Eating on WIP Wednesday

toasting-fork-e1427826270973All my readers must realise I like food; I write so much of it. Breakfasts, picnics, formal dinners, snacks… my characters stop to refuel at regular intervals. Indeed, Lord Jonathan Grenford (Gren), the younger brother of the Marquis of Aldridge and a secondary character in Prudence in Love, spends much of the book consuming vast quantities of sustenance. But he is a young and active man, and they do manage to get through a lot of food!

So this week, I’m inviting excerpts that include food. Post yours in the comments; I’d love to see it. Here’s mine, from A Raging Madness.

Susan sent the nursemaid to let the kitchen know that three of the household’s adults would be taking nursery breakfast. Soon, Alex and Ella were sitting on the hearth rug, each with a toasting fork and an apprentice. Michael, his hands tucked inside Alex’s, sat between Alex’s knees, holding the toast carefully near the flame, and Anna curled next to Ella holding the fork by herself, with gently coaching. “Slightly further back, Anna. No, not quite so far. We want it to brown, but not burn, and we want to avoid smoke.”

Curved protectively over the child, her eyes and voice soft, she took his breath away. What a mother she would have made—could still make. She would be nearly thirty now, and still fertile, he imagined. Not that it mattered. He wanted her whether they could make children together or not. If only he could persuade her to want him.

In all their weeks of talking, she had not spoken of her marriage or of the child she had lost. Or children? Alex had refrained from prying, sure that the memories pained her, but now he wished to know all her secrets.

“Burning, Unca Alex,” Michael warned. Sure enough, while his attention had been on Ella the toast had wavered too near the flame and was well alight on one corner.

“And that, Michael,” Alex explained, “is what happens if you go too near the flame.”

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Progress report and a dilemma

New books

As some of you know, I collected plots for many years before I actually started writing. I have around seven series and more stand alones floating around in my head, and captured in a OneNote database, and the characters are currently having an argument that I hope you might help me resolve.

This weekend, I’m finishing the third round of editing on Prudence in Love. It goes to Mari Christie on Monday, and she will undoubtedly send it back with more work to do, but in effect, it is on paper and out of my brain.

By the end of the month, the same will apply to The Bluestocking and the Barbarian. And, by the end of the month if not sooner, I’ll be at the halfway point in the first draft of A Raging Madness.

Hence my dilemma. Next month, I’ll want to start another first draft, so I have something to turn to when Alex and Ella won’t cooperate. But of what?

At first, I was going to do them all in chronological order. But if you look at the image above, where colours relate to series and italics to books that are either finished or well on the way to being finished, you’ll see that I’ve skipped ahead with Barbarian.

And I’ve added some books that weren’t in the original scheme.

To make things simple, I’ve taken out a heap of books that I probably won’t look at until I’ve finished some of the other series, but which one should I do next?

It was going to be Lord Danwood’s Dilemma, and then the rest of the Wages of Virtue series (Faith, Hope, and Charity are waiting in the wings).

But the book about Prudence and David turned into two books, and I plan to end Prudence in Love with the first chapter of Prudence in Peril, in which Prudence and Jonathan are imprisoned and about to be taken south to sold into slavery.

On the other hand, A Raging Madness introduces the hero of The Realm of Silence, and reintroduces its heroine, as well as the heroine of Unkept Promises. What about them? Should I keep writing the Golden Redepennings?

And at Christmas, the Belles box set will include the first of the Children of the Mountain King series, The Bluestocking and the Barbarian. It repeats the hint I gave at the end of A Baron for Becky. The Marquis of Aldridge is in love with the niece of his father’s enemy, and the lady wants no part of him. Their story is third in the Mountain King series, The Rake and the Reformer. So should I write The Healer and the Hermit next? Then, too, Lord Jonathan Grenford (Gren, Aldridge’s younger brother) makes an appearance in The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, leaving partway through to face either execution or marriage in an East European kingdom.

“What you propose is not safe, my darling boy. The Grand Army is in your way. You could be shot as a spy,” the duchess said. “Why, this friend of yours cannot even give you assurance that the Grand Duchess will not behead you on sight. It is possible that…”

“Mama, all things are possible.” Gren was lit from within, bouncing on the balls of his feet as if his joy were too big to contain. “All things but one. I have tried living without the woman I love, Mama, and that, that is impossible. Anything else, I can do. Wait and see.”

So you tell me. Which book do you think I should start on in May?

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Crisis points on WIP Wednesday

Upstairs, the little maid looks after the children in the nursery. What do the villains plan for them when they have disposed of the women?

