Tuesday, May 30, 2006

You can't judge a book by its cover

Repackaging Jane Austen is all the rage, so that if you want to update your copy, you now have plenty of cover styles to choose from.

As well as the traditional fine art covers still being used on older editions of Pride and Prejudice, you can also buy pastel covers by going for the new Headline editions.

And in case you don't like fine art covers, and are not tempted by Headline's pastel covers, then Bloomsbury are now publishing Pride and Prejudice in a new cover as well.

They are going a step further and publishing the book with a new introduction by Meg Cabot,too. So if you have a teenager in the house, and you want to encourage her to read Pride and Prejudice, this might be the edition for you.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Regency wallpaper

Recently, there’s been yet another discussion about accuracy and “wallpaper historicals” on a message board, so I thought I’d tell you my story.

I wrote a book called NOBLESSE OBLIGE (well that was the title it ended up with!) about a shy man and the lady he fell in love with, a lady’s companion. The duke in the story isn’t a go-getting alpha, but a nice man, the kind you marry after dating the other kind for a few years. The heroine wasn’t kick-butt, but knew where she stood in life and what she had to do to make a living. I liked her, because her practicality went much further than mere defiance. Her mistress was a wealthy slut, and as soon as the hero hove in view, she went after him, using my heroine as her go-between.

The story was set in Yorkshire, beginning in Scarborough, continuing to York and going on to a stately home remarkably like Castle Howard, but set a few miles further North, near Harrogate.

I sent this book off to a US publisher who was very interested. Only – could I make the hero an alpha, and give him a mistress? Could I also set it in London, while I was at it? And how about giving the heroine a title, making her not the daughter of a country vicar, but the daughter of, say, a duke?

Well I tried, I really did. But in the end I couldn’t do it all. The hero turned before my eyes into the cardboard love-em-and-leave-em alpha, the heroine, while not the daughter of a duke (I just couldn’t do that!) turned into the kind of woman who wouldn’t have lasted five minutes as a lady’s companion. The subplot with the mistress turned into the usual stuff about jealousy and misunderstanding.

I couldn’t stand it.

However, the publisher helped me with one thing. The editor told me to ‘up the sexual tension’ and although I know that is one of the knee-jerk requests they often make, I looked carefully at it, and they were definitely right in this case. So I teased a little more.

Well, I couldn’t do the revisions, so I sent the book elsewhere. And damme, I got the same response!

So if you wonder why there are so many books which have the alpha duke meeting the feisty titian-haired heroine, and a plot that stumbles over big misunderstandings, to a background of riding in Hyde Park, going to balls at Almack’s and London mansions (huh? London mansions?) this is probably why. Until recently, that’s what they liked, so that’s what they got. There are always more writers than publishing slots, so the publishers could shrug their shoulders and move on to the next one.

I can't say they're wrong, because until recently, these were the books that sold. But I've never been in it just for the money. If I'd written a book about a duke's daughter and an alpha hero, I would have been proud of it, but I hadn't. Not in this case, anyway.

By the way, I’m very glad Champagne Books decided to take the book as it is, Yorkshire, reticent lady’s companion and all. I’m proud of it, and it’s a treat to see it on the virtual shelves.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Miss Charlotte Smith's Diary - Part 7

Miss Charlotte Smith's Diary is a Regency satire of Bridget Jones's Diary. You might like to read parts 1-6 first, links on the sidebar to your left.

January 12th

Have decided that when I am married to my earl and have a massive house I will not lord it over Mama and Susan, but will be kind and generous and say, ‘The house isn’t really that big, it only has twenty-seven bedrooms, and the ballroom’s positively tiny. And I know a hundred servants sounds a lot, but really, you’d hardly know they were here.’

January 15th

2 o’clock
Looked in the Gazette and found a promising sounding position.
Sensible, mature young woman required to give companionship to a gentlewoman of advancing years. Apply Lord Winters.
Sent off a letter straight away, before I could change my mind.

Dear Lord Winters,
I am a sensible, mature young woman and I am seeking a position as a companion to a gentlewoman of advancing years. I look forward to your reply.
Yours sincerely,
Sarah Bloom

An assumed name seems like A Good Idea

3 o’clock.
Went round to Melissa’s house and told her all about it.
‘What? You’re not a sensible, mature woman, Charlotte!’
‘Of course I am,’ I said, hurt.

What about the time you thought it would be a good idea to surprise Edward when he came home from school, and you climbed the tree outside his window and crawled in, only to find yourself in Mr and Mrs Masterson’s bedroom. You ended up falling on top of Mr Masterson as he attempted to have carnal relations with the chambermaid, whilst his wife was in the conservatory.’
‘That wasn’t my fault,’ I protested. ‘I wasn’t to know Mr Masterson was Untrustworthy and Unfaithful.’
‘No, but you were to know that Edward’s room was three doors to the left.’
‘Geography has never been my strong point. Besides, that is all in the past. I am now mature and reliable and mean to marry the earl, like Phoebe in The Earl’s Secret.’

