Friday, August 31, 2007

The Widow, Champagne and the Regency

Because Liz Fenwick enjoyed the other entries, and my daughter reminded me that I had promised to do champagne, plus I am enjoying researching something unconnected with my current wip, this blog is on champagne. My current wip's reasearch is more on coal mining and railways which is exciting in its own way.
In the 18th century, Moet and other champagne pioneers wooed the kings and princes of Europe. Champagne became the drink of choice. catherine the Great drank it with young officers, Louis XVI rank it beofre the guillotine and Napoleon adored it. It was also ruinously expensive and unreliable. Hazardous to store and notoriously difficult. The corks were held on by string and one never knew until the string was cut if one would be showered in froth or be greeted by a dark murky liquid.
Then as now, to drink an excellent bottle of champagne with bubbles in full froth is to be hooked for life. Vingtage champage from one of the great champagne houses is a treat. The bubbles are different -- they come up in waves and the taste sublime.
The person who was most responsible for changing champagne from a very expensive drink for the very wealthy indeed to one that is synoumous with celebrations was one Nicole-Barbe Clicquot-Ponsardin aka The Widow. When her husband died in 1805, leaving her at age 27 with a baby daughter and a small champagne house, the Widow set about transforming an industry. She did not target the British who remained loyal to their fortified wines until about mid century but the Russians. During the Russian occupation of the region, the officers often exacted tribute in the form of champagne. But the Widow willing gave her stores and was know to say that Today they drink, tomorrow they pay.
When the Russians departed France in 1814, even though French export was still forbidden, the Widow loaded a ship with her top salesman -- Mr Brohne and all her remaining stores of champagne ( the wonderful 1811 vintage -- year of Halley's comet) and sent it to Koenigberg.It arrived on 3 July and the French ban had just been lifted. The one ship had the only champagne for 500 miles, and the Russians wanted to celbrate their victory and were willing to pay for the priviledge.
The champagne the Widow and others were making was far sweeter than today. Before shipping, she removed the sediment and replaced it with wine, sugar and brandy. think Asti Spumante rather than today's vintage champagne. Today's brut (or dry) champagne came about in 1848, when the London wine merchant Brunes tasted Perrier-Jouet BEFORE the sugar/brandy syrup was added. The British has always preferred (and continue to prefer a drier champagne to the French)
At this stage, it is mainly served as a dessert wine. The coupe glass was not moulded on Marie Antoinette's breast but was invented in 1840. It was when champagne was served iced cold -- like a sorbet. As a side note -- Marie Antoinette's breasts were used as a model for four detailed Severes porcelian bowls that adourned the Queen's Diary temple at le Petit Trianon. Only one remains. The best way to drink champagne is in a flute as then one gets the full effect of the bubbles.
It was the Widow's art of clearing champage of the sediment that was one of her great contributions to the champagne technology. Basically, the bottles were stored downward, and the sediment flew out first and then could be topped up -- thus less of the fizz was lost. It is in 1814 that the first modern bottles of champage were born. Up to 1821, the Widow kept her secret but hten she had to bring in others to help with her business. Industrial espionage undoubtably played a part.
One of the great problems was still the explosions. In 1828, 80% of the bottles burst. To go into a champgne cellar without a wire mask was to take your life in your hands! The Industrial revolution played its part in making better bottles but eventually they discovered how methode champenoise actually worked and were better able to regulate the fermintation in the bottle.
The first recorded use of champagne with horse racing in England is 1828 with the running of the Champagne Stakes.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

British wine merchants

One of the great things about doing a small bit of research is the new venues that it opens up. I doubt for a variety of reasons that I will be writing anything centred on the Regency wine trade any time soon, BUT I find it fascinating. Also wine, spirits etc are luxury items so one can sometimes find fascinating things out about the customers.
So who was around in the Regency period?
There is, of course, Berry Brothers with their famous weighing books. The practice of weighing customers started in 1765. There are references to earlier books but none have survived. The most famous incident is probably when someone purporting to be Brummell is weighed in 1822. Was he actually in London? It is the only record of his trip. But there again there is no reason to doubt that people would have known.
Berry Brothers remains a family firm.
Then there was Sheridan's wine merchant Chalie which was founded in about 1700. In approximately 1817, it became Chalie Richards when the second son of the Chief Baron of the Court of The Exchequer, William Parry Richards joined the firm. His brother, an eminent QC married one of the Chalie. Chalie Richards is now part of Justerini and Brooks.
A now near neighbour of Berry Brothers in St James is Justerini and Brooks. They began as Justerini in 1749 when Giacomo Justerini travelled to London because he was in love with a beautiful opera star. He had no money but papers from his uncle about distilling. He joined forces with George Johnson, a wealthy gentleman and Justerini & Johnson was born -- trading in the Pall Mall in a little shop on the south side of the Italian Opera house. They continued in that shop until sometimes in the 1950s.In 1760 Justerini went back to Italy but Johnson continued to run the business. In 1830 Alfred Brooks, a very wealthy young man invested in the business. And the business became Justerini and Brooks. I have been unable to discover IF Alfred Brooks is related to the man whose gentleman's gentleman started Brook's. Customers included Charles Dickens. Justerini and Brooks were the first London merchants to blend their own house whisky -- sometime in the 1850s. It is still sold today under the J&B label. The type they supplied to the London clubs was simply called J&B Club. The first Justerini & Johnson advertisement for whisky was in 1779, placed in the Morning Post, but I am uncertain of the types they carried during the Regency.
And this brings me rather neatly back to my original topic -- whisky.
I could go on about the Dartmouth wine merchants or the Bristol sherry shippers such as Harvey's and Averys. Or the Scottish shippers JC Thomson & Co Ltd of Lieth.
But space doesn't permit and I have a wip to write.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sherry, Falstaff and the Regency

