This week I will be blogging at a couple of places.
On Tuesday 3rd,
I will be at SteamyGuys after Dark.com
Throughout December Kassiah, the host of SteamyGuys, is interviewing a couple of romance authors every day. We'll be talking about our Christmas traditions, posting recipes for our favourite Christmas treats, and giving away tons of goodies. I'm giving away a copy of my next release, "Portrait of a Scandal" and some items of stationery.
Then on Friday 6th,
I will be doing my regular blog about the historical research I do, (which usually involves scones at some point) at Novelistas Ink.
This year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice". As part of the celebrations, a huge statue of Colin Firth is on tour throughout the UK, at locations where various parts of the 1995 BBC series were filmed.
I'm lucky enough to live close to Lyme Park, which stood in for Pemberley, Mr Darcy's home. And yes, that is where he dived into the lake, got his shirt soaked, and won Lizzy Bennet's heart (according to the Andrew Davies adaptation!) And it is at Lyme Park where the 12ft fibreglass statue will make its permanent home.
First off, my chauffeur and I went to the tea rooms. On the way, I happened to notice a rack of Regency gowns that visitors could try on. While the chauffeur warmed his hands on a mug of tea, I had great fun dressing up as a Regency lady, and imagining myself the owner of a stately home.
On the day I went to Pemberley (ok, Lyme Park, but I was starting to get into the spirit of things by the time I'd tried on the costume), visitors could take a horse and carriage ride.
There was also a collection of the costumes worn during the filming of the BBC series. Below are:
Lizzy and Mr Darcy's walking costumes
Lizzy and Mr Darcy's wedding costumes
Finally, we wandered round the grounds until we came to the lake, into which Mr Darcy (or rather Colin Firth) dived to cool off on that memorable day when Lizzy Bennet came calling.
As you all know, I'm a keen amateur ballroom dancer, and so a great fan of Strictly Come Dancing (the UK version of Dancing with the Stars). As this season's opening show ended with a beautiful, glamorous waltz, it set me wondering...just why was this dance considered so outrageous in Regency times? Even the notorious Lord Byron was said to find it shocking.
Well, I've been to a Regency Dance class, and discovered that even the Cotillion is a bit like what I'd describe as a country dance. People may take to the floor as couples, but they spend most of the time skipping about at a great distance from one another, perhaps only touching hands as they pass in a chain down the room.
But the waltz, as danced back then, was more like what we'd call today, a sequence dance. Each couple would stay exclusively locked in hold with one another, whilst circling the edges of the ballroom, not stopping, and not overtaking the people in front who would also be moving in a slow, stately fashion in the same direction.
The sequence began with the "March" which was a very brief side by side promenade. This turned quickly into the "Pirouette." The partners would take each other in one of several holds, one of the more popular of which had the partners facing in opposite directions, hip to hip, with one arm across the front of the partner's body and the other hands holding in an arch above the head. In this hold, they would rotate very slowly, with their gaze fixed on one another.
The next was the "Sauteuse." At this point, the dance got a bit more energetic, with dancers working a little hop into the step. The hold would also change - one possible option would be the man holding both the lady's hands behind her back.
The routine would finish with the "Jetté", which was even more energetic. But even so, the partners would be in bodily contact with each other the entire time. And because the only floorcraft required was keeping one's place in a circle of others, all moving in slow progression round the room, there was no need for the man to take his eyes off his partner to watch where he was going.
And Lord Byron's objection? The hands could rest on any number of body areas, and linger...
When I dance the modern ballroom waltz with my husband, I must confess I find it very romantic. But the Regency version? It sounds like the equivalent of the slow smooch at the end of the disco...
On Friday, I went to the annual dinner organized by Fiona Harper, Sharon Kendrick, and Heidi Rice for all authors published by Mills & Boon in the UK - or anywhere else, if they happen to be in London at the time.
Since I live oop north, I had to get up at the crack of dawn for my train (this is what dawn looks like - who knew!)
