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!

Thursday, May 05, 2016

A few thoughts on Plotting your novel.

It's spring, and a new month, so perhaps you are thinking it is time you actually started on that romantic novel you always wanted to write.  So here are a few thoughts that might help you to plan and plot your book.

For a romance and in fact for most books, characters are important, but you also need a good story to keep the readers turning the pages.  There will need to be conflict along the way and the main characters have to go on an emotional journey – they should both have changed by the end of your story, but unless your characters are going to sit in one place for the whole book you will need to put in some action and events to take the story forward.

So remember the golden rule - Thou Shalt not Bore Thy Reader.

There needs to be some risk – ask yourself what is at stake here? Is it the happiness of the main characters, or maybe the well-being of their friends and/or family. Perhaps it's an adventure so there might be physical danger.   

The main thing is the reader has to care, to believe that the risks are worth fighting for.  

In a romance you have to generate sensual and emotional tension, strong attraction, with good reasons why your characters can't get together. Duty versus desire is a common theme in royal romances and the stakes here might be very high, perhaps even the fate of a country.

So here's a few things to help you plan out your storyline.

What if and Why – ask questions

-        "what if my hero admits attraction, what if my heroine walks away, what if he misses the train, what if she decides not to go out?"

-        "why won't he say he loves her, why is she walking away," etc

Take your characters out of their comfort zone.

-        Make them struggle, readers love to see characters overcoming obstacles, the bigger the better.

-        Maybe they are in an unfamiliar/alien setting. Think of a character like  Heathcliffe, a wild, untamed spirit who is comfortable on the wild, untamed Yorkshire moors. Imagine how uncomfortable and ill at ease he might be in a "civilized" drawing room.

Spread out the excitement throughout the book.

-        Someone once described writing a novel as bit like making a fruitcake. If you just drop the fruit in one place the mixture will be over-rich in one point and the rest will be pretty bland. Mix it up, stir in the fruit (the crises) so that the reader is kept entertained and intrigued to find out what happens next.

Have a tipping point

-        Have one major crisis, one point where everything hangs in the balance – will they get together/save the world/save themselves. Build the tension and the story towards this point and then you can race towards the conclusion.

A satisfying resolution

-        It doesn't have to be a happy ending, but it must be satisfying for the reader. Tie up loose ends, leave your reader with hope, not dissatisfaction.

These are only a few brief points and any one of them could be the subject for a workshop of a couple of hours or more, but maybe they just might help you to get started on that novel.

Good luck!

Melinda Hammond /Sarah Mallory

Melinda Hammond - Four Regency Seasons out now on Kindle

Sarah Mallory - Return of the Runaway. pub Apr 2016 by Harlequin

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Regency Lady – Undressed

I was actually invited to the preview of the V & A exhibition: Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear to review it for my local Archaeology and History Society Journal – which I’ve done. But I also wanted to take the opportunity to study Regency underwear with a view to writing a blog or two about it. Amongst other things, I wanted to find out the difference between stays and corsets.

1780s stays and hoop
To answer this, I needed to start before the Regency period. The photo above shows stays and hoop from the 1780s (the shift is modern). They were ordered by a Miss Davis from a London robe maker: stay-making was a skilled occupation. The hoop is made of linen and cane. Women did not wear drawers at this date – and you can see why. The hoop looks very cumbersome – imagine the problems manoeuvering it up and down stairs and squeezing through doorways, let alone having a pee! To have to cope with drawers as well would be almost impossible.

The linen shift, which was easily washed, provided a hygienic barrier between the skin and the stays which created a rigid foundation for the gown. The top layer was wool, linen and canvas, and the lining was glazed linen. The glazing, which was non-absorbent, meant that dirt was less likely to stick. The structure was held in place by whalebone. You can see that the breasts are flattened rather than supported, and it’s not surprising that actresses in historical roles have frequently complained that stays are uncomfortable.


A working woman’s home-made stays – 1760s

This was one of the most fascinating objects in the exhibition – mainly because of its rarity. The stays are made with wooden busks (slats) padded with wool for comfort, and the lining is cotton. I’ve no idea how the owner put them on but she must, surely, have been able to do so by herself. They, too, look uncomfortable - there’s very little give and take. Bending must have been hell.

