Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mr Darcy, Vampyre


It’s Hallowe’en and what better time to talk about Mr Darcy, Vampyre? It came out in 2009 – hard to believe that’s 4 years ago! – and it’s my most controversial book. Love it or hate it, most people have a strong opinion. So what did you think of the book?

Here are my feelings:

When I wrote Mr Darcy, Vampyre I wanted to include the political, geographical and literary landscape of the early nineteenth century, so that I could set the characters firmly in their time. I decided to set the book on Elizabeth and Darcy’s honeymoon and send them travelling through Europe during the Peace of Amiens, which was a brief calm in the middle of the Napoleonic wars.

To begin with, I thought I would reflect the literature of the time by having Elizabeth reading a Gothic novel and commenting on it from time to time. Books like The Mysteries of Udolpho by Mrs Radcliffe were huge bestsellers in their day and Elizabeth would naturally read them. But then I decided to go one step further and write Mr Darcy, Vampyre in the style of one of those novels.

The Gothic novels included a lot of travelling and there were lavish descriptions of the scenery. The characters visited places of great beauty as well as darker places with malevolent castles and other sinister locales. I incorporated this feature into Mr Darcy, Vampyre when the characters visit Mr Darcy’s uncle in his European castle:

Another flash of lightning lit the sky and revealed an eerie shape on the horizon, a silhouette of spires and turrets that rose from a rocky pinnacle. A castle, but not like those in England, whose solid bulk sat heavily on the ground. It was a confection, a fragile thing, tall and thin and spindly. And then the sky darkened and it was lost to view.
The rain was coming down in earnest, drumming on the roof of the coach, and
Elizabeth was glad when the gatehouse came in sight. The coachman held the horses and guided them over the last stretch of road. There was a pause at the gatehouse, and through the wind and the rain Elizabeth heard a shouted exchange between the coachman and the gatekeeper. Then the windlass creaked and the drawbridge was lowered, its chains clanking in the rain-sodden air before it settled with a dull thud on the reverberating ground.

In these dark and gloomy places, Elizabeth becomes less cheerful and confident. This fits in well with the Gothic heroines, who tended to cry and faint – unlike our modern heroines who are usually tough and kick-ass. I brought out Elizabeth’s more vulnerable side, which is there in Pride and Prejudice but not seen as often as her brighter side. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, when Elizabeth learns that Mr Darcy was instrumental in separating Mr Bingley and Jane, “the agitation and tears which the subject occasioned, brought on a headache”. And when she hears that Lydia has eloped, “her knees trembled under her . .. she sat down, unable to support herself . . . she burst into tears.” When overwhelmed, Elizabeth often cries in Pride and Prejudice, particularly if she is away from home, and so in Mr Darcy, Vampyre I build on this less-seen side of her character.
The ending of Mr Darcy, Vampyre is probably the most talked about part of any one of my books. It’s undeniably strange, and again it’s based on the nineteenth century Gothic novels that Jane Austen herself read and enjoyed. The fashion was for deus ex machina endings, where everything was wrapped up very neatly and quickly. The phrase deus ex machina comes from the theatre: at the end of a play, the gods would descend from the heavens on a mechanical platform - deus ex machina means "gods from machines" in Latin -  and solve everyone’s tangled problems, as if by the wave of a wand. I used the device in Mr Darcy, Vampyre which can make it read strangely to modern eyes, but would have been accepted as normal in Jane Austen’s day.

The details of the ending were inspired by a very important literary work, The Fragment of a Novel by Lord Byron. This is the first vampyre story in print and the one that started the whole genre – everything from Dracula to Twilight owes a huge debt to this tiny fragment by the Bad Boy of the Regency, Lord Byron. The last few chapters of Mr Darcy, Vampyre are inspired by this section from Byron’s Fragment:

" 'On the ninth day of the month, at noon precisely (what month you please, but this must be the day), you must fling this ring into the salt springs which run into the Bay of Eleusis; the day after, at the same hour, you must repair to the ruins of the temple of Ceres, and wait one hour.'"

