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.


Tea with David

The servant showed David Wakefield onto the terrace, where Eleanor Haverford waited.

The visit to the child in the nursery upstairs had calmed him, somewhat; his anger was banked though the duchess had no doubt it still burned under the controlled exterior.

“How did you find Antonia?” she asked, indicating that he should take the chair beside her.

“Worried about her mother.” He jerked as if he would leap to his feet again, but controlled the impulse. “What are you planning to do with her? Keep her here?”

Eleanor had already decided that the little girl would be better with her aunt, and would persuade David to that point of view if he did not agree, but he needed to hear that she acknowledged his claim. “It is not up to me, David. I am just a family friend. You and her aunt must make this decision, since her mother is… unavailable.”

He relaxed, fractionally, but at the last word he let out a huff of air that sounded almost like a sob. “Unavailable,” he repeated, bitterly.

“You intend to go after her, I assume.” Eleanor made it a statement, not a question. He had declared his intention an hour ago, when he had burst in unannounced, demanding to see his lover’s daughter and swearing vengeance on the Marquis of Aldridge.

“Yes. Yes, of course. I already have men on the docks trying to find the ship’s destination. Sailors talk. If the captain told his men, someone will know.”

“What can we do to help?” Eleanor handed David a cup of tea and began piling a plate with small savouries. He would need food and drink, and was unlikely to stop again today to find them.

“Your family has helped quite enough,” David snapped, then lowered his hazel eyes, so like those of her two sons, his half-brothers. “I beg your pardon, Your Grace. That was uncalled for.”

“You are upset, David. I am sure that Aldridge did not intend–”

David’s manners were usually impeccable, and it was a measure of his distress that he interrupted her. “Of course he didn’t. He would never deliberately put Gren in danger. Or Prue either, I suppose. I don’t blame him for choosing the wrong ship for your younger son’s journey. I blame him for suggesting that Prue left of her own accord.”

That raised Eleanor’s eyebrows. “Of her own… he thought it was an elopement?”

“Yes. He had the nerve to suggest Gren has legitimacy and wealth and so…”

“For an intelligent boy, my son Aldridge can occasionally be extremely stupid. No wonder you are cross with him.”

That, as she had hoped, fetched an amused quirk of the lips, though the smile did not reach his worried eyes.

David finished his tea, and stood to leave. “I’ll go after Prue, Your Grace, and Gren, too. Will you send Antonia to her aunt? She is at home there, and the wait will be easier for her. I’ll send word as soon as I can; as soon as I know whether they are…”

He trailed off, and the words he did not say hung between them. Dead or alive. Murdered or merely kidnapped.

In the months to come, Eleanor clung to the promise her husband’s base-born son had made her. No news at all was surely better than certain news of the deaths of her younger son and the young woman she had come to love almost as a daughter. But where were they, and had David found them?

This scene doesn’t appear in Concealed in Shadow, but it clearly happened. Here’s where it fits. After the end of Revealed in Mist, David arrives in London and finds that Prue has been missing for over a week and that the Marquis of Aldridge, heir to the Duke of Haverford, was the last person to see her. He questions Aldridge, to find that Prue had gone down to the wharves to farewell Lord Jonathan Grenford, Aldridge’s younger brother. Aldridge has his own jaundiced view of the couple’s disappearance. David ends up punching the man and storming off. It was inevitable that, after initiating the investigation into the ship on which Gren and Prue left, he’d head to Haverford House where Prue had left her daughter visiting for the day with the Duchess of Haverford.

I’m currently researching and writing character outlines and heroes’ journeys for Concealed in Shadow.


The detainees of Verdun

He says: “Madame, permittez me, to pay my profound esteem to your engaging person! & to seal on your divine Lips my everlasting attachment!!!” A cynical and sensual grin indicates the character of his advances. She smiles with coy complacency, saying, “Monsieur, you are truly a well-bred Gentleman! – & tho’ you make me blush, yet, you Kiss so delicately, that I cannot refuse you; tho’ I was sure you would Deceive me again!!!” Above their heads are oval bust portraits of Napoleon (left) and George III (right), the two men extending their arms as if to shake hands; the King scowls, Napoleon regards him with brooding suspicion. The frames are bordered by olive branches and palm-branches. 1 January 1803

Even before the Peace of Amiens was officially signed in March 1802, people from England came flooding back into France. The country had been closed to them for ten years. Many had property in France they wanted to check on, others came as tourists or on business or to visit family.

Most came and went during the eighteen months of the peace. Some were trapped when, on 23 May 1803, Napoleon signed an edict to detain every male Briton between the ages of 16 and 60. The orders were carried out quickly and efficiently. At first, women and children were allowed to go, but soon every Briton, of whatever age, male and female (even British spouses of French citizens), found themselves prisoners of France for the next 11 years.

At first, they could remain where they were, but soon Napoleon ordered them to various cities, notably Verdun.

It was a sizeable town a long way from the sea, and the influx of (usually) wealthy English was welcomed. John Goldsworth Alger, in his 1904 account of the detentions, says a French newspaper compared the detainees to sheep enclosed in a fold to manure the soil.

The English were able to hire lodgings (at extortionate prices) and live much as normal, though if they could not afford living costs, or if they misbehaved in any way, they were liable to be imprisoned.

Verdun was a walled town, and within its walls the detainees lived much as they would have lived in London, though paying double the normal price for food and everything else.

Some behaved badly. One was sent to prison for seducing a townsman’s wife. Another struck a gendarme who reprimanded him for behaving indecently with his French mistress at the theatre. Still more gambled, insulted the French, and fought with the townspeople and one another.

Others occupied themselves with hobbies or work, or social activities, or raising subscriptions with which the wealthier detainees sought to help the poor.

General Virion was in charge of the detainees and the prisoners of war who soon joined them. The detainees made many complaints about his extortionate practices. One man, a regular social contact of the General, reported he had leave to go out into the country on a day that all leave was recalled. He was heading back into the town when two gendarmes stopped him and told him the order didn’t apply to him. Later, when he did return, he was arrested and faced with a choice: pay a huge fine or be imprisoned.

The general was summoned to Paris in 1810 to explain himself to a commission appointed by Napoleon, but shot himself before the investigation could begin. His successor was likewise asked to explain himself, but blamed all extortion on a subordinate. This man also shot himself, leaving a note that said he was innocent, but — having been blamed by the boss — he could not face dishonour.

I’m finding some wonderful stories and hints of stories about people caught up in the detentions; not just in Verdun but in other towns. As I continue to research for Concealed in Shadow, I’ll share some here.




Tea with Prue Virtue

Today’s post is an excerpt from my latest novel, Revealed in Mist. (Click on the link to read the blurb and find buy links.)

Prue hesitated in the street outside her next destination. Callers needed to present their card