New style corset, 1800 (* see below)
By 1800, things have changed. The garment above is a completely different animal. For a start it’s more delicately-fashioned and, dare I say it, sexier. It’s made of cotton, linen and whalebone but now there’s silk and lace, too, and there are added gussets to support the breasts. This garment is about enhancement of the female figure, rather than control. It also has a new French name – corset.   

Corset 1820-30

Twenty years later, the corset has moved on again. It is more sophisticated. There are quilted gussets to support and lift the breasts which are separated by a central busk (a flat piece of wood) which also flattens the stomach. It laces at the back – so its owner must have had a maid or helpful sister (or lover) to do it up. Gussets over the hips allow for curves. The waist is only 48 cms (19 inches) and there are some alarming X-rays nearby which show just what damage a tight corset could do to the internal organs.
There was also a helpful note nearby which explained that front fastening corsets only came in in 1829 and weren’t common until the 1850s. *This gives the new 1800 style corset an extra frisson of interest: it laces up at the back but the decorative front silk lacing hints that, shockingly, it just might undo there, too. (The possibilities here I leave to your imagination.)

Bust bodice, 1820-30

I was intrigued by this cotton bust bodice. It is home-made for a high-waisted dress to allow for breast-feeding – you can see the button at the base of the V. It looks astonishingly modern. 


Dressing-gown, 1820s

The dressing-gown above is also designed for easy breast-feeding; there are hidden vertical openings down the bust. It’s rare to see a female dressing-gown of this period and I was pleased to see this one; I doubt that a normal dressing-gown would differ much in style. It’s good to know that the young mother still wanted to look becoming and the garment has its share of frills and lace.

Transparent muslin dress 1800-5

I loved this simple, yet elegant dress. It is exactly the sort of dress that a daringly fast Georgette Heyer character might wear – Bab Childe in An Infamous Army, for example. It is instantly obvious that it needs a silk petticoat and drawers to make it at all respectable. It is also, surely, best suited to someone young and slim.
Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra frequently mention the buying of lengths of muslin. For example, on 18th April, 1811, Jane is in London. She writes Cassandra a somewhat incoherent letter:
I am sorry to tell you that I am getting very extravagant & spending all my Money; and, what is worse for you, I have been spending yours too, for in a Linendraper’s shop to which I went for check’d muslin, & for which I was obliged to give seven shillings a yard, I was tempted by a pretty coloured muslin, and bought ten yds of it, on the chance of your liking it; but at the same time if it shd not suit you, you must not think yourself at all obliged to take it; it is only 3/6 pr yd, & I sd not in the least mind keeping the whole.
What one would not give to see the resulting dresses for ourselves!
The V & A’s new exhibition, Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, sponsored by Agent Provocateur and Revlon, is on until 12th March, 2017. www.vam.ac.uk/undressed . It was a most enjoyable and revealing experience - in every sense of the word. 
All photos taken by the author
Elizabeth Hawksley



Monday, April 25, 2016

Wedding Fashions in the time of Jane Austen

Wedding Fashions in the time of Jane Austen

I've just been to a lovely spring wedding, and it got me thinking about the wedding fashions of the Georgian and Regency period.

From the 1790s a wedding dress in white became the fashionable garment to wear, taking over from the white and silver dresses that had been worn by wealthy young women. Waistlines rose, sleeves became shorter and lace accessories not so regularly worn, although the bridal veil started to make its appearance at this time. Simple styles worn with less jewellery and diamonds were the order of the day, and lace veils were worn draped over the head for evening wear as well as wedding attire.

