Saturday, July 27, 2013

New books from Anne Herries

His Unusual governess, a stand alone book has been on sale for a couple of months now, but in September there is a new Medieval - Promised to the Crusader,  Wonderful cover for this.  There is also a double book from Anne Herries and HMB - Debutante in the Regency Ballroom.  I'm not sure which books are featured in this one yet.  HMB do these different titles and I'm never sure which of my books is being published.  I know I have a Regency triology coming at the end of the year and into 1914 but I do not think any of the trilogy are in this book.  I shall enjoy discovering when it comes through.

I really love this cover though.

Date with a Regency Rake was recently in the top 100 at kindle.  It is a double book with Marguerite Kaye and was a reprint of The Rake's Rebellious Lady and Marguerite's book.  When Rake's Rebellious Lady came out the first time it went to number one for a while in a best seller list, I think M&B's but not sure.  I didn't look at the time.

I've done well over 60 books for M&B now and there are a few more in the pipeline apart from those I' ve mentioned.

Love to all my readers, Linda/Anne

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Directing Pride and Prejudice!

In 1995 my life completely changed when I watched a television series on a Sunday evening for six weeks. It was Pride and Prejudice, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, adapted by Andrew Davies, and directed by Simon Langton.
I'd always enjoyed the adaptations of Jane Austen's books on the television, but there was something about this one which made me see the book in a new light, and also fired my imagination - and I'm not just talking about Colin Firth! I think it may have been the fact that it was made rather like a film, in that real houses and locations were used, rather than sets, built and designed, which can give the action an artificial feel. There was an energy about the whole production that was very different from previous adaptations, and though I had enjoyed those immensely, this one set me off an a journey of discovery. I'd always loved Jane Austen's books, but I wanted to find out more about Jane herself. This series re-kindled my interest in both Jane Austen and her books, and started me off on taking my own writing more seriously, so you can imagine when I got the chance to go and see the director talk about the making of Pride and Prejudice, I was very excited!
I'm very lucky to have some wonderful friends - one of them, Helen Porter who runs P&P Tours, invited me along to an evening in Bath with Simon Langton, and he gave a very interesting talk about making this iconic series. What was more, I actually got to meet him afterwards - I had to keep pinching myself as I sat next to him sipping Pimms and discussing Jane Austen - it was such a treat!
Photo taken from my trip to 'Longbourn' with P&P Tours
What I hadn't appreciated was the other amazing work he's been involved with over the years or that he is the son of the actor, David Langton, who played Lord Bellamy in Upstairs, Downstairs, a favourite series of mine many years ago. He directed his father in a few of the episodes! Some of Simon Langton's credits include other favourites of mine: Jeeves and Wooster, Smiley's People, The Duchess of Duke Street, and Rebecca, to name but a few.
He gave a similar talk at Chawton in April as part of the 200 year celebrations - you can listen to a podcast of it here and here is a link to a video about the making of the television series.
I still love watching it, and the more I learn about the production, the more enjoyable it gets!
Jane Odiwe

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Inspirational Houses

Castles and ruins can provide the perfect inspiration for historical novels and I love reading the posts on this blog about various lovely buildings visited.  But what about lesser houses, those belonging to ordinary people?  Sometimes they can be just as interesting and spark ideas for stories too.

One such is The Old House in Hereford, a beautiful timber-framed building which stands right in the middle of what is now a pedestrian area in the centre of town.  It looks oddly out of place because it is the last remaining house from an old street called Butcher’s Row which no longer exists.  It’s as if someone lifted it up and put it down where it doesn’t belong.  Being so different to its neighbours, however, makes it stand out and every time I pass, I have the urge to go inside.  Often, I do.

The building dates from 1621 and no one knows who the architect was.  It seems to have been built for (or first occupied by) a butcher, as the arms of the Butcher’s Guild are carved on a shield over one of the doors, but other tradesmen have also lived there and it’s been used as a shop of different kinds.  It is now a museum and there are lots of black and white photos depicting the house throughout the 19th century and later which are fascinating to see.