Upstairs, the little maid looks after the children in the nursery. What do the villains plan for them when they have disposed of the women?

A few weeks ago, I talked about plotting as the process of asking ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ and then making that happen. This means a story becomes a series of moments where the hero or the heroine (or, perhaps, the villain) is heading for their goal, full steam ahead, when something happens to deflect them.

Of course we, the readers of romantic fiction, know our protagonists will eventually find their way to safe harbour, quite possibly in a far better destination than the one they planned at the start. So we sit back and enjoy the journey. Not so the poor characters who face the cliff-hanger chapter endings, the crises, blocks and turning points, the things that go wrong.

This week, I’d love you to share a crisis or turning point. Mine is from Prudence in Love. Prue and her sister Charity have been packing to leave the house Charity shared with the villainous Earl of Selby now that she has discovered his real character. But Selby and his cronies have arrived before they can escape, and are planning rape and murder. But first, Selby cannot resist showing off to his friends, by demanding that Charity demonstrate for them her competence at fellatio.

She leaned forward, opening her mouth, and slid her eyes sideways to meet Prue’s. It was enough. As Charity grabbed the most vulnerable part of Selby’s anatomy and squeezed, Prue flung herself on the hand in which Annesley held the gun and knocked it upwards. From the stairs, Barnstable gave a yell at the same time as Selby’s anguished scream.

Prue had no time to look at how the other women were faring. Annesley was larger and stronger than her, and close quarters was not how she would win this fight. Still, if she could get the pistol off him, if Charity had enough wits about her to come to Prue’s aid, they might have a chance.

He was forcing the barrel around towards Prue when Charity hit him over the shoulder with an iron pot, and the gun went off with a loud reverberating bang, throwing him backwards.

Prue sprawled where he dropped her, but was gathering her feet beneath her to throw herself back into the fray, when Charity threw herself down between Prue and Annesley. “Prue? Are you hurt?”

The swine had missed, thanks to Charity, but she had not hit him hard enough. He was leveling the pistol again, grinning broadly. On the stairs, Barnstable was dancing in place, complaining. “She bit me! I was going to be nice, little girl, but…”

Selby’s voice was high and strained, as he dragged Charity away from Prue by her hair. “You’ll pay for this, Charrie, you filthy little trollop.”

 

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A Toad is Born

The Duke of Wellbridge

The Duke of Wellbridge

Early in 2015, I was at the same FaceBook party as Mari Christie (who writes romance as Mariana Gabrielle). The author whose book launch it was asked us to show pictures of our virtual outfit for the party, and our virtual escort, and Mari and I both decided to bring a roguish rake from one of our books.

And that’s how it began.

There they both were, my Marquis of Aldridge from a book as yet unwritten, and Mari’s Nick Northope, Duke of Wellbridge, from Royal Regard, the lynch pin book in her Sailing Home series. Unregenerate rascals, they soon made two things clear to their authors. One: these rakes were old friends, with many escapades and scandals in their joint history. Two: we had better take our shenanigans out of our friend’s party before we spoiled it for her.

We were working up to the launch of the Bluestockings Belles, so we moved our characters into a month-long FaceBook party at a fictional coaching inn, along with the characters of our Belle friends and other people who wanted to play. Wellbridge, with his bride the lovely Bella, hosted the party. Aldridge spent most of it drunk. Mari and I discovered that we enjoyed impromptu co-writing.

The Marquis of Aldridge

The Marquis of Aldridge, heir to the Duke of Haverford

When the inn party ended, the Belles founded the Bluestockings Belles Bookshop on Facebook, and ever since we’ve been making up stories on line in real time with readers and anyone else who cares to join in.

What happens when two or more creative people co-tell a story comment by comment on a FaceBook thread is raw—often painfully raw. But since those first wild moments, we’ve learned to let the characters have their heads, and worry about editing later.

We’ve written a number of vignettes and even short stories and scenes for longer books this way. Someone posts an introduction and usually an image, and then the other participants bring their characters in, with the action and the thread growing as each person takes the tale another step along its tortuous journey.

That’s just the start. The next step is to capture the thread and decide point of view. The author of the point of view character rewrites the piece, layering in detail, correcting ambiguities and inconsistencies, and resolving lost plot points. Then the partner writers take a look and make their suggestions, and the first draft is done. The story still needs the usual rounds of editing and proofreading, but from this point on, the process is much the same as for any other book.

