Sunday, January 26, 2014

Guest author June Kearns

We're delighted to welcome June Kearns to the blog. June is the author of two humorous historical romances. The first, An Englishwoman's Guide to the Cowboy , is a mixture of Jane Austen and the cowboy novels of authors like Zane Grey. Her latest book, The 20's Girl and All That Jazz , is set in the flapper era and once again mixes cowboys with very proper English ladies, creating another of her unique historical romances.

So it's over to you, June!

Thank you!
‘I have always maintained the importance of aunts.’
Jane Austen
‘Aunts are not bad but they are inclined to be soppy and call you darling chiz chiz chiz.’
Nigel Molesworth
‘Aunts,’ someone said recently, ‘seem to have starring roles in all of your stories.’
Do they? Well yes, I suppose that they do.
I think the stiff-as-sticks Beatrice and Eugenie, from An Englishwoman’s Guide, were probably summoned-up by Lady Bracknell – Algy Moncrief’s awful aunt in The Importance of Being Earnest.
Lovely Leonie, from The 20’s Girl – who taught her niece to dance the hoochie coochie and the turkey trot, while wearing ostrich feathers and waving an Egyptian cigarette in a long ebony holder – is possibly more like Auntie Mame, who sent her nephew to a school where all classes were held in the nude, under ultra-violet ray!
I adored my own aunts. I was the first girl in my mum’s family, and her sisters completely spoiled me – sitting me on their knees, twirling my curls around their fingers. Sigh.

June Aged 2
PG Wodehouse seemed to have a thing about aunts, too. As a schoolboy, he was passed around between quite a few of them, apparently.
In his stories, they keep being blamed for all ills and failures.
‘Behind every poor innocent blighter who is going down for the third time in the soup,’ Bertie Wooster moans, ‘you will find, if you look carefully enough, the aunt who shoved him into it.’
Then, there are Agatha and Dahlia – sister’s to Bertie’s father in The Mating Season. Agatha, according to Bertie, ‘is the one who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth.’ She has ‘an eye like a man-eating fish and wears barbed wire next to the skin.’
Who could resist characters like that?
AuntiesThis picture of my mum and her sisters, Nell and Kath was taken in Somerset, when they were all in their late eighties. We were spending a few days together at a hotel in Somerset. I have never got through so much brandy in my life. ‘Ooh, just another nip, ducky! Helps you to sleep, y’know.’ All three lived well into their nineties.
I think of them every day.
Eccentric, exotic, mad, bad or dotty – for me, aunts do seem to offer a new angle on the world and on my writing. Does anyone else feel the same attraction?!


Thursday, January 23, 2014


We all know that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but in the past there was another type of jewel which was just as highly prized – pearls.

I recently went to see an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum here in London which was dedicated to pearls and told the story of this precious natural phenomenon through the ages.  I found it absolutely fascinating!

Never having given it much thought, I had always believed that pearls came mostly from the Far East.  I was therefore surprised to find that in the past, the majority of them originated in and around Qatar and the Arabian Gulf.  The pearl fisheries there have existed for thousands of years apparently and pearls from that region made their way to Egypt, Rome and the rest of Europe even in ancient times.  The next largest supply came from between southern India and Ceylon.  Finding them was hard work as only one in every 2,000 oysters actually has a pearl inside it!

Another surprise for me was the fact that pearls are not formed from grains of sand that have happened to enter an oyster.  That is just a myth and never happens.  Instead, it is usually parasites of some sort that trigger the beginnings of a pearl.  Cultured pearls, pioneered by the Japanese businessman Kokichi Mikimoto, are not formed from sand either, but by a different and rather complicated technique that involves a tiny piece ‘donated’ by another oyster.  (This was not developed until the early 20th century.)

Pearls have a natural sheen and, unlike precious stones, don’t need to be polished in any way.  (I’ve been told that the more you wear them, the shinier they become, presumably because of being in proximity to the wearer’s skin.)  The exhibition showed that even the ones that were not perfect were put to good use by jewellery makers.  Some weirdly shaped ones formed for example the torso of a fish or insect and were made into a brooch or pendant using a gold or silver setting.  One had even been made into a miniature Statue of Liberty!  They come in lots of different colours too – grey, pink, black and brown are just some of the available shades – but for me, the white ones are the most beautiful.

