Tea with Mist

The spy known as Mist made a perfectly appropriate entrance, on the arm of Eleanor Haverford’s colleague Tolliver, announced by the butler. Some of Eleanor’s acquaintances had also employed the young woman, and reported that she simply appeared in their rooms, coalescing like the mist she was named for, not there one minute and the next sitting sedately in a chair, ready to ask searching questions.

A most unaccountable young woman, they called her.

She did not play such games with the Duchess of Haverford, but then her history gave her cause to be nervous of the Haverford family. Not that her suspicions were justified, but the duchess could not reassure her without touching on matters that must remain unspoken between them until Mist raised them herself.

Tolliver broke the silence. “Well, Your Grace, we are here, as requested.”

“It is your colleague’s services I require, Tolly,” she told him. “But you may remain if you wish. Please. Be seated. May I offer you both tea?”

Mist accepted, politely. Tolly declined, also politely, but gestured to the brandy decanters Eleanor kept for her sons. “Indeed. Help yourself, my dear. Mist,” her name was Prudence Virtue, but Eleanor would not use it unless Miss Virtue herself invited her to do so, “I wish to commission you for a job. I have grave concerns about the safety and well-being of a godson of mine. He has been a faithful correspondent, and I have not had a reply to any of my letters for several months.”

Mist tipped her head to one side while she considered. “Has anything recently changed in his life to explain the absence of letters? A new school or a new friend? Travel?”

“The Earl of Penworth is twenty, and has been educated at home because he is blind. I write to him each month, and have done for the past twelve years, since he was old enough to read my letters and pen a response. Since his accident, he has dictated his replies, and he always responds promptly. So when I heard nothing, I asked Tolliver here to send to the Penworth estate. The Earl has been gone for months. His half-sister, the Countess of Wyvern, fetched him away and since then the estate steward has been taking his direction from her.”

Mist frowned. “Lady Wyvern has… something of a reputation, Your Grace.”

Eleanor acknowledged the point. “She is a ruthless and selfish woman. She does not like Rupert, and Rupert does not like her. Tolliver brought me some more news. The people at the estate were told that their earl has married, and is taking an extended honeymoon at Wyvern Castle. Which is not completely unlikely, since Lord Wyvern is Lord Penworth’s guardian. But I can find no one who  has heard from, seen, or spoken to Lord Wyvern for at least seven months.”

Mist nodded, then took a sip from her cup while she thought about what she had heard. “You wish me to go to Wyvern Castle and discover what I can.”

“Yes. Will you accept the commission?”

The story of the Earl of Penworth, and his imprisonment with the bride his sister forced him to marry, is told in The Prisoners of Wyvern Castle, a novella in my permafree book Hand-Turned Tales. Click on the link for more details and buy links. In The Prisoners of Wyvern Castle, you will meet Mist and her friend and colleague Shadow, hero and heroine of Revealed in Mist, the first scene of which takes place in Wyvern Castle between the last chapter of the novella and the epilogue. My stories are all stand-alone, but they link. I cannot deny that they link.

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Riding the crocodile

The bazillion book market is a puzzlement. Authors fret about how to be noticed in the huge flood of new releases every week (more than 370,000 in the past 30 days on Amazon alone). Readers complain that many books they pick up are not worth reading, and I’ve heard many say they’re trying no new authors because of disappointments.

Meanwhile, those who guard the paths by which we authors reach our readers are working for themselves, and not for us. I don’t blame them for that. It is the nature of business to wish to make money, and it is the nature of mega-business — such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google — to wish to remove any competition that prevents them from making more money. They are, as a series of New Zealand advertisements said about foreign-owned banks, rather large crocodiles doing what crocodiles do. Admirable creatures in their own way, precisely designed for their purpose. But uncomfortable and dangerous to keep in the house.

I need to ride those particular crocodiles in order to reach the readers who prefer those platforms, but I’m trying to avoid being swallowed, crunched, and spat out. (Which means I’m not joining KU or anything that requires exclusivity.)

On the plans for this year is a shop on my site, where you can buy my books directly. I am toying with some kind of a sponsorship model — a sort of a subscription, where people make one modest payment a year and then get sent anything I write, plus some kind of other recognition that they are sponsors of the author known as Jude Knight. Maybe a t-shirt? And a club card? Special sponsor events?

