Monday, November 26, 2012

Gowns Galore!

I had a lovely visit to the V&A recently to see the new fashion galleries. It's well worth a visit if you're interested in the history of fashion. I love the way they've put together costumes, paintings, furniture and accessories to give a flavour of the period. Here are a few Regency and Georgian examples for your delight! I can't help but think of Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth for the costumes above!

Jane Odiwe

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Le Journal de Mr Darcy

Over the years, my books have come out in different foreign language editions, but I'm particularly excited about this one because it's the first time one of my books has been translated into French. I'm really looking forward to reading it. At least I know what it says, so I will be able to make a good guess at anything I don't know! All the same, I've dug out my old schoolgirl French dictionary because I think I'm going to need it.

I love the cover. It's suitably enigmatic and I like being able to imagine the rest of him (well, who wouldn't?) It seems incredible that it's now seven years since Darcy's Diary first came out in hardback, and five years since the first paperback edition, called, of course, Mr Darcy's Diary, but Mr Darcy is unstoppable.

The book is out on the 23rd November. It's listed on Amazon UK and it looks as though it will be possible to buy it over here as well as in France, so if you want to  brush up on their French, this is a painless way to go about it!

Amanda Grange

Monday, November 19, 2012

New feature - special offers

If you look to your left, you'll see that we've introduced a new feature to the blog, which lists current promotions. From time to time we have books that are on special offer and we wanted to make it easy for you to find them. So keep an eye on the list for special editions, special prices, three for two offers etc. Underneath the title you'll find links to the book on Amazon US and Amazon UK

One of my Gothic Regency romances, Castle of Secrets, is on offer at the moment and it's starting our new feature. It's just the sort of book I love to read - and write! - when the evenings are drawing in. There's nothing better than curling up with a good book when the curtains are drawn and it's dark outside.

So what is it about? The heroine, Helena Carlisle takes up a position as the housekeeper at Stormcrow Castle in an effort to find her missing aunt. The castle is a gloomy edifice in the middle of the moors and it's full of secrets. She finds herself irresistibly drawn to the castle’s enigmatic owner. As she is drawn deeper into the world of the castle, she must fight for love—and survival.

Here are some reviews:
"A thoroughly enjoyable page turner." - Historical Novel Society
"How I do love Gothic novels, and here is a good example of the genre. Take a brooding castle on the moors, a sinister master, ghostly phenomena, a Mrs Danvers like lady's maid and a masked ball and stir them all together, then serve and enjoy." - My Shelf
"Grange peppers her story with rich atmospheric details, from a masked ball to a cast of colorful locals. Fans of romantic suspense will enjoy this tale of intrigue and deception on the barren moors." - Publishers Weekly

Castle of Secrets was originally published in hardback by Robert Hale Ltd under the title of Stormcrow Castle and I thought you would like to see all the different covers. Below you can see the original hardback cover (left) and the new paperback cover (right), which was designed by  At the top of the post, you can see the cover from the Kindle edition, which is the special offer edition. At 93p (99c) it's the kind of price to warm your heart on a winter evening!

Happy reading!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tree Surgery

Our side boundary borders several fields. The trees on the hedge have grown like mad this year due to the heat wave in April then an entire summer of rain. My office window looks out onto the fields. Well, it would if the view hadn't been reduced to a small gap between a thickly-leafed oak branch on one side and a massive holly bush on the other. We had planned to get a local tree surgeon in to cut everything back.  But because of the weather he's way behind on work already booked, plus there was no access for his machinery.  So we talked it over and decided to do it ourselves.  Whatever happened to my quiet writing life? My unofficial Christmas deadline?
Anyway, after lunch Mike made a start. Using a ladder and a bow saw he managed to take the top and side branches off the oak tree.  The branch obscuring my window came down about six inches from the glass.  (See first picture)  After I got back from the mobile library van and we'd had a cup of tea I put on my overalls (I have my own pair after I got soaked and filthy helping to bag up seaweed for the allotment – but that's another story) and clambered over the hedge into the fields.
Apart from that one huge branch, he had managed to drop the others into the field.  I used secateurs with two-foot-long handles and jaws like a shark to cut everything into short lengths.  I built up a pile in the field about twenty feet in diameter and about seven feet high.
The following morning Mike finished cutting back and I did the last of the chopping up. Then he threw armfuls up to me on the hedge and, clinging to a strand of barbed wire, I jumped up and down on it. (Not elegant, but very effective) We managed to lose the entire pile in the gap between our stone hedge and the brambles forming a barrier in the field.   Just we finished at 11.30am the drizzle started.  We had timed it perfectly.  Sweaty and exhausted I clambered back into our garden.  After a shower I went out to my office, pulled up the blind and  looked out onto a panoramic view worth every scratch, ache and blister. 