Many women wore them as symbols of purity and virginity.  Owning vast quantities of pearls (and wearing an awful lot of them all at once, either as jewellery or sewn onto garments) was also a symbol of power and riches.  There were some magnificent necklaces, tiaras, brooches and other kinds of jewellery on display at the exhibition and the most fascinating were those with a known provenance – for example, there was a single pearl earring which had apparently been worn by King Charles I at his execution!

Pearls go in and out of fashion, but one thing never changes – their incredible beauty.  The warm, creamy lustre can’t be improved upon (although a setting of diamonds makes them shine even more!) and no matter what type of jewellery is made out of these natural miracles, they can be guaranteed to enhance the wearer’s outfit.  I’m sure they will continue to be appreciated for centuries to come.

Christina x
The Secret Kiss of Darkness - time slip, 18th century Devon - forbidden love, smugglers and romance! - available now on Kindle 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Boats, birds and river thieves

In 1745 Whampoa (Huangpu) – the dock area and waterfront of Canton (now Guangzhou) was a city of boats as well as houses. In the harbour huge junks from Singapore, Java, Borneo and Manila jostled for space alongside European and American cargo vessels, river craft, and other junks laden with salt.  Avenues of shop boats sold toys, flowers, food and clothing.  Alongside palatial houseboats belonging to wealthy Chinese, were boats from which barbers, fortune-tellers, theatrical companies, and caged bird sellers offered their services.  The Chinese are passionate about keeping small birds.  They bring them to the parks during the day and hang the cages among the trees.  I can't decide whether doing so is a kindness or horribly cruel.  In the past they believed that buying caged birds and releasing them ensured the owner a place in Heaven. Weaving among these shop boats were sampans and ferries laden with people hurrying about their business.
But despite guard boats patrolling the anchorage at night, river thieves were as much a problem here as in London's river Thames.  Carrying a length of coir rope and a crowbar the thieves would quietly enter the water some distance upstream and float down with only their heads above water, their faces hidden under a scrap of matting or a broken basket. On reaching one of the foreign sailing ships they would tie themselves to her anchor cable then, working quietly so as not to alert the watchman, lever off the plates of copper sheathing. Losing this protection exposed the wooden hull to worm and barnacles which slowed the ship in the water and added days to her voyage, costing the owner both for the delay and to replace the copper plating.

Jane Jackson

Thursday, January 09, 2014

New Year Musings of a Writer.

Latest release
Christmas now seems a distant memory, even New Year is forgotten as the children return to school and the streets return to normal. However, January is still a good time to review what you've achieved last year and what you hope to get done in 2014.
Last year I managed to publish almost a book a month from my back list but my goal was to start writing fresh material again – something that had been reduced to a trickle since I moved three years ago.
In the summer I started writing my first new Regency,The Duke's Proposal, to my delight the words flowed and the book more or less wrote itself. Fortunately it has also proved popular with my readers and still remains my best seller. I then started writing the second part of my World War II drama as I'd received several e-mails from readers asking where this book was. I'd promised to publish it in October 2013. My aim was to complete this book and get it out to my beta readers before Christmas and I just got it done in time. It will be published sometime in February.
Most popular title.
Now what do I hope to get done this year? I want to continue to release my back list, I have four more Regencies  to put out. In October the rights revert to me from the six books with Musa so they will be re-released with new covers – but I'll not be able to put up the first of these until December.
My intention is to write three new regencies, and am two thirds of the way through the first of these and this will, hopefully, be published at the end of January. I'll also write the final part of Barbara's War and publish that in October.
I'm cutting back on social media, blog tours and promotion as I've come to the conclusion that, apart from the new Amazon promotion tool, none of the above  produce extra sales or even more reviews. I shall continue to adjust pricing of my books as this does seem to improve sales sometimes.
Interspersed with my writing life I also have family and friends to spend time with and I'm celebrating my golden wedding this year. I can't believe in 2015 I'll be three score years and ten - how have I got so old when inside I still feel the same as I did 30 years ago?
What are the rest of you doing? How many books do you plan to write, edit, publish? Do you have any inspired plans to increase sales or find yourself a new agent or publisher?
I hope that 2014 brings everyone what they wish for.
Fenella J Miller

Friday, January 03, 2014

A Ghost story for New Year

I don't know about you but I love the ghost stories that abound on British TV at this time of the year, spooky little tales that make me shiver and look around into the dark corners of the room (but somehow never stop me from sleeping).  

