Monday, March 29, 2010
To me, it's a slap in the face for our genre and all who read and write romance novels.
I was pointed to today's Daily Mirror, where a piece says that younger readers are grabbing contemporary romance, especially the sexier ones, for the Sony e-reader because they feel a bit ashamed to be reading Mills & Boon because they see them as "mum's books." But they're loving to read them.
It's good news for the genre as a whole, because readers are reading the books, but what struck me was two posts in response that were, more or less, supportive of the genre. Good, but unfortunately the tone suggested kindness to some poor, perhaps socially handicapped and unfortunately pimply, member of the community, not a reference to a highly popular, successful form of literature.
"I actually did read one once somebody brought me one to read when I was not feeling well and I quite enjoyed it where's the harm?"
Where's the harm? It reminds me of an early review of one of my books in which the reviewer kindly said romance "is probably less harmful that Valium."
That poor reader, remembering her guilty pleasure but having never dared to venture into such risky waters again.
You can read the whole piece here. And comment if inspired.
Let's all be bold and outspoken about the wonders of romance novels because that woman next to you could well love the books, too, but be afraid to admit it.
It's even a public service. Books are known to influence out emotional health, so the plethora of grim ones that get official approval could explain a lot! Ones like romance novels, where good people are rewarded with the promise of a golden future are just what we all need.
You can find two of mine published in the UK by Everlyn books -- Lady Notorious and Tempting Fortune (complete with public sex in a brothel, except that the gallant hero saves Portia, and even strips off most of his clothes so she doesn't have to. That's what hero means!)
I have my classic Regencies being republished in the States -- remember, they're better than Valium -- and next week, a new Georgian adventure will be out. Should I update the comment and say "better than ecstasy? LOL! My New York published books are available here through Amazon and The Book Depository.
Check out all my other books in print.
You can read more about The Secret Duke here.
Remember the great truth -- it's easier to write angst and misery than fun and humour. Let's celebrate it.
Are you at all embarrassed by your fondness for romance novels? Are there places you'd not want to be seen reading one? Do others ever make derogatory remarks about your choice of reading? Do you have difficulty finding enough books of the type you want to read? I'd love to know.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Regency Letters Four
20th February. From Captain Robert Jenson to his sister Lady Horatia Melton
I write to tell you that within the month I am to be given home leave. I intend to visit you and my sister and mother. I am always delighted to hear your news, whether it be a cry of pleasure or a cry from your heart, Horatia. It will be of great delight to me to see you again and I hope to find both you and my sister and mother well.
Your brother has been awarded another honour. I am to be presented at court by the Regent himself and I very much hope you shall be present at the reception afterwards. I am not certain whether you will be residing in London or at Melton's seat, but if you are there you must certainly come up to town for a few days at least. Melton will surely let you go for such an event and I rely on you to take me about with you and introduce me to all your friends.
I long to see you, dear one, and shall be with you very soon.
6th March 1816. From Lady Horatia Melton to her brother Captain Robert Jensen
I think our letters must have crossed. You may since have received mine telling you of our sister's loss, in which case you will know that I am now in Bath. As our sister is in too much distress for me to leave her, I suggest that you post down to visit us if you have sufficient leave. I am distraught that your visit should come at such a time for I should have loved to show you off to all my friends. However, we have good friends here in Bath and I know they will appreciate an extra gentleman at dinner. One can never have too many dearest, and a single gentleman as handsome as you undoubtedly are, dearest, is always welcome.
I am making this note very short so that you will receive it and lose no time in coming to see us – me! I need to talk to you, Robert. There is something I would say that I cannot, absolutely cannot, commit to paper. Please, please do come. I wish that you were stationed nearer and can only be glad that you are no longer in India.
I cannot say more at this time for I am in a flutter of anticipation. I expect a visitor at any moment.
I send my undying love and congratulations. You are always deserving of honour in my estimation.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Last year, at an auction, I picked up a small watercolour seascape by W H Pyne. It is a calm and unimposing picture of two men walking across dunes with two Beagle-like dogs. I was excited to buy it, not only because it was going for a tiny sum of money, but to have the pleasure of owning an original piece of work by an, albeit mostly forgotten now, Regency character.
