Friday, March 31, 2006

I was thinking about my favourite romance heroes in an idle moment and wondering, if I could only have one, which I would choose.
The trouble is, they all have different things going for them, so I decided to give them points for fantasy lover (FL) good husband material (GHM) family man (FM) fun and games (FG) and stability and security (SS). I’m not sure SS has a place in a fantasy hero, but it helped bump up the points for Freddie (from Heyer’s Cotillion) so I left it in. I also threw in a few villains to see how they fared. Here’s how they did:

Darcy FL 10, GHM 10, FM 7, FG 7, SS 10 TOTAL 44
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Rochester FL 10, GHM 6, FM 4, FG 6, SS 8 TOTAL 34
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Mr Knightley FL 4, GHM 9, FM 10, FG 5, SS 10 TOTAL 38
Emma by Jane Austen

Heathcliff FL 10, GHM 0, FM 0, FG 7, SS 4 TOTAL 21
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Rhett Butler FL 9, GHM 7, FM 7, FG 7, SS 6 TOTAL 36
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Willoughby FL 7, GHM 2, FM 2, FG 8, SS 4 TOTAL 23
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Freddie Standon FL 2, GHM 8, FM7, FG 6, SS 10 TOTAL 33
Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
Col Brandon FL 1, GHM 7, FM 7, FG 6, SS10 TOTAL 31
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Wickham FL 6, GHM 1, FM 1, GH8, SS 0 TOTAL 16
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Scarlet Pimpernel FL 10, GHM 9, FM 7, FG 9, SS 9 TOTAL 44
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

Of course, the results would have been very different if I’d added a category for flannel waistcoats, which would have boosted Col Brandon’s score enormously :-)but it looks like my favourites are Darcy and the Scarlet Pimpernel. Who are yours?

Amanda Grange

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Just a little bit excited

In two days time my novel Perfidy and Perfection is officially out. Perfidy and Perfection is a romantic comedy and an affectionate tribute to Jane Austen. The heroine is a Regency author who is struggling with her writing until a hero comes into her life. She thinks he'd be the perfect hero for her story. He wants to marry her but in trying to win her he tricks her!

So it's all been a bit busy. On Monday I did an interview on my local BBC radio station and yesterday with a local newspaper. Today I'm worrying about Saturday when I'm doing my first book signing at a local bookshop (Ottakars, St Albans, Herts. If you live locally come along and say hello! I'll be in store from 11am to 1pm.)

On Sunday I'm at the International Napoleonic Fair in St Albans, Herts along with other Regency UK authors Fenella-Jane Miller, Louise Allen and Melinda Hammond.

Actually, I'm really excited about it. We're doing readings, signings, talks and we're there to try and promote Regency-set fiction to a wider audience. Oh, and there will be lots of redcoated soldiers who won't mind if I want to examine their uniforms and weapons very closely.

To treat myself for this big day I ordered a lovely dark green silk and felt bonnet from period hatmakers Kitty Hats. It arrived in a big box in the post yesterday and I was going to snap a picture of it to put on my blog today except I forgot. However, it looks like the bonnets worn by the ladies worn in the picture on the left.

I know that many people can't be in St Albans this weekend so I'm having an online celebratory party to launch Perfidy and Perfection later in April. You'll all invited! Watch this space for details or if you'd like me to email you an invitation, drop me a line.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Wicked Intentions

I have a new book out in April, WICKED INTENTIONS under my new pen name of LYNNE MARTIN.

WICKED INTENTIONS is about a gently nurtured young woman whose father is going slowly mad. Ruth lost her mother and two siblings several years before in a smallpox epidemic and now her father only has her left, he’s protecting her to the point of obsession. In fact, Lord Urswick has a benign brain tumour, but nobody in that time would have known that.
In order to escape him she has to take refuge in an unlikely place – a Covent Garden Brothel and accept the protection of a stranger, Oliver Bridgman, the Earl of Iveleigh.

The research for this book was fascinating and eye-opening. Covent Garden had been built as a fashionable residential area in a building speculation, but it never caught on. The fashionable and respectable moved out to the West End and the fashionable and disreputable moved in. Covent Garden became a fruit and vegetable market by day, and a resort of the young man looking for a good time at night.