Melissa spoilt the moment by laughing like a drain.
‘It’ll never work,’ she said. ‘You don’t have Titian hair.’
‘Yes, I do. And green eyes.’
She studied them closely.
‘The earl might find them charming. Besides, it’s either that or going to live with Susan.’
Melissa’s mouth fell open.
‘Lord Rotherwell was my last chance, so Mama and Susan say. If I don’t get a job I’ll have to be a governess to Susan’s awful brats.’

Thursday, May 25, 2006

New historical romance authors

Every year, the Romantic Novelists' Association here in the UK gives an award to the best first romantic novel by a new writer. The only requirement for entry is that the book must have passed through the RNA New Writers' Scheme ( details on the RNA website, link on the sidebar at the left).

This year, we were pleased to see a number of excellent historical romances on the shortlist, and so here we bring you details, including the judges' comments.

Dilly Court - Mermaids Singing

The end of the nineteenth century is powerfully evoked in this dramatic story of brutal men and resourceful women. We were very impressed by the shifting alliances, above and below stairs; the skilful delineation of social class; and, above all, a sense of female solidarity in a frightening world. We particularly loved Bella, who goes on the stage, telling herself that now she only has to act during theatre hours, not all the time, as she did when she was with her bullying baronet of a husband. Dramatic stuff.

Wendy Soliman - Lady Hartley's Inheritance
An intriguing Regency, with a strong plot about rival claimants which is sustained to the end of the book. The unusual heroine has been an effective farm manager of her north country property and her down-to- earth approach to the exaggerations of Regency polite society is refreshing. We liked the Dickensian tone to the mystery; the thoroughly oily villain; the disinterested and honourable heroine; and a hero of real principle. The good did indeed end happily in this book.

Bloggers' note: Wendy Soliman is a member of our blog, so we were especially delighted to see her book shortlisted for the award.

Jaqueline Webb - The Scarlet Queen

This book has a terrific start as the heroine-narrator, a wonderfully horrible precocious child, travels to join her Egyptologist father on his dig. We liked the way we see her mature. The author weaves a plot of multiple elements - lack of money, professional fraud, archaeology, the scents and tastes of North Africa and the restrictions of Edwardian society which get in the way of the romantic relationship. We said the hero had all the brio of Indiana Jones with more substance. Great stuff.

Bloggers' note: If you like Amelia Peabody, make sure you try The Scarlet Queen.

If you're looking to try something new, then why not give these fabulous books a go?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

St Osyth Priory and' big' news!

Last week I was lucky enough to be allowed to join a private party that had a conducted tour of St Osyth Priory the setting for my next Regency for Robert Hale.
This Priory is the best surviving example of mediaeval architecture in Europe and the site has the greatest number of listed buildings in England. At one time the incumbents of the Priory owned the whole of the Tendring area. St Osyth, no more than a small village now, was, in the 18th and 19th century, the centre of commerce and industry. The Sun Insurance company kept their fire wagons there; the fire mark is still visible on the gatehouse. St Osyth always had a doctor living in the town as well. It is a shame the Priory is no longer open to the public as it is well worth a visit.
Also last week I heard that, A SUITABLE HUSBAND, has been sold to Thorpe, to appear in large print in 2007, which is great news. I finally received the proofs for my next book, A DISSEMBLER, which is scheduled to come out in August. Things seem to be running later than usual at Hale, but they still think they can publish as planned.
Fenella Miller

Monday, May 22, 2006

Real Live Inspiration!

I wonder how many authors have ever lifted an entire person from real life and put them straight into a book? I know that many of us use aspects of our own characters as well as people we know when we are creating characters for our stories but I’ve never used a real person wholesale, as it were. But last week I was tempted.

I was standing in a queue at the post office. It was raining, I’d forgotten my umbrella, and I was in the trousers I’d been wearing earlier when I washed the dog, because I hadn’t had time to change before I’d gone out. Who should I see coming towards me along the pavement but my gorgeous friend Lydia. Lydia always looks a million dollars. She’s beautiful, she’s elegant and she was trailing a comet’s tail of young, adoring Army officers from the college where she works. I felt like the frumpy debutante at the ball the night before Waterloo. I’d be hiding behind the potted palm in my unbecoming gown and Lydia would be holding court amongst an entire regiment of soldiers, sparkling with diamonds and dazzling everyone with her witty conversation. I wanted to go straight home and write her into a book!