You enter through a lovely porch with carvings all around it and immediately you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.  You forget about the modern streets around it and the noise and bustle outside fades into the background.  The ground floor of the building consists of two rooms, one very spacious which must have been used as the shop, and another which may or may not have been the kitchen.  (The signs said the kitchen could have been in an outhouse instead).  Both these rooms have wonderfully smooth flag stone floors and large fireplaces.  These now display cooking pots and spits for roasting to show visitors how cooking was done in the 17th century, and there was an enormous “bread ark” (a large wooden chest) where dough was kept while rising.

A staircase leads to the first floor, which has two rooms with shiny oak floor boards and a wealth of leaded windows.  The largest was the parlour.  Whoever owned this house must have been fairly well off as they don’t seem to have stinted either on windows or fireplaces (there are another two on this floor, one with a very ornately carved surround).  The ceiling is also beautifully decorated with what looks like plaster fleur-de-lis.  And there are wall paintings, painted straight onto the plaster walls, with all kinds of motifs – some biblical, some classical.  I had no trouble at all picturing one of my heroines sitting in the parlour in front of a roaring fire, with her needlework on her lap and perhaps a small dog by her feet.  Could she be an heiress, the rich daughter of a tradesman, her wealth needed by some impoverished local lord?  I could just see him come here to court her, probably reluctantly, but maybe he would feel differently once he set eyes on her?

Another staircase leads from the smaller room to the second floor, which contains the bedrooms.  I loved seeing the tiny tester (four-poster) bed, which would have been cozy to say the least!  (Anyone larger than me – I’m five foot three – would have struggled to fit into it, but the hangings must have provided some much needed privacy.  And there is another bed which shows how they were constructed, with a wooden frame strung with rope on which the lumpy mattress rested.  I couldn’t help but wonder how uncomfortable this must have been, especially when shared with several other people!

If any of you find yourselves in or near Hereford, I can definitely recommend a visit.  Whether you’re in need of inspiration for a story or just want to see a wonderful old building, The Old House is great!

Christina x 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Rose By Any Other Name

The publishing industry has been set alight recently by the discovery that debut crime author Robert Galbraith is none other than J K Rowling. It set me thinking about pseudonyms and why authors use them. In J K Rowling’s case, she wanted to release a book without all the attention that usually surrounds her new releases, but even if she wasn’t mega famous, her publishers might have preferred her to use a pseudonym for a very different style of book. Agatha Christie, best known for her whodunnits, used a pseudonym for her romantic fiction, which was written under the name of Mary Westmacott. Jean Plaidy, well known for her historical fiction about real people, used the pseudonym of Victoria Holt for her Gothic romances.

I’ve used pseudonyms for some of my books because they’re written in different styles or genres to my main fiction. My Regency whodunnit, Murder at Whitegates Manor - Jane Austen meets Agatha Christie - is published under the name of Eleanor Tyler. I used a different name because I didn’t want readers to buy it thinking it was one of my usual Regencies and then be disappointed. It works the other way, too, I didn’t want readers who discovered me through Murder at Whitegates Manor to buy another book and then be disappointed it wasn’t a murder mystery.

I used a different name again, Amy Watson, for a book called The Rake, which is a Regency romance but it’s a lot lighter and more humorous than my Amanda Grange romances. Alex wants to look like a rake so that he can win the young lady of his dreams and he enlists the help of his best friend Lizzie. Much hilarity ensues when she tries to help him, ably assisted by her two female friends who both find loves of their own. By the end of the book, Alex finds out that the young lady of his dreams might not be the woman he loves  after all.

If you’d like to try them, they are available from all Amazons and there are links below. There are also links to my latest Amanda Grange release, a “box set” edition which includes my first three Regency romances in one download for a special price of £1.99.

What do you think of authors using pseudonyms? Do you think it makes life easier for readers? Or do you prefer all of an author’s titles to be published under the same name, even if they’re in a different genre?

Murder at Whitegates Manor Amazon UK  Amazon US
The Rake Amazon UK  Amazon US
Regency Box Set 1 by Amanda Grange Amazon UK  Amazon US

Amanda Grange

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Living History

Monday 15th July was the 58th Stithians Show,  the largest one-day agricultural show in the West of England, if not the whole country.  We were lucky as the intense heat had eased a little and  there was a bit of breeze.  Himself had taken 18 of his 50+ year-old rotavators and they generated a huge amount of interest from all ages, with as many women as men stopping to listen to them running (like an old Singer sewing machine!)   It was his first time and so many people took cards and wanted to talk about problems with carburettors and ignition, he talked himself hoarse.   He has also bought six more, subject to seeing them.  Where he’s going to put them I have no idea -  a spare hangar at RNAS Culdrose would be useful.