I will admit to being a sherry fan. I discovered proper sherry about 18 years ago when my dh join the Wine Society. The Wine Society (founded 1874) is one of those wonderful British institutions from the 19th century that provides interesting wines, mainly for people to lay down. They also do things like sherry and one of their tasting cases was one devoted to sherry.
Sherry can have a bad press and most people tend to think of the dessert sherries. They are very heavy and sweet. They were the ones that were popular in Britain during the Regency because they are most suitable for drinking after meals. It should be remembered that there was no aperitif. As Lord Byron called it -- that ghastly half hour before supper. Personally I prefer the drier sherries such as manzanilla as I like to drink my sherry before a meal, with tapas. Manzanilla tastes of sea breezes and should be drunk within in a day or so of the bottle being opened. But with fruit cake etc, a good oloroso or an amontillado is excellent.
The most famous of the dessert sherry is Bristol Milk. Bristol Cream is the proprietary brand of Harvey's and dates from the 19th century whereas the first reference to Bristol milk comes in 1634 when Prince Rupert besieges the city. Harvey's Bristol Cream came about, apparently because a lady remarked during the early 19th century when given two new sherries to try -- that if the first was Milk, the second must be the Cream.
Harvey's was founded in 1796 by William Perry and for many is linked with sherry -- although they did import other wines.
Sherry or Sack was much beloved of Shakespeare's Falstaff. It burst on the English scene in the early 1500s. It was because the Duke of Medina granted certain rights to English merchants and eventually the Brotherhood of St George was born. The church of St George served as their meeting place as well as their church. Sherry sack as well as the other sacks (Canary and Malaga) was always considered to be a sweet wine and probably has nothing to with the secco (dry) but with the Spanish word saccar or to draw out. The closest thing to sack as it was during the Tudor times is a very cheap sweet oloroso. Wine making in general has improved! Sack was very popular in the early 17th century, so popular that James I issued an decree that the sergeant of his cellar could issue no more than 12 gallons per day for use at court. By the end of the 17th century, the term sack was replaced by sherry.
The 18th century saw a fall in the popularity of sherry, only to be revived during the 19th century. The names of shippers and houses from the early 19th century reads like a who's who of sherry. Pedro Domecq was founded in 1730 by an Irishman called Patrick Murphy.Garvey's was founded in approximately 1780 by a Scotsman. Duff Gordon was founded by the British counsel of the period.
Although the Peninsula War was first considered to be a disaster -- thousands of gallons lost, and the real struggle between the French loving Haurie (the head at the time of the Domecq bodega) and the British. the years after the Peninsula War were some of the most prosperous for the wine. Haurie's nephew eventually took over the firm and also became part of Ruskin, Telford and Domecq. John James Ruskin was the father of John Ruskin, the artist.
Anyway, I have a ms to write and I shall leave the English shippers and merchants until tomorrow. They are an interesting lot and many of them from the Regency such as Justerini, and Berry Brothers still operate from St James, London.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Port and the Regency

I have started this, so I will continue on alcoholic drinks in the Regency period. It is feeding my need for research as my progress in my book continues apace.

One of the BIG alcoholic tipples during the early part of the 19th century was -- port.
Port is shipped from Oporto and the grapes are mainly grown in the Upper Douro. The grapes aregrown by quintas or farms The ratio of Portuguese wine to Spanish was three to one in 1815. Until the 1820's pages of the Royal household were issued with a bottle of port per day. It was significant moment when it was changed to sherry but it wasn't until the 1840s that sherry drew level with port and finally the consumption of sherry overtook port in 1859. (According to Hugh Johnson's Story of Wine). One explanation can be the variety of upheavals and civil wars that wracked Portugal in the 19th century beginning in 1820.
Port had huge associations with the three bottle per day men (IE rakes) and the Temperance movement particularly targeted the wine. It was a fiery glassful. And there were almost as many styles of port as ribbons in a haberdasher's shop according to the journalist Henry Vizetelly in 1877. The one that stood out head and shoulders above the rest was vintage port -- in particular the 1820. Vintage port did have a dose of brandy added to it btw. Customers often chose and blended their own port.
The shippers, indeed most of the Port traders were dominated by the British, in particular by The Factory House. The Factory House still maintains its over 200 years old tradition of Wednesday lunch where a tawny port is followed by a glass of vintage wine. A wager is placed on which vintage and shipper. The first reference to tawny port is by Charles Dickens in 1844. Tawny is lighter in colour than the deep ruby red one traditionally associates with vintage port.
Cockburn's was founded in 1815 and W&J Graham in 1820, but the tradition of port goes back to the early 1700s.
Oh, and vintage port is one of the things butlers would have kept behind the locked cage in the wine cellar. It takes a long time to mature.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Irish Whiskey and the Regency