The sheerest muslin from India was the most fashionable fabric, but silk, gauzes, fine cottens and linens also formed the basis of a wedding outfit. Machine made net, often embroidered was an alternative.
The actress Elizabeth Farren who married Lord Derby at his house in Grosvenor Square in May, 1797 had thirty muslin dresses for her trousseau. Jane Austen’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide wrote of the ‘great number of simpletons from the ‘fashionable world’ who had ‘been to see her Wedding Garments which are superlatively magnificent - She has thirty Muslin dresses each more beautiful than the other, and all trimmed with the most expensive Laces. Her Wedding Night Cap is the same as the Princess Royal’s and cost Eighty Guineas - I have no patience with such extravagances, and especially in such a Woman.
A nineteenth century fashion plate published in France in 1813 shows the model in a short-sleeved evening dress of embroidered machine net worn over a white silk under dress. The bride wears elbow-length gloves, a floral head-dress and lace veil. The earliest British plate was published in Ackermann in 1816, and features a dress by Mrs Gill of Cork Street made of striped French gauze over a white satin slip with short puffed sleeves. The hem has a deep flounce of Brussels lace with artificial roses trimming the skirt and bodice. She wears a diadem on her head with roses, though in this case there is no evidence of a veil.
The wedding of Catherine Tylney Long and William Wesley-Pole in March 1812 was reported in the fashion magazine, La Belle AssemblĂ©e - the bride’s ‘robe of real Brussels point lace’ was worked in a simple sprig pattern and worn over a white satin petticoat costing 735 pounds, a vast amount of money in those days. The bride also wore a white pelisse trimmed with swansdown and a Brussels lace bonnet decorated with ostrich feathers and a deep lace veil. The groom wore a plain blue coat, white waistcoat, buff breeches and white stockings in contrast.

From 1813 to 1825 wedding dresses looked more like evening dresses with low necks and short sleeves, though for church weddings sleeves were usually longer and a pelisse worn for modesty. The high waistline dropped so that by 1820 the waist resumed its normal position.

By the 1830s trimmings became increasingly elaborate and though headdresses became increasingly elaborate, bonnets were often worn as a popular alternative.

I love this glimpse of Emma's wedding from Emma by Jane Austen - I think we get an insight into what Jane must have thought of some of the wedding fashions: The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own. 'Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business! Selina would stare when she heard of it.' But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.

Finally, here are the lovely costumes that Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman wear in Sense and Sensibility - it's interesting to see the film versions of Jane Austen's weddings, but that's another blogpost!

Jane Odiwe

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Threads in the Tapestry

Having just come back from beautiful Derbyshire with my head full of my favourite places, here I am blogging about them a little more.

Deep into the heart of Derbyshire countryside, there is a delightful house with over 300 years of history: Sudbury Hall, now in the custody of the National Trust. As the guidebook informs the avid visitor, it is “largely the creation of George Vernon (1635/6 – 1702), ‘a prudent young man, sober and active’, as he was described by a contemporary [and very handsome too, as described by me :) ]. He succeeded to the estate in 1660 and almost immediately began to rebuild the old manor house of his ancestors, probably to his own designs.”

Hundreds of years down the line, it still boasts exquisite Louis Laguerre murals and painted ceilings, Grinling Gibbons carvings and the sparkling and flowery work of plasterers such as Bradbury and Pettifer. 

Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire
Photos Joana Starnes

Along with the hall, the surrounding village was remodelled and it has survived the passage of time, complete with a coaching inn, a school and even the village stocks.

Village of Sudbury, Derbyshire
Photos Joana Starnes

Lyme Park, Cheshire
Photo Joana Starnes

Sudbury’s real history is enthralling, but I must confess that I often dwell on its imaginary one. Because, along with another certain house in nearby Cheshire with its own 600 years of history, to me Sudbury Hall is Pemberley.

At every visit – and there were many, and hopefully many more – all sorts of details catch my eye and I squirrel them away, to be woven into the tapestry at some later point in time. The artistry of the carvings in the drawing room. The table set for a delightfully intimate dinner in the small dining room. The beautiful crayon sketch in the narrow hallway between the Queen’s Bedroom and the Porch Room, that could so easily be a lovingly-drawn likeness of a suitor or a brother. I know this is not the case, but one can dream.

Sudbury Hall, Saloon
Pemberley, Music room
Photo Joana Starnes
So I still dream as I look at the portraits displayed in the house and imagine them to be the ancestors of Pemberley’s master (who incidentally can also be described as a prudent young man, sober and active, who had succeeded to his estate at an early age and gave it his best).

