Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Dragon's Bride

"May 1816 The south coast of England

    The moon flickered briefly between windblown clouds, but such a thread-fine moon did no harm. It barely lit the men creeping down the steep headland toward the beach, or the smuggling master controlling everything from above. It lightened not at all the looming house that ruled the cliffs of this part of Devon -- Crag Wyvern, the fortresslike seat of the blessedly absent Earl of Wyvern.
         Absent like the riding officer charged with preventing smuggling in this area. Animal sounds -- an owl, a gull, a barking fox -- carried across the scrubby landscape, constantly reporting that all was clear.
         At sea, a brief flash of light announced the arrival of the smuggling ship. On the rocky headland, the smuggling master -- Captain Drake as he was called -- unshielded a lantern in a flashing pattern that meant "all clear."
         All clear to land brandy, gin, tea and lace. Delicacies for Englishmen who didn't care to pay extortionate taxes. Profit for smugglers, with tea sixpence a pound abroad and selling for twenty times that in England if all the taxes were paid."

My book The Dragon's Bride has just been reissued in trade paperback and e-book, and it involves smuggling in the period after Waterloo. Times were getting harder for the smugglers because the navy had excess men and ships to put against them, and ex-army officers often took jobs as Preventive Officers, though it was not a happy trade.

Many coastal communities supported their local smugglers, welcomed the tax-free goods, and were cold to the men sent to stop the trade. The tax on many items such as tea and brandy had been raised to ridiculous degrees, mostly to pay for the war, and even law-abiding people didn't see anything wrong in avoiding what they saw as outright thievery. Smuggling of this sort only ended when the government reduced the taxes to a level that people thought of as fair.

(The original cover, with modern wedding dress, complete with zipper!)

My hero, Con, is not a smuggler. He's an ex-military officer who's sternly set against the trade and sympathetic to the local Preventive Officer, also an ex military man. The only reason he gives the local smuggling band a break is because his ex-love Susan Kearslake is involved, and her brother is probably the local smuggling master.

When writing this book I traveled along the Dorset-Devon coast looking for a good location and settled on the interesting small fishing village of Beer, right on the border between the two counties. Old cottages and inns, looming headland, caves.... Ideal. The caves, BTW, exist because excellent stone was mined at Beer from the middle ages and Beer stone was used for much of Exeter Cathedral.

Alas, with all those attributes, smugglers had been there before my fictional ones, and when I researched I found that one of the most famous, Jack Rattenbury, had been operating there around the time of my story. I couldn't see a way to involve him in the book, so I changed the name, but kept most of the details the same.

Jack Rattenbury was famous because he left his memoirs, and you can read them on line. He starts his story this way.

"I Was born at Beer, in the county of Devon, in the year 1778. My father was by trade a shoemaker, but he went on board a man-of-war before I was born, and my mother never heard of him afterwards; she was, however, frugal and industrious, and by selling fish for our support, contrived to procure a livelihood without receiving the least assistance from the parish or any of her friends. Beer, where we resided, lying open to the sea, I was continually by the water-side; and as almost all I saw or heard was connected with that element, I early acquired a partiality for it, and determined, almost from my infancy, when I grew up, to be a sailor. When I was about nine years of age I asked my uncle to let me go fishing with him, to which he consented; and as there was another lad about the same age who went with us, we were continually trying to outvie each other in feats of skill and dexterity. I mention this circumstance, as I conceive it had a considerable effect in deciding the cast of my character, and probably influenced many of the subsequent events of my life."

 You can read more about Rattenbury and smuggling in general here.

 What about the vicious thugs? They definitely existed, but the smart smugglers realized that they needed the local people on side, both to help with handling the goods and with deceiving and deflecting the poor Preventive men. Rattenbury was part of the community and ended up owning a tavern in Beer. I based my heroine's father, the smuggling master Melchisadeck Clyst, on Jack Rattenbury, except that Mel was caught and transported to Australia. I feel sure that he did well over there, however, as Rattenbury would have done.

The Dragon's Bride was a RITA finalist, and you can read more of the beginning here.

It's part of a trilogy called Three Heroes, and the first story, a novella called The Demon's Mistress, is available as an e-book special.

