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Monday, August 31, 2009

Latest News!

Happy September, everyone! Whilst I have enjoyed the hot summer days we've occasionally had here in the UK this year, I do love autumn very much. Living out in the country I can feel the seasons turning. It's darker earlier in the evening when I take the dog for his bedtime walk and as we go round the fields I can feel the cool nip in the air. The young owls, born this year, are calling in the willows by the stream and the September full moon is waxing. The dew is heavier on the grass in the mornings. The swallows are starting to fly South and the leaves are starting to fall. It's beautiful!

I've had an incredibly busy but exciting summer of work that focussed on my Brides of Fortune Trilogy and I am so happy and grateful to my readers for the lovely response the books have had. Not only did all three books hit the Bookscan bestseller charts in the US, The Scandals of an Innocent reached Number 10 in the Borders romance chart as well. I hope UK readers will be pleased to hear that the series will be published in the UK from June next year by MIRA Books. More details closer to the date!

Meanwhile, I'm very proud to be a part of the Romantic Novelists' Association 50th Anniversary anthology, Loves Me, Loves Me Not, which contains Regency short stories by Louise Allen, Amanda Grange and Joanna Maitland as well as my own story The Elopement. There is a copy of the RNA anthology up for grabs as the September contest prize on my website. Don't miss the chance to win this book which contains a wealth of contemporary romantic short stories as well as the historical ones.

September also sees the publication of the UK edition of Kidnapped, from Mills & Boon Single Titles with extra pages giving the historical background and inspiration to the story. Kidnapped remains a book very close to my heart and I hope that readers will like it too!

In October I have two novellas out in the US, A reprint of The Season for Suitors in a HQN anothology called The Heart of Christmas with bestselling author Mary Balogh and wonderful debut author Courtney Milan, and the first print publication of my Undone e-book The Unmasking of Lady Loveless in an anthology from Harlequin Historicals called Together For Christmas with stories by Catherine George and Louise Allen who are two of my own favourite authors.

On the new books front, I have just sent in the first book in my new Regency series which will be coming out from HQN in 2010. Whisper of Scandal is set in London and the Arctic and I have started work on the second book in the series. Although I'll be getting my head down to work, I'll be blogging here when I can and also over on the Word Wenches site in my regular bi-monthly slot and with the UK Regency Authors on the 7th of each month.

I hope everyone has a very happy month full of good books!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Taking Risks with the Happy Ever After

I'm a huge fan of the Happy Ever After. It doesn't matter which genre I'm reading, I still want to feel warm and satisfied and, yes reassured, when I get to the end of a book. Of course this doesn't work out well for me sometimes. My favourite reads include crime and thrillers and although the ending may satisfy in the sense that the mystery is solved and the bad guys caught, there's an unhappy ending for someone, usually the corpse. If the victim wasn't very pleasant then that's fine. That's why I enjoy watching Midsomer Murders. Maybe that's also why I don't read much gritty crime with random violence in it. I hear enough about that on the news. And then there's non-fiction. I love reading historical biographies but frankly I know that if I'm reading about Anne Boleyn, for example, then there's an appointment with the executioner waiting and history isn't going to change. So even as I read the book I'm preparing myself.

When I taught creative writing we did a session on the importance of endings and the different types of endings that there are in books. “And they all lived happily ever after” is the classic last line. It’s easy to dismiss this as a formula but it's far more important than that. It’s a reassurance and it sums up the theme of the story. In fairy tales, folk tales and romances the story is about conflicts and barriers to happiness. The reassurance for the reader is that all is well and will continue to be so after the end of the book. Jane Austen uses this theme to end her books. Emma ends with the words: "the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.” Perfect happiness. That's what I want.

In other genres, though, slightly ambiguous endings do seem to be popular, as though hinting that although things seem okay for now, who knows what is going to happen in the future. Perhaps this is a reflection of the world we live in. But again, that's the world I'm trying to escape in my reading. I remember being slightly disappointed when I got to the end of High Fidelity by Nick Hornby and the last line was: “Tonight, for the first time ever, I can sort of see how it’s done.” It didn't inspire me with confidence. Even worse, when I finished Fatherland by Robert Harris and I was on the edge of my seat wanting to know what happened: “He took off his cap and threw it, sent it skimming across the grass the way his father used to skim flat stones across the sea. Then he tugged the gun from his waistband, checked to make sure it was loaded, and moved towards the silent trees.” AND? I assume there weren't pages missing at the end of my copy.

I'm an unrepentant escapist in my fiction, and in my writing I can make those HEAs happen. Which makes it all the more shocking when occasionally I hear from a reader who tells me that they weren't convinced by my Happy Ever After. This, after all, is the pact that I make with the reader. I will provide a believable and satisfactory happy ending. Actually I'm trying to provide the best damn story I can with an ending that will blow readers away. I want to make sure that they believe my hero and heroine will still be together in fifty years time. So when I first got feedback like that, for Lord of Scandal, I thought: "I've failed. Where did it all go wrong?"

Well, of course I had failed with that individual reader. There's no getting away from that. But I'm not so sure I've failed overall. For me part of the enormous challenge of writing historical romance is to twist the conventions and to give my characters deep and fundamental conflicts that means that their behaviour puts their happy ever after at risk. Then I do my very best to show the change and growth in those characters which ensures that they will be happy. I know this isn't going to convince all the readers all the time but if it works for most people most of the time then I'm very happy and I think I've done a good job.

