History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

30 November 2006

It's All in the Details

Okay, ladies, here’s a quick pop quiz. What do you call a tool for cutting peat? When is the luckiest time to get married in Ireland? And just what was the traditional color for an Irish bridal gown anyway? (Hint: It’s not white.)

It wasn’t all that long ago that I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I needed that information – and lots more – in order to write my first novel, IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW, which is set in post-Famine Ireland. It all came down to discovering details, details, and more details.

But that was okay. As a former journalist, I was used to fact-checking. I love researching, digging to find elusive facts. But I discovered the most important thing in writing historical romance is not only finding the information, but weaving it in so it doesn’t detract from the story.

For instance, in Sunshine, my hero, Rory O’Brien, is haunted by ghosts and secrets of his past. In one particular scene with Siobhán Desmond, my heroine, I originally had pain slash through him “like a knife”. A good line, but one that’s been used dozens, if not hundreds of times. How could I change the wording so it would be unique to Rory as a character? By using an Irish reference, of course. Since I had no idea what a peat-cutting tool was called, I Googled it and came up with a site that explained not only the traditional method of collecting turf in Ireland, but a description and pictures of the tools that were used.

In another scene, Rory and Siobhán are alone together and he’s explaining the fine art of shooting craps. It’s a scene filled with sexual tension, but it’s also a good description of the game, and it explains a good bit about Rory’s youth growing up on the streets of New York. Again, I had to weave in details, but they had to be accurate. Back to Google, but this time I supplemented my research with a trip to the casino.

The origin of the Irish Hunter was another spot that required detailed research. A cross between the Irish Draught Horse and the English Thoroughbred, the Irish Hunter is stronger, faster, and easier to ride. There are several good books on the subject, as well as several Internet sites, but thankfully, I have a horse expert in the family to whom I can pose all sorts of “horse questions.” Thus was born Rory’s dream of breeding the finest strain of Irish Hunters in Ireland.

Everything you want to know about cutting the turf.

All sorts of information from Irish weddings, superstitions, recipes, and more!

Planning a visit to the casino? Stop by the craps table.

A short overview on the origins of the Irish Hunter.

Answers to quiz:

  1. slane
  2. All Hallow’s Eve
  3. Blue

29 November 2006

The End

First, I have to apologize for having gone missing. I didn’t mean to ignore all these great hoyden posts, but I was finishing up my work in progress, A Rake’s Guide to Ruin. All you writers out there know what it’s like; every day seems like the very last day. . . and then it’s not. The next day you wake up and realize you forgot to add that all-important paragraph of internal thought that is just going to MAKE the book. Whew!

Well, I finally got to The End. And then there was research to do. Lots of it. A few items from my list: leaded crystal in 1844? Check. Persian rugs? Yes! Cheroots? No. You are thinking of New Orleans. Change it to cigarillo.

The list was about fifty items long. Maybe more. Most things, like those listed above, were easy to cross off. Some proved slightly more difficult. At one point, my hero says, "He belonged to the old Hellfire Club, if that gives you an idea." But was the Hellfire Club in existence around in 1820 when my heroine’s father would have, um, enjoyed it? Darn it, no. The real, genuine Hellfire Club, famous for its orgies and alleged Satanic rituals, fizzled out in the eighteenth century. There were plenty of later clubs to go around, but none that might evoke that immediate connection with the reader. (Phoenix Club, anyone?)

But further research showed that there were plenty of other Hellfire clubs, copycats that were in existence in 1820 and later, so I was saved! The hero now says, "He belonged to one of the old hellfire clubs." Ha! Perfect.

My last sticking point--the little bit of semantics that took up a good two hours of my LAST day of writing--proved more difficult than it should have been. In fact, I still haven’t resolved it. My heroine, Emma, is a rather shady character. She’s in London impersonating someone else. She’s hiding from anyone who knows who she really is. Also she has a little gambling problem. *cough* So, needless to say, there are a few scenes that take place in alleys. But are they really "alleys" or are they something else?

EtymOnline says that the word "alley" was first used in 1530, but I think it originally meant the narrow walkways BETWEEN houses. When did it evolve to mean the lanes BEHIND houses? Or did it? Do they use it this way in England?

I thought that the correct word could be "mews", but this sounds too old to me. Mews are, specifically, the areas behind city houses that were used as stables and yards. There are alleys and streets that are still called mews because of their original function, but my heroine lives in a new part of town. The border area of Belgravia and Chelsea wasn’t developed until the early nineteenth century; there were no old mews.

What I need here are original sources, but I just couldn’t bear to drag this out anymore. I wanted to write The End! So I chose alley. It’s good enough for my agent and my editor. I have a while until copy edits (like, a year?) so I’ll need to read some Dickens in the mean time or hope that the OED at the library offers up an example. Or maybe some kind British soul will take pity on me? *Victoria flutters her lashes*

For now, I am DONE! I’m back in the world! I’m ready to interact with others! Oh. After I slog through all the laundry and dishes and toilets and carpets that I’ve neglected for the past month. And considering that I have two little boys, that is a LOT of neglect. *sigh* Give me one week and then I’ll really be back.

28 November 2006

Welcome, Cynthia Owens!

In Sunshine or in Shadow

by Cynthia Owens

Highland Press

A Gambler With a Thirst for Revenge

The stakes are high for one-time gambler Rory O'Brien as he returns to the village of Ballycashel after a lifetime in exile. Has he come back to destroy the village that haunts his past, or to atone for the sins of his father? But when he is drawn into the lives and loves of his newly-acquired tenants, his thirst for vengeance is quenched by an unexpected yearning for peace--and love. Can Rory overcome the ghosts of his past, or will old enemies destroy the new life he’s come to love?

A Valiant Survivor of Famine and Tyranny

Siobhán Desmond will do anything to keep the tattered remains of her family alive, even if it means working for the new landlord – a darkly handsome stranger with secrets in his eyes and pain in his smile. But as she watches her village return to life and begin to thrive under Rory’s care, she comes to understand his true nature and soon finds herself falling under his dangerously sensual spell.

As danger ignites all around them, Rory and Siobhán fight to right the wrongs of the past – and protect their newfound love.

A classic romance told in a sweetly old fashioned way.

-Coffee Time Romance

This was a truly enchanting tale of love lost and gained, revenge and a town saved. Bravo, Ms. Owens, for a wonderful read!

-Kenda Montgomery

IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW is set in Victorian Ireland, and has a very Gothic feel to it. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

I’ve always had a deep love fore Ireland: its rugged coastline, its beautiful green fields; its music and poetry, myths and legends. Perhaps I was a faery in another life, or maybe it’s the blood of a distant ancestor calling to me. And of course, there’s nothing more irresistible than a romantic Irish accent.

As I delved into the history of the country, I began to realize just how cruel the tenant/landlord system was, particularly during the Famine. A landlord could just toss a family off his land on the whim of grazing a few more cattle, and there was nothing they could do about it. And yet, through it all, the Irish remained stubbornly determined to hang on to what was most important: family and heritage. Even after they fled their homeland, they clung to their Irishness in the face of deep prejudice.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

Nothing in particular comes to mind. I had to be careful, though, in naming certain groups of rebels. From the Young Irelanders to the Provisional wing of the Irish Republican Army, each group was active in its own time, and I had to beware of naming a group that was out of favor, or hadn’t been formed in 1850.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

All three and more! My heroine, Siobhán Desmond, came into my mind as a valiant survivor of the Famine, a widow struggling to keep the tattered remnants of her family together after devastating losses and betrayal. She’d been battered by circumstances, yet remained strong, as witnessed when, at the beginning of the book, she begs for food from the landlord, yet retains enough of her pride to refuse to bed the man.