There are maps to the area, showing all the houses and what they specialised in, guidebooks that discussed the ladies who had their own houses, and what they specialised in. This was the Georgian era, and remarkably little shame attached to this area and the streets around it, one of which contained the famous Drury Lane theatre. It was just another sight of London, like St. Pauls’ or the Tower. Although, of course, respectable ladies weren’t supposed to go there, but the existence of houses providing comely young gentlemen for the recreation of the bored lady rather suggests that they did! Some houses had specialisations; there was a notorious House of Correction, for instance. Many of the better houses combined gambling with prostitution and the girls were a cut above the streetwalkers. They could go on to attract a patron, in which case their fortune was made and they might go to live in a small house just outside London. Some might become a fashionable courtesan, like Kitty Fisher, whose wit and company was as attractive as her body. On the other hand, they could end up on the streets, facing the cold and filth for a few pennies and a miserable death in the poorhouse.

Ruth does none of those things. She’s an observer, someone who learns a lot while she’s in the house, but doesn’t participate.
Except for Oliver, but you’ll have to get the book to find out how well they get on!

Lynne Martin
writer of sensual historical romance


Monday, March 27, 2006

Eureka! moments

Last time I blogged, I was talking about how I write, starting with little more than a sketchy idea of my plot and often getting totally stuck, because I can’t see my way across a plot hole.

Well, it’s happened again. And the solution happened in the usual way, too, I’m glad to say.

Last week, I spent 5 days at West Dean College near Chichester, which is an amazing centre for all sorts of courses, from blacksmithing to calligraphy. On this occasion, I wasn’t actually doing a course. My husband was on a course there and I went along too, knowing that there would be much less scope there for displacement activity than there is at home. I was determined to write, to walk, and to do some photography. I would avoid all TV, internet, and emails, as well as having cooking and cleaning done for me. Bliss!

I discovered that I could really make inroads into the wip by focusing on it while I was out walking. I even did some dictation -- rather breathlessly I must admit -- as I climbed the hills in West Dean’s beautiful grounds. I was making great progress, at about 2000 words a day, when I got to the plot hole. I needed the heroine to confide in the hero about her rather nasty predicament but I couldn’t think of any plausible reason why she should. She didn’t know him very well, and he wasn’t a relative, obviously, so why on earth would any properly brought-up young lady share her secrets with him?

I spent a long time worrying away at her motivation and getting nowhere. So I gave up and wrote a different scene.

Then, the following day, I was out climbing the hills again and the answer came to me, in one of those Eureka! moments, as soon as I thought about the problem. My subconscious had clearly been on the case, so to speak.

My heroine now has a perfectly good reason for confiding in the hero, even though it is exactly what a proper young lady should NOT do. What is the reason? Ah, there I’m not telling. Too much of a plot spoiler, I think. You’ll be able to find out when the book eventually comes out, some time in 2007, I hope. It’s called Bride of the Solway and is the sequel to My Lady Angel.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Life of Crime

I was perusing a book about crime in London the other day and this paragraph struck a cord:

'Crime in the metropolis had reached epidemic proportions, and there seemed little prospect of bringing it under control: every kind of criminal offence known to man appeared to be committed in and around town, from petty theft to armed assault and murder. In particular, property was safe nowhere. A man could scarcely walk down a main thoroughfare at midday without running the risk of being robbed of his handkerchief, pocket-book or watch. A stallholder in any of the great markets might have his goods taken from under his nose at any moment. Forgery was rife, and house-breaking so common that it was no longer possible to go away for any length of time without taking elaborate precautions.'

Clearly not much has changed in the last two-hundred years or so since the book I was reading was not about life in modern-day England but about the Regency underworld.

Patrick Colquhoun, a Scotsman and previous Lord Provost of Glasgow, attracted by the Middlesex Justices' Act, became a leading magistrate at the Worship Street Office. He undertook his duties with vigour and in 1797 transferred to the Office in Queen Square, where he published his 'Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis', a catalogue of the criminal and dangerous classes in Britain, in which he contended that no fewer than 115,000 persons were engaged in criminal pursuits in London alone, including a staggering 50,000 'Unfortunate Females of all descriptions who support themselves chiefly or wholly by prostitution.'

Colquhoun's contentions were widely criticized but also helped to form the basis of the 'Police Board', the Metropolitan Police as we know them today, and demonstrated the ineffectiveness of The Watch - The Charleys as they were more popularly known - described by some as old men, armed with a staff, rattle and lantern, who shuffled along the darkened streets after sunset calling out the time and the state of the weather, thus warning criminal elements of their approach.