William Henry Pyne was the son of a leather seller and became best known as an illustrator and the author of The Costumes of Great Britian, published 1808, which showed the costumes of ordinary people, and The History of Royal Residences, published 1816-19, which showed the interiors of the many royal palaces and was issued with the approval of the royal family. He attracted the patronage of the successful publisher Rudolf Ackermann but unfortunately, publishing caused Pyne significant financial problems and he ended up spending time in debtors prison and sadly died in poverty. His last book was entitled The Twenty-Ninth of May, a novel, and he died on 29th May 1843, following a long illness. Many of his watercolours, drawings, and books are held by the British
Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
(Illustration from The Costumes of Great Britain)
(Info from The Dictionary of National Biography)
Monday, March 22, 2010
The fashion advice discusses the fashion plates; for example, in the picture shown, we learn that the dress is ‘etherial (sic) blue tulle over satin’ and the boa is swansdown. It’s also obvious, from the model’s elaborate hair style, that a lady’s maid is a must.
The fashion section continues with news on what’s in and what’s out – Dunstable straw bonnets are in and this Season’s colours are emerald green, azure blue, lilac, rose and canary-yellow. In Paris, blond lace is very popular and, for jewellery, it’s gold and emeralds.
The ‘preceptive distichs’ are moral maxims, e.g:
Avoid voluptuous pleasure in your prime –
Your days will last and you enjoy their time.
Some of the comments on famous women are, frankly, bizarre. Take this one on Anne Boleyn: ‘We think she remained a girl after she was a wife – a pretty, tittering partner in a dance, but devoid of the mind and steadiness suited to the conjugal state.’
Not a view of the forceful, intelligent and sophisticated Anne we hold today!
The short story, ‘Flirtation – a Tale of Modern Times’ has interesting echoes of Lydia Bennet. When the regiment comes to town, the lovely Emily’s attention wanders from the eligible Charles, who adores her, to the fascinating Colonel Darlington … Will Emily come to her senses before Charles runs out of patience? Or will Charles turn to her sensible older sister, Lucy?
Alas, poor Lucy doesn’t even get a look in; at twenty-seven, she’s far too old.
‘The Ladies’ Pocket Magazine’ tells us a lot about the period: what ladies wore, what they read and how they thought. Though, if I were editor, I’d demand that Charles dumps the tiresome Emily and goes for sensible Lucy instead.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
It's brilliant - funny, endearing, exactly the sort of book I adore. It isn't a Regency in terms of its setting, the book is set in the 1930s, but in every other way it's like a Regency novel. In fact, it reminds me of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen.
Here is the plot: Miss Pettigrew, a poverty stricken spinster, is forced to seek employment as a governess. She turns up unknowingly at the wrong address, and is confronted with Miss Delysia LaFosse, an alluring nightclub singer.
Miss Pettigrew has been warned all her life against everything Miss LaFosse represents: glamour, allure, lipstick, lovers, romantic entanglements. But Miss Pettigrew can't afford to be fussy and so she stays.
What happens next is a glorious comedy in which Miss Pettigrew finds friendship and fun. She also finds hidden depths. Like a female Jeeves - though her triumphs are usually the result of happy accidents rather than great brain - she manages to untangle the life of her new employer.
She is a kind of Miss Bates turns Grand Sophy and the results are heartwarming and hilarious. So although it's set in the 1930s, to me, in a funny kind of way, it's a Regency.
I never thought, when I picked it up in a bookshop last week, that I was holding in my hands one of my yet-to-be-discovered favourite novels. What a treat!
Friday, March 19, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
The speaker was Barry Norman, who made a witty speech but thankfully short because of all the presentations, of which there were many more this year. Besides the main award and the award for the best love story - for which Louise Allen was nominated but sadly not picked - there were the People's Choice, the Romantic Comedy, and the Romantic Film award. Also a couple of lifetime awards. If you want to see all the winners you should visit the RNA website. I can tell you that Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts By Santa Montefiore won the main prize and Animal Instincts by Nell Dixon won the Love Story of the year.
All in all it was well done and long may the RNA continue to find supporters and be successful.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
There's not much to Georgian Blackpool, I'm afraid. The roots of the town are very much Victorian sea-side resort, as with my home town, Morecambe. But Blackpool is where I went to secondary school -- to Layton Hill Convent, which is now St. Mary's College, and where I wrote my first book. It was handwritten in a school exercise book, and I don't think it had a beginning, middle, and end, but it was a start.
