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Monday, June 29, 2009

Farewell to the rugged look!


As you know, I'm all for blogging about hot-looking actors in period costume. Any excuse! So an article in the Observer newspaper at the weekend was a bit of a gift. Under the headline of "Farewell to the rugged look as new male beauties sweep all before them" it suggested that the leading men of film and TV are becoming interchangeable. Gone are the days of actors with such individual looks and charisma as Marlon Brando and Al Pacino and in there place are bland clones. Among the new breed of actors cited were Zac Efron, Edward Pattinson and Jonathan Rhys Myers, whose appealing baby eyes apparently sealed the role of Henry VIII in The Tudors (odd when you think about it, since of all the things that Henry was renowned for, his baby face wasn't one of them). Experts claim that these boy-men are chosen for their cherub cheeks and gentle jaws, and that women prefer them because they associate these softer looks with fidelity and warmth.

So what is going on? What happened to the strong, masculine hero? Surely male sex appeal has traditionally been associated with men who are handsome rather than pretty, rugged rather than soft? Even if they were smooth (I'm thinking Leslie Howard as Sir Percy Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel) they had a core of steel beneath. I'm not sure I would have felt quite the same about Richard Sharpe if he had been played by Chace Crawford. And what about all those cowboys in the wild west? It's wild for a reason and they have to be man enough to deal with that.

The newspaper article suggests that this change towards beta rather than alpha man has been progressing for about fifteen years and that it started with actors like Leonardo di Caprio and Jonny Lee Miller, gathered pace with Orlando Bloom and is now reaching its peak. Certainly I've found something lacking in the historical films that featured these actors. I found Orlando Bloom more convincing as an elf than a crusader and although I loved the film Plunkett and Macleane, I wanted Macleane to be ruthless as well as charming. It takes a certain je ne sais quoi to fill a crusader's armour or a highwayman's boots. On the other hand, I'm not sure that I actually buy the idea that Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a baby-faced Henry VIII. He certainly portrays the part with a convincing violence, lust and cruelty.

There isn't that much original historical drama on TV in the UK these days (more's the pity) and I'm wondering if this is also the case in the US, Australia and elsewhere. However a glance at the most recent BBC offering, Robin Hood, suggests that there is definitely some truth in this theory about boys-instead-of-men. In Robin Hood it is left to the fabulous Richard Armitage to represent the oppressed alpha man whilst Robin and some of his merry men are the equivalent of Sherwood Forest's boy band. New boy Archer might just buck the trend. I like the style of Robin Hood. It's funny, irreverent, has some good plot twists and makes no attempts to be historically accurate, rather like The Tudors. As long as I suspend my disbelief at the door I can enjoy it but I'd still like a hero with a bit more substance (I don't mean physically!)
What do you think? Do you think these boys can be convincing historical heroes and who would you cast in a historical drama? I'm offering a copy of my latest book, The Scandals of an Innocent, to the most creative suggestion!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Coming soon!


I can't believe that it is almost July! Where has the time gone? Probably on my last ditch, desperate attempts to complete my draft manuscript which is due in on 30th June! After that I'll be getting ready for the RWA Conference in Washington which I'm looking forward to very much indeed! I can't wait to meet old friends and make some new ones. I'll be offering a special conference giveaway for all readers who are going to be there and a special website contest for all readers who can't make it, so no one gets left out. Details will be coming out in my July newsletter!

So it's an exciting month. July sees the publication of Book 2 in my Brides of Fortune trilogy, The Scandals of an Innocent. Scandals is Alice and Miles' story. What happens when a ruthless rake tries to blackmail a housemaid-turned-heiress into marriage? He gets a great deal more than he bargains for! I love this story because Miles really is very, very bad - he's a real rake, not a fake rake, and Alice is lovely and innocent but nowhere near the pushover Miles expects her to be. Alice has had to make her own way in the world, she is no pampered society girl, and she knows a few tricks when it comes to dealing with rakes. It's a true duel of hearts. Romantic Times described the book as "an emotional and sensual delight," and I'm hoping readers will love it too!

I'm blogging about Alice and her tattoo (!) and the history of Tattoos at Word Wenches on 1st July. I'll also be chatting about the challenges of writing a trilogy at Risky Regencies on 6th July and I'll be a guest at Sia McKye's blog also on the 6th July! Please come and join me!


