Sunday, March 30, 2008

A new publication of Lydia Bennet's Story

March has been a very exciting month for me. I signed my contract with Sourcebooks for the new publication of Lydia Bennet's Story which will be published in October.


Lydia Bennet's Story begins with some of Lydia's thoughts from her journal - the following short extract precedes Chapter One. Lydia's journal appears at intervals throughout the book; I had a lot of fun getting inside Lydia's head and 'seeing' her version of the events that take place. I hope you enjoy what follows - Jane Odiwe.

Tuesday, April 13th

I have quite worn out my silk dancing slippers at the Assembly Ball tonight by standing up with several very handsome officers for every country jig and figure. Indeed, on entering the Rooms I had barely cast my eye about before I was applied to by a string of gentlemen, though sadly, they were not all officers. I must say there is something about a soldier, which makes an excellent partner - I am quite giddy in their company!

I wore my tamboured muslin, which becomes me extraordinarily well and received so many compliments I was quite the belle of the ball. So smitten by my saucy looks were the officers of the Derbyshire militia, I swear I sat down not once! I danced the first two with Mr Maybury, then Mr Denny, Mr Wooton, Mr Blount and Mr Wooton again; then a simpering coxcomb, Mr Cavendish, followed by Mr Wickham. That gentleman danced and teased me by turns - he has a way of looking into my eyes, which I find most disconcerting. Mr Wooton begged to dance again but I was heartily sick of him, so as the supper bell rang, I affected a fainting seizure with an attack of the vapours, which had the opposite of the desired outcome, making him attend me all the more. It also meant that I missed dancing the Allemande, which I love - hateful man!!

Mr Blount took me quite unawares at the supper table, by presenting me with a small package. On closer examination, I guessed it had been sent from Mr Howett who was indisposed this evening. Enfolded in a piece of violet scented paper was what I can only imagine to be a lock of his hair, (nasty, wispy, sort of stuff) with a page of sentimental poetry, (clearly not of his own invention). As soon as I had the opportunity, I disposed of this unwanted gift, as I happened to be passing the huge chimneypiece on one side of the room. Unfortunately, I had not taken into consideration the stench a large lock of hair like that can make and the paper would smoulder and only half burnt. It caught the attention of my mother who is generally not so observant but she has a suspicious nature. However, I managed to convince her that it was merely a lock of my own hair that I had cut off because it was being unruly, wrapped in an old laundry bill. Fortunately, I am the apple of her eye and she is easily placated.

Mr Maybury asked me to take a turn with him in the grounds as he suddenly became overheated whilst conversing by the fire. No sooner had we stepped through the french doors than the naughty man was begging to steal a kiss and as I was thus constrained between a jagged wall and a rugged man I was forced to surrender. Note to myself - will hereafter forbear kissing gentlemen with whiskers - they tickle too much!

Mr Wootton is threatening to pay court and at the very least will call tomorrow. His eyes are too close together and he has damp palms, bad teeth and breath reminiscent of a stableyard privy. No doubt he will bring Mr Blount for my poor sister, Kitty. He is equally captivating, being two feet nothing, with more fat than a hind of pork and with eyes that squint out from a florid visage like a slapped behind. Mr Edwards will be dragged along in tow to plead their case - we must visit Aunt Phillips and escape the deputation.

His whiskers might tickle but he is so gallant. I long to see Mr Maybury again! Mrs Lydia Maybury – there, that looks very well!



I also have had the excitement of seeing some of my Jane Austen watercolours featured in a short film about her life on the Jane Austen Book Club DVD. Joan Klingel Ray and Claire Bellanti of JASNA along with Robin Swicord, the director of the film, talk about Jane's life and every now and again one of my paintings pops up.
I missed the Jane Austen Book Club film when it was on at the cinema, so I was really pleased to have seen it at last and enjoyed it very much.

Jane Odiwe

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Seductive Secrets


Well I don't want to outface Nicola's news, I couldn't if I tried, but I did just get the most beyoootiful cover art for my June release, "Seductive Secrets," the first in the Secrets Trilogy.
Georgian England again, and all three of these books take place outside London, two in country houses and one in a small town.
Isobel has a lot of secrets her new husband, Lord Cardington, doesn't know until after the marriage. But Nick loved her years ago, and has come back for more, so he thinks he's prepared for what lies ahead. He isn't.
I put a bit of the new technology to mid-Georgian England in each book, so the first book has a bit of the agrarian revolution, the new developments in agriculture. It was so enjoyable to write and I'm so pleased the book is coming out. And with such a lovely cover, too. Vivat Anne Cain!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

RITA Nomination for Lord of Scandal!


I am thrilled and honoured to announce that my book, Lord of Scandal, has received a RWA RITA nomination in the Best Regency Historical category!

Lord of Scandal is a dark, sensual Regency Historical set against the background of the Great Frost Fair of 1812. The hero, Ben Hawksmoor, is a celebrity in the Regency firmament, a friend of Prinny and a dangerous scoundrel whose only aim in life is to make money and ensure that he never returns to the gutters from which he came. When he meets Catherine Fenton, the daughter of a nabob, the attraction between the two of them is explosive. Ben deliberately sets out to compromise Catherine for her fortune, but then he discovers that Catherine and her money are not going to fall into his arms without a fight!

Lord of Scandal was published in the US by HQN books in June 2007 and will be coming out in trade paperback from Harlequin Mills & Boon in August 2008.