The portrait of a stern-looking gentleman with proud patrician features could easily be Mr Darcy’s grandfather, who had married for love in his early youth, hoping for a ‘lifetime of felicity, in all human calculation’. The beautiful young woman in a dark velvet dress, smiling from underneath a hat bedecked with feathers, could be his first wife. The pretty but placidly resigned lady in a different portrait (much smaller than the other one) could be the woman he married for duty to his lineage and estate, when the love of his life was taken from him. And as she strolls with her husband and new sister and learns from them about the life stories behind the portraits, Elizabeth Darcy might muse whether the grandfather’s solemn features would still have been devoid of warmth and feeling in his fiftieth year, had his first wife lived...

And, months down the line, the parallel might become unbearably striking when times of anguish and peril revisit the Darcys. Or at least that was the inspiration for this fragment from Chapter 18 of my first novel, 'From This Day Forward – The Darcys of Pemberley’.

* * * *

The curtain twitched under a heavy hand and moved back to reveal the dreadful scene outside Pemberley House…
The dark hearse…
The coffin…
Fitzwilliam’s stony countenance, without life, without tears…
The long mournful procession going through the gates…
It is done…
It is over…
And there is nothing left…
Nothing at all…

Sobs, pitiful, broken sobs got through to her, and Georgiana awoke – drenched in cold sweats and in a flood of tears – to find they were her own.
“A nightmare,” she said aloud, to reassure – to persuade herself, and then again: “A nightmare!”
She sat up, still shaking, and got out of bed.
She had to see.
She had to be certain.
She donned her robe and tied the sash with trembling hands.
She did not light a candle – the moonlight would suffice.
She walked down the corridor and turned sharply at the end, towards Elizabeth’s bedchamber. She pushed the door open slowly, noiselessly, and only by a fraction.
And what she saw within tore at her heart.
Fitzwilliam was sitting in a chair by the bedside, his countenance as haggard and ashen as in her dreadful dream. He was holding Elizabeth’s hand, cradling it, without words, without tears.
And the mute despair in his eyes was devastating.
She turned to look towards the bed and waited, until the barely perceptible rise and fall of Elizabeth’s chest, with every breath, gave her the desperately needed answer. She withdrew and returned to her room, slowly, and very quietly. And bent to her knees, and prayed.
She prayed for her sister to survive.
For if Elizabeth did not, she knew not how her brother would.

* * * *

Quiet footsteps, eerily quiet, drew him from his trance.
He looked up – and followed.
The ghostly sound faded as he reached the eastern staircase and he took the steps two at a time, down to the bottom, where he had found her. A madman’s quest for he knew not what pushed him to the gallery. In the light of the moon, from her portrait, his grandfather’s first wife looked down upon him with the deepest compassion.
He dug his fingers in his hair.
A long, dry sob racked his chest as he pounded the frame of the unfortunate woman’s likeness, and broken gilt plaster fell to the floor.
He covered his mouth with his fist, stifling the groan.
And ran out of the deathly silent room, chased by his demons.

* * * *

If you think this was not exactly the lightest of blog-posts for a bright Sunday morning – or worse still, for a wet one ;) – and because I personally can’t bear angst unless I know the tale ends well, I have to assure you this one does too. I think all love stories deserve happy endings. Especially those involving Elizabeth and Mr Darcy who, to me, are the most romantic couple of them all.

Thanks for coming to Derbyshire with me. If you would like to see what else I might have dreamed up about the master and mistress of Pemberley, please follow the links.

                           Books by Joana Starnes on Amazon.co.uk
Website:             http://www.joanastarnes.co.uk/
Facebook:         http://www.facebook.com/joana.a.starnes
Twitter:              http://www.twitter.com/Joana_Starnes

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Dilemma in Yellow Silk

This month I have a new release that I’d love to tell you about.
DILEMMA IN YELLOW SILK is an Emperors of London book. Set in the 1750’s, it concerns the continuing Jacobite struggle, when it went underground in the 1750’s, and a new threat emerged to challenge the status quo.
I’ve loved writing this series, with its mixture of history and romance, and this book was no exception. Viola and Marcus were a lovely couple to get to know!

