Thursday, May 15, 2014

Georgian costumes at Berrington Hall

Berrington Hall, Herefordshire (c) Joanna Maitland

Berrington Hall in Herefordshire is a gem of a house designed by Henry Holland with gardens by Capability Brown. It is really worth a visit, perhaps for those on the way to the RNA Conference in Telford in the second week of July.

Berrington Hall, grounds with lake (c) Joanna Maitland

This year, Berrington Hall is really pushing the boat out for visitors who are interested in the Georgian Period.

Berrington has a fantastic costume collection of its own but this summer, there are additions. From now until the end of June, there's an exhibition of costumes from the film The Duchess.

Embroidered waistcoat (c) Joanna Maitland
Also from now till the end of June, you can see how Georgian gentlemen dressed and behaved. There's an exhibition of gentlemen's waistcoats and accessories and I can guarantee that embroidery lovers will be amazed at the stunning workmanship (workwomanship?) on the waistcoats. They are absolutely beautiful and my photo does not begin to do justice to this one.

If you're lucky enough to be able to visit on 14th or 15th June, you can also see how gentlemen settled their differences. In other words - duelling - whether with swords or pistols.

On various dates in the second half of June there are also carriage displays including driving.

Then, in July and August - more convenient for those going to the RNA conference - there is an exhibition called "Big Bottoms and Small Waists". Not my title, I assure you!

It is, as you'll have guessed, an exhibition of undergarments. Fascinating and maybe even a little risqué.

Berrington hall, rear courtyard (c) Joanna Maitland

Details of Berrington Hall are here and details of the events and timings are here. I do hope you will find time to go. It is a magical house.  Complete with resplendent guardian in the rear courtyard.

Courtyard guardian in full fig!  (c) Joanna Maitland

visit Joanna's website

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Lightning Unbound

Lightning Unbound

There's a huge story under this book. I started with the simple "what if?" but I've gone onto develop this world over several years. Then I found the perfect editor to help me - Amy Sherwood of Samhain Publishing. She's as enthusiastic about the series as I am, so we've been working together on this, and now the first book is out!
Lightning Unbound is the story of a Georgian aristocrat. It's also the story of one of the ancient gods of Rome. It turns out that when gods die, their bodies perish, but their attributes pass on to the nearest unborn child. Thirty years before the series starts, the gods' old adversaries, the Titans, set a trap for them and they perished in an explosion that rocked England. The Titans want their world back. As far as they're concerned, the gods are the rightful masters of the human race. Everything started to go wrong when humans declared their independence from dictatorship and lived according to rules they set. On the other hand, the Olympian gods want people to continue to have free will. They will fight to the death for that, and thirty years before the series starts, they did just that.
Yes, I know, it's a bit different to the straight historical romance I usually offer. I tried, I really did, but this series had to come out. It just flowed, although working some of it out was tricky, as you can imagine.
I've kept the historical details as close as I possibly can. I've just worked hard to read between the lines!
I read in one of my textbooks that the aristocrats of Georgian Britain were treated like gods. So, I thought, what if they were really gods? What if there was an underlying war, fought in the ballrooms and stately homes that most people remained completely oblivious to? 
You can read an extract from the book here
And you can buy the book here

Friday, May 09, 2014

Does anyone know the optimum price for a Kindle book?

77p on Amazon Kindle
 This time last year another writer suggested that I put my Regency books in a virtual box set. I took her advice and got the wonderful Jane Dixon-Smith to design me a 3-D cover and put up the first of two Duke Series box sets. I was astonished that the first box set sold over 1000 in the first week and continued to sell well until the end of June. I priced it at £1.99 – the books were selling individually at 99 p
£1.99 on Amazon Kindle
Emboldened by this I got the second box set up in July and this also sold hundreds of copies. Strangely I still continue to sell individual copies of the books that could be bought much cheaper as a box set.
I told several friends about the wonders of box sets and they also had remarkable sales.
However, when I adjusted the price of my books to take into account that some are novellas and others full-length books, I was forced to put up the price of my box sets as well. Not unexpectedly books that were now £1.99 instead of 99 p and box sets that were now £2.99 instead of £1.99, no longer sold in their hundreds. I put the price down to the novellas to 77 p and sell hundreds of these every week.
Although I have double the amount of books available for sale on the Kindle I'm selling fewer copies of my longer books than I did this time last year but my royalties remain about the same. I'm about to release a four book box set – all the titles are novellas. This will be at £1.99 and I'm waiting to see if this is in fact the magic price.
I wonder how many readers only look at books under a certain price – I tend to go for bargains when Amazon  sends me a list. The other day I bought a recent Michael Connelly for £1.32 and three Lee Child novellas for less than a pound each. I rarely pay over £3.50 for any e-book– even one by Christian Cameron.
Are you prepared to pay more than £4.00 for an e-book if it's by an author you want to read? What about books by indie authors? Do you always expect them to be less than two pounds?
I wanted to buy Julie Cohen's 'Dear Thing' - but to my surprise the paperback was cheaper than the e-book so I got that instead.
I know that other writers change the prices of their books on a regular basis – sometimes putting them as high as £4.99 – I would be interested to know if their royalties remain the same despite the change in prices.
I'm still not sure whether putting the longer books up was a good idea, but I'm going to stick with it as I don't think a 30,000 word novella should be the same price as a full-length book.
Mass-market paperbacks are on their way out – so the pundits say. I certainly buy more books for my Kindle than I would ever have considered when there were only paperbacks. Imagine buying over 100 paperbacks a year? I doubt many people do that, but I'm sure thousands of people by over 100 e-books.
£1.99 - out May 23rd.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

