Saturday, September 13, 2014

Two series set in the same period? What was I thinking?

I’m currently writing two new historical romance series for two different publishers. How do I tell them apart?
They’re set in the same period, the 1750’s, but the premises are very different. One is straight-down-the-line historical romance. The “What if…?” that kicked the series off was plausible. What if the Jacobites continued to plot in the 1750’s? What if a new threat appeared, a branch of the Stuart family with a legitimate claim to the throne and more plausible heirs than the Young Pretender and his brother? By the 1750’s, Charles Stuart had degenerated into a bitter, fat, drunk, and his brother Henry had become a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. But what if more lurked, somehow?
That series started with a family. A duke and his five sisters decided to name their children after the Roman emperors. So their outlandish names led to them banding together. And when the Jacobite threat came – well, the gloves came off.
My other series, Even Gods Fall In Love has a completely different “What if…?” What if the gods of ancient Rome returned to Georgian Britain? This was prompted by a contemporary remark in a letter, that the aristocracy behaved like the Olympian gods, and expected to be treated that way. So what if they really were the gods?
The series takes the premise that the gods are reborn, Dalai-lama style, in new bodies. So some (not all) of the aristocracy are gods. This of course takes the series a completely different way, into the historical paranormal category.
I want the historical details in both series to be right. Even if the gods weren’t there, even if there wasn’t a branch of Stuarts, I wanted both ideas to fit into a genuine eighteenth century context. So the research I do for both series is broadly similar. When I wanted a whorehouse for Connie to take shelter in for “Rogue in Red Velvet,” I went to Covent Garden and took pictures, chose the house and took note of the doors, windows and general placement. If I hadn’t been able to do that, I’d have gone to Google Maps and the history books, as I do when I write my American-set contemporaries.
But the series have turned out to have very different feels. I thought the Emperors of London would be deadly serious, but the twists and turns have given me characters who don’t always want serious. They want to live and breathe, and have their laughs as well as the tears. That’s one way I differentiate. If I make the characters as real as I can, then they breathe the life into the series. They  might walk the same streets, eat the same food as the gods, but they don’t behave the same way.
I didn’t want these series to interact. I’ve done that before, and it can get messy! So the series are separate. You won’t find Olympian gods in the streets walked by the Emperors. It’s possible that Bonnie Prince Charlie might turn up in a gods book, but he was a real character. One of the people I created for the series never will appear.
The gods series has also created its own character. It’s a trifle darker, and the high concept has given it a character of its own. I’ve just created a London club for it, which will be mentioned in the second book and featured in the third, and I have mazes, ichor, and madmen. All of which has to be researched!

I think what I’m saying is that if you pick up an Emperors book, you might like to take a look at a gods book, but don’t expect the same people to turn up!

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Historical Novel Conference

On Saturday I was part of the HNS conference as I sat on a panel with Maureen Lee, Bernadine Kennedy and Jean Fullerton. There were ten different talks and workshops on at the same time and we were delighted that we attracted a good audience. The talk was about the perils and pitfalls of writing 20th century fiction - but a lot of what was said also applies to writing in the Georgian and Regency era. Dialogue was one of the subjects discussed and both the panel and audience we all agreed that using dialect doesn't work and that it's better to change the rhythm of the speech to indicate that the speaker is historical. Gadzookery is not popular! Another area talked about was research. Although there is no danger of anyone having been alive during our period to dispute our facts, it is perhaps easier to research modern history as there are not only books but aural records to refer to. Too many historical details can ruin a story for the reader - we all agreed that history should blend in to the story not dominate it. Characters and plot are always more important than the history, whatever era you are writing in.
Regency books are different to other historicals in that they are a sub-genre with their own rules and reader expectations.They are always romantic, often contain an adventure and must have a happy ending. That they must also be historically accurate goes without saying. I was unable to go to any of the other interesting talks and workshops and wished that I could have done. The conference was well attended and well organised. I am looking forward to 2016 when the next one is in London again. Fenella J Miller

Friday, September 05, 2014

Surnames in Jane Austen’s Novels

I have just been re-reading Maggie Lane’s brilliant Jane Austen and Food. In it, she makes the perceptive point that Mrs Norris in Mansfield Park is ironically named - from the French nourrice, a nurse. She behaves in the most un-nurturing way towards Fanny Price and seems to take every opportunity to put her down. 