Over the last eighteen months, Wellbridge has grown into his ducal magnificence in front of the readers of the Bookshop and its predecessor the inn. Still a rogue in many ways, he is a devoted husband and father. For Aldridge, marriage is still in his future. The inn party gave me the story that was the kernel around which I built A Baron for Becky, but Aldridge did not (in that book) end up with the girl. He won’t find himself a wife until at least 2017 in real world time, and 1815 in his own.

Lady Sarah Grenford

Lady Sarah Grenford, daughter of the Duke of Haverford

But when he does, what will happen? A casual comment about what reformed rakes might be like as fathers led us to decide their approach to daughters might be very different to their approach to sons! And thus was born the idea for a vignette. Or perhaps a short story.

What if Aldridge, now the Duke of Haverford, has a daughter he adores? And what if he and his best friend would dearly love to see their children make a match of it? And what if Wellbridge’s son is a rake after the pattern of his father, and the pride of the two older retrobates’ he… Perhaps the word I am looking for is ‘loins’ rather than ‘hearts’.

We decided to write a scenario about the two fathers finding their offspring in a compromising situation, and we did. We wrote the scenario. Then we wrote what came next. Then we wrote a bit of backstory. We gave our hero a title and a nickname, and wrote a scene set in his infancy when he was a baby, and earned both from the king.

David 'Toad' Northope, Marquess of Abersham and heir to the Duke of Wellbridge

David ‘Toad’ Northope, Marquess of Abersham and heir to the Duke of Wellbridge

It wasn’t long before we decided we had a novella, and a novella in the romance genre means a happy ever after ending. So our heroine needed to grow out of being a spoiled brat who always wanted her own way, and our hero needed to find out that being a rake hurts people (including the girl he loves) as well as that only one woman would do for him.

We couldn’t do that in a novella, as it turned out. Never Kiss a Toad, by Jude Knight and Mariana Gabrielle is a novel, more than three quarters written (though much of it is still in FaceBook thread mode), and currently 110,000 words plus. We have just started publishing it on Wattpad, a thousand or so words at a time.

Long before we’ve completed the book on Wattpad, it’ll be available as a novel at our usual retailers, but probably not until next year. So why not join us on Wattpad, find out the fate of Toad and Sal, and have your say as the story grows?

Find Never Kiss a Toad on Jude Knight’s Wattpad

Find Never Kiss a Toad on Mariana Gabrielle’s Wattpad

(We’ll be taking it in turns to post, so follow us both to get a part per week.)

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Scandal and gossip on WIP Wednesday

VFS109732 Ladies Gossiping at the Opera (oil on canvas) by Barnard, Frederick (1846-1896) (attr. to) oil on canvas 39.3x37.4 Private Collection English, out of copyright

Ladies Gossiping at the Opera (oil on canvas) by Barnard, Frederick (1846-1896) 

One useful trope in the historic romance writer’s arsenal is scandal. In the highly structured societies many of us write about, social censure was a powerful sanction. It could ruin lives—not just the lives of the women gossiped about, and occasionally even the men, but also those of their families.

Have you used scandal, or the threat of scandal, as a plot point? Share a bit with us, if you would, in the comments.

Here’s mine, from A Raging Madness.

When Alex finished, Lord Henry turned to Ella. “You have shown exemplary courage, Lady Melville. Thank you for what you did for Alex. This family owes you more that we can ever repay. What are your plans? You may call on our help for anything you need. ”

Ella blushed. “Alex helped me first, my lord. He saved my life, I believe, and certainly my sanity. But I would be deeply grateful for help. I must work for my living, and I thought perhaps Susan might advise me on how to find an employer? I thought I could nurse, perhaps, or be a companion to someone elderly, as I have been these five years.”

“Oh, but…” Susan began, then fell quiet, her eyes sliding to Alex.

Lord Henry frowned. “There may be a more immediate problem, Ella. May I call you ‘Ella’, as my children do? You saved my son’s life and so I quite feel you are part of the family, my dear.”

Ella nodded her agreement, lost for words. The man was the son of an earl, and a brigadier general, and he wanted to include her in his family?

“I have met your brother-in-law, I am sorry to say. He is here in London, and he called on me to demand that I tell him the whereabouts of my son.”

“Edwin is here?” Ella said at the same time as Alex said, his mouth curving in a predatory grin, “I would be delighted to meet with Braxton, the hell-spawned bastard.”

At Lord Henry’s raised eyebrow, he muttered an apology, which Susan ignored, saying, “Braxton? You are Braxton’s mad sister!” She patted Ella’s hand again. “Not that you are, of course, I do not mean that. I mean Braxton and his wife have been spouting that story all over town. That their sister is not in her right mind, and that she has been abducted by a…” She trailed off. “Oh dear.”