Wendy Soliman

Friday, March 24, 2006


Only two days to go before the first of my two book launches for A SUITABLE HUSBAND.The books arrived last week but the bookmarks and postcards to go with them are still not here. I like to give them something to take away, hoping they might order the book from the library if they haven't bought a copy. There could be anything from fifty to one hundred people coming but we have plenty of food and drink (and books to sell) so either way will be fine.
The official launch for A SUITABLE HUSBAND is at the International Napoleonic Fair at The Arena, St Albans on Sunday 2nd April from 10-4. There will be four of us from this loop there so do come along for a chat, and to hear readings, if you live in the area.
I picked up a Regency, at a book sale, called THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS by Annabel Laine, published by Fontana in 1978. It could have been written by the great Georgette Heyer herself. Has anyone come across this author before? It says that she is a famous non-fiction writer. I would love to know who she is - so if anyone recognises the name, please let me know.
Fenella Miller

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


For the last couple of weeks I have been researching heroes (there are worse topics!) not for my books this time, but for the dissertation I’m writing. One of the historical characters that I’m studying is Horatio Nelson. In his day Nelson was not considered particularly physically prepossessing although the portraits of him make him look pretty good! He was vain and was famously unfaithful to his wife. And yet he was also courageous, brilliant and inspiring. His men admired him deeply and he caught the public imagination. He was a Georgian/Regency celebrity as well as a national hero.

This set me wondering whether there is a hero template. Are there certain men and women who possess the characteristics that make them universally admired, and if so, what qualities are they? Do we use these in our own writing and recognise them in our reading? Or do we all have our own personal heroes and heroines?


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Miss Bridget Jane's Diary Part 5

(You might want to read Parts 1 to 4 - links on sidebar to your left - before reading this installment.)

‘Not Lord Rotherwell?’ I gasped.
‘But . . . the flunky spoke to you.’
He took his foot from the fender.
‘He asked if I was Rotherwell, because he had a message to deliver, but as soon as I told him I wasn’t, he left me and went to look elsewhere.’
I Saw It All.
The whole thing was a humiliating experience, but matters were about to get worse.
‘If you don’t mind, I’m having an important meeting in here in less than five minutes, and I’d like you to leave,’ he said
‘Nothing would give me greater pleasure,’ I replied haughtily.

I turned on my heel and walked out of the door. Unfortunately, it was the wrong door, and I walked straight into the broom cupboard, whereupon a deluge of buckets and brushes landed on my head.
‘As I thought, the cupboards in this house are far too small,’ I said. I mustered what dignity I could and pretended I’d walked into the cupboard on purpose to inspect it. ‘I will inform the mistress of the house at once. She needs to know that her cupboards should be enlarged by about fifty per cent.’
Then leaving the whole ghastly mess behind me I walked out of the door and went back to the ballroom.

‘Oh, Charlotte, there you are, I’ve been looking all over for you,’ said Mama. She did a double take as she saw the state of my dress. ‘Charlotte! What have you been doing to your dress? No, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. Now look, there’s Lord Rotherwell, and he’s coming this way. Throw back your shoulders and stick out your chest, and we’ll just have to hope he’s too distracted to notice the state of your dress.’

I didn’t do it, of course. I am not a floozy and I don’t mean to behave like one, no matter what Mama might say. Besides, Lord Rotherwell was short and fat. He was also at least forty, or possibly fifty. In fact, he could well have been sixty.
‘I’ve decided not to marry,’ I said.

Amanda Grange

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Why This Love Affair With The Regency Period?

Many of us love anything to do with the Regency period. We love the books, the clothes, the furniture and the style, but what is it that makes us drawn to this period more than Elizabethan times perhaps? Is it the way those tight fitting breeches, coats and long boots set off the men's figures to perfection? The young ladies looked rather delightful too, but it can't all be down to the clothes.

Manners had reached their zenith. I don't believe they have ever quite matched up since, particularly these days when so often anything goes. The Victorians began the slide, because they were caught up with the exciting new world of machines and power. The Regency has a slow charm about it that we cannot find these days and some of us truly miss it. Is that what we are looking for when we read these books? A more peaceful, friendly, and kind way of life? For those with money and position it must certainly have been that way, but not for me and possibly not for you. We shouldn't have found it all that comfortable getting up early to clean a huge cold house, especially in winter.

I don't think it was the most romantic age, for that belongs to knights on white horses, surely? Yet there is something that carries a strong appeal for both men and women alike. I can't tell you why I would have loved to live then - would love to now, providing I could be a lady and meet men like Mr Darcy. But I should probably have ended up as the kitchen maid!
Best wishes, Linda Sole (Anne Herries)

Friday, March 17, 2006

P & P Is Still a Winner

Last week I needed a comfort read and as a change from Georgette Heyer I picked up Pride & Prejudice. This time, however, I found myself reading it in a much more critical way. We often say that long-dead authors would never be published today because their books move too slowly. I now think that Jane Austen, at least, is the exception. Her story is fast-paced, there's plenty going on and she "hits the ground running" with each new chapter. For me this was a revelation, because I had not read P&P for several years and my memory of it was obviously distorted by the film and tv versions of the story.

