Monday, February 28, 2011
However, you can buy them on line from all the usual places.
My new book for 2011 is An Unlikely Countess, which is set in North Yorkshire, which is where we were living when I wrote it. That's a picture of old Northallerton up there. A photograph, which is hardly Georgian, but the best I could do to capture the old town.
Inspired by the Oscars*G* I created a video over the weekend, mostly as a way to show some of locations such as that from An Unlikely Countess, or used as inspiration, though giving them context turned it into a bit of a book trailer.
Anyway, it was fun. If all you want to produce a sort of video from still images, I recommend Photo Story. It's an old programme, but it's a free download it from Microsoft, and once you learn its fairly simple ways, it's easy to use.
If you like the video (it's just a few minutes long), I'd be delighted if you passed it on via Facebook, Twitter, and the usual places. Here's the link.
The pub date for An Unlikely Countess is tomorrow, March 1st, but for some reason the UK sellers have a release date in May! I have urgent messages in to New York about this, but if you have any feedback, please let me know. It's available in print and e-book, of course.
I'm promoting it with: "A Prudence who isn't prudent, and a Cate who isn't at all effeminate. Add an impetuous marriage, and we have a most unlikely countess."
It's received lovely reviews -- which you'll see on the video if you give it a try.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
The lunch break is from 12.30 to 2.30 and I try to snatch a brief walk to recharge my batteries. The location is beautiful, overlooking Fishguard Bay with hills opposite and behind. There are Bronze Age burial cairns up on the moors (very much my thing) and, at this time of year, the birds are in nest-building mood – I can hear a woodpecker drilling in the woods behind the hotel. A half hour walk and some deep breaths of fresh sea air is wonderfully restorative. Then back to the next session.
The concentration is almost palpable and we all work hard. There are a number of five minute exercises to do and read out; there’s plenty of discussion and questions; and I try to make sure that everybody is involved and feels encouraged. Fortunately, my students are all great and there are no members of the ‘awkward squad’ to be reined in.
You can tell if a group is working well together – they are supportive of each other and their comments are positive rather than negative. There’s a real buzz in the air and the conversation continues after the sessions have finished.
The Fishguard Bay Hotel is an excellent venue: the food is good – they do a delicious cooked breakfast, (their poached eggs are cooked to perfection), a two course lunch plus tea/coffee and a two course evening meal. The staff are all friendly and helpful. Anne and Gerry Hobbs, who run the weekend course, are very welcoming and always on hand to make sure it’s all running smoothly.
I have been invited to return next year. I’m looking forward to it.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
A few cells away a man was screaming an incoherent flood of obscenities that seemed to have gone on for hours. More distantly someone was dragging a stick across the bars of one of the great rooms, a monotonous music which fretted at the nerves. A boy was sobbing somewhere close. Footsteps on the flags outside and the clank and jingle of keys heralded the passing of a pair of turnkeys.
Long ago his father had said he was born to be hanged. At the time he had laughed: nothing had seemed more improbable. Now the words spoken in anger had been proven right: in eight days he would step outside Newgate gaol to the gallows platform and the hangman’s noose.
One small mercy was that they had put him in a cell by himself, not thrown him into one of the common yards where pickpockets and murderers, petty thieves and rapists crowded together, sleeping in great filthy chambers as best they might, fighting amongst themselves and preying on the weakest amongst them if they could.
Apparently his notoriety as Black Jack Standon was worth enough in tips to the turnkeys for them to keep him apart where he could be better shown off to the languid gentlemen and over-excited ladies who found an afternoon’s slumming a stimulating entertainment. The sight of an infamous highwayman who had made the Oxford road through Hertfordshire his hunting ground was the climax of the visit to one of London’s most feared prisons.
He had hurled his bowl at the group who had clustered around the narrow barred opening an hour or two ago and smiled grimly at the shrieks and curses when the foul liquid which passed as stew splattered the fine clothes on the other side of the grill. He doubted they’d feed him again today after that. It was no loss, he seemed to have passed beyond hunger after the trial - if such it could be called.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
I’m delighted to announce that my latest historical romance, Heart of Stone, has reached the shortlist in the Historical Novel Prize category of the Romantic Novelists Association’s Pure Passion Awards 2011. Here are the six of us: I'm on the far right.
I enjoyed writing this book so much. Set in Cornwall in the early 1800s, the story tells how Sarah Govier, ostracised by the town for refusing to give up her illegitimate son, fights to keep the granite quarry left to her by her father. Threatened on all sides, not least from the married father of her son, she is forced to turn for help to reclusive James Crago, an ex-soldier in India brutally scarred while attempting a doomed rescue mission. Producing explosives for the local mines and quarries allows James to keep people at a distance.