“Yes,” Lord Henry murmured. “That is the problem.”

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Some like it hot, on WIP Wednesday

Some like their romance hot. Some prefer as few flames as possible and skim over the grubby bits. Some like the warmth so mild that it’s hard to believe the couple are more than just good friends.

Whatever your preference, I’d love for you to share an excerpt that convinces me that your hero and heroine are attracted to one another.

Most of my stories stop at the bedroom door, and even if character development or plot requires a sex scene on the page, I tend to focus on what the couple are feeling rather than what they are doing.

This scene that may or may not end up as part of A Raging Madness is about as explicit as it gets. Ella has just given Alex a great idea about what he can do now that he has left the army.

She heard him shift and drop to the floor, and before she was aware of his intent, he was bending over her. Perhaps he meant to kiss her cheek, but she had turned her face towards the sound of his movement, and his lips dropped on her mouth, paused, and then moulded themselves to hers.

She had been right to be afraid. One touch of his lips and she burned for more, shifting to allow him better access, opening her mouth to welcome his invading tongue. No. Not invading; no conquering assault to batter down her defences, but the long-awaited and cherished advance of a caress that set her aflame, so that she moaned and locked her hands behind his head as if she feared his escape, and he stretched above her on the narrow bed and placed his own hands gently either side of her face.

“Ella,” he said, into her open mouth, and crushed his lips to her again before she could speak, though what would she say? Alex? Yes? Stop?

He was aroused. Though he took most of his weight on his elbows and his knees, still she could feel the length of him poking into her belly. If she shifted, even a little, it would rub the place that burned. Only the cotton of her shift and his shirt kept them apart, and all the good reasons for not lifting both garments out of the way had melted in the heat of his kiss.

Thoughts scattered. She pushed herself up against him, her nipples so hard that the cotton hurt, and it was a good hurt, like the burning he both relieved and heightened as he rubbed his male organ against her, setting her squirming and moaning.

Suddenly he shifted, moving down the bed so he could move her shift sideways down one arm, freeing one breast, and seizing on the nipple with his mouth, his teeth, his tongue.

She moaned again, helpless to keep the sound from escaping, as he used one hand to tease the other nipple, and the other to gather the hem of her shift until her woman’s place was uncovered, and his hand was doing delicious things that narrowed her world to him. To Alex, and his hands and mouth and body, and what was happening to hers.

Until Alex tensed suddenly and raised his head, his hands stilling. Ella suppressed a whimper, caught and subdued the involuntary movement to draw him back, surfaced from the sea of sensation, and finally heard what he had heard. Voices, speaking low. Footsteps. The soft clap of a hand on the roof of the cabin—Jonno’s nightly salute, too soft to wake them but an acknowledgement that they heard more evenings than not.

Jonno and the O’Haras were back from the tavern, and the spell was broken.

She dropped her hands from his shoulders, trying to cover her breast and pull down her hem, blushing furiously in the dark. “I am so sorry, Alex,” she said. Though whether she was sorry to stop or sorry that they had ever started, she had no idea.

After a moment, he pulled away, swinging his legs around so that he sat beside her on the bed.

“I am not that kind of woman,” she said, trying to sound convincing to herself when her whole body was screaming to complete what they had begun.

“Right.” He sounded strained. She could hear him sucking a breath in, then letting it slowly out through his teeth.

“I cannot apologise enough…” Ella began, but Alex interrupted, his voice as courteous as ever, though she could hear the edge in it.
“The fault is mine, Ella. I meant only to salute you for the gift of my future, and I forgot myself. I..” He stopped, and took another deep breath. “I cannot bring myself to apologise. For any impression of disrespect, yes, indeed. I beg your pardon with all my heart if I have offended. But for offending you, not for kissing you.” He stood, and moved away from the bed. She could not make out what he was doing, but he had not returned to his own bed.

“It was everything I have dreamed this age,” he said, almost under his breath. This age? He had been dreaming of kissing her this age?

But she had to correct his misconception. “Each other,” she said.

Whatever he was doing—it sounded as if he was putting on his boots—he stopped. “Each other?”

“We kissed each other,” she explained.

The amusement was back when he replied. “We did, and very nicely too.”

“And we cannot do it again,” Ella warned, hoping her regret was not obvious.

“No, I suppose not. I am going to take a short walk, Ella. I won’t go far, but the cold will be… beneficial.”

He had opened the hatch and was leaving before she spoke again, giving him a gift of words in return for hers.

“It was better than I dreamed.”