Blackpool is where I'll be on Friday the 19th, in Morrisons, from 11am to 1pm, signing the second book of my Georgian historicals, Tempting Fortune, which Publishers Weekly declared, "Romance at its best!"
We sold out of the first book, Lady Notorious, when I was there in November (in picture), and I must say the Blackpool people were very friendly and interested in a fun, sexy, adventurous read. We're hoping for more of the same. If you're in the area, I'd love to meet you.
Tempting Fortune picks up a thread from Lady Notorious, sending Lord Arcenbryght Malloren (strange names courtesy of a father fascinated by Anglo-Saxon times) to Maidenhead to retrieve a document. There, he meets a challenge, and Portia St. Claire meets her fate.
Chapter 1 Moonlight shafted into the chilly hall, making mysteries of quite ordinary things. Surely it was that moonlight, thought Portia St. Claire, that made the intruder look like the Prince of Darkness. White, blade-fine features of eerie beauty; dark leathery wings trailing behind.... She jerked her heavy pistol to point at its heart. "Stop!" The figure stopped. Hands appeared. Long-fingered and elegant, they rose slightly in a pacifying gesture, and the movement showed that the black wings were merely a long dark cloak. Portia sucked in a shuddering breath. That meant the ghostly features must be flesh and blood. It was a common housebreaker, that was all. Of course, that meant her impulsive action had brought her face to face with a criminal. A wiser woman hearing breaking glass would have hidden under the bed. Portia had grabbed her brother's pistol, checked that it was loaded, and crept downstairs to see what was going on. Her motto was, "A fear faced is a fear defeated," but now she wondered if that always held true. This dark intruder did not appear particularly defeated, and having stopped him, she had no idea what to do next. Beneath his cloak the intruder's clothes must be dark too, for the only places touched by moonlight were his watchful face, his fine hands, and the froth of white lace around them. Expensive lace. He wore a ring on his left hand. The large stone was dark, but something in the way it caught the weak moonlight told her it was a precious jewel. A glint beside his face suggested another expensive ornament, a jeweled earring. Not a common housebreaker after all. "I have, if you will notice, stopped." The tone was courteous and his accent spoke of wealth and breeding. His voice carried the drawl of a man of fashion, but was unfashionably deep, and used softly in a way that did not calm her agitated nerves. "You have stopped," Portia said sharply. "Now you will turn and leave." "Or?" "Or I will summon the Watch, sirrah! I heard breaking glass. You are quite patently a housebreaker." She saw the flicker of movement that was a smile. "I suppose I am. But how do you intend to summon the Watch while guarding me, mignonne?" Portia clenched her teeth. "Leave. Now!" "Or?" he asked again. "Or I will shoot you." "Much better," he approved. "That you could do.""
You can read the rest of the first scene here.
Portia and Bryght have nothing in common and yet fate keeps bringing them together until the event that changes everything -- when she is being auctioned to pay her brother's gaming debts and Bryght must buy her to save her. That's the scene depicted on the cover of the UK edition.
Talking about Morecambe, in February my regency romance The Stanforth Secrets was reissued, and it's set in my home area. As Morecambe, like Blackpool, didn't really exist back then, I placed it in the very old town of Heysham. Despite the cover, this is a "sweet" romance. Tempting Fortune, as you'll have guessed, is much more spicy.
Tempting Fortune involves a significant real character, the Duke of Bridgwater, and initially I assumed everyone knew about his work with canals. Of course that isn't true, especially in America and that created a problem.
One day I found I'd written a long passage in which Bryght and Bridgwater explain the whole subject. Not only was it dry, it was bad writing, because they would never have done that. It might as well have begun, "As you know..." which is always a big warning flag.
Thus began my practice of including an author's note in the back of every book, which gives me an opportunity to explaining historical background that doesn't fit in the story. I find many readers enjoy them in their own right. From that, I moved to my Minepast blog, which is an outlet for the fascinating things I stumble across while researching.
I recently posted a link to some ships' accounts, and to an eighteenth century account book. Not, alas, the book itself but a paper written about it back in the '50s. Where is it now, I want to know.
All best wishes,
Saturday, March 13, 2010
I fell in love with the Georgian era when I was nine and saw an engraving of a coffee house. Love at first sight.