I’m sure there are many other writers out there like me who eavesdrop shamelessly on conversations, and people watch so that they can use things they pick up in their writing. I’ve got some great lines that way. Then there are the events that you couldn’t make up. There was the memorable time I was sitting in a traffic jam in Oxford when a streaker ran in front of my car. Nothing is wasted – I was able to put him into a Regency, streaking in front of the heroine’s carriage! So perhaps I should feel grateful to lovely Lydia who will definitely grace one of my books in the future!

Nicola Cornick

Sunday, May 21, 2006

One of the things I like about historical romance in the UK at the moment is the diversity. There really is something for everyone.

Elizabeth Bailey blogged about the recent trend for hotter Regencies that have an intense focus on the hero and heroine, and so I thought I’d blog about the other end of the spectrum, Regencies – or historical romances set in other eras – that take a more traditional approach. These books are still being published, in fact, all my books fall into this category, and although my heroes and heroines are passionate people, their passion is emotional rather than physical. They find themselves tracking down murderers and exploring secret passages as well as going to soirees and balls. In Lord Deverill’s Secret, Cassandra finds herself experiencing a lot of near-fatal accidents in Regency Brighton, and then she learns that there is something Lord Deverill is not telling her . . .

My latest book, Darcy's Diary is something different again. It’s a re-telling of Pride and Prejudice from Mr Darcy’s point of view, and it offers historical romance lovers yet more variety.

Mr Knightley’s Diary, out in August, continues this theme with another Jane Austen re-telling.

So all in all, the start of the twenty-first century is a good time for those of us who love historical romance. There are intense books with a lot of physical passion, there are rolicking adventures, there are classic re-tellings, and other sorts besides. If you want to try a lot of new authors, your local library will probably have a good range so you can find out which ones are for you.

Amanda Grange

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Love Libraries?

Do you love libraries? I do, and I'm upset with the increasing pressures on libraries not to spend money on books. Some of this comes from general local government budget pressures, others from the increasing demands that libraries provide other facilities such as computers and community meeting spaces.

So I've signed up to champion the love libraries campaign which aims to highlight the value and current issues which UK libraries are facing. You can read more about the campaign at their website here.

One argument for reducing spending on libraries is that borrowing levels are down. Therefore support your local library by borrowing books and suggesting the books you'd like to see on the shelves. Many local authorities, such as Hertfordshire where I live, enable you to request and reserve any books and authors stocked anywhere in the county for free. The books are made available at your local library for you to collect and borrow meaning that there's a wider choice of books than just what your local library holds on the shelves.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Playing footsie

I thought I would share this delicious fashion print I have just bought with you.
It is from Le Beau Monde for December 1807 and is entitled Evening Full Dresses.

The expressions on the faces of the two elegant women remind me forcefully of the two Miss Bingleys when Elizabeth Bennett declines an invitation to join the card table.
"Miss Eliza Bennett," said Miss Bingley, "despises cards..."

But what is going on with the couple seated at the table? The gentleman appears to be keeping his composure, but the young lady is looking decidedly skittish. Surely they are not playing footsie under there?

Louise Allen

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

the latest Melinda Hammond........

I have just received the cover picture for my latest book, Gentlemen in Question, which will be published in June. It's always exciting to have a new book coming out and this one is no exception, especially since it is not just a romance, but a mystery, complete with the odd murder or two!

The story begins at the harbour in Rye, Sussex on a blustery November day in 1792. Madeleine Sedgewick is meeting her cousin, one of the many French aristocrats forced by the Revolution to leave their homeland. Madeleine's life so far has been uneventful, but with the arrival of the Comte du Viviere she finds herself entangled in a dangerous web of intrigue and suspicion and she has to decide if her cousin is a victim or a villain.

The question that haunts Madeleine is, how can she tell? There are two men – both of them suave, urbane and good-looking (this is a romance, after all): one is her cousin, the Comte du Viviere, who has left his homeland and everything he knows, fleeing from the terror of the French Revolution. The other is Beau Hauxwell, a rich English gentleman of fashion. Madeleine likes them both, but how is she to know which one is to be trusted?

I had great fun writing this book, especially since I had not one but two handsome men to play with (figuratively speaking, of course!) and isn't it odd that we do like our villains to be attractive, at least in fiction. And there is an added bonus: one of the gentlemen in question is French, and there is something soooo sexy about that French accent……..

Melinda Hammond
Gentlemen in Question is published by Robert Hale Ltd in June 2006.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Guest blogger for May - Elizabeth Bailey

We're delighted to welcome Elizabeth Bailey to the blog. Elizabeth writes fantastic Regencies that linger in the mind. I know this for certain, because I can still remember the opening paragraphs of Friday Dreaming, which I read in 1994, and which is sitting on a shelf next to my desk. Here Elizabeth talks about her experiences writing Regencies over the last fifteen years.