His only response was a catch in his step before he continued, but a few minutes later she could hear him begin to whistle as he walked the canal path. It took her only a few bars to recognise the tune, and she smiled in the dark, mouthing the lyrics in time to his whistling.

And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.

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Sidekicks, Henchmen, and BFF on WIP Wednesday

jiltedI’m writing romances, so my stories need two main characters. And most of them have an antagonist or two to throw barriers in the way of my protagonists’ happy ending. But few indeed are the stories—mine or other people’s—without other people important to the plot because of their supporting role. Today’s work-in-progress Wednesday is dedicated to those others: to the confidants, the best friends, the offsiders, the sisters, even the rivals.

Usual rules. I show you mine, and you show me yours in the comments. This is Jonno Price, the teenage valet of my injured Major Alexander Redepenning (retired). The piece is from the first chapter of A Raging Madness.

Out in front of the house, Alex’s chaise waited, with his man Jonno—stripling boy, rather, barely out of his seventeenth year—leaning against a tree at the head of the horses. Alex was nearly up to him before he jerked fully upright.

“Major!” Jonno’s brain woke a second after his tongue, and he corrected himself. “Mr Redepenning, sir. Are we off, then?”

Alex ignored the slip and the stab of regret it caused. “Back to the inn, Jonno. I’d like to make an early start of it. There’s heavy weather coming, they were telling me, and if we have to hole up until it is over, I’d rather do it in a decent sized town than in an inn at the rear end of nowhere.”

“Right you are, sir. Close lot they have here, sir.” Jonno kept up a comfortable patter as he put down the modified step that allowed Alex to drag his bad leg up into the chaise with the minimum of help from his man. Jonno’s conversational overtures had been rebuffed, no refreshments had been offered to man or beast, and Jonno had been directed to water for the horses only reluctantly, after a direct request.

Alex let the boy’s words wash over him as he settled into his seat stifling a groan. Eight hours on the road followed by all this standing around had inflamed the constant ache he lived with into active knives of pain. Jonno, having folded away the step, led the horses around to face the carriage way, then leapt up beside Alex, released the brake, and chirruped the pair into movement. His unconscious ease of movement made Alex’s command sharper than Jonno deserved.

“Give me the reins. I’m not dead yet.”

Jonno handed them over, wisely saying nothing, though his face spoke for him.

“I don’t drive with my legs, Jonno,” Alex said, trying to sound more conciliatory. With Jonno on the brake, and a tired pair of not particularly fine post horses, he was putting less strain on the damned limbs than he would sitting tense beside Jonno fretting about his incapacity. He had a flash of memory: a carriage race in Syria, every bone and muscle in his body called into glorious service as he and his colonel’s four blood horses swept to victory against the competitors from three other brigades, his own screaming support from every hillock along the track.

Never again. Those days were behind him.

Jonno whistled. “What a beauty!”

The colt paced them in the half light of dusk, whickering at the stranger horses on the other side of the stone wall that closed him in, then tired at the lack of response and kicked up his heels, racing off into the gloom.

Jonno and Alex shared a smile. “A fine yearling,” Alex observed, “and bidding fair to be a racer, I would say. Are we still on Melville lands? He has the look of Captain Melville’s old horse.”

“It’s a Melville field, right enough,” Jonno agreed. “That old oak we’re passing? Marks the boundary, they told me in the village. We’ll be back at the inn in a few minutes, sir.”

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She was a fallen woman. Could they help her land on her feet?

A Baron for Becky is up for reader voting in the RONE Awards

A Baron for Becky has been nominated for a RONE Award in the Historical Post-Medieval category, but it needs reader votes to get to the final round. Please go to http://www.indtale.com/2016-rone-awards-week-six to vote. If you’re not a subscriber, you’ll need to sign up to vote, but it’s free, and you’ll get a monthly ezine packed full of articles and reviews.

The book has a 4.47 star average rating on Goodreads; 4.5 on Amazon

InD’Tale review said: “A Baron for Becky” is a fascinating look at ownership of all kinds. It does not seek to rewrite history when it comes to women owning anything. Titles and entailed ownership could indeed be held by women, but only at great cost, a vote, and Royal decree… All the characters are delightful, real, and three-dimensional, and the story is a scandalous romp into the past!

Sale ENDS this week

If you don’t yet have it, I’ve reduced the price to 99c until the end of voting, so buy now.

EXCERPTS

NAKED AND ASLEEP IN A GARDEN

Jacques-Dumont-le-Romain--007 Naked man sleeping

Aldridge never did find out how he came to be naked, alone, and sleeping in the small summerhouse in the garden of a country cottage. His last memory of the night before had him twenty miles away, and—although not dressed—in a comfortable bed, and in company.