Here is an extract:

"Suddenly the scarlet curricle was right beside them and Ben Hawksmoor was close enough for Catherine to touch. The pavement seemed to shift slightly beneath her feet. She wanted to turn and run but she stood still, rooted to the spot. With a sense of inevitability, she looked up to meet Ben’s cool hazel eyes. He was looking at her with disturbing intentness.
“Catherine?” Lily said questioningly, and Catherine jumped and dragged her gaze away from Ben’s. He bowed to Lily, smiling.
“Miss St Clare.”
“Lord Hawksmoor.” Lily sounded ruffled, but not on her own account. She was looking from Catherine to Ben with a frown on her face. “Have you met? I didn’t think-”
Ben turned back to Catherine. His smile was warmer for her, intimate enough to make her stomach clench.
“Madam…” There was the very faintest hint of a question in his tone. Catherine realised that he would think that she, like all the other eager ladies in the crowd, had come deliberately to see the race.
“I did not know you would be here,” she blurted out, and blushed at her own gaucheness. “That is, I did not come especially to see you…”
That was even worse. She could feel herself getting hotter and hotter to see the amusement in Ben Hawksmoor’s eyes. He had passed the reins to his groom now and jumped down onto the pavement beside her. He took her hand and drew her a little apart, ignoring the calls of the crowd for the race to start.
“I am desolated to hear you did not seek me out,” he murmured, the spark of humour still in his voice, “when I would go a deal further than Oxford Street to see you again, Catherine.”
Catherine closed her eyes for a second against the potent awareness coursing through her. He had the most attractive voice she had ever heard, smooth, mellow and hopelessly seductive. For a moment she felt frighteningly adrift.
“I doubt that,” she said, rallying. She looked about her at the throng of people. “You do not need my approval when you have all this.”
Ben turned so that his broad shoulders blocked out the crowd. His physical presence was so powerful that Catherine felt a little light-headed. She had his whole attention now. The race, the crowd, the Regent himself, none of them mattered. They could have been alone.
“You mistake.” He spoke softly. “You are the only thing here that interests me, Catherine.”
Catherine’s mind went completely blank. She had little experience of flirting or playing games and she knew that was what he was doing. He had to be. He could not be sincere.
“That,” she said, “is absurd.”
He smiled again and the lines deepened at the corners of his eyes in a way that made her stomach flip.
“You won’t flirt with me?”
She took a deep breath. “No.”
“A pity. But this time I meant what I said.”
Catherine realised that her hand was still in his. She tried to free herself but he refused to let go. He was running his thumb over the back of her hand now in small, distracting strokes. Catherine could feel the insistence of his touch through the material of her gloves.
“You did come here to see me, didn’t you?” He murmured.
Catherine’s gaze jerked up to meet his laughing hazel eyes. “You have a monstrously high opinion of yourself,” she said.
He gave her a rueful half smile and her heart turned over. “Have I?”
She watched his smile fade and another very different, more disturbing emotion take its place. Then someone dug an elbow in Catherine’s ribs and she realised they were surrounded by a crowd growing more restless by the minute. She forced herself to look beyond the compelling demand in Ben’s eyes.
“You are keeping his Highness waiting,” she said.
Ben grinned. “It is worth it.”
“You take too many risks.”
“Always.” He gave her that dangerous, flashing smile, released her hand and swung himself back up onto the box of the curricle. The crowd gave an ironic cheer.
“A kiss for luck!” Someone shouted.
Ben leaned down. His gloved fingers touched her cheek.
“May I?”
She barely heard the words above the pounding of her pulse but she must have made some sound, for he tilted her chin up and then his lips brushed hers, lightly, a brief but insistent pressure. He was cold and tasted of fresh air and her mind reeled. He straightened and Catherine opened her eyes to see the blaze of triumph in his. “Thank you,” he said, and his voice was a little rough.
The winter sky was too bright. The light hurt her eyes. She felt shaky. The crowd roared its approval."

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hygiene and Superstition



Did anyone see the review of Katherine Ashenburg's book, 'An Unsanitised History of Washing' in the Culture section of this week's Sunday Times? At first glance it might seem a rather strange subject for a book but, in fact, the review was highly enlightening, bringing to light facts that I hadn't been aware of.

The Romans invented the concept of communal bathing - naked communal bathing that it - but, naturally, they did not expect to wash themselves and had servants on hand to perform the task for them. It wasn't the onset of decency that closed the doors to bathhouses but terror. In the mid-14th century bubonic plague, or the Black Death, killed 25 million Europeans, one third of the population. This pandemic was attributed to the Almighty's disapproval of luxury, including bathhouses, and washing fell into disrepute for almost four hundred years.

Fortunately, by Regency times, bathing was once again in vogue and the city of Bath itself was a fashionable destination for those seeking to partake of its restorative natural spring waters. Communal bathing enjoyed a resurgance, but this time modesty was preserved by the wearing of shirts and drawers by the gentlemen and linen shifts by the ladies.

Those seeking cures for a whole raft of ailments - anything from gout to palpitations - might have chosen to swim or simply relax in the Great Bath, pictured here, which would originally have been covered by a pitched timber roof, and into which the water fell directly from the Sacred hot spring.

Wendy Soliman

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Georgian Gem

Last week, I visited Berrington Hall, a little gem of a Georgian mansion, just north of Leominster, in Herefordshire. It’s owned by the National Trust, and had just reopened to visitors after the winter. This is the stunning gatehouse.




Berrington Hall was built around 1780 by Henry Holland and sits on a rise overlooking its park. The rise, and everything else in the park, is man-made, with shovels and wheelbarrows, during the landscaping by Capability Brown. Previously, the land was flat, according to the NT guide. The house itself, of a local sandstone which has weathered to a lovely mellow red, was originally so bright that it stood out like a beacon to the surrounding countryside. The locals, not surprisingly, complained but it didn’t change anything.

The parkland was kept mowed by groups of animals, each in a different section in order to create an artistic effect, since different animals eat the grass to a different depth. The NT guide said that the lawn nearest the house was kept mowed by specially bred white hares. Would you believe that? I couldn’t help wondering how the hares could have been confined to that one small area. Authors tend to think of practical issues, as well as romantic ones.

Photographs inside the house are not permitted, but it is possible to take them in some of the outbuildings. The stables are a Victorian remodelling of one of the buildings, but they do include a rather dishy riding habit.