I’m also looking at making changes to the newsletter to make it more appealing. People are just so busy!

What else? The most effective way I’ve found to reach more readers is reader word of mouth, and that is very much in your hands. I’m open to ideas. How can I do more to help you help me?

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The weather on WIP Wednesday

My current first draft WIP is set in 1816, the year without a summer, and the weather is almost another character in the book. So I figured this week I’d seek extracts from my author friends where weather becomes a plot device. Or any other natural phenomenon. If you don’t have a storm or a heat-wave, how about a volcano or a plague of locusts?

Here’s mine, from House of Thorns.

Bear walked down to the village, seeing evidence of the night’s storm on either side of him, in deeper puddles and streams, downed branches from trees, and flattened crops in the fields.

At Rose Cottage, Miss Neatham was fretting herself to flinders, though she tried not to show it. He’d seen her bite back words all morning, since he carried her downstairs and set her up in the parlour, with a book to read and strict instructions not to move. Each time he went in to ask her where to find something, or to bring her something to eat or drink, or just to check that she was following instructions, he could read the anxiety about her father on her open face. “When will you go to the village?” she did not say, but it was written clearly for him to see — a supposition she confirmed with her deep sigh of relief when he said, “The rain looks as if it is clearing. I’ll go down to the village now, Miss Neatham. I have a few things to buy, and I will check on your father.”

Miss Neatham had clearly been a provident housekeeper, for the house was fully stocked with all the staples, but they could do with some fresh bread and he’d buy more meat, too. He could not help but draw the conclusion that her financial situation took a dire turn for the worse thanks to Pelman’s intervention on his behalf.

He would have to see how the situation could be corrected. And he needed to see if Mrs Able was available for another week or so. Otherwise, Miss Neatham would go home to that horrid little hovel and put her ankle at risk by looking after the old man herself.

In the main streeet, straw had been laid on the worst mud patches, but the steep alley to Miss Neatham’s abode was scoured into deep treacherous ruts, and he kept to the sides where a few inches of relatively dry ground gave him better purchase for his boots.

The quavering voice of the old man raised in a shriek distracted him from his focus on his footing. “Help! Murder! Help!” Neatham was shouting.

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Tea with Aldridge

“Mama?”

At the sound of Aldridge’s voice, Eleanor, Duchess of Haverford composed her face, smoothing the slight frown that creased her forehead and forcing a smile as she turned from her desk to greet this beloved guest.

“My love,” she said, as he crossed to press a kiss on the hand she raised for him, and then on one cheek. The boy looked well. He had a spring to his step that had long been missing, his eyes were clear and bright, and his cheerful grin had lost the cynical twist so pronounced a bare few months ago—to her eye, at least.

Eleanor hoped what she had to say would not cast him back into melancholy.

Aldridge had been raised with the finest manners money could buy. He took the seat he was offered, complimented her on the success of her most recent entertainment, asked about the book her companion was reading, discussed the likelihood of rain on Tuesday next, and generally kept up his end of the conversation without once showing impatience or asking why she had sent for him.

He must be wondering, though. “Cousin Judith,” Eleanor said to her companion, “I would like a few minutes of private conversation with my son. Would you leave us, please? I will send when I want you.”

“What do you plan for that one, Mama?” Aldridge asked. Haverford had an army of indigent relatives, with nothing to do but hang on the ducal coat tails. Eleanor had long since formed the habit of taking the women one by one as companions, finding their talents and interests, and helping them into positions that suited their skills.

“Not, I think, a marriage, my dear. A library perhaps. She is happiest with her head in a book. Or, I begin to think, perhaps she might be persuaded to try her hand at a memoir or a Gothick. She writes the most delightful letters. I can see her living with Cousin Harriet in a comfortable little house, writing spine-chilling stories and having a most wonderful time.”

Aldridge chuckled. “Cousin Harriet, is it? The one that breeds dogs and hates men? Mama, you are a complete hand.”

“I collect that is a slang expression, Aldridge darling,” she said attempting to be disapproving, but twinkling back at him. He really was a sweet boy.

“You must be wondering why I sent for you,” she began.

He leaned over to kiss her cheek again. “Because you missed me?” he suggested. “I have neglected you shamefully, Mama, these past weeks.”

An opening. Eleanor took it. “These past six months, Aldridge. Since you took Mrs Winstanley into your keeping. You have been much engrossed, I take it.”