Meanwhile I'm thrilled that Trilogy Book 1, The Confessions of a Duchess, has garnered two lovely reviews this week from Single Titles and Rakehell. And I am even more excited if possible(woot, woot!) that two of my previous books for HQN, Unmasked and my RITA nominated Lord of Scandal, are currently with a film producer in LA!! She loves historicals - let's hope she loves mine enough to make a film!! Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Struggling with the Demon!


The Muse. We writers refer to her a lot. She's a goddess. She's creative, inspiring, and when she's with you it's a fabulous feeling. Your ideas flow and your fingers fly over the keyboard. But sometimes she's elusive. She teases you; she's just out of reach. You struggle to grasp her and she slips from your fingers. You're left staring at a blank screen.

Well, I've had a week of staring at a blank screen. Let me introduce you to the Muse's evil twin, the Demon. Demon. It's a great word, isn't it. The dictionary definition is fascinating (yes, you know I'm a word geek!) "An evil spirit or devil; cruel; skilful, possibly a genius..." Hmmm. If you are going to call your business "Demon" you are setting some high expectations. Hopefully you are going for the skilful and genius end of the definition - unless you're offering some pretty specialised services. Which brings me back to the blank screen. The blank screen is what happens when I try to call up my website. It hasn't been working for a week. I'm quite upset about this because my Brides of Fortune trilogy is out at the moment and everything had been going really, really well with masses of hits on the website and loads of great feedback and the chance to chat to lots of lovely readers. I know it's not a matter of life and death, but it is a matter of skill and customer service.

My website is hosted by a company called... Well, you can probably guess. It isn't Muse.

Here's the gist of what happened when I rang up yesterday to check on progress in fixing whatever fault is affecting their server.

Me: (Ringing a number I had previously been given for customer service): Hello! Please can you tell me the latest on fixing the problem with my website? This is the reference...
Person at other end: You've come through to the wrong number. Just a moment... (Several minutes of tinned music)
Me: Hello?
Another person at the other end, sounding annoyed: Yes?
Me: Good afternoon! (It's hot and I can tell he's stressed so I'm being really nice). Please can you tell me the latest on fixing the problem with my website? This is the reference...
Person: You're not the only one whose website is affected you know!
Me: (Slightly taken aback) Well, no, I had worked that out... (I'm neither so web illiterate that I thought I had my own personal server nor so self-centred that I thought it was just me!) I was only enquiring to see if there was any update on when the problem is likely to be sorted out?
Person: No. There's an engineer working on it at the moment. It could be ten minutes or two hours.
Me: Two hours? That would be great!
Person: It might not be two hours. I can give you absolutely no timescale for fixing this.

They can't give a civil answer or an apology or any kind of customer service either, can they? If you know of a good, reliable web hosting site, please let me know!






Sunday, June 21, 2009

Literary heroes - the shock of disillusion!


In Saturday’s Guardian newspaper was the snippet that the private diaries of Alison Uttley, the children’s author, are published this month. I quote: “She was apparently jealous of Enid Blyton’s success, calling her “the Blyton” and describing her as boastful and a “vulgar, curled woman.” The columnist, Gwyn Headley, went on to recall the time that he had worked for Collins (the predecessor of Harper Collins) and was asked to escort Alison Uttley to the Children’s Book Fair at the Royal Horticultural Halls in Westminster. He found her to be a “sour little old woman, with no small talk” who treated him as a minion.

At this point in reading the item I paused in horror because Alison Uttley was one of my childhood literary heroes. Her book A Traveller in Time, which I read and also saw adapted for television, was a book that not only fuelled my teenage love of history but also sparked in me a fascination with the genre of the time travel romance. I adored that book and it is still on my keeper shelf, a little battered and with the lettering on the spine almost worn away from use.

After I had recovered from the shock of finding that my heroine apparently had feet of clay, I read the rest of the anecdote, which descended rapidly into farce. Apparently announcements had been made at the Children’s Book Fair that there would be a “Meet Tthe Author” event with Alison Uttley and the visiting children were, naturally, very excited. However, because Uttley hadn’t been listening when Headley had briefed her she was totally unprepared for what happened when the curtain rose for her book signing and the children were let loose. They stormed the stage and she “grabbed her duck-handled umbrella and waded into the attack, felling infants right and left. The kiddies paused, briefly regrouped, then broke up and ran off screaming in terror. Uttley strode among them, lashing out freely.”