Because Jen Black made a comment about Irish whiskey v Scotch whisky, I did some basic research. Please note, the American Regencies that have bothered me ALL have made it clear that it was Scotch whisky the Regency rakes were drinking. IF they had said, Irish, I would have believed them and would have applauded their research.
The two biggest Irish whiskey distillers were licensed in the 1780's. This is the period that Highland distillaries were prohibitted from exporting and possibly contributed to their growth. John Jameson and sons in Dublin and Bushmill's in the North. John Jameson's motto -- Sine Metu -- Without fear is still printed on every bottle of Jamesons. In the Book of Lienster, there is a record of whiskey being drunk in the 12th century. The first license for Bushmill's was given in 1620 by James I.
Jameson's was the second biggest distiller in Ireland by 1820. However, both websites admit the real rise in the consumption of whiskey did not happen until 1858-1893 when the Phylloxera hit the grape vines of Europe, nearly wiping out wine and brandy production. In 1890, Irish whiskey accounted for 90% of the worldwide whisk(e)y market with Jameson providing 10% of that. They were severely hit by US prohibition.
Irish whiskey tastes slightly different to Scotch single malt. I am not sure when it got its colour, but suspect that it had to do with port or sherry casks.
Thus, if Regency rakes do drink whisk(e)y, it is probably best if it is Irish, and possibly served in a punch or a toddy. But really, it was not as popular fortified wine, or brandy or even rum or gin.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Whisky and the Regency

I have been reading a number of American written Regencies lately which mention the hero drinking whisky in England. Sometimes, it is even called scotch. It is very fingernails on a blackboard for me.

As far as I understand, whisky was not really acceptable until 1822 when George IV lifted the ban on wearing tartan and declared in Edinburgh that Glenlivet was his favourite whisky and directed that the drink be used as a toast at all Scottish ceremonial occasions. He was attending a dinner organised by Sir Walter Scott. Until that point Glenlivet was contraband as were all other Highland whiskies. The Lowlands were able to produce whisky for export to Scottish cities and England but not the Highlands. Also in 1822, is the the first reference to whisky being laid down in casks and matured ( Elizabeth Grant Diary of a Highland Lady). Prior to this time, whisky was drunk straight from the still and I suspect was pretty vile stuff. There are receipts for mixing the drink with honey or spices.

There were some lowland distilleries that were legal prior to 1822 but the Highland ones weren't. For example Tobermory was called Ledaig until it was licensed in 1823. The Tobermory label says since 1798, but the Tobermory name was not used until 1823 (see David Wishart Whisky Classified) Even today, Ledaig is far more heavily peated than the Tobermory and as such is probably more similar to the early whiskies.

I know when I tried the Macellan's range of whiskies based on the sorts of whisky available in the different decades of the 20th century, I was surprised at the range. During the 1930s/early 40s, the Macallan also went towards a heavy peat because the ingredients were difficult to obtain.

Personally, I do like heavily peated single malts like Talisker and so I think it interesting that this is more like the original.

The earliest lowlands distillery still in operation that I could discover was Bladnoch which was started in 1817.

And if you want to see what whisky distillation was truly like in the 19th century, you need to visit Edradour (established 1825 or at least legally established). It is a lovely whisky and the stills are the smallest allowed by the Excise regulations.

Most whisky is matured in sherry or port casks. Sherry did not become a popular drink in Britain until after the Peninsula War. Then its popularity boomed. But I won't bore with the differences between the Bristol sherries (which were the ones first popularised in Britain) and sherries produced in Spain.

In any case, the real growth in the popularity of whisky in England was during Queen Victoria's reign as everything Scottish became highly fashionable.

So what, could other alcoholic beverages were popular -- brandy, port, Madeira, rum, gin (there are more Regency slang words for gin than just about anything) and Tokay as well as wine.