Aldridge sat back, his eyes suddenly wary. “I am sure discussing one’s mistress with one’s mother is not de rigueur,” he complained.

“Introducing one’s mistress to one’s Mama opens one to such comments, dear,” Eleanor teased, ignoring the subtle withdrawal evidenced in the suddenly bland voice, the stiffness of his posture.

As she’d hoped, Aldridge relaxed, a fleeting grin lifting one corner of his mouth.

But the matter was serious enough. “One hears remarks, my dear. Hostesses who lack the Merry Marquis at their affairs; gentlemen who must play their merry japes without their boon companion; even His Grace your father has commented you have abandoned your usual pursuits.”

“His Grace has no reason to complain. I do my work.”

“Yes, my love. You are an excellent manager. But, Aldridge, I am concerned.”

“You have nothing to be concerned about, Mama.” It would be an exaggeration to say her tall elegant son flung himself to his feet, but he certainly rose more quickly and less smoothly than usual, and then stalked with controlled deliberation to the brandy decanter she kept for him on the sideboard. “May I…?”

She nodded her permission, and he poured a drink while she decided how to approach her topic. It was harder than she expected. She yearned to tell him to do what pleased him, to stay in the fools’ paradise he was building with the lovely Becky.

But she could not ignore the duty owed to the young woman. Eleanor, who seldom allowed herself to feel such a plebian and useless emotion as guilt, was aware she should have given Becky the means to escape when they met six months earlier. She had quite deliberately put Aldridge’s need for Becky’s brand of comfort ahead of Becky’s evident desire to abandon the life of a courtesan. She did not feel guilty. But she did acknowledge a debt.

“You are not the one for whom I am concerned, Aldridge,” she said.

He had been studying his brandy, but glanced up at that, a quick look from beneath level brows before he drew them into something of a frown.

“Who, then?”

“Mrs Winstanley, dear. I am concerned for Mrs Winstanley.”

Another quick movement, this one sending the brandy sloshing in the tumbler, but he steadied his hand before it spilled. “No need, Mama. Becky and I are very happy.”

“You spend all your time with her, Aldridge. If you are not at her townhouse, she is in the heir’s wing. If you travel, she travels with you. Last time you went to Margate, you stayed with her in the town rather than at Haverford Castle.”

“You are very well informed, my dear.” Eleanor knew that cold ducal tone, but from her husband’s lips, not her son’s. Almost, she stopped. But no; she would do her duty; she had always done her duty.

She matched his tone with her own. “You employ Haverford servants, Aldridge. They answer my questions, as they should.” But this was not to the point. Better to just spit it out.

“If you continue as you are, you will break Rebecca Winstanley’s heart, Aldridge. She deserves better from you.”

Whatever he expected, that wasn’t it. He was too controlled to openly gape, but the muscles of his jaw relaxed. He recovered himself and took a sip of his brandy, gaining time while he thought. It was a trick she used herself.

“What can you offer her, Aldridge? A year? Two? And then what? You cannot marry her, of course…” Was that a flare of longing she saw, quickly suppressed? Merciful heavens, had it gone so far, then?

“You cannot, Aldridge. Even if we could find a way to conceal her past—and with the interest your marriage will attract, every tiny detail of your wife’s history will be uncovered and inspected—she is lower gentry, if gentry at all.”

“Lower gentry,” he conceded, reluctantly. “But what does that matter, Mama? Peers have married beneath them before. What of Chandos? Or, if you want a more recent example, Marquis Wellesley? ”

Eleanor struggled to show no hint of her alarm, keeping her voice level as she said, “And their wives have suffered for it, Aldridge. Their estates, too. You would be doing Mrs Winstanley no favour, Aldridge, even if her past did not come to light. And it would.

“Besides, your duty to your name precludes such an action. You will be Haverford. Your wife will be mother of the next Haverford.

“And consider your little half-sisters, who will only be able to overcome the circumstances of their birth if Society continues to pretend they are my protégées and not your father’s base-born daughters.

“You cannot marry your mistress.”

He opened his mouth to argue, but suddenly the fight drained out of him, taking, it seemed, his ability to stay upright. He sank into a chair, all the joy gone from his face leaving it bleak and lonely.

” I know, Mama. Truly.”

He fell silent again, cradling his brandy in front of his chin and staring into nothing.