Perhaps this is the reason for Jane Austen's enduring popularity: her characters embody traits we still recognise today and they find themselves in situations we can understand. The clothes and manners may have changed in the last two hundred years, but I don't think human nature has altered all that much.

Melinda Hammond

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Guest blogger - Janet Woods

We're delighted to welcome Janet Woods to the blog for our March guest slot. Janet has written a variety of popular historical romances in a range of historical periods. Here she talks about her work.

Janet says:
I’ve just finished writing my 22nd book. I won’t go into a long spiel about who has released which books of mine. Generally, I’ve been published in electronic form, hardcover and paperback, with spin-offs into large print and audio books, mostly in historical romance and saga. My favourite period for writing romance is Georgian. For saga, Victorian. Each era has it’s own charm, for me.

My first published historical book “Daughter of Darkness,” won the 2002 romantic mainstream book of the year award, here in Australia. Obviously the eight or more rewrites I did on it, paid off! It was certainly a learning process, as is each book I write. Now, I don’t need so many edits, but some books are certainly easier to write than others.I’m British by birth, but have lived in Australia for many years, having migrated with my husband and children as £10 poms. Now I have dual nationality.

I’m paying one of my four- yearly visits to the UK next month, where I will catch up with my 98 year old mother, who was one of eleven children. I love to listen to the stories she tells of her youth in West Hartlepool, where, as a child, she sold fish door to door for her father, who was a fisherman. When she was fourteen she became a maid in London. Most of her wage was sent back home to help raise her siblings, since there was no welfare system then. In her late twenties, she met my father who was a widower, and moved to Dorset, where she raised a family of five, mostly through the war years. I sometimes wonder how today’s youth would cope with such a hard life as my mother did. Or indeed, how I would have coped myself.

Reminiscences such as hers are invaluable, since they're first hand, and are the the stuff sagas are made of. I’d like to tell you about two of my latest sagas, which are published by Simon & Schuster in Pocket Books. Most people associate regional saga with books set in the North of England. Mine are set in the South of England. Dorset, to be specific. That’s where I was born and raised and I still have the dialect to prove it!

THE STONECUTTER’S DAUGHTER was released in 2005. Its sequel, WHERE SEAGULLS SOAR, which is already out in library hardcover, will be released in paperback in May 06. The setting of this duo of books is the Isle of Portland. Research uncovered the island’s fascinating past, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process.

I often used a book written by Dorset local historian Stuart Morris to give the setting authenticity, a gift from my eldest sister. My brother used to live in Portland a few years back, so I had a small advantage of having lived in his house in Fortuneswell for three months when he worked overseas. That gave me first hand knowledge of what it was like to live in Portland, and instilled in me a need to probe deeper. The history of the place is so varied and fascinating that it’s totally impossible to put it all into a work of fiction.

Learning from my readers letters that little details of historical interest are appreciated, and emotional depth is of paramount importance, I always aim to get both into my writing. I’ve lost count of the letters that have stated my books evoked such emotion in the reader that they bawled their eyes out from beginning to end. Oddly enough, I'm pleased I can make them cry! Many of those letters were from people with strong nostalgic ties to Dorset, who now live in places like New Zealand, Australia, Canada.

THE STONECUTTER’S DAUGHTER has also reviewed well. Following are some extracts from reviews.

“The unravelling of Woods’ young heroine’s antecedents makes for a highly appealing historical novel, one filled with surprises and interesting detail.” Patty Engelmann. Booklist. (Feb 05)

“This is a thoroughly researched, well-paced and enjoyable novel, conveying Portland’s unique, sometimes sinister atmosphere.” Nancy Henshaw. Historical Novel Society Review. (Nov 06)

“THE STONECUTTER DAUGHTER is a beautiful, poignant story that brought tears to my eyes more than once. Janet Woods is a superbly gifted writer who knows how to tell a story like no other.” Kristal Gorman. Romance Reader at Heart (Jan 06)

WHERE SEAGULLS SOAR has not yet been reviewed, but a reader’s letter tells me it’s just as exciting and adventurous as the first book - as it brings to a conclusion the story of Joanna Rose, a child rescued from a stormy sea and raised by a simple Portland stonecutter and his wife.I’m certainly looking forward to my visit to my home county next month.

Janet Woods.

Visit Janet's website to find out more about her books.

Regency Author

This is a short post just to introduce myself, and to see if I can actually manage to blog, as I have never tried before. My name is Linda Sole and I write as Anne Herries for HMB. I write historicals in general but have done several Regency stories. A Damnable Rogue won the RNA Romance prize in 2004 and that was a huge thrill. Since then I have written a Regency called A Wicked Lady which was published as a Mother's Day double book last year. I am now finishing a Regency trilogy, the first of which should be out in October, I think. I have written three Georgian novels for Severn House, but they are very different from the HMB books.