In the UK, you can buy both in a print copy or e-book on line, though right at this moment the e-edition seems to have disappeared! I'm in pursuit.
To buy a print copy from Amazon, go here.

Know any good smuggling fiction? I think I remember Dr. Syn. Am I right?

Visit my website here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Make Believe Wife

‘Damn you, sir. I have had enough of your wild behaviour,’ the Earl of Hartingdon thundered at his grandson. ‘I shall not tolerate the disgrace you have brought upon us.’

‘Forgive me,’ Viscount, Lord Luke Clarendon said and looked contrite. ‘This should never have come to your ears. Rollinson was a fool and a knave to come prattling to you, sir.’

Tall and almost painfully thin, yet with a commanding presence, the earl’s bushy white eyebrows met in a frown of disapproval.

‘Do you deny that you seduced the man’s wife?’

Luke hesitated. The truth of the matter was that he had no idea whether or not he had seduced Adrina Rollinson. The evening in question was hazy to say the least. He had been three sheets to the wind and, when he’d woken to find himself lying next to the naked and undoubtedly voluptuous beauty, he had hardly been given time to wonder before her husband came storming into the summerhouse to demand satisfaction.

‘I can only tell you that I have no memory of it happening, sir.’

‘What sort of an answer is that pray?’ the earl demanded. ‘You puzzle me, Luke. You have had every advantage and yet you insist on carrying your wildness to excess. If you cannot recall making love to a woman like Lady Rollinson, you must have been drunk.’

Indeed, that I shall own,’ Luke said instantly. ‘I would not call the lady a liar but I doubt I was capable of making love that night.’

‘I suppose your taste is for whores?’

‘I do not know what you may have been told of me, sir, but I assure you I have done nothing of which I am ashamed.’

‘Indeed? I know that you have set up a mistress in Hampstead.’ The earl’s top lip curled in scorn. ‘You are a disgrace to your family. Thank God your parents did not live to see what you have become.’

‘Perhaps had they lived I might have been otherwise.’

‘Are you blaming me? Impudent pup!’ The earl’s eyes darkened with temper. ‘Well, sir, I have done with you. It was in my mind to make you my sole heir, for although the estate is entailed, the patent allows the title to pass through the female line and my fortune is my own to dispose of as I wish. However, I have a cousin who would restore both honour and fortune to the family name.’

‘Horatio Harte I presume? I wish you joy of him, sir.’ Luke’s temper was barely in check. ‘Good afternoon. I shall not trouble you with my presence again.’

‘I did not give you leave to go.’

‘Yet I believe I shall. You have never liked me, sir. I have done things of which I am not particularly proud, but I am not the rogue you think me.’

‘Come back here!’ The earl’s voice rose petulantly. ‘You will hear me out. I shall give you one more chance, but you must marry a decent girl – one with perfect manners who knows how to behave in good society. I need an heir I can be proud of before I die.’

Luke turned at the door, denial on his lips. He would marry when and whom he wished and meant to say so, but even as he began the earl made a choking sound and sank slowly to his knees before collapsing in a heap on the floor.

‘Grandfather! Someone, give me some help in here.’

Luke rushed to his grandfather’s side. Rolling him on his back, he saw that his colour was slightly blue and acted swiftly in untying the tight starched cravat at his neck. He felt for a pulse and discovered a faint beat and yet his grandfather did not appear to be breathing. He was for a moment unsure of what to do for the best; then, recalling something he had once witnessed a vet do for the foal of an important mare, he opened his grandfather’s mouth and made sure there was no obstruction in the throat. Then he pinched the earl’s nostrils and breathed into his mouth. Luke repeated the action three times and noticed that a more natural colour had returned, though he had no idea if his actions had helped.

A voice spoke from behind him. ‘He has had one of his attacks, my lord. He will recover in a moment.’

‘He just keeled over. I thought he was dead or dying.’

Here is a taste of my new book out in USA.  Not yet published in UK

The picture is of The Lord's Forced Bride, which continues to sell well on amazon, better than Bought For the Harem at the moment.  In October the hardback of Hostage Bride is out.  This has a fantastic cover but I don't yet have an image.  Will put it up next time I post if I have it.