I began to think about other Jane Austen surnames which might be significant in some way. Fanny Price’s own surname, for example, could also be viewed as ironic. For much of the novel, she is seen to have little value. Her own mother is happy to give her away to her rich relations, surely a traumatic experience for a timid ten-year-old girl. And Henry Crawford values her only as a plaything when he aims ‘to make a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart’.

Fanny is not taken in. Underneath her shy and retiring exterior, she is spot on in her judgement of the Crawfords and, when Henry proposes, she courageously refuses him, in spite of her uncle’s strong disapproval of such wilfulness. She is, as Sir Thomas, Edmund and even Henry Crawford himself eventually realize, priceless, with a moral worth beyond value.

Even the cloddish Mr Rushworth’s name carries a hint of irony. Maria rushes into her engagement with him, unable to bear the humiliation of Henry leaving without declaring himself. And worth is not a quality we associate with Mr Rushworth – or, indeed, Maria.

We might note, too, Mary Crawford’s letter to Fanny about Tom Bertram’s illness. She makes it clear that, if Tom dies of his fever, then a future ‘Sir Edmund Bertram’ would sound very well.

In Emma, there is surely more than a touch of irony in Frank Churchill’s name. Frank – that is, honest and open – he is not. And Churchill carries associations of Christian good behaviour, which, again, is wide of the mark. By contrast, Mr Knightley’s name suits his character and we see him taking the time and trouble to be kind to Miss Bates and Harriet Smith, both persons of little social consequence.

In Sense and Sensibility, the name Dashwood might be interpreted as an oxymoron.  Marianne certainly has the dash which leaves Elinor with too much of the phlegmatic, though steadfast, wood. Elinor needs more dash and Marianne needs to be more grounded (wood), which is exactly what happens over the course of the book.

Persuasion is, perhaps, the novel with the most interesting surnames. We know that Sir Walter Elliot is very aware of the value of a good name. He is scathing of Anne visiting an old school friend Mrs Smith: ‘A mere Mrs Smith – and everyday Mrs Smith, of all people and all names in the world to be the chosen friend of Miss Anne Elliot…’  Anne makes no reply, though she is well aware that her sister’s friend, Mrs Clay, a woman with no fortune, and ‘no surname of dignity’ is covertly making up to her father.  

Mrs Clay’s surname sounds suitably cloddish and sticky but she has enough guile to elope with William Elliot, Sir Walter’s heir, at the end of the book. 

Sir Walter himself is overly concerned with appearances. At the end of the book, when he learns that Anne is going to marry her former love, Captain Wentworth (a match which had gravely displeased him ten years earlier), he decides that, (Captain Wentworth’s) superiority of appearance might be not unfairly balanced against her superiority of rank; and all this, assisted by his well-sounding name, (a name of ‘worth’) allows him to give them his blessing.     

The surnames in Pride and Prejudice make a different point. Both Darcy and Lady Catherine de Bourgh have surnames of Norman-French origin, thus demonstrating their aristocratic credentials.  However, and this could be an example of Jane Austen’s ironic sense of humour, the maiden name of both Darcy’s mother and Lady Catherine was Fitzwilliam, a surname which indicates illegitimacy as fils (French: son) was used for the illegitimate children of kings or princes. Fitzwilliam might be an aristocratic name, but there’s a definite whiff of irregular behaviour about it.

The one book which doesn’t appear to use surnames to indicate anything about their owners is, surprisingly, Northanger Abbey. Why, I wonder.

All pictures are from The Ladies’ Pocket Magazine
Elizabeth Hawksley


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Wednesday, September 03, 2014


As a writer I am often asked where my stories come from. Clearly they have to come from somewhere, and I call it my dream factory.  Today I thought I would show you around.  So, welcome, come on in….