A ruined temple and a set of extraordinary instructions . . . anyone who has read Mr Darcy, Vampyre, will recognise these elements in the finale. If you haven’t read it yet, then Hallowe’en is a good time to do so. Because on one thing almost everyone is agreed: Mr Darcy makes a fantastic, brooding vampyre!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Christmas Boxes

Something old, something new... I suppose that's a different context, but of course all three Christmastide novellas in the Mistletoe Kisses and Yuletide Joy collection end in marriage.
I created a "boxed set" partly because I like the visual of a boxed set for e-books, which have no physical form, but also because Christmas and boxes go together, don't they?

So where does the term Christmas Box come from?
The earliest reference I could find was from 1673 to a begging box with a slit on the side or top to receive money. The main reference was a translation from the French term for a box used by mendicant friars, but there's a reference to a similar thing being used by lads and servants. The word "Christmas" suggests that the writer means mummers or waits at Christmas.

A reference from a 1679 trial makes it clear again that it was money, though in this case there was no box involved. It was simple a small gift of money to a servant just before Christmas.

A 1720 description of an antiquity says, "which Pot I presented to the Royal Society's Repository, it resembles an Apprentice's earthen Christmas-Box." Again in 1720 we have this verse, which indicates money.
The Landladys are preparing,
Her Maids are shifting their Smocks;
Each swears she'll buy her a Fairing,
And opens her Christmas-box: .

in 1744 I first find something different. "A Christmas box for masters and misses, consisting of stories proper to improve the minds of children. 6d" A book!

Or better, 1735. "The Merry Medly : Or, A Christmas Box for Gay Gallants, and Good Companions Containing diverting Stories, choice Jokes, dextrous Tricks, droll Dialogues, facetious Fables, humorous Speeches, ludicrous Letters, rare Riddles, pleafant Poems, exquifite Epigrams, and rich Sayings. The Whole fo contrived as to expel the Vapours and drive Melancholy entirely away. In two Vojumes. Price 6s. bound."

I cease my explorations there, but if you have other or later references to gifts as opposed to money, please share.

My Christmas Box
is not, alas, designed to improve the mind of children, but to delight the minds of older people -- though the stories are all subtle enough in their sensuality for delicate sensibilities. Nor can I offer the rich variety of the Merry Medly, though I have added an essay on Christmas in the Regency and some seasonal recipes, old and new.

The three stories are:
A Gift of Light, a Regency which previously appeared in The Christmas Cat.
The Christmas Wedding Gambit, another Regency, which has been on my web site for a number of years, and is still there if you want to read it.
Star of Wonder, a story set in 999 AD, when Viking invasions and dread of the end of the world were shaking England. This was previously titled Day of Wrath in the collection Star of Wonder.

Though I say so myself, this would make a useful small gift or stocking stuffer for someone with an e-reader. If you go to Smashwords, it's available for any e-reader and you can get a coupon code. Write it in a card, and there you are.  Unfortunately, Smashwords doesn't allow 3-D covers, so there's a plain cover on display there.

For Amazon UK, click here.

Just to add, as it's almost Halloween,
that I have a Regency ghost story available as an e-book, and set on Lord Samhain's Night, which is also October 31st. I made a short video for that. You can see it here.

In an embarrassment of riches, I also have a story in a Christmas anthology in print or e- and made a video for that. (Can you tell I'm having fun with Animoto?) You can watch the Mischief and Mistletoe one, featuring Sparky the kitten,  here.

And, as I won't be back here for a month, on November 1st, the first of my Company of Rogues regency romances, An Arranged Marriage, will go on sale for two weeks at 99c US$ or the equivalent, which is a really good deal. Be prepared to grab. Yes, there's a video! LOL!

So, what do you think of the videos? What are your favourite kinds of Christmas stories, and what does "Christmas Box" mean to you?

I'll send one commenter a coupon for a free copy of Mistletoe Kisses and Yuletide Joy.

All best wishes,


Friday, October 25, 2013

The Fun of Researching Project Darcy in Bath

Site of Molland's
I love walking in Jane Austen's footsteps when I'm in Bath, and love all the research involved in a new book. Tracking down buildings that Jane used in her novels is always fun and the last time I was in Bath, this proved to be no exception.
In Persuasion, Jane has a most romantic scene between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth when they meet in Molland's, the confectioner and coffee shop. I wanted to use Molland's in my new book, Project Darcy, and was really interested to find out where the real one was situated. The Bath directory for 1812 has the entry: Molland Mrs. Cook and Confectioner - 2 Milsom Street. Today, the shop is a well-known ladies shop - sadly, no longer selling sweet treats or serving ladies with hot drinks.