An Interview with Alison Stuart

Today it’s my very great pleasure to welcome Alison Stuart to the blog. Alison is an award-winning author of, as she puts it: “history… mystery… adventure… ghosts, sometimes all in one book,” and today she is talking about her first Regency historical romance, Lord Somerton’s Heir.  Over to Alison!

Thank you to Nicola and all at the Historical Romance UK blog. I feel I have come home. Actually that is just bluster… I am overawed to be in this illustrious company!

My journey to writing LORD SOMERTON’S HEIR,  my first Regency historical romance, has been a slightly round about voyage. I love all periods of history (particularly the English Civil War) but I consciously shied away from writing Regency because so many wonderful authors do it so well and it is a period so beloved by readers! It wasn’t as if I had grown up with Georgette Heyer and the ilk. While my friends were consuming Heyer I was consuming Ronald Welch - I was far more naturally drawn to historical action adventure stories then I was to romance.

Some years ago my husband and I visited the battlefield of Waterloo (as we are both ex military with an
interest in military history - battlefields loom large on our tour agendas!) and I felt the first tug to write a story set in this period. I stomped on the idea but it surfaced again when we found ourselves in London on Waterloo day and paid a visit to Wellesley House. Of course that was the place to be. Between the re-enactors, the country dancing and the story of the Battle of Waterloo told with vegetables (yes, the French were onions…), I was converted. 

My lovely hero, Sebastian Alder, veteran of Waterloo and the unexpected inheritor of the title of Viscount Somerton, was not going to be stomped on again. Perhaps it is a measure of my own confidence as a writer that I have now set a story in the Regency but as with all my stories it is about the characters and the plot and I am quaking in my shoes with fear of the emails that will tell me off for some small point to do with fashion or etiquette that I have got completely wrong. I apologise now… profusely.. and hope readers will forgive me any sins of commission or ommission in relation to their beloved period and just be carried away with Sebastian and Isabel’s story.

LORD SOMERTON’S HEIR is not a “mannered” Regency - think Georgette Heyer meets Bernard Cornwell! There is a mystery to be solved before these two people can reach their HEA. It is about two people with dark pasts. It is about the terrible destruction of war but it is also a story of forgiveness and redemption.

Can the love of an honourable man save her from the memory of a desolate marriage?
From the battlefield of Waterloo to the drawing rooms of Brantstone Hall, Sebastian Alder’s elevation from penniless army captain to Viscount Somerton is the stuff of dreams. But the cold reality of an inherited estate in wretched condition, and the suspicious circumstances surrounding his cousin’s death, provide Sebastian with no time for dreams, only a mystery to solve and a murderer to bring to justice.
Isabel, widow of the late Lord Somerton, is desperate to bury the memory of her unhappy marriage by founding the charity school she has always dreamed of. But, her dreams are shattered, as she is taunted from the grave, discovering not only has she been left penniless, but she is once more bound to the whims of a Somerton.
But this Somerton is unlike any man she has met. Can the love of an honourable man heal her broken heart or will suspicion tear them apart?

Kindle (US):
Kindle (UK)

Alison Stuart is an award winning Australian writer of cross genre historicals with heart.  Whether duelling with dashing cavaliers or wayward ghosts, her books provide a reader with a meaty plot and characters who have to strive against adversity, always with the promise of happiness together. Alison is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes.  She lives with her own personal hero and two needy cats and likes nothing more than a stiff gin and tonic and a walk along the sea front of her home town.  She loves to hear from her readers and can be found at her website, facebook, twitter and Goodreads.