Anyway, I hope to post a picture for you here. If this is successful I will be back with a more interesting post for you. Love, from Linda S


Now that "Dangerous Waters" has been launched I'm deep into research for my new book, "Devil's Prize," which is set in Cornwall in the late C18th. I have a real problem with research: I love it! Why is that a problem? Because it's all too easy to get drawn along trails that are fascinating but not really relevant to the book. One of my first ports of call when I begin researching a new book is our Local Studies library which keeps copies of the newspapers of the time on microfiche. The Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury, (also called the Western Flying Post) was the only newspaper available in Cornwall in 1795. Here are a few snippets from the edition printed on October 12th of that year.

"Whereas some evil-minded persons have spread A FALSE REPORT to injure the character of JOHN GOODMAN, master of the King's Head, Old Town, Chard, laying to his charge the MURDER of ANN LOVERIDGE, a lunatick; we, whose names are undermentioned declare it to be false, as she is now at her father's at Forton. - Witness our hands: THOMAS LOVERIDGE, father to the girl. JOHN BRYANT. WILLIAM JAMES."

The trouble of reports like this (and those in so many of our newspapers today) is that they never tell the full story. They never say why. What grounds were there to suppose the girl was dead, let alone that John Goodman had killed her? Why was he accused? What had he done to upset whoever started the rumour?

Here's another:

"WHEREAS my wife, ELIZABETH TAYLOR, has lately absconded from me without any provocation whatever, and has been desired, by a respectable person in the neighbourhood of Churston Ferrers, as well as by me, to return and live with me, which she did for a short time, but has since that time left me again: This is therefore to inform her, that I shall be very happy to live with her in case she will return, and will maintain her in a degree suitable to my situation; but in case she will not return to live with me, I do hereby give her, and the publick in general, notice that I will not pay any debts that she may contract. - As witness my hand, EDWARD TAYLOR."

Why did she leave? Is his notice a genuine plea to her to come back, or simply a legal requirement so he can disclaim responsibility for her debts? What exactly is his situation? Why did she return the first time? Did he promise things would be different? Did she realise she'd made a mistake? But then she left again. Is he wealthy? Had she come back to try and get more money from him? Was he determined to punish her for making him a laughing stock among his friends? Where will she go now? Is she alone, or is there a lover?

The stories that people were reading about 200 years ago - whether it's the latest war news or human interest - are little different to those in our newspapers today. That, for me, is what brings the past to vivid life, and can trigger ideas for characters or events in my stories.

Jane Jackson. ("Dangerous Waters" published by Robert Hale, Feb 2006.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A quite singular folly

The weekend before last I went on a walk through the Earl of Verulam's estate. Past the remains of the Roman ampitheatre and fields under which would have been the Roman city of Verulanium and to some other remains: those of Old Gorhambury House. Once a grand Elizabethan house built originally by Sir Nicolas Bacon, father of the philosopher Sir Francis Bacon, now Old Gorhambury House stands only as a complete ruin. I was surprised to learn it did not come that way purely by the ravages of time.

In the greater romantic period there was a fashion to incorporate romantic ruins in the gardens of great houses in order to provide romantic vistas when staring into the landscape. All grand houses worth their salt came complete with a 'folly' as they become known because these were artificies, constructed from scratch to look old and decayed. But some 'romantic' ruins, like those of Old Gorhambury House, have a different story.

In the 1770s Old Gorhambury House, which had been built rather shoddily originally apparently, had become uninhabitable. Architects were called in with the intention of rebuilding, but the house was in too bad a way to save and a decision was made to build a new residence. New Gorhambury House is a grand, neo-grecian country house, commanding the landscape from several hundred yards distant from the old house. The old house was largely demolished to create a romantic ruin. From what I could see, it looked as though much of the brick was used to build the walls of an extensive kitchen garden.