Inspiration struck at last and I found myself in Molland’s, the confectioner’s, where large groups of ladies and gentlemen were partaking of hot beverages. Inside, the air steamed with the smell of chocolate and coffee, warm cake and cold, fragrant ices. Displays of iced cakes, fashioned like temples with vases overflowing with sugar flowers, moulded into roses and pansies in pinks and lilac, graced a central table where everyone could stop and admire them. A box of marchpane might be the very thing and just suit my pocket, I thought, wandering to the display cabinet where sweetmeats were arranged on glass dishes, lit by oil lamps, making tiers of candied fruits sparkle in the light. I chose a selection of strawberries, plums, cherries and pears, which made a pretty picture in a box all tied up with a glossy green ribbon.- From Project Darcy
No 1 The Paragon

Jane Austen and her sister were in Bath with their mother during the winter months of November and December in 1797. They stayed with Jane's Aunt Leigh-Perrot in her house at number one, The Paragon. It's a very busy road these days but it's always exciting to discover the very places where Jane stayed. At the same time, the Lefroys, who were great friends of the Austens, were lodging in Edgar's Buildings. In Northanger Abbey, Jane has the Thorpe family staying there-not her most likeable characters, and I must say, I found this really intriguing! There's a record of Reverend Lefroy's subcription to Marshall's Library which was just opposite Edgar's Buildings at the top of Milsom Street. I discovered they were lodging at number 6, Edgar's Buildings, which is a pub and restaurant today.

Inside, much is preserved as it was, and it's possible to go upstairs and see what would have been the drawing room. I couldn't help thinking that Jane would have visited her great friend here, as I stood at the window and looked at the famous view down Milsom Street, and it got me wondering if she'd met with someone else there too.

In 1805, Jane wrote a letter to her sister Cassandra and recalls a scene at a Riding House in 1797 when they'd gone to see Lucy Lefroy perform in a horse riding exhibition. She writes: This morning we have been to see Miss Chamberlaine look hot on horseback. Seven years and four months ago we went to the same riding-house to see Miss Lefroy's performance! What a different set are we now moving in! But seven years, I suppose, are enough to change every pore of one's skin and every feeling of one's mind.

Several scholars have wondered about this particular letter - it has been suggested by Claire Tomalin that Tom Lefroy was with his aunt and uncle at this time - did he and Jane meet again in Bath? Jane's noting exactly how much time has passed and the change in her feelings resonates so much with her novel, Persuasion.
More than seven years were gone since this little history of sorrowful interest had reached its close; and time had softened down much, perhaps nearly all of peculiar attachment to him ... No one had ever come within the Kellynch circle, who could bear a comparison with Frederick Wentworth, as he stood in her memory.
Well, whatever the case, it's certainly been inspiration enough for my new book, Project Darcy, which is now published on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback. Official launch is November 5th and I do hope you'll join me on that day at Austenprose where I shall be giving away a copy, and also on my blog for more prizes and treats during the week!
My inspiration has been both Jane Austen's first love affair with the dashing Irishman, Tom Lefroy, and the archaeological dig that took place at Steventon. I've two stories running side by side and crossing over in my new timeslip novel.

It is high summer when Ellie Bentley joins an archaeological dig at Jane Austen’s childhood home. She’s always had a talent for ‘seeing’ into the past and is not easily disturbed by her encounters with Mr Darcy’s ghost at the house where she’s staying. When Ellie travels into the past she discovers exactly what happened whilst Jane danced her way through the snowy winter of 1796 with her dashing Irish friend. As Steventon Rectory and all its characters come to life, Ellie discovers the true love story lost in Pride and Prejudice – a tale which has its own consequences for her future destiny, changing her life beyond imagination.

I do hope you'll join me to celebrate! 
Jane Odiwe 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Visiting Nelson's Birthplace

Norfolk, where I live, is ‘Nelson’s County’. Horatio Nelson was born at the Rectory in the little village of Burnham Thorpe near the North Norfolk coast in September 1758. His father was the rector of the parish, the living of which was in the gift of his wife’s influential relative, Horace Walpole. Catharine Nelson died in 1767 leaving Edmund with eight children to raise. 