Since there was a bus strike, and the taxi firm couldn't guarantee me catching my train unless I booked a cab for an hour before departure, I decided to walk to the station, which meant Sensible Shoes. It was lovely when I set out, but the nearer I got to London, the worse the weather got. As I emerged from Embankment station, I noticed everyone scurrying into it brandishing umbrellas. So I had a peek outside before I set off for the Horseguards Hotel, where the lunch was being thrown (not literally I hasten to add), and saw this...
I also noted the London Eye, but didn't stop to take a picture of that, as the rain was at that stage where it wasn't too bad to dash through it, but not the kind for hanging around taking touristy snapshots.
As soon as I found The Horseguards Hotel I headed straight to the ladies room to change out of dread Sensible Shoes, into the Ridiculously Impractical pair I took with me, and found two more novelists reclining elegantly one on either side of the marble fireplace. This has to be one of the most impressive ladies rooms anywhere in London.
It has a chaise longue, for weary ladies to put up their aching feet..
Or to pretend they lived in an age of elegance, where such useful bits of furniture were actually called "fainting couches".
Anyway, changed into party shoes, I found the dining room, which was already filling up with authors, editors, marketing people, and the token man, known as Digital Tim. (He does something in digital marketing, hence the soubriquet.)
Ok - onto snaps of people who were there...
Me with Barbara Monajem, author of "Bewitched by his Kiss."
Me with Carol Townend, author of "Lady Isobel's Champion".
Me with Louise Allen, author of "Regency Rumours". And if you wonder why I'm pulling such an outraged face, it is because the person who shall remain nameless, who took our picture, was making sure she got a certain part of the mural behind us, in the shot.
Eventually we all stopped chatting, and sat down to lunch. At my table was Kimberley Lang, author of "When Honey got Married".
And then I got a bit too distracted by the fabulous food to take more pictures of people.
Besides, who want their photo taken while they're eating?
I did take just one snap, of the dessert. All I can say is yum.
After lunch, I got together with Barbara Monajem, and Marguerite Kaye for a bit of a chat about an anthology, A Scandalous Regency Christmas which is coming out for Christmas, in which we all have short stories.
And then it was across London to the Meridien Hotel on Picadilly, where the publishers had organized a reception. On arrival we were given the most fabulous strawberry flavoured cocktails.
Then there was lots more mingling. I had chats with my lovely editor Pippa Roscoe, the lovely author Mary Nichols, the newest author signed up to Mills and Boon, whose name is Jessica something...oh, dear, those rossinis were obviously a bit stronger than they seemed.
Later there were presentations to authors for milestones reached. Marguerite Kaye - author of "Rumours that Ruined a Lady" was given a tiffany pin for having published 25 stories!
Oh, and I almost forgot - each of us who attended the lunch were given a lovely cloth goody bag, containing all sorts of goodies.
If you have seen pictures from other authors, of the contents of their goody bags, you may have noticed that the mini champagne bottle seems to have vanished from mine. I have no idea where it has gone (cough)
Last weekend, I not only left my study, I left the country! Boarded a plane, and flew all the way to Germany for the Love Letter Magazine convention in Berlin.
I've never been to Germany before, so, on the recommendation of fellow Harlequin author Michelle Styles, I booked a room in the rather quirky but utterly charming Lindenufer hotel.
It's not for the fainthearted, or the short of breath, as it's over a parade of shops. To get to the hotel you have to climb 2 flights of stairs, with your suitcases (unless you take a porter with you, which I did in the form of wonderfully tolerant hubby).
But the hotel was only a short walk away from the Kulturhaus, Spandau, which was where the convention was happening, so I forgave it the lack of a lift.
Kris Alice Hohls, the lady who organized the convention, warned me I would be working hard over the weekend, so I braced myself...but found instead that I was having a lot of fun.
I spent my first official session chatting with author Delilah Marvelle and eating chocolate. Then on to a game of Pictionary, organized by Courtney Milan and Vivian Arend -
where the prize for either drawing a topic, or guessing correctly, was...chocolate! In the afternoon, I took part in a workshop which Michelle Styles and I planned together. We were given the topic of "Lords and Ladies", but since there is so much to cover, we decided to present it in the form of a short sketch. (So we could dress up in Regency costume.