I know it is a simple thing. I know it shouldn't bother me but it does.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Discipline and the author

One of the most important habits any author can develop is self-discipline. Let's face it -- nobody but you can put your words down on a page. Editors don't buy unfinished books (or at least writers don't 100% of the advance).
Cultivating discipline is difficult. It means Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. It means foregoing that film because you have not finished your quota of words. It means accepting that sometimes one writes nonsense even though it can feel like pure poetry when first written. It means keeping a clear head and knowing that one is only as good as the last book.
In order to be a writer, you have to put words on the page. It is no good staring out into space and dreaming. Writers are measured by the way their words shape dreams. Or their dreams become words.
Yesterday, my self-discipline went out the window. Nothing very much was done. Occasionally, this is good, but it also means that it is usually time for the Crows to flock and the muse to start packing her bags. So I am back at it today even though the sun is shining and there are a thousand other things I would rather be doing including reading the Julia Quinn or Amanda Quick books that have just arrived from Amazon. Anne MacAllister's latest was devoured yesterday. If you haven't got your hands on Spence and Sadie, do. It is a great guilty pleasure read. Waterfalls as showers -- yum.
It is the discipline of showing up and making sure I write my words that will get this book finished and in on time. Nobody is cracking a whip but me and this can frighten some people. For me, it is all rather liberating.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Playing the proud parent

My eldest received his GCSE results back today. He ended up with 10 GCSEs including 3 A*s and 4 As. His English literature paper was one of the top five marks in the country. Considerating that he was educated at a state school and boys are notorious for doing less well at English, I think that this is a very good result indeed.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the English education system, all year 11s take GCSEs in a wide variety of subjects. In order to take A levels you must get 5 GSCEs at a C grade or above.
Luckily my son plans to take English Literature at A level as well as Maths, Russian and History.

Calke Abbey and Home

In many ways, the holiday passed all too quickly and in others it seemed like we had been away far longer.

We broke the journey home at Calke Abbey, a National Trust that I have longed to visit.

Calke Abbey was owned by the Harpur Crewes and when the National Trust took over, they found a time capsule from the late Victorian Age. Much of the house has been left as they found it and so it is a fascinating insight into what happens when people have to close rooms and the rooms are left undecorated. It feels very much like a cross between Wallington and Belsay. Wallington, of course, is completely restored and Belsay has been emptied of all furniture and allowed to rot. The only annoying thing I found at Calke was the piles made it difficult to see everything. My youngest who is entranced with ornithology at the moment spent ages looking at the glass cases. There are more taxidermy animals here than in many natural history museums.

One of the great features is the brew house tunnel that leads from the house to the stables. Dark and a bit dank, it exudes possibilities.

Oh yes, the vegetable garden is to die for. Really well managed with all sorts of interesting heritage vegetables.
It is easy to see why this National trust house is still on timed ticket and why so many people are fascinated by it.
The one problem with going away is that I did not get as much writing as I would have liked and so will be writing furiously for the next few weeks.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hidcote, Packwood and Baddesley Clinton

The vast majority of the time was spent visiting historic houses and gardens. Unfortunately one, Coughton Court, remains closed do to the recent flooding. Thus, the Throckmorton coat, the one that the tailor of Gloucester is supposed to have sewn will have to wait for another day.

Hidcote was first up. After a somewhat roundabout route as several roads were closed in Stratford, we made it. Hidcote is one of the great gardens of the world. First planted by the American Lawerence Johnson, it was the first garden to be planted in rooms.

Because of its fame, it can be crowded, but luckily as heavy rain was forecast, the garden was nearly deserted and the plants could actually been seen. In recent years, a restoration project has been undertaken and the garden rooms -- in particular the red border and Mrs Johnson's room look really invigorated and splendid. It is a visual treat for the eyes. The only problem with the garden is that members of the party kept getting lost and having to be found as the hedges and rooms provide a very good maze. We also managed to procure a eucomis -- a pineapple lily that is about to flower. We bought one at Sissinghurst several years ago but have kept potting it on and it has never flowered. They like to feel cramped apparently.

Having been before to the other great garden opposite Hidcote -- Kiftsgate. I can attest to the splendidness of that garden as well. But on this occasion, the timing was not right and it was closed.

Packwood House with its topiary of the Sermon on the Mount, its cottage garden on a grand scale and Carolean garden was very good. My husband was happy as he discovered two plants for sale that he had been searching for for ages. they have long and complex Latin names. The Angel's trumpet smells divine though -- a sort of talcum powder cum expensive soap smell. Packwood is mainly a 1920s - 1930s creation of Mr Baron Ash and his family. Baron was his first name. I do not know if he changed it by deed poll. He was an avid collector of Tudor furniture and textiles. One of his proudest moments was when Queen Mary came to visit. In the house they have a spinet. Spinets have black keys.

We then went down the road to Baddsley Clinton. Baddsley Clinton is one of the houses mentioned by the Jesuit John Gerard, the one where he explains how the entire company of Jesuits hid from priest hunters for four hours. They know about 3 priest holes, but there may be more. In front of one of the fireplaces, is said to be the blood stain of a priest killed by Nicolas Brome. There is also an early piano for about 1830. Pianos have white keys.

The house and the Ferrars family had its ups and downs with most of the furniture being sold off to Baron Ash, amongst others in the 1930s. Later several of the Ash family did help secure the house for the nation. It is a very popular house and entrance is by timed ticket. However, it exudes history.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Nell Dixon sells to LBD

I missed the big excitement but I am thrill to say that my very dear friend, Nell Dixon has sold her book -- Blue Remembered Heels to Little Black Dress last Friday.
Nell won the RNA Romance Prize this year and she is a writing star in the making. I can't wait to read her book.