She had to ask. “Does she seek marriage, my son?”

Aldridge’s short laugh was unamused. “Becky? Of course not. She has no expectations at all. Not even of common courtesy or kindness, let alone of being treated like the lady she is.

“And I am a scoundrel for taking advantage of that. Were I the gentleman I pretend to be, I’d set her up as a widow somewhere and leave her alone. After the life she has had…

“I doubt she would marry me even if I asked. She is grateful to me, but gratitude only goes so far.”

He glared at his mother. “But I will not give her up, Mama. We have the rest of this contract term, and another after that if I can persuade her to a second term.”

“I am not asking you to surrender your domestic happiness, my dear. Just to reduce it a little for Mrs Winstanley’s sake.”

Aldridge cocked one eyebrow in question, but said nothing.

Should she tell Aldridge his mistress was in love with him? She had seen them in the park:  Becky, her little daughter, and Aldridge—by chance as she returned from an unusually early errand and then deliberately several more times. Her son was so absorbed in the woman and the little girl he never noticed the stopped carriage where she sat observing the three of them together.

No. She would say nothing. If he had already considered the logistics of marrying the woman… “You will have to let her go, Aldridge—at the end of the contract, or in any case when you find a suitable bride. The parting will be much harder, for both of you, if she fancies herself in love with you.”

“Spend a few nights a week away from her, my dear. Let her know you are seeing other women. Help her to armour her heart against you, if you love her.”

“Love, Mama? Can Grenfords love? I like her. I respect her. I enjoy being with her. She makes me happy, Mama. Is that so terrible? I’m not sure I know what love is, but I know I don’t want Becky to leave me, or—worse—to hate me and stay.”

“I have every faith in your charm, Aldridge. You will be kind. You will be gentle. And you will do your duty by your mistress as you always do your duty in all things.”

As Eleanor always did hers, she reflected after her son left, and duty could be a cold and thankless  master. Aldridge would not soon forget her role in this day’s work, and Becky would be ungrateful if she ever found out. But it was for the best. She had to believe it was for the best—not just for the Grenford family and the Haverford duchy, but for Aldridge and Becky as well. She hoped it was for the best.

I wrote this piece for The Teatime Tattler two and half years ago, at the time I published A Baron for Becky. It gives a bit of backstory to what happens between Part 1 of that book and Part 2. Poor Aldridge. Poor Becky.

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An end and a new beginning

Yesterday morning, I wrote the final scene of The Realm of Silence, ending with those welcome and wonderful words ‘THE END’.

Not, of course, that the task is finished. I have a first draft, with plot threads still dangling, new ideas in the second half that need to be woven back earlier into the book, passages that make outrageous leaps and others that limp like a wounded snail — meandering, slow, and purposeless. The next task is a paper read through, and the book has been printed and is sitting waiting for me. I’ll make notes as I go this first time, but I won’t map anything.

That’s next. Story analysis. I’ll open the spreadsheet with my plot lines and all the other things I need to track, and I’ll read the book again, this time writing a brief synopsis of each scene and filling in the columns across the spreadsheet. Which plots were advanced? Which characters were involved? (And what were they called? — I have a bad habit of changing people’s names in mid-stream.) What is the hero arc for each of my protagonists, and how does it match the arc I planned when I began? If I’ve changed it, is it for the better?

Are the characters true to themselves? If not, how do I fix it? What about my secondary and background characters? Are there too many? Can I remove some, or fade them into the wallpaper? Are they real people with hints of their histories and personalities?

Once I have the storylines mapped, I can see what I’ve dropped or failed to resolve, or where an earlier hint or clue would help build tension. I go back through the draft, and use the spreadsheet as my guide to scrawl all over, giving myself instructions for the rewrite.

Which is just that. A rewrite. Scenes changed, expanded or cut. New scenes added. This is the point at which I add chapter breaks, because up until now I’ve only had scenes. Each chapter needs a lure to end on and a hook to start. I don’t much worry about length. A chapter is as long as it needs to be.

At last (and by end of January, all going to plan) I have a draft for my beta readers, and off the baby goes, out into the world, ready to face the critics. I hope.

My wonderful team of beta readers will have The Realm of Silence for  February and I’ll be back working on it, making final changes in response to their comments, in March. It will still need a copy edit and a proofread after that, but I’m aiming at publication in late April.