My hero, Rory O’Brien, was also clear in my mind when I started writing IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW. A gambler returning to Ireland, he is seeking both revenge and redemption. He certainly doesn’t expect to find love, friendship, or the first real home he’s ever known.

The village of Ballycashel became very real to me during the writing of the book, too. The spirit of the community in SUNSHINE is almost a character in itself, from the Ballycashel stables to Siobhán’s cottage, to the shores of Ballycashel lake. And I really love the secondary characters: Grannie Meg, the village matriarch; Tom and Nora Flynn, Siobhán’s best friends. And the two girls, Katie and Ashleen, became as real to me as my own daughter.

Did you have to do any major research for his book? Did you stumble across anything really intersting that you didn’t already know?

I feel like I’ve been researching historical Ireland all my life! But I did find some very interesting tidbits about Irish celebrations. Every Irish man, woman and child loves a ceilidh, right? There are a few of these big parties in SUNSHINE, as well as Saint Brigid’s Day (Feb. 1, the traditional day to start spring planting), and the Ballycashel harvest ceilidh. And each of these celebrations have their own traditions, from the “Bridie Boys” going from house to house asking for donations of food for “Poor Biddy,” to throwing butter and a horse harness into the nearest body of water to ensure good fortune and plenty of food for the coming year.

Any historical mea culpas to fess up?

None that I know of.

What/Who do you like to read?

For historical romance, you can’t beat a story by Mary Jo Putney and Teresa Medeiros. I love Mary Jo’s skillful way of working odd historical facts into her stories, as well as her “tortured heros.” And Teresa has a way of writing poignant yet humorous stories that keep me either laughing or on the verge of tears. I think it takes a very special talent to achieve that reaction from readers.

I also enjoyed Edward Rutherfurd’s Princes of Ireland/Rebels of Ireland. And any book – fiction or non-fiction, historical to present-day – about Ireland. I love Maeve Binchy’s stories about coming of age in 1950’s Ireland.

How did your writing carreer take off? Was it a Zero-to-Published kind of thing? Or did you have ten finsihed books under the bed before you sold?

SUNSHINE is my first book, so I’m not sure if my writing career has really “taken off”yet! But it’s not the first book I’ve written. I wrote another Irish book set against the 1916 Easter Rebellion (past-1900 – not a popular time period!). Then I wrote a story set in Victorian-era Montreal, with yet another Irish hero. A third manuscript followed, set against 17th-Century New France. Finally, I decided to write what was really the “book of my heart,” and IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW was born.

After I finished SUNSHINE, I decided that for my New Year’s resolution, I would either submit to one publisher or one contest each month. Highland Press was the third publisher I submitted to, and the only one to request a full manuscript. Less than six months later, I got an e-mail offering me a contract. And I’ve been walking on air ever since!

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I think I’m a little bit of both, with a sprinkle of intuition thrown in. I usually start with a character – in this case, Rory O’Brien, a man with too many secrets and too much emotional baggage, who fled America and its memories to return to the place that held both his past and his deepest pain. As I asked him questions about himself, I slowly learned his back story, and how his tainted past would affect the woman he would come to love.

Enter Siobhán Desmond, a widow whose husband and adored younger brother were hanged by the local landlord. Their crime? Robbing a wagon of food that was being transported to England, when most of the villagers had lost their crop. How could Siobhán forget the sight of these two beloved bodies swinging from the Hanging Tree? How could she grow to love Rory, whose unholy connection to the landlord only a few people knew?

This story was so real to me, there were times I actually dreamed about it! One morning I awakened with a picture in my head so clear that I had to rush into my office and write it down. That picture became the pivotal scene in which Rory returns to the tiny cottage where he and his mother spent the first ten years of his life with his abusive stepfather.

I usually write the first draft, then clean it up once the storyline is complete, adding and/or deleting scenes as needed.

What are you planning to work on next?

Well, I have two sequels planned for SUNSHINE. The first, which is in its final draft, involves Siobhán’s headstrong daughter, Ashleen. Fresh from a year in America, she returns to Ireland with a beau, the dashing Cavan Callaghan, hero of the Irish Brigade, who is coming home to claim the family he’s never known. After that will come Katie’s story, which is now in the planning stages. Rory’s beautiful daughter decides it’s time to meet her mother’s family, so she travels to Baltimore, where she falls in love with a dashing young actor.

After that, I have a series of novels planned that will all be loosely connected. The heros met on a “coffin ship” bound from Ireland to America during the Famine (more Irish heros!). They grew up in New York together, and when the Civil War came along, all of them joined up to fight with the Irish Brigade. After the war, they come home to pick up the threads of their lives, and that’s when all the fun will begin!

27 November 2006

Primary Sources

While reading memoirs, journals, and letters may require a great deal of winnowing to get to what’s really going to be of value to you as a writer, I’m a firm believer that there is no greater resource if one wants to really understand the mindset of the people about whom we write (plus I get such wonderful ideas from these kinds of sources *GRIN*).

A few of my favorites:

Reminiscences of Captain Gronow

The Complete Memoirs of Jacques Casanova

The Letter-Bag of Lady Elizabeth Spencer-Stanhope

Have any favorites to share?

25 November 2006


Isabel! Please email me with your snail mail addy so I can send you The Raven Prince!


24 November 2006

The 12th Century Twist

The 12th Century Twist: Medieval Dance Music

What’s most frustrating about medieval dance? We have recovered 37 works of dance music from the Middle Ages, but not one clue about the dance steps! While hints on execution are found in paintings, illuminations, and medieval texts, not until 1450, the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy, was there a detailed description of early dances in Europe. (Which may be why movies mistakenly film 12th century couples dancing a 15th century pavane.)

What dances were danced? People danced in castle and countryside, at feasts, ceremonies, after supper, at fairs, etc. Dances include the carol and the estampie. Carols are chain or circle dances using simple walking steps, often done holding hands or with arms linked. I was taught one circle dance in a medieval dance workshop, described as a “greeting” or “re-bonding” ritual to welcome either a newcomer or a long-absent friend or family member. It was especially popular during the Crusades.
Two concentric circles of dances face each other and move in opposite directions in slow steps, looking directly into the eyes of the person opposite. Sounds simple, but it was profoundly moving.

Estampies are more complex, as indicated by the music (different melodies with the same refrains, repeated many times). The estampie comprises a sequence of steps for the “first” melody played and another set of steps for the musical refrain. A slightly different step sequence for the “second” melody, same steps for the repeated refrain. And etc.

Later (14th-15th C) we have the bransle (pronounced “brawl”), pavane, galliard, saltarello, basse-dance, and many more.

Who/what played the music? Music for medieval dance was played by an ensemble of various “mixed” instruments: bagpipe, pipe & tabor (drum), rebec, vielle, lute, drum, tambourine.
By the 16th C “families” of instruments were preferred, to give a
more blended sound: recorders and viols for a “soft” band; for a “loud band,” sackbut (early trombone), cornetto (curved horn, sounds like an oboe), and crumhorns (curved up at the end; sounds like a squawking duck).

What was the music like? A monophonic melody was played (by ear, not from notation), and other instruments would improvise an accompaniment over or under that melody. The melody would be played many times over, each time adding variety by more inventive ornamentation, which would increase in virtuosity. Some dances were quite long; an estampie, for example, could last 12-14 minutes. To avoid player fatigue, instruments were changed at the repeats Note: the larger the ensemble, the more intonation (playing in tune with each other) problems.

