Monday, April 30, 2018

Venturing into Audio

After a great deal of maundering around the difficulties or otherwise of putting my books up on audio, I have finally taken the plunge. In fact it proved relatively simple once I chose the way to do it – out of a plethora of apparently problematical paths.

A long time ago, in my acting days, I used to read books on tape for the blind for a charity. I did many Georgette Heyers, delighting in creating a whole raft of different voices for the various characters. I used to make a tape of the voices so that I could come back and check them if I forgot.

That process held no terrors. You simply used a good quality tape recorder with a relatively decent microphone and went to it, taking the thing an hour or so at a time and stacking up ordinary tapes. You then sent off the six tapes in specially prepared boxes to the Calibre library, securely in their free post bags. Job done.

These days, I discovered, it’s a great deal more complicated to do it yourself. With growing horror, I listened to a podcast about the dos and don’ts of current audio recording. In the first place, the whole thing is digital, which is enough to scare the whatsits off oldies like me. Then you’ve got to have the right equipment: proper high quality microphone, some kind of sound-deadening thingy that I didn’t understand, quantities of blankets hung up to cut out extraneous noise, and a whole lot more besides. Exit stage left, quivering.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, you have to be able to upload this fantastically clear recording to the various platforms and then fix it if they say it’s not good enough. Yikes!

I turned, with relief, to the companies who do it for you. Relief short-lived when I discovered that you needed to be a millionaire if you were going to pay for people to read and “produce” your entire canon with scarcely a hope of ever making your money back, let alone garnering profits. I shelved the whole idea.

Eventually I heard about ACX, which is the production arm of Audible, an Amazon company. Now Amazon, as we all know, is a juggernaut riding over everyone else, but they do understand authors are generally poor and have figured out ways for them to use Amazon platforms and make money without dishing out their hard-earned dosh beforehand.

Enter 50/50 deals. You can pay for a producer if you want to, but you can also make a deal with a producer/narrator for no money upfront in exchange for giving them half your profits. Worth it to avoid all the recording rannygazoo!

Though there was that tiny voice at the back of my mind. “Seriously, who’s going to do all that work for nothing?” I hesitated for weeks. Nay, months.
Finally, because I’m doing new covers, I decided to go for it. New branding, new covers, paperback, audio, the works. The idea being that as each new cover arrived, it would get the full treatment.

Would you believe it? Within a day of putting up, with great trepidation, my first book for audition, I got the most wonderful lady narrator who just happens to be a huge Georgette Heyer fan and immediately loved my book. Luck or serendipity?

Below is the audio cover for the book now in production. Hooray, I have ventured!

Elizabeth Bailey

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

April in the Big Easy

And it’s April, nearly May!
Things come and go in writing. At the end of the year, my series with Kensington, The Shaws, is coming to an end. I’ve run out of Shaws! But I’m writing another series, and keeping my fingers crossed that they take it.

That’s how it goes; sometimes there are so many deadlines you’re frantic, and other times it’s slow, and you wonder if it’s ever going to pick up.
Anyway, while I’m waiting to see, I’ve been tidying my computer up a bit. And found some photos I took of New Orleans.
When I visited the city a few years ago, I fell in love. I’ve been there again. It has been connected with Europe for longer than most of the rest of the country, since the seventeenth century. And it was dominated by the French until independence, when the Americans moved in.
Every building in the French Quarter has a history. I stayed in a hotel that was haunted by soldiers from the American Civil War, but I never saw any. Still, it was a lovely hotel, developed from a private courtyard house. I ate in an old inn that used to be the main market for the slave trade – I was glad I didn’t find that out until we left and I read the plaque outside.
New Orleans’ history is filled with action. It is the site of the Battle of New Orleans, where the French actually beat the British. Unlike, say, Waterloo!
Walk up Royal Street and every block is occupied by a jazz band. Different styles, different music, but all so good it’s easy to spend a day there enjoying the music and the history that leaches from the walls. It has a pharmaceutical museum, and while not as magnificent as the dispensary in Madrid, it’s still fascinating. While the city is obviously full of tourists, it’s also very much a working city. The tourists haven’t pushed out the residents. Temperance Hall and the renamed Louis Armstrong Park shows where the man who was a major influence in developing a new kind of music learned the new rhythms brought by the drummers from Africa.
There’s a hotel that used to be the haunt of great writers, and has a carousel bar that revolves slowly while you have your mint julep. On the following block a chain pharmacy, Walgreens, bears a sign that says it’s the site of the bank where the name “Dixie” was coined – it was based on the banknotes, which had the French “Dix” for ten on them.
You can go to the old plantations nearby, learn about the differences between Creole plantations and American ones, and the terrible history of slavery that taints this part of the country. Take a trip into the swamp, see the alligators and the amazing places where the Cajuns live.
And the atmosphere is like nowhere else I’ve ever been. Along with the decadent Laissez le temps rouler, there is a fierce pride in the place.
If you get a chance, go. Just go.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Duke's Alliance - book five - A Soldier's Bride