Of Ghosts, alchemist and secret rooms

Travelling without expectation can be a bonus.

The place we were originally going to stay for the short break couldn't accommodate us, so my dh eventually booked New Hall in Sutton Coldfield.

I did not hold my breath, and fully expected to be disappointed even when we drove up the very long drive and this wonderful red stone mansion appeared in front of us.

New Hall's brochure claims more lovers than the entire collection of Mills and Boon, and I can see why. It is a country hotel whose rooms and ambiance are in keeping with its promise.

New Hall was once offered to the National Trust, but for some reason, they declined. Thankfully when they changed it into a hotel, and added the extension, it was done in keeping with the house.

The house is the oldest inhabited moated house in England. The moat is currently full of water lilies, carp and moorhens. There are reputed to be a number of different ghosts, and certainly when I went up the landing to the Great Chamber, I had to push through cold thick air. My daughter did not like the Great chamber and rapidly left. The windows of the Great Chamber are covered in etched words. These are from when one of Sacheverells was imprisoned there for two years. His father objected to George Sacheverell getting his sister pregnant. Eventually George escaped on a horse.

I am no sure if that George Sacheverell was the same one as the Alchemist. I think the Alchemist comes later. But anyway, a George Sacheverell had two faces -- on one hand he was the Justice of Sutton for many years during the English Civil War and was supposed to be an example of piety and generosity to the poor. But he was also considered a magician and at one time summoned a demon in his study -- a study that was lost after his death. The hotel believes the study was a room they found when several screens were removed from the Great Hall. The small oak panelled room's existence had been forgotten. Alas there was no indication that this was indeed the missing room.

Other ghosts in the hall include a headless body floating down the river, the sounds of battle near the river (as New Hall was stormed several times) and I think a lady.

New Hall was also owned by the Chadwick families during the Regency period, and in the early 20th century by the Owen family.Sir Alfred Owen is commemorated with a blue plaque. He was the managing director of Rubery Owen and Co, a car components manufacture as well as being passionate about racing cars and track events. He sponsored BRM racing cars and received the Ferodo trophy in 1963.

I could go on and on about the hotel as it is truly an experience -- the food is excellent and the beds soft.

If you have ever wanted to stay in a National Trust house, then this hotel is about as close as you can get!

I will another couple blogs about the actual trip, but the hotel was just wonderful.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Unusual Historicals on casting heroes

Today I am blogging at Unusual Historicals about the inspiration behind some of my heroes and how sometimes I have had to recast them. Please go and have a look, and tell me what you think.
Recently I have had to recast my current hero to a James Purefoy type as the image of Henry Brett was not quite working for me. Would he be strong enough to take on the second hero who is definitely modelled on a Richard Armitage type?
As an aside, I think that this is the part of the problem with Robin Hood, Richard Armitage as Sir Guy steals the show. He is far too strong and Robin comes across as the weaker character.
Anyway, I am about ready to go dow to the Midlands and to go visitng historic houses, in particular historic houses with priest holes. Normal service on this blog will resume on Tuesday.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Summer sale at Mills and Boon Online!

Carl Townend alerted me to the fact that for Sold and Seduced is available on at the Mills and Boon online site for 99 p this month.
It is part of the Mills and Boon Summer Sale and there are bargains galore!
In case anyone did not get the book when it was available back in April, now is your chance to get a NEW copy at a great price. Also there is Anne Herries's A Worthy Gentleman and Louise Allen's Not Quite A Lady.
At a slightly discounted price (2.77) , you can fill up on this month's offerings including Lyn Randal's Warrior or Wife. You can also get next month's books before they are released in the shops. First time author Annie Burrows is there as well as June Francis's Tamed by the Barbarian.

In Medicals, Kate Hardy's The Consultant's New Found Family is there for 99p and it is an excellent heart warming story.

The Roman's Virgin Mistress is still listed at its discounted rate of 2.77 on the July page.

The books are shipped at a flat 2 pounds to the UK and 4 pounds to the US -- no matter how many are in the it is a great deal.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Media tips

As I have done a reasonable amount of radio and tv recently, I thought I would include a few things I have learnt along the way.

1.When doing any interview, find out the focus beforehand. Why have they invited on the show and what are you going to speaking about? What is the slant of the programme? More than likely unless you are very famous, it will not be about your book. There will be some other hook. Find out why they want you there. It may not be for the reason you think.

2. Write out a cheat sheet beforehand with answers to possible questions. This is one of the reasons why knowing the slant can help. One that seems to come up is: is romance still so popular? Are you a romantic at heart? How do you do your esearch?
You will have to answer each question in about 3 sentences at most. The length of the interview will vary, but really 3-7 minutes is about your lot.