Dances were played in sets, often changing meter (duple to triple) or rhythm and coupling a slow dance with a faster one: a slow carol with a faster estampie, for instance. An instrumental prelude would signal the start (and end) of the dance and was used to set the mode (key), tonality, and rhythm for the other players.

Source: Timothy J. McGee, Medieval and Renaissance Music/A Performer's Guide
--Lynna Banning

23 November 2006

For The Love Of Mangel-Wurzels

Agriculture in history. Before you start dozing off, let me tell you that this is interesting stuff! After all, where do you think all those earls and dukes that we love to read about got their wealth? That’s right: from owning vast quantities of land and from the crops the land—and the people working it—produced.

The Agricultural Revolution in Georgian times went hand-in-hand with the Industrial Revolution. Things started changing rapidly, innovations were made, and landowners and farmers started trying new techniques and tools to improve their crop yields. So listen up!

The eighteenth century started with the invention of the seed drill in 1701 by Jethro Tull (no relation to the rock band.) Prior to this, farmers sowed crops by broadcasting the seed by hand. As you can imagine, a good portion of the seed was wasted by this method. Tull’s invention—a simple box mounted on wheels and pulled by a horse—saved on seed and made for a better yield.

Charles Townsend, the second Viscount Townsend, popularized the practice of four field crop rotation in the first half of the century. With his system of rotating the crops—he used turnips, clover, barley, and wheat—a field wouldn’t have to lie fallow to renew the soil. Instead, the clover added nitrogen to the soil and both the clover and turnips could be used as fodder crops, meaning the animals that fed on the crops in the field would leave their manure. Crop yields increased significantly. You can read more about “Turnip” Townsend on my website.

Meanwhile, Robert Blakewell was experimenting with the controlled breeding of sheep—not only to improve the wool, but also to improve the meat. Blakewell kept meticulous, detailed records of his breeding program and even lent out his best stock for breeding purposes to neighboring farmers to improve their herds as well.

Unfortunately for the people working the land, all this agricultural innovation only hastened the process of enclosure. For centuries in much of England peasants had farmed the land in long strips that were rotated on a three year basis—one of the years being used to let the land lie fallow and recover its fertility. Landowners could vastly improve the crop yields of the land, but only by combining the traditional, long narrow fields and enclosing the new, larger field with walls or hedges. And in order to do that they would have to throw the farmers off the land—land that the peasant farmers may have been working for generations. Thousands of people were put out of work in the country and were forced to find jobs in the city—in the new factories that were being built as part of the Industrial Revolution.

And what about the mangel-wurzels in the title of this piece? Well, mangel-wurzels are a type of field beet developed in the eighteenth century to feed cattle. Whilst looking for an illustration of a mangel-wurzel, I came across this fascinating site, which reports a historical use for the mangel-wurzel that even I had previously never heard of.

Elizabeth Hoyt

21 November 2006

Welcome, Elizabeth Hoyt

The Raven Prince
by Elizabeth Hoyt


Widowed Anna Wren is having a wretched day. After an arrogant male on horseback nearly squashes her, she arrives home to learn that she is in dire financial straits. What is a gently bred lady to do?


The Earl of Swartingham is in a quandary. Having frightened off two secretaries, Edward de Raaf needs someone who can withstand his bad temper and boorish behavior. Dammit! How hard can it be to find a decent secretary?


When Anna becomes the earl’s secretary, both their problems are solved. Then she discovers he plans to visit the most notorious brothel in London for his “manly” needs. Well! Anna sees red—and decides to assuage her “womanly” desires . . . with the earl as her unknowing lover.

Two Copies will be given away to lucky posters! One will be randomly drawn and the other awarded to the reader who can correctly answer Elizabeth's MEA CULPA question in the interview below.

THE RAVEN PRINCE is set in Georgian England (my own obsession). How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

Georgian is so sexy, don’t you think? Come on! Guys in powdered wigs and heels, wearing skirted coats and swords? Everyone was wearing swords! Think of the phallic symbolism. Oh, yeah, and there’s that Age of Enlightenment stuff, and things being invented right and left, and Dr. Johnson, and Hogarth, and London, which was becoming this great center of trade and culture and fashion. But mostly, I think it’s the swords.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?


What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

Okay, aside from the swords, I liked the idea of an aristocrat who was also a man of learning. Here’s where the Age of Enlightenment comes in. My hero, Edward de Raaf, the Earl of Swartingham, is interested in agricultural innovation and belongs to the Agrarian Club which meets in a disreputable London coffeehouse.

Did you have to do any major research for his book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

Well, I did a lot of research into smallpox. Edward’s entire family has died of the disease and he survived with scars. I had to figure out what smallpox scars looked like (kind of like acne scars but wider) and how the disease progressed (you don’t want to know.) Also, I found out about Lady Mary Montagu, who brought a primitive (but effective) form of smallpox innoculation to England seventy years before Edward Jenner. Actually I’ve got a whole section on my website devoted to cool things I found while doing historical research but never got to use. Lady M is there if you’d like to look: http://www.elizabethhoyt.com/extras/research/smallpox.html

Any historical mea culpas to fess up? (things you found out were wrong when it was too late to change the book or things that you used knowing they were wrong or anachronistic)

You want me to confess to getting my research wrong?! *sigh* Okay, there’s this small, really tiny, little thing that isn’t altogether . . . correct. I’ll give you two hints: macaroni and the fact that The Raven Prince is set in spring of 1760. Post to this blog with the reason why those two facts in conjunction might be a problem for someone who’s a real historical stickler. I’ll draw a name from among the right answers and send that person an autographed copy of The Raven Prince. Jeez.

What/Who do you like to read?

The usual rollcall of great historical romance authors—Lisa Kleypas, Julia Quinn, Stephanie Laurens, etc. Right now, though, I’m reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Clarke’s use of Regency language is just spectacular. I’m hoping to finish the book by Christmas. Maybe.

How did your writing carreer take off? Was it a Zero-to-Published kind of thing? Or did you have ten finished books under the bed before you sold?

It was kind of in-between those extremes. I had four books under the bed, so it wasn’t zero-to-published. On the other hand, considering that everyone was telling me that the historical was dead (DEAD, I tell you!) I sold in a respectable amount of time. So neener neener to the historical-is-dead people.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

The Raven Prince was my very first book. I wrote it without plotting and was anxious the entire time. Plotting is my writing security blanket. I do pretty thorough character sketches, backstories, and scene by scene outlines now. Having said that, though, I always find that the characters are their own people once I start writing and sometimes they just don’t want to go down the path I’ve set for them. I write a complete first draft and then clean it up . . . and clean it up . . . and clean it up.

What are you planning to work on next?

Ooo! I’m writing the first book in a four book trilogy. I think that’s a quadrilogy. Or maybe a trilogy plus one. In any case it’s about these four guys who are veterans of the French and Indian war in the colonies. Their entire regiment was destroyed in a bloody massacre and in the first book, the hero finds out that the regiment was BETRAYED! Think Daniel Day Lewis in LAST OF THE MOHICANS (wearing those sexy buckskin breeches and armed with a really long rifle) traveling to Georgian England to find the man who betrayed him. That’s what I’m thinking about anyway.