The coffee houses were situated close to the City, and very often they shared streets with the more insalubrious gaming house. In “A Betting Chance,” which is out next month, the heroine, Sapphira, goes to a gaming house to try to win enough money to run away from home. So my research for this book had a lot of the shadier side of Georgian London. And what fascinating research it turned out to be!
“A Betting Chance” is set in 1756, the time when Covent Garden held sway as the center of London’s nightlife. With the two London theatres close, it could draw on the men out for a night’s carousal, after the balls and the theatre were done. Mother Brown’s was one of the most notorious of these houses, and I borrowed the name for the madam of the whorehouse in my book. Covent Garden is a central covered market with an outer layer of shops that face the piazza it’s set in. Around that are tall, redbrick buildings and while the original Mother Brown’s was in one of the less salubrious and shack-like centre buildings, for the purposes of my story, I moved her out to the redbricks.
In this period, the notorious Harris’s List which was updated frequently, told the pleasure-seeker where he could find the best whores, and what they were known for. Even when “conversation” is an obvious metaphor for sex (a term that is anachronistic to the Georgian period in the sense of “having sex”) the whores are described as individuals. One has “Fine, black eyes,” and another has “a delicate way of disposing her hands.” A version of Harris’s List is still available today, and is eye-opening reading!
In an age when people didn’t hold back, Covent Garden held the most colourful and the most notorious of the ladies of the night. Depicted by Hogarth, most notably in “The Rake’s Progress,” whores came in all shapes and sizes and of various refinements. A courtesan was expected to do more than service her male customers in the bedroom. She had to be inventive, elegant and she might hold salons that rivalled those of the most exacting society hostess. A society mirrored.
Respectable women never ventured into these establishments, at least not if they weren’t in disguise. They faced extortion and disgrace if they were discovered so a respectable woman had to be really desperate to go forth into the mire of the Garden after dark. During the day, though, it was a market in the early morning, where much of the produce of the market gardens that surrounded London was sold and a site for several shops and coffeehouses. While coffeehouses were male-only concerns, a respectable woman could shop at the market (very early, though) or visit the shops without approbriation, and she could ogle the shuttered houses that held the ladies of the night, their shadowy counterparts.
More about the book next month, but check here on the Samhain website if you want to see the blurb, extract and the gorgeous cover art.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
‘Darcy, what do you think of my new home?’ Mr Bingley enquired anxiously as he ushered his guests into the entrance hall where the staff were lined up for inspection.
His friend looked around, and nodded. ‘It will do, Bingley. It is exactly as you described it. The situation is ideal, not too far from town, and what I have seen of the grounds they have been well maintained. This entrance hall is spacious, no doubt the other rooms equally so.’
His sister, Caroline, immediately fluttered to Darcy’s side. ‘Mr Darcy, how right you are to say so. It is nothing compared to Pemberley of course, there is nothing so beautiful as your estate in Derbyshire. Hertfordshire is nothing compared to that. However, I am sure we shall all be very comfortable here, Charles. As long as we have each other we shall not be starved of acceptable company.’
The housekeeper stepped forward and curtsied politely. ‘Shall I show your guests to their rooms, sir? There will be a cold collation served in the small dining room at noon. Cook thought you might wish for something after your journey.’
He nodded and smiled amiably. ‘Thank you, Nicholls, I am sure you have everything as it should be. Caroline, Louisa, if you care to view your apartments, Darcy, Hurst and I shall stroll around the grounds until you return.’
‘Bingley, I am a trifle fatigued after the journey, I think I shall find somewhere to put my feet up for a while.’
‘Hurst you are a lazy devil. Come, Darcy, surely you are not tired? Nothing so trifling as a carriage ride from town will put you out, I am sure.’
Darcy laughed. ‘Show me the interior first, my friend, if the ladies are to return in half an hour that shall not be time enough to view the grounds.’
Bingley led him through the drawing-room, the smaller parlour, the breakfast room, the dining room before arriving at the billiard room. ‘Shall we play a frame or two whilst we wait, Darcy?’
‘It would be better to leave it until after we have eaten, we would scarce have got into the game before we would have to leave it.’ He strolled across to the long windows that opened on to the terrace. ‘I cannot tell you, Bingley, what a relief it is to be out of town. Although it is empty of society I still feel myself pursued every time I appear in public. Do you not find every matchmaking matron on your tail hoping to entice you to offer for their daughter?’