You'd think, with a stack of published Regencies behind me, that I'd know just what I was doing! Unfortunately there are no guarantees in this game and I'm currently involved in rehashing my latest plot to fit a changing genre. Which leads me to think over the changes I've encountered over the years in "what editors want". My first historical was published at the beginning of the 90s decade. At that point, it was all action and swashbuckling adventure. My first heroine was a runaway chick in pants, highly popular at the time. There were also lots more characters, and viewpoints other than the hero and heroine were acceptable, even allowing for a subsidiary plotline involving a second couple.A few years down the line, we discovered readers were either sated with buckled swashes or no longer interested in anything but the development of the central relationship.

Lesser characters got the chop and intense emotional interchanges between the h/h became the order of the day. That trend remained, but the growth in sensual passion became ever hotter until your fingers practically sizzled as you held the pages!This taxed author ingenuity in keeping h/h alone together for scene after scene in an era when unmarried women could only be around men if chaperoned. To add to the problems besetting the benighted writer, your hero was undergoing a metamorphosis.

New Historical Regency Man is as alpha as you can stand it, as long as he doesn't behave in anything like an alpha fashion! No caveman style tactics to be perpetrated upon the solidly independent heroine, please. Changing taste is the Regency novelist's nightmare. I can't but wonder what sort of editorial feedback the doyenne of Regency, our sainted Georgette Heyer, would encounter if she were writing now.Food for thought.

Elizabeth Bailey

Don't miss Elizabeth's latest release in the Lords and Ladies collection, out now.

To find out more about Elizabeth and her books, visit Elizabeth Bailey's website

Confused of Cornwall

I forgot to add my name to the blog I've just posted!

The Day in the Life of... was from Jane Jackson.

Dangerous Waters Robert Hale Feb 2006

The Chain Garden Robert Hale Aug 2006

A Day in the Life of an Historical Novelist

Dame Barbara Cartland was a remarkable woman and a prolific writer, but the image people remember - of her lying on a chaise longue cuddling one of her pekinese dogs while dictating to an army of secretaries is not quite how it is for the rest of us.

This was my yesterday.

6am. Woken by dawn chorus – small birds twittering, blackbird shrilling, crows cackling to each other as they thud up and down the gutter and crash around on the roof.

6.15am. Silence. They’ve either flown off to the fields beyond the hedge to feed, or have returned to their nests exhausted by all the effort. No point in trying to go back to sleep so I plan my day and think about scenes for my 23rd book, Devil’s Prize.

6.30am. Get up, wash face, comb hair, put on tracksuit and kettle and do stretching exercises to loosen my neck, back and shoulder muscles - a writer's weakest point due to hours spent hunched over computer. Prepare husband’s packed lunch. Make tea, take him large mug of same, get breakfast.

7.15am. Husband stumbles from bed to bathroom. Emerges washed, shaved and conscious quarter of an hour later. We eat breakfast in companionable silence exchanging grins at Terry Wogan’s brilliant banter.

8am. Husband (self-employed) gives me a list of people to phone re future work, or accounts to type and send for work completed, then leaves for current job.

8.30am. Wash dishes, make bed, load washing machine, have shower, apply make-up, write shopping list.

9am. Walk quarter of a mile to village, return smiles and greetings while continuing to develop character conflicts and combine them with dramatic events for current chapter of book. Collect shopping, call on 91-year-old father who asks if I’ll type out a speech he’s making at the inaugural meeting of local group of Royal Society of St George. Agree. Walk round garden with him to admire latest acquisitions and planting. Talk about Mum (who died last year) and younger son’s wedding in August.

10.30am. Carry shopping home and unpack. Remove washing from machine and hang on line.

11am. Make cup of tea. Check email. Send replies. Deal with queries from agent. Promise administrator to send handouts for her to copy for students taking my week-long course on novel writing at University College Falmouth in July.

11.30am. Make phone calls for husband. Notice rain, transfer washing to tumble drier.

11.45am. Into my study/office. Type up accounts/receipts for husband. Type letter for father. Check yesterday’s bank statement. Review handouts for eight topics, set aside several for updating.

12.30pm. Leave office to prepare soup and sandwich lunch. Eat fast. Wash up. Make apple crumble to accompany evening meal.

1.30pm. Post arrives with proofs of latest book and a request that they be returned a.s.a.p. Sigh as plans for afternoon’s work and visions of exciting dramatic scenes evaporate. Find blue and red pens and notebook. Begin reading proofs.

3.15pm. Interrupted by delivery van. Sign for goods, sympathise with his back pain. Discuss weather. Wave him goodbye. Take deep calming breaths. Make a cup of tea.

3.30pm. Return to proofs.

3.45pm. Surveyor for the Water Board arrives to check whether our property is suitable for installation of a water meter. It is. He marks the stopcock with blue paint. Neighbour comes out to find out what he’s doing.

4.15pm. Return to office with cup of tea. Continue work on proofs.

