Friday, January 13, 2017

The Perfect Regency?

Ten years ago, I wrote this post with the help of several authors, notably the late, great, Jo Beverley, whose sense of humour was pretty wicked!
So here are the ingredients for your perfect Regency romance. Let's see what you choose! I'm delighted to say that I have broken the rules numerous times over the years. You can make it more interesting by rolling a die to choose! And please, don't take this one too seriously.

Writing a Regency Romance (excluding Scottish romances)
Choose one of the following in each section.

The hero is:
1. A rake about town
2. An army officer (captain or above, please, no lieutenants)
3. A widower with small children
4. A pirate duke (marquis or earl will do at a pinch)
5. A spy who is also a peer of the realm

The hero is never:
1. Geeky, spotty or bald.
2. overweight
3. Reasonably cautious and sensible.
4. Shorter than the heroine.
5. If he wears spectacles, he isn’t dependent on them and can lose them at convenient times without any ill effects.

The heroine is:
1. A clever, beautiful ingénue
2. A bookworm not interested in society or husband hunting
3. An older spinster looking for a husband for her beautiful younger sister
4. A governess or housekeeper, usually the daughter of a peer fallen on hard times
5. A young girl forced to wear a male disguise and work as a secretary/groom or something similar.
6. A young American heiress, despising English society.
7. A highwayman/urchin/thief by night, a respectable member of society by day.
8. A young woman fighting to save her family from financial ruin, caused by the gambling habit of her brother or father, or even both.

The heroine is never:
1. A respectable young woman with a good fortune looking for a future husband.
2. A war widow, who has lost her husband in the Napoleonic wars and has now returned to society. Widows are Sad, so they can't be heroines.
3. The daughter of a City gentleman, looking to increase her social standing. This is Bad because it makes her look mercenary.
4. Less than stunningly beautiful, clever and accomplished, even if she tries to hide these facts at the start of the story.

They meet:
1. In a country inn, where they get snowed in.
2. In a ballroom, where she hates him on sight.
3. At the gates of a country house, where she mistakes him for the gardener or he mistakes her for a maid.
4. On the road, he in his phaeton, she in her travelling carriage.
5. At the altar.
6. In a gaming hell where she is the stake.
7. At a secluded lake where the heroine or hero is taking an impromptu bath.

They never meet:
1. By being introduced by their parents, who want to see if they would like to make a match of it.
2. By politely promenading in the park at the fashionable hour.
3. They have always known each other, because society is small, and they are, in fact, distantly related.

1. Hate each other on sight, but are filled with lustful thoughts
2. He loves her, she hates him.
3. She loves him, he hates her.

They never;
1. Take a liking to each other without it being accompanied by lustful thoughts.

Note: 2 and 3 must be accompanied by a Big Misunderstanding. They must always fancy each other’s pants off on sight, or It Isn’t A Romance.

The first time they make love is:
1. In the marriage bed (boring unless they met for the first time at the altar)
2. In a small antechamber set conveniently close to a ballroom
3. In a summerhouse
4. In a small cottage where they’ve taken refuge from the storm
5. In his library where she has gone in the middle of the night, barefoot, in search of a book to read. He is already there in his shirtsleeves, drinking.

The villain:
Choose one or two of the following:
1. The hero’s brother who wants the title. He is usually handsome, etc, but not as handsome etc as the hero.
2. The hero’s ex mistress (see below)
3. The heroine’s father. He is usually a gambler who has lost the family fortune and now wants to sell the heroine in a card game.
4. A man who wants the heroine, but isn’t prepared to marry her. He may abduct her, take her to Gretna, etc. to achieve his wicked end. He will not rape her, though it is usually a near thing. He often seems to be a pleasant character.

Secondary characters:
1. The hero’s best friend. Usually another peer, with a set of problems of his own. He will get his own story later. Repeat as necessary to create a series.
2. The heroine’s sister. She provides plot problems, adds comments, and is there because she’ll get her book later.
3. The heroine’s closest friends. See heroine’s sister.
4. The hero’s ex mistress. Jealous, experienced, may be the villain. When she is not, she is always jealous of the heroine, and she plots against her.