Best wishes, Anne Herries

Hope you enjoy.

Dressing the Stars in Bath at the Fashion Museum

There's a few days left to catch a fantastic exhibition at the Fashion Museum in Bath. It's called 'Dressing the Stars' and features the talents of costume designers who work in film. This has to be one of my favourite museums, not least because it is housed in the Assembly Rooms which feature in Jane Austen's novels, so it's always a treat to visit.

Over forty costumes are on display in total in the exhibition, worn by stars including Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Carribean, Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech, and Keira Knightley in The Duchess, some of which was shot at the Assembly Rooms in Bath. Other costumes include those worn by Cate Blanchett in  Elizabeth,  Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love, and Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
My favourite, and the ones I couldn't wait to see in detail were the costumes worn by Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman for the wedding at the end of Sense and Sensibility. The wedding scene is over so quickly, and Kate's dress only flashes onto the screen for a few moments, but I've always thought it was beautiful. Designed by Jenny Beavan and John Bright, the costumes lived up to my expectations, and Kate's dress, in particular, is divine. I'm always amazed at the detail that goes into these costumes even when they're seen from a distance. One of Emma Thompson's dresses is also featured - the other striking feature I noted was that these film stars are all so tiny!
 You can also see an exhibition of over 30 of the Fashion Museum’s most exquisite cream, ivory and white wedding dresses at the ‘What will she wear? The enduring romance of the wedding dress’ exhibition. Many of the exhibits are over 100 years old, delicate silks with gossamer fine lace and embroidery, all  carefully hand-picked for the new display.

 'WHAT WILL SHE WEAR?' includes wedding dresses made of silks brocaded with metal thread, lustrous silk satins, even crisp white nylons; some of the dresses are decorated with ribbons and bows, some with antique lace.

White has been the colour most associated with wedding dress in western cultures for well over 200 years and 'What will she wear?' includes historical examples from the early 19th century. The most up to date wedding dress in the exhibition is a white lace dress, with an asymmetric hem by designer Alexander McQueen worn in Summer 2010, and especially lent to the Fashion Museum for the display.

Finally, there are some beautiful examples of Regency muslin dresses and accessories in the main gallery, which provide wonderful inspiration!

Jane Odiwe

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mirror Magic

Mirror, mirror on the wall... Mirrors have powerful fascination for most people and I find myself drawn right into those with their old glass still intact, like this fabulous 18thc example from the Assembly Rooms in King's Lynn.

I stood in front of it for long minutes, mesmerised by the silver shimmer of the old glass, half expecting the scene behind me of the Mayor greeting visitors to turn into a Georgian ball in full swing with an orchestra in the gallery, candlelight, the chaperones' corner and, of course, a handsome man walking towards me...

Not all mirrors are as beautiful. The "mirror" once owned by Elizabeth I's astrologer Dr John Dee, is actually a polished obsidian Aztec cult object, one of the curiosities reaching Europe during the 16th century. Dee used it as a "shew-stone" to see visions of the future and you can see it at the British Museum and catch an eerie glimpse of your own reflection, even if you cannot see the future in it.

Much more charming is this little late 18thc enamel patch box. I bought it because of the charming couple on the lid and the motto "Sweets the Love That meets Return" but I was thrilled to find it still has its tiny mirror in the lid.

How many women have peeped into that tiny mirror - only 4cm wide?

The fact that it has survived, albeit cracked, suggests it was treasured after the fashion for wearing paches on the face had long gone.
Was a little surreptitious rouge or rice powder concealed in it? Or tiny sweetmeats, or perhaps pills? Or was it just a pretty trifle to keep in a reticule to take out and check one's appearance or spy over one's shoulder at what was happening in the room behind?