Horatio, the sixth child, preferred to be called Horace when young - in the church is a copy of a wedding certificate he witnessed as youth, signing himself with that name. It was changed to Horatio in his father’s hand. A second copy of a rather later certificate that he witnessed shows the first known example of the signature, “Horatio Nelson”.
When Horatio married Fanny Nesbit they eventually came to live at the Rectory for a while.

Horatio Nelson therefore knew the church at Burnham Thorpe very well both as a child and an adult and it remains an atmospheric place, filled with Nelson references. There is a monument to him in the chancel, below that to his father and over the spot where his parents are buried.

The flag that flies from the church tower is not, as is usual in English churches, the cross of St George, but the Navy ensign in the form used before 1801 – that is, before the union with Ireland. This is the ensign that would have flown on all of Nelson’s ships until 1801 – but not of course, at Trafalgar.
The church has been rather rigorously ‘tidied up’ inside by the Victorians who rebuilt parts of the nave and installed a pulpit carved from a beam from HMS Victory. More recent additions are the flags from HMS Nelson, presented by the navy in 1955 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar.
The 13th century font that Nelson was baptised in remains, although the stem is a replacement. Outside, the exterior has many features that would have been very familiar to Nelson – the handsome East end or the charming little medieval carvings that survive in severl corners.
The Rectory was demolished in 1802 and all that remains is a roadside plaque. It can be seen in this painting in the National Maritime Museum
Across the green you can see the village pub, built in 1637 as The Plough and renamed The Lord Nelson in 1798 following his victory at the Battle of the Nile. Nelson held a dinner here for the men of the village prior to his departure to join HMS Agamemnon and the interior is remarkably well preserved, right down to the worn brick floors you can easily imagine Nelson walking on.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Devil's Prize

'Devil's Prize' is published today as an ebook and in paperback by Accent Press. 

This quotation from Pericles gave me the key to Devlin 'Devil' Varcoe's  character:   Born in a tempest when my mother died, this world to me is like a lasting storm, whirling me from my friends.  

Set in 1795 when smuggling and wrecking were an accepted way of life in Cornwall, this is a story of conflict, bloodshed, betrayal, extraordinary courage and the redeeming power of love. 

High taxes, inequality between rich and poor,  and the government's lack of knowledge or interest in the problems of rural communities made smuggling and wrecking a means of survival for the Cornish.  But though the poor were sympathetic to the reasons for the French revolution, they did not support the violence or bloodshed.  There was also a long-standing relationship between Cornwall and Brittany regarding free trading which neither side wished to jeopardise.

The word wreckers is often taken to mean men who lured ships onto rocks by means of false lights etc. This may have happened. But in Cornwall, the term was more often, and more accurately used to describe the men and women who – after a ship had been driven ashore in a storm - stripped it.

Many wreckers were tin miners, poorly paid and thrown out of work without warning. As 1795 was a famine year many were starving and willing to risk their lives for anything they could sell in order to buy food for their families. When word of a wreck arrived, they – with their wives and children - grabbed axes, crowbars ropes and buckets or sacks and hurried to the shore to watch and wait.  Once a ship grounded it was considered fair game.  But before the plunder began, locals usually helped the terrified crew and passengers ashore.   It is a characteristic of the Cornish that when danger threatens they are willing to risk their own lives to save others, but once the danger is past they take the pragmatic view that it's only common sense to get what they can out of the situation.

If a ship was driven onto rocks at night, wreckers had to find their way down dangerous cliffs in the darkness with only the thin light of a lantern to guide their footsteps.  But they dared not wait until daylight because as word spread, more and more turned up hoping to retrieve something they could use or sell.

Even if the ship came ashore on a beach, they would still have to brave heavy waves to reach it.  Competition was fierce. Desperate people fought to grab whatever they could before someone else got it. An added pressure was the need to get the stolen goods away before the authorities arrived to put ship and cargo under guard.

If the ship was carrying spirits then death was inevitable. Fierce fighting broke out as barrels were smashed open and the brandy carried away in buckets, jars or chamber pots. Intoxicated men and women fell to their deaths, or succumbed to alcoholic poisoning and lay unconscious amid the wreckage, drowning as the tide rose.