17 November 2006

Being There

"A small part of Derbyshire is all the present concern." Or so it was in Pride and Prejudice, when Mrs. Gardiner schlepped our unwilling heroine Elizabeth Bennet to that part of the world and most specifically to "the grounds at Pemberley." When I started researching The Slightest Provocation, I had no idea that the same small part of Derbyshire would be my concern as well.

I don't absolutely need to go to the original location in order to write a historical fiction (disclosure, I've never seen Almost A Gentleman's Lincolnshire). But what a treat and what an inspiration to be able to walk over the real land and smell the air.

Real locations set me vibrating. Being there, or being close by, makes me feel as though I've been given a franchise to make up a historical fiction set in a real place. The real historical event underlying The Slightest Provocation was something called the Pentrich Rising, and I wanted to see Pentrich, though all that's left of the historical events are four plaques and a not very well maintained walking trail from plaque to plaque.

I wanted to feel how flat or hilly the countryside was, to see the size and arc of the sky, beech trees, bluebells and creamy hawthorn, stone walls, and little brown butterflies.

In The Slightest Provocation, my fictional village of Grefford needed to be located some ten or fifteen miles from Pentrich, in the southeast corner of Derbyshire, almost at Nottingham. Which put it awfully close to Jane Austen's fictional Lambton, which is close to the real Chatsworth and the fictional Pemberley.

In fact, I discovered, after checking some guide books, I'd created Grefford at the edge of the something called the Peak District. Which, as Wikipedia tells us is "claimed ... to be the world's second most popular national park."

I could sort of understand the suspicious tone of the Wikipedia entry -- I'd never heard of the area, after all. But location, location location is often what accounts for a place's popularity, and this "upland area . . . lying mainly in northern Derbyshire, but also covering parts of Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Staffordshire, and South and West Yorkshire" is smack dab in the middle of England.

So for years, large numbers of Britons have been soaking in "the celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale," as Mrs. Gardiner rhapsodized, even if Lizzy Bennet had really wanted to go to the Lakes instead. (But aren't we glad the Gardiners didn't have the time to take that more ambitious holiday?)

And just as it made a convenient destination for Lizzy and the Gardiners, The Peak has long been a good weekend outing for the workers of Manchester and Birmingham, who (according to some piece of tourist literature I picked up) have been littering the lawns at Chatsworth with sandwich wrappings for some 200 years. In our small village, (though not, I'm sure, at Chatsworth) Michael and I were the only American tourists around. Which was fun; the Brits we met were impressed that we'd known about such a cherished location.

(Peak, by the way, comes from the old English peac, which, rather disappointingly, means nothing more impressive than "hill." The northern Dark Peak is rockier, more atmospheric, with gritstone outcroppings and moors; it's where Loretta Chase's Miss Wonderful takes place. The Slightest Provocation takes place further south, in the White Peak, with low walls of limestone, sweet serene meadows -- and Chatsworth, the absurdly opulent seat of the Devonshire family, which the recent Pride and Prejudice movie used for Pemberley.)

It's a terrific area for a vacation -- uh, holiday. The walks through field and forest and over stiles are wonderful – Michael and I were going to rent a car, but we wound up hiking and bussing around (and saw oodles more, I'm sure, even if we didn't cover as much ground as we might have -- plus we didn't quarrel, as we always do when it turns out I've been reading the road map upside down).

The villages are old and picturesque, the countryside is crossed with walking paths and sparkling rivers. The people are friendly, outgoing, and super-helpful. The pub food is, uh, plain, when they're not doing dubious things like dumping mint jelly into the stewed lamb or kidney or whatever. But we didn't care -- we were going to eat wonderful curries and sumptuous Middle Eastern food in London the next week, when we went to read about our historical events in the British Library and the National Archives at Kew.

And the village of Youlgrave, where we stayed, was a delight, and in fact very much like I envisioned my modest little Grefford, only with a quite terrific B&B, called Lathkill House, which I'd recommend whole-heartedly if you ever got out that way.

And the greatest thing in some ways (for an angsty, super-ego-ridden type like me at least) was that I wasn't just on holiday. I was doing my job by being there. Gosh, I love this romance-writer biz sometimes.

16 November 2006

Favorite Sites, with Allison Knight

The most extensive research site I've found for just about anything you want, and some things you don't want, if Deb Lawson's collection of URL's. It is fabulous.
Of course, a site I visit on occasion is www.howstuffworks.com . There are times when I want to describe something mechanical of know how something was done when, and this is the site. But watch out. You may be there for hours if how things work interests you.

One of the first sites I learned about and have used often and that probably why she gets awards every year, is Charlotte Dillon's web site.
And last but not lease, if you've been as confused as I always was about English titles this site is another must have. Everything about titles and what title to call your character is in this one. It takes some searching but it's all there.
Thank Kalen for asking me to Blog. Hope your readers enjoyed my comments and like the links. I enjoyed myself very much.

Allison Knight

15 November 2006

Ten Funky Medieval Words

ACK! I nearly forgot today was my day to post. My bad. So this is short and furious:

Ten Funky Medieval Words

regardant: a heraldic animal with a raised head turned to the left side of a shield

gong farmer: the one who cleaned the privy shaft

fermail: a fastener for a tunic, gown or cape at the garment's throat

racket: a reedy-sounding wind instrument

grulsh: a thick, squat, fat person or animal (Scotish)

knave: manservant

Foddercorn: the grain a villein had to provide to feed the lord's horses

knidget: a mischievous, saucy boy or girl (Scotish)

disattire: undress


English Through the Ages by William Brohaugh
Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections Castle
The Scots Dialect Dictionary
Medieval Wordbook by Madeleine Pelner Cosman

14 November 2006

Welcome, Allison Knight!

Allison Knight
Too Late To Scream
Coming from Wings Press in November 2006

Outside New Orleans, convent-raised orphan Libby Sutton arrives to care for a little girl, only to discover that the child cannot, or will no, speak. Things are terribly wrong at Les Chenes. The first nanny disappeared without a trace and servants are now being murdered.

Is her life at risk like the child for whom she cares? Alex, the father, may be responsible, and if he is, is he a threat to Libby? And why does he stir such feelings in her?

TOO LATE TO SCREAM is set in the mid 1800's - pre civil war, or the war between the states, along the River Road west of New Orleans, LA.

You asked how did I become interested in this time period, and I’d have to say that I just love history. The way the people lived, what they had to put up with, the clothes, they wore, the houses in which they lived all intrigue me.

As far as constraints go, I think the most difficult thing in writing in this time period is trying to figure out how fast boats or horses could go and as far the horses are concerned, how long. I’ve had to spend hours on line and in books trying to figure out how long it would take, and sometimes, how many horses it would take to get from point A to point B. Believe me, it can be frustrating if you don’t know much about horses.

The idea for this book and most of my gothics come from a house or a location. In fact, my next Gothic was inspired by a house I saw in Tennessee on the way home from a relative’s funeral. “Too Late To Scream” developed from a sighting seeing trip to the New Orleans area. Pieces started falling into place with first, then house and the Ursuline Convent we toured.

I always end up doing a lot of research for my books. Also, I go off on tangents. Something strikes me as odd or different and I’m off to another section of a book, or the internet. I’ll spend hours researching and then grit my teeth, because I haven’t written a word on the novel. I also discovered doing this book what an important part of New Orleans the Ursuline Convent and Orphanage played in the eighteen hundreds.