And this is the dairy, which is attached to the house proper, since it was overseen by the mistress. It has a fine marble floor, very similar to the one in the entrance hall, and fully tiled walls. So it was cool and easy to clean.

Here you can see a settling pan, in which the milk would be left overnight for the cream to rise. Alongside are the tools for making butter. Churning butter was a bit of a black art. Sometimes it took ages, sometimes it was very quick. Science can explain that now. Then, there were lots of old wives’ tales, and suspicions of witchcraft, attached to it.

The poor dairymaids — who worked very hard — had a terrible reputation, too, even once ideas of witchcraft had largely faded. Because there was often water on the dairy floor, they tended to wear their skirts above their ankles. And that, of course, was a sure sign that they were loose women.

Joanna

www.joannamaitland.com

Monday, March 24, 2008

regencyreads.com - A DEBT OF HONOUR

I'm delighted to announce that my first full length novel is now available from www.regencyreads.com. This means that anyone with a suitable gizmo can download my book and not have to pay postage. It's only $5 - which is a huge difference from the full UK price of £18.99!!
Here's a taster- I hope you like it.


Chapter One

'Eliza, you cannot possibly go outside the house looking like a farm labourer; we are expecting the Reverend Clarkson to visit us today.'
'Mama, I have no choice. I am needed in the barn, the mare is foaling and there is no one else competent to oversee this.'
'But men's britches and your brother's old shirt and waistcoat are hardly suitable, even if you must go and help. I have spoken of this repeatedly, it's not right for you to dress in such a way. ' Mrs Fox shuddered dramatically. 'Mama, do you not agree with me? Your granddaughter is making an exhibition of herself. Should she not behave as befits the daughter of a well respected family?'
Mrs Victoria Dean, looked up from the novel she was reading avidly. Her bright eyes summed up the situation at a glance.
'Hannah, as usual you are overreacting. Eliza has a job to do and unlike anyone else in this godforsaken place she is prepared to do it no matter the cost to herself . If your daughter had not taken the estate in hand when your husband drowned five years ago, then where should we be today? In the poorhouse, that's where.'
Eliza grinned; she loved her grandmother and she rather believed it was from her that
she had inherited her feisty spirit and total disregard for convention. 'Grandmamma, thank
you for your support. I am doing no more than I want. After Dickon died I would have fallen into a decline without the occupation I found here. I am merely a caretaker of Grove House and its farms until Edmund comes of age.'
She pulled on a flat cap which fitted snugly over her cropped blonde hair, smiling ruefully as she caught a glimpse of herself in the mantel-mirror. Mama was correct; dressed she was, it would be hard to distinguish her from one of their workers. Unfortunately she had not been given the regular features and slender build of her younger brother Edmund, nor had she been given the ravishing beauty of her younger sister Sarah.
All she had to recommend her was a pair of startlingly blue eyes fringed with dark lashes, a striking contrast to her streaked fair hair. She knew when Dickon had offered for her on her debut, five years before, she had been lucky beyond belief. She had spent every ball, every rout and every party as an overlarge, plain wallflower sitting with the matrons watching the other debutantes dance and flirt with their potential suitors.
Eliza smiled faintly as she recalled the humiliation of being dressed in pastel muslins more suited to young women of delicate features and dainty stature. She stood head and shoulders above most of them and her statuesque figure did not show to advantage in such garments. She never knew why Captain Dickon Caruthers had given her a second look - nobody else had - but one wonderful night, at Almack's, he approached and asked her to dance a quadrille. As soon as his strong, battle hardened hand had gripped hers she felt her clumsiness fall away and she became one of the chosen.
She had floated around the ballroom radiant with happiness and for some
extraordinary reason Dickon had felt the same way. Her eyes filled and she blinked hard
to clear them; they had so little time together before he was recalled to his regiment. She had received three letters, three wonderful loving letters, before the final one came from his commanding officer reporting that her beloved fiancé had died a hero's death in a battle, somewhere unpronounceable, in Spain .
She had already been in mourning for her father when she received this dreadful news. For several weeks Grove House had fallen into disarray with no-one making any decisions. Her mother, prostrate with grief, her grandmother also at a loss of the man she's considered as a son. Her brother, at fifteen, away at school untouched by the chaos at home.
Her little sister, Sarah, who had been blessed with the most amazing features, like a golden angel, Mrs Turner, the cook often said. However the good Lord had seen fit to give Sarah an overabundance of beauty but little intelligence. Her younger sister would remain forever a small child, trusting and loving, but unable to function as the adult she now was.
With no one making decisions, rents remained unpaid, the tenants grumbles' went unheeded and revenues from the farms fell drastically. It took the death of one of their labourers to rouse her from her misery; a young man struck on the head by falling masonry in the unrepaired tithe barn.
Enough was enough, Eliza decided. Dickon would not want her to grieve for him the rest of her life . He had died a hero, she must live as a heroine.
From that moment she had taken control and within twelve months Grove House was
back to normal, the cottages in good repair and the land also. Crops were sown and cottages cared for and everyone prospered once more. It was about this time that Eliza had
decided to cut her hair and adopt men's clothing while she oversaw the farms and estate.
In spite of her mother's anguished protests she did as she pleased. When her beloved
had died so had her wish to appear desirable. She would never love another and had no intention of ever appearing at a formal occasion dressed in a hideous pale muslin gown again. When her bother came of age next year, he could resume control and then she might reconsider her sartorial decision.
Eliza turned from the fireplace to gaze out across the park and saw a pony and trap approaching the house through the trees that ran either side of the long straight drive.
'Botheration, the vicar is here. I was waiting for Jane to bring Sarah down as I promised she could watch the foal being born. I shall have to go, I cannot risk meeting him dressed as I am.
'Give me your arm, Eliza dear, I'm not staying in here to listen to that old bore prosing on for hours; I hear quite enough of him on Sunday morning.'
Mrs Fox was shocked by her mother's comment. 'How can you say such a thing? The Reverend Clarkson is a charming old gentleman and does nothing but good in the village. I have promised to help him raise money for the families whose breadwinners no longer have employment on the fields.'
Eliza leant down to offer her arm to her grandmother and assisted her from the chair. The old lady moved with surprising speed for someone of her advanced years and vanished through the wide doors, across the long narrow entrance hall and into the
library. She heard the door close with a decided snap.
'Mama, could you send Jane to the stables with Sarah when they do come down?'
Mrs Fox sniffed. 'It is the outside of enough, Eliza, that you spend most of your time
up to your knees in unmentionable substances, but now you are encouraging your younger
sister to do the same.'
'Sarah has no concept of what is suitable for a young woman of seventeen summers, Mama. She is a child, and enjoys getting dirty and running about freely.'
She hurried from the room and, as she walked towards the back of the house, she heard voices on the stairs and, looking up, saw her sister running down to meet her.
'Liza, Liza, are you waiting for me? I'm just coming. Jane took so long to do up my boots that I am late. Has Princess had her baby yet?'
Eliza braced herself, knowing what was coming next as Sarah launched herself from the fourth step and arrived with a thump in her arms. Eliza swung her sister around - no mean feat - but Eliza had developed a strength that most young women would be horrified to own.
'Come along, Sarah, the vicar is almost upon us. If he sees me like this poor Mama will have the vapours.'
Clutching her sister's hand she dashed to the back stairs that led to the servants' hall; she was halfway down when she heard the front doorbell clang loudly . Mrs Green, the housekeeper, appeared from her small room to answer the summons.
'Good morning, Miss Fox, Miss Sarah, are you going out the stables?'
'We are. Liza says I'm to watch Princess have her baby; we don't want to see the vicar so we're running away.'
Eliza heard the housekeeper chuckling as she hurried upstairs to answer the door. They kept no male servants in the house, there was no need; a cook, housekeeper, two chamber maids plus two parlour maids were more than adequate . Grove House was a substantial property, but not in the grand style and footmen and a butler, even if they could afford them, would be falling over each other.
The servants' hall was empty at that time of day and she could hear Mrs Turner banging about in the large kitchen issuing instructions to the kitchen and scullery maids whilst she did so.
They exited through the back door which led out into the courtyard. Fred Smith, the head groom and coachman, was waiting anxiously shifting from foot to foot.
'There you are, Miss Fox, I was beginning to think you were never coming down. Princess will not settle without you beside her.'
'I'm sorry, Fred, I'm here now.'