5.15pm. Husband arrives home and puts his head round office door to ask what’s for tea. Abandon office.

5.30pm. Prepare evening meal while husband rants about his frustrating day. Hide ironic smile.

6.30pm. Crawl off to have a bath while dear husband does the dishes. Think about trying to work but brain has shut down.

Oh well, to quote Scarlett O’Hara: Tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Win a free download of an audio version of Pride and Prejudice

This is from AustenBlog

"vivavocebooks.com, a new company offering high-quality, affordable audio downloads of classic books, is kicking off their offerings with an excellent selection: an unabridged audiobook of Pride and Prejudice. The downloads are available in MP3 and AAC for iPod formats and are performed by a professional actor.

They have offered two free downloads for AustenBlog readers."

So if you want a chance of winning a download, visit Austenblog for more details.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Last night I went to see Mission Impossible

As she reads the header, the astute blog reader will no doubt be asking herself, 'What does Mission Impossible have to do with the Regency?' (Unless, of course, she is too busy looking at the picture.)
To which I reply that one of the actors, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, is a man I would like to see playing Mr Darcy. Could this man do haughty, or could this man do haughty?

The bemused blog reader is no doubt thinking, But doesn't she know that Matthew Macfadyen played Mr Darcy, in a film released less than a year ago?

Yes, she does, but she thinks you can never have too much of Mr Darcy, and as it's almost a year - well, all right, nine months - since the last screen version of Pride and Prejudice, surely we Austen fans deserve another one around about now?

Amanda Grange

Just a picture of one of my books for you

The Journal of a Regency Lady 4

24th January 1812: Papa brought my poor darling Paul home this afternoon. The men carried him into the house on a chair. His face was very pale, but I think that Papa's was even whiter. Mama was hovering at the top of the stairs and I knew that she was on the verge of tears. Rosie and I were banished to the parlour, for Mama said that we must not upset Paul. I do not see why it would have upset us to see him - but Rosie was in tears.

Later, Mama said that I might go in alone if I was very quiet and said nothing to disturb him. Paul was lying with his eyes closed but he opened them and smiled at me. He said that he was very sorry to be in such poor form and I was to forgive him for not bringing Christmas gifts or a birthday gift for Rosie. I told him that the only present we wanted was to have him home.

'You are always so practical and good, Anne,' he told me. 'I do value you so much, my dear sister.'

His words almost made me cry but I held them inside for I did not want him to see that I was affected. I did not stay long for the journey had tired him, but I knew that he was glad to be home and I felt much better than I had when I saw him brought in.

4th February: Paul is a little better at last. I carried his tray up to him this morning but he said he was sick of the nourishing broth that Mama keeps sending him. I took it back to the study and stole some fresh scones and honey while Cook was busy. Paul loved them and ate every scrap that I buttered and broke off for him. He was like a child having a midnight feast and made me promise that I would bring him some meat and pickles the next day. I said that I would, though it will be more difficult.

At supper Mama scolded me for taking the scones. She did not think they were for Paul and said that if I continued to eat so much I should get fat and lose all my chances of marriage. I let her scold me for it did not matter and I knew that Paul had enjoyed his stolen meal.

10th February: Mama came in when Paul was eating his meat and pickles. We were laughing together and did not notice her at first. She looked serious when I turned to look at her and told me that she wanted to see me in her parlour in ten minutes. I sensed that she was cross with me, but when I went down later she merely scolded me for stealing the food. She said that Cook had blamed one of the kitchen maids and that I should be more thoughtful of others.

'Could you not have told me that Paul had asked for something more substantial?' she asked. I begged her pardon and she was very forgiving for she said that Paul was much better for my visits - and then she cried. It was very distressing to see Mama cry like that, but afterwards she blew her nose and said that her tears had healed her spirit. She told me that she had thought Paul would die, but it seemed that a small miracle had happened and the wound to his side was healing.

I kissed Mama and told her that I believed Paul would recover in time, and she said that I was probably the best judge of any of us, and that she was content to leave his nursing to me - but that I was to ask for help if I needed it. I thanked her for the compliment and said that I would do everything I could to help my brother. She said that he was in God's hand, but that he owed his recovery in part to me.

Mama has never said as much to me before and I felt very honoured to be given the charge of my brother's convalescence. I pray that he will soon be much better. When he tells me that he wants to get out of bed I shall know that he is through the worst.


Hope you enjoy this longer entry. I have recently reviewed Perfidy & Perfection by Kate Allen for the Historical Novel Society. I am going to give the book as a prize. Anyone interested should visit my website and contact me there. I want to know what it is about the Regency period that fascinates you. The offer will run until 8th June and then the names will go into a hat. The first out gets Kate Allen's hardback, the next three will get paperbacks from my backlist.

Visit my website at www.lindasole.co.uk

Thursday, May 11, 2006

How did you find us?