Dilemma in Yellow Silk
The Emperors of London, Book 5
Ever ready to do the right thing, The Emperors of London act bravely—and when it comes to matters of the heart, impetuously…
Despite her cover as the daughter of the land steward for Lord Malton, Marcus Aurelius, spirited Viola Gates is tied by birth to the treacherous Jacobite legacy. Not that this keeps her from falling for the dashing Lord from afar. Despite his staid demeanor, Marcus is devastatingly handsome—and hopelessly beyond her reach. Then Viola’s father is mortally wounded and her secret identity revealed, sending her straight into danger’s path—and Marcus’s arms…
For years, he’d only known her as a wild child, the tempting—and forbidden—daughter of his trusted steward. But when Viola’s life is threatened, Marcus must act as duty—and his barely contained passion—dictates. Ferrying the bold beauty on an eventful journey to safer quarters, he offers her the protection of his name. Their tempestuous union might succeed in vanquishing their enemies, but will the chivalrous lord and his unsuitable wife surrender to the power of love?
“Lynne Connolly writes Georgian romances with a deft touch. Her characters amuse, entertain and reach into your heart.” —Desiree Holt
“Plots, deviousness and passion galore…a truly enjoyable read.” –Fresh Fiction on Temptation Has Green Eyes

Concentrating on her music, Viola nearly jumped out of her skin when a large body plumped down on the stool next to her. She shrieked, spun around, and closed her eyes. “You!”
“Why, weren’t you expecting me?”
His expression of innocence did not fool her for a minute.
“Not here, not like this. Did you run from the last staging post?” she demanded. She should not talk to the Earl of Malton like this. Right now he was less the earl and more Marcus, the boy she’d known so long ago. “Oh, my lord, sir, I’m sorry!”
She should recall her place, but she was finding the task difficult when he was wearing the same mischievous grin he’d used at nine years old.
“I couldn’t resist. Do you know what you were playing?”
The heat rushed to her face. “Yes.” No sense dissimulating. Of course she knew.
“And if you don’t stop ‘my lord’ and ‘sir’ing me, I’ll have you sent home forthwith. When we’re alone, it’s still Marcus.”
What had happened to him? Marcus had slowly moved away from her, gone from a childhood friend to a dignified, proper aristocrat. She understood the move, because he would have responsibilities to take care of, but sometimes she missed him. He’d remained a distant figure ever since, growing more pompous every time she saw him. Now he seemed to have cast all that off.
“I thought—that’s not right.”
Sighing, he shook his head. “And I’ve stopped you playing. A pity—I was enjoying that. Carry on.”
“Is that an order—sir?”
He growled deep in his throat, such a small sound she’d have missed it if he were not sitting so close to her. “Stop it. I’ll be Malton in about an hour.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ve spent the last three days in a closed carriage with my father, and I want to forget the stateliness. He would, given the chance. But with outriders and men riding ahead to warn innkeepers we were on our way, we had little chance.”
“So they commit the great crime of ensuring the best bedrooms are free. The cook is bursting from his waistcoat, trying to cook the best meal he’s capable of making. If only my journeys were so tedious!”
His laugh rang around the room. “Exactly. But we’re welcomed with ‘Good evening, my lord,’ and ‘How can I serve you, my lord?’”
“You poor thing.” She should guard her tongue, but she delighted in reacquainting herself with the man she used to know.
He rewarded her with another laugh. “I know. It’s such a hardship.” Lifting his feet, he spun around on the bench so he faced the keyboard, as she did. “You got a phrase wrong. The tune is based on the traditional one, but it’s varied in the last line of each verse. Slightly different each time. Like this.”
When he demonstrated, Viola understood exactly what he meant. But with the amusement, her heart ached. She had missed him so much. At the delicate age of nine, two years after his breeching, Marcus had begun his training, and since then, he’d become engrossed in his life’s work. Before then, the laughing boy had had no cares, and they’d played together.
Until someone remembered their different stations in life, and she did not think it was Marcus.
“Your turn.”
After giving him a doubtful glance, she copied the phrase. He sang the verse along with her, his baritone blending with her untrained mezzo. At the end of the verse they continued with the next one. Then he added one she hadn’t known about.
By the end of the song, she was quite in charity with him. The years slipped away. Or rather, they did not, because never at any time did she forget that a man sat next to her, not a boy.