The first time he woke, he had no idea how far he’d come, but the moonlight was bright enough to show him half-trellised window openings, and an archway leading down a short flight of steps into a garden. A house loomed a few hundred feet distant, a dark shape against the star-bright sky. But getting up was too much trouble, particularly with a headache that hung inches above him, threatening to split his head if he moved. The cushioned bench on which he lay invited him to shut his eyes and go back to sleep. Time enough to find out where he was in the morning.

WHAT’S IN A KISS?

The Kiss

She thought she knew kisses.  Rough and clumsy connections, rude invasions of her mouth, as the man who had purchased the right violently mauled her breasts and buttocks. Those weren’t kisses.

This; this was a kiss. A firm, but gentle, invitation to a duet, patiently coaxing a response and then turning to a dance, a partnership of giving and taking that spun music through every vein in her body. Becky forgot where she was, almost who she was, as she melted against him, lost in a world of sensation.

WHO’S THAT SLEEPING IN MY BED?

jules-batien-lepage-jeune-femme-endormie-1880-1351968264_orgAt one hour to the minute, he returned up the stairs. The suite was silent and dark. He lit a candle from one in the hall sconce, and let himself into the bedchamber he’d reserved for them. “Becky, I am here,” he said.

No reply. She must be tired, after spending the day keeping little Sarah amused. He put the candle down on the bedside table and stripped naked, muttering to himself as his fingers fumbled over buttons and laces.

He’d wake her with kisses, then… his mind full of images of what came next, he had one knee on the bed and one hand already reaching for the blanket when a tousled dark head emerged, confused cornflower blue eyes blinking at him. “What are you doing in my Mama’s bed?” asked little Sarah.

WHAT WILL HE DO WHEN HE HEARS HER SECRET?

Flirtation *oil on canvas *65 x 85.7 cm *signed ab.r.: F. Soulacroix

She enjoyed his company, and missed him when he was off on duchy business, or out making mayhem in the ton. She’d learned more about sex in three years with Aldridge, than in three years in a brothel and six with other men. But he was also good company out of bed, an entertaining conversationalist, happiest when his mistress had opinions and made him work hard to defend his.

The deep melancholy he kept so well disguised called to the mother in her, and she would trust him with most things in her life. Though not with a sister, if she had one, and not with her daughter, if Sarah were a few years older.

She wasn’t at all sure she could trust him with the news she was going to have to tell him soon.

A COURTESAN’S LOVE FOR HER CHILD

madame-vigee-lebrun-and-her-daughter-jeanne-lucie-louise-1789

The child’s calm self-possession fractured in the face of the doll and her wardrobe.

“Oh, I love her! Look, Mama! Look how beautiful she is. Look at all her clothes!”

Hugh looked. The mother, bending over her daughter, exclaiming over the doll’s articulated arms and legs, and its wardrobe. And the child, her mother in miniature. Identical heart-shaped faces; identical dark hair, tied back but with tiny curls left loose around their foreheads; identical porcelain skin and cornflower blue eyes fringed with dark lashes.

So beautiful.

So intent, eyes full of love for her daughter, like statues of the Madonna he had seen in Catholic Italy, before he sold out.

God, he needed a drink.

THIS MARRIAGE COULD NEVER WORK. COULD IT?

george-goldwin-kilburne-the-new-spinet

She took a turn around the room. This would be much easier if he had remained the disdainful, half-drunk, leering buffoon of a few weeks ago. Sober and respectful, he was temptation personified. But it would never work. “I would expect fidelity, my lord. And sobriety.”

“So would I,” he responded.

Fair enough. Most of the barques of frailty she knew lightened the gloom of their lives with drink or opium. Or laudanum, which combined the two. She had started down that track in the brothel; had nearly died of an overdose. She still shuddered at the memories of the withdrawal, and the cravings she fought afterward. “I do not drink, my lord, and I keep my promises. If ever I marry, I will be true to my vows.” She could not resist emphasising the final ‘I’.

“So will I,” said the baron.

GRIEF LURKS BEYOND THE FOG

Venetia-Lady-Digby-on-her-deathbed

There was a fog. No. Heavier than a fog. A bank of clouds. A blanket, almost, covering everything. Sometimes, she could see through it a little, or hear a few words, or feel a touch. Sarah came to visit. She was sure of that. Her belly hurt. Was it the baby? No. The baby was gone. There was a grief there, somewhere just out of reach, waiting to consume her, but she wouldn’t think of it. She was so hot. No, she was cold. So cold, she was sweating.