Release day 19th April
A Soldier's Bride is the fifth book in The Duke's Alliance series which charts the stories of a family of six siblings. 
Lord Peregrine Sheldon, Lord Aubrey's twin, is an intelligence officer for Wellington. When he is reported missing, presumed dead, Beau, The Duke of Silchester, does not believe this dreadful news and decides to go to Spain and find Perry.
Sofia, an English girl living in a Spanish hill village, fights with the partisans, wears a gentleman's attire and is as far from a society miss as one could hope to find. 
Perry is seriously injured in a fall and recovers consciousness to discover he is not only blind, but has no notion who he is, or what he is doing in the foothills of the Spanish mountains. Sofia discovers him and he is taken to her mother's home in the village to recover. 
Inevitably, they fall in love and Perry is finally able to declare his feelings when his memory and sight return. They are from different worlds and both soon regret their marriage. Sofia feels trapped by the conventions and rules of his world and Perry believes his lovely young bride will never settle in England after her wildlife in Spain. 
Will their love be enough to overcome the social gulf between them? Can the duke step in and persuade them to stay together?

I am sad to be about to write the sixth and final book, The Duke's Bride, in this series. Over the past two years I have got to know these characters and they are like personal friends. The last book will be the duke's story - the one readers are waiting for and the one I most want to write. That will be our in the autumn.
I have also written the fourth and final book in The Nightingale Chronicles, my Victorian family saga. All's Well That Ends Well is with my editor and I'm hoping to publish in the summer - if we ever get one.
The third series I am writing is Ellen's War, a WW2 saga following Ellie Simpson, a pilot in the ATA. I sold all three books to Aria, Head of Zeus, and so had to remove the first two from sale. Blue Skies & Tiger Moths will be released again in September and An ATA Girl  will come out next year. The final book, Over & Out has to be handed into Aria on January 1st. 

Now I have to begin all over again and think of three more sets of characters, one in each era, to write about.
Fenella J Miller

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Springtime News & Cover Reveal!

Spring is the time when the earth seems to wake up after its winter sleep, and I always feel a surge of energy as the days grow longer and the weather warms up.  This year is no different, and besides releasing my latest Sarah Mallory novel, The Ton's Most Notorious Rake, I have also been working on a brand new Melinda Hammond Regency (but more news of that at a later date) and a short story that will form part of a new anthology to be released very soon.

It is always exciting to reveal a new cover and a brand new book, but this one is a little different.  For the last few months I have been working on a short story for an anthology that is being released soon. I am one of nine northern  authors in the anthology, and our stories all feature Miss Moonshine's Emporium, a strange, other-worldly little shop set in a fictional town in Yorkshire. We have all written stories in different time periods, ranging from the Regency to modern day and I am delighted to say that my offering is the very first one in the book.  What do you think of the cover?

This is very different from anything else I have done as Melinda Hammond (and not the usual sort of cover one sees on this blog), and I am so pleased to be working with such a talented group of authors. You may know some of them and if you don't then this is an excellent introduction to their writing.

My contribution to the anthology  is a sweet little tale of love lost and found, set in the year following the Battle of Waterloo, when Miss Moonshine's Emporium is comparatively new.  It was a joy to  collaborate with other authors on this project. Writing can be a very solitary business and sometimes it is good to try something a little different. I have learned a lot from the experience, and I hope readers will enjoy reading these stories as much as we have enjoyed writing them.

Happy writing.

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Jane Austen: Mourning as a Plot Device

Considering how many of Jane Austen’s heroes and heroines have lost a parent, there is remarkably little about mourning in her novels. The only characters who are directly affected by losing a parent are the Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility. Elinor and Marianne’s father dies in February and Mrs Dashwood and her daughters remain at Norland Park for at least six months before they move to Barton Cottage in Devonshire. There are several reasons why Jane Austen allowed so long a time to elapse; first, it overs the first six months of secluded, deep mourning expected for a husband or parent, and, more practically from a novelist’s point of view, it gives Elinor time to get to know the attractive but diffident Edward Ferrars, brother of her mean spirited sister-in-law, Mrs John Dashwood, the new chatelaine of their home, Norland Park.

19th century mourning jet choker

However, once they are settled in Devonshire, they visit Mrs Dashwood’s cousin, Sir John Middleton, at Barton Park and enjoy a lively social life. Marianne meets the handsome and eligible Willoughby, and falls in love. The fact of them being now in half-mourning isn’t mentioned. And the following January, Elinor and Marianne accompany Mrs Jennings to London to enjoy what society has to offer without worrying about the propriety of it whilst they are in mourning. Possibly, the custom of lengthy mourning for relations was not yet so strictly observed in Society as it was to be later on; Sense and Sensibility was an early novel, first written in 1797-8.