You may pick as many of the following as you wish, to give color to your story:
1. An urchin, cheeky but very poor, a boon companion of the hero or heroine. This may be actually the heroine in disguise.
2. An old retainer, a maid who used to be the heroine’s nurse. She is referred to by her Christian name and magically has all the skills required of a good lady’s maid.
3. A valet. He may be either scoundrelly and talk with Dick Van Dyke Mockney, or superior, and talk like Jeeves.
4. A butler. Superior, tall, talks like Jeeves, or short and fat and an old retainer who knows all the family by their first names, prefaced by “Miss” or “Master.”
5. A Bow Street Runner, usually less intelligent than the hero or heroine. Always on the side of good, he is upright and honest (unlike the usual run of BSR’s in RL)
6. An old man, who the heroine is required to marry to restore the family fortunes.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Have I lost my sparkle? (UK)  (US)
I am starting 2017 with a re-edited recycled book. Search For A Duke was once published by Robert Hale as A Suitable Husband. This was the second book I wrote for them way back in 2006 but I well remember Mr John Hale telling me, ' I love the sparkle in this story.''
I still love writing but I fear after 60+ books over the past eleven years my sparkle might be somewhat dimmed. I don't jump out of bed and rush to my study so I can continue with whatever book I'm working on. I am a writer - it's something that I have to do - but I don't think it's possible to maintain the same amount of  'sparkle' that all new writers bring to their book.
By improving my skills, learning my craft, I am now, like all professionals, producing a well-constructed book. Sometimes, I think knowing the things we shouldn't do, restricts us; new writers still have that wonderful freedom to express themselves.
I shall never forget the excitement of holding my first book in my hands. Now I publish and move on - write five or six new titles a year - and only when a reader contacts me to say how much they loved a title do I stop and think how wonderful it is to be a writer and how lucky I am.
Strangely, the harder I work the luckier I get.
Here is a short extract from Search For A Duke introducing the hero:

Up to that point Oliver Mayhew had seen and dismissed Sarah as a woman of medium height, reasonable figure, and ordinary features. He had already decided to refuse the job when it was offered; there was nothing to interest him at Rowley Court. This had been a wasted journey.
Then her smile transformed her face from commonplace to breath taking. Her eyes were an extraordinary mix of emerald green and darkest brown and he fell into their intriguing depths. He swallowed, twice, and forced his limbs to untense, angry such an experienced man as he had allowed himself to be floored by a pair of what had to be the finest eyes in England.
'Are you feeling quite well, Captain Mayhew? You have gone pale. I will order some refreshments. I expect you are fatigued after your long journey.' She stood up and pulled the bell-strap. Her actions allowed him time to recover.
'Thank you, ma'am, that would be most kind.' He hid his amusement well. Had she forgotten he was a veteran of the Peninsular? The thirty-five miles from town was a mere bagatelle.
She ordered a cold collation to be prepared and served immediately in the small dining room. She resumed her seat, and folded her hands tightly around her list, smiled again and Oliver swallowed again.

Fenella J Miller

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Another Mystery Portrait!

My new timeslip, The Phantom Tree, was published last week and it’s so exciting to see it in the shops! This time I’m travelling between the present and the Tudor era, visiting Wolf Hall in mysterious Savernake Forest, and Littlecote Hall near Hungerford (thinly disguised as Middlecote in the book!) I blogged about the Wiltshire background to the book last month but this time I wanted to share with you the picture that started it all...

I was visiting family and saw this gorgeous picture on the wall of a woman in Tudor dress. I found it totally beguiling. She has a hint of a smile on her face as though she knows a secret, and there is a pearl missing from her hood… On the back of the picture it says it is a portrait of Anne Boleyn, one I’d never seen before. It also had another inscription in Latin. I found this totally intriguing and would love to know the history and provenance of the picture. The art dealer who sold it apparently suggested that it was a 19th century copy of a Tudor portrait. I need to find an art historian who can help discover the true story behind the picture!