Meanwhile, I have created a hero’s journey and character interviews for the hero and heroine of my next book, written a plot synopsis, and begun to write. I’m going to follow the same process that finally got me going on The Realm of Silence — a first cut that is mostly dialogue, then a second pass to fill in the rest of story and give me a first draft. I’m aiming at 60,000 words for House of Thorns, which is for a Marriage of Inconvenience line for Scarsdale Publishing. It’s due to them on 1 March, so the first draft needs to be done by 10 February. With 5,000 words on the page so far, I’d better get writing.

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Twelfth Night, the end of Christmastide

The twelve days of Christmastide, celebrated with extravagant gifts in the Christmas carol, begin with Christmas day and end with the Feast of the Epiphany. The Epiphany was the day on which the Christian church remembered the ‘manifestation’ (which is what the word Epiphany means) of the Christ child to the Gentiles, in the form of the wise men, or Magi. Since at least medieval times, the Feast has been celebrated with gift giving in emulation of the Magi. And other party stuff. Those medieval types knew how to party.

Like all the great traditional Church feasts, the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany begins the night before. AS did the Jews before them, the church counted (and counts) the new day as beginning at sundown, and  Twelfth Night Eve is part of Twelfth Day, just as Christmas Eve is part of Christmas Day, and All Hallows Eve (now called Halloween) is part of All Saints Day.

By the 18th and 19th centuries, the English Catholic tradition had long been buried under a mix of Puritan reforms and pagan accretions, but many of the medieval traditions survived. The king still offered gold, myrrh, and frankincense at the Chapel Royal at St James. Mummers paraded, masked balls abounded, wassailers saluted the apple trees and one another with hot spiced cider, and at parties, a king and queen for the day were chosen to rule the festivities, usually by the randomising method of who found a bean (king) or a pea (pea) in their slice of Twelfth Night Cake. In this blog post written for a Christmas blog hop three years ago, I show Avery Hall, Candle’s home, during a Twelfth Night Eve party.

Like most of the West, my household follows the Victorian tradition of presents on Christmas Day rather than spreading them through Christmastide or giving them on the Feast of the Epiphany, but one tradition we stick to is taking down all the Christmas decorations before sunset on 6th January. Not that we believe goblins will invade if we ignore the tradition. But still. That’s my job for tomorrow.

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Stubbornness, pride and other gagging devices in WIP Wednesday

Why doesn’t she (or he) just tell him (or her), we yell at the page, when a few words would solve the misunderstandings and end the book in a fraction of the time. And that’s why, of course. Without the hero and the heroine at cross purposes, at least in some respects, the story would be over, and where is the fun in that?

Our challenge as authors is to make the communication blockages realistic. We don’t want our heroes or our heroines too dumb to live or too prideful to bear. They need strong, sympathetic, and realistic motivation to avoid giving the person they love the information they need to hear. And oh, how we can torture them in the meantime!

So this week, I’m inviting you to give me a scene where two of your characters are talking past each other, and not saying what they mean. Mine is a scene from quite near the end of The Realm of Silence, the title of which comes from a quote about this very issue. ““I like not only to be loved, but also to be told I am loved… the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave.” George Eliot

“Gil, David wishes me to go to London to describe what I saw at the tower.”

Gil sucked his upper lip between his teeth, his face otherwise expressionless. “You will want to get home to your children. You should go.”

“I do not wish to leave you.” Ever. I do not want to leave you ever, you stupid man. You wonderful, confusing, stubborn, stupid man.

“I am in good hands. Chloe and Flora — yes, and Nanna and the girls — are martinets in the sick room, and I shall be back in top form in no time.”

He wasn’t hearing her deeper messages. She should take her dismissal in good part. Their idyll was over before it had begun, and she had promised herself that whatever he could offer would be enough.

“You think I should go, then.”

“I wish you could stay, goddess.” For a moment, his eyes flooded with something that spoke to the longing in hers, but then he shuttered them. “But it is best that you go.”


The following morning, Susan came to Gil’s new quarters to bid him goodbye. The sisters had transformed a screened porch into a comfortable half-bedroom half-sitting room for an invalid. He was sitting up in a chair set in a flood of sunbeams, and the heat would soon have him pushing the rug Moffatt had insisted on off his knees.