Voices. Hands washing her, changing her. Hands touching her intimately. No! She wasn’t going back there!

“Hush, Becky. Hush. Don’t struggle, my love.” Hugh’s voice. She must be dreaming, then. Hugh didn’t love her. She leant into the arms that restrained her anyway.

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Bodice rippers, feminist literature, or just good yarns (Part 3 of 3)

This is the last part of the article based on my talk at Featherston Booktown. Part 1 talked about Dangerous Books for Girls, and the first of six reasons that romances are a threat to the establishment. Part 2 gave three more reasons. So here are the last two.

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#5 Because female orgasms

Romance novels are about people falling in love, which means (whether they are at the sweet end of the spectrum or far down the other end at erotica) they are about people who feel a sexual attraction to one another. This might well be a revelation to some now, as it was 200 years ago. Women have sexual desires. Women experience sexual pleasure. And women’s feelings, sensations and experiences are different to those of men.

A novel is a safe place to explore sexuality. It can’t make you pregnant. People don’t get STDs by taking books out of the library. Romance novels tell women that a hero cares for the pleasure of his beloved; that he puts her pleasure ahead of his own. Dangerous Books indeed!

And today’s best romance writers are very good at writing about sex, unlike the authors celebrated in the annual ‘Bad Sex Awards’, from which comes this gem:

Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands – only Karun’s body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.

Compare the list of ‘Bad Sex Award’ excerpts to the list of scenes that will get you hot and bothered, or this one, which is a first kiss.

She opened her mouth, already shaking her head, and he hurried on to say his piece before she could object. “You could marry me. I don’t flatter myself that I am a prize, but I am a better bet than Hackerton. Marry me, and let me care for you, Rose.” He bent, curving low to capture her mouth. It was as soft and full as it looked, though at first stiff and unresponsive.

But she followed his lead in this as she had in the dance, and what had begun as an impulsive gesture to prevent her from saying no became a luxurious vortex that spun him out of space and time until he was oblivious of everything except the giving, the taking, the sharing of their lips, their tongues, their mouths.

She looked dazed when he drew back. Well, good. He was dazed. He gathered her against his chest and rested his cheek on her hair. “Marry me, Rose,” he repeated.

#6 Because HEA

If a fictional heroine escapes the confines of the house, chooses love, has orgasmic sex, and dies at the end of the story, the message is clear: Don’t try this at home. But if she lives happily ever after? The message is also clear: Live the dream, girl!

In romance novels, the heroine lives. Not only that, she lives happily ever after, which is shorthand for a life of being loved for oneself and for having achieved a measure of security.
(Dangerous Books for Girls, by Maya Rodale)

Unhappy endings appear to be a convention in literary novels. They may be beautifully written, challenging, interesting, and effective in their own way. But they are not hopeful, and people need hope if they are to change their lives. Live the Dream!

While I’m here, can I just dispose of one particular feminist critique of romantic fiction, that it teaches women to believe that happiness lies in a successful love affair? Excuse me? This is a romance. Read the label on the box. If it says cornflakes, don’t grumble at finding cornflakes. If it says romance, don’t be offended by the happy ending.

The happy ending is not more nor less a fiction than all the killers brought to justice in murder mysteries, or the appearance of magical creatures and powers in fantasy novels, or technology that does not exist in science fiction. Do readers of thrillers really believe that a lone hero, with brooding good looks and the memories of an appalling childhood, will ride into town and save the day? No. It’s fiction.

But some killers are brought to justice, technology that was science fiction ten years ago is true today, sometimes one person might make a difference, and happy ending do happen.

And if some find that concept dangerous, isn’t that their problem?

Changing the world, one reader at a time

 

 

Around six months ago, I started posting my novel A Baron for Becky on Wattpad, one chapter at a time. ‘Grandmother,’ said the 15-year old, ‘don’t you realise that’s a site for fan fiction about One Direction?’

But I had read of other novelists building a following by posting there, and I figured it was worth a try. I did not know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect the results reported in the site’s analytics. In the last few weeks, since I posted the final chapter and epilogue, ‘reads’ (Wattpad measures how many people read each part of a ‘work’) have been rising by several hundred a day. As of today, A Baron for Becky has had over 11,000 reads, and nearly half of those have been from parts of the world where romance novels are as dangerous today as they were in England two hundred years ago.