We've been blogging for a few months now and we have a lot of regular visitors, but we were wondering, how did you find us? Did you follow a link from another site, or find us on google, or did you come across us another way?
Let us know!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Busman's Holiday

I have just come back from a most enjoyable weekend in Plymouth, attending the 55th Congress of the West Country Writers Association. I live in the north of England now but love returning to my roots occasionally, and I find it very inspiring to meet and talk with other writers. The decibel level in the dining room of the Astor Hotel rose alarmingly once we all started chattering! The Congress was a wonderful mixture of talks and socialising, with plenty of time to exchange ideas over coffee or drinks in the bar. This year there were four main speakers, Katie Fforde (who gave a wonderfully entertaining talk about her eight years to overnight success), Sara Macdonald, a contemporary novelist who allowed us an insight into the inspiration for some of her novels (this included a chance meeting with an old lady on a lonely beach - fascinating!), David Benedictus (a man who seems to have been everywhere and done everything), and David Wood, actor and writer of children's books and plays, who proved that he can coax audience participation from even the most adult audience.

Writing can be a very lonely profession, and occasionally it is good to get together and share ideas and experiences. The weather in Plymouth was wonderful, the people welcoming, and it was a lovely holiday before the launch of my next book, Gentlemen in Question, which comes out next month.

Melinda Hammond
(Sorry I don't have any holiday snaps yet)

Anyone who is interested in the West Country Writers Association can find out more at www.westcountrywriters.co.uk

Stormcrow Castle – Genesis of a Novel

Most of my novels have a simple starting point. Sometimes they start with the characters, sometimes I’ll envision a scene and see where it takes me. But with Stormcrow Castle - the book I have just sold to my publisher - it was much more complicated.

A few years ago, I was lamenting the death of the Gothic romance. As a girl, I read many such books and I loved them. Jane Eyre and Rebecca were two of my favourite novels, and I soon discovered Victoria Holt, whose books enthralled me. But Gothic romances, full of mysterious old houses, secret passages, lanterns bobbing across the moors /swamps/ beach late at night and brooding, dangerous heroes, no longer seemed to be in fashion.

I decided I wanted to write one, and Carisbrooke Abbey was the result. I had no idea if my publisher would take it, as my Regencies had been, up until then, more like Georgette Heyer’s adventurous books, but luckily they liked it, and it was published in 2004. I awaited the reviews anxiously, because I had no idea if I was the only person who longed for the comeback of the traditional Gothic romance.
I had my answer when I read the Historical Novel Society’s review of the book. “I am delighted to see the return of the Gothic novel,’ it said, ‘and one so skilfully handled.’

I was delighted and relieved. I put a copy of the review on my website and the reviewer, Pamela Cleaver, emailed me to say she’d seen it there. This was the start of a long email friendship. Like me, Pam loved Gothic romances, and her review – as well as positive reader reaction to the book – gave me the confidence to write another Gothic romance.

I was at that time just embarking on a new book. I had the opening scene but nothing else: the heroine was walking across the moor in the fading light of an English winter’s day, when a coach pulled up beside her and the man inside said, ‘You’re late. Get in.’ Late? thought the heroine, feeling distinctly unsettled. But I didn’t tell anyone I was coming.

I liked this opening, because it posed a lot of questions. Why was the heroine walking across the moor? Where was she going? Why did the gentleman want her to get into the carriage? Who was he? Where was he going, and why did he say she was late - particularly as she was unexpected?

I had been toying with a few ideas about her destination, and suddenly two different strands of my writing life came together to give me the answer. One was the decision to make it a Gothic, the other was a cover sketch I had received some time before, which was the proposed jacket design for Carisbrooke Abbey. I loved the design, but the building was not as I’d described it in the book. It looked more like a castle than an abbey, to me. I asked for it to be changed, and the finished cover can be seen above. However, I still loved the original sketch, and I knew I wanted it to be used as the basis for a cover at some point. I decided that the time had come, so I had my heroine – and hero – both heading for a castle.

But what to call the castle?

Somehow, I already knew that my hero, Simon, was a brooding man with secrets, and I knew that he was running from them. At once, I saw him as a stomrcrow – a bird of ill omen, who flies before the storm – and I knew that Simon was flying before the storm of his problems. The castle’s name was now clear to me: Stormcrow Castle.

I loved the title. It created the Gothic mood, it had overtones of dark skies and the rumble of thunder, and of Simon as a man trying to outrace trouble. Once I had the title, I began to see him fully, his past as well as his present, and I began to write . . .

If you, too, love Gothics, then look out for Stormcrow Castle next year.