Is there a mirror that has intrigued, or even frightened you? Tell me about it - there is a prize of a signed copy of one of my latest books - your choice - to the writer of a comment chosen at random. (Check out this post on Friday 26th August and I'll announce the winner)

Louise Allen
Ravished By the Rake (UK August 2011)
Practical Widow to Passionate Mistress (US August 2011)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Butter Making

Photo Musphot
Three characters in the book I’m currently writing live on a farm. For readers to believe in them as real people they need to see them in the context of their daily lives. In this case, in the dairy where Bronnen and her mother are making butter that they will sell at the weekly market. 
          Butter making was a time-consuming process that demanded care and absolute cleanliness. Household advice of the time recommended churning twice a week in summer. After morning milking, the milk for butter was poured into large shallow earthenware dishes and left to stand for 6-7 hours in the dairy to allow the cream to rise to the top. After the cream had risen to the surface it was skimmed off and set aside for the churn.  The skimmers – which might be brass or wood (sycamore was popular as it didn’t splinter or taint) were round and shaped like a saucer with holes in the bottom for the milk to drip through. 
          Once the cream was in the churn, the handle was turned to rotate the barrel. After about 15 minutes the fat would form small grains which gradually clumped together.  When the butter had “come” the barrel was opened, cold water was poured in, and the churn turned for several more minutes. The churn was opened again and the buttermilk poured out into a wooden bucket. This was set aside for drinking in the house, the remainder for the pigs.  Next, clean cold water was added to the churn and the butter thoroughly washed several times, then squeezed by hand to make sure all the buttermilk was removed.  If this wasn’t done, the butter would quickly spoil.  Scooped from the churn into the butter worker - a long shallow trough – the butter was washed again with clean cold water then pressed with a perforated roller to remove any remaining liquid. Then it was salted and worked some more. Lastly it was packed into a lidded earthenware crock or wooden tub, pressed down hard with a wooden tool shaped like a mushroom to make sure no air or water remained trapped.  Though it had to be very salty for storing, this butter would keep indefinitely. And the salt could always be washed out before it was used.    
So how would the farmer’s wife wrap the butter she sold to a customer?  Greaseproof paper wasn’t invented until 1848.  My research - which included asking several historical novelist friends - returned several answers.  The butter would be scooped out of the large tub or crock and shaped into blocks with small grooved wooden paddles called butter hands, or butter pats.  These would be impressed with a wooden stamp.   A sheaf of wheat symbolised prosperity; an acorn good luck; but many farmer's wives chose a leaf or flower. This was the farmer’s wife’s personal stamp - her trademark - on which rested her reputation as a butter maker. 
 Then the butter might be wrapped in dock leaves or butterbur leaves before being wrapped again in butter muslin. Both these leaves were very popular as they kept the butter cool and did not taint it. The wrapped blocks would be placed in a square or oblong lidded wicker basket lined with straw – to keep the contents aired and cool – and taken to market.  It was also common for housewives buying butter to take along their own lidded earthenware dish. The butter would be weighed on special wooden butter scales then firmly pressed into the dish to exclude any air so it would not spoil.    
          Next time I go to the supermarket and take a block of butter from the chilled cabinet, I'll remember this and be grateful.

Jane Jackson

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Austenesque Extravaganza!

August sees a month-long celebration of Jane Austen, organised by Meredith at Austenesque Reviews and I'm very happy to be a part of it. My contribution is a quiz about my heroes' diaries, which look at Jane Austen's novels from the heroes' points of view.

1) Which was the first diary to be published?

2) One of the diaries had its title changed for the paperback edition. Which one, and what were both titles (hardback and paperback)?

3) In Mr Knightley's diary, what happens to Miss Bates?

4) In what year does Captain Wentworth's Diary begin?

5) Which was the last diary to be published?

6) In Mr Darcy's Diary, Elizabeth hopes to meet  . . . .  at the Netherfield Ball.

7) In Colonel Brandon's Diary, why does he not marry his first love?

8) In Edmund Bertram's Diary, Fanny falls in love with . . .

9) Does Mr Darcy's Diary end before, at, or after Lizzy and Darcy's wedding?

10) There is a short story sequel to Mr Darcy's Diary in an anthology. Which anthology?

For the answers click here

And last but not least, Meredith is holding a mammoth giveaway, with 80 Austenesque books to be won! Simply leave a comment on any of the participating blogs and the winners will be selected at the end of the month. If you win, you will win a book at random, not necessarily a book by the author on whose blog you leave a comment. You can find full details of the giveaway at  Austenesque Reviews
Good luck!