This was one of my favourite books. I lived every moment with James and Sarah as mutual suspicion evolved into respect and deepened into love. Long after their story ended they lingered on in my mind.
Last Thursday the shortlisted authors in the four Award categories were invited to a Champagne Breakfast at the RAF Club in London’s Piccadilly. It was a wonderful venue and the noise level was deafening as everyone caught up with friends and exchanged news in an atmosphere of warmth, excitement and pleasure in each other’s achievements. After having our photographs taken we were directed in front of a video camera and allowed one minute to describe how we felt about being shortlisted. The time limit was probably a good thing or we’d be there still!
I’ll be back in London again on Monday March 7th for the Awards Presentation. No matter what happens on that day, just reaching the shortlist has been an absolute joy. That said, I still intend doing a lot of positive thinking during the next three weeks.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Sophie Page has produced a modern-set book, To Marry A Prince, which shows us a 21st century royal family descended from Charlotte and Leopold. An alternative reality that is certainly different from what we now have. It's out at the end of March, just in time for the forthcoming real royal wedding. But the story refers back to Princess Charlotte's wedding since she is the direct ancestor of Sophie Page's fictional prince.
Princess Charlotte was loved by the people, but she was rebellious and a bit of a hoyden, reputed to sit in such a way that her lace-edged underwear was visible. Regency readers will sympathise: how could she not be a hoyden, with those parents?
Leopold was a younger son of the ruler of a very minor German state. He was so insignificant that, when he came to London in 1814 in the suite of the Russian Emperor, he ended up lodging above a grocer's shop in Marylebone High Street. Not exactly what one would expect of a future royal consort!
Charlotte ignored him in 1814; she was in love with one of the sons of the King of Prussia. But by 1815, she seems to have decided to have Leopold. She wrote then: "...if I end up by marrying Prince L, I marry the best of all those I have seen, and that is some satisfaction." Doesn't sound like deep and abiding love, does it?
For her wedding, in May 1816, she sparkled. Her wedding gown is in the City of London Museum collection. It's not shown on their website, but you can see an image of it here. She was all silver, all glitter: "silver lama [lamé] on net, over a silver tissue slip, embroidered at the bottom with silver lama in shells and flowers. Body and sleeves to correspond, elegantly trimmed with point Brussels lace. The manteau [train] was of silver tissue lined with white satin with a border of embroidery to answer that on the dress and fastened in front with a splendid diamond ornament".
Yet it seems that it was a happy marriage after all, and that she did fall in love with Leopold in the end. But of course it didn't last. Some 18 months after the wedding, Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son and died shortly afterwards. She was only 21. One correspondent wrote: "The nation would have resigned all the rest of her family to have saved her." But they could not. And the rest of the family, including all those bachelor uncles, were soon scouring Europe to find suitable princesses in order to provide the country with a legitimate heir.
What if Charlotte's son had not been stillborn? What if Charlotte had survived to become queen after the death of George IV? Things would surely have been different without Queen Victoria to produce all those children and marry them into so many European royal houses, like the German and Russian ones.
It's fascinating trying to think about what might have happened. Would there have been a 1914-18 war without Kaiser Wilhelm? Or a Russian Revolution without the problems of haemophilia in the Romanov family? What do you think?
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
My book, Miss Peterson & The Colonel can be bought from the Aurora website or on Amazon, and can be read on a kindle or any other format.
I'm busy editing the second book for them, A Cornish Maid, which is due to come out at the beginning of March. A third will be out in April, Lady Eleanor's Secret.
Here is a short extract from the opening chapter of Miss Peterson & The Colonel. I hope you find the time to read it.
Lydia grabbed at the strap as the carriage tilted but failed to stop her undignified slide into the well. Her maid landed heavily on top of her. For a moment she lay winded, unable to move.
"I beg your pardon, miss, I couldn't stop myself from falling.”
“It's not your fault, Martha. I think we must have broken an axle. I sincerely hope the horses are unharmed.” With some difficulty she extricated herself and stood up. “At least we are both in one piece. If I balance on the edge of the seat I believe I might manage to open the door.' She attempted the manoeuvre and the coach rocked alarmingly.
“Please don't do that, Miss Peterson. You'll likely have us right over.”
“Why doesn't Jim come to our aid? Do you think he's taken a tumble from the box. As Billy has gone ahead to order our refreshments he cannot assist. I must get out.”
This time her struggles sent the coach crashing right over. Her world turned upside down, her legs and arms became entangled with Martha's and it was several minutes before she was able to get both of them upright. The doors were now the floor and ceiling, the squabs pointing into the air. The sound of her precious horses panicking meant she had no option. If she did not get out and release them from the harness one would likely break a leg.
