A new home for my blog!

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My blog has a new home on my new website!

Note: if you comment from this point forward on this blogger blog, I will likely not see it. All these posts are on my website now, so please comment there. Thank you!

Friday, January 30, 2009

It's official - a nap is good for you!

I've always suspected that it was true and now it's official - napping is good for you. According to research, a nap at midday will boost alertness, creativity, mood and productivity later in the day. Apparently one Harvard study has shown that a 45 minute nap improves both learning and memory as well as having health benefits. For too long napping has been dismissed as a sign of laziness but in fact humans, like other mammals, are programmed for two periods of intense sleepiness rather than just one in the middle of the night. (Actually if we're talking about my pets then they are programmed for one period of intense sleepiness and it's 23 hours long). So let's hear it for napping. It's officially a Good Thing!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Oh no - It's bash romantic fiction week again!

So it’s bash romantic fiction week, as usual. Oh no, not again, I hear you cry. When will this end? Not in the near future, I fear, but we can but try to tackle these prejudices about OUR genre.

On Open Book on Radio 4 yesterday the BBC managed to be stereotypical and snide (in my opinion!) about Regency Romance as a fiction sub-genre. A reader had contacted the Open Book Reading Clinic to ask for help in breaking an addiction to Regencies, which she had developed during her studies for a PhD. Personally I can’t think of anything nicer than relaxing and being entertained by Georgette Heyer after a hard day’s study, but I can see that if you genuinely cannot pick up anything other than a Regency romance you might be looking for some advice on how to expand your reading. That’s fair enough. What is neither fair nor courteous, in my opinion, was the view put forward by the studio guest, a novelist and playwright, whose contention was that an intelligent, educated “grown up” woman had a “serious personality flaw” if she was addicted to Regency romance.

Normally I don’t let stuff like this get to me. Romantic fiction comes in for such a predictable bashing in the media that if I let it affect me every time someone made a cheap joke or ill informed remark I’d never get any books written. This time it did bother me, though, because I think it’s just plain rude. It’s rude to the people who write romance and it’s rude to the people who read romance, you, me, all of us.

There are some fiction genres that I don’t enjoy reading. That’s my personal opinion and I don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because I don’t enjoy something it has no intrinsic merit. And the one thing I would never do is criticise another author or genre publicly. To me that is both an insult to other people’s reading choices and a very discourteous thing to do to fellow authors.

Commercial fiction is here to entertain and to provide escapism and I do wonder how long it will be before the media realise that in general it does a damned (sorry, dashed, Regency fans!) job. To me, comparing literary and commercial fiction is pointless, irrelevant. The two different genres set out to do different things. You might as well compare a banana and a pomegranate. Gracious, the banana is shaped like a boomerang! It isn’t round! It must therefore be less valid as a fruit! Critics judge commercial fiction with the same criteria that they apply to literary fiction. Why? When I read the two different genres I’m looking for very different things from them. Some of the story telling conventions that the critics decry in romantic fiction, like the happy ever after ending, for example, can be amongst the best, the most fulfilling and most satisfying aspects of the Regency romance for me.

My bookshelves groan under the weight of books from (almost) every genre, Regency romance to biography, science fiction to historical non-fiction. I don’t make any judgements about which of them are “better” than the others. They serve different purposes. I pick different books up depending on my mood and what I want from them. I don’t make comparisons or judgements and I don’t appreciate other people inflicting their ill informed, poorly researched prejudices about romantic fiction on me either. So, BBC, how about an Open Book Reading Clinic to re-educate “grown-up intelligent people” to rein in their patronising tendencies towards romantic fiction? Now that really would be a public service…

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Passion for Lydiard Park

Today the historical passion I'd like to share is for Lydiard House and Park, near Swindon in Wiltshire. If you like to visit places that are off the beaten tourist track then Lydiard is for you.

Once the home of the rich and powerful St John family, Viscounts Bolingbroke, Lydiard is a beautiful Palladian Mansion set in stunning grounds. The ground floor apartments are open to visitors and show the original furnishings and decoration, with portraits and photographs of the St John family. The "Blue Closet" is of particular interest as it is devoted to the 18th Century society artist Lady Diana Spencer who shares a common ancestry with the late Princess of Wales. Lady Diana married into the St John family - becoming the 2nd Viscountess Bolingbroke, and by her second marriage, Diana Beauclerk. Her delightful wall panels, pictures of her children and Wedgwood China incorporating her designs are on display. There is also a fascinating 17th Century painted window by Abraham Van Linge which contains over 100 pieces of exquisitely painted glass figures, flowers, tiny flies and even an elephant. I thought it was absolutely gorgeous.

The church of St Mary is close by and is considered to be one of the finest small churches in England. It contains tombs of the St John family and the spectacular Golden Cavalier, a full-size effigy of Edward St John emerging from his tent in full battledress!

