Saturday, March 29, 2014

Enjoy a Regency Rogue for free.

Back in 1976 -- yes, I was a mere child!::cough:: -- I wrote the first draft of a novel I titled A Regency Rape. A different time, a different place, and a writer without a clue about her market. Perhaps it wouldn't have been such a bad fit in Britain, which we'd recently left. I don't know.

We'd emigrated to Canada and I didn't have a job, so my husband suggested that I write that book I'd always been meaning to. So I did, in longhand, it a big lined book. In time I typed some of it, on foolscap in purple ink and italic font. Here it is. I'd forgotten that back then Nicholas was Nicholas Moreton!

But I wrote it, and in it I created Nicholas and his group of friends from Harrow called The Company of Rogues. Well, they originally called themselves The Harrow Band, but I persuaded them it sounded too musical. As there were twelve of them they tried for something along the lines of the Knights of the Round Table, but Nicholas squashed that. They weren't noble heroes; they were formed as a mutual protection gang.

You can read more about how the Rogues ended up in print fifteen years later by clicking here.

More suitably titled An Arranged Marriage (but because of a rape -- you have been warned) the first Company of Rogues book was published in 1991 with a lovely cover that portrayed Nicholas and Eleanor very well. It was marketed as a traditional Regency romance, but was more of a Regency historical, with sex scenes and some strong elements.

Even so, it was a finalist for the RWA RITA award for Regency Romance, and won Romantic Times's Best Historical Novel of the year.

It's now available in print and e-book, but in my opinion the covers don't match that first one. I had control of the e-book cover and I'm not satisfied with it, but I couldn't find any male cover models that looked like Nicholas.

The new print edition below, by the original publisher, is pretty but doesn't fit the book at all.

Any opinions?

The cool news of the day, however, is that I don't have to try to sell you on my Regency Rogues, because right now UK readers can get the e-book of An Arranged Marriage free for Nook or Kindle. Click on the link and grab it quickly, for this won't last long. Of course I hope you're hooked.

In addition, the Kindle edition of a later Rogues book, The Dragon's Bride, which is published by my New York publisher, is supposed to reduce to $2.99 US$ today. That price should ripple around the world, but the ways of Zon are sometimes mysterious. I don't see the reduction yet, but if you'd like a copy, watch for it.

The Dragon's Bride, set on the smuggling coast of Devon, is the direct precursor to my new book, A Shocking Delight, which will be out in three days -- my first new Rogues book in seven years. With this publication I believe my Company of Rogues is the longest running, still live, Regency series, so I raise a glass of fine white port to them.

You can read a free sample here.

If you miss this special price, I recommend buying the e-edition of an omnibus called Three Heroes, which contains a novella, The Demon's Mistress, plus The Dragon's Bride and The Devil's Heiress for a really good price.

There's a short video about the first five Rogues books here.

For a complete list of the Company of Rogues in order, click here.
For a menu of all my books and novellas in e-editions, click here.

Are you a Rogues fan already? Which is your favourite book?

If not, will you get your free copy of An Arranged Marriage and see?

Do you like romance series based on a group of friends?


Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Vikings are Here!

The Vikings are here again, or at least, it seems they’re everywhere at the moment!  And although I admit to being biased as I’m half Swedish, I’ve always been fascinated by them and their culture, so this is something I’m very happy about.

The Vikings and the Norse Sagas written about them and their mythology have served as inspiration for countless modern books, films and even opera (Wagner’s Ring Cycle).  There are the light-hearted takes on them such as the recent Thor films and Marvel comics of the same name, Terry Jones’ (of Monty Python fame) Erik the Viking, and many more.  Historical romances featuring Vikings abound, such as those of Sandra Hill for example (where her protagonists sometimes time-travel to or from Viking times, which creates some wonderful situations!).  There are YA books based on the Norse myths (like Loki’s Wolves by K L Armstrong and Melissa Marr), testosterone-fuelled “swords and longships” books like those of Robert Low (the Oathsworn series) and Giles Kristian, and now even Joanne M Harris has penned a story based on Loki, the mischievous god who seems to attract more attention than all the good ones (bad boy syndrome?) – The Gospel of Loki.

We are surrounded!

Now the British Museum here in London has joined in with a superb exhibition entitled Vikings: Life and Legend.  I went to see it last week and can highly recommend it – just make sure you have at least two hours to spare!  Not only is it very popular and therefore crowded, but you just won’t want to leave because there is so much to see and absorb.