I'm not sure how 'romantic' Old Gorhambury House looks to me. Though in the care of English Heritage, it looks lonely and neglected. I think I prefer real follies created for the fun of it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Changing my Name

I haven’t changed my name for a long time. When I was nineteen, I married, and changing my name then seemed to signify so much. As a matter of fact, it changed very little and within two years I was back to my maiden name. Sharp. I never liked it much, it led to puerile puns that I had to pretend were original every time I heard it.
But at least the name was mine. I got my qualifications under that name, which was immensely satisfying, especially since I depended on no-one to get it. I loved my parents, and I thought they’d paid enough, so I managed on a grant and summer jobs.
The second time I changed my name was when I married the man I’m still married to. I’ve used the name for a very long time now, and I like it. Lynne Connolly seems a pleasing combination of letters to this writer. I didn’t mind changing it at all, this time, and I’ve used it happily ever since.
Now I’m changing my name again. According to my publisher, I need a way to differentiate between my paranormal novels and my historical novels. After an internet conference with several people, trying out variations on a number of names, I’ve appropriated my husband’s first name and for the historical romances, I’ll be Lynne Martin.
I’m quite pleased with it. My first book under that name is coming out next month. Still, the work has been more than I thought. I’ve redesigned my website, and actually bought my domain, at last
so if you have a spare few minutes, pop over there and see what you think!
Still, there was a brief moment of sadness when I got the artwork for the cover and found my new name adorning it. No matter. Pretty soon I’m sure it will be like my own name. And I hope it shows how much I owe my husband in my writing career. The man who rarely reads my work, but who is always there, has supported me while I fulfil a life’s dreaming and turn my stories into printed books.
Thanks, Martin.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Bad Hair Day

I resent the time it takes to go to the hairdressers and tend to put it off until my emerging roots make it a 'must do'.

During a sojourn with my stylist yesterday I got to thinking about how ladies in the Regency period dealt with such matters. Hairdressers existed then but they didn't have fancy salons and instead called at ladies' houses, charging anything between 2s6d and 5s to style and cut. More often though a lady's maid would be responsible for dressing her mistress's hair. She had a number of implements to assist her in her endeavours, many of which would be familiar to us today, (minus the electric cables, of course!), such as straighteners and tongs. They were heated in a fire and then wrapped in rags before being applied to the waiting head. Styles were created on a Grecian theme, with soft curls around the face, ringlets or braids.

Pins, slides, clips and other hair decorations existed in greater abundance than they do today and were considered indispensible. For a formal ball a tiara or garland of fresh flowers might be worn but for presentatation at Court only ostrich feathers would do.

A lady might change her clothes as many as four times a day, in turn making it necessary for her hair to be redressed to suit her change of garb; which in itself makes the whole business of simply being a lady in those days sound pretty exhausting.

I'm going to hold that thought and the next time I have to sacrifice an hour and a half for the benefit of my crowning glory I'll try not to resent it.

Wendy Soliman

Friday, March 10, 2006

Plot or character?

This morning I was listening to Desert Island Discs where the castaway was Jack Higgins. I hadn’t realised that his book, The Eagle Has Landed, which was a worldwide number one bestseller and has sold over 50 million copies, was his twenty-seventh book. The classic example of an overnight success!!

So what made the twenty-seventh book different from previous books by a mid-list thriller writer? Higgins said the catalyst for change was a meeting with one of his old teachers. Up until then, Higgins had always plotted out his thrillers in minute detail and had made his characters act out their parts as if they were actors in a stage play. Higgins’ old teacher said that was precisely the problem with thrillers. He reminded Higgins that life doesn’t work that way, that people don’t function according to a pre-ordained script. He said that, in real life, *people* write the script.

It seems to have been a moment of revelation for Higgins. He started to think much more about his characters, their motivation, and the effects of external factors on them. He said that the next book he wrote was so different and so much better than his previous ones that his agent told him he ought to take a new pseudonym. That’s when Jack Higgins was born.

It’s an interesting sidelight on character-driven versus plot-driven books. There are some quite famous authors who recommend plotting every twist and turn of a book in minute detail, before putting a single word on the page. There are others who have only a vague idea of where their story is going when they start to write, but who understand every aspect of their characters, right down to how they vote and the filling they put in their sandwiches. Of course, those are the ends of the spectrum; writers can be anywhere in between, working with a combination of character and plot. But, listening to Higgins, I found myself wondering: does the mostly plot-driven approach came more naturally to male authors and the mostly character-driven one to female authors? Or is it more a function of the genre, with thrillers being plot-driven and romances being character-driven?

I’ll put my cards on the table. I rarely have more than a sketchy idea of my plot when I start writing, though I do know my characters. It can make for a truly scary ride. Sometimes I get totally stuck. I meet plot chasms and I can’t see how to get across them. But I’ve found that if I leave it to the characters and my subconscious, between us we usually find a way. I’m pretty sure that, if I plotted it all out from the start, my characters could become flat and lifeless. I know I couldn’t write the way Higgins originally did. I like my characters to be able to surprise me.


Don't forget to visit our sister site and enter the competition to win a hardback copy of Jane Jackson's Dangerous Waters.