Fortunately for me, the historical mistakes I’ve made, I’ve been able to catch before the book when to print. Oh, but the problems they can create! With my very first book, I had the turning point of the whole book, a civil war battle scene all wrong. I had to rewrite a whole two chapters as a result. More recently, I blew the way a horse would have reacted in a given situation. Lucky for me, my editor knew something about horses and I got a “you have to change this ASAP” from her.

I love writing period. Historicals are great fun (I think I really enjoy the research) and Gothics mean I get to put a lot of mystery into the book. Killing off characters in different ways can also be intriguing. You can’t kill them the same way all the time and I don’t do gross, so it’s a challenge.

After I made all the usual mistakes, and learned something about submitting, agents, etc. I sent a proposal to Kensington for the Heartfire line. When I didn’t hear anything, I sent a second proposal and then a third. First sale was for those three books. It was great. I now have a half dozen books under my bed that haven’t seen the light of day. They need massive rewrites. The more you write, the more you learn and I’ve learned a great deal since I started this business.

I definitely am a plotter. I might not start at the beginning, but before I begin to write I have a detailed outline drawn up. Oh, it may change, but I have the essential plot and I know where the story is going. Things change along the way, but I usually follow the outline. Things often get added. There are three instances in “Too Late To Scream” where I added something, because the characters demanded it. . They do talk to you. I hate to admit that I usually clean up as I go. Then my critique partners take a lot and more cleaning. Finally, my harshest critic reads the work and there is usually a lot more cleaning up to do. By the way, that critic is my husband. On occasion, he can blow a whole scene, pointing out that something isn’t right, won’t work, or is out of character for the individual involved. And, yes he is very supportive.

As always, I have a half dozen characters running around in my head demanding I tell their stories. I have another Gothic, as I mentioned, and one of the sisters in “Simon’s Brides”, a historical also from Wings Press, just won’t be quiet. I have a final rewrite for a historical set in Alaska that must be done, oh and I have two great characters for a Regency time period romance . . .

That’s what I mean about the characters. They can be very demanding.

13 November 2006

Major General Lord Blayney

Andrew Thomas Blayney, the 11th Baron Blayney was a Major General and commander of the 89th Regiment of Foot, ‘Blayney’s Bloodhounds’ a troop that fought with distinction against Napoleon.

Research turns up such interesting tidbits. My husband’s family is Irish. Anyone with that middle ‘y’ in Blayney is related to him (and me by marriage). Imagine our pleased surprise when my online research uncovered the Major General.

According to the Blayney family genealogy, a book written and published privately by Chester Blayney, Andrew Thomas, Lord Blayney was born in 1770 and entered the army in 1789. The portrait shown here is dated 1802. His military service continued through 1814. That may account for the fact that in his later years he enjoyed "an evening with friends and a bottle (or five) of wine rather than the company of women." He did marry, in 1796 , a neighbor, Mabella Caledon, the daughter of the first Earl of Caledon. She is described as “a most excellent woman and much beloved.” They had at least one child, a son, who inherited the title in 1832 and was the last Baron Blayney

While in the Army, Blayney served in Malta, Majorca, Egypt, the Cape of Good Hope and Buenos Aires, all before his regiment was sent to Malaga where he was taken prisoner in 1810. He remained a prisoner until 1814 when the war ended. He worked with equal zeal on his responsibilities as a baron, both before and after the war, doing his best to improve the town of CastleBlayney as well as taking an active interest in politics.

He was a colorful character, considered “an original thinker.” Writing about his visit to Lord Blayney at Blayney Castle, John Burges says of a visit in 1825. “I could fill pages with …pleasant days and night I spend with this dear man.”

In another section he writes. “He was very much put out of sorts by bores and whenever one arrived, he immediately desired the servant to say he had gone to Belfast.This Belfast was a most picturesque cottage on the bank of a lake where he repaired to.

"On this occasion as we sat charmed with the scene around us, the dash of oars assailed our ears. Says I , ‘O! Lord Blayney. They have found us out.’ ‘No Jack’ says he, ‘All’s right’. When in a moment appeared the boat and the maiter d’hotel bringing with him everything useful to dress a good dinner..”

Lord Blayney was fond of "dressing a good dinner" as you will see when I post again and tell you about the book he wrote describing his four years as prisoner of war. The title is "Narrative of a Forced Journey through Spain and France as a Prisoner of War in the Years 1810 to 1814" and I'll have some details from a review of the book that is as entertaining as anything Blayney wrote.

All except the last paragraph of this post is a repeat. It was first posted November, 2006. My next post is the long ago promised follow-up

In the meantime does anyone want to share some interesting branches in their family tree?

12 November 2006

Period words and phrases

by Anne Mallory

I've been dinged before for using modern language - and guilty as charged in some cases (*head slams against desk in mortification* - sometimes you just read right over certain things). But sometimes a phrase or word pointed to as anachronistic isn't. For example, a thorough copyeditor once flagged a use of nincompoop in one of my 1820's set books, even though etymonline has it as 1676, and it is in the 1811 Vulgar Tongue Dictionary. Was she wrong to flag it? No. I appreciated that to her it sounded modern. In the end I did choose to keep the word, but her flag made me think long and hard about it. It came down to a matter of verisimilitude (something that appears to sound or be right) for the period.

Readers bring their own influences to the table, and that is just a fact of writing. Sometimes using something in a different way may be a better way to maintain verisimilitude. A character who says "Good luck" in the Regency is technically correct. But to a reader concerned about period feel, perhaps saying something like "Luck to you" is a better way to go. Thoughts on this?

Here are some fun words and phrases that were around in the Regency, some of which might cause a book to fly (all of the following are from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue in their entirety, bar any goofy side comments):

CRIB - A house. To crack a crib: to break open a house.
("Yo, yo, MTV Cribs is here at the Duchess of Devonshire's estate. Live and by parchment!")

JAIL BIRDS - Prisoners.

ELBOW GREASE - Labour. Elbow grease will make an oak table shine.

JOB - Any robbery. To do a job; to commit some kind of robbery.

KID - A little dapper fellow. A child. The blowen has napped the kid. The girl is with child.

TO KID - To coax or wheedle. To inveigle. To amuse a man or divert his attention while another robs him. The sneaksman kidded the cove of the ken, while his pall frisked the panney; the thief amused the master of the house, while his companion robbed the house.

COOL LADY - A female follower of the camp, who sells brandy.
(I'm not sure most writers could get away with saying "She is a cool lady" in a regency novel, even if explained somehow.)

BIRDS OF A FEATHER - Rogues of the same gang.

NEGLIGEE - A woman's undressed gown, Vulgarly termed a neggledigee.
(Not in the same sense as a negligee today...but may stir up those images)

KISS MINE ARSE - An offer, as Fielding observes, very frequently made, but never, as he could learn, literally accepted. A kiss mine arse fellow; a sycophant.

DUMPS - Down in the dumps; low-spirited, melancholy: jocularly said to be derived from Dumpos, a king of Egypt, who died of melancholy. Dumps are also small pieces of lead, cast by schoolboys in the shape of money.

HUMP - To hump; once a fashionable word for copulation.

BIRTH-DAY SUIT - He was in his birth-day suit, that is, stark naked.

To KICK THE BUCKET - To die. He kicked the bucket one day: he died one day. To kick the clouds before the hotel door; i.e. to be hanged.

CROCODILE'S TEARS - The tears of a hypocrite. Crocodiles are fabulously reported to shed tears over their prey before they devour it.

DAY LIGHTS - Eyes. To darken his day lights, or sow up his sees; to close up a man's eyes in boxing.

BOW-WOW - The childish name for a dog; also a jeering appellation for a man born at Boston in America.