Viola hadn’t been this close to Marcus for years. In this lovely room, with sunshine streaming in through the windows, they could be in another world—one of their own, a place out of time.
Playing scurrilous songs on a valuable string instrument seemed part of their world. Eventually she joined with him as his infectious laughter rang around the room.
“Do you remember this?” She played a few notes. A two-handed exercise taught to children to help them accustom themselves to the keyboard.
“Ha, yes I do.”
He joined in, taking the upper part of the tune. It was simple but capable of infinite variations. At the end of the piece she changed the pitch and they continued. Four times they went around, until she stopped with an emphatic chord.
She rested her palms on the edge of the harpsichord. “This was tuned last week. I was only supposed to check it, not play it until it’s out of tune again.”
“Do harpsichords lose their tuning so easily?”
He really didn’t know? “It’s a harpsichord. The strings are delicate. Even damp can send them completely wrong. Each quill has to be checked and replaced if necessary. Don’t you know anything?”
He shrugged. “I know how to address a duchess and how to dance a minuet. I can shoot straight and use a sword.”
“So can I. The last part.”
He widened his eyes. Such a perfect shade of blue they were. She hadn’t seen them this close for years. Far too long. “You can fence and shoot?” he said, his voice rising.
“I shoot better than I fence, but I know one end of a sword from the other. I know how to stop someone taking it off me.” Considering her position, her father had considered the training useful. The daughter of a land steward, especially an only child, needed to know how to take care of herself.
“I will certainly test you on that.” He patted his hip. “But I don’t generally travel with a sword at my side. We have them in the carriage, though. Shall I send for them?”
She bestowed a jaded smile on him. “No. Or fetch them yourself, come to that.”
His cheek indented slightly, as if he were biting it inside. Stopping laughter? Then she was a source of ridicule? No, he wouldn’t do that, not the Marcus she’d known.
But she had not known him for years. Only seen him at a distance and occasionally exchanged polite nothings.
He shook his head as his smile faded. “Why did we not tell my tutors to go to the devil, Viola? What harm did our friendship do?”
“They were teaching you to be an earl, and eventually a marquess.”
“Ah yes. That. But you continued to play with my brothers and sisters.”
She lifted one shoulder. “I hardly missed you at all.”
That was a lie. She had missed him very much. His way of talking, the way he would say what he was thinking without hesitation—but he would hardly do that any longer. People hung on his every word, at least some people did. The people wanting the ear of his father, or for Marcus to do them a favor.
“I missed you,” he said softly. “I would like us to be friends again, as we used to be.” He covered her hand with his own.
Startled, she stared at it, but she didn’t move. His warmth seeped through her, heating more than her fingers. He’d been her childhood sweetheart, but they had both known they were only playing.
He did not mean it in that way. Occasionally she’d allowed herself to dream of him, but never allowed her fantasies to creep through to real life.
Marcus had grown up tall and handsome, and unlike most men she knew, he wore his own hair tied back in a simple queue. He rarely powdered, his one concession to his wishes rather than the dictates of fashion, but he would consent to wear a wig on ceremonial occasions.
The first time she’d seen him dressed for a grand occasion had served to distance him completely from her. Without those glossy dark brown locks, and dressed in the finest London could provide, Marcus appeared a different person, one Viola didn’t know at all. So when he said he missed her, he probably meant the carefree days of his childhood.
Viola could not pass this opportunity by. She turned her hand and curled her fingers between his. He clasped her hand warmly.
She stared at that symbol of friendship, as if it weren’t her hand. “I missed you, too.”
“You’ve grown up a beauty, Viola,” he said softly.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

The Girl in the Title

It started with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I think. Then there was Gone, Girl, the Girl on the Train and many, many other girls in various situations, places and circumstances, mostly with a hint of danger about them. Yes, the prevalence of the word “girl” in book titles has been apparent to us all and shows no sign of waning. And it’s not just girls. At the RNA Conference last summer Matt Bates, buyer for WH Smith Travel commented that over 60% of their best selling titles that year had a female noun in them whether it was girl, wife, mother, sister or something similar.