3. Radio is all auditory. TV is visual. If they are doing a news piece on you for the local tv station, think about what will make a good shot. When you are on radio, it is all about your voice, no one can see that you are wearing dirty jeans. Save the magic knickers for the tv slots or photo shoots.

4. Put your smile into your voice. Pretend you are only speaking to one person and that person is highly interesting and interested in you. It will show in your voice. Do not think about the other people who may have tuned in. Be positive.

5. Write thank you notes. Either to the presenter or to the producer. Courtesy. Also remember to let your editor/PR person know what you are doing.

6. Remember to mention your book.

7. If practical, get a video or burn a cd of your radio appearance. You never know when other might want to listen. At the very least keep a list of your appearances, so if anyone ever asks have you done media, you can recite chapter and verse.

8. The media are always looking for stories. Write press releases. Think about hooks. Beyond having a new book out, why might local people be interested in hearing about you. You never know. My first radio appearance came about because I was giving a talk at a local library and the presenters were intrigued.

9. TV and radio starts local, like other PR. Then it goes regional and if you become v famous, even national. But really there has to be a reason.

I know I will have forgotten some, so if anyone has more, please add them to the list.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

HEA and emotionally satisfying

One of the biggest subjects is the Happily Ever After. Why oh why cry some people does Romance have to have a Happily Ever After? I have gone over this before -- basically it has to do with the commercial nature of the genre and the need for an arch plot type structure..
However, I want to add a further requirement,and maybe this will make the why oh why brigade happier.
I have been thinking about this because of Swain.
Any good fiction must have a satisfying end. It is when the pent up tension is released. If the tension is released to early and all that the books has going for it is the tying up of the external conflict, it feels flat. If it isn't released, the reader will feel cheated.
In a Romance, the reader should feel that the only emotionally satisfying ending is the HEA. They can stop holding their breath, these two people will get together.
If a writer writes a HEA but there is no release of tension, no culmination of fear, the reader is going to feel cheated. The ending has to be emotionally satisfying as well as happy.
The reason readers read is the tension. In the case of a romance -- romantic tension between the couple. It is why I read, it is why books are popular. But where there is tension, there must be resolution or the reader will be left feeling unsatisfied.

Monday, August 13, 2007

When it starts coming together

There are sometimes that writing is an act of blind faith. You have to believe that at some point, you are going to be able to make something out of it. Normally the first draft feels like a pile of poo to the author until you reach a certain point and you think -- ah yes, there is something here after all. Maybe I can write.
That point appears to be have been reached for my latest one over the weekend. I KNOW that when all is said and done, and I have executed my editors' thoughts that this is going to be good. It shows faint glimmerings. It is getting fun to write, always a good sign.
In duck news, one of the younger ducks managed to wrap some of the netting around its neck. Luckily my eldest and I were returning from a walk and had come in at the top gate. How the silly duck had done it, I don't know. The netting was wrapped about 20 times around its throat. My son ran to get the scissors and we cut it loose. We also took the opportunity to cut its primary feathers. It went quacking off to join the others, seemingly unruffled by its dice with death.
Unfortunately the netting has to remain as the Maran like jumping into the vegetable patch for a quick bite to eat. It has, however, been rendered less interesting to ducks...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Other people's research

I have discovered a great new use for Shelfari. Joanne Rock asked me if I wouldn't mind putting a few of the books I have used in my research. She then respond by putting a few of the books she used on her shelf. It is great to discover books that other writers have found useful or helpful. So I shall be putting books I use on my shelf...
As an aside, Joanne has her first anthology out --Bet Me and she is having a contest. Details are on her website.
Anyway, the vast majority of the books I use are now on my shelf on shelfari, so if anyone is interested, you can go and look.
It was very much a displacement exercise as I have not written nearly as much as I planned to. So I shall be working on my word quota.
Today my daughter had her riding lesson. She can now trot in a square. She is very pleased. Instead of writing, I read some more of Swain. I can understand why, despite his male chauvinistic approach, the book is considered to be a bible for commercial fiction writing. His section on pace in beginnings, middles and endings is brilliant. He has ideas both for increasing tension, and decreasing it. Apparently every time you switch view point, you decrease tension. This can be good. Too much tension can result in the reader becoming breathless. He uses the analogy of climbing a mountain -- not every section is as steep.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Update on the radio

I appeared and found the presenter -- Annie Othen to be very pleasant.
We chatted for a little about romance and the state of romanctic books in the UK. I have found that journalists are often surprised how popular the genre is and how popular M&B is. M&B has a 74% market share of romantic fiction in the UK. Worldwide, they sold over 200 million books last year. The UK remains a popular setting and M&B projects a positive image of Britain through out 109 countries and in 25 different languages. People visit Britain because of that image.
Sometimes, journalists also have an out dated sense of the level of sensuality in M&B.
Anyway, Annie Othen has a very listenable to voice and if you live in the Coventry Warwickshire area, why not listen to her show Monday through Friday 10 am - 1 pm?