It was fascinating to watch people stop and do a double-take.  One old chap grinned and said  ‘My dear life! Father had one of these.  He used it to plant mangolds.’   (These were a very large sweet swede-like vegetable that used to be cultivated for cattle feed.)   
Women talked about the one grandfather had used on his allotment.

There was a horse show with show-jumping, a dog show - whose classes continued all day, marquees holding cattle, goats and poultry. Craft tents, tents containing stalls selling all kind of locally produced food and drink including wine.  There were stalls selling purses and bags, jewellery, tools, wigs and hair ornaments, kit for horses, products for feeding and grooming dogs, an amazing funfair, St Stythians brass band, and a big stage surrounded by a large open area soon packed with people sitting on the grass being entertained.  Food stalls sold burgers,  curries, spit-roasted pork in a bap, doughnuts, ice-cream, tea, coffee, and soft drinks.   Despite the crowds – and it was busy – the atmosphere was happy and relaxed.
Tannoys commentating on the horse-jumping and dog-show classes competed with the band, the banjo group on the stage, one of those huge fairground organs, noise from the rides and screams of the people on them,  hoots from the traction engines and the splutter of the stationary engines.  It should have been bedlam, but it was simply background to people enjoying themselves.

The vehicle on the left is a 1921 Model T Ford one-ton truck found in a barn. The cab and trailer part are made of wood, and on 10th May this year the engine was fired up for the first time in 49 years.  The owner even has the original 1921 tax disc, and another from 1964.

After the Show closed at 6pm it took Himself three trips with the trailer to get all the rotavators home.  I stayed on-site with a friend and we watched all these wonderful old cars and lorries leave.  Two of the traction engines had living accomodation towed behind, making them very long vehicles.  They were driven away by women while their husbands checked gauges and rubbed gleaming brasswork with a rag. By the time I left the Vintage Vehicle field was virtually empty.  But in a month’s time it will be buzzing (and hooting, steaming and clattering)  once more for the West of England Steam and Vintage Vehicle Rally from 15th to 18th August.   Himself  has been allotted a pitch big enough to display every one of his machines. He's like a dog with two tails.  I'll be going - can't miss such a wonderful opportunity to people-watch.  I love the sense of continuity, the sense of being part of local history and tradition.  Market days and shows like these were often the only opportunity farmers had to compare notes, and for their sons and daughters to meet a potential husband or wife who understood the demands of the way of life: the country equivalent of the London Season. 

Jane Jackson.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Royal Rat Catcher

Happenstance is wonderful.  You never know what you'll stumble across.

The Royal Rat Catcher, mid 19th century
I was doing some research on costume when I discovered that there used to be a Royal Rat Catcher.  He was reported, in 1758, to have worn "a crimson cloth coat guarded with blue velvet and embroidery, richly on back and breast, with His Majesty's Letters and Crowns, and on the arms with Rats and Wheatsheaf" (Sheppard, St James's Palace, 1894).  But a century later, when he had become Her Majesty's Rat Catcher (for Queen Victoria) the uniform had changed: he then wore "a costume of white leather breeches, and a green coat and a scarlet waistcoat, and a gold band round [his] hat, and a belt across [his] shoulder" (Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, 1851).  It's not clear whether and when the role ended.  Maybe the present Queen still has her own Rat Catcher?

And there's more.

In the early Georgian period, the King still had the King's Cock and Cryer.  During Lent, he was to "crow" the passing hours rather than crying them, the way the normal watchmen did.  Apparently, the "crowing" stopped after the reign of George I, though the royal purse was still paying for a King's Cock and Cryer until 1822.  A great job to have, since it paid 60 pounds a year, even though the office-holder didn't have to do anything for his money.  He even appeared at George IV's coronation, though he didn't crow!

George IV's coronation banquet, Westminster Hall, 1821
George IV's coronation in 1821 seems to have been extraordinary.  All the noblemen who took part were wearing (what was thought to be) Elizabethan dress, including doublets and hose.  They all wore ruffs, too.  It must all have looked very peculiar, but given the sort of extravagances that took George IV's fancy, it's not really surprising that he went over the top when he was being crowned.