Fenella

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Yesterday in History - The Duel!


On the 21st March 1829, a famous duel took place in Battersea Fields between the Duke of Wellington and the Earl of Winchilsea. Duelling was very much tied to the defence of one's honour and a man might resort to a duel to defend his honour if someone had intimated that he was a coward, or if a lady's reputation was at stake or even in the case of some bored young aristocrats, simply for sport.

The duel that took place between the Duke of Wellington and the Earl of Winchelsea was a political one. In 1828 Wellington became Prime Minister. One of his first achievements was overseeing Catholic emancipation and granting almost full civil rights to Catholics in the United Kingdom. The decision caused feelings to run very high and Wellington persuaded the King to agree to the reform only through threatening to resign over it. Lord Winchilsea, an opponent of the bill, claimed that by granting freedoms to Catholics Wellington "treacherously plotted the destruction of the Protestant constitution." Wellington, his honour impugned, immediately challenged him to a duel.

The newspapers of the day announced that fortunately the duel had not had fatal consequences - the opponents deliberately missed one another. Wellington had shot wide and Winchilsea had deloped, firing into the air. "Duel Day" is still celebrated on 21st March at Kings College London, a university college founded in 1829 with the backing of non-Anglican Christians and other faiths.
Nicola

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Guest blogger - Mary Street




We're delighted to welcome Mary Street to the blog. As historical romance fans will know, Mary has written many Regency romances including Chloe's People, See a Fine Lady, Sarah's Fortune, Wyndham's Bride and a Husband for Helen.



She is talking to us today about her Jane-Austen inspired novel, The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy.


It began as an exercise, really, just to see if I could do it. After watching the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice I looked out my copy of the novel to read again and it struck me there was another story there - Darcy's Viewpoint - with scenes only mentioned in the original which could be more thoroughly explored. There was plenty of scope for other scenes as well.

Could I do it? Well, there was no harm in trying. I decided at once that I would make no attempt to imitate Jane Austen's style as I do not think it can be done successfully, although I did use the language and expressions of the Regency period.

Strangely, I had little difficulty in writing the scenes with Bingley, Georgiana, Fitzwilliam, Wickham and the brooding aftermath of the disastrous proposal. The harder parts were the scenes between Darcy and Elizabeth, which Austen provided, because I did not wish to include anything which was merely a copy. The proposal scene almost defeated me until I had the idea of showing it piecemeal, as a series of flashbacks.

At the time of writing it, I had not intended to submit it for publication. However, I did read excerpts to a group of friends (writers themselves) who were most emphatic in urging me to publish. "It is too good to waste," they said.

So it was published and I hope my readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Mary Street

Thank you, Mary! The book is excellent, and sure to appeal to all Austen fans. The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy is available from bookshops in the US, and from Amazon and other online sellers around the world.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Colonel Brandon's Diary is out in July

I've just learnt that the UK hardack edition of Colonel Brandon's Diary will be out in July. The publishers offer a 30% discount and free UK p&P if you preorder from them, and you can reach them by sending an email here. They will post the book overseas if you live outside the UK.

The cover will be a head and shoulders picture, as usual, and it will be taken from this beautiful portrait of Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767-1855) and his Daughter, Alexandrine (1791-1871), which was painted in 1795 by Francois Gerard.

I wanted to use this portrait in particular because I think it works very well as an image of a young Brandon with his ward, the little Eliza.