BLOOD MONEY - The reward given by the legislature on the conviction of highwaymen, burglars, etc.

BLACK AND WHITE - In writing. I have it in black and white; I have written evidence.

That last one is a good example of perhaps siding with a less obvious phrase - "I have written evidence" is not going to cause anyone to stop and think, whereas "I have it in black and white" might.

What words or phrases have you read that have sounded distinctly un-Regency-like (or from any other period)? Or what phrase or word do you love that sounds very Georgian/Regency/Victorian/Medieval/ Elizabethan/period? Does it matter more the particular language used, or do you just require a certain level of verisimilitude?

(Oh, and any comment on yesterday's post or today's will count in a random drawing to win a signed book on Monday - entries counted until Monday at midnight!)

Anne Mallory

11 November 2006

Guest author Anne Mallory stops by to blog with us!

Welcome Avon author Anne Mallory! A fresh voice in regency romance! Her book, The Earl of Her Dreams, is out NOW. She’s stopped by to answer a few questions for us. Comment on her post today, or on tomorrow's post and you will automatically be entered to win a signed book by Anne Mallory (your choice as to which!).

Okay, Anne. Here we go:

1. What is the latest topic you've researched?

Funerals! So cheery a topic!

A great list of notices for funerals from 1702 to 1760:

Some interesting tidbits for Regency times: http://regency.getifa.com/sick.html

Victorian funerals (from Harper's Bazaar 1886): http://www.victoriana.com/library/harpers/funeral.html

2. How did you make your first sale?

I was a finalist in the Golden Heart contest. My editor (first editor) read my manuscript and contacted me. It was quite a shocker to see her e-mail in my inbox. I think I reread her note a dozen times and it took me TWO hours to write a response. Seriously. Type, read, erase, type, read, erase...

3. How long does it take you to write a book and what's your process? Do you do the research up front or as you go along? Or during the revisions?

It usually takes between 3-6 months for me to finish a book. I'm still a fairly new writer, so I'm ironing out a process, but it takes about 4-8 weeks to do a rough draft (a short one - talking heads and blank walls). Then it takes about 2 months to revise and plump. I don't spend that whole time revising though. I'm very spurty and tend to procrastinate, so that last week is usually pretty fun - the sticking a pen through my ear kind of fun. In the spirit of that, keep sharp objects away from me next week... Before that I usually let ideas gestate and I'm always taking notes on scrap paper. Very inefficient! I carry notebooks around, but always want to write somewhere my current book notebook isn't -- like a restaurant (napkin), car (glove compartment notebook), bed (mound of scrap paper) or a text document. I'm one of those really weird people who LOVES a blank page. And text documents are so friendly. So, yeah, I have a trillion of those too. I always start new ones, because I'm strange. And I'm a believer in keeping what works, even if it's strange. So I've given up on a "book" notebook, and instead have a folder to collect all my drivel. :D

Oh, missed a question. How do I do research...depends on where I am, but usually as I go or during early revisions. If I'm near an Internet connection (not a good idea when I'm writing the first draft...or ever really) then it might just be right when something pops up as I'm writing. If I'm not near a connection, I star things to come back later, aka ***find out what you call this thingamabob*** Otherwise, I get lost in cyberspace...really lost...like five hours later I realize I need a glass of water or have to use the loo...

4. What about regency England draws you to that particular place and time?

The Regency was such a colorful time and it carries a certain fantasy mystique. Lords, ladies, duels, honor, balls, courting, politics, industrial revolution, great change, war...and that British accent... There's something very familiar about the Regency period, and yet something quite fantastic all the same. I think it is a very escapist time period. Larger than life.

5. What triggered that niggling of an idea for the story “The Earl of Her Dreams?” A historical event?

It really came from my love of Agatha Christie - all the characters trapped together in one place, including the killer. The Earl of Her Dreams Cover I needed to come up with a few story blurbs while I was writing my third book and the idea just popped right into my head. I wanted the detective though to be someone with little to no skills at being a detective, but plenty of assets in charm and deception. So he pretends to be a Bow Street Runner to run a personal scam, yet he has to somewhat actively try and solve the murder as well (strengthened later by the heroine). He says all sorts of arrogant and completely false things in the name of the "Runners' Code." As a detective, he's a more playful version of Tim Curry's supercilious character in Clue (which I adore). As a hero, he has more than a few issues he has to work out before he can be truly happy.

6. Is book five already in the works? Can you give a hint about the story?

Yup! It's called What Isabella Desires and is a return to the world of my first two books (Masquerading the Marquess and Daring the Duke). The story is about unrequited love, friendship, loss and hope. It's a little bit different in tone from the other books I've written. I'm finishing the final plumping/revisions right now. Hopefully the next week will see me sans pen through head. :D

Thanks for having me here, Hoydens!

Anne Mallory

10 November 2006

Maid Marian, she wasn't . . .

I love George Stubbs (1724-1896), a British painter best known for his paintings of horses. His style was groundbreaking at the time because he often painted the horses against a plain background and because painstakingly correct anatomy was his passion. The works of many of his contemporaries did not focus on equine bone and muscle, but rather on the stylistic portrayal of the horse in action (with the horse’s legs doing things which were technically impossible).

Commissioned by royalty, Stubbs frequently painted his patron’s famous horses being led by a groom, and he painted the grooms as real people, with distinct faces and features. This was also unusual at the time. This brings me to the 1777 painting I’ve posted here---George Stubbs’ portrayal of John Musters, the High Sheriff of Nottingham, and his lovely wife, Sophia, in front of their home, Colwick Hall, in Nottinghamshire.

It’s hard not to be drawn to the image of a beautiful woman riding sidesaddle, and especially to a woman who is dressed in red. Mrs. Musters is wearing the fashionable riding garb of the day. She is donned in a black fur hat and a fitted red coat over a voluminous red skirt. Red riding costumes were popular amongst wealthy women in the 1700’s and were often modeled after their husband’s military uniforms, as shown in the image of the scandalous Lady Worsley, who sat for Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) in June of 1779.

But what I find fascinating about the Sheriff of Nottingham and his wife, Sophia, is that until the 1930’s, they weren’t even in the picture, literally. Apparently Mrs. Musters, a celebrated beauty in London and Brighton society, was, like Lady Worsley, no Maid Marion. Presumably, Sophia made merry with the Prince of Wales, the future George IV (r. 1820-183), and when her husband learned of her infidelity, he had her painted out of the portrait. He commissioned a lesser artist to paint over both her figure and his, and add in grooms holding the horses.

So the painting remained for over 150 years, until it was restored in 1935. Someone must have discovered that lovely red dress under all those layers of oil…

I’ve only just started researching the personal life of Sophia Musters. There are several other portraits of her, including another one by Stubbs depicting her and her husband on horseback hunting. Mr. Musters had her painted out of that one, too (he replaced her with a portrait of his minister friend). I didn’t post that painting, because frankly without her, I think it isn’t that interesting (though the horses are lovely).

I look atSophia Muster and I see a striking woman, so elegantly dressed, perched sidesaddle atop an exquisite horse. I wonder what she was thinking, what her daily life was like, juggling the attentions of the Prince of Wales and her jealous husband . . . I wonder did her husband really love her, or was he embarrassed by the shame of the scandal, or a little bit of both?

That’s how research sucks me in. I start thinking about the people. I’ll spend way too many hours reading about Sophia Musters and other women who had their portraits made in their red riding habits. I should be writing. But some days, it’s just worth it.