The Meet The Author event was abandoned and Alison Uttley was escorted from the Fair…

The full, hilarious but horrifying story is at
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jun/20/alison-uttley-nightjack-salt-publishing

Well! This raised several issues for me. Firstly, why does it feel so disappointing to discover that one of the authors I read as a child was apparently not a very nice person? For some reason this seems so much worse than if it was an author I had read as an adult. Does discovering that Alison Uttley was apparently a “sour little old woman” who beat children with her umbrella retrospectively spoil my enjoyment of her books? I don’t think it ought to do, but I do feel a little bit disillusioned.

Fortunately another snippet from the newspaper came to my aid. “A book belongs as much to the reader as to the author,” Lucy Mangan wrote in her Book Corner column. So now I’m taking Lucy’s advice and restoring A Traveller in Time to myself as one of my childhood/teenage seminal books. Others I have loved are listed below. I don’t know whether the authors were nice people or not and perhaps after the Alison Uttley incident, I don’t want to know…

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliffe
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
Fell Farm Holiday by Marjorie Lloyd

Which books from your childhood are still on your shelves? And how would you feel if you discovered that the author had apparently attacked children with a duck-handled umbrella?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Why Yorkshire is the new Scotland!


I recently did an interview for the Single Titles website about my Fortune’s Folly trilogy and the interviewer, Julie Bonello, asked me a particularly interesting question. (All her questions were interesting and thought provoking but this one especially caught my attention.)

It was this:

“The trilogy is set in the fictional Yorkshire village of Fortune’s Folly. Regencies usually take place in London or Bath - what made you decide to create a fictional landscape in this particular British county?”

I’ve set a number of books in Yorkshire. The first was “The Chaperon Bride”, of which I’m very fond, and which was set in the spa town of Harrogate. TCB featured the Welburn Men, a gang of radicals protesting against the establishment of tollhouses on the turnpike roads and the exploitation of travellers by unscrupulous local landowners. They were rick-burners and fence-breakers and I based their exploits on the real live Rebecca Riots.

I picked up the theme of exploitation again in “Unmasked” with those wild highwaywomen, the Glory Girls working to redress the balance of power between the rich and poor. As a continuation of that, the Brides of Fortune trilogy is also set in Yorkshire. Not only is it a stunningly beautiful backdrop for a novel but there were wild and dangerous elements to Yorkshire in the early nineteenth century. In my mind it has some of the same dramatic appeal of Cornwall or Scotland. There is definitely something untamed about the North of England and I wanted to capture that in the books.

I love both Scotland and Cornwall as a setting for books. There’s something about the rugged beauty of the scenery that is reflected in the nature of the characters. The men are strong and the women match them. The country is hard; it throws up challenges. The characters must be tough and equal to the struggle. Yorkshire, like Scotland and Cornwall, mirrors that lush beauty and harsh existence. From wild moorland to rolling green dales from castles perched on crags to Elizabethan manor houses, from quaint fishing villages to ancient abbeys and windswept beaches designed especially for smugglers, the region has it all.

I realise that I am hardly the first to extol the wild beauty of Yorkshire in this way. The Brontes got there first! The passion and bleakness poured out in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre used to scare me when I was younger because it felt so untamed and so dangerous. Now, as a writer, I realise that background and setting can be incredibly powerful tools in creating atmosphere in a story. In the case of some authors the setting becomes so vivid that it is like a character in its own right, complementing the main protagonists, providing a rich backdrop against which they act. It can become so real that you can almost taste it. And yet, it can be very difficult to see exactly how the author has worked his or her magic.

So here are my top ten reasons why Yorkshire is such a fabulous setting for a historical romance, or the case of The Brides of Fortune, a trilogy!

The scenery is stunning!

The history is rich, vivid and inspiring.

It has the oldest castle in the UK – the walls of Richmond Castle date from 1080.

The oldest inn in the county is the Bingley Arms dating from 905AD.


Burton Agnes Hall in East Yorkshire is said to be one of the most haunted houses in the UK.


Guy Fawkes and Dick Turpin were both born in Yorkshire and some people claim Robin Hood was too...


The recent adaptation of Mansfield Park was filmed at Newby Hall near Ripon.


Technically it is still legal to shoot a Scotsman in York, but only with a bow and arrow and not on a Sunday but it’s probably best not to try. (That one is definitely my favourite!)


The women are feisty and gorgeous (yes, that is a picture of me LOL!!!)
And the men are… here! Yes, all these actors were born in Yorkshire. I rest my case.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can infidelity in a romance book ever be justified?


In a fascinating post on the Romance Bandits blog last week Eloisa James commented on readers’ dislike of infidelity in historical romance and put up a great defence of why adultery need not be a deal-breaker. Hot on the heels of this came a review of my own book, The Confessions of A Duchess, which mentioned the fact that Dexter and Laura had committed adultery because when they first slept together four years before, Laura was still married to Charles.