I thought this New Year you might like to read one of the spooky episodes from my own dual-time ghostly romance, MOONSHADOWS.  This scene starts with my present-day heroine, Jez, in the churchyard, looking for the grave of her ancestor.....

…Jez walked amongst the gravestones, scanning them rapidly for Sarah’s name. It was not easy, for they were very worn, some almost illegible. She found it at last on a grey slab in a very damp and shady corner. It was the only headstone in that area. The granite-grey stone was covered in ivy, which Jez pulled aside. She traced her fingers over the worn lettering, whispering the words as she deciphered them.
“Here lieth Sarah Appleton Methven, beloved mother of Thomas and Jennifer…died in the year of our lord 1780, aged 57 years… Judge not…”
Jez went back to the little bench and sat down, staring at the headstone and thinking hard. “Beloved mother”—did that mean she had been reunited with her children before her death? Or had they merely been informed that she was dead and had done their duty by her? How could she find out?
“Yer, what’re you doin’? That ivy’s protection for that there ’eadstone!”
She swung around to see who was shouting. An old man was approaching, shuffling towards her. He wore a pair of faded moleskin trousers tucked into his thick woollen socks, a pair of very muddy brown boots and an old tweed jacket tied at the waist with string. As he drew closer, she became aware of a shiny red nose and a pair of bloodshot eyes set beneath bushy grey brows—all that was visible between the peak of his flat cap and the muffler that covered his chin.
“I’m sorry, I meant no harm—”
“Harm? No, that’s what they all say, coming in ’ere with their cameras and notebooks, pulling aside the plants that’s protected these ’ere stones since time long gone by. Records, pshaw! We don’t need no records. It’s all ’ere, in the stones.”
“No, no, I’m not recording anything. I was looking for Sarah Methven.”
“Lady Sarah?” He stepped up to peer short-sightedly at her. “Oh, so you’m back then!”
She laughed. “No, I’ve never been here before.”
The old man stared at her.
“You ain’t wantin’ to wreck the grave?”
“No of course not. I think she might be a relative of mine. Who are you? Do you look after the graves?”
“In a manner of speakin’ you might say that.” The old man came to sit beside her and Jez shifted along the bench, leaving a clear gap between them. Even so there was a strong smell of tobacco emanating from his person.
“Then why don’t you keep the weeds cut in this corner? It’s rather a mess, isn’t it?”
He tapped his nose with one grimy finger. “Protection.”
“Protection from ’er.”
It was becoming apparent to Jez that her companion was not quite sane. She edged away to the end of the bench.
“She might come back, see, at any time and I’s got to be ready. I mustn’t let her harm Lady Sarah. That’s my job.”
“And who gave you this job?”
He sniffed loudly.
“Me old man. Passed down, y’see, from father to son. It was ’is father’s job before and ’is granfers.” He took out a pipe and battered tobacco pouch and cast a bleary eye at her. “Have you time for a story, miss?”
Fascinated, Jez nodded.
“Long time ago it was, see, ’underds of yers. Lady Sarah lived in the village then and my old relative knew ’er. They say that everyone knew ’er. Lovely lady, kind and gentle, visiting the sick and comin’ to church every Sunday—never missed, they say. Then when she died there was some argument about where she was to be buried. Her son wanted to take her back to the family vault, but the lady’s own wishes was to be buried ’ere, where she lived so long. Any road, my relative, he was gravedigger then, see? Dicked in the nob, they said he was, but he was never so daft that ’e couldn’t find hisself a good woman to be ’is wife and provide for his family—and the proof is that we is still here, after all these years.” He lit his pipe and drew on it steadily, silently contemplating his impressive lineage.
“So—so your relative buried Sarah?”
“Aye, that’s it. Well, ’e dug the ’ole, anyway. Parson did the burying, o’ course. Whole village turned out, so they said, but then, just as the earth is being filled in and the mourners is about to go, a coach rolls up—great gilded thing with a crest on the side, and a madwoman gets out and runs to the grave where she starts cursing poor Sarah’s name and swearing she’ll have no rest. Well, Parson and Sarah’s son ’as to restrain the poor woman, for she looks set to pull Sarah from her very coffin, crying all the time that our poor departed lady had stolen her husband, that she should not be buried with decent folk being as how she was a—”
He coughed. “My relative did pass on the words she used, miss, but I’ll not use ’em in front of a young lady. Anyhow, a servant comes and carries the poor distraught lady away, she screaming all the while that she’ll be avenged on Sarah. Well, you can imagine that Parson and Sarah’s family was real cut-up about all this, the ladies was crying and Parson shakin’ his head. The upshot is that poor Sarah’s son comes up to my relative and slips him a purse. Asks him very gentlemanlike if he would be kind enough to watch over his mama’s grave, since he would not be able to do so hisself. Just in case the lady came back, see? Now my relative, being a God-fearing Christian who knows his duty, would willingly have looked after the poor soul’s last resting place and not asked a penny for doing so, but the gentleman insisted.
‘Keep the purse, my good man,’ he says, very civil-like, ‘and put it to some good use.’ So when my relative goes ’ome and looks in the purse he finds it full of gold pieces! Well, ’is wife—who is by way of blood and nature also my relative, of course—his wife she was in a bad way at that time, on her third confinement, so he uses the gold to pay the doctor to attend ’er, rather than the gin-sodden old midwife, and praise be if she wasn’t delivered of a bouncing baby boy that my distant relative promptly christens Thomas, in honour of poor Sarah’s son!”
The old man drew on his pipe again, then continued proudly, “And ’is father give the task of watching over Sarah’s grave to that Thomas, a solemn duty that ’e carried out faithfully all his days and passed on to ’is own son Thomas, and so on down the line of my relatives until it comes to me, the present Thomas.” He ended, beaming at Jessica over his muffler.
She felt that some response was required. “That—that’s a wonderful story, Thomas. And have you ever had to protect the grave?”
“No, never.” He shook his head sadly. “They say the old madwoman died soon after, bless her poor soul. We’ve continued our vigil, man and boy, like we promised, but no-one comes to this corner, save yourself, and the dook, of course.”
“The—the duke?”
“Well, some sort of lord, he is. He comes every so often, to sit over the grave for a few hours. Always wears his blue velvet coat he does, and ’is sword. Was me great-granfer which named him dook, course we don’t know who he is really—”
“Hang on! Your great-grandfather saw him?”
“Yes, he did that, miss. Many a time.”
The hair on the back of Jessica’s neck prickled.
“But—your great-grandfather must have been dead for…”
“Nigh on seventy year now. He passed on when I was a babe.”
Jez dug her hands into the pockets of her coat to stop them shaking. “Then this, this duke that you see—”
“Oh he’s a spirit, miss. What you might call a ghost. We’ve seen ’im off and on for over a hunderd yers.” The old man chuckled. “Surely, miss, you don’t think I’m mad enough to believe a man can live for all that time? That would be crazy! No, he’s a ghost, right enough, it’d be plain daft to think anything else.”
“Yes,” she agreed faintly. “Yes, I suppose it would.”