Amanda Grange

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Miss Bannerman & The Duke

This is my fourth book for Aurora Regency and it should have been released yesterday. I am posting about it in the hope that it will appear today.
Here is an extract.

She was in sight of her objective when, to her horror, the duke materialised in front of her. He did not look at all pleased to see her; in fact, he looked furious. Not daring to meet his fulminating stare, she dropped her eyes and clutched her reticule protectively to her chest. 

What could she say to avert this disaster? 

Her breathing steadied as a simple solution occurred to her.
She dipped in a deep curtsy. "Are you very angry with me, sir? I tried to tell you: I do not like to dance and especially not in this ensemble. I am already a laughing stock; stumbling around the dance floor would only add to my unhappiness. I do most humbly beg your pardon if I have caused you any embarrassment."

 A well-remembered hand, strangely without the regulation white glove, gently raised her. "No, Miss Bannerman, it is I who must apologise. I thought to help by my intervention; I can see now that I misunderstood your situation."

His kindness was almost her undoing. She had treated him shabbily, pretending to be something she was not, and did not feel comfortable doing it. Scalding heat spread from her toes to her ears and she couldn't bear to look at him.

 "You are distressed, my dear. I shall wait for you in the vestibule. Supper is about to be served. If I take you in, that should serve to restore your reputation. Will you not look at me, Miss Bannerman?"
Slowly, she met his gaze and saw nothing but sympathy there. 

"I should not have run away but I am not comfortable in crowds, your Grace. I would much prefer to remain at home and read a book." She glanced down at her hideous gown. "My mama selected this; one might have thought she [i]wished[/i] to make my evening a disaster."

His brow creased for a second. Had she revealed too much of her real personality in her casual comment? Then his lips curved in the sweetest smile and for some reason she almost lost her balance. 

"That gown is not a happy choice, my dear. I should have realised someone of your sensitivity would never appear in such a garment willingly."
Good grief! He was agreeing she looked appalling! Surely, a man of his breeding would realize his role was to reassure, not compound the problem? 

She would not spend another moment in his company; he was everything she most disliked in a gentleman--so full of his own importance that he thought he could say what he liked and it would give no offence.
"I'm sorry, but  I do not feel well enough to eat. I'm going to remain in here until it's time to leave." 

She should have thanked him for his kind offer, but the words remained unsaid.
I hope you get the chance to read it.
best wishes
Fenella Miller

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Dark Satanic Mills......

July saw the UK publication of TO CATCH A HUSBAND, my latest Mills & Boon historical. This is a little different from my usual Regency romances since Daniel Blackwood is not a member of the aristocracy, but an industrialist, a mill owner from Yorkshire.  I have wanted to write a story about such a man since moving to Yorkshire over tweny years ago. 

I live in a very beautiful area on the south Pennines but the steep sided valley that carries the road from Yorkshire to Lancashire was once filled with mills.  Today there is very little left of the thriving industry that used to be carried on here - there were half a dozen mills just in the small area you can see here.  The mill in the picture was built late in the 19th century and was powered by steam, but you can see the chimney of a much older mill that was originally built in the valley to take advantage of the many streams that run down off the hills.  The older mill itself is disused now but the mill pond is still there. 

My heroine, Kitty, is a gently bred but impoverished young lady who needs to marry well, but she is drawn to Daniel and as they become better acquainted it is clear that they were made for one another. Daniel is based on an amalgam of industrialists of the time, like Samuel Greg who built Quarry Bank Milll near Manchester, and Robert Owen, who opened mills in Lanark; forward thinking men who knew that the welfare of their employees was important.

I have added a short extract below where Kitty learns a little more about Daniel.  She has come with Lord Harworth and his sister to visit Hestonroyd, one of Daniel's mills and while the others rest in the office, Daniel takes Kitty to see the apprentice house and nursery....

'Thank you for bringing me here,' she said earnestly. 'Is it very unusual to set up such a school as this one, Mr Blackwood?'

She was idly swinging her bonnet by its ribbons, too preoccupied to think of putting it on, or to consider the effect of the sun on her complexion.

'It is becoming more common,' he replied. 'Mill owners recognise the benefits of looking after their workers. This was my mother's idea. She visits frequently to assure herself the children are well cared for.'

