Friday, September 28, 2007

Finished and off to my editor

My current work in progress, entitled in my contract Regency Duet 1 has been delivered to my editors! Hooray! Hooray! I know it will be a really strong read once they have let me know their thoughts.

Now a scarred Richard Armitage/John Thornton type gets to be my next hero and I am seriously looking forward to it.

I listened to the BBC Radio 4 programme on M&B yesterday. A number of other bloggers including Trish Wylie, Kate Walker, Natasha Oakley and Teach Me Tonight have already commented on it. They basically gave a fair assessement.

I do think Joanne Carr's comment to the presenter as she was critquing the offering was really apt -- you did not pay very much attention to what we were saying in the workshop.

Sometimes, people are so blinded by their agendas that they don't pay much attention to what other people are saying. That was the big failing of the programme.

I do thank God that we are no longer considered to be authoresses but as writers or authors. An authoress sounds like someone who dines on ortolan and drinks pink champagne before writing purple prose with a pink quill. Authoress does found quite frankly patronizing. It belongs to another era.

And one of the other problems with the programme is that it attempted to do too much. Was it a history of M&B or was it an attempt to look at M&B today? If it was a history, why not mention Ida Cook, the M&B author who quite famously used the proceeds of her writing to save Jews from Nazi Germany?

I rather thought the How to book from the 1960s was a relic of the past. And issues and themes that are vexxing authors today are not the same ones that inspired authors in the past.

Right, my house is a tip. There is a ton of admin to catch up on and I have another book due before Christmas.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Media Perception of M&B

On Thursday at 11:30, there is a radio programme about Mills and Boon entitled Guilty Pleasures. There will be a play again feature and I believe people can listen via the internet from anywhere in the world.
The presenter, I believe, has done a lot of research and interviewed lots of readers, editors etc, but the blurb for the programme shows what a mountain one has to climb, particularly when dealing with preconceptions.
For example, it mentions Helen Fielding was once rejected by M&B. I am not sure if this is a great crime. Simply, because someone later becomes a popular writer does that mean their earlier work should have automatically been published. I know I am profoundly grateful that my early work wasn't published. I needed time to allow my voice to grow and mature.
It bothers me that from the outset they are focussing on people who did not make it. Why not focus on those who got their start with HM&B -- such as Rosemunde Pilcher? Lucilla Andrews? Both Rosemunde Pilcher and Lucilla Andrews spawned novel genres. Or on the other side of the Atlantic --Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Jennifer Cruisie, Sandra Brown, Debbie Macomber -- to name but a few. Nora Roberts is considered to be one of the 50 most influential people in the US according to Time Magazine.
I am also bothered by the title -- guilty. Why should anyone feel guilty about reading? Since when is reading a sin? Why shouldn't people read things they enjoy? Why should people simply read things that other people deem hold some sort of virtue?
I love the fact that I get readers who write in to tell me that they are suddenly excited about history after reading one of my books.
Why does no one mention what a great export M&B books are? Over the years, they have enticed many a woman (including me) into wanting to visit the UK. They provide a positive view of the UK and other locations. Because they are exported to over 109 different countries, they help with the balance of trade.
Anyway, I shall listen to the programme but quite probably with gritted teeth.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

London -- AMBA

Let me state at the outset that I forgot my camera. Photos are on Kate Hardy's blog and other places...

AMBA Day is one of the great occasions in any Mills and Boon author's calender. It is a lunch combined with a toast in the evening. In between times, there is coffee and afterwards supper. It is a day when I truly feel like I am an author.