The walled garden at Lydiard Park has recently been restored to it's 18th century glory, with a planting scheme based on the orginal plans, a well and a sundial centrepiece that is a replica of the orginal. The pleasure gardens were my favourite aspect of the park, though, with a beautiful duck pond and lake with ornamental cascade and a plunge pool. The plunge pool in particular was extraordinary. Built around 1820, it was intended as an aid to health although rushing outside in the winter and plunging into the lake would surely be enough to kill you if you weren't of strong constitution! Cold water cures were recommended for over-eating as well as a general aid to good health and apparently plunging into the lake at your stately home was thought to be as efficacious as sea-bathing with a very naughty 18th century poem promising it could reach the parts that other cures could not and even revive a flagging sex life! There has to be a story in there somewhere...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Guesting at Eloisa James and Julia Quinn's Bulletin Board!

Tomorrow, Thursday 22nd January, I will be the guest of the fabulous Anna Campbell for a chat on the Eloisa James and Julia Quinn Bulletin Board! There will be lots of talk about hot historicals plus two copies of my NEW Regency historical, Kidnapped: His Innocent Mistress up for grabs! Please join me there!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Addicted to Laudanum rather than Love?

A fascinating article in the latest edition of Romantic Times Magazine suggests that the dark hero who is wrestling with an addiction makes a strong romantic lead. With Regency heroes we certainly have plenty of addictions to choose from – gambling, alcohol, opium, anyone? But is this really attractive in a hero? Is it a sign of a character’s weakness or is his triumph over his dependency actually a sign of strength?

A study of real life Regency addicts isn’t altogether encouraging. Samuel Taylor Coleridge became, in the words of his friend and fellow addict Thomas de Quincey a “full-blown opium addict.” He originally turned to the drug as a painkiller and cure for physical illness, but soon resorted to it in times of stress and nervousness. It can’t have helped that he dissolved his opium in brandy. By 1817 he was clinically depressed and alienated from his family.

And then there was drink. Alcohol was an inherent part of Regency life (some would say an inherent part of British life and the British character, an interesting debate) and its use cut across all classes. The Gin Craze of the 18th century, for example, resulted in extreme drunkenness amongst the working classes. And who can forget the depictions of those boozy Georgian country squires who would put away three bottles of claret before dinner and another three afterwards? By the Regency period, drunkenness was common amongst men and considered socially acceptable. But is it heroic to drink on a heroic scale?

Gambling offers up Richard Barry, 7th Earl of Barrymore, known as the Rake of Rakes, a devotee of horse racing and prize fighting and famous for placing ludicrous bets on both sports. Both he and William Arden, 2nd Lord Alvanley, were so addicted to gambling that they racked up enormous debts and had to sell off land, houses and just about anything they could lay their hands on to pay their creditors.

But let’s not be totally negative here. When I studied heroes for my Masters dissertation one of the things that I realised was that these brilliant men (and brilliant, heroic women as well) so often had weaknesses as well as strengths. Horatio Nelson, for example, was an inspirational leader but his judgement failed him on an equally grand scale when it came to his affair with Emma Hamilton. Real live heroes can be flawed so is there room for fictional ones also to have their weaknesses?

I wrote about gambling in The Earl’s Prize and about laudanum addiction in Lord of Scandal where the heroine’s stepmother was an addict. In one of my forthcoming trilogy books The Undoing of a Lady the heroine’s mother was an alcoholic and the heroine herself can understand and is tempted by the slippery path her mother has taken. There’s no doubt that exploring addiction is a fascinating subject and in the hands of a skilled author a tale of addiction and redemption might well be powerful and compelling. I love dark heroes and dark heroines as well – both to read about and to write – so I will follow this development in the historical romance genre with interest. What do you think? Can a hero’s journey from addiction be uplifting and above all, romantic?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Wrestling with Cat and Plot!

The best laid plans... I sat down to write this blog and after a few moments became aware of a strange scratching noise. Now given that this house definitely isn't haunted (that was the last one) and that as far as I know we don't have mice, this had to be a bad sign. One of the cats had shut herself in the Forgotten Room again. We call it the Forgotten Room because it is down the end of a corridor and it's the place we use to store things. For some reason it has a fatal attraction to the cats who will sneak in there whenever the door is open.

Looking round I saw Petra sitting neatly behind me by the radiator, looking smug. Not her then. Which meant it was neurotic Bob who would be even more demented after a night spent in solitary. Sure enough, when I went to the rescue, Bob had dug up the carpet so I couldn't get the door open. However, the Forgotten Room has french doors - if only I could find the key. Rummaging through my cupboards I finally found the spare set of keys in an envelope with lots of twigs and pebbles. No idea why they were there, but anyway... I raced around to the french door. Bob sat on the other side, looking very cheesed off. I unlocked the door and pulled. It stuck fast. I braced one foot against it, the other against the patio - and pulled. I skidded across the patio on the ice just as our neighbour walked past with his dogs. "Good morning," he said as I shot past. He couldn't help me with the door as he had a dodgy hip. Eventually my dh came back from walking our dog and between us we managed to liberate our by now desperate cat who had to be tempted back inside with choice pieces of chicken. So then it was back to the blog...