The Annie Othen show

Today I get to be a guest on the Annie Othen show, BBC radio Coventry and Warwickshire 94.8FM, 104FM, 103.7FM and DAB Digital Radio or over the internet.
The topic is romance and favourite romance books. Other guests are supposed to include a counsellor from relate and (fingers crossed) Andrew Davies.
It should be fun.
Do please come and listen. The show runs from 10 am to 1 pm but I think I will be on early about 10:15.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

El Honor del Gladiator -- contest

Cada vez se sentia mas atraida hacia el peligro de lo prohibido.
I have finally recieved my copies of El Honor del Gladiador. And I know from looking at my Cluster map that some readers of this blog must speak Spanish. Hopefully, someone will want a signed Spanish edition.
I have a copy to give away.
Please email me at with El Honor del Gladaidor in the title and your name, and email address. I will draw the winner on 1 September.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A plague of ideas

I am now at the stage of my wip that ideas for other unrelated novels are beginning to plague me. These are novels that will never ever get written. I suspect my muse like to drag them up to torment me. But I have to be ruthless and follow my current ideas through. One through being faithful to one wip, do I get anything written. However, it doesn't stop from thinking about other things.

For example, today I was leafing through a guidebook on Malta and came across the sentence that Napoleon had sought to have all the papers of the Order of St John burnt. Why? And why did the Knights disobey the order? What were the consequences? Then there is the bit in the latest Smithsonian about Americans in Prague and glass. This reminds me of the other article some months about the efforts to read old codex books and the information contained on them.

In other words, my muse is attempting to distract me from 1813 and the North East. Actually I am enjoying writing this story and think it will be good once it is finished. At the moment, it is a POS as Hemingway would say.

The Smithsonian had a wonderful article about Hemingway in its latest issue and his time in Cuba. He was apparently ruthless about his work, making sure his words were done. He wrote either on a typewriter or longhand.If all was well, he would be quite chatty. Otherwise, he would simply bark out the word count to his secretary. He also enjoyed playing with words.

The Smithsonian magazine is a treasure of ideas for a novelist. I am very lucky that my sister sends it to me for my birthday every year. Generally, my muse can find at least one article to glam on to...even if the idea will never be written. And that can kickstart the muse in other directions.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Handbags at dawn

In today's Sunday Telegraph, in the Seven days section -- the one with John Sims on the cover -- there is an article about the Harrogate Crime Novelists festival. I took exception to the unattributed remark that you had to be careful at the Romantic Novelists as they all hated each other, and that some passing book-editor replied 'Yes, it is always handbags at dawn there.'
I have seen versions of these remarks before, generally emanating from crime novelists. However, having attended several RNA functions can I state that I have never seen any handbags at dawn, nor have I ever seen any cat fights. And no one has ever hidden a knife in their stiletto heel.
The Romantic Novelists Association like any other professional writers group is composed of largely affable people who when they get together talk. They talk A LOT. The RNA, like the crime writers, are also notorious for drinking places dry, but that is another story. When I have gone to the RNA conferences, I have returned home tired and inspired. I have always renewed old friendships and made new friends.
I do not know how this story started that somehow the crime writers are composed of placid people because they are able to murder people in their books and romantic novelists are repressed neurotics because their books are so nice and pleasant. I suspect it was someone's bon mot and will leave at that.
It is possible in romance writing, just as in any other genre of writing, to have people meet grisly ends or to create truly horrible characters and get one's subtle revenge if one so desires it. It is one of the perks of the job if a writer is so inclined.
And I do think that writers tend to be on a more even keel in general as we pour the drama and emotion into our work rather than into creating crisis.
Writing conferences are fun. The RNA is very welcoming as well as composed of highly professional individuals who are making a career out of their writing. It upsets me when we are portrayed otherwise.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

return of Foot and Mouth

Yesterday evening my dh and youngest came back from a sea bird watching trip and announced that Foot and Mouth had been found in Britain. In cattle.
My heart sunk.
In 2001, we lived with the spectre of Foot and Mouth. Because we lived on the edge of Foot and Mouth exclusion zones, every time we went to the village, the cars were sprayed. The air hung heavy with the stench of burning animals. Our car became covered with ash and bits of burnt skin if the wind was wrong when they were burning on the other side of the valley. And never mind, saying that it was hot enough etc, I know what I had to clean off! The children's school was closed at one point as they culled the animals. The fields emptied of life and farmers went out of business as herds built up over generations were destroyed.
In short, it was ghastly.
And I do not trust the government to be any better prepared this time. Personally I think it was pure luck and a change in weather conditions that did the trick.
My own personal view is that a system of ring vaccination and then going and culling would be the most effective way of dealing with it. BUT that is me.
Even in the six years since the last outbreak, the countryside has become much diversified and many farmers are dependant on tourism for part of their livelihoods. I am not sure closing the countryside worked last time, and if it happens this time, then how many more businesses will go under?
At the moment, all I can do is to hope and pray that the outbreak is swiftly contained and that the source is discovered. And that the government is better prepared.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Sold and Seduced in Australia