“Well now, Thomas, what are you doing here, keeping this young lady sitting about in the cold?”
Jez jumped up from the bench at the sudden voice, relaxing only when she saw it was the vicar bearing down upon them through the gloom. He was beaming at them, but clearly intent upon leading her away. She went with him willingly, after muttering goodbye to the old man, who remained sitting on the bench to finish his pipe.
“Poor old Tom,” said the vicar comfortably. “Has he been telling you his tales?”
“Yes, he was telling me about his relatives.”
“Take no notice. He’s as mad as a hatter. Runs in the family, of course, but he’s harmless enough. He likes to potter around, so we pay him to cut the grass and do a spot of weeding around the graves, and he does a reasonable job, generally, although nothing will make him tidy up that far corner. Strange that. Did you find the stone you were looking for, by the way?”
“Yes. Yes I did, thank you. I—um—Thomas said there was a—a ghost in the churchyard.”
“Did he? Well, maybe he’s right. I’ve never seen it, but if Tom’s happy to believe it, we’ll let him carry on, shall we?”
Silently, she nodded, hunching her shoulders against the cold wind as they left the churchyard. The wind sighed in the trees behind them.
Ah, Sarah.

*  *  *

 Sleep well, and may 2014 bring you everything you wish for yourself

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

MOONSHADOWS by Melinda Hammond, Samhain Publishing

New by Sarah Mallory for Feb 14,
LADY BENEATH THE VEIL - pub Harlequin Historical.