At the entrance, I almost had goose-pimples because the first thing you hear are a man and a woman reading something out in Old Norse.  Artefacts and books can only tell you so much, but to actually hear these people speaking to you – seemingly across time – made it all seem much more real somehow.  Despite being fluent in Swedish, I couldn’t understand more than the odd word here and there, but it sounded very familiar even so.

The Vikings have had a bad press, being portrayed as vicious killing, raping and plundering berserkers, but that was only a small fraction of the Norse population.  For the most part they were farmers or traders, living peaceful, if sometimes adventurous, lives.  They travelled far and wide in search of trade goods and markets, making the most amazing journeys all over the known world and beyond.  Looking at a map which shows their far-flung destinations, you can’t but feel awe at their achievements.  They may have been ruthless, but they had enormous courage and determination too.  And their boat-building skills were second to none.

Their own culture was extremely rich, with almost every main household having a skald (bard) to tell stories and keep the myths alive.  The craftsmanship shown in even everyday items, with carving and inlay of various kinds, is breathtaking.  As I made my way round the exhibition, I couldn’t take my eyes off the beautiful sword hilts, wooden objects and jewellery, everything covered in swirling motifs of outlandish fantasy creatures twisting this way and that.  But the Vikings were practical too - one particular necklace made of pure gold had originally weighed 2 kg (4.4 lbs) and although it was gorgeous, the owner mostly used it to twist bits off to give as gifts to loyal retainers – what a waste!

The pièce de résistance though is undoubtedly the enormous ship that is displayed (having been transported over from Denmark) – over 37 metres in length, with space for 40 pairs of rowers, it’s the biggest Viking ship ever found.  As I stood next to it and underneath it, I could really imagine crossing the North Sea in such a ship, and it was no wonder the sight of them scared the poor Anglo-Saxon monks.  It is quite simply awesome!

I came away, determined to write a Viking story next – watch this space!

Christina x 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bonded Heart is my latest title to be released by Accent Press as an ebook and paperback and comes out on 20th of this month. 

Before the formation of police forces in the 1830s the law was administered by local Justices. Though some were men of integrity, others used the law for their own ends.  Bonded Heart is set in the early 1800s when the war with France, sky-high food prices, and poor harvests meant that smuggling was the only way of avoiding starvation.  
Branoc Casvellan became a Justice to try and wipe out the stain on the family name caused by his father's behaviour. An honourable man who tempers justice with mercy, he's appalled by his attraction to Roz Trevaskis, the illegitimate daughter of a drunken whore. 
When Casvellan's brother catches smallpox, it falls to Roz to nurse him – bringing her into close contact with her handsome employer. But how will Branoc – and his family – react when the truth about Roz's past, and her involvement with the local smuggling trade comes out?  

I hope you enjoy this short extract:

The constable withdrew, closing the door quietly.  Roz felt a moment’s relief that no one else would hear whatever the Justice had to say. Surely he would criticise.  She could not blame him. Less than a month ago her mother had agreed to be bound over. But as the constable had explained on the walk from Porthinnis, far from being of good behaviour, Mary-Blanche had been found down at the harbour, drunk and raging at one of the masons.
“I would have took her home, miss,” the constable said. “But the foreman wasn’t having it. He complained she’d been distracting the men. Said if I didn’t arrest her, he’d go hisself and fetch the Justice.”
Shame for her mother had made Roz’s face burn as she nodded. “I understand, Mr Colenso. You had no choice.” 
“Sit down, Miss Trevaskis.”  Casvellan’s voice broke into her thoughts.
Doing as she was told, Roz sat straight-backed on the wooden chair placed at an angle to his desk. Tucking her feet to one side, she stared at her hands folded tightly in her lap.
“You are aware your mother is downstairs in one of the cells?”
“Yes.” Roz’s throat was so dry that the word emerged in a hoarse whisper. She cleared her throat. “Yes, sir.”
“Be so good as to look at me when I am addressing you.” 
She knew she had been guilty of discourtesy, but it was so hard to meet his gaze.  She had made promises on her mother’s behalf, and they had not been kept. By helping Will Prowse with the contraband she had broken the law, and must do so again.  Like the constable, she too had no choice. How else could she pay her mother’s fines and still put food on the table?
She raised her head. His eyes were the dark blue of storm clouds, heavy-lidded and fringed with black lashes. He had a way of narrowing them that made him appear sleepy. But it was misleading for his glittering gaze was as sharp as an unsheathed blade. He linked his fingers on the desk in front of him, his expression bleak. 
“Miss Trevaskis, this cannot continue.”
Roz screwed up her courage. “Sir, please, I beg you, not gaol.  Bodmin is almost a day’s ride away. How am I to keep my job and still find the time to visit?” Driven by fear, the words tumbled out. “Sir, if she is confined in a small dank cell with hardly any light and no proper food, her mind will break as surely as her health. I’ve heard the place is rife with fever.”  She stopped and chewed her lip, gripping her hands so tightly the knuckles ached.
Leaning back, he tapped his fingers lightly on the polished wood table where several neat piles of documents rested alongside a number of thick volumes.  “I am running out of patience and alternatives, Miss Trevaskis.  I understand your mother has now been barred from the Three Mackerel, the Bell, and the Red Lion.”
Roz’s breath hitched and as her head snapped up she tried to hide her shock. But she had forgotten how observant he was, how shrewd. 
“You didn’t know.”
“No.”  No one had told her.  Like him, they probably assumed she knew. But if the three main inns in the village were refusing to serve her mother, where was she getting the brandy?  There were a number of small ale-houses in the back streets by the harbour where no doubt a keg or two of cognac was kept under the counter. One day, unable to find her mother, she had asked Annie if Mary-Blanche might be in one of them. Annie had shaken her head. 
“No, my bird. She wouldn’t be let over the step. ‘Tis men only.”
“Miss Trevaskis,” Casvellan’s cool tone pierced the clamour in her head.  “You are clearly not suited to your current circumstances.“
Before she realised it, Roz was on her feet.  “No, I’m not. But I’m doing my best,” she cried. “If anyone had complained about me I would have been told. Nell - Mrs Hicks – is very – “
“Sit down.”  Though he didn’t raise his voice it was an order nonetheless. 
She sat, her heart pounding.  Heat scalded her cheeks as a lump formed in her throat. If she lost her job what would she do? How would they manage? 

Jane Jackson

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Emperors of London

When Richard and Rose series came to an end, I was exhausted. That series took a lot of research and a lot of work, but I loved it. I was as sad as the readers when the time came to say adieu. One day I might go back, but they aren't talking to me right now.
However, I did write a sequel. Readers wanted Freddy’s story, and I wrote it. But my publisher didn't like it, and now, a couple of years later, I can see why. It was an afterthought. I put the book aside, because I thought it had some interesting ideas, but I wasn't entirely happy with it, although I queried it at a few places, and they confirmed what I thought.
Just because I wasn’t actively writing a historical series didn't mean that I stopped doing any research. I always do research, because I’m interested. And I did some delving into the Jacobite cause.
So the shelved book and the Jacobites finally came together, and provided the piece I was missing. I found the “what if?” I needed. Freddy had a character revamp, became Alexander, and Richard became Julius. New characters, with a few shadows of their forebears. For instance, in this book Julius is a widower. That doesn’t mean I killed Rose, it means he hasn't met his Rose yet.
From that one book a series blossomed. I stopped what I was doing to construct a family tree, a theme and a story that would wind through the whole series. Two families at war, but not over some petty feud. No, one family is Jacobite. Even in the 1750’s that meant something. Although the ambition to take the throne of Britain was effectively over, the Jacobites were an important factor in the balance of power in Europe. They could make trouble, because they could call on people in high places. And the 1750’s was a fascinating time in history, when war had just finished, but everyone knew it wasn't yet over.
But what about the people, and the romance? How does that work? Well, the families imperil other people. Our heroes are the Emperors of London, so called because their parents, one man and five women, got the fanciful idea of calling their children after the ancient emperors and empresses of the past. So we have Nicephorus, and Antoninus, together with Marcus Aurelius. Their families have different spheres of influence and different backgrounds, but are bound with strong family ties.
I discovered that the Young Pretender, sometimes called Bonnie Prince Charlie, visited London clandestinely in 1750. The authorities wisely chose not to make a fuss, but ensured he left the country. So here’s my “what if?” What if he visited more than once? What if, during the turmoil and clandestine negotiations going on in that time, his supporters decided to use him a bit more? An embittered duke whose father threw all the family fortunes at the Jacobites and now wants to get some of that back? And a family who were supporters of the status quo?
And a few personal grudges thrown in for good measure?

Thus the Emperors of London were born. And just yesterday I signed a contract with Kensington Lyrical for the series. The first is out in September, so I'm sure you’ll be hearing more! 