The day started with a train journey down from Newcastle. It was painless and I worked on my wip. 3 hours of uninterrupted time. Funny how things go much more swiftly when one is not on the Internet...
I then met my cp --Donna Alward in the flesh for the first time. She is as every bit as lovely in person as she has been on the email. She even sounded like I imagined she would!
We then met Kate Hardy in Green Park. She had said that she would be sitting on a bench, but I didn't spot her and so telephoned. Her first question was -- are you wearing black with a red jacket. I then felt silly as she waved madly!
Lunch was lovely and all went smoothly. Hugh relief as I had helped with the planning. It was truly lovely to see old friends and make new ones. The Q&A went well. There are tons of really exciting things happening with M&B and its centenary next year. It was fantastic to hear about the marketing, PR and what is upcoming!
After the lunch, a group of us walked to Selfridge's past police tape, fireman and a broken window. Donna, Trish Wylie and Abby Green discovered that a man had jumped but had been caught. Their informant blithely said things like this were happening all the time.
Tea at Selfridges was spent laughing and talking. Trish revealed some excellent plans for the PHS -- more about these in due course, but she and the rest of the editors are really taking the PHS places.
The Oriental Club was chosen because M&B are about to launch in India in a big way. The Oriental Club was, of course, founded by members of the East India Company and others with connections to India, including the Duke of Wellington. I stayed on the orange juice, but the champagne FLOWED. Some people are blaming a certain waiter...The canapes were very good, in particular the samosas.
Pam Brooks and Mary Nichols both received their 25 book pins and Kate Walker received her 50th pin. The bracelet Kate sported was to die for.
I also saw my lovely editors. All of whom looked amazing. Julie Cohen was her usual stylish self.
After the toast, a group of us went to Brown's for dinner. It became rather silly and I think there are a variety of pictures about...My only defence is the company was excellent. And the dinner should become legendary. All I can say is that Kate Walker is certainly a Queen of Romance.
We then retired back to Biddy's flat and Donna and I talked and talked and talked. The cover for The Soldier's Homecoming is gorgeous and the back cover blurb is guaranteed to wring your heart. I am so looking forward to reading the finished version. Donna has her own news, but you will have to look to her blog.

The next morning, my voice hurt from all the talking. And I half-slept and half-worked on the way back up.
This week is going to be busy, busy, busy as my deadline looms.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Christmas by candlelight -- cover

This is the UK cover for A Christmas Wedding Wager. It is being sold as part of a Christmas duo. Helen Dickson's Wicked Pleasures is the other half.
Anyway, it is another cover that I think would make a wonderful Christmas card.
There is a scene with a German Christmas tree in my book, so the cover sort of fits, and I suspect there will be a German Christmas Tree scene in Helen's as well. But it does give a very Victorian Christmas feel to the proceedings.
In other news, my copy edits have arrived for Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife. I have 14 days to do them, but need to concentrate -- so it will be doing my edits for QI on the train down and back. Basically 6 hours of uninterupted time. Then the copy edits. Then getting the final edits QI done etc. Sometimes, one is very busy as an author.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Harvesting honey

Taking Tom's encouraging comment in the last post and the fact the weather suddenly cleared, I went for it and got the supers off the hives. The Porter bees escapes worked. This year I had made sure they were properly primed and very few bees were within the supers. An in and out operation with the bees only belatedly realising all their honey stores had gone.

The great thing about having bees is that every year is different. You think you know what to expect, but there is always a different amount, a different combination of flowers and different problems to solve. This year proved no expectation -- I knew there had been oil seed rape around, but it has not been a problem in previous years. Oil seed rape gives lots of honey BUT it crystallizes really quickly. And when I took the supers off and started to spin, it was obvious that a huge amount of oilseed rape had been collected, most of eaten during the long weeks of rain with a few remaining bits of capped crystallized honey on the top supers.
Most of the harvest was the usual rosebay willow herb, lovely runny honey with a little bit of heather. Other than 2001, we have not had a great deal of heather.
Anyway, honey fresh from the comb is the best sort of honey. I love watching the rich golden liquid as it drains from the spinner into the filtering tank and then finally into bottles.
I always do feel a connection with the seasons and the past as I do this. It does not matter than movable frames are a 19th century invention, it is just lovely to think about how important honey has been through the ages.
It looks to be an average harvest -- 40 - 60 lbs when all is said and done.
And then there will be the candles to make...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The trouble with bees

is that they sting.

Currently I am nursing four stings on my left arm and one sting on my inner thigh. This is a direct result of putting the Porter bee escapes in and having to separate out the supers in order to lift them. All was well and I was feeling superior until the heaviest two stuck together. I had to lift and several of the frames came out. This annoyed the bees who guessed correctly that all their lovely stores were about to depleted.

I decided the better part of valour was not to take the supers and simply to put on the bee escapes. I should be able to get the supers on Thursday after they have cleared of bees. In a strange way, it is all rather exciting. The danger time of beekeeping. Luckily I am not allergic (or not very)

It is not exactly ideal BUT the weather has turned colder and I will need to treat for varroa soon rather than later. So the supers will have to come off and the honey harvested BEFORE I go to London. The words having no time to breathe come to mind.

Thus far, it looks a decent honey harvest but nowhere near as much as last year. This is good as about 50 lbs remaining from last year.