However, Anne Boleyn or not, my writer’s imagination got going and I started to speculate on how
interesting it would be if it were not actually Anne but some other, lesser-known Tudor woman. I’d always been interested in Mary Seymour, Katherine Parr’s daughter, and thought it odd that no one knew what had happened to her. Such a high-born child simply to disappear…  I thought how fascinating it would be if the portrait were in fact a clue to Mary’s fate and so the idea for The Phantom Tree was born.

I love the way that so many different things can spark a story idea and then the idea grows and develops in unexpected directions. I’ve always loved timeslip stories and dual time books where a historical mystery is solved in the present but although the mystery of Mary’s disappearance is solved (fictionally) in The Phantom Tree I’m wondering if I can solve the case of the mystery portrait!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Georgette Heyer: Why I love 'The Quiet Gentleman'

There is a school of thought which sees The Quiet Gentleman as a sort of unsatisfactory Sense and Sensibility, with Marianne Bolderwood as a more thinly drawn Marianne Dashwood, and Drusilla as a pale variation of the sensible Elinor Dashwood. One critic complained that the hero Gervase Frant, Earl of St Erth’s courtship of Drusilla Morville is almost non-existent. 

I don’t agree. I have always enjoyed the subtle steps by which Georgette Heyer indicates Gervase’s growing interest in Drusilla. To appreciate this, you need to attune your ear to the ironic – and irony is something Heyer does supremely well. Drusilla is not your usual Regency heroine. She is not particularly pretty, she employs no arts to attract, and her conversation is prosaic. We know that; ‘the Earl thought her dull.’

The Quiet Gentleman, original cover, courtesy of Wikipedia

However, he does notice that ‘she was dressed with propriety and even a certain quiet elegance’ and that, ‘Her countenance was pleasing without being beautiful, her best feature being a pair of dark eyes, well-opened and straight-gazing.’

Their relationship consists of a series of small encounters, each adding to Gervase’s knowledge of her character and his gradual discovery of the qualities he needs in a wife. Their first conversation is not propitious. Drusilla says that she has been looking for him and the Earl’s response is decidedly cool. He raises his brows and says, ‘In what way may I serve you, Miss Morville?’

It is meant as a put down but Drusilla is not fazed. She replies that she is only concerned to serve the Dowager, and adds that she can see that he thinks she is guilty of presumption.

She has wrong-footed him and the earl reddens. It is the only time in the book where Gervase is put out of countenance; somehow she has got to him. When she adds, ‘I should have explained that I have no very great opinion of Earls’, her father is a Philosophical Historian writing a History of the French Revolution from a Republican point of view, we can see that his interest is caught.

She tells him about her background (her parents are intellectuals with advanced notions of women’s rights) and he is amused. She then persuades him to allow the huge epergne on the dining table, which Gervase had ordered to be put away in a dark cupboard, to be displayed on a Buhl table in the window embrasure instead. As the Earl ruefully says later to his cousin, ‘I have let the wretched chit talk me into permitting the continuing existence of that abominable epergne in my dining-room!’     

Somehow, Drusilla has negotiated a domestic compromise, stood up for herself, and amused him with her down to earth remarks. He learns that she is well-used to society (she stays with her Morville relations for the Season) and, later, his step-mother remarks that, ‘the Morvilles must be supposed to rank amongst those of the best blood in the country’ in spite of their shocking Republican views. In other words, (though this is far from his thoughts at the moment) marrying Drusilla would not be a misalliance.

Alert readers will notice the care with which Georgette Heyer lays her ground; Gervase is not yet interested in Drusilla but he no longer thinks she’s negligible.  

Later, he discovers that it is largely Drusilla who has organized the ball. She tells him that she enjoys it and she’s obviously good at it. We realize that Heyer has given her another tick; Drusilla would make a good chatelaine.