‘I do agree. It is what I most dislike about being there. Here in the country people are more natural, are prepared to walk from place to place regardless of the weather.’ He joined his friend to gaze out on to the well manicured park. ‘The deer and sheep that keep the grass looking so smart are leased to me, along with the house. I have already made myself known to the principal families in the neighbourhood, I shall introduce you at the ball tomorrow.’
Mr Darcy yawned. ‘No doubt we shall both be fawned upon; I am certain that news of our circumstances will have been much discussed. Sometimes I am tempted to offer for the first eligible young woman and be done with it. Pemberley needs a hostess and Georgiana would benefit from a sensible female in her life.’
‘Is your sister still at Pemberley with her companion?’
Mr Darcy nodded. ‘She is almost an adult and I believe I must make different arrangements for her soon.’
‘Bring her here for a visit some time. My sisters dote on her.’ He frowned as he considered Darcy’s last remark about marrying for convenience. ‘I shall not marry for practical reasons, I intend to marry for love.’
The sound of the ladies in the distance cut short their conversation. ‘I am intending to enjoy myself here, and I know that both my sisters are looking forward to dressing in their finest and impressing the locals. Come, Darcy, let us join Caroline and Louisa. This afternoon we shall ride around the park and you must give me your opinion of the farms. I might consider purchasing Netherfield if you think it suitable.’
I'm delighted to tell you all that my 'Miss Bennet & Mr Bingley' story is now up on www.regencyreads.com . I love the cover done for me by Jane Odiwe - and I know this has prompted several readers to buy the book.
I will be appearing with Maureen Lee, Jean Fullerton, Fay Cunningham and Sheila Norton at the Essex Book Festival on March 17th, at 2.pm, at Halstead Library. There are still tickets, so do please come along if you live in the area. We are the Essex Writers' panel and will be talking briefly about our work and ourselves and then answering questions from the floor. We will then be signing books for anyone who wishes to buy a copy.
Sunday, March 07, 2010
"There is a cask now building at Messrs. Meux & Co.'s brewery...the size of which exceeds all credibility, being designed to hold 20,000 barrels of porter; the whole expense attending the same will be upwards of £10,000."
A total of 1,224,000 litres of beer under pressure smashed through the twenty-five foot high brick wall of the building, and gushed out into the surrounding area - the slum of St Giles. Many people lived in crowded conditions there and some were caught completely unaware by a tsunami of beer. The torrent flooded through houses, demolishing two in its wake. At the Tavistock Arms pub in Great Russell Street the 14-year-old barmaid Eleanor Cooper was buried under the rubble. The Times reported on 19 October of the flood:
Fearful that all the beer should go to waste, hundreds of people ran outside carrying pots, pans, and kettles to scoop it up. Some apparently simply knelt down to lap at the liquid washing through the streets. Meanwhile back at the brewery, one man managed to save his brother from going under the vast wave, but as the tide receded the true damage was revealed. The beer flood left nine people dead. Some had drowned (like Mary Mulvey and her 3-year-old son Thomas), others were swept away in the flood and died of the injuries they sustained (two young children: Hannah Banfield, 4, and Sarah Bates, 3), and the final victim succumbed some days later to alcohol poisoning. He had heroically attempted to stem the tide by drinking as much beer as he humanly could.
Friday, March 05, 2010
(Mr Gatley Silhouette a-la-Jane Austen)
And, then, of course, though in a different way entirely, I really loved revisiting Lady Catherine, who to me is such a deliciously memorable villain. She’s certainly in good form in The Darcy Cousins.
A young lady in disgrace should at least strive to behave with decorum...
Dispatched from America to England under a cloud of scandal, Mr. Darcy's incorrigible American cousin, Clarissa Darcy, manages to provoke Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins, and the parishioners of Hunsford all in one morning!
And there are more surprises in store for that bastion of tradition, Rosings Park, when the family gathers for their annual Easter visit. Georgiana Darcy, generally a shy model of propriety, decides to take a few lessons from her unconventional cousin, to the delight of a neighbouring gentleman. Anne de Bourgh, encouraged to escape her "keeper" Mrs. Jenkinson, simply...vanishes.
But the trouble really starts when Clarissa and Georgiana both set out to win the heart of the same young man...