Choosing a title for a book is a difficult business so it’s always interesting to analyse what makes a particular theme popular. I hadn’t thought that “girl titles” were particularly applicable to historical fiction until I looked at the book charts and then I realised I was quite wrong. The Girl with No Name by Diney Costelloe is at the top of Amazon’s historical fiction charts. It has a nice, mysterious ring to it. There are others - and I've used a couple of covers to illustrate.

When will the popularity of girl titles end and what will be next? I wish I knew so I could get in first and start a trend rather than follow one.  In the meantime I'm
setting a challenge. Can we get the "girl craze" to work for Regency romance? I don’t really think the Girl and the Duke has the right nuance and if I re-titled my latest book The Girl in the House of Shadows it sounds like too much of a mouthful. Yet I feel sure we could make the “girl” trend work. So I am offering a copy of House of Shadows (without the girl) to any commenter who comes up with a good historical title featuring the word “girl” or even better re-writes a classic title in that way. When I threw down the gauntlet to my husband on this he came up with “The Girl on the Moor” which I thought was inspired. Over to you!

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Elizabeth Hawksley Writing Tips: 3

Good morning, Elizabeth here. Spring has arrived, a time of new beginnings, so I thought I'd offer a couple of kick-starting Writing Tips.

Sometimes scenes can get so bogged down that it feels like being stuck in a peat bog. Somehow, you need to get things moving again. Here are a couple of suggestions which work for me.

What’s at stake?
Each scene needs to push the action forward in some way and you may have lost the emotional connection with your hero or heroine. Try asking yourself: is what’s at stake strong enough? 
Fling in a problem
Chuck in something that stops the action in its tracks, and causes your hero/heroine maximum embarrassment, anguish or whatever.  Lydia Bennet running off with Wickham in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a brilliant example of this; it brings Lizzy and Darcy’s increasing intimacy to a sudden halt and throws a serious spanner in the works. Suddenly, a whole lot more is at stake.

Good luck.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Photo by Sally Greenhill 

Sunday, April 03, 2016

A Busman's Holiday. Melinda Hammond explains why she enjoys getting away from it all – working!

I have just returned from a writing retreat – no tutors, lectures or seminars, just half a dozen like-minded writers who decided to get together, all writing busily during the day and meeting up in the evenings to discuss progress, problems and generally talk "shop".  On the first evening we had a quick catch up and discussed what we wanted to achieve, and we were all up early the following morning, raring to go!

This is the second retreat we have organised; last year we enjoyed a break on the breath-taking North Devon coast, looking out over rugged cliffs and rough seas, very inspiring, I think you'll agree.


 This year our numbers were depleted by illness, so in the end it was only Louise Allen, Janet Gover, Sophie Weston and myself who arrived at a holiday cottage in Oxfordshire for three full days of intensive writing. We didn't have the dramatic scenery of last year, but we did have a lovely long lawn stretching  down to the Thames, where we could wander out if we wanted a break.  Equally inspiring, but in a very different way.

At breakfast we watched the red kites wheeling and diving to the lawn for scraps  and around lunchtime we would convene in the kitchen for snacks or just coffee and a natter, then it was back to work again, each of us finding a desk or table away from everyone where we could work.

Writing can be a very lonely profession, and it was good to have company who understood the need for us to be silent and working for hours on end. There was a sort of friendly rivalry, too, as we all set ourselves targets – word count, getting to the end of a particular scene, etc. etc., but because we were working alongside other writers, we would always go just that little bit further, do an extra hundred words or sketch out another scene. And if anyone felt like slacking, the tap, tap of other writers' fingers on laptop keys was a mental slap on the wrist, telling us to get back to work.

When we came together for our final dinner on the last night we compared notes. No one had written "the end", but we all had a terrific sense of achievement, even though we all felt a certain amount of exhaustion after three intensive writing days. We came away refreshed, inspired and energised; words written, plots created, and in some cases endings resolved.
It was a real busman's holiday and I can't wait to go again!

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory
Four Regency Seasons - Melinda Hammond (Kindle)
Return of the Runaway - Sarah Mallory, pub. April 2016 by Harlequin