Heyer allows Drusilla to be seen at her best at the ball wearing a gown in soft pink under a figured-lace robe which suits her (and it’s obviously not cheap). She has diamond drops in her ears, holds an antique fan and wears ‘a pair of very long French gloves of a delicate shade of pink which instantly awoke Marianne’s envy.’ She is, clearly, no dowd.

When Gervase, being polite, asks Drusilla to dance the waltz, ‘she surprised him by proving herself to be an experience dancer, very light on her feet…’  He asks her for another dance and makes it clear that this is what he wants; ‘I consider myself now at liberty to please myself.’  Dancing involves physical contact and subconsciously the Earl surely notes that their steps match.

There is a significant moment about half-way through the book when Gervase’s horse throws him and Drusilla discovers that someone pulled a rope stretched across the path to bring him down. They discuss the implications and what line they should take. Gervase says, ‘I have a great dependence on your discretion, Miss Morville. We shall say, if you please, that I was so heedless as to let Cloud set his foot in a rabbit hole.’

Note that significant ‘we’. A few moments later, Gervase, Drusilla, and his friend Lord Ulverston are in a curricle driving back to the castle. Gervase puts his arm along the back of the curricle to give Drusilla a bit more room. I don’t know what you think, but I can’t help thinking that Drusilla would have felt Gervase’s arm behind her, even though it wasn’t touching her; and he would have been fully conscious of what he was doing.

I love Drusilla’s prosaic remarks; they make me laugh. It’s obvious to the reader (though not to Drusilla) that Gervase enjoys them, too. One of my favourites is her comment about the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft: ‘Mama has always maintained that most of the trouble arose from Miss Wollstonecraft’s determination to make him (her lover, Gilbert Imlay) an elm tree round which she might throw her tendrils. Very few gentlemen could, I believe, support for long so arduous a role.’

The Earl says, ‘I find myself, as always, in entire agreement with you, Miss Morville,’ he said, gravely.’ And we cannot doubt the irony here, the word ‘gravely’ gives it away; he obviously enjoys it as much as the reader does.

When Drusilla comes to visit him after a second, more serious attack, where Gervase is shot, the Earl smiles at her and stretches out his right hand ‘in an unconsciously welcoming gesture.’  

Drusilla looks at it and doesn’t move. When she does speak it is in ‘her most expressionless voice.’  It is obvious that Drusilla at least is well aware of her feelings for Gervase. Gradually, as the plot thickens, the wounded Gervase and Drusilla are thrown together and we notice that they now touch each other unselfconsciously: she takes his pulse, he grasps her wrist. He holds her hand and kisses it.

But Heyer cannot yet allow any words of love to be spoken. The villain is still at large and the plot needs to be wrapped up.

The final scene is delicious. Up to now Drusilla has been in control of her emotions but when Gervase kisses her, she bursts into tears and, for the first time, allows her own insecurities to show. I cannot resist quoting here:

‘Oh no! Pray do not! You felt obliged to comfort me! I assure you, I don’t regard it – shall never think of it again!’

   ‘My poor dear, you must be very much shaken to say anything so foolish!’ said the Earl lovingly. ‘Never did I think to hear such nonsense on my sage counsellor’s lips!’

   ‘You would become disgusted with my odious common sense. Try as I will, I cannot be romantic!’ said Miss Morville despairingly.

   His eyes danced. ‘Oh, I forbid you to try. Your practical observations, my absurd robin, are the delight of my life!’

   Miss Morville looked at him. Then, with a deep sigh, she laid her hand in his. But what she said was: ‘You must mean a sparrow!’

   ‘I will not allow you to dictate to me, now or ever, Miss Morville. I mean a robin!’ said the Earl firmly, lifting her hand to his lips.