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Wedding Anniversery

                 As I have just celebrated my golden wedding anniversary – I was married when I was a toddler -                               I thought I would post about the origins of wedding anniversaries.
  Some historians say this tradition dates back to the Holy Roman Empire when husbands gave   their wives a silver wreath on their twenty-fifth anniversary, or vicennalia, and a golden wreath on the fiftieth. Later commercialism led to the addition of more anniversaries being represented by a named gift.
However, other sources suggest celebrating the 25th and 50th anniversary originated in the Germanic region of Middle Europe in mediaeval times. This also involved the presentation of a silver wreath after twenty-five years. Silver is said to symbolise harmony which is assumed to be necessary to make a long marriage possible. On the 50th anniversary again a golden wreath was presented.
The custom of celebrating an anniversary wedding can be traced back to the early Victorian era. After all they introduced Valentine, Christmas cards and Christmas trees, so why not sell mass-produced items to a gullible public for anniversary gifts?
It wasn't until after 1937 that the other anniversaries were allocated items for suitable gifts. The earliest reference to anything other than the silver and gold was for the fifth anniversary which was wood. This would have been an item started on the wedding day and given to the wife on completion on the fifth anniversary.
The symbols have changed over time. For example in United Kingdom the 75th anniversary used to be represented by diamond but this changed to the more common 60th anniversary after Queen Victoria had been on the throne for sixty years.
My son and daughter-in-law celebrate their 10th anniversary next month and this, it would appear, is tin or aluminium. Any suggestions as to what we might buy them? He's very fond of baked beans so maybe a tin of those? Can't think of anything made of aluminium, can you?

Out 23rd March - £1.99

Friday, March 07, 2014

Vanished Mansions

I love stately homes, visiting them, taking in all the art and artefacts, the details of who has lived there down the ages. I love ruins too. They can be poignant and romantic and you can let your imagination run wild about the history and the people who inhabited them. But there’s a third category of historic house that I enjoy; the ones that have disappeared. They are like ghosts, mysterious, lost. Two of the houses that inspired my current manuscript are “lost” houses.

The first, Hamstead Marshall in Berkshire, pictured above, was known as Hamstead Marshall Palace, a house of the size and grandeur to rival Blenheim. Hamstead was intended for a queen, Elizabeth of Bohemia, the sister of King Charles I, and it was reputedly modelled on the castle in Heidelberg where she had spent the early years of her married life. It was grand and fabulously luxurious. A contemporary described it as having not only bathrooms but rooms with the specific purpose of “reposing after bathing.” The servants’ quarters included a distillery, a spicery, and a confectionery.

Hamstead Marshall burned down in 1718 when workmen were making renovations and accidentally left a
brazier unattended on the roof. All that is left of the house now are some magnificent gateposts that stand in the parkland, marking out where the drive and gardens once were. The site of the former house and its wonderful parterre is now a field and plenty of floor tiles and window glass from the building can be found just lying around on the ground. On the day I visited it felt like a lonely and windswept place.

The other house I’ve drawn on for background research suffered the same fate, but much more recently. Coleshill House in Oxfordshire was built around the same time as Hamstead Marshall and inspired by fashionable European houses of the period. It
had a grand entrance hall and beautiful ornate plasterwork ceilings. Builders were finishing renovations to the house in 1952 when a fire broke out and despite the efforts of fire brigades from three counties, the house was so badly damaged that it had to be demolished. I draw on the newspaper reports of the fire in my new book as they vividly recreate the sheer monumental destruction of such a beautiful house. Today there is a garden planted on the site of the house that marks out its walls and windows in a design that keeps the memory of Coleshill alive. I hope that in my manuscript I too will be able to bring Hamstead Marshall and Coleshill House back to life and people their ballrooms and corridors once again with characters from a lost age.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s rebellious and artistic daughter

I’ve just read Lucinda Hawksley’s fascinating biography: ‘The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter’. I often pass The Princess Louise pub going down High Holborn in London and I was intrigued. Who was she, and why was a pub named after her? 

Princess Louise (1848-1939) was Victoria and Albert’s sixth child and fourth daughter, and arguably, the most popular of the royal progeny. Beautiful, intelligent and artistic, she was friends with artists, such as Whistler and Gabriel Rossetti, and the composer Arthur Sullivan.

She was herself a successful sculptor and her statue of Queen Victoria sits in front of Kensington Palace where the queen had spent her childhood, and where the princess herself had a sculpture studio. The words H. R. H. Princess Louise sculpt can just be made out at the base of the statue.  