Amanda Grange

Sunday, May 07, 2006

At the Court of King Louis Fifteenth

As if we didn’t know it, historical romance is hot! Following swiftly on from the latest Sharpe, television embraced historical romance again last night in the unlikely context of Doctor Who. No doubt Doctor Who purists were shocked to see the Time Lord enjoying a passionate kiss with Madame De Pompadour but for historical romance fans like myself the combination of time travel, love and luscious locations proved to be a winning one. The costumes, such as the one worn here be King Louis XV, were gorgeous, although the actress playing Madame de Pompadour admitted that her dress was a hand me down from the film The Madness of King George. The producer commented that their intention had been to create an opulent setting and worry less about historical authenticity - he was sure that someone would be in touch to say that they had got the fashions of 1750 incorrect and that coats were two inches shorter in that year!

In an interview later the writer admitted that he was a romantic who enjoyed writing about relationships in whatever context and he gave a useful piece of advice for aspiring screen-writers: always provide a reason to stop people turning off, which could be translated for authors as “always give readers a reason not to put your book down!”

Tricia Tait of King’s College writes of Madame de Pompadour: Throughout history, the traditional roles that subordinated women passed from generation to generation. Although most women faced a life of limited opportunity, a few were capable of surpassing the traditional roles and gaining power and influence. One of these women was Jeanne-Antionette Poisson, who in the eighteenth century, rose beyond her class status and gained title of maitresse-en-titre to Louis XV, King of France. She was able to remain the King's mistress between 1745 and 1750, and remained powerful as the King's confidante until her death in 1764.

Another strong female historical role model!


Friday, May 05, 2006

Sharpe - My Hero!

Sean Bean, in my opinion, is Richard Sharpe. Even Bernard Cornwell says that, since 1992 when the first Sharpe film was made, he sees Sean in his head when he writes now. The fact that Sean is blonde and Richard, in the books, is dark makes no difference.
It was reading the Sharpe books many years ago that really cemented my love of the 19th century. I had, of course, grown up with Jane Austen, the Brontes, Georgette Heyer et al, but now there was a modern writer who could provide me with the accurate and fast paced books I love to read.

Cornwell reserches impeccably and all his dates, times and battle details are 100% correct. He then puts his protagonists into a solid, authentic historical setting.
My extensive knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars began with these Sharpe books.
So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that another Sharpe, set in India, was coming. It lived up to all my expectations. I'm determined to set my next book in Spain or France during this period - or maybe even India!! I wonder how the tax man would feel about a trip to India on my expenses next year? Perhaps I'll stick to France and visit the Waterloo Museum when I go away this weekend. But the full set of Sharpe DVDs , plus the latest were my birthday presents this year.

The hero of my latest book, A Suitable Husband, is a Sharpe type - but third son of an aristocrat rather than from the gutter. But he is an ex-soldier and not afraid of killing those that harm his family.
Fenella Miller
Fenella-Jane Miller's latest book A Suitable Husband is available from Amazon

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Title trauma

Does anyone else find titles as difficult as I do to create? I can imagine an entire plot, people it with characters, work out the twists and turns and conflicts – but can I think of a title? No.

I am about to complete what my editor and I refer to simply as ‘Pirates’. It features piracy in the Adriatic, not the Caribbean, and the pirate is the villain not the hero – so far, so hopefully original. But I can’t call it ‘Pirates’ can I? It needs an original title that is going to hook the reader and hint at the swashbuckling romance contained. My mind is a total blank.

So I thought I would cheer myself up by finding a title in advance for the next project, a Regency novella for Summer 2007. It has to contain Middle Eastern exoticism and be lush, exciting and, so my editor tells me, Hot. Plenty of scope there then. Nope. So far it is firmly imprinted on my brain as ‘Camels’, probably the least romantic romance title ever.

And the next full length book? My mental filing system has that one down as ‘Stagecoach’ and won’t be shifted on that either. “What does Stagecoach conjure up for you?” I asked my husband hopefully. After much cogitation he came up with “John Wayne and women giving birth in snowdrifts and lots of boiling water.” Possibly not the most helpful image for a Regency romance.

What do readers think? How important is the title to making you pick up a book? And if there are any writers out there who have the same problem, do comfort me by telling me I’m not the only person in the world who is rubbish at titles.

Louise Allen

I've just had a wonderful review from Single Titles for my new book, Dangerous Waters. I'm absolutely delighted! So here it is:

Dangerous Waters is a compelling and beguiling historical romance which will hold you in a thrall!

Dangerous Waters is a stunning work of fiction. Jane Jackson has written an engaging story which readers will find impossible to put down. She draws you into the story from the very beginning due to meticulous research which will simply take your breath way, but which is interwoven into the story so well that it never seems didactic, just extremely fascinating. Her readers will admire Phoebe, a strong, courageous and independent heroine and fall in love with the valiant Jowan.
Gripping, enthralling and unputdownable, Dangerous Waters is historical romance at its absolute best!