When I first read Sense and Sensibility, I thought that Brandon was a dry stick, and I thought it was a travesty that he married Marianne, but on subsequent readings I began to take in more details and I realised that he's exactly the man for her.

He's had a tragic love affair, as she has, and they are both very romantic people. I had a wonderful time fleshing out his back story, including his early unhappy love affair and his duel with Willoughby, before exploring his feelings as he fell in love with Marianne.

This portrait exactly captures him, for me. He's a romantic, and yet he's also able to live and succeed in the real world. He has a strong protective streak, and there's a solidity about him that someone like Willoughby will never match, even if he lives to be 100.

Amanda Grange

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Dangerous Mr Ryder




The Dangerous Mr Ryder, the first of my new series Those Scandalous Ravenhursts, is out this month, published by Mills & Boon (July in the US).

Imagine a tiny Grand Duchy clinging to the mountains near the SE French frontier. Imagine it is 1815 and Napoleon has just landed from Elba and is marching on Paris. Imagine a castle towering over a vertiginous drop to the river below.
It is night and a rope dangles from the battements into the void…

No-one had told him that she was beautiful. Jack Ryder crouched precariously in a stone window embrasure two hundred feet above the ravine river bed and stared into the candlelit room. Inside, the woman he had been sent to find paced to and fro like an angry cat.
He kept his eyes fixed on the image beyond the glass as he wedged himself more securely into his slippery niche. Below, the void beneath the castle was shrouded in merciful darkness, the faint sound of the river floating upwards. Although his whole body was aware of it, he ignored the cold fingers of fear playing up and down his spine, knowing full well that if he let his imagination have full rein he would never be able to move at all. His studded boots ground on the stone, and he froze for a moment, but the sound did not seem to reach her.
Jack gave himself a mental shake and began to work on the knot that secured the end of the long coil of rope around his waist. As it came free he gave it a jerk, flicking it outwards, and the whole length detached itself from the battlement high above and fell out of sight into the void.
Now his only way down was through that window. Despite his perilous position Jack had no intention of going through it until he had a chance to size up the woman inside. The woman he had been sent to bring back to England by whatever means he found necessary, including force.
It was for her own good, as well as in the interests of both countries, they had explained at Whitehall. The officials had spoken with the air of men who were glad it was not they who had to attempt to convince the lady of this. They had told him a number of things about Her Serene Highness the Dowager Grand Duchess Eva de Maubourg. Intelligent, stubborn, anti-Napoleonic, haughty, independent, difficult and demanding was how she had been summed up by the various men who had gathered to deliver the hasty briefing, fifteen days before. Half French, they had added gloomily, as though that summed up the problem.
She had not left the Duchy since her marriage and was likely to be near impossible to move now, the officials added. That was all right; he was used to being asked to do the near impossible.
But there had been no mention of darkly vivid looks, of a curvaceous figure or the lithe grace of a caged panther. And Jack was having trouble believing she could possibly be the mother of a nine year old son. It had to be the thick glass in the window panes.
She was alone in the room; he had waited long enough to be convinced of that. Jack shifted his position, focusing his mind on opening the window and not on what would happen if he lost his balance. The flat of a slim blade slid easily enough between the casement and the frame. Thankfully the window opened inwards, for its height above the floor would make it impossible to use otherwise. He eased it ajar by inches, waiting long minutes between each adjustment so there would be no sudden drop of temperature or gust of wind to alarm her. If she screamed this would likely end in bloodshed - he did not intend that it would be his.
Grand Duchess Eva ceased to pace and sank down in front of a writing desk, her back to the window, her head in her hands. Jack wondered if she was crying, then started, with potentially lethal result, when she banged her fist down on the leather desk top and swore colourfully in English. He could only admire her vocabulary: he was tempted to echo it.
It was definitely time to get off this widow ledge. He grasped the frame, put his feet through and swung himself down into the room. There was no way he could land silently, not dropping eight foot onto a stone flagged floor in nailed boots. She spun round on her chair, gripping the back of it, her face reflecting the gamut of emotions from shock, puzzlement, fear and finally, he was impressed to see, imperious anger masking all else. They had not told him about her courage.
‘Who the devil are you?’ she demanded in unaccented English, getting to her feet with perfect deportment, as though rising from a throne. Her right hand, Jack noted, was behind her: he searched his memory for his survey of the room. Ah yes, the paper knife. A resourceful lady.
‘You speak English excellently,’ he commented. He knew from his briefing that she was half English, so it was only to be expected, but it was a more tactful beginning to their conversation than Put down that knife before I make you! might be. ‘But how did you know I would understand you?’
She looked down her nose at him. Jack registered dark eyes, thinly elegant eyebrows arched in distain, a red mouth with a fullness which betrayed more passion than she was perhaps comfortable with and one deep brown curl, disturbed from her coiffure and lying tantalisingly against her white shoulder. He focused on those eyes and banished the fleeting speculation about just how the skin under that curl would feel.
‘You will address me as Your Serene Highness,’ she said coolly. ‘I was thinking in English,’ she added, almost as an afterthought.
‘Your Serene Highness,’ he swept her a bow, conscious of his clothing as he did so. He was dressed for the purpose of shinning down castle walls, not making court bows, but he managed it with a grace that had one of those dark brows lifting in surprise. ‘My name is Jack Ryder.’ He had wrestled with whether or not to tell her his real name and decided against it. His nom de guerre would be safer in the event they were captured.
‘Then you are English Mr Ryder?’
‘Yes ma’am.’
‘So you have not come to kill me?’


The Outrageous Lady Felsham, the second Ravenhurst title will be out in May.




Louise Allen


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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Building on our successes



Following Lynne Connolly’s fabulous news of her contract - congratulations Lynne, if we lived closer we could celebrate on the town together - I am equally thrilled to announce that I have been given another two book contract for a further two Loveday novels. They are now being marketed as historical fiction rather than sagas.