09 November 2006

Research with Elizabeth Rolls

Research and the things we do for it; or, how far are we really prepared to go?

Having read Victoria’s post, I had to laugh. Like Kalen, I’m a research slut. I love it. I love buying research books; my shelves sag with them. Clothes, houses, interiors, furniture, landscapes, flora and fauna. That said, I don’t research every single little detail before I start. Anything that needs checking is put in BOLD.Clothing tends to be left until I have enough questions to spend a few hours answering them. Setting I prefer to do before writing a scene. It helps bring it to life for me – often it can change the emotional flavour of a scene.

We’re all different. We all write different stories, we all have different writing techniques and we obviously all have different attitudes to research, both how to do it and how to apply it. I don’t have a problem with this.

But how much research is enough? And how much is too much?

Diane Gaston once reduced me to hysteria by telling how she got into trouble in the name of research by taking photos in a Special Exhibition at the British Museum.

Wow! Here was an author ready to Risk All for her Regency. And what you might ask was the subject of the Special Exhibition? Er, condoms. Regency-era-risk-management made out of sheep gut, to be secured with little red ribbons. These items were expensive, I am reliably informed, and fully recyclable. One can only shudder at the job description for a Regency valet. I’ve been toying with the idea of a runaway heiress masquerading as a valet for some years now . . .

I was even more impressed when Diane very kindly emailed me the illicit fruits of her foray. My husband was more than slightly startled when he found them lurking in C Drive. So far I haven’t showed them to my mother-in-law, and I’m not planning to ask the local butcher to provide me with some sheep gut for dodgy experiments.

I also drew the line at experimenting with opium for the background to the plot of His Lady Mistress.

But how far do we need to go in the name of research? How much do we need to know as opposed to how much our readers need to know?

In the case of the condoms my editor decided that my readers didn’t need to know at all. Too Much Information. I argued that my readers would want to know that Dominic was responsible about his sex life, but my editor nixed them regardless so they have been banished back to C Drive to await a plot where they will be so vital to the story that Linda can’t expunge them.

And that is the crux of it – the setting of any romance is just that; a setting. Something in which a pearl of great price – the romance – is displayed. In this context historical detail is valuable for the light it can shed on the romance, the plot and/or the characters. Hopefully at least two of those at a time, but certainly the romance. The love story is central to a Regency as much as to any other romance, and in a novella, where word count is tight enough to scare a tick, there’s no room for extraneous detail.

When I was asked to write a Christmas novella I knew enough about historical Christmas traditions to realise I had some work ahead of me. Christmas had to be part of the story and for once I needed a few details before I could start writing. In general I have a character in mind and then have to search for the setting. This time it was the other way round. I had the setting and had to wait for the character. So while I waited for someone to show up I started researching Christmas.

Originally I had in mind that the story would lead up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Once I had the basic story line of the scarred soldier arriving home to find that he was expected to play the role of the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, that was how I structured it. Oops! I hadn’t factored in the whole Christmas Season which ends with Twelfth Night on January 6th. I realised my error as soon as I started researching specific customs and had to rethink my plot structure and timeframe.

By then I’d found all sorts of fascinating details. Snapdragon sounded like fun. Traditionally played on Christmas Night, raisins are snatched from a flat dish of flaming brandy. Hmm. Not in this house they aren’t! Still, I could see the potential for my story and even wrote a scene where Pippa is jogged at the crucial moment and her sleeve catches alight.

I knew Christmas trees were Out. But greenery was in. Holly, ivy, rosemary, bay. Remember the Boar’s Head Carol? The boar’s head in hand bear I, bedecked with bays and rosemary! And I pray you my masters be merry! Quod estis in convivio! Ho hum. Boring. How was decorating the house going to be romantic? It might get a brief mention just to set the scene, but no more. And the boar’s head was definitely medieval like the carol. And as for a kissing bough! No fear. Everyone has one of those!

But ice skating! Now there was some potential drama and excitement and a chance for some properly heroic behaviour if the ice broke. That scene was written too. But Dominic and Pippa weren’t co-operating in this. And I just didn’t have the space. There was that play to be rehearsed and performed after all. In the end I realised that the amateur theatricals, which Dominic’s ex-betrothed had arranged to re-snag Dominic, were going to be the thread on which the whole thing hung. Which didn’t leave me much room for extra Christmassy stuff.

Light dawned during a working bee at the kids’ school one morning. Probably because I was breaking my back lugging piles of instant turf around. I knew that the greenery was not brought in until Christmas Eve and that the whole household would have been involved in the decorating. I still didn’t want that kissing bough, but Dominic, damn him! really wanted to kiss Pippa. In the end the decorating scene in the Great Hall became central to Dominic’s realisation of how much Pippa meant to him. Somehow decorating the Hall became very romantic, and I even got the boar’s head in there. Bays, rosemary and all. And a kissing bough – because one of my characters needed it.

Because that’s what a romance is all about – the realisation of two people that they really don’t want to live without each other. Not a whistle stop tour of historical Yuletide customs. Only traditions that supported the story made it onto the page in any detail.

I love doing research. Most of it never reaches the page. Often the end result of research is that I don’t put in something that simply ought not to be there. Like the boar’s head. I really wondered if Dominic could have one on the wall, but apparently wild boar could still be found in Britain (just) until about the end of the 17th century. So I made it a very old, tatty one and if any readers call me on it for being out of period, I’ve got an answer for them.

--Elizabeth Rolls

08 November 2006

A Sordid Confession

All right. Here’s my confession. I am not obsessed with research. I don’t love it. I don’t stay awake at night thinking about it. I rarely even go to museums, but that may have more to do with my location than anything. I lurved the Smithsonian when we went to D.C., but here in Salt Lake city there are lots of "pioneer" museums and not much else!

I’ve never been to England (not for lack of wanting.) I don’t have a giant map of Victorian London. I don’t own many original sources. And I don't participate in reenactments, though I do love a good renaissance fair. I guess some of us like our history punctuated with cries of "Have a taste of the king's salty balls!"

As for writing and research. . . Ahem. Ready for this? The truth is that I don’t do a lot of research before I write a book. Only if I need to establish location or whether the plot is feasible. I just start writing. This is what it looks like: "The COACH turned the corner, and Emma stared out the window, barely noticing the bustle of XXX Street. She was too busy wondering what Lord BLANK had said to Somerhart. If he’d mentioned her time in CHESHIRE, she was doomed."

Everything in caps still needs to be researched, and I’ll do all that when I’m done with the book. If it’s something that affects the story then, of course, I need to resolve it right away. So I hit the internet. If I can’t find something reliable there (oftentimes the info is clearly from one source and is just repeated over and over), then I hit the books.

Here is a typical moment of study for me: Oooo, a game called Brag is probably the precursor to poker. This is perfect. My heroine would love a game that involved bluffing! I wonder if—Hey! Barack Obama is on Oprah! *click* In short, I love research only so long as I am fascinated and titillated by it. Now that may be true for a lot of you, but I think I need things to be much more metallic and shiny to hold my interest.

Don’t get me wrong. I do my best to get things right. I won’t just say, "Well, that truth doesn’t match my story, so I’ll ignore it." I've even been told I have a great "historical voice". But I research what I need to know, and then I’m done. I don't absorb thousands of details that will never make it into a book, and I get the feeling this is not true for most of you here!

I love history, but I love it in context. I love research books like Courtesans (Katie Hickman) that mix in all kinds of details of women’s lives. I love historical fiction as long as it’s engaging and not the least bit dry. In short, I am intellectually immature.