You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to transport a chip straw bonnet by 'plane. Though I wasn't the only lady in the airport carrying a fragile hat in a plastic bag through customs. Bring back the hatbox, that's what I say!)
For the purposes of the sketch, Michelle became a North country woman, married to a wealthy tradesman, determined to buy a titled husband for her daughter. While I morphed into the Dowager Countess of Warrington, promising to get her a Court presentation and vouchers for Almacks.
And then I went along to the book signing.
I was tempted to do it in full Regency dress, as there wasn't a lot of time to change, but in the end I settled for signing with a quill pen.
We got taken out for a fabulous meal in Spandau's Citadell by the team of organizers.
Only nobody had warned me that it was going to rain in Germany, and my shoes were not in the slightest bit waterproof. My socks were still wet when I got back to the hotel.
I was a bit better prepared on Sunday, with a waterproof jacket (which I bought on holiday in San Francisco last year. Once again, I hadn't bargained on weather being worse than in the UK).
I took part in a panel about genre romance, where my answer to practically every question was "What Fiona said". Except for one unguarded moment when Maya Banks admitted that it takes her two weeks to write one of her stories. "TWO WEEKS!" (Imagine the screech from me...it takes me 5 months to finish one of my books, and even then the editor invariably wants massive improvements.)
But my favourite event was the "Blind Date" which was a bit like a speed dating event. I went from one table to another, meeting enthusiastic readers, and answering their questions. And since what they wanted to know was about me, I actually knew the answers!
And on every table there was a basket of...more chocolate.
That ended the official "duties", but in the evening, I was invited out for a meal with Dutch blogger Aurian Booklover (as she's known on facebook).
It was a lovely, informal event, where we all got to know each other a bit better, as well as sharing our love of books, and romance in particular.
And then I stayed on in Germany for a further two days, to see the sights.
My feet are still recovering from all that exposure to the real world. I'm used to shuffling around the house in slippers, not striding around foreign cities with a map in one hand and an umbrella in the other!
Now - back to writing. I must say that in spite of still feeling very tired, I also feel inspired by mixing with so many people who share my love of romance.
Last month, I went down to Ickworth, a stately home in Suffolk, where I met up with fellow Mills & Boon author Louise Allen. We're planning to collaborate on a trilogy of books - along with Sarah Mallory - with heroes who all serve in the same regiment. So, in the name of research, we trudged down to the events field behind the rotunda, where several historical re-enactment societies were gathering.
All of the people there share a fascination with the same period we do - the Regency. Or in the case of these re-enactors, specifically The Napoleonic Wars, and the conditions under which the men served. All summer, they will be donning authentic uniforms, camping out in muddy fields, and living exactly as a soldier of those days would have done.
The first thing that struck me was just how much wood was being consumed.
Every other tent had its own camp fire, on which the camp followers prepared a variety of interesting-looking food. Which we weren't allowed to eat (modern health and safety regulations!)
Not even from the officer's tent
We weren't allowed to touch the replica guns, either, although all the soldiers we spoke to were very eager to tell us how they loaded and fired their weapons.
I met a very friendly naval lieutenant, who explained what he was doing with an infantry regiment - and in doing so solved a problem that I'd been having with one of the minor characters in my next book.
Saw replica cannons being fired - and learned that when brass cannons get very hot, they "ring" (presumably like bells, but our gunners didn't have enough cartridges to keep on firing until that happened)
And watched a film crew trying to re-create a skirmish between French and British troops.
If you want to find out more about these chaps, and the era they have become such experts in, you might like to visit their website: 95th rifles.
On Friday, I went to the launch of "Good Husband Material", the latest best-seller by Trisha Ashley. (And it really is a best-seller - as I'm writing this it is at number 5 on the shelves of Tesco in Llandudno according to a reliable source).