Martha screamed and pointed down. Lydia saw water seeping in through the door that now acted as the floor. They must have turned over into the ditch that ran alongside the road. “Hold on to something, Martha. I think if I could step on your knee I might reach the door handle somehow.”
Her smart travelling ensemble was ruined, the hem already saturated with muddy
water and her spencer in no better case. Her lovely new bonnet was hanging in disarray around her neck. Her sister had been most insistent she dressed in her best to meet the colonel, as the much longed for visitor was to arrive today as well. She was not going to impress anyone now.
The whinnying and stamping from the team had stopped. Was this a good or bad sign? Before she had time to consider, the door above her head was slammed back and a gentleman appeared in the space. His features were indistinct , but from his voice he was obviously well-to-do.
“Why couldn't you stay still, ladies? You have turned a minor accident into a major disaster. I have released your horses and attended to your coachman, however now that you've managed to tip the carriage over there is nothing I can do to get you out without assistance. You must stay inside.”
The incredibly rude gentleman vanished as suddenly as he'd appeared, leaving Lydia up to her boot tops in freezing water. “Come back here this instant, sir. You cannot abandon us in here.”
He slammed his fist against the carriage and shouted back. “I cannot right the vehicle unaided, and can't pull you out through the door. You will come to no harm, the ditch is shallow, I shall be back as soon as I can.”
Then he was gone, only the sound of hoofbeats echoing in the cold winter air to keep her company. This was no gentleman. He had callously left her and Martha without making a serious attempt to rescue them. He could be gone hours. What about poor Jim possibly unconscious on the side of the road?
She would not remain incarcerated a moment longer.
Monday, February 07, 2011
The Lady Soldier is about to be released on Valentine's Day (14th Feb) as an ebook by Embrace Books and is one of their debut titles. It's a romance but its also full of adventure.
First published in 2005 in hardback by Robert Hale, The Lady Soldier was the first of my novels I ever saw in print. The thrill of holding your first book in your hands never leaves you, and it was the more pleasurable knowing that what had started out as a "fun" project had finally seen publication. I'm a huge fan of adventure fiction and it started as a question "why do the men get all the fun?". The only solution to this seemed to be to place a woman in a man's world and so the idea of Jemima (Jem) Riseley, a woman in disguise in Wellington's army, was born.
I wrote The Lady Solider jointly with Michelle Styles. Both of us were keen writers of historical romance and we had met on an internet board and were both seeking publication. We swapped manuscripts to try and help each other improve. Once you've written a novel manuscript, and then revised it, you send out sample chapters and from those sample chapters publishers then say whether they would like to see the whole thing. We were both thrilled when we had requests from publishers to see whole manuscripts of ours, but then the wait to see whether or not they would make an offer to publish was like watching paint dry. So we started working a project together: the story that became The Lady Soldier. As Michelle lived in the North East of England, and I near London, we used email to send the manuscript-in-progress backwards and forwards. It was great fun. When it was my turn to write I'd be trying to think what twists I could add to surprise Michelle when it was her turn to work on the manuscript next. After six weeks we had a first draft: so it can be pretty quick co-writing a novel. We then had to revise and then it was time to send our baby out into the world. In the meantime good news on our own projects had come back. Michelle had an offer from Mills and Boon and I from DC Thomson. We had some interest in The Lady Soldier but it took about three months before we at last received an offer of publication. We took the pen-name Jennifer Lindsay, but the e-edition of The Lady Soldier restores our own names to a newly designed cover and also some "lost scenes" - additional material that wasn't included in the original edition. Roll on Valentine's Day.
Saturday, February 05, 2011
I've been re-reading Jane Austen's Juvenilia lately, and once again I'm struck by her grotesque humour and her extreme parodic tendencies. I can't help comparing her strange inclination to distort and parody history to the mash-ups that have sprung up around her work, ranging from Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters to Mansfield Park and Mummies. It is as if the authors who penned these mash-ups were drawing on her Juvenilia. Certainly the mash-ups reflect Jane Austen's early stylistic tendencies.
The History of England -- my personal favourite -- illustrates this irreverant humour very clearly. Of Henry VIII Jane Austen has this to say:
The Crimes & Cruelties of this Prince were too numerous to be mentioned (as this history I trust has fully shown); & nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses & leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was a principal motive for his doing it, since otherwise why should a Man who was of no Religion himself be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for Ages been established in the Kingdom?
Jane Austen's satirical wit -- including her self-parody -- emerges full scale in these Juvenile works -- untempered by her adult sense of what is acceptable and what was not. I always wonder how her writing would have been different if she had not been writing in the shadow of her two brothers, with all the weight of The Loiterer behind them, with its "moral lectures."