Jane Jackson.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Clothes Maketh the Character

Recently I saw an exhibition in London. The “HollywoodCostume” exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum is well worth the entrance fee, which is admittedly a little steep, but it's a treat.
In it, of course, is a display of historical costume, including costume from my favourite period, the mid Georgian era. This isn't an accurate reproduction of historical costumes necessarily, it’s an evocation, something that will appeal more to the modern viewer. The costumes included one of the fabulous gowns worn by Glenn Close in “Dangerous Liaisons,” which did appear to have a great deal of authenticity, but as explained in the notes, the clothes aren’t meant to be wholly accurate. “Dangerous Liaisons” itself is based on a novel, not on reality, and it has a story to tell, with a powerful moral. In a scene, the exhibition notes explained, everything has to go towards the point that the director is trying to make. So Close’s costumes were also distancing, as her character is a cold manipulator.
They also had one of Dorothy’s dresses from “The Wizard of Oz” and, joy of joys, a pair of her ruby slippers. When she made the film Garland was sixteen, so the dress had to take account of that when making her look younger. As well as breast binding, the camera angles were carefully plotted to show the childlike aspect Garland had until her dying day, and the complex tucks, gathers and shaping disguised Judy Garland’s burgeoning womanhood. It all went towards creating the central story, the point of the narrative, the innocent in a world of wonder. 
There's a great quotation on the website:

"Movies are about people. It’s the people, the characters in the stories, who hold our attention and who are of endless fascination to the audience. The people are the emotional core of every movie and it’s their story that moves us. The costume designer must know 'who' a character is before they can design their costume. No matter the era that the story takes place, the audience is asked to believe that the people in the movie are real and that they had a life prior to the start of the movie. We join our cast of characters at one moment in their life. Everything about them must resonate true, including their clothes."

I can’t say I ever noticed that before in every scene but I should have done. Because that’s what we do as writers.
A novelist will ensure that everything in a scene is about that scene’s focus. So when a man is saying goodbye to his girl in a busy railway station, the author will ensure that the urgency and poignancy is shown up. And also the characters. If the man is truly caring, he’ll make sure his loved one has what she needs—even mundane things like a drink or a newspaper. But a passionate, heartbroken lover might forget. He might lose his temper at the people jostling past. What the author won’t do is lose focus by going into irrelevant details about the other passengers, or the way the train looks. It will all relate back to the central point—that the lovers are parting. So the dirt on the train reminds him of the rainy day, so he can weep without anyone seeing him.
What film makers do visually, writers have to do with the words on the page. Anything that drags the reader out of the moment has to go. So word repetition can make a reader think, “hang on a minute, didn’t I read “pandemonium” in the last paragraph?” has to go unless it’s a deliberate echo. Descriptions should be relevant. A writer who starts a scene with a huge chunk of passive description, that is, description that has nothing to do with the characters or their dilemma, stands in danger of losing the reader. So does the writer who uses “talking heads,” where the characters are talking in a vacuum, and nothing around them is described.
Of course there are exceptions. A skilled writer can get away with almost anything, and repetition has a value of its own. But that’s all for us to know and you, the reader, to enjoy. It’s why many writers can’t immerse themselves in books any more. Why a friend of mine, who studied film, finds it really hard just to relax into a movie. He has to be always looking for the good bits, and the bits the director failed to do right. It has to be relearned.
I review books for a blog, and I’ve had to relearn reading, to a certain extent, because I’m reviewing for the reader, not for the writer. While reviews are great for the writer, it’s the reader, the person who is paying for the right to read the book, who really matters. And I’ve learned to read all over again, to read for pleasure.
It’s a hard lesson, but well worth it. I started my writing career because I read so much. It’s my first love. It will probably be my last.

Lynne Connolly

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Duke's Deception

Fifth book in the duke series.

The fifth book in my duke series, The Duke's Deception, (published by Robert Hale as The Dissembler in 2006) is about to go live on Amazon.
I love the cover (done by Jane Dixon-Smith) . 
This book got a 5* review from an American review site that hated the first three books. Never understood why the reviewer panned the first three and loved this one - they were all well received on other sites.

Here is the blurb to wet your appetite.