The first will be set in 1804 and retribution is on the minds of two Loveday cousins, one of which will be drawn into the drama and intrigue of Paris as Napoleon prepares to crown himself Emperor. The second moves on to the next generation and their passions and thirst for adventure draw them into the turbulent historical events of their times. Although each book in the series stands on its own as a complete story, the family lives are woven through the storyline, and even in their sibling rivalry they are united in their loyalty. In each book as the series progressed a different member of the family was the main focus of the drama and romance.

The Lovedays have become my extended family over the years. I adore them, anguish over them, grieve and laugh with them, and sometimes want to bang their heads together – but I promise I will never make them predictable or boring or spare them from the trauma and consequences of their wild blood and passions.

Kate Tremayne

Portrait of a bluestocking

The National Portrait Gallery has recently made an exciting discovery as they have found a portrait of Elizabeth Carter, the eighteenth century bluestocking, in a private collection. In the oil painting by John Fayram, painted c 1735-41, she is shown as Minerva, the goddess of handicrafts, who was also associated with Athene, the goddess of war. The painting will go on display from 13 March, and will be part of the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition, Brilliant Women: 18th Century Bluestockings, which will run until 15 June.

"This portrait was part of a campaign to present Carter as an intellectual prodigy, a female celebrity and a virtuous role model for women who might wish to pursue an education," said the exhibition's co-curator, Dr Lucy Peltz.

"Writer Samuel Johnson once said that his "old friend, Mrs Carter could make a pudding as well as translate Epictetus... and work a handkerchief as well as compose a poem".

You can see a picture of the portrait and read the full story on the BBC site by clicking here

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New contract!

I've been offered contracts for the final two books in the Secrets trilogy. Joy is unconfined!
The Secrets trilogy is set in mid-Georgian England and is about three friends and their search for love. The books also include details of some of the innovations that were being introduced at that time.
It was a really exciting period. In the first book, the heroine is trying to breed a better chicken. In the second, the heroine is severely short-sighted and the heroine of the third book owns a small factory.
Of course, there is the usual passion and derring-do, but doing the research for these three books was a complete delight. I learned a lot about the development of agriculture, optics and manufacturing. None of these happened all at once, so calling them a "revolution" is a bit of a misnomer. Instead, they developed slowly. In the 1740's, the convex lens was developed, and finer optics, which led to the race in the 1750's and '60's to accurately depict the orbit of Venus. Before the new optics, lenses were crude and sharp images almost impossible. And factories existed long before the development in the textile industry in the later part of the Georgian era.
Fascinating stuff!


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Retail Therapy Regency Style


Shopping has always been a favourite activity for women, and the passion for it was well catered for in the Regency period. Shops such as Nicholay and Sneiders the furriers in Oxford Street, the perfumiers Bourgeois Amick and Son in the Haymarket, and B.Harvey & Co. - which is now Harvey Nichols - in Knightsbridge and which opened in 1813, catered for their well-off clientele.

The picture shows the Western Exchange, which was also known as the Bond Street Bazaar and which was often used as a shortcut in rainy weather. It consisted of one large room, fitted out with stalls. In an advertisement from 1832 it is described as 'consisting of a noble, spacious and lofty building, lighted by skylights, arranged on the principal floor, which is 89 feet long, and 57 wide, as a wholesale warehouse, with two handsome staircases leading to galleries, supported by columns, partly ornamented with gilt and Corinthian capitals; conveniently placed counting-houses, recesses with glazed doors, and domestic apartments.'

Sadly, four years later the building was destroyed by fire but the thirst for retail therapy survives to this day. When one considers the modern bustling high street and enormous out-of-town shopping centres it is impossible not to wonder if the ladies of the Regency period knew quite what they had set in motion!

Wendy Soliman

Monday, March 10, 2008

REGENCY EVENING GOWNS : THE REAL THING

In my last blog, I showed you some modern replica costumes from Jane Austen adaptations. This time, I thought you might like to see the real thing, from the Hereford Museum collection. They’re not displayed on mannequins, sadly, because Hereford can’t afford that kind of display, but the curator is very happy to show them to visitors (by appointment).

I said before that I thought Regency ladies would have become bored with white and pale colours. Have a look at this one, where the colours are still blazing, even after nearly 200 years. Not boring in the least!

The interesting thing about this gown, apart from the colour, is its sleeves. In this photo, you can see that it has plain long sleeves. However, they were only an optional extra which could be tacked in when the occasion required. The real gown has the most beautifully fashioned puff sleeves, seen in the picture below. In this close-up, you can also see the fineness of the material, and the vibrant colours it contains. Note also the acid yellow trimming. It might be a little too bright for modern tastes, but it was meant to be seen by candlelight, when it would have appeared more subdued.




My second gown for this blog is one of the saddest items in the collection. It would have been a fabulous ball gown, made of the finest white satin overlaid with a net decorated with silver.

The gown is in a very poor state, as you can see from this photo of part of the bodice, but you may be able to judge just how magnificent it once was. Now, most of it has rotted away.



The saddest part of all is the skirt and what would have been its sumptuous silver ornamentation. The fabric is completely gone. All that’s left is this little pile of silver. Heart-breaking, isn’t it?

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

The House Party and Balloons.


This is the rough for my next book, The House Party, which is released by Robert Hale at the end of July 2008. I'm so pleased that the artist has included an image of a balloon, but can you spot what's wrong?
The balloon should have a tapered end as it contained a hydrogen mixture, not hot air. Also the tether should not be slack, but tight.
The artist is correcting these for me and is using the pictures below to help him.