On the off chance, I happened to glance at Harlequin Mills and Boon Australia and there it was -- Sold and Seduced. It is being released under their Quills progamme. This time as part of a duo with Gail Whittiker -- called A Secret Seduction.
Romance Junkies gave Sold and Seduce a 5 ribbon rating and said Michele Styles is a much beloved historical author and SOLD AND SEDUCED is a prime example of the reason why her fans are so devoted. With characters so vivid you can see them in your mind’s eye and a plot that will keep you glued to the pages awaiting each battle of wills between Fabius and Lydia. There’s an undertone of some wrong doing from someone associated with Lydia’s father but we’re kept in suspense until near the end of the book. I loved the historical aspect to the storyline and was fascinated by the different types of marriage and Lydia’s horrified reaction to what she perceived as being forced into an archaic marriage. I have to confess I love how Fabius challenges Lydia with the kissing wager. There’s no doubt that it gets her thinking about kissing him constantly and actually seems to bring them closer rather than destroy their relationship.
You can read an excerpt from Sold and Seduced here.
And you can buy it here

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Practical help for banish the Crows of Doubt

Today I was very good indeed -- stayed at home and wrote. I did not get done as much as I would have liked but I am starting to get a definite handle on the story and how it is going to progress. Far better than I thought this morning.
Some of Swain is VERY dated. 1965 was very much pre-women's movement. It is also interesting that the big earners of the time -- Westerns and too a large extent short stories have gone. Romance that which he dismisses as love pulp or girlie books has done wonderfully well. But that aside he does have useful hints for fighting Crows of Doubt.
All writers fall prey to them. They can be triggered by simple things -- a casual comment, reading something by another author that you wish you had written. Writers tend to be sensitive -- he argues writers have to be sensitive because they need to feel-- but the downside is that flocks of crows can settle.
Some of his tips include:
1. Remembering you are born with talent and you have acquired skill. Two things that do not seep away over night. They are still waiting to be tapped.
2. Make a checklist of potential problem areas. For example go back through your editors' thoughts -- what areas come up time and time again. Make a habit of checking for these things in your work BEFORE you send the ms off.
3. Get enough exercise. Failure to exercise often leads to depression and depression is more inviting to Crows.
4. Let your editor decide. It is not your job to be your editor. That distinction belongs to your editor. Finish your book and let your editor see it.
5. Incorporate present interests into your work so that you rediscover your enthusiasm for the work. Being enthusiastic about what you are writing means that the crows don't get a look in because you are having too much fun.
6. Stay with the cattle. In other words, keep writing. Hypercritical phases don't last. The blood you sweated may turn out to be vintage.
7. Avoid crutches. Alcohol is the crows' friend, not the writer's. It will intensify your mood. Use in moderation.
8. Study craft, so you know you have the skills.
9. Take a break. Do something to clear your mind. Allow your subconscious to work.
10. Going back to number 1. Trust in your talent and write for that unique sub set of readers -- the ones who get your work. You are not writing for another authors' readers.

Does anyone else have any practical tips on what to do when the Crows of Doubt hit? What are some good things to lob at them?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Having the self confidence

I have been dipping in and out of Swain's book Techniques of the Selling Writer. It was a very influential book I believe and I am now as certain as I can be that I did read it way back when I first decided that I wanted to be a writer. I will admit to even back then being a craft book junkie.

Parts of it now speak more to me than others. Some of this is because I am very comfortable with how I write. When I was reading some of Swian's examples. I kept thinking -- yeah but I'd write this way and it would sound even better.

One of the last chapter is on planning, preparation and production. It starts with the immortal line -- everyone has the God given right to go to hell in his or her own way. In other words, what works for me won't necessarily work for you.
His main criteria for being a writer is the ability to feel and feel intensely. It is why fiction writers can be difficult to deal with. In feeling, you must be enthusiastic about your subject and you have to be sincere. If you aren't, it shows. And believe oh does it show. This is why people say that you need to write from the heart.
The other thing you have to be is self-disciplined. Basically it does not matter to anyone else if you don't make it as a writer. The only person it matters to is yourself. In other words, if you want to be a writer to please other people, forget it. There are easier ways.
Also, nobody pays for stories you don't write. You actually have to produce the stories. A contract is a contract and when you have a deadline, other people depend on you.
To succeed as a writer, you have to get up and work even when you want to sleep. It means working when you'd rather be off gardening or swimming or even occasionally cleaning the toilet. A writer writes. But ultimately it is your decision because no one can force you to be creative and write except you.
It is also the only craft that gets harder the more you do it. Skill brings awareness of weakness. It is part of the tantalizing mystery. You can never ever completely master writing. You can only work at it.
In writing there are two types of people -- those who want to be and those who to do. Successful writers tend to be those who do. Who do keep regular hours, who work to quotas, who do revise, who do strive to improve but also those who do remember why they were excited about writing in the first place.
Anyway, it was interesting to read his take on it. I found it very heartening. He also had some great ideas on dealing with writer's block and the various different fears that writers fall prey to.