But oh how bee stings sting.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Glamour Alert

It is that time of the year. The end of September and that means the annual AMBA day approaches. It is the day when the authors of Mills and Boon get together for lunch with a speaker or two and also have a lovely reception in the evening.
This year is going to be especially fun because I actually get to meet one of my lovely cp --Donna Alward in person. She is flying over for the event and will be have a whirlwind week of it.
There will be photos on my blog so if people want to live vicariously...It is one of those times that I feel like an author.
Back in September 2005, I felt a little intimidated because I arrived late and so many authors whom I read were there. Luckily Trish Wylie and Natasha Oakley discovered me looking lost. And the rest is history as one might say. However by the end, I did really feel like I was an author.
But before then, my week is full. I finished the first draft and am now polishing. At times, I think my muse is a broken record. Over and over and over on the same point. Hopefully I will catch most of these and then, it will be off to my editors next week.
In the meantime, I still have to take the honey off the bees. It has been such a lovely Indian Summer and the autumn flowers were very late that I have been reluctant BUT the days are getting cooler, so I shall have to brave the hives, put on the Porter bee escapes and take the honey off. Also the log man just called. The load of logs I ordered is arriving today. Why do I think my children will be less than overjoyed with this news? And I have just had to deal with a man from the electricity board on whether or not they should replace the electric pole in my garden.Answer -- no as it is not rotten. Ah, such is the life of the glamorous author.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Enneagram workshop with Laurie Campbell

Long term readers of this blog will remember that Laurie Campbell was the woman who introduced me to enneagrams and their possibilities for character creation.
She is giving an online workshop in October and she is very good. Certainly she inspired me!

We don't care much about the cabbie who drives our hero to the train station, so that cabbie doesn't need any particular motivation...any particular personality type.He doesn't need to overcome any problems in his life.But every major character has to overcome something in order to evolve during the course of the book. And that's why writers need to know our characters' fatal (or not-so-fatal) flaws.
So it's handy that enneagram theorists have identified nine personality types...each with its own unique strength, and each with a flaw that happens when that strength is taken to extremes.We can use the nine types (Perfectionist, Nurturer, Adventurer, Romantic, Observer, Skeptic, Enthusiast, Leader, Peacemaker) to generate conflict BETWEEN and WITHIN likable, realistic characters.Want to know more? You'll find it in Laurie Schnebly Campbell's yahoogroups class during October, "Creating Your Hero's Fatal Flaw."If you're interested, click -- and feel free to forward this to anyone else who might be interested. Thanks!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bits of news

Unusual Historicals has had a revamp. Carrie Lofty has done a fantastic job and keeps various authors in line. Anyway, lots of things are planned and November in particular is going to be a giveaway bonanza. So if you enjoy unusual settings and time periods in your historicals, do stop by.

For my part this week sped much quicker than anticipated and my wip is not yet finished. It will get there.
Luckily my lovely editors were lovely about it and said that I was not to kill myself and to get it in by the actual deadline, rather than my planned smug deadline of next Thursday evening. Next Friday is the annual Association of Mills and Boon Author day (pictures and full account will be here) and I wanted to be secure in the knowledge that I had turned it in, but my editors would not have had time to read it. I suspect I will be working on it on the train. I am very much looking forward to the day -- it is one of those days that I feel like I am really a Romance author.
I have found out that Taming the Debutante (the title will be changed) is tentatively scheduled for August 08. This is a linked story to A Christmas Wedding Wager and was written because my daughter begged and pleaded for Lottie Charlton to have her own story. The problem with having a daughter who reads romance and who likes your stories is that she knows all the right ways to ask...She also has kept on and on at me about the third Viking. I have another Regency to write before then. You may talk about whip cracking editors all you like, whip cracking daughters take the whole thing to another level.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Happy Birthday PHS

Today is my day to join in the treasure hunt at the Pink Heart Society. Lots of lovely cyber presents have been given already. And the grand prize for the person who collects all the presents is a mega hamper full of lots books and other goodies. All the blogs taking part are listed at the PHS, so there is plenty of time to join in!

I could have gone with something pink which seems to be a definite theme, but I am not really all that fond of pink champagne. I prefer vintage and so my present is a bottle of Moet et Chandon champagne and a pair of crystal glasses -- just right for drinking a toast to the blogzine's birthday!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Excerpt for A Christmas Wedding Wager

This morning was fraught with frustration, but I have FINALLY managed to upload the excerpt for A Christmas Wedding Wager. You can read it here.