That coronation also marked the last appearance of the King's Herb Woman.  The Herb Woman and her Maids only appeared at coronations where they had the task of strewing sweet herbs and flowers on the floor of Westminster Hall.
The King's Herb Woman and her Maids at George IV's Coronation Banquet

The illustration from the 1821 coronation shows them wearing the high-waisted gowns of the day, rather than faux-Elizabethan dress.  However, the neckline does seem to resemble a ruff, so maybe the women were trying to ape the 16th century costume. The Herb Woman had an annual allowance of scarlet cloth and at George IV's coronation she wore a scarlet mantle over her gown.  There's no indication that she was actually paid, though, which seems a little unfair.  She did do her strewing and got nothing (except cloth); the Cock and Cryer just turned up and got his very ample pay.

But then, the Cock and Cryer was a man...


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Is cover art important?

I've been looking at cover art for my indie novels recently and my respect for cover artists has gone up by leaps and bounds.

While the original covers for the backlist Regencies were great back in the day the books desperately needed refreshing. So I went on the net to look for art. There are a ton of images sites out there. Sometimes the same images appear on a bunch of sites and so they appear on more than one book. And there aren't that many models out there, believe me, although you'd think there's more. 
The current trend for a scruff of beard doesn't help, either. Men in the past just wouldn't have allowed them to grow. A good artist can give a man a shave-something I've longed to do in real life sometimes!
A good artist can make the same image look totally different on different covers. But now I realize why there are so many 'prom queen' covers around. Realistic historical costume is hard to come by. Men with shirts open down to the waist, women with skirts that billow out from a natural waistline instead of the Regency empire line, in colour variations that weren't used or weren't even available at the time are all endemic on romance books. I didn't want those and since, for the first time I had some say in what my covers looked like I could decide against them. But all I could find were prom dresses and draperies. So for the time being I used period portraits. While they pretty covers they didn't really reflect what was inside. So I went on the hunt. 
I found some. It took a while and I needed lots of help from some very good friends but they are out there now. One I'm not entirely happy with and it will progeny get a transformation in the near future, but of you look up Counterfeit Countess, Seducing Laura and Uncovering Vanessa, you'll see the new covers. 
Phew! Now that was what I call work! Now back to writing!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Research - when do you stop and start writing the book?

I am about to embark on my first new book for more than a year. I'm going to write a ghost story set at Pemberley which I have already made a detailed outline for. I know that Jane Austen related books were no longer being taken by publishers but I still think there is a demand to meet, whatever the publishers might believe.
Miss Bennet & Mr Bingley, having received a wonderful new cover to mark the 200th anniversary, is now selling  more copies than ever before – especially in America.
So, back to the problem of when to stop the search and start writing. I bought this book and "Jane Austen -The World of Her Novels" by Deirdre Le Faye, to add to my already groaning shelves of Georgian and Regency research books. I also bought the DVD of "Pride & Prejudice Having a Ball", and have read through both the books and watched the DVD.the
 My head is now full of images of lavish regency suppers and gorgeous costumes. I feel I have topped up my knowledge of Jane Austen's world and should really be ready to start writing. However, I now have a book on Coaching, Ghost Stories , Seed time and Harvest, and The Jane Austen handbook down from my bookshelf and feel compelled to flick through these, just in case I've forgotten anything vital about the era since I wrote my last Regency story.
The fact that for the past year or so I've been re-writing and editing mostly Regency stories should mean everything I need to know is bubbling away inside my head, waiting to escape onto the page.
I have a horrible feeling my wish to continue reading into my subject it's more to do with procrastination than a desire to improve my historical knowledge.
Any suggestions as to how I can actually start writing my book would be gratefully received.
£0.99 on Amazon.UK

I have just published another Regency story, A Mistress for Stansted Hall,  on Amazon – this is my 11th – and yet again Jane Dixon-Smith has provided me with a beautiful cover.

Fenella J Miller.

Friday, July 05, 2013

In Praise of Meriol Trevor

When Meriol Trevor died in 2000, The Times obituary wrote at length about her two biographies of Cardinal Newman which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography, and it mentioned her children’s novels with respect. But there was nothing at all about her historical romantic adventures set, mainly in Luxembourg during the Napoleonic Wars, all published in the 1970s.