You can see the difference between the early balloons and the ones that were flying during the Regency. Picture five, on the top row, shows the tapered end and picture four, on the bottom row, shows the open end.
Montgolfier invented hot air balloons in the 18th century, but they were so unstable this method of inflating the sphere was soon abandoned and the more sophisticated 'rarefied air' system adopted. There were stories about early balloonists landing in fields and the farmers, thinking they were being invaded by dragons, attacking the pilots. Of course, the aeronauts had no way of knowing when the trays of burning straw, that filled the balloon with hot air, were going to burn out.
There is an account that eight people danced a quadrille in the basket of a hot air balloon over Paris! I expect a great deal of red wine had been consumed before they agreed to ascend for such a daft enterprise.
Don't forget to order my latest book, A Debt of Honour, from www.halebooks.com, Amazon or from your local libary(UK only). This book will be available on www.regencyreads.com at the end of the month as well.
Best wishes
Fenella
www.fenellajanemiller.co.uk

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Unknown Heir



My new Regency from Mills & Boon is out in April but it is already on sale on the net. The Unknown Heir is a story of a woman in her twenties who has given up all thought of love or romance and is accustomed to the company of her mother and grandfather - until the new heir turns up!






In a few days I have another ebook coming out with Red rose Publishing. This is a long contemporary book about two women. Verity had achieved her ambition to own an antique shop but suspects something is wrong in her marriage. Sarah Lovelace, Verity's mother-in-law is ill and as she rests to recover from treatment, she reflects on her life. We see how the things we do affect not only us but the people we love down the years. It is a very emotional book and will tug at your heartstrings.





A Shameful Secret/Anne Ireland/Amira Press is a little different. It is out now in ebook and is currently number three in the Historical section at fictionwise, in company with Ken Follet and Phillipa Gregory. It was at number two for some days. Hopefully it will be out in paperback either this month or next, but I haven't heard any more about that yet.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Kidnapped!


Last week I finished my most recent Regency historical, Kidnapped, a story inspired by the classic book of the same name by Robert Louis Stevenson.

For those who have not read the original, Kidnapped is set in Scotland after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 and traces the adventures of David Balfour and the Jacobite soldier Alan Breck Stewart, who was a real historical figure. For me it has all the elements of wonderful storytelling: an exciting and fast moving plot, engaging characters, action and romance. It might not be the first book you would think to "re-imagine" as a Regency, but the idea of David Balfour's inheritance, his kidnapping at his uncle's behest and his subsequent adventures, inspired me to write my own version with a heroine, Catriona Balfour, in the lead role and a Highland hero in Neil Sinclair, heir to the Earl of Strathconan and and officer in the Navy.

Also inspiring is the scenery of the Scottish Highlands. Every year we visit Wester Ross and it is there and in Edinburgh that I have set my story. Hopefully Kidnapped will be published next year. In the meantime I am planning a trip to the Highlands next month in search of more inspiration!

Nicola

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Guest blogger - Diana Birchall

We're delighted to welcome Diana Birchall to the blog as our guest. Diana will be well known to Austen lovers for her books related to Austen's characters. Here she talks about her love for Austen and the story behind her novel, Mrs Darcy's Dilemma.

Over to you, Diana.


Thank you!

The Saga of a Sequel

Over a twenty year period, I read Jane Austen's novels literally thousands of times. Why this obsession? Because my job at Warner Bros. Studios, where I work as the literary story analyst, reading novels to see if they would make movies, means that my day is filled with reading modern commercial fiction. The manuscripts are usually among the best and most popular novels being published, but they are heavy on violent action.For a bookish, peaceful sort of female, I know more about calibers of weapons, the intricate dynamics of car chases and explosions, kidnappings and mass murders, than you would believe possible.

People have always asked me how I can still read in my spare time, but since reading is what I love best to do, that's no problem. What has happened, however, is that I can no longer read commercial popular fiction for pleasure. Only historical novels or biographies - stories set in the past. And Jane Austen has become both mental balm and stimulation for me. Her rational mind, her graceful prose, soothe me; her fabulous characterizations and brilliant wit stimulate me. And almost insensibly, I began sliding into her style.

Now, if any modern American starts to think she can write as well as Jane Austen, or in her exact style, she has crossed the border into madness; but at the same time it is true that Jane Austen was the best writing teacher anyone could ever have, and studying her writing improved my own beyond measure. Loving to play with language, in the mid-1990s I conceived the idea of writing a novel in as close to her style as I could get, This became Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma, and rapidly gained a New York literary agent, but just as he was setting up a bidding war, came the news that Emma Tennant's agent had assigned her to write a 25-year-after Pride and Prejudice sequel in a month to "beat the American competition." I had just missed the moment. So I put the manuscript on the shelf and turned to writing a biography.

Now, with the unprecedented popularity of Jane Austen-related stories, SourceBooks is giving Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma international publication and I'm thrilled! Early reviews have been amazing (one blogger said "Jane Austen is alive and well and living in California," which left me sitting staring dazedly at my computer for a considerable period!). There is a great range of Austen sequels now - many delectably readable, some not up to snuff; her characters have been spotted in Australia, Boca Raton, and outer space, and have even been interpreted as dogs. My sequel is comparatively restrained, and I believe it's what Jane Austen might have called "probable."

It takes place in the year Queen Victoria came to the throne, 1837, when manners and values were changing. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, they of Pride and Prejudice fame, are now middle-aged. He is balding, she is an anxious mother, but they are still a charming, witty and fortunate couple, who know their happiness - until they make the mistake of inviting the two daughters of Mrs. Darcy's profligate sister Lydia to visit at Pemberley...and trouble begins. The Darcys' sons are far too interested in the young ladies; the younger, Cloe, is a faultlessly modest creature, but the elder, Bettina, is another pair of gloves entirely, and her flamboyant career includes a shocking turn on the London stage...I hope readers will enjoy this visit to the past, to see one possible future of Austen's most beloved characters.

Diana Birchall

Thanks, Diana! I'm sure Austen lovers will look forward to the book. And Diana has also written The Compleat Mrs Elton, which is a collection of stories about the wonderful Mrs Elton from Jane Austen's Emma. Anyone looking for comic and satirical stories need look no further!