Dangerous Waters is an adventure story with a powerful love story, set in 1795, when England was at war with Napoleonic France. The story begins in Falmouth and moves to Jamaica at a time when the island was overrun with French refugees and in the grip of a slave revolt.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Book covers, book launch and publicity!

Last week the dust jacket for my next book A SUITABLE HUSBAND, out this month, arrived and I find that I don't dislike it as much as I did. I'm still waiting to receive a sketch for the cover for A DISSEMBLER, due out in August. I have been promised that I will be allowed more input with this one. I sent several Victorian photographs of Great Bentley Green, a village two miles from where I live where the book is set, weeks ago so should get something any day. I will post it as soon as it arrives.
This week I have made six dozen sausage rolls, both vegetarian and normal, for my private book launch party on the 26th March. I am also going to bake 150 mini quiche - these were the most popular items on the buffet last time. This is the last private party I'm having; next time Caxton Bookshop is holding a signing and launch for me on the weekend of the Frinton Literary Festival. I won't sell as many books but it won't cost me anything.
This brings me on to the subject of promotion and PR. I have come to the conclusion, and I'm not alone in this, that readers are not really interested in who writes a book. I think that they select their reading purely on whether they like the content, have read a book by this author before, or the title has been recommended somewhere. It is the book that matters - write a good book and eventually people will hear about it and read it. What do you think? Are you interested in the writer or just their writing?
I know authors who do no promotion, publicity etc. at all and sell just as many books as those who spend days, and hundreds of pounds, contacting bookshops and newspapers. So from now on I am going to concentrate on writing, which is my life, and leave the books to get on with it.
I doubt if it will make any difference to my sales, but I will save a great deal of money and time.
Fenella Miller

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Last week I went to see the film Casanova starring Heath Ledger and Sienna Miller. I hadn’t seen either of these actors in a historical drama before and I have to admit I was curious, especially to see whether Heath could carry off the role of the legendary rake! It was no Pride and Prejudice, in fact a friend of mine said it should have been called “Carry On in Eighteenth Century Venice” but despite that I enjoyed it. It was a romp and there was some fun dialogue and some good plot twists. The thing that struck me about it, though, was how strong and spirited all the female characters had to be, from the heroine disguising herself as a man in order to get into the university and campaign for rights for women, to her mother conveniently pinching the daughter’s fiancĂ©! It seems that in both books and films now the female characters have to be strong and forge a future for themselves, regardless of how true (or not) this is to historical accuracy. As someone who writes strong heroines and enjoys reading about them, I’m not criticising although I do wonder whether this says more about audiences these days than the times we are writing about. On the other hand, most of Jane Austen’s heroines were strong in their own way and in keeping with their times. Lizzy Bennett was secure in her own accomplishments: “I am no longer surprised at you knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder at your knowing any.” And Anne Elliot was quieter but still an admirable person, generous, calm in an emergency, thoughtful and wise. We can still identify with these characters today.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Creating a web site

I have just signed off my new - and first -website. The process was about as fraught as writing a novel, despite an absolutely marvellous web designer. Adam sent me a detailed questionnaire to which the answers to most of the questions were 'I haven't a clue, don't understand the question, can manage the adverbs' or 'I'm not sure what I want, I'll know it when I see it'.
Rule Number One for this is obviously, 'Get a patient web designer!

I asked for simple, clear, easy to navigate and non-gimmicky, and I think I've got it - but oh my goodness, the problems along the way. Things I thought would look great, didn't and my obsession with putting bookjackets everywhere was obviously baffling, but we got there in the end.

Now I can emerge blinking into the sunlight and get on with the work in progress, which is set in Corfu in 1816 and has pirates in it. There are times when I just love research!

Come and visit me on

Louise Allen

Covers and large print

I've just received a copy of the large print version of Darcy's Diary.

I'm always pleased that my books come out in large print as well as regular print, as I know that a lot of people have trouble with small print, particularly as they get older, so if you know anyone like this, why not see if they know about large print books?

The covers of my large print edition are always different to the covers on the regular print, and it made me wonder, which of these two covers do you like best?

And, in general, do you prefer specially commissioned covers on your books, or do you like fine art covers?

Let me know!

Amanda Grange

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Jane Austen: fact or fiction?

Anne Hathaway will star in Becoming Jane.

There was an interesting post at Austenblog yesterday (Summer loving . . . ) about a forthcoming film called Becoming Jane.

'Becoming Jane focuses on a life-changing romance during one summer in the life of the young Jane Austen,' reads the film copy.

Austenblog comments: "Sadly, no! The 'romance' with Tom Lefroy actually took place in December 1795 through January 1796. Not summer. Not even close."