Marianne Devenish arrives in Great Bentley expecting to find her great-uncle in residence. Instead she finds The Earl of Lenster, Theodolphus Rickham pretending to be Sir Theodore Devenish, a tulip of the ton, more interested in the cut of his coat than in politics.
Unable to stay in a bachelor establishment she moves to Frating Hall, with the permanently impecunious Lord and Lady Grierson. She discovers, to her horror, that Charles, and his younger brother, Edward are involved with the local smugglers.
Theo's dissembling inevitably leads to misunderstandings and heartbreak and with her reputation in tatters Marianne flees to London. But she is ostracised by society and is obliged to find refuge at Drayton House, a small estate in Hertfordshire. Here her life turns into a nightmare.
Can Theo catch his spy, save Edward and Charles from the gallows and rescue the woman he loves before she is lost to him for ever?

best wishes
Fenella J Miller

Monday, November 05, 2012

De-junking One’s Life

I’m a great believer in periodically de-junking one’s life. I do try not to hoard things but I’m not a natural minimalist and clutter keeps creeping in. I enjoy having ornaments around which friends have given me. I like buying unusual earrings and necklaces in foreign street markets. And, above all, I love collecting books.

However, I realized that enough was enough when I found myself blowing dust off all those little ornaments rather than dusting them properly. There were just too many. I’m asthmatic and the result was Not Good. Time for a change. I gave them a proper wash, put a few aside to keep, and said good-bye to the rest before taking them down to Oxfam.
I’ve also learnt to be more ruthless about my wardrobe and chuck things I don’t wear. These days it’s strictly buy something new and something old has to go. It doesn’t always work but I’m a lot better than I used to be.

Then there are the books. I have over two thousand. There are bookcases in almost every room and on the landings, and most of the alcoves have shelving for books as well. I was getting to the stage where they were beginning to pile up in the corners of rooms. Well, if I’m honest, there have been piles of books on the floor for years but I hadn’t seen them. Now I did.

So, this week, I’ve been tackling the books. A number of academic books from my M.A. course went – they are out of date now. I re-read those novels I wasn’t sure about and was surprised how many I was happy to let go. I’d loved them once but now they no longer appealed in the same way. Then there were books which I’d been given but didn’t really want. I’d thanked the donors nicely and now the books could go. The charity shop would get some money, I’d get some space.

The real problem is with the thousand or so books which comprise my research library - and I'm sure my fellow novelists know the problem. As a Historical novelist, we need to check on not only the obvious things like housing, costume, travel, food, wages and so on, but also more obscure information. I have books on smuggling in Cornwall in the early 19th century; theatrical lighting (candles, paraffin lamps and, later, gas) in the mid 19th century; an entire shelf on Wellington’s army in Spain during the Peninsular War; how refugees fleeing the French Revolution managed to support themselves in London, and a host of other out of the way subjects. It’s much more difficult to prune books here.

Nevertheless, this week, in six separate visits, I managed to take over one hundred books to the new Oxfam Book Shop in Islington. So, can I now report that my bookshelves are inspiringly freed up? Not quite. But I can see a lot more of my floor! What’s more, I feel incredibly virtuous.

And it’s a lot cheaper than therapy.

Photos: top: novels in the sitting-room
            bottom: books on the landing: top shelf: 19th century Highlands, lower shelf:
            Napoleonic wars.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Curling up with a Good Book

So, the UK is now on GMT rather than British Summer time, nights are darker, weather is colder and it is perfect for curling up in a chair with a good book. I have just received my author copies of Beneath the Major's Scars,  one of two books I wrote about identical twins, and this, the first book, is released in December. It is such a long time since I wrote this book that I might very well indulge in re-reading it, since it features a part of England that I love, the West Country.

As the title suggests, my hero Dominic Coale, was badly injured during the Peninsula War and has retreated to the wilds of Exmoor to live a solitary existence.  As a West Country girl myself, I love this part of England and have taken great inspiration from the beautiful landscape. The last time we were there I took a walk along one of the bridleways and was amazed at the lovely cobbled surface.  In Dominic's day this was probably one of the main routes, and I could imagine a curricle or carriage rattling over this surface – it made me quite thankful for today's pneumatic tyres and tarmac roads!   

The plot of Beneath the Major's Scars involves a headlong ride to the coast and I used a very isolated and dramatic area for this, Hartland Quay. The picture here shows just how wild and isolated it is. In tudor times it was a thriving port but steadily fell into disuse. It would still have been a busy place in the early 19th century, so I used a little artistic licence, changed the name and made it much more run-down– and of course the rum  characters I added are entirely fictional!

And just a final note to our friends on the eastern coast of North America – you have suffered enough with the recent storms so maybe you don't want any more excitement at the present time! Understandable, and my thoughts are with you.

Happy reading

Sarah Mallory
Beneath the Major's Scars HH Dec 2012
The Illegitimate Montague M&B 2012