First there is the Creative Section, where new stories or scenarios are dreamed up. This department has several offices, including the car or even the train, for I often think out plots or ideas while I am travelling. Then there are the lanes and moors around my home. The first picture (left) is an ancient trackway where I walk regularly. The moors are particularly spectacular at the moment, with the heather in full bloom

And I also have a helper: this Willow, a member of my creative team – he doesn't say a lot but I often use him as a sounding board for my ideas. To date he has never made one negative criticism!

This next picture is the sort of sky that inspired my recent book The Scarlet Gown: it is set in Yorkshire and my characters are caught in a storm on the moors, easy to imagine when you have this sort of cloud hanging over you.

Then there's the Research & Development Department, where I sort out details of the setting, the historical background, perhaps find some Regency or 18th Century costumes. And of course I have to give my characters A Life. Characters need to have a back story, perhaps a career and sometimes a home. R & D involves libraries, the internet, lots of my own reference books and also places like this,
Lyme Park (aka Pemberley, for some of us!). Wandering through an old property can be very helpful in working out the layout of a character's home, or getting the feel for just how cold and draughty these stately piles must be in winter, not to mention all the hard work involved in lighting fires or getting hot water up to a bedroom!

Then  we come to the hard work – putting it all in order and turning it into a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. This cluttered space is the assembly line, where the dreams and nebulous ideas are pulled together into a (hopefully) coherent whole. (Notice the two stars in pride of place on the top - my Rona Rose Awards from the Romantic Novelists Association. They inspire me to keep going).  I spend so many hours here, typing away, until at last I am happy enough with the result to send it off to my editor.

If we are sticking with this analogy, then Harlequin must be the production line, because they take my typescript and after a bit of judicious editing my dreams are whisked away and turned into a book, not only a digital version but a lovely printed paper version, and here's a selection of recent titles that now sit proudly on my shelf.

So, I hope you enjoyed your whistle stop tour: I am going to get back to work now, but before I go just one more picture – at the end of the day, I put my feet up and relax after a hard day being creative and my assistant needs his rest too: he likes to be covered up cosily so he can sleep, ready for another hectic day in the dream factory!

Sarah Mallory / Melinda Hammond
Never Trust a Rebel – Sarah Mallory, Harlequin Historical, pub. September 2014
A Lady at Midnight – Melinda Hammond – published as an e-book.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Mrs Darcy's Diamonds - A new novella

I've a new novella coming out on September 2nd - Mrs Darcy's Diamonds. It's the first of a new series of tales which have jewellery for their inspiration. I've been doing some research into my family history and discovered that on one side of my family were three generations of jewellers and silversmiths - now every time I see a piece of silver or jewellery made in Birmingham I can't help wondering if my ancestors had anything to do with its origins.
This first novella is also inspired by Pride and Prejudice - I've loved re-visiting all the characters from Jane Austen's wonderful novel and adding a few of my own. One of the really fun things I love to do is to find portraits which represent Elizabeth, Darcy, Mrs Bennet, etc. and a great way to do this is to put together a Pinterest board. I hope you'll take a look at the boards I've put together for some of my recent novels - I warn you, it's a highly addictive pastime once you make a start. I loved thinking about the jewellery, costumes, interiors and houses!

I love this portrait of Sir Humphry Davy- I think he makes quite a good Mr Darcy!

Here's a little blurb about Mrs Darcy's Diamonds:
Elizabeth is newly married to Fitzwilliam Darcy, the richest man in Derbyshire, owner of a vast estate, and master of Pemberley House. Her new role is daunting at first, and having to deal with Mr Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is a daily challenge. But, Elizabeth is deeply in love and determined to rise to every test and trial she is forced to endure. When her husband presents her with a diamond ring, part of the precious and irreplaceable Darcy suite of jewels, she feels not only honoured and secure in her husband’s love, but also ready to accept her new responsibilities and position. 
Mrs Darcy knows she will face exacting scrutiny at the approaching Christmas Ball, but it will be her chance to prove that she is a worthy mistress, and she is excited to be playing hostess to the Bennets, the Bingleys, and the gentry families of Derbyshire, as well as Mr Darcy’s French cousins. Antoine de Valois and his sister Louise have arrived at the invitation of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Elizabeth is delighted that this young and lively couple are helping to bring Miss Georgiana Darcy out of her shell. However, when her ring goes missing before the ball, Elizabeth is distraught, and her dilemma further increased by the threat of a scandal that appears to involve the French cousins.