Damnable weakness. He yearned to be well enough to go with her — to string their time of closeness out by a few more days. Instead, he set himself to make a clean break of it, for her sake as well as his.

“I’ve come to say goodbye, Gil,” she said. “Or farewell, I hope. Goodbye sounds so final.”

It did. It sank like iron into his soul, tying his half-formed hopes in chains and sinking them fathoms deep. “We will always be friends, goddess,” he said, some of the ice in his heart leaking into his voice despite his best intentions.

Susan blinked rapidly and her own face stiffened, her bland Society hostess expression forming between him and what she really thought. “Of course we will, Rutledge. I am so pleased we have had this time to get to know one another again.”

Gil cast about for something to say. Something that would soften the parting. “Thank you for coming with me to meet Chloe, Susan. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

It was the right note. The tension in her eased a little, though the mask was still in place. “Your nieces are delightful, and Chloe is stronger than she thinks. You will all do very well, I think.”

“I would have made a ham-fisted mess of it without you.” As he would, undoubtedly, of the rest of his life.

She must have heard the wistful note he could not repress, because she hesitated, examining his face.

Behind her, Chloe appeared at the door. “Susan? The little girls hope you will come up and say goodbye before you go.”

Susan considered Gil for a moment more, then looked over her shoulder at his sister-in-law. “Yes, Chloe, I’ll be right there.”

Chloe withdrew and Susan faltered and then seemed to make up her mind, crossing the room at a rush and bending to kiss Gil’s cheek. He clutched the rug to anchor his hands, which threatened to break free from his control and seize her, and never let her go.

“Come to me in London, Gil,” she commanded, her voice ragged. “This cannot be finished.”

“If you need me, I will come,” he promised, even as he shook his head.

She straightened, biting her lips until they were white, then turned and hurried out of the room, but not before he had seen the tears in her eyes.

What a bastard he was, making her cry.

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Tea with [Insert your character here]

The Duchess of Haverford is resting from her New Year’s Charity Ball by planning her social calendar for the coming year. “Take dictation, please, Emmaline,” she says to the poor relation who is currently acting as her secretary, until such time as the duchess finds her a husband, a career, or a hobby fitted to her talents.

“The Duchess of Haverford invites authors from throughout the fictionsphere to send their characters to her regular Monday for Tea afternoons,” she begins, and Emmaline obediently writes the words down. Eleanor holds up a hand to stop Emmaline’s pen, as she explains, “I have had people from the far past and the distant future, even from a time after any of the authors are themselves in existence. How it works, Emmaline dear, I do not know. But it is very exciting.”

She gives a wave to indicate that Emmaline might record what she says next. “Please send Jude a note through the contact page on her website, with the date of your preferred Monday and, if you will, the name of the book you are promoting and the character or characters who will visit.”

She pauses, gathering her thoughts. “For the post, Jude will need a purpose-written piece that can be no more than a few paragraphs or up to 1000 words, in which your characters and I hold a conversation over a cup of tea or the beverage of their choice. If you wish, Jude and I can arrange a time and place to write this with you.”

Another aside to Emmaline. “We have a little space on Facebook we cowrite in. Don’t write this down, Emmaline dear. Facebook is a most peculiar fictional space where very little is as it seems, but Jude enjoys it. On the other hand, many writers prefer to simply produce their own piece after reading about visits from previous weeks, and that is perfectly all right. I have, occasionally, had to edit words that have been put in my mouth, but that is to be expected and I do not at all mind.”

She gives her skirts a flick to settle them more becomingly around her. “I look forward to entertaining your characters, and to promoting your book. Yours sincerely etc etc. Eleanor Haverford. There. That should do it.”

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No looking back, no promises

Okay, I can learn from past errors. Last year’s letter to 2017 had exactly the opposite effect I intended. Instead of responding to my pep talk and improving over 2016, 2017 managed to exceed 2016’s ill effects in every way. Let’s not even go there.

Instead, let’s look forward. Here are my wishes for the coming year.

On a personal note, I hope 2017 will bring good health to me and mine. Above all, I pray for health, happiness, and peace within my family.

I look forward to the opportunity this year, as I untangle and resolve a mass of health issues, to spend more time with friends and less time just completing the next item on my daily lists.

But I love those lists. Thanks to them, in the worst year I have ever experienced, I’ve still kept up with the day job, published one novel and almost written another, published two lunch-time read collections and two other novellas, one new, and had novellas in three co-authored boxed sets. I haven’t done much else, but I have done that.