We were all really pleased to be back at the Bod Ewr, a lovely little pub in St. Asaph, and the favourite venue of the Novelistas which was severely flooded in November last year. This is the first week they have opened after refurbishment, and then only to private functions. We couldn't wait to get our hands on our signed copies of Trisha's new book - or the menu.
And then of course, the cake, made by Trisha's own fair hand.
So looking forward to reading this...
I've been on another research trip! This time to Eton College, where I got a "behind the scenes" tour of the boarding school from one of the "beaks".
I wanted to find out more about the place because most of the heroes I write, as members of the British aristocracy, would have been educated there.(As were other famous fictional characters James Bond, Bertie Wooster, and Captain Hook!)
The school was founded in 1440, as a charity school to provide free education for 70 poor boys, who would then go on to King's College Cambridge.
(Scholars today still keep up the tradition of passing the statue on the right, so that their heart is towards their benefactor.) Though nowadays we tend to think of Old Etonians as people from very privileged backgrounds.
The walls of Eton are covered in centuries of graffiti, proving that boys don't change, whatever their station in life, or the century in which they live. The desks, too, show just how determined some boys are to leave their mark.
The teachers, or "beaks" may well have left their mark on the boys, too. Flogging was common. The headmaster who was in charge from 1809 - 1834 (and therefore of most interest to me) once flogged 80 boys on one day alone, which by my calculation was about a quarter of the pupils then present.
My heroes would have played "fives" in one of these courts
and also the "Eton Wall Game" against this wall.
The "beak" who showed me round the college tried to explain the rules of the game which is, apparently, a precursor to rugby. The only fact that stuck in my mind, though, was that nobody has scored a goal in over 100 years!
Real Regency characters who would have attended Eton include Beau Brummel, and the Duke of Wellington.
Wellington is famous for having said, whilst watching a cricket match in which Eton scholars were playing, that "there grows the stuff that won Waterloo". The school still has a reputation for turning out the kind of men who will rise to the top. Our present prime minister, David Cameron, and deputy Nick Clegg are both Old Boys, as are many leaders of countries around the world.
The school is such a part of British heritage, that the staff accept it has become a tourist destination. The pupils have to get used to having their photos taken as they go to lessons. I thought this was a bit intrusive, but maybe it's just a good grounding for future lifestyles which may well include being followed by paparazzi!
Just across the Thames, is Windsor castle, which is used regularly, even today, by the royal family. On the day I took a tour, the royal standard was flying, which meant She was There! I didn't see Her Majesty, but there were plenty of guards marching about, keeping the tourists in order.
First of all - Happy New Year! This is the first time I've blogged in 2013 - I've been so busy trying to get my latest book to my editor for it's (extended) deadline that I haven't been outside. Honestly. I've been sitting hunched over my laptop furiously writing, and tweaking, and checking facts and dates...If you want to keep up with my day-to-day writing life, you can find me on facebook.
But the book has been sent in. And so I went out.
On Friday, I drove to North Wales to meet up with the Novelistas to celebrate the launch of Anne Bennet's latest paperback release.
"If You Were The Only Girl In The World" is set in the years approaching the second world war. The heroine, Lucy, has to take a job as scullery maid at the home of the aristocratic Hetheringtons, where she strikes up a relationship with their last remaining son, Clive. This tale of love across the class divide is already at number 25 in the bestseller chart. So naturally we had to get the bubbly out to toast its success.
Some of us may have had more than one glass.
Because of the terrible flooding which afflicted North Wales over the winter, we weren't able to attend our usual venue, which is still being refurbished. So we have been descending on various venues in North Wales, bemusing the hapless staff with our outrageous demands for hot soup whilst thrusting copies of our latest masterpiece into their hands.
After a short time of sharing what is going on in our writing lives, followed by lunch and bubbly, the time came to cut the cake which Anne had made to share with us. It was such a work of art it was almost a shame to cut it up.
But it was delicious too! So delicious I asked Anne if I could have a second slice to take home to my hubby.
Did he enjoy it? Umm...well, it never actually reached him, (licks lips surreptitiously).