In her eventful life, she championed various progressive campaigns for women’s rights. She knew and supported Josephine Butler and Elizabeth Garrett, for example, and was actively involved with a large number of charitable institutions helping the poor, including founding the Princess Louise Hospital for Children in North Kensington, then a poverty-stricken part of London. 

When, in 1878, her husband, the Marquess of Lorne, became Governor General of Canada, Louise supported progressive initiatives there, too.

The public saw her as delightfully unstuffy. She refused to marry into a German royal family like most of her siblings. Instead, she insisted that she would marry ‘a Britisher’, a declaration that was viewed as patriotic as well as romantic when the Franco-Prussian war broke out in 1870 and everything German became deeply unpopular. 

When Louise married the handsome Marquess of Lorne in 1871, the press went wild and portrayed it as a true love match. As one enthusiastic journalist wrote: ‘A perfect sympathy of taste in literature and music, and all the elegant accomplishments of refined life between the young couple, forms the basis of the ardent attachment which happily exists between them.’

Sadly, this was so much hooey. Evidence here is circumstantial but it seems likely that Lorne’s sexuality was directed towards his own sex. There were no children and, in later life, the couple lived largely apart.

Officially, though, the couple were happily in love. I myself have a 19th century screen with portraits of Princess Louise and her handsome husband (now sadly damaged), which the screen’s original owner  chose to stick on.  
So why did Louise marry the marquess? Intriguingly, much of her private life is shrouded in mystery. Rumours have abounded since the 1860s about her having had a hidden illegitimate child, and her possible long-term sexual relationship with the sculptor Joseph Boehm. The Royal Archives’ Princess Louise’s files are closed, as are those in her husband’s castle of Inveraray. As Lucinda Hawksley’s biography puts it, ‘The decision to hide away (Louise’s) files indicates very strongly that there is something in them that the archivists, even in the twenty-first century, feel the need to conceal.’  

This seems to me a huge pity. Louise did not have an easy life – none of Victoria’s daughters did - but she was obviously a woman of considerable strength of character as well as being artistically talented and one who fought hard for her chosen causes. We are living in the 21st century and, in my view, allowing Princess Louise’s life to be properly studied would  enhance her reputation as a remarkable woman.  

Elizabeth Hawksley


Monday, March 03, 2014

Characters Who won't go away

If you read my last Sarah Mallory novel, LADY BENEATH THE VEIL, you will know that the actress Agnes Bennet came good in the end, helping Gideon and Dominique at some risk to herself before fleeing London to start a new life.

In my latest book, AT THE HIGHWAYMAN'S PLEASURE, we catch up with Agnes four years later.  It is 1807, she is a successful actress touring northern England and using her real name, Charity Weston. She is determined to live her life now, no more pretence. She will do what she wants, even if it means confronting her past. Then she meets a dark highwayman and her life takes another dramatic turn!

I do not think I am the only writer who finds that a minor character in one book suddenly "demands" a story of their own. For me, everyone in my story has a history. It may never make it into print, but I like to know each character, to visualise them and their lives, and sometimes they become so real that they stay in my head and won't go away until I have written their story.  This is what happened with Charity. She was beautiful, talented and despite being drawn into a web of deceit she had a kind heart and fought hard to escape and make a better life for herself, and I want tot explore what happened to her.

Some readers like linked books, where they can meet again with familiar characters, others prefer stand-alone stories with everything contained between the covers of a single novel. For myself, I like each story to be independent, so that one can read it and reach a satisfying conclusion, but occasionally I have used characters in more than one book, for example the twin Coale brothers in BENEATH THE MAJOR'S SCARS and BEHIND THE RAKE'S WICKED WAGER, and the Wylder brothers Nick (WICKED CAPTAIN, WAYWARD WIFE) and Guy (THE DANGEROUS LORD DARRINGTON). 

I'd love to know what you think – do you prefer to keep the stories separate, or do you like to revisit characters and scenes in more than one novel? Is there any character you have met in a book whom you would like to see given their own story?  Do let me know.

 PS  There is a chance to win a copy of AT THE HIGHWAYMAN's PLEASURE at Goodreads, but you will have to hurry, the giveaway closes on 6th March 14.

Look out for my short story in the digital edition of TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY, the second anthology
from authors of the Romantic Novelists' Association.
Happy reading!

 Sarah Mallory / Melinda Hammond

AT THE HIGHWAYMAN's PLEASURE – pub March 2014 by Harlequin

And writing as Melinda Hammond, the award-winning DANCE FOR A DIAMOND is now available as an e-book on Amazon.