If you'd like to find out more about Diana and her books, then visit her website at www.dianabirchall.net by clicking here


And if you'd like to read a review of Mrs Darcy's Dilemma you can find one here

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

More on Gothics

I was interested to read Fenella and Melinda's posts on the Gothic, since I've written some Gothic romances. My first one, Harstairs House, was half way between a historical romance and a Gothic, since I didn't know how my readers - or my publishers! - would feel about me writing a Gothic.



It starts when Susannah inherits a mysterious house. When she arrives, she finds that the house has a tenant, in the shape of the devastatingly attractive Oliver. But Oliver has secrets, and so does the house, and Susannah must uncover them all if she is to find out what is going on at Harstairs House.


The different covers are from the different editions. Top left is the hardback cover and top right is the large print. Bottom left is the audio book and bottom right is the paperback.


Most of them emphasise the house, which is set on the wild Cornish coast, but the paperback cover focuses on the heroine and the house's interior. The room is exactly as I described it, and I love the way the artist has caught the glow of candlelight.



Luckily, readers liked the book and so I went on to write a full-blown Gothic, Stormcrow Castle - I always let readers know if the book is a Gothic by the title, which has some sort of building in it if the book is a Gothic.

In Stormcrow Castle, Helena doesn't inherit a house, but the book opens with her approaching the forbidding Stormcrow Castle where her aunt is a housekeeper. But her aunt is missing, and so Helena has to find out what happened to her.

I loved the Gothic romances of Victoria Holt and I think my Gothics will appeal to the people who like those books. Stormcrow Castle includes some of my favourite Gothic elements such as dour servants, a forbidding hero and a masked ball. It is out in hardback and is also newly out in large print. Large print books can be ordered from bookshops and bought online from Amazon etc. and don't forget, your local library will keep a good selection of large print books and will be able to get it for you if they don't keep it in stock.

You can find reviews and extracts on my website at www.amandagrange.com by clicking here

Monday, March 03, 2008

MY FIRST SARAH MALLORY REGENCY!

I am very excited that I have now received the cover of my first Sarah Mallory novel, More Than A Governess. This is my first Regency for Harlequin Historical and is published in North America next month.


Falling for the master of the house. Stern and unyielding, Major Damon Collingham was prepared to pay a king's ransom for someone who could stay the course as governess to his two motherless children. In her straitened circumstances, Miss Juliana Wrenn needed this post and could not allow herself to be intimidated by him - or his colorful reputation.

A devil on the battlefield and in the bedroom. Juliana knew what was said about her employer. She would not fall under his spell. But then, those harsh features could sometimes soften to something so much more attractive....


You can find more details and read an extract at www.sarahmallory.com
I love this cover - hope you agree with me - and I'd be delighted to know what you think of my new website, too.

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Facinating research






As I’ve mentioned before, I really enjoy research because I discover all kinds of fascinating information, usually far more than I can use.

For the book I'm currently writing, Wild Justice, I've been researching methods of treating smallpox in the late 1790s.

One treatment for the sore throat suffered by smallpox patients involved a mixture of refined nitre – a white, bitter tasting powder used in gunpowder and in pickling meat – and soda - made from wood ash.

A treatment for fever-induced thirst recommended barley water flavoured with sugar and lemon and a few drops of spirits of vitriol – dilute sulphuric acid.

For a chin-cough (what we know as whooping cough) a promised cure involved taking a spoonful of bruised woodlice mixed with breast-milk each morning for three or four days. (Who was first to come up with that idea?!)

A recipe to treat “A trembling at the heart” listed a syrup of damask roses to which was added small quantities of powdered red coral, pearl and ambergris. The dose was a spoonful at a time. It didn’t specify the size of spoon. (This reminded me of my grandmother whose recipe for a “cut-and-come-again cake” included a nut of butter and a nicely of sugar!)

We may smile – or flinch - at such remedies. Yet last week I read an article in the press about a new anticoagulant drug that is being developed from the saliva of leeches. Surely one more case of looking to the past to aid the future.

Jane Jackson

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The joys of research



Research is something an historical novelist cannot skimp on and I find it one of the joys of writing historical fiction. Before writing the Loveday series I had concentrated on the medieval and Tudor and Stuart eras. My knowledge of the Georgian and Regency period was mostly from the novels of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. As I love action and adventure Tom Jones, Poldark, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sharpe and Hornblower where also memorable and informative. Setting the Loveday books at the end of the eighteenth century gave me a chance to explore these times further. And I also wanted to bring something different to the novels taking in the whole social structure of the times.

My great-grandmother came from a shipbuilding family and although I knew nothing of her heritage it was a different background for my fictional family. The opportunity to learn more about an era that embraced not only the elegance of regency life with its balls and visits to Bath, Ranelagh or Vauxhall pleasure gardens; but also the deprivations of the poor, the horrors of the French Revolution, the heyday of smuggling, sea battles and privateering on the high seas, highwaymen, a brutal penal and transportation system was too good to miss. Weaving the Loveday characters into these settings that reflect the times they lived in makes writing an exciting business.

This period is a rich tapestry to draw from. As novelists we suffer not only the joys and romances of our characters but also their hardships. I have experienced the thrill of winning a sea-battle with Adam Loveday or rescuing French émigrés from the guillotine, and anguished over the hedonistic romps of his twin St John both in England as a smuggler and in Virginian society. I have laughed and cried over the adventures of their cousin Japhet as a highwayman and rakehell who pays the consequences of his crimes by a year in Newgate and seven years transportation. And emotionally I have lived through the trials and tribulations of the intrigue of everyday country life.

The most enjoyable way to research is of course to relax with your favourite film. Just a reminder that tonight there is a double bill. On BBC4 at 7pm the 1986 adaption of NORTHANGER ABBEY is showing and at 9pm Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant star in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY.

Kate Tremayne

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