Georgette Heyer 1939 by Howard Coster

The critic who complained that the courtship between the Earl and Drusilla was negligible also complained that there was only one kiss. Well, there’s only one kiss between hero and heroine in Cotillion, The Grand Sophy and The Reluctant Widow, and many other Heyer novels. So what? For me, a long, anticipatory build up is just fine.

I like the fact that the reader has to be alert to the oblique signs of interest expressed by Gervase, and to Drusilla’s touching hidden emotional insecurity. The Quiet Gentleman is not an ‘in your face’ novel and, in my view, it’s all the better for that.

Photos: Cover of The Quiet Gentleman courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo: Georgette Heyer by Howard Coster
Other photos of Lyme Park and Chiswick House standing in for Stanyon Castle by Elizabeth Hawksley

Elizabeth Hawksley







Tuesday, January 03, 2017


HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you all have a wonderful 2017, full of laughter and happiness and lots of lovely reading!  I am still in the holiday mood so I thought I'd kick off 2017 with a little bit of whimsy and share with you a few secrets about how I begin a new story.
Just before Christmas I finished writing my last Sarah Mallory novel, so I have had the festive break to mull over ideas for a brand new historical romance.  I really love this part of the process, when I have the writer's equivalent of a blank canvas, just waiting to be filled with daydreams and ideas.  This is the point where I indulge in a little armchair research, looking through magazines, books and images to decide on how my hero and heroine will look, where they will live and what they will do, etc.  Nothing is set in stone at this point, even the characters' names could change, but I thought you might enjoy coming on this little journey with me….

First of all there are the characters. I have a gentleman whose nickname is Russ. I decided he should be a Corinthian – a fashionable Regency sportsman.  Russ is also a dangerous rake. He is rich, possibly titled,  and is more used to fighting off women than chasing them.  I imagine him looking a bit like Rufus Sewell,…..


My heroine for this story is a young widow, Molly. She has had a tough time (but I am not going into that now, it would spoil the story) so she appears quite serious, although there is a spirited lady hidden beneath her sober appearance. There is a hint of this in the fact that she cannot quite control her unruly dark curls. So perhaps a mix of these two ladies.....

Then there is setting. Is it going to be an adventure story, set on a rugged coast,

perhaps a Gothic mystery with an old ruined castle….

No. this story is set in a village or small town, where one of the large local properties has just changed hands, and the new owner has brought a large party there for the hunting season.  So - I need to choose a house – something Palladian like Stourhead, perhaps,

or older,

My mind is tending towards something like this, Beningbrough, possibly because I think the story is going to be set in the north of England and this lovely property would suit very well.

And if we are in the north, then perhaps it will be winter, and my characters will have to travel through the snow…..
Or if it is summer, perhaps my characters might have reason to visit the ice house. In one of my books (Winter Inheritance) a villain shuts the heroine in an icehouse in an attempt to kill her, so I won’t be using that scenario, but I might have Molly and Russ meeting up there, and there is a lovely example at Stourhead.

Or, perhaps a trip to Harrogate, to take the waters (they would visit the Sulphur Well, which until 1842 was covered by this temple, which now sits over the Tewit Well)

and they might stay at the Queens Head, the fashionable coaching inn (which is still there, although it has had a change of name).

So you see what fun I can have without ever leaving my chair?  Of course there is a lot of research to be done when I get down to planning the story in more detail, but for now I can let my imagination wander as I decide on the people, places and scenes that I want to fit into this book.
At present, I have only written an opening scene, when Molly is dreaming. She is a child again,  hiding in a tree from her brother (who will never find her, because he does not believe girls can climb trees).  Now, some time ago I visited Ashbrittle, in Somerset and saw this beautiful ancient yew tree. It would make the perfect hiding place for Molly, so that is my inspiration for the first scene.

Now all I have to do is write the rest of the  book…..
Happy reading, everyone!

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

While you are waiting for the next Sarah Mallory novel, perhaps you might like to try The Wayward Miss Wyckenham. First published by Robert Hale as the Belles Dames Club, this is a sparkling Georgian romance, sure to cheer up a long winter evening!