Here's the first chapter-I hope you enjoy it!

Longbourn House, Hertfordshire - 11th December 1812

‘My dear, you are determined to vex me at every turn,’ said Mrs Bennet to her husband on the day before they were to travel to Pemberley House in Derbyshire. ‘I simply must know your opinion.’
Mr Bennet exhaled deeply from behind his newspaper. He preferred breakfast to be a quiet affair, but why he still had an expectation for such a fancy he had no idea. For the last four and twenty years he had listened to Mrs Bennet’s unceasing prattling, chittering, twittering and chatting. He considered that breaking his fast would have been a quieter occasion had he sat in Meryton High Street as the militia marched by with a full military band blaring the songs of the day. He looked coyly round the edge of his newspaper to see Mrs Bennet arrayed in a bandbox of jewels from a sparkling diadem on her head to several rows of necklaces around her neck and layers of bracelets jangling on her wrists.
‘I cannot help thinking that such old-fashioned jewels will be out of place at Pemberley,’ whined Mrs Bennet, ‘and I cannot decide which to wear for the ball. Ought I to wear the cut-steel or the diamond paste? Of course, Lizzy will be wearing the real thing - no paste for her!’
‘My father made the purchase of the cut-steel for my grandmother. They were made by Mr Matthew Boulton himself, were considered most desirable at the time and came all the way from the exotic midlands.’
‘Exotic! What are you talking about, my dear? I never heard Birmingham called anything so fanciful in my life.’ Mrs Bennet caught her husband’s expression and knew she ought to temper her outbursts. ‘Cut-steel is very pretty, to be sure, by candlelight, but I am afraid I shall look like a country bumpkin with neither taste nor fashion. Besides, I am to wear a very fine gown - Lizzy sent the silk herself - and I do want to look my best.’
Mr Bennet’s expression softened. Just occasionally, he saw a glimpse of the girl he’d married, the beauty who had stolen his heart. But he loved to tease.
‘Then the diamond paste will set you off a treat!’ he declared, quickly retreating behind his paper.
Upstairs, Miss Kitty Bennet heard all that was going on below with some amusement. She’d escaped the dining parlour as soon as she could, knowing what was about to transpire. Her own feelings about the coming ball were those of great excitement, spoiled only by the knowledge that her sister Lydia was not to share the momentous occasion. Pulling out Lydia’s last letter, she reread every word. At least Lydia did not seem so very upset that she’d been snubbed or at least, that was the impression she was trying very hard to give.

I know, Kitty dearest, that if Elizabeth were to have her way, she would have invited us, I am certain of it! Mr Darcy has NEVER liked my beloved Wickham, and if we’ve been snubbed, it’s HIS doing. Neglecting a sister will forever be on HIS conscience, if he has one, which I doubt. He can keep his WRETCHED ball - in any case, I daresay it will be a stuffed shirt sort of affair. I shall think of you all when I am surrounded by the handsome beaux of Newcastle on Saturday night at the assembly. Major Armstrong declared last week he has never seen such loveliness gracing the dance floor, and little Pickersnick, Wickie’s right-hand man, has quite stolen my heart. I never thought I should find another to take the place of Denny for flattering with ‘passione d’amore’ but he is the sweetest, most attentive little lap dog. He blushes as scarlet as his coat whenever I look his way, and he is willing to do just anything I ask - even delivering my little notes to Captain Webb who is the most good-looking man of my acquaintance, and I declare, quite in love with me.