Certainly, Jane Austen as a teen was not in the least inclined to stick to realism. Her works are full of the grotesque and the improbable. Her heroes and heroines are far from ideal -- absolutely nothing is beneath them. They display a wanton cruelty and inclination to violence that is remarkable considering the relative propriety of her later works. In her Juvenilia Jane Austen writes with relish of disfigurement, cruelty, illegitimacy, drunkenness, theft, murder. In "Henry and Eliza" (and really, I have to call it a precursor to the mash-ups that are so popular today) Eliza, who steals from the people that adopted her, elopes, and uses up the fortune of her lover, and has two of her fingers eaten by her hungry children - quite literally -- and then raises an army to kill her benefactress.
It is particularly amusing when reading these strange tales to think of the image the Victorians formed of Jane Austen -- as the (somehow) diminutive old spinster whose mind "recoiled from anything gross". Fortunately for us, however, no one thought to destroy her juvenile writing as her letters were destroyed, so we still have a small glimpse into the less sanitized aspects of her writing.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
Two hundred years ago this month saw the start of the Regency in England. King George III was seventy two and after many years of illness was declared insane. He was put into the care of his wife, Queen Charlotte, but it was still hoped that he would recover, as he had done several times before. In July 1811 the King suffered a relapse and was locked away; by 1812 he was living in a world of his own, and although the Queen visited him regularly, he did not recognise her.
On 5th February, 1811 the Prince of Wales took the oaths of office as Regent and assumed charge of the government. He was wise enough to declare he would make no changes in the leadership of the government, at least while there was a possibility that his father might recover and one small incident at this time shows there was a reconciliation between the old King and his wayward son.
The King's youngest and possibly favourite daughter, Princess Amelia, had died at the end of 1810. She had been in love for nearly ten years with Charles Fitzroy, one of the King's equerries, a wholly ineligible match for a royal princess. Her passion had been kept secret from her father for nearly ten years, but in 1811 it was disclosed that she had bequeathed her property Fitzroy. He renounced the inheritance and the Prince of Wales divided her jewels between his sisters. This pleased the King when he heard of it. He wrote: 'The Prince of Wales has a heart. I always knew he had. I will never call him anything but George in future.'
It is some small comfort to think that the old King was content to relinquish power to his son, despite their earlier differences. The Whigs who had supported the Prince of Wales in opposition now expected that he would put them in power, but it soon became apparent that he had no intention of doing so. He changed his attitude towards the Peninsular War, and began to support it (although Wellington's successes in Portugal and Spain may well have helpedto sway him). Once the Whigs realised he was not going to put them into power they shifted their allegiance to his estranged wife, Princess Caroline.
These were unsettled times for the country: in the Midlands and north, frightened and angry workers thought that by smashing the new machines they would keep their jobs in the new manufactories. Food prices were rising, and lack of export markets was causing unemployment in the industrial new towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire. In August 1810 alone, five Manchester firms went into liquidation. London and the south might try to ignore the grim realities of the times but on 11th May 1812 it was brought home to them very clearly when John Bellingham, a bankrupt commercial agent, assassinated Spencer Percival in the lobby of the House of Commons. The next day an anonymous letter was delivered to Carlton House, warning that the same fate would befall the Regent if the price of bread was reduced. There were ugly scenes in many towns, especially in the north and the spectre of the French Revolution was never very far away.
The mood of the country was changing: the bawdy, roisterous attitudes of the eighteenth century were giving way to a more cautious, conservative tone. The certainties of the Age of Enlightenment were being questioned and evangelical Christian principles came to the fore. The movement to abolish the slave trade was growing and the calls for electoral reform became louder.
The moral climate was changing, too. Before the French Revolution it was not unusual to find the illegitimate children of nobility being freely recognised by their parents (and in some cases being raised in the same household as their noble half-brothers and sisters), and sexual deviancy was ignored. By the Regency, however, rumours of Byron's relations with his sister and with other men brought such a wave of condemnation that Byron left Britain for good in 1816.
This is not to say that there wasn't romance, chivalry and adventure during the Regency, but it was a time of huge political and social upheaval. It was a time of grinding poverty and a harsh penal system; huge fortunes could be lost in an evening's gambling, while reformers worked tirelessly to improve the lot of their fellow man. Exciting, challenging and perhaps not quite such a frothy and insubstantial time as we sometimes portray it.
Queen Charlotte died at Kew on 17th November 1818 and the old King followed on 29th January 1820. Finally, the Regent became King George IV and Britain moved inexorably on to the Victorian period.