Brantstone Hall
December 11, 1814

…The tea, in its delicate porcelain cup, sat undrunk and cold, the bread curled and dried as the little clock on the mantelpiece ticked away the minutes. Isabel sat unmoving, staring out at the winter landscape of the Brantstone Park as if she expected Anthony to come galloping down the carriage way. She knew even before Thompson knocked on the door and stood shifting from one foot to the other, his shapeless felt hat clutched in his hand, that Anthony was dead.
She followed the head groom out into the stable yard again, where a farmer’s cart now stood. She looked at the cart and with her head held high; she walked across it. Thompson interposed himself between her and the inanimate object that lay in the filthy dray.
‘Are you sure, my lady?’ he asked.
She nodded and Thompson flicked back the sacking that covered the shapeless lump in the back of the cart. Isabel stared down into her husband’s face, into his open, staring eyes, already opaque in death. Anthony lay, stiff with rigor mortis, in the filth of a cart that had last been used to shift manure, from the smell. An ignominious end to his life, she thought.
‘We found him over by Lovett’s Bridge. He’d taken the hedge intending the shortcut across the Home Farm fields,’ Thompson was saying. He jerked his head at the saddle, the beautiful, hand tooled saddle that had been tossed into the cart with its owner. ‘Looks like the girth strap broke and he came off. Broke his neck in the fall. He’d not have known anything about it, my lady.’
Aware of the anxious faces that surrounded her, Isabel swallowed. They expected her to break down. They wanted her tears but she had none to give. She had expended too many tears over Anthony, Lord Somerton, while he lived to spare any for him now that he was dead.
Her gaze rested on the saddle. It had been her gift to Anthony on his birthday only a few months earlier. Now it was the cause of his death. It stood as a symbol of everything that had gone wrong between herself and her husband.
She turned on her heel and walked back to the house with her head held high. With every step, the enormity of Anthony’s death sank in.
She was free, but at what price came that freedom?
Her back straightened and her lips tightened.
To attain freedom, first she had to find Lord Somerton’s heir. 

Thank you very much to Alison for joining us today!  

Monday, May 05, 2014

The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714 – 1760. A Question of Spin?

This enjoyable exhibition, which opened recently at The Queen’s Gallery, celebrates the arrival of the Hanoverian dynasty in Britain.

When the Stuart Queen Anne died in 1714, Parliament had a problem. They did not want, James, Anne’s Catholic half-brother, brought up in exile in ancient régime France, as king.

Photo:  George I by Godfrey Kneller

18th century Britain was a prosperous nation, proud of its liberalism and freedom of speech. Parliament saw the country as modern and forward-thinking. They wanted a constitutional Protestant monarch without any of the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ nonsense which had so be-devilled the Stuarts.

Photo:  George II by Christian Friedrich Zinke 1717
Parliament trawled through the family tree and found the staunchly Protestant George, Elector of Hanover. He was directly descended from the Protestant Princess Elizabeth, sister of King Charles I, who had become ‘the Winter Queen’ of Bohemia. Elizabeth’s daughter, Sophia, who married the Elector of Hanover, was George I’s mother.

(Those of you who are Rupert of the Rhine fans might like to know that Rupert was Sophia’s brother - and thus George I’s uncle. I do like it when things link up!)    

Photo:  The Neptune Centrepiece att. to Nicholas Sprimont 1741/2 

In 1714, George I, together with his eldest son, arrived in England. George I (born 1660) was already in his fifties, and his son in his early thirties. Neither spoke very good English. They were worthy, undoubtedly Protestant, and would, Parliament hoped, let it get on with governing the country. On the other hand, they had an image problem; they lacked the Stuart charisma. This was something that Bonnie Prince Charlie, James’s son, would try to exploit in the future.

Photo: Queen Caroline, Consort of George II, by John Michael Rysbrack, c.1739

So, how did George I and George II present themselves to their new subjects? Sensibly, they kept things low-key. They did not go in for an extravagant Stuart-type court, for example. Instead, they sponsored composers like Handel, supported the setting up of the Chelsea Porcelain Works, and encouraged scientific enquiry – there are some beautiful botanical prints on display. Their new art collection, in the splendid crimson and gold gallery, shows that they also wanted to be seen as art connoisseurs.

Photo: Chelsea Porcelain plate

Various Hanoverian royals swim into focus; the highly intelligent Queen Caroline, wife of George II, for example. She was friends with the philosopher, Leibniz; she admired John Locke, Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton; and she considered herself ‘the promoter of enlightened ideas.’ Why have we forgotten her?

Photo: The Music Party: Frederick, Prince of Wales with his sisters, Philippe Mercier, 1733

Caroline’s cultured eldest son, Frederick, Prince of Wales, was a keen and discerning art collector. Frederick died before his father, so he never became king; his son, George III, inherited the throne instead. Another of Caroline’s sons, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, was a highly competent military commander. The duke’s plan for the battle of Culloden (1746) and other memorabilia of the campaign are on display. 

I really enjoyed this fascinating and wide-ranging exhibition. It is on at The Queen’s Gallery, 11th April – 12th October, 2014.

Images courtesy of: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.

Elizabeth Hawksley