Wattpad readers 19 May

The darker the blue, the higher the concentration of readers: 15% in India, 9% in Philippines, 4.5% in Malaysia, plus readers in Pakistan, Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Algeria, Namibia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Peru, Suriname, Indonesia, Mexico and other places too small to show unless you zoom in on the map.

I’m writing Dangerous Books, and they’re being read by Girls.

Reading romance novels is an affirmative action

As I’ve said before, genre is not a statement about quality, it’s a way to sort books. So why is it still open season on romance novels. Why is it rare to find a romance novel in a high school syllabus, or the study of the genre at university.

Take a look at the names that the genre attracts: mommy porn, chick lit, bodice ripper—they’re all about gender. It is hard not to conclude that the unthinking dismissal, often by people who have never read a romance novel, is anti-woman. And if that’s the case, reading romance is an affirmative action.

So read romantic fiction proudly. Read the best, by all means. In my sub-genre, read Elizabeth Hoyt, or Grace Burrowes, or Courtenay Milan, or Mary Balogh, or any one of a score of other thoughtful talented writers who research carefully and write brilliantly.

Or read light frothy stuff that gives you a rest from your day job. Again, you have many fine writers to choose from.

But read a romance. By doing so, you are supporting a writer who believes that women should have the same freedom as men to make choices.

 

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Bodice rippers, feminist literature, or just good yarns? (Part 2 of 3)

ferdinand-roybet-french-1840-1920-the-presentIn part 1 of this article, I made the claim that romance novels are inherently feminist. Pop back and read part 1 for the argument so far!

In part 2, I continue to argue the point that romances are Dangerous Books for Girls.

#2 Because the love match

Back when the romance novel first started, and even now in many parts of the world, marriages were not about being in love. Marriages were first and foremost alliances of families, at best a mutual exchange of value (my daughter for your cow, a better parcel of land for our joint grandson, your support in the House of Lords in return for my investment in your mills with a family connection to cement the alliance).

While technically in England neither party could be married without their consent after the mid-18th century Hardwicke Marriage Act, in practice, children (and particularly daughters) were raised to understand that marriage was about position, status, property, and opportunity.

The circles that controlled the most status and property, and that therefore had the most to lose if women wanted to have more than a token say in their life partner, were also those that controlled education and publishing. They had a vested interest in suppressing books that suggested that love matches were to be preferred, as do their counterparts in other parts of the world today.

This is not to say that the Brontes and Jane Austen and a plethora of other writers invented stories about love matches. But think of the great love stories before that time and name a few that ended well! Tristan and Isolde? Launcelot and Guinevere? Romeo and Juliet? Outside of fairy tales (As Valerie Paradiz points out in Clever Maids, fairy tales were stories shared for and by women), literature is largely and grimly devoid of happy love matches.

#3 Because escape

Romance novels, along with other genre novels, are often called escapist. This is used as a denigrator, as if escape is a bad thing. Who needs to escape? People in a cage. Who objects to escape? People who control the cage.

In romance novels, readers can live vicariously through the heroine. They can go to the ball. They can visit exotic places, triumph over the villain, fall in love with a rogue and have their heart broken then discover someone worthy to love instead.

They can take a break, a rest, from whatever consumes their day-to-day lives,—a high-pressure cut-throat job, childcare and housework, a daily grind just to pay the bills, illness or disability—and try being someone else for a change.

Escapist fiction broadens the view of what is possible. No wonder the establishment regarded it then, and still regards it now, as Dangerous.

#4 Because the author-ity

It has been said that men write about the big picture and women about the domestic world. This is a gross generalisation, of course. But certainly as a reader I tend to read more books by women than by men, because I’ve found that books by men tend to focus more on the chase, the action, while books by women tend to focus more on the personal growth of the characters. And I’m interested in people and how they interact.

An article about a program that picks the gender of a writer based on a piece of text has this to say:

Men more often concern themselves with actions, ideas, and analysis. Women more often concern themselves with processes, perceptions, and implications. Philip Ball observes, “men talk more about objects, and women more about relationships.”

Gender Genie claims a 60–70% accuracy, which is better than a random guess.

Romances are about human relationships, usually from the perspective of a woman. Women are the authority. More than that, a woman is usually the author. And in the (fictional) world controlled by the woman author, before the end of the novel the male love interest is going to learn to love, respect, understand and value a woman.

(When I got to this part of my talk, a man in the audience asked me if that meant this might lead readers to be disappointed in real life men, to which I answered ‘Yes, absolutely. And a good thing, too!’

Romances that teach women that they can be loved, respected, understood and valued are very Dangerous Books.)

Part 3 (two more reasons and the conclusion)

 

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