This made me think very hard because as a reader I don’t tend to like infidelity in stories myself. I shy away from them on instinct. Perhaps I’m missing some great books! And yet I went and knowingly placed this element in The Confessions of a Duchess, and I was surprised when someone didn’t like it. Inconsistent, huh?!

Those people who have read Unmasked will know that Laura and Dexter were very attracted to one another from the start and that she steals a kiss from him in the persona of Glory the highwaywoman. From there it is a brief but extremely passionate step for her to turn to Dexter after her husband betrays and deserts her and she feels utterly alone and in despair.

Laura makes a free choice to sleep with Dexter but she sees it as a mistake the next day and the repercussions of her behaviour last for years and have a profound effect on her life and her character. I don’t feel that she either acts lightly or "gets away with it" and I do believe that her experiences make her the person she is.

Speaking of her book, This Duchess of Mine, on the Romance Bandits blog, Eloisa James said:

“I gave Elijah and Jemma reasons for the mishaps in their early marriage. There’s one thing we sometimes forget as romance writers, perhaps because we often stop at the vows. Marriage is hard. Elijah and Jemma forge their love for each other by truly coming to know each other. They win back what they lost by honesty, love and forgiveness (and OK, the great sex doesn’t hurt either).”

It sounds like a fabulous, passionate and emotional read and I’ll be picking it up!

Is it a case that context and character is everything or are there some elements that simply have no place in a romance, adultery being one of them? I’d like to believe the first. I would like to think that a character can be flawed and that they will have more depth through the choices they make and the way that they deal with their mistakes. But as readers and writers we all have different views on this. Are there any story ideas that are taboo, that go against the “rules”? Or can a good author make anything work and any character sympathetic?

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Ghost Rider!


Okay, I wasn’t going to blog about this today. I was going to say “Please join me later for my official launch at the Word Wenches Blog when the fabulous Anne Gracie will crack a bottle of champagne over my head and push me down the slipway to become an official wench.” But then something happened to me this morning and I am so spooked by it, paranormal fans, that I have to share this! So here’s a true story for ghost busters and ghost lovers alike!

This morning I took Monty, my black Labrador, for a walk along the Ridgeway. It’s one of our favourite walks, an ancient chalk trackway up on the Downs. It’s a route used since prehistoric times by travellers, herdsmen and soldiers and it feels very, very old. (Thought I would get a bit of history in here - after all this is "a passion for history" blog!) Anyway, you can almost feel the years of history pressing down on you as you walk along the Ridgeway. “Our” stretch of the track passes Waylands Smith, one of the most impressive and atmospheric Neolithic long barrows in the country. We didn’t meet anyone at all on our walk this morning; this isn’t unusual up there and actually I enjoy it, just me and the dog and the birdsong. We saw lots of wildlife – hares on the track and in the fields, loping off with their long stride, the black tips of their ears standing tall above the grass, and deer grazing at the side of the path looking at us curiously as we passed.

We walked back through the small wood that borders Waylands Smithy and as I was walking I thought I heard the sound of a horse’s hooves faintly on the Ridgeway track. Monty heard them too. He stopped sniffing about amongst the trees and raised his head to listen. They were very faint and then they stopped and I thought I had imagined them. I couldn’t see anyone through the trees and I carried on walking on the path that runs parallel to the main track. Then I heard them again, louder this time. A few hoof beats rang out and then stopped. It happened again. I looked round to put Monty on his lead as he gets nervous around horses. And still I couldn’t see anyone at all either in the woods or on the Ridgeway.

We carried on walking and the hoof beats continued to echo parallel to us on the path. After a couple of minutes I was so spooked by this that I decided to go out of the wood and onto the Ridgeway so that I could see this mysterious horseman or woman who was apparently travelling along beside us. We came out onto the path directly opposite Waylands Smith. Nothing. No one. Silence.

I looked at Monty. Monty looked at me. Actually, Monty looked a bit spooked too. His ears were up and he was looking around. And then we heard hoofbeats behind us on the track and turned round and there was no one there. They faded away as though someone was riding away from us and then they were gone. Monty stood watching and then swished his tail and turned away. I couldn't help but wonder what he could see. And I resisted the impulse to run all the way back to the car!

It was only as I was driving home and trying to rationalise the whole thing in my head that I remembered that Wayland, the Celtic god, was a blacksmith and the legend goes that if you leave a silver coin – and your horse – at Waylands Smithy to this day, he will re-shoe it for you!