After the cargo and everything moveable had been taken off, the ship was cut to pieces. The wood was kept; the brass, copper, furniture etc sold. This demolition was often completed between one tide and the next leaving nothing but an iron keel too heavy to carry away.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A celebration.

I'm celebrating because at last, finally, all the books in my Company of Rogues Regency series are available for e-readers! They've lagged behind because of rights confusion, but now people can read the whole series without difficulty.

This definitely hasn't always been the case, because the first book came out in 1990, in the bad old days when we sometimes couldn't find books in a series, or not without paying horrible prices. Isn't progress wonderful? Now, with people already reading through the 15 books at a fast clip, they're enjoying an interesting experience, because the books cover only three years, 1814 to 1817. However, they're catching some of my continuity errors. I do try to keep track of everything, but 15 books, over 23 publishing years, and 36 writing years, as I wrote the first in 1977....

I've made a video to celebrate. You can see it here. video

Many of the books have won awards, and Unwilling Bride winning a RITA helped me become a member of the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame for Regency.  Some of my poor Rogues have been shot, stabbed,addicted to opium and made into sexual playthings, but by the end of the series story arc, they can all gather to celebrate triumph in the end.

Do you remember series where you had a terrible time to find all the books?

Which was the most frustrating? Are you finding all your favourites available for e-book now?



Sunday, October 13, 2013

Hosts to Ghosts - writing the cross-genre romance

It used to be verboten, to write a romance that crossed more than one genre. Then came epublishing, then came self-publishing and now everybody’s doing it.
I love it. Absolutely love playing the “what if…?” game and expanding its reaches.
Some time ago I wrote a story called “Black Leather, White Lace.” It was about two brothers in the English Civil War who joined different sides. In a duel to the death, both were killed, one immediately, one a few days later. Both became earl.
That incident actually happened. Heartbreaking though it was, I got a story out of it, as writers often do. We’re parasites. Don’t trust us because a writer’s mind always thinks, “I can use that.” It’s the writer’s dirty secret.
My “what if…?” was “What if ghosts exist? What if these two brothers are condemned to exist as ghosts until they’d expiated their sins? What if they fall in love while they’re in ghostly form? Can they come back?”
So Vernon and Nathaniel Heatherington were born. Vernon comes back in Regency Britain. He’s in love with the current countess, who has a neglectful husband who is busy dissipating as much of the estate as he can.
But I paired that with Nathaniel’s story. He falls in love with a present day countess, who also is unhappy in her marriage. Her husband is a photojournalist and adrenalin freak who loves war zones and motor bikes.
Writing these periods, Civil War, Regency and then present day was a wonderful exercise, and I’d love to do it again! The attitudes, behaviour and expectations were totally different and it was fantastic to have the opportunity to describe them and open them up.
Now the stories, plus the companion book “The Haunting of Belle Sauvage” are available in a box set at the special price of 0.99 – however this is only for a limited period. If you’d like a copy, get it here:

Buy from Amazon koboBarnes and Noble Smashwords

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Why 'The Duke's Proposal' means so much to me.

'The Duke's Proposal' will always be a significant title for me. My very first book, 'The Unconventional Miss Walters', published in 2005 is special in the same way. 'The Duke's Proposal' is the first new title for over two years. I was beginning to think I would never get back into that wonderful feeling a writer has when they are in the middle of the book. I have spent the past 18 months putting up my long backlist on Amazon – this requires a lot of rewriting and editing but the characters and story are already there.

I needed to write the next part of my WW2 book Barbara's War as I had several enquiries from readers as to when it was going to be published . I'd originally said it would be out October 2013. I thought it would be easier for me to start with a Regency as I've written so many of them. 'The Duke's Proposal' is the result and I'm thrilled with it. 
Writing this was exactly what I needed to get my head back into creating – I'm now a quarter of the way into the second part of Barbara's War. I love it when I can spend every waking moment living the lives of my characters. I had begun to think I had lost this  ability, but now I know I haven't.
Here is an extract from the first chapter – Lydia Richmond is thrilled because a cavalry Regiment has just moved into the area. She intends to enjoy the company of the officers and  considers that there's no need for a season in Town:

Less than twenty minutes later Lydia was on her way home delighted to have found an exact match for the forget-me-nots sewn to her ball gown. She nodded and smiled at several acquaintances that didn’t stop to pass the time of day. Fortunately the gaggle of girls and moved elsewhere, no doubt to discuss at length the arrival of the regiment.
Usually she chatted to Jenny when they were out together, but today she wished to mull over something that had been said to her earlier. When she had denied speaking to the duke, she had told a falsehood. His grace visited at least once a week, usually to impart some local news to her mother or offer advice on her investments. Although she was usually present, she rarely spoke directly to him herself.
He was nearer her mother’s age than hers, and although scrupulously polite and unfailingly charming, she found him unnerving and difficult to converse with. He was – he was a formidable man. He stood more than two yards high and his shoulders were extremely broad. He wore his dark hair short, an uncompromising style which suited his demeanour. He treated her more as a child than a woman grown and she was grateful for this. Being teased and talked down to meant she was not expected to join in the conversation and thus show her ignorance of adult matters.
Her lips curved as she recalled the last time they had met. He had ridden over on his latest acquisition, a magnificent bay stallion, and had invited her to give an opinion on the animal. She had been about to go inside after a brisk walk around the lake. Her face had been hot, her hem mired and her boots muddy – hardly an appealing sight. She had mumbled something complimentary and scuttled in like a frightened rabbit. His laughter had followed her and she didn’t blame him one jot for finding her a figure of fun.
On her return she ran upstairs to remove her gloves and bonnet and replace her walking boots with indoor slippers before hurrying down to the drawing room to share the exciting news. She burst in only to find her mother was not alone.
The duke stood and greeted her affectionately. “Miss Richmond, what a delightful surprise. I understood from her ladyship that you had gone to the village.” His expression was bland but she could see amusement dancing in his eyes.
“I am back now, your grace…” She faltered and her cheeks suffused with colour. Why was it she always sounded like a pea goose when speaking to him?
“Indeed you are, my dear, and looking quite delightful too.” He raised an eyebrow and glanced at a sofa reminding her etiquette demanded he remain on his feet until she was seated. Drat the man!
Ignoring his comment she dropped beside her mother intending to tell her the good news. “Mama, you will never guess what I was told in the village.”
“Lydia, my love, your news must wait. We have far more pressing matters to discuss.”
What could possibly be more important than the arrival of the cavalry regiment? She bit back her pert reply and tried to look interested. “Yes, Mama, what is it you wish to tell me that also involves our guest?”
She risked a glance in his direction and wished she hadn’t. He was not impressed by her comment.
“The duke’s sister, Lady Margaret Dunwoody, has offered to bring you out. Is that not kind of her? With your dear papa so recently deceased I cannot face the hustle and bustle of Town at the moment, so without this help you would not get your season at all.”
“Thank you, sir, I do appreciate Lady Margaret offering to sponsor me in March. However, I have no wish to leave my mother to gad about in London. Having attended several informal parties this summer, I believe that I can be considered out already.”
Who was the more astonished by her statement was hard to tell. Her mother was rendered speechless and the duke’s eyes widened in shock. He recovered first.
“Stuff and nonsense! Lady Richmond will manage perfectly well in your absence as well you know. All young ladies want to have a season in Town. You are no different—”
Lydia was on her feet incensed by his assumption that he knew her motives. “I beg your pardon, your grace, but I disagree. You have no right to dictate my movements for you are not a member of my family.” She glared at him and he glared right back. “Lord Richmond is arriving next week to take up his responsibilities as head of the household and my legal guardian. It is to him that I shall defer and not to—”
A choking sound coming from the sofa gave her pause. Her mother was about to explode. Lydia had never seen her parent so angry. Not waiting for the tirade to descend on her head she headed rapidly for the open door. Her heart was hammering against her ribs. She could scarcely breathe. What could have possessed her to speak so intemperately?

Mama would have her return if she could find her. Therefore she would not go to her apartment but hide in the maze until the coast was clear. She hurtled through the house and out through the garden-room and on to the terrace that ran around the south side of the building.

I hope you enjoyed this extract enough to want to read the rest.

Fenella J Miller