Kitty put the letter away. Perhaps Lydia was not as sanguine as she tried to make out. She would have loved her sister to be with her at the ball - try as she might, she knew it just wouldn’t be as much fun without Lydia poking fun at all the Pemberley guests. Still, she was very pleased with her new gown and she couldn’t wait to wear it. It was laid on Lydia’s old bed - stiff, glazed muslin with a peach underskirt, the gown was embroidered on the hem and around the neckline. Her first really grown-up dress, a present from Elizabeth who knew her taste exactly. Lizzy had sent some muslin for sister Mary too, not that she was interested in clothes at all. Kitty decided Mary might have been more excited if she’d been sent a pile of books.

They were to travel to Pemberley that very morning and after stopping just one night at an inn along the way, they would arrive at their destination the following afternoon. The Longbourn servants were already running hither and thither whilst Mrs Bennet emerged from the breakfast parlour flapping her arms like a demented bird, barking instructions, scolding her daughters and generally not being very useful to anyone. Mr Bennet disappeared into his favourite room and escaped into a book, ignoring the sounds without, until summoned that the carriage was ready.
‘Well, my dears, can there be anything more exciting than the prospect before us?’ said Mrs Bennet, settling herself in the coach, arranging cushions behind her head and swaddling wraps around her knees to keep out the cold. ‘Just think, with good luck we may be attending two more weddings on our return.’
‘How so, Mrs Bennet?’ her husband queried.
‘Mary and Kitty, of course.’
Mr Bennet beamed at his daughters sitting opposite. ‘Whose weddings are you gracing with your presence, my dears?’
‘Oh, Mr Bennet!’ His wife looked at him in exasperation. ‘I am talking of their weddings - how can you be so obtuse?’
‘Are they engaged? Congratulations, Mary, congratulations Kitty - and all arranged without any inconvenience to myself. Mrs Bennet, I declare you are England’s greatest matchmaker.’
‘I declare you enjoy vexing me on purpose,’ Mrs Bennet replied, clamping her lips together and pointedly staring out of the window as they passed through Meryton and out onto the open road.
Mr Bennet merely winked at his daughters, opened his book and promptly fell asleep.

Jane Odiwe

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Monsoon Mists

This month has seen the publication of the final part of my Kinross trilogy, Monsoon Mists. Set mostly in India, in 1759, the story follows the adventures of Jamie Kinross, younger son of the couple in Trade Winds (book 1) and brother of Brice from Highland Storms (book 2).  It feels like I’ve come full circle now, although there are other members of the Kinross family trying to invade my mind so who knows?  I may return to them in the future.  In the meantime, here is the blurb and a short excerpt from Monsoon Mists:-

Sometimes the most precious things cannot be bought …

It’s 1759 and Jamie Kinross has travelled far to escape his troubled existence – from the pine forests of Sweden to the bustling streets of India.

Jamie starts a new life as a gem trader, but when his mentor’s family are kidnapped as part of a criminal plot, he vows to save them and embarks on a dangerous mission to the city of Surat, carrying the stolen talisman of an Indian Rajah.

There he encounters Zarmina Miller. She is rich and beautiful, but her infamous haughtiness has earned her a nickname: “The Ice Widow”.  Jamie is instantly tempted by the challenge she presents.

When it becomes clear that Zarmina’s step-son is involved in the plot Jamie begins to see another side to her – a dark past to rival his own and a heart just waiting to be thawed. But is it too late?