I have also discovered what it says underneath my name on the cover -- Join in the fun of a Victorian Yuletide.

So that is done and I have no excuse not to work on my wip. Yes, my deadline is looming. Yes, I am within 10k of finishing the first draft, but I need to come up with a really good satisfying ending. I had a look back over my notes and the ending is having to change slightly. This ALWAYS happens.

Tomorrow is my day for the PHS treasure hunt. My problem is how does one follow the gift from I heart Presents. Over the top but very fun. Mine is going to be more restrained, I am afraid. It might not even be pink.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Christmas Wedding Wager -- cover

I have finally had a glimpse of the US cover for A Christmas Wedding Wager and I am really thrilled with it. The sleigh played an important part in my planning and I am so pleased it is on the front. I also like the skaters in the background. It has a very Christmassy feel which is what I wanted. My editors are very good that way!
The sleigh in the book was inspired by the Dragon sleigh at Wallington, the one of the local National Trust houses, and a place I have spent many happy hours. Originally I had them going to Wallington, but then when I began writing the story, the internal demands of the story were such that it worked better to keep them in Newcastle.
This also reminds me that I need to get the excerpt up. This will be done sometime today.
Anyway, the blurb reads: Just one kiss under the mistletoe could change her whole life!
Lovely Miss Emma Harrison has long turned her back on the frivolities of the Marriage Mart and dedicated herself to helping her father. But this Christmas everything changes – the unforgettable Jack Stanton is back! No longer the charity boy determined to make good, he has become one of the richest men in England. Driven to succeed and used to getting anything he wants, Jack makes it clear that he wants Emma.
And as the Yuletide festivities throw Emma into his company, she can’t help but wonder if she made the right choice seven years ago... Christmas Newcastle Upon 1846
In the UK market, A Christmas Wedding Wager is being sold as part of a duo with Helen Dickson and is called Christmas by Candlight. I can't wait to read Helen's story --Wicked Pleasures. She did Christmas in the southern rural England while I got the industrial North.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Remembering Madeleine L'Engle

From a variety of US sources ( her death has not reachedthe UK papers yet), I have discovered that Newberry award winning author Madeleine L'Engle has died. She is probably best known for A Wrinkle in Time, but she wrote many other young adult and adult books. Her books combined a good story, faith and heavy dollop of science. She did not talk down to her readers but expected them to be able to grasp some of complicated notions of space, time and the cutting edge science. In her books, it was okay to be intelligent and to feel out of place. I can remember identifying with Meg and her feelings of just wanting to be normal. I also remember for some reason with that book, I suddenly became aware that the British spelt things differently. And I first learnt that books could be rejected many times and still be accepted. A lesson that I think I held close to my heart for many years.
I read her books as a child and later in my late teens when I discovered her non fiction. I can not remember the names of the books, but I can remember -- thinking -- ah this makes sense. She had gentle humour that I found appealing.
When I was at university, she came and spoke. It was one of those convocations that I made sure I attended, rather than finding something else to do. And it was that lingers in my memory. She was an excellent speaker. I can still remember her words -- the trouble with fanatics was that they had no sense of humour about their obsession. And in her view it applied not only to the hijackers of planes but also to her grandson who was devoted to his hockey team. There was much more to the lecture but those few words struck a note with me.
One of the wonderful thing about writers is that their words live on. People can go and revisit. I know all of my children have read the A Wrinkle in Time sequence and enjoyed it. And I confidently expect future generations to discover her and enjoy her. I know I am glad I read her books.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Revisions Reprise

The following blog was first published in February 06. Kate Hardy contacted me yesterday to say that she had saved it and had passed it around to several of the Modern Heat writers. This was totally sweet of her. Anyway, as apparently they found it useful, I am republishing it here.
A quick note -- the ms I am talking about finishing became Sold and Seduced. During the revisions, the epilogue was cut. It was a nice epilogue but the story worked much better without it. The revisions for S&S other than cuttingthe epilogue and cutting a scene where Lydia acts out of character were light and I did them very quickly.
And I still love revisions and my editors' eyes. Quality editing is key to keeping a writer's books delivering on the promise the writer makes to the very special unique subset of readers -- hers.

Basically if I want their thoughts on my latest though, I have to finish it first. I still have several chapters to go -- including the last one.

