

Finally, breathe deeply and don’t hyperventilate! Very best of luck!