With Lord of Scandal, I always knew that the character of Ben Hawksmoor was going to be controversial. Born into poverty, disowned by his father who denounced him as a bastard, Ben had to fight for everything in his life and as a result valued financial security above everything else. He was selfish, self-interested and utterly materialistic. When asked by his cousin if there was anyone he wanted to love and cherish he replied simply: "Yes, me." Ben wasn't a rake but he was a scoundrel of the first order and he was completely ruthless in going after what he wanted. Unsurpringly there were readers who thought that the book was too dark and Ben too heartless ever to reform. For me the excitment was to create a character like that and then challenge his value system by showing him another one, that of the worth of love over money, as demonstrated by the character of Catherine, the heroine. It was a hard journey for Ben, but I felt that at the end of the book, when he turned down Catherine's dowry because all he wanted was her, he had learned a tough lesson. And I didn't believe that a few years down the line he would revert to type, go back to Catherine's aunt and say: "You know that thirty thousand pounds you offered me? Well, I've changed my mind about taking it..." In other words, it was a life lesson. He had changed.

Most recently, in The Undoing of a Lady I created a heroine, Lizzie Scarlet, whose characterisation my editor described as "brave." When your editor says something like that you that you know you're on dodgy ground and that some people are going to hate the character. But as with Ben, I hoped that to know Lizzie, to understand her background, is to love her, forgive her and enjoy watching her change. Readers will let me know whether the risk I've taken has succeeded and whether they buy into her happy ending.

Of course it isn't just the individual characters who dictate whether that HEA will work, it's the combination of the hero and heroine and the way that they resolve the deep differences between them. Again I have a tendency to take risks by putting together those characters who really shouldn't be perfect for each other and then working to show that they are the other's ideal match. In my next book, Whisper of Scandal, I have a hero who is an explorer, A Bear Grylls, Born Survivor type, matched with a heroine who is a Regency fashionista. He lives to travel. She lives to shop. It shouldn't work. I hope the readers think it does and that after taking risks the books deliver perfect happiness.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The perfect Friday displacement activity!

I have a thing about voices. I think they can be incredibly seductive. In the second of my trilogy books, The Scandals of an Innocent, Alice reflects on the fact that Miles was almost able to seduce her with his voice alone, he was so smooth!

Discovering the Carte Noir coffee adverts online was always going to be a treat for me. This is the next best thing to watching Dominic West play Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and the perfect displacement activity for my Friday morning when I should be revising my Arctic manuscript. I don't drink much coffee, but that's beside the point. I love both Dominic West and Pride and Prejudice in just about equal measure so that's my tea break sorted. Here's the link:

Oh, and you can also experience Greg Wise and Dan Stevens reading to you simply for your pleasure and gratification. Thank goodness I was sitting comfortably - I almost melted!


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Living beyond their means!

I'm just back from a research trip to England's smallest county, Rutland. It's an area of the country that I love but that I haven't visited in a very long time so it was great to re-acquaint myself with the beautiful stretch of Rutland Water, the historic town of Oakham and lots of tea shops along the way! My next couple of blogs are going to be all about the historic houses that I visited because I had such a lovely time that I want to share! I chose places that were smaller than stately home size, with different and unusual histories, because although I love grand houses, these other places so often get overlooked and they have so much fascinating history to offer.

There wasn't a particular theme to the houses that I chose. They don't all date from the Georgian or Regency periods, for example. I picked them because they sounded interesting. But as it turned out, two of the houses were linked - by debt, ruin and ambitious owners living beyond their means. Although some of my older relatives mutter that young people today are extravagant and spend money they don't have, and that it never happened in their day, I discovered on this trip that it did happen on a grand scale in 1605 and 1771.

So to the first of my houses and this was my Top Pick of the trip (a tough choice!) Atmospheric ruins really inspire me and Lyveden New Bield is the most extraordinary place. Lyveden was built by Sir Thomas Tresham, a devout Catholic, to a design full of religious symbolism. The building is shaped like a Greek cross and based around the numbers 3, 5 and 9. Tresham was a rich man whose fortune derived from wool but when work started on Lyveden he was already £11,000 pounds in debt because of the fines levied on him for his adherence to the Catholic faith. The New Bield, as the house was called, was never intended to be his principal seat. His manor house Lyveden Old Bield was just down the road! This house was a fun palace, set in pleasure grounds with moats to sail on, spiral mounds to admire the view, terraces for strolling along and extensive orchards and flower meadows. Lyveden New Bield did have bedrooms and a kitchen and bakehouse, so it could have been a "secret house," a place where the family could retire for a few days whilst their main property was being cleaned. Or it might simply have been intended for fun, a sort of playhouse and gardens on a grand scale!

Whatever the case, fun - and money - was in short supply at Lyveden New Bield when Sir Thomas Tresham died in 1605. Work on the house stopped because the workmen realised that Sir Thomas had been deep in debt, had over-reached himself on his designs and they were never going to see their money! The ruin stood untouched for over 400 years. Sir Thomas's son Francis inherited his estates but later in 1605 was arrested for treason with his cousins Catesby and Wintour for his part in the Gunpowder Plot. He died in the Tower of London. The downfall of the Treshams was complete with the inheritance of the spendthrift Lewis Tresham who lost all the family's remaining money.

It was a very grey day when we visited Lyveden New Bield and against the lowering sky the ruin looked particularly ancient and intriguing. We wandered amongst the grazing sheep in the pleasure grounds, climbed the spiral mounds to view the estate and walked through the flower meadows. We climbed the stair to what is left of the first floor bedroom, with it's views to the east (so that the Catholic Sir Thomas could watch for the Protestants coming to arrest him!) It was a stunning place with a palpable atmosphere but it did make me sad that Sir Thomas Tresham's plans were grander than his budget and that in the end the house stood an empty ruin for hundreds of years.

Click here to visit the National Trust Lyveden New Bield Photo Gallery for some beautiful pictures!

Next on the blog... The historic house where Georgian design went mad!