Revisions and me
Kate Hardy recently asked what is the favourite part of writing for you. I put my hand up and said revisions. Not the usual response I know. Many writers hate revisions.I love other parts of writing. It is fun doing the first draft, but really it is only between you and the computer. You know that things will change and you are doing your best, but there are ALWAYS revisions. Some of these you will pick up, some the critque partners will pick up or have questions about. Questions are good. They force you to think why, and some the editor will spot. It is all about taking the rough lump of clay and moulding it.Doing revisions is not a sign of failure. Revisons help make a good book great.It is a sign that your editor believes in you and your book enough to give guidance on how to make it stronger. Revisions give you a chance to rethink and revisit your characters. At this point for me, my characters are old friends.They can also show up where you took a wrong turning, where you took an easy option.At their best, revisions challenge you. They give you the ability to take your book to the next level. Writers tend to like to stay in their comfort zones. A good editor inspires the writer.Sometimes, the longer and more detailed the revisons, the more the editor can see. I have heard of NYT best sellers that have had twenty five pages of closely written revisions. The editor believed in that book and wanted it to be the best book possible. Editors do not ask for revisions lightly. If they see too many problems, they will ask you to put the ms aside for awhile and write something new. Revisions mean they can see something worthwhile.Revisions are an opportunity rather than a road block.Revisions are a helping hand up, a way around stones in the road.When you are doing revisions, you know the characters and the basic situation. You also know one way it didn't work. Or in my cases, several ways it didn't work.Revisions force me to concentrate on what is the essential part of the book. How can I keep those things that I want to keep and still make those changes that the editor sees as essential? How can I learn from the revisions I am asked to do so that I make other mistakes next time?At the moment -- I keep hearing the lovely tones of my editor -- such and sch would never intentionally put the heroine in harm's way. It is something I have learnt and I have to make sure it is explained. One of the best pieces of advice an editor gave me was to make sure the turning points are active and come from the actions of the main characters. Hopefully through the process of revision, my own eye is developing and I am more able to step back and make the changes before the editor has her read through. But there are ALWAYS revisions. And sometimes there are more than one set.In the final analysis, it is about trusting the eye of your editor. And a good editor is worth her weight in gold. At the moment, I am very lucky with my editors. Their guidance has been clear, and has sparked ideas about how I can make the ms better.Now if I want to get to those revisions, those final tweaks, I have to finish the last chapter and epilogue...So in my humble opinion, revisions are not something to be feared or fought against, but are something to be embraced. They are about making the book the strongest it can possibly be.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The little rituals of writing

Yesterday, I discovered that my rituals of writing are more deeply ingrained than I thought.
For about a week, I have been worried about my page count to word count ratio. It was very different from my normal page to word count ratio. One of the things I do is to write down how many words and the page number I am up to. I would like to say that I do this every day, but in reality, it depends on where I am in the ms and if I am really pushing forward, or IF I am to stop thinking about the ms for the day. The end result is that I do have a record. This makes it easy for me to go back and check -- I was at this word count and the page number on such and such, AND I still got it finished by this date. In other words, it serves as a motivational tool and helps to keep a certain variety of crow at bay.
Only this time, there was a disconnect. I came up with all sort of theories -- including the scary one of my writing had started to severely change. But that didn't make sense. I had visions of me turning a really long ms, only to be told -- great story, but you are going to have to cut because your word count has gone haywire.
Writers have vivid imaginations. It goes with the job.
Then I thought to look at my margins -- the thing I change BEFORE I start a new wip. Only this time, I hadn't. I changed my margins, and hey presto -- the word count to page ratio became my normal one. Huge relief. And I can get this finished. It is under 100 pages and less than 20k to go. (I enjoy the countdown)
Until this happened, I did not realise how important that ritual was to me. In order to feel in control of my writing, I need the safety net of the page to word count thing. That little piece of structure.
Does anyone else have little rituals like that? Or is it just the way my brain is wired?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Awkward Annie -- Kate Rusby

Yesterday, I got my hands on Kate Rusby's new album -- Awkward Annie. It is truly vintage of Kate Rusby, even though she apparently went through great heart ache when recording the album. Her voice is as fine as ever. The album just is.

My entire family have been fans of Kate since she appeared at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 1999. She was one of the highlights of the festival. I prefer her rendition of My Town to Iris DeMent's, but it is one one those songs which haunts as does Wild Geese. We were then lucky enough to see her at Cambridge several times as well as when she came up to Hexham. She is one of those singers that if you ever find out she is coming to a venue near -- go and get tickets. They are sure to sell out and she is fantastic live.