I'm as eager as the next Jane Austen fan for a film about her life, but I like to know if I'm watching fact or fiction. Whilst the film intends to focus on Jane's relationship with Tom Lefroy, building it into something 'as passionate as any scenario from her works of romantic fiction. . . he was the big love of her life, her first and her only love . . . '

Austenblog comments: "Let us not forget the Mysterious Suitor-by-the-Sea."

For everyone else who likes to know whether they're watching fact or fiction, the Austenblog post is essential reading.

As for the film, the sooner the better, I say!

Amanda Grange

Friday, March 03, 2006

World Book Day – the Day After

....Carrying on the theme of World Book Day. Did you all take part in the survey, "what is your favourite book ending"?

I did (clue: "Reader, I married him…….") but the survey was quite restricted – one did not have free choice of ANY book.

So I started thinking about the kind of book endings that I like best, and decided that I like those that end with a smile. Georgette Heyer was very good at this: the last word was very often given to one of her secondary characters, - remember Felix in Frederica and his "Please, Cousin Alverstoke'…..?

I love the way this shows her grasp of real life, that even though the hero has won his heroine it won't be the end of the story. Why not let us know your own favourites?

Melinda Hammond

Thursday, March 02, 2006

World Book Day

Today is World Book Day in the UK and Ireland, a day designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading!

Marked in over 30 countries around the globe, World Book Day puts a great deal of activity trying to prompt children into reading. A worthy cause yet I think it's a great day for everyone to consider reading. I'm in the middle of reading The early Victorian woman: Some aspects of her life (1837-57) by Janet Dunbar. It's providing some useful thinking points about my current novel work-in-progress which is largely set in the early 1830s.

Where would you be without reading? Without having read all the books you've ever read? Gosh, it's difficult to contemplate but I wouldn't be who I am now without books, and I can't help thinking I'd be the poorer for it. A world without Mr Darcy, without Georgette Heyer's Dominic Alistair, Marquis of Vidal and without The Scarlet Pimpernel? A world where Anne of Green Gables had never got mistakenly drunk on cordial, nor Bridget Jones worn her big pants? No, thank you.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

C18th midwifery

While researching "Dangerous Waters" I discovered an intriguing new slant on the age-old debate of home births versus hospital delivery. An impersonal "conveyor-belt" atmosphere in some hospitals today is leading to more mothers opting for home births - provided they can find a midwife willing, able and sufficiently experienced. There was no such problem in the C17th. The midwife was a highly valued member of the community in her village or town. As well as learning the skills that would ensure mother and baby survived at birth, she also gained status as an expert witness in matters of rape, abortion and VD. Her clients were the wives of men from all walks of life, and for those midwives whose skills inspired confidence there was no shortage of work.

Then the mid-C18th saw the arrival of men-midwives. Combining charm with claims of greater skill, better education and access to new instruments, they quickly climbed from reluctant social acceptance to being the new "must-have" among the wives of men of substance. By 1800 they outnumbered traditional female midwives.

But this altered the concept of childbirth from a natural process presided over by women, to a medical situation controlled by men. The availability of new instruments inevitably meant them being used. Intervention as a precaution replaced time and patience.

A woman giving birth at home and attended by an experienced midwife trained in the use of herbs would be given raspberry leaf tea to assist her contractions and check any haemorrage during labour. Just before delivery, she would be washed with an antispetic lotion made from marigold flowers and goldenseal. If haemorrage did occur it was treated quickly with an astringent infusion of nettles.

During the same period, a woman delivering in hospital might be under the care of a doctor who had no interest in, or patience with, old wives remedies, condemning them as mumbo-jumbo and "unscientific." But that same obstetrician might have come to the bedside of the woman he was about to deliver straight from the mortuary where he had been dissecting a corpse without changing his coat or even washing his hands. These men buried their mistakes.

In 2006, hospitals boast dedicated maternity wings where women have far more choice in the manner of delivery. But while some opt for low light, soft music and sharing a birthing pool with a supportive partner, many are electing to give birth by caesarian section to avoid labour altogether. Indeed, why endure hours of pain and exhausting work if there's an alternative that requires 30 minutes, a neat row of stitches below the bikini line, and can be arranged to suit mother and surgeon's convenience?

We have come a long way in 300 years. Or have we? Hospitals are plagued with lethal infections. Spot checks reveal a worrying lack of basic hygiene. Perhaps a home birth, when a woman is cared for on a one-to-one basis by an experienced midwife, from labour through delivery and several days afterwards, has a lot to recommend it after all.

"Dangerous Waters" by Jane Jackson published 28th Feb by Robert Hale. Price £18.99