'Yes, I can see that such a role might fall to the mistress,' murmured Kitty, frowning a little.

'Do you think men are so lacking in kindness?' he challenged her.

'I think they are more motivated by profit, and can forget the more civilised aspects of life,' she replied, thinking of Lord Harworth, poring over the ledgers in the office.

'It is not impossible for profit and philanthropy to go together, Miss Wythenshawe!'

Kitty stopped.

'I beg your pardon,' she said, her colour heightened. 'I did not mean to imply any slur upon you, Mr Blackwood.'

'I am well aware of what you think of me,' he muttered. 'I am hardly a gentleman in your eyes!'

He went to walk on but she caught his sleeve.

'Now what nonsense is this? I thought we had done with that misunderstanding. You know how much I regret ever thinking ill of you.'

He shook off her hand.

'That is not the point. Nothing can change the fact that I am a manufacturer.'

She was confused by his anger, and a little hurt, too.

'You told me you were proud of what you are,' she retorted. 'Do you think we came here out of idle curiosity, to look at your mill as one might look at a freak show? Lord Harworth wants to build a mill and has consulted you because your family knows more about the subject than anyone. That is why he came to Hestonroyd today.'

'And you insisted upon accompanying him,' he threw at her. 'Still toadying up to him, I don't doubt, showing him you are the perfect helpmate, entering into all his concerns!'

'No!' cried Kitty. What could she say? He was only repeating what everyone else thought of her. She moved a step closer, forcing herself to meet his eyes. 'That is not how it is. I wanted to come, I wished to see the mill. I wanted…I wanted to discover why it means so much to you, why you are so proud to be a manufacturer.'

The anger still smouldered in his eyes, his mouth fixed in a thin line.

'And are you satisfied?'

Kitty's anger melted. He looked so much like a sullen schoolboy that she wanted to reach out and brush the stray lock of hair from his forehead, to pull his face down to hers and kiss away his sulks. She dare not allow herself to do any of these things so she merely nodded.

'I think you should be very proud of what you have achieved here, Mr Blackwood.'

He continued to stare at her but she would not look away. She needed him to know she was sincere.

'You must think me a boorish fellow,' he said at last.

She smiled. 'I think you have a temper that is not always under control.'

His lips curved a little and the dangerous light faded from his eyes. The wind had whipped an errant curl across her face and he lifted one hand to catch it.

'You are right,' he said, tucking the curl carefully behind her ear. 'My mother despairs of me.' The touch of his fingers set Kitty's heart knocking painfully against her ribs, but when he dropped his hand the lack of contact was even more agonizing. She forced herself to stand still while every nerve screamed to reach out for him. The world no longer existed, she was no longer aware of the rumble of the mill, the sound of the stream or the singing of the birds, there was only Daniel, standing so close, holding her eyes.
His face softened, he lifted his hand again. 'Miss Wythenshawe – Kitty – I…'

'There you are!'

Lord Harworth's jovial cry echoed over them. Daniel dropped his hand and Kitty was filled with an intense disappointment. As one they turned, schooling their features to smile as Lord Harworth approached with his sister hanging on his arm.

To Catch a Husband.
Mills & Boon
July 2011 (Hardback) September 2011 (Paperback)

Monday, August 01, 2011

A glimpse of Ely, Cambridgeshire

Hello there!

I'm Jan Jones and I'm delighted to be joining the Historical Romance UK blog. I have had one contemporary romance published and three Regencies with Hale Books. Two of them were shortlisted for the Love Story of the Year: Fair Deception (2010) and Fortunate Wager(2011).

My Regencies are set in the racing town of Newmarket, but for this post I'd like to mention the neighbouring city of Ely.

Before the Fens were drained in the 17th Century, Ely really was an island. The cathedral was the largest employer and the raison d'etre of the town. Walking around Ely, it is impossible not to feel the past pressing you on all sides.

My latest Woman's Weekly serial - An Ordinary Gift - is set here, about a modern woman who starts unexpectedly to hear and see echoes of the past.

If you follow the links above, they will give a glimpse into this small, but perfectly formed town. Even though I am local, I enjoyed researching Ely so much that I'm sure there are other stories just waiting for me there too.

Jan Jones