At the moment, I have two favourite songs on the new album -- Blooming Heather which is a wonderful ballad and the bonus track -- the Village Preservation Society which is just fun and appeals to my sense of quirkiness. My youngest kept singing snippets of the VPS in the car this morning. It was recorded for a BBC programme on the WI -- he liked the bot about Desperate Dan as well as custard pudding.

Anyway, a new Kate Rusby cd is always cause for celebration. And if you have not heard her before, give her a go -- she has a wonderful voice and is a wonderful exponent of British folk.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

19 years as an expat

Today, I have not done very much. Today is my eldest's 17th birthday as well as the 19th anniversary of me arriving to live in the North East of England -- permanently.
It is one of those odd coincidences that was pointed out to me when I was in hospital after giving. I had to show my passport for some reason.
The weather in Newcastle 19 years ago was sunny with a few clouds. My first glimpse of Newcastle with its green fields and red brick buildings was so much than I had antcipated. Having spent the summer reading Catherine Cookson, I was expecting smoke hung streets, unrelieved gloom. We walked through Jesmond Dene to an Italian restaurant that my dh knew about and had a very pleasant meal before walking back to our ground floor flat.
The weather in Hexham 17 years ago was pleasant but grey.I woke early and we went for a walk. The hospital decided the time had come and the consultant did not had much to do that afternoon, so I had a c-section. My dh, not realising they would wait for him, drove very quickly over from Durham. Anyway, the operation went well.
I was very intrigued by Indian history at that time and spent the night reading a biography of Ghandi. For some reason I had forgotten a book and this was the first book my dh picked up. It was fairly dry but it kept me company through the night. Unfortunately, my son slept! Something that did not really happen again for a number of years.
With the celebrations of 60 years of India, a number of very good books have been published. One of them -- Alex Von Tunzelmann's Indian Summer is a thoroughly engrossing read. Von Tunzelmann has an excellent eye for the telling anecdote. For example the Nizam of Hyderabad who acquired a reputation as a miser. People thought he used a crumple piece of newspaper as a paperweight, little suspecting it was the legendary Jacob diamond -- twice the size of the Koh-i-noor. Or Sita Devi, India's Walis Simpson who made away to Switzerland with the Baroda pearl carpet. I love the way she contrasts the state of the British and Indian societies in 1577. It is really an eye opener. Her hypothesiss of events makes sense and I think she has the makings of a great popular historian. Think Tom Holland.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Blockades and smuggling

One thing that strikes any observer of Regency drinking habits is -- how could so much French brandy be drunk, particularly considering there was a blockade going on.

First of all, the blockades and prohibitions against importing was not universally followed. For example, parts of the French army were famously dressed in uniforms made from Yorkshire broadcloth.
Second, the French had a huge wine industry that was dependant on English consumption. Napoleon wanted to export, but he did mind the French paying English excise. So there was a great trade in smuggling. The smuggling of French brandy and wine had gone on for many years. Basically, certain sections were unwilling to give up their drink despite the various wars. Earlier, Scotland which was not at war with the French during certain periods used to be a huge conduit -- with shipments coming through Lieth. Equally sometimes, brandy was shipped through Portugal as port was by far the most popular drink (see for example the early cellars books and the contents that were considered proper for a gentleman's cellar)

The two coasts are very close and it was easy for ships to sail across. Kent and East Sussex were huge centres for the smugglers. The Mermaid Inn in Rye was used by the infamous Hawkhurst gang. It still boasts of secret stairs -- including one behind a bookcase, priest holes and other delights. It is also one of the most picturesque inns in England and has been an inn since approximately 1156, even though it was substantively rebuilt in 1420. It also reputedly has several haunted rooms. My children were not best pleased when we stay in one. My eldest claims that he did not sleep a wink as something was definitely in the room. The bar and restaurant are lovely.
The best series of adventure stories about smuggling is the Dr Syn stories by Russell Thorndike (the brother of Dame Sybil Thorndike) They became a Disney made for television movie starring Patrick Magoohan as the Vicar turned Robin Hood type smuggler. They were centred on the Romney Marsh area, during the early part of the reign of George III. Well worth a read if you can get your hands on a copy.
Unfortunately, I was less impressed with Dymchurch when we went to visit it as it had the air of a faded seaside resort. But there are a number of interesting churches in the area that were used in the smuggling trade.
However, tales of smuggling are not in my writing plans today as this wip has to do with the early wagon ways. And school is restarting -- my youngest went back today and the other two will go back tomorrow.