Throughout my life I have had strage encounters with "the unexplained." There was our haunted house in Somerset and the ghost of the cavalier. There was my even more weird time travelling experience when I landed up in Tudor England and there was my dh's encounter with a Victorian maid in a hotel in Bristol! I like to think I'm a fairly rational person but I'm also quite timorous when it comes to the paranormal and frankly, these things scare me. I don't go looking for them and when they happen I try to explain them away. But now my ghost rider is right up there with my other spooky experiences. Perhaps I should be writing paranormal romance rather than Regency romance...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Writing "Old Flame" stories

This blog post is adapted from one of the articles I have available on my website. It’s about writing “old flame” stories. Both my new book, The Confessions of a Duchess, and the e-book prequel The Secrets of a Courtesan, are old flame stories in their different ways, from which you can probably gather that I’m keen on writing them! (And I love reading them too). There’s something very seductive about the idea of unfinished business and what might have been, of characters learning to love and trust again. But old flame books are, in my experience, very difficult to write. Firstly you have to deal with the reason why your hero and heroine parted in the first place. If it was all down to a big misunderstanding and one blunt conversation will clear everything up, it’s hard to sustain the conflict convincingly for the whole of the book. Then there is the assumption that once everything is clear between the two of them they will fall in love again. Wrong. They need to find each other again, rediscover all the things they loved the first time and start to trust each other again. Such things take time.

Last year at a talk at the Oxford Literary Festival, I mentioned that Persuasion is my favourite of Jane Austen’s books. To my mind, it still has great relevance today. Many of us have to deal with the embarrassment of meeting an ex-lover, boyfriend or partner, and with the jealousy of seeing someone move on to another relationship. In my opinion, Persuasion is a master class in how to write an old flame story. There are no big misunderstandings keeping Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth apart. The cause of their estrangement was Anne’s refusal of Wentworth’s proposal of marriage when she was 19. It would be true to say that Anne has, in fact, brought most of her problems on herself. Even though she was in love with Wentworth, she allowed herself to be persuaded by her family and her close friend Lady Russell that the marriage was doomed. It was “indiscreet, improper, hardly capable of success and not deserving any” because Frederick had no fortune and Lady Russell disapproved of his brilliance, confidence and headstrong nature. (He sounds like the perfect hero, doesn’t he!) So Anne turned Wentworth down and in the eight years that followed never met another man who could measure up to him.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Anne’s mistake, the reader is firmly on her side. She has paid a huge price for her choice in letting down her own standards by allowing worldly prudence to outweigh love. So now, of course, we are rooting for her to get back together with Wentworth and to live happily ever after.

When Anne and Wentworth meet again there is, naturally, some awkwardness between them. She observes that he admires Louisa Musgrove. He thinks she may be intending to marry her cousin (and her father’s heir) William Elliot. But the real emotional barrier between the two of them is the fact that Wentworth feels that Anne should have had the strength to resist the persuasion. He feels she gave him up too easily.

Yet despite that, the two are very aware of one another. A gleeful Mary comments to Anne: “Captain Wentworth was not very gallant by you, Anne… He said you were so altered he should not have known you again.” But gradually through a series of events that Jane Austen builds up with masterful skill, Wentworth starts to recognise Anne’s true worth and to value her again. There is a very telling moment at Lyme Regis when he notices William Elliot looking at her with admiration, and when Louisa Musgrove is injured Wentworth turns automatically to Anne’s calmness and competence in the emergency.

From that point the tables are brilliantly turned on Wentworth as he experiences the re-awakening of all his feelings for Anne whilst having to watch William Elliot courting her. And in order to balance the story it is Anne who finally brings Wentworth back to her side with her public discussion about love with Captain Harville and her avowal of constancy. “All the privilege I claim for my own sex… is that of loving longest… when hope is gone.”

Persuasion beautifully illustrates the way in which old flames can rekindle their love for one another. At the beginning of the story Anne still has regrets about losing Wentworth whilst he thinks he has moved on. Through a series of events Jane Austen brings them closer together and shows them rediscovering all the things that they admired in one another in the first place. They don’t suddenly fall into each other’s arms – their relationship develops slowly but tenderly until the final declaration.

Letter-writing is almost a lost art these days but the letter that Wentworth writes to Anne in order to declare his feelings for her is as ardent and moving and romantic now as anything more modern could ever be:
”I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago…”

Sigh…