Dangerous Waters is available from Amazon or you can find it in your local library. I hope you enjoy it!

Jane Jackson

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Journal of a Regency Lady 3

Dec 26. I have not been able to write for several days, because we have been so busy. Mama has been in such a frenzy over the Christmas dinner that I am sure it causes her more worry than pleasure. However, it is all over now and she is talking of it being a success and seems very pleased.

On Christmas Eve Harry Carrington came to dine. He really is very handsome and so generous. He gave Mama some sweetmeats in a pretty box from an exclusive emporium in London. For Papa there was French brandy and sweetmeats for Rosie, which she liked very well. My gift was wrapped in silver tissure and it made me gasp for I had seen nothing like it.

At first I thought it a walnut but then I saw it had a catch and when opened it revealed a pair of miniature scissors made of gold, a tiny gold thimble and a little case for pins. It was lined in blue silk and Mama told me it was called an etui. I thanked Harry several times for I was vastly pleased with it. He laughed and called it a trifle, but I shall treasure it forever. Mama, Papa and Rosie gave me presents but all I have been able to think of is Harry's gift.

I think he likes me very well. I like him as much as Paul, and my brother has always been my favourite person of all. Harry said he would stay with his friends for three days after Christmas and I hope he will call again before he leaves.

Dec 27; Harry has gone away without calling on us again, though he did send Mama a letter to thank us for our hospitality. He said nothing about writing to me and I fear I may not see him again for a long time. I am trying not to cry but I know I am very silly for he made me no promises. Perhaps we shall meet again in town in the spring.

Jan 15 1812: Now I think I really shall die for I have heard that Harry Carrington is to be married to a Miss May Chesterfield. I feel so very foolish for it appears that it was arranged some months ago - and yet no one told me. I want to weep but Mama keeps asking me to do things for her. I think she guessed that I was a little in love with him. If I am truthful I thought myself completely in love but I must not let anyone guess for I should feel so humiliated. If this is how it feels to fall in love I hope I shall not do so again.

Jan 18: I have decided that I must forget all that silly nonsense over Mr Carrington. Something far more important has happened. Paul has been wounded and is to return to us soon. Papa has gone to fetch him home and I am afraid that he is very ill. I shall pray for him every minute until he is with us again, and I shall put my childish heartache away.

Mama always says that we should behave with moderation and I have been justly punished for I lost my head and my heart to a man who did not care for me in return. I have given the etui to Rosie for her birthday. She is very pleased with it. I shall not let myself remember him. I must think only of my brother now.

I have been busy writing alll kinds of things recently. I hope my little story will amuse. It isn't meant to be a romance but about all kinds of everyday incidents. Love, Anne Herries

Monday, May 01, 2006

Fateful Deception - the ebook

Fateful Deception was published on fictionwise.com, a leading website for ebooks, a few days ago. It's my first ebook and a short novel; a Regency advenure about a cavalry officer and a missing heiress. It was my first book which I contracted for publication with DC Thomson originally, back in 2004, and was shortlisted for the 2005 Joan Hessayon New Writers Award.

Anyway, if you missed it first time in print, now's your chance to read it in eformat.

I've been explaining what ebooks are to various people in the last week or so, so they're still not mainstream. Soon, perhaps.

A new place on the web for Austen fans

Those resourceful people over at Austenblog have just set up Molland's, a place for all things Austen, including discussions, etexts, and a lot more.

Why is it called Molland's? The FAQ provides the answer:
The name comes from Jane Austen's novel Persuasion, Volume II, Chapter VII (19):
Mr. Elliot was attending his two cousins and Mrs. Clay. They were in Milsom Street. It began to rain, not much, but enough to make shelter desirable for women, and quite enough to make it very desirable for Miss Elliot to have the advantage of being conveyed home in Lady Dalrymple's carriage, which was seen waiting at a little distance; she, Anne, and Mrs. Clay, therefore, turned into Molland's, while Mr. Elliot stepped to Lady Dalrymple, to request her assistance. He soon joined them again, successful, of course; Lady Dalrymple would be most happy to take them home, and would call for them in a few minutes.

According to the notes of the Oxford Illustrated Edition of Persuasion, "The Bath Directory for 1812 has: 'Molland Mrs. Cook and confectioner, 2, Milsom-street.'" Thus, Molland's was a real shop in Bath in Jane Austen's time.

So if you're an Austen fan, I suggest a visit to Molland's, where you can partake of their confectionery.

Pride and Prejudice is an icon

In the news at the moment, Pride and Prejudice has just been voted an Icon!

"Dubbed as the first psychological novel by some for its depth of characterisation, Pride And Prejudice has it all – love triangles, class divide, vanity, snobbery. And the dashing Mr Darcy!"

Jane Jackson

Jane Jackson's most recent book Dangerous Waters is available from Amazon