Monday, September 03, 2007

PHS Hugh Jackman Tour 2007

Yes, it is that time of the year again. The Pink Heart Society is having its first birthday celebrations and as part of the fun and frivolity, they are once again doing a Hugh Jackman tour as part of their Male on Monday slot.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Why no English Whisk(e)y/Water of Life?

It is a slight mystery. The Irish and the Scots had their whisk(e)y.The Scandinavians have aqua vitae. The French have among other things -- brandy, so why is there no native English spirit? Certainly with the abundance of West country cider or even the alcoholic perry, the English should have been able to make something that very closely resembled Calvados -- the Norman apple brandy.
The reason that makes the most sense is gin and William III. Gin is a Dutch invention and the English discovered it during the 30 years war in the low countries. It gave them a certain amount of Dutch courage.
When William III took the English throne after the Glorious Revolution in 1688, he decided to encourage the drinking of gin. Then in the 1720s there was an abundance of grain and the government of the day allowed them freedom of distillation -- the result was Gin Lane and all the harrowing results from Hogarth's pictures happened. The failure of the grain crop in 1759 resulted in a government rethink.
Because gin was a lower class drink, there are more cant slang words for gin during the Regency than any other drink. It is later in the century that gin begins to be drunk with quinine tonic and goes up market to become gin and tonic. G&T was of course drunk originally merely for medical purposes...
Anyway, it is one explanation and makes a certain amount of sense.
One interesting fact I uncovered was that the alcohol smuggling in the North East during the Georgian period mostly centred around Dutch gin. And this leads very neatly into looking at smuggling -- that oh-so English pastime that still captures the imagination. Anyone else like Dr Syn and the Scarecrow?
My wip continues. Yesterday, I had to bite the bullet and move chapters about, but it does read better and makes far more sense. And it is far better to do this BEFORE, because my editors being my editors would surely tell me to do it AFTER. My editors are like that. They tend to home in on those parts of the wip that I have gone -- well maybe... and thankfully they do, because it does end up stronger...

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Taken By the Viking out at M & B online

Taken by the Viking is now available at Mills and Boon Online, along with all the other October releases.

A few weks ago, I was searching for my hardback copy. It was not where it was supposed to be. I went up to my daughter's room, expecting to find it under her bed as she had read it and I thought forgotten it. But no, she had decided it deserved a place on her Keeper shelf. She now has her very own paperback. I should note that she did not do this to any of my Roman books... but she liked Haakon. Her verdict was that it reads much better in book form than manuscript. This may be why I am very grateful to my editors.
It is the first of my linked Viken warriors. The next one, The Viking's Conquest comes out in M&B in June 08. It is Vikar's story. And then I have at least another which I need to write. My daughter also keeps asking for their stories. It is disconcerting.
You can read an excerpt here.

Tokay -- the Hungarian elixir

Tokay or Tokaj was the premier wine of the Hapsburg Empire. There was nothing in the world to match it for its sweetness. And it was a wine used to woo monarchs -- from Vienna, Prague and Warsaw to St Petersburg, Paris and London. A legendary luxury.
It is the after dinner drink that Prince Esterhazy would have offered during the Regency. His wife, Princess Esterhazy was one of the Patroness of Almack's and the couple were very involved in the ton.
A variation of the name (but the same wine) is also mentioned at the start of Phillip Pullman's Northern Lights (The Golden Compass). It is the wine that has been poisoned. Thankfully with Hungarian wines once again available in the West, it is possible to find Tokay wine again. However, it is not as cheap as it was in the early 1990s when I first discovered, but it remains a fantastic after dinner wine. It is still possible (just) to get the Tokaj Essence -- it is sold as Aszu Essenczia.
The Essence is made basically in the same fashion that Pliny describes making Falerian wine. So it is quite possible/probable that the fable wine of the Roman Republic tasted like Tokay. There are reasons why the Romans cut their wine with water.
Honey rich with a hint of almonds as far as I can recall. Definitely moreish.
There are many myths surrounding Tokay Essence. The most potent is that the elixir could restore almost any failing power. There are stories of aged men springing from their bed after having a drop or two. And of course, the inevitable stories about men falling into their beds and siring hordes of children.
Anyway, it belongs to great pudding wines of the world.