Surely there are others like me out there? Will anyone else admit to it? And which of you Hoydens have I sent into apoplexy?

07 November 2006

Mistletoe Kisses with Elizabeth Rolls!

Share the warmth and happiness of a Regency Christmas with three award-winning authors!

Harlequin Mills & Boon Historical

A Soldier’s Tale – Elizabeth Rolls
Dominic, Viscount Alderley’s family are looking to him to marry an heiress, but only his downtrodden, compassionate second cousin Pippa seems able to ignore his scars...
A Winter Night’s Tale – Deborah Hale
This year’s festivities for Christabel and her young son will be sparse and cold – or so she thinks. When the man she’s loved and lost returns, offering her warmth, comfort and a true family Christmas, she can’t resist!
A Twelfth Night Tale – Diane Gaston
One impulsive night of love changed Elizabeth’s life forever. Now, ten years later, Elizabeth and Zachary meet again. Will their second Twelfth Night together see their happiness reborn?

Romantic Times gave the book 4 stars! : A talented trio of authors brings together a triptych of heartwarming holiday stories perfect for the season. Though short stories, they are long on emotions and the true spirit of the season: redemption, forgiveness and love. When you need a pick-me-up from the holiday rush, grab one of these and you'll be rejuvenated and ready to celebrate the joy of family and friends. . . Rolls' "A Soldier's Tale" is Beauty and the Beast with a twist. A scarred war hero finds the love and compassion he needs -- not from the heiress his family wants him to marry, but from his poor cousin with a heart of pure gold. This story will make your heart sing with joy.

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A Soldier's Tale is set during the Regency. Your website states that (like so many of us) it was Heyer who got you hooked on the period. What else kept you hooked?
Well, to be perfectly honest with you, it took me a while to realise that anyone else had ever written Regencies. Blushing madly here in South Australia. Let me explain; I read and adored Heyer from the time I was about twelve, starting with The Conqueror which I filched from my mother’s bedside table, and then I think I met Friday’s Child in the library. They really switched me on to being interested in history generally. By the time I left school and went to university I’d read all Heyer’s available books, but it never occurred to me that others might have written Regencies. And there were plenty of other books I enjoyed reading so I read them. Lots of them. But by then I was fascinated by the whole late 18th early 19th century period, especially the Napoleonic wars, and started reading more about it. Dad was in the army and his father was a military historian, so it was sort of inherited. And the more you read, the more you want to read . . . so by the time I found more Regency set romances I was already hooked. Also, I really liked the houses – my grandmother always had old copies of Country Life and This England lying about. As a child I loved looking at the real estate pages and imagining living in some of those places.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?
I don’t find the period in the least constraining. If I did it would probably mean that my characters weren’t suited to the period for some reason. Even if I do have to plot around things it doesn’t bother me. If I’ve had to plot around something then it usually makes the book stronger. I’ve had a couple of shots writing contemporaries and I think I can safely promise that they are going to remain in unmarked graves in the depths of my hard drive. Despite being a reasonably contemporary woman with the sort of feminist opinions that occasionally gave my poor conservative father apoplexy, I simply can’t get my head around creating convincing contemporary characters – love reading them, just can’t write them. I must find our times constraining.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?
You do like to ask the hard ones, don’t you? What sparked it . . . well, my editor asked me straight up to write a Christmas novella, but that didn’t spark the story itself. It got me thinking of course and on line looking for information about Regency Christmas celebrations and reading Jane Austen’s letters – again! along with James Woodforde’s Diary of a Country Parson and various other diaries and memoirs. And then as I was sticking Jane’s letters back on the shelf I noticed Mansfield Park, which started me thinking about plays, and how one might entertain a smallish houseparty over the Christmas season. By this time Dominic had marched into my brain and was standing there glaring at me while I floundered about looking for his story. I knew who he was and what had happened to him, but it wasn’t until I hit on using the Beauty and the Beast theme that the rest of the plot took shape.

Did you have to do any major research for his book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?
Mostly it was finding out enough about Christmas traditions. As usual very little of what I found out made its way onto the printed page. Very often it’s more a matter of me knowing so that I can get into the characters’ heads more easily. One thing I did discover that I’d heard of but forgotten, was the game Snapdragons. This involves snatching raisins out of a bowl of flaming brandy . . . and, no, I didn’t try it. I was going to use it in the story, but in the end had to cut the scene.

Any historical mea culpas to fess up? (things you found out were wrong when it was too late to change the book or things that you used knowing they were wrong or anachronistic)
I did have to alter the time setting of the book when I realised just how different the earlier concept of Christmas was. Nowadays we have decorations appearing for sale in the shops by October, and once Halloween is over and the Melbourne Cup – a horse race that stops Australia dead in its tracks on the first Tuesday of November, the Christmas season is on us in full force. Back then the decorations didn’t go up until Christmas Eve and the whole festival ran until Twelfth Night. The only thing I fudged a bit was the way Dominic’s man of business got hold of a rather vital document for him. I’m trying to be discreet here since I don’t want to give spoilers on my own book. (I drive my children nuts too by refusing to tell them who dies in any of the Harry Potter books.)

What/Who do you like to read?
Oh, lots of different stuff. I love Tolkien and CS Lewis, JK Rowling and Diana Wynne Jones. Jo Beverley is a huge favourite, along with Mary Balogh and Anne Gracie. Heyer obviously and Jane Austen, but I also enjoy Dickens and Wilkie Collins and I love the poetry of John Donne. I love reading biographies as well. I have too many favourites to name them all and I panic when people ask me which ten books I would choose if I were to be banished to a desert island. The idea is too horrible even to contemplate. Trust me – I’d cheat somehow. My bookshelves are groaning. My husband gave me Geoffrey Robertson’s account of the trial of Charles I, The Tyrannicide Brief last Christmas, and I thought it was a stunning book. Just now I’ve been reading Kathy Lette’s How to Kill Your Husband (and other handy household hints). I’m a little uncertain over whether or not I should sneak that into my husband’s tottering TBR pile.

How did your writing career take off? Was it a Zero-to-Published kind of thing? Or did you have ten finsihed books under the bed before you sold?
I’m afraid it was a zero-to-published kind of thing. I sold my first completed manuscript – a confession which has frequently put my life at risk. It did undergo a couple of major rewrites though, if that helps. I wrote The Unexpected Bride as a way of switching off in the evening’s from a stressful job. In the end I let a fellow lover of Regencies read it. She made some brilliant editorial suggestions and then persuaded me to try and have it published. I was quite shocked when it was accepted.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?
Yes to all of the above. I do plot quite extensively, but I find that the characters generally insist on the story moving in rather different directions from my initial vision. I usually find that subplots appear in the course of writing the story as I get to know my characters and their goals and motivations better. I do write character notes but need to actually start writing the story so that I can listen to them. Frequently this causes major realignments. I try to clean up as I go, but sometimes when major alterations are required it’s easier to copy the document, call it Draft Two, or Three, or whatever, and then do the surgery on the clone. If surgery doesn’t work you can always resurrect the original and try again. I’d love to be more organised about it, but I’ve discovered that, for me, trying to write logically does more harm than good. It’s the finished product that counts, not how you get there.

What are you planning to work on next?
At the moment I’m revising one book, a sequel to His Lady Mistress, and finishing another Regency also involving a secondary character from HLM. I’ve also started another with a few murders thrown in and I have this idea for another novella . . . I have plenty to be going on with.

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