Monsoon Mists, excerpt:-

The smile Mr Kinross sent her this time was nothing short of dazzling. Zar was glad she was sitting down as it definitely did something strange to her innards. Then a teasing glint flashed in his eyes.
            ‘So have you thought any more about my proposition?’ he asked.
            ‘Which proposition would that be?’ Zar frowned, caught off-guard by his question.
            ‘To, er … amuse you if you’re in need of a diversion.’
            Zar couldn’t stop her mouth from falling open, but shut it quickly again as she sent him her most quelling glance. ‘Really, Mr Kinross, I don’t know to what you are referring.’
            ‘Oh, I think you do.’
            He was still smiling and Zar felt unaccountably hot all of a sudden. But she was also outraged. She would make it clear to him she was not that kind of woman.
            ‘I’ll have you know I’m a respectable widow. Neither you, nor anyone else, will ever set foot in my bedroom and I’d thank you not to refer to such things again.’
            She turned to stare out the window while she tried to force her breathing to return to normal. For some reason she was having trouble inhaling enough air and it was making her chest heave unbecomingly.
            ‘Now that sounds distinctly like a challenge to me. Would you like to bet on it?’
            ‘What?’ Zar swivelled round and stared at Kinross. The effrontery of the man.
            ‘I’ll wager one hundred rupees that I will. Set foot in your bedroom, that is.’ He raised his eyebrows at her, as if daring her to accept. ‘Say, within the next two weeks?’ he added, a teasing note in his voice.
            ‘I don’t believe I’m hearing―’
            ‘Very well, two hundred rupees. Deal?’
            ‘Now see here, Mr Kinross―’
            ‘You drive a hard bargain, Mrs Miller. Three hundred it is.’
            Zar almost stamped her foot in frustration, but managed to restrain herself at the last minute. ‘I’m not making a wager with you!’
            ‘Ah, you’re afraid you’ll lose. I thought so.’
            His smug expression made Zar see red. She clenched her fists by her side and scowled at him. ‘I am not.’
            ‘Well, then, you almost certainly stand to gain three hundred rupees. That can’t be bad, can it?’
            Zar took a deep breath and tried to think, but Kinross’s quicksilver gaze held hers and jumbled her thought processes. He was right. It would be the easiest money she’d ever earned. But then why was he even proposing such a thing? There must be a catch … For the life of her, she couldn’t think of one though. ‘Oh, very well, I accept your wager. But I’m not meeting you anywhere private for you to hand over my winnings, is that clear?’
            ‘Perfectly.’ He bowed. ‘I will allow you to decide entirely. If you win, of course.’
            Zar was about to insist that she would, but just then her step-son came back into the room and she didn’t have a chance to say anything else.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Covent Garden

Many of my books feature a very small part of London—Covent Garden and the area around it. I love Covent Garden. These days you can browse among the stalls in the piazza and listen to opera singers busking. The stores in the square and the streets are a mixture of modern chains like Swarovski and Monsoon, and small boutiques. It’s eternally popular, and always thronged with people. Street performers add more fun, and the Transport Museum is right there.
It’s always been that way, since the piazza was built in the seventeenth century. It was intended to be a gracious square to house the rich and high class of London, but very few ever lived there. They were already moving further west, and so the piazza was a bit of a white elephant for a while. Then the market moved in and until the late twentieth century, many Londoners bought their fruit and vegetables in the early morning. When the market was moved out of town, the traders moved in.
One side of the square is dominated by the Royal Opera House. A few years ago, in its expansion, the megalith that is the opera house demolished the site of Tom’s Coffee House, to make room. Tom’s was always a disreputable place, where prostitutes met their customers, but since Tom King and his wife banned all sexual goings-on in the building, the authorities could never make a prosecution stick.
Covent Garden was the center of the sex trade in London. The houses bordering the square, the streets nearby and the ramshackle stalls that used to line the central building were full of prostitutes, madams, and people who catered to the sex trade, like the condom sellers and the sex toy sellers. But it was still hugely popular with the rich and wealthy. The male half, at any rate.
Anyone thinking that they were staid and respectable in the past, needs to read one of the guides published at the time, or the scurrilous naughty pamphlets, the advertising bills, the accounts of court cases involving the denizens of the place and even “Fanny Hill.” In the days when there was no reliable contraception, they had to get inventive!
I set a scene in “Rogue in Red Velvet” there, and on a visit to London I took masses of photographs of the house I picked to set the scene. My respectable widow heroine, Connie, is drugged and put up for sale at one of the mock-auctions there. Alex is forced to rescue her and then devise a scheme to restore her reputation! It was a great excuse to visit the place again!
Richard and Rose also had dealings there in “Maiden Lane,” which is a narrow street close to the Garden and contains one of the oldest restaurants in London.
Of course, also nearby you can find Drury Lane Theatre and Bow Street Magistrate’s Court. Further north was the “rookery” of Seven Dials, where no respectable person ventured, for fear of being stripped, robbed and even murdered, so you had to watch your step!

You can read more about Rogue in Red Velvet here: 

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