 Mourning brooch with the deceased's plaited hair under the glass

The mourning is much more overt in Persuasion. When Anne Elliot first sees her cousin Mr William Elliot in Lyme, both he and his manservant are in mourning for Mr Eliot’s wife who died six months earlier. Jane Austen uses Mr Elliot’s mourning to help Anne learn about his true character from her friend Mrs Smith who once knew him well. Even if he didn’t care for his wife, surely he should be affected by her sudden death only six months before. He certainly ought not to be making up to the mercenary Mrs Clay who, Anne suspects, has plans to become the second Lady Elliot. Is Mr Elliot exercising his wiles to forestall that happening?

Ebony fan 

So what were the correct periods of mourning during the 19th century? Views became more extreme as the century wore on. At its height, a widow was expected to be in deep mourning for a year, wearing clothes made in matt black paramatta (a sort of silk/wool bombazine) and crepe. Twenty-one months later, she might leave off the crepe and three months after that she went into half-mourning for six months: grey, lavender, mauve, violet or grey and white stripes. As The Queen magazine put it: she was the victim of ‘a mild form of suttee’.

Cameo in jet frame
The mourning for a parent or child was a year. Again, one gradually ‘slighted’ the mourning. It must have been a relief to be able to wear jet ornaments, and, a little later, pearls, gold and silver and diamonds.

For grandparents, the mourning was six months, as it was for brothers and sisters. Uncles and aunts warranted two months’ mourning, great-uncles or aunts, six weeks, and first cousins a month. One had to lighten the mourning by degrees.

Gold, ebony and pearl mourning ring 
An amusing satirical sketch from Hoods Magazine is illuminating:

   Lady: ‘I suppose you have a great variety of half mourning?’

   Shopman: ‘Oh! Infinite – the largest stock in town. Full, and half, and quarter, and half-quarter, shaded off, if I may say so, like and India-ink drawing, from a grief prononcé to the slightest nuance of regret.’

Jet bracelet

The half-mourning colours reminded me of an episode in Georgette Heyer’s Bath Tangle. Six months have passed since her father’s death, and Serena has ‘slighted’ her mourning. She chooses to wear a new dress made by Bath’s leading modiste: It was a striking creation, of black figured lace over a robe of white satin, the bodice cut low and the train long. With it she wore her diamond earrings and the triple necklace of pearls her father had given her at her coming-of-age.

The hero, Lord Rotherham, is coming to dinner, but, at this stage, they are not on good terms. Serena looks magnificent but ‘the comment she evoked from the Marquis was scarcely flattering, “Good God, Serena!” he said, as he briefly shook her hand. “Setting up as a magpie?”

Broken jet necklace 
Georgette Heyer knew very well what she was about in Bath Tangle when she made her heroine, the 25-year-old Serena, a beautiful and queenly red-head, and her very young stepmother, Fanny, as a diaphanous and appealing blonde. She wrote to her agent: ‘They have to be like that so that each can look terrific in mourning.’

In other words, mourning can be a very useful plot device. For example, in The Toll Gate, the heroine Nell’s dying grandfather has high-handedly acquired a marriage licence, determined that Nell marries the hero Captain John Staple then and there; he wants to see the knot tied, before he dies. Nell thinks it’s outrageous.

 Mourning buckle

John has to persuade her. He says, ‘Now, consider, my love! If we are to wait until your grandfather is dead, how awkward in every respect must be our situation! You will then scruple to marry me until you are out of your blacks, and what the deuce are we to do for a whole year? Where will you go? How will you support yourself? With so many scruples you would never permit me to do that!’  

Nell gives in.

Gold, black enamel and seed pearl mourning ring. The reverse shows plaited hair from the deceased

Then there is Eugenia Wraxham, the tiresomely priggish fiancée of Charles Rivenhall in The Grand Sophy. Heyer needs Eugenia to be betrothed to Charles but not yet married. Mourning for an aunt is the answer and Eugenia ‘will not be out of black gloves for six months.’ (Interestingly, this is a longer period than is strictly necessary.)
When Charles, to his fury, discovers that Sophy has arranged a ball to launch herself into Society, and Eugenia has not been invited, his outspoken teenage sister says: ‘Can you have forgotten the bereavement in Miss Wraxham’s family?  I’m sure that if she has told us once she has told us a dozen times that propriety forbids her to attend any but the most quiet parties.’
Assorted jet beads 

If Eugenia were not in mourning, then she and Charles would have married months ago. But Heyer has other plans for Charles…
So, if you need to up the ante for your hero or heroine, you might want to consider how useful an inconvenient period of mourning could be.
Elizabeth Hawksley