My target for 2018 is ten thousand words a week on a first draft of something. That’s around ten hours original writing a week, which is feasible. In 2017, I managed around half that. (Did I mention it has not been my favourite year of all time?)  But with better health and less stress, I’m hopeful I can do the ten thousand words, which will split out something like this:

  • the last 12,500 needed to finish The Realm of Silence
  • 60,000 for House of Thorns, a marriage of inconvenience story
  • five original anthology stories of between 15,000 and 20,000 words each for four different groups of authors
  • 40,000 to 50,000 more words to expand The Bluestocking and the Barbarian into a full-length novel
  • 80,000 for Concealed in Shadow, the sequel to Revealed in Mist
  • 80,000 for Unkept Promises, the fourth Golden Redepenning novel, which tells Mia’s story
  • 30,000 in subscriber-only newsletter stories, one every two months.

So that’s just under 400,000 words, leaving me a little in the tank for another project I have in mind, and for the things that steal time from beleaguered authors, such as selling the house we’re in, since we want to downsize before the end of the year.

I’m not going to say that’s the plan. Far be it from me to make an actual plan! And it certainly isn’t a promise. But it’s feasible, isn’t it? Bring on 2018, I say.

 

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The year without a summer

The volcanic gases and particulates in the atmosphere led to spectacular sunsets, such as those later painted by Turner.

In 1816, after an unusually severe winter, the United Kingdom experienced ‘a summer more unseasonable than any former one in my remembrance’ (from correspondence between Susan Farington and Antony Hamond). Nurseryman Samuel Curtis called it ‘the most unpropitious season ever remembered’, and diariest Pegge Burnell called August ‘a most unseasonable month’, describing it elsewhere as ‘dismal, wet, and cold’.

Various studies in the United States, England, and Europe have concluded that this was more than regular climate fluctuation, although winters in the last decade of the eighteenth and early part of the century had been exceptionally cold. Sunspot numbers were down; volcanic activity was up. And then, in 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted in the largest volcanic eruption in, perhaps, thousands of years. For hundreds of miles, the sea was covered in pumice. Ash darkened the sky so that candles were needed throughout the day, and even with candles, people could see only a few metres. Tens, and perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people died. And high in the atmosphere, tonnes of sulfur dioxide thrown out of the volcano turned in sulfuric acid, making an aerosol that would block incoming solar radiation for years to come.

It took time for the effects to reach the other side of the world, but the record shows that the spring, summer, and autumn of 1816 were exceptionally wet and cold, with frequent storms and floods. Harvest failed in the United States, Britain, and across Europe and Asia, leading to famine on a wide scale and starvation among the poor. In China, peasants turned to growing opium in order to make money, and the boom in production led in time to the Opium Wars and the opium trade that still exists today.

In England, people were already suffering severe hardship and food shortages because of the long years of war, harsh economic policies that favoured the wealthy, and the vast mass of unemployed swollen by more than 400,000 men from dismissed from the army and navy after the war. Adding a volcanically enhanced winter to the mix was devastating.

…despite the long run of generally cold wet conditions experienced in the 1810s, extreme weather recorded in the spring, summer and autumn months of 1816 may have been ‘truly exceptional’ and ‘of a degree for which it is reasonable to invoke an external forcing mechanism’ (Sadler and Grattan 1999, 187).

Our sources also add further evidence in support of 1816 being a difficult year for many people across the UK. In Upper Annandale (Dumfries and Galloway), the correspondent to the Farmer’s Magazine (17, 483) described a year ‘having neither spring, nor summer, nor harvest’ and our sources too emphasise the need to recognise a sequence of unusual weather, most of it unfavourable for agriculture, within 1816. The weather hampered agricultural (and other outdoor) work, and harvests of grass, grain and vegetables were of poor quality and quantity. There was a shortage of fodder and livestock was lost in floods or heavy snowfall in some places. Storms and floods uprooted trees, and damaged homes and other buildings. Normal routines were disrupted and travel difficult. An impact on physical and emotional wellbeing is also inferred. [Veale, Endfield. Situating 1816, the ‘year without a summer’, in the UK. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/geoj.12191/full]

(I am researching conditions in summer 1816, because my next book, House of Thorns, take place at that time.)

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