How many times have you been thinking about writing and have come up with an idea and thought: "That's a brilliant idea for a book!" and you've been very, very happy for... oooh, at least half an hour, thinking that you've got your next story all sewn up, before the glaringly obvious plot problem leaps out and hits you with a wallop? Perhaps it's just me... But I hope not because writing is a lonely enough business as it is without thinking that I'm the only one who gets myself into this sort of mess.

Yesterday my agent and editor finalised my next contract for HQN Books (hooray!) Discussions have been going on for a while but it's now official and I can celebrate! I'm signed up for another six Regency historicals for HQN which will be a loosely linked series with characters in common. Just the sort of thing I love writing. I get so attached to my characters that I never want to let them go, so now I can indulge myself. My editor emailed to congratulate me and mentioned that the Executive Editor was intrigued by my idea for an "Arctic Regency" and would like to see an outline. Great! Except this was the marvellous idea I had had a while ago and after half an hour of feeling pleased with it I suddenly saw the enormous plot problem... So it's back to the Arctic and back to the drawing board...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Sneak Preview of the RNA Anthology!

This week a very exciting thing happened – I received the draft cover for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Golden Anniversary anthology and I'm sharing it here. The book, called LOVES ME, LOVES ME NOT, is a collection of romantic short stories written by the RNA’s members to celebrate the RNA's 50th anniversary. It will be published by MIRA books in hardback in December 2009 with a paperback edition coming out early in 2010, the anniversary year. Contributions cover all the romantic fiction sub-genres, including contemporary and historical romance, regencies, sagas and chick lit with stories from some of the RNA’s finest authors from Joanna Trollope to Adele Parks! The book promises to be a total treat and I am very proud and honoured that my own story, a regency called The Elopement, is to be featured in this volume.

The Romantic Novelists' Association started in 1960, mainly through the efforts of Alex Stuart, with 115 members. Over the years, membership has grown until it now stands at almost 700. Many distinguished writers have been officers of the RNA including Barbara Cartland, Denise Robins, Elizabeth Buchan and Katie Fforde. From the start there were both social and 'business' meetings. A scheme for appraisal of manuscripts – the world famous New Writers’ Scheme - began very quickly and this has been a very important element in helping unpublished writers to achieve first publication. Many of those writers have gone on to become best-selling novelists. I think the NWS is a wonderful opportunity for aspiring authors and cannot recommend it too highly.
Current Chairman, Catherine Jones explains the appeal of the RNA in terms I’m sure many published and aspiring authors will recognise: “For a start I now have a slew of friends, both published and unpublished, who understand about the insecurity of writing; they understand that, just because you have written a couple (or a couple of dozen) books, you still never believe you can do it again; they understand about middle-book sag; they understand the thrill of getting a good review and the irritation of a bad one; and they certainly understand about the vagaries of the publishing industry as a whole.” As a member of both the RNA and it's sister organisation the Romance Writers of America I have to agree that such supportive and encouraging organisations are a real blessing.

I’ll post up more about the RNA anthology nearer to the publication date and will be offering copies of the book as website prizes later in the year to celebrate the anniversary!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January Book - Miss Verey's Proposal

Today I am blogging on UK Regency Novelists Blog about my January book, which is a reprint of Miss Verey's Proposal, originally published back in 2000. I like the book very much because it is light-hearted and fun and something of a Regency romp. Jane Verey and her friend Sophia are fifteen when they discover the Legend of the Eve of St Agnes and go to bed without their supper, convinced that if they do so they will dream of their future husbands. Sure enough, that night Jane sees an enigmatic stranger. Four years later, a marriage is arranged for Jane with Lord Philip Delahaye. But Jane is determined she will not marry Lord Philip. Not only is he rude, insulting and a drunkard but he is not the man she saw that night four years ago...

I won't give any more of the story away here but there is more on the UK Regency Novelists' Blog plus something on the inspiration behind the story. There's also a copy of the book to be won on my website.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Welcome to my new blog!

Welcome to my new blog and very best wishes for 2009!

2008 was a wonderful year for me writing-wise and I am very excited about the opportunities that this new year will bring.

Last year was a double celebration for me work-wise: It was Harlequin Mills & Boon's centenary and I wrote a special Edwardian set historical for the occasion, The Last Rake in London. Last Rake was also my 25th book in 10 years. (Mind you, it took me 12 years to get published in the first place!)

Unmasked, my third Regency single title historical for HQN books was published in the US. It was so exciting to learn that Unmasked had been chosen to launch Harlequin's Enriched Editons, a new interactive e-book programme. Seeing the book cover on a billboard in Times Square was a career highlight! I also had a video made for Unmasked by the wonderful people at Book Candy Studios, which was intriguing and very sexy!

I spoke at the Oxford Literary Festival in the distinguished company of Daisy Goodwin, Matt Dunn and Katie Fforde, on the subject of literary heroes and heroines of the last 100 years. I was also invited to be Wiltshire Writer in Residence for the National Year of Reading - a huge honour - and I enjoyed planning and running creative writing workshops and talking to the local brownies about the joys of reading and writing!

Hearing from friends and readers all over the world has always been one of the greatest pleasures of being a writer for me, and taken together with all these wonderful events and the great reviews for my books, it has made 2008 a writing year to remember and cherish. Thank you for making my year!