I have five of her Luxembourg novels and I’ve always enjoyed them. What interests Trevor is how people cope in times of war. Luxembourg, once a duchy in the Holy Roman Empire, has fallen to Bonaparte’s armies, and is now ruled with an iron hand by the French. The guillotine is set up in the town square – and it’s not just for show. The Luxembourgers are faced with a stark choice: become a Bonapartist and support the new regime or face the consequences.

In The Marked Man, Count Gabriel d’Erlen vows to fight on. Wild, passionate and impulsive as a youth, he now leads a band of partisans in the forest, dedicated to guerrilla warfare. His family home, Villerange, has been turned into a girls’ school, set up by stern Republican Monsieur de TrĂ©vires, whose dreamy daughter, the eighteen-year-old Claudine, is a senior pupil.

Claudine finds herself torn by conflicting loyalties: will she betray the wounded stranger she finds hiding in the Chateau de Villerange, or will she defy her father and the republican principles she has grown up with and help Gabriel escape? Claudine must face all the terrors and uncertainties of love and war and learn to trust her own heart.

In The Forgotten Country, Alix d’Erlen, married off at sixteen to an elderly nobleman, is now twenty-eight, beautiful, intelligent and a widow. Disgusted by her husband’s impotent fumblings, she wants nothing more than a life of chaste seclusion. But she has reckoned without the Emperor Napoleon, who likes arranging matches between ladies of the Ancien RĂ©gime and his parvenu generals. Alix is desperate not to be married off to the emperor’s choice and when the calm, cultured Conrad de Berthol, a fellow Luxembourgian, proposes, she hastily accepts him, assuming that their marriage will be a cool, distant affair.

They return to Conrad’s castle in Luxembourg where she discovers, to her horror, that he is in love with her. Instantly, all her barriers go up. But then events take a sinister turn. Soon, Conrad is on the run with a price on his head. Alix, faced with the very real possibility of his execution, discovers a depth of emotion she did not know she possessed.

I bought several of her books in a library sale and I asked the librarian why he was getting rid of them. He said, ‘We’ve tried to promote them several times but, somehow, they don’t ‘take’.’ They are possibly a touch literary for some readers, and she tends to head hop. She doesn’t go through the bedroom door but she certainly gets across the sexual chemistry between hero and heroine. On the other hand, her plots are terrific and there is plenty of emotion, excitement and danger. She obviously knew her chosen period well and her depiction of Luxembourg under French occupation is absolutely convincing.

I’ve always enjoyed them and I can’t say fairer than that.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Revenge and Romance

Revenge has formed the basis of stories for hundreds of years, from the blood-filled Jacobean revenge tragedies to modern day films, taking in opera and stage shows along the way. I love a good revenge story, although I know some readers are not so keen.  But one person's revenge could be another's justice, and justice for a wronged woman in the brutal Georgian era was hard to come by.

In my Melinda Hammond novel, LADY VENGEANCE, Elinor is wronged by a group of very powerful men. They take their cruel pleasure and think nothing more of it, but eight years later  their deeds come back to aunt them.  This is (so far) the darkest of my Melinda Hammond novels, and it is a stirring adventure story of politics and plots, dark deeds and love, and  a mysterious, fiery ruby - the bloodstone - which is Elinor's link with a past she cannot forget.

My latest Sarah Mallory, BOUGHT FOR REVENGE (published in August) is a very different revenge story.
It is set in the "enlightened" world of the Regency, two years after Waterloo and it is the man, Lucas Blackstone, who thinks he has been wronged and is determined to exact his own kind of justice.
However, he finds that plotting his revenge against an unseen, inhuman enemy is very different from carrying out his plans to harm a gentle old man and his beautiful daughter. All too soon Lucas finds the defensive walls he has built around his heart are beginning to crumble.

Anyone who has read my books will know I am a romantic, so in both stories it is love that wins the day, but  I did enjoy exploring these two scenarios with their very different heroines. I would love to hear which you prefer.

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

Lady Vengeance - pub. in e-book format by Regency Reads, Hardback by Robert Hale Ltd
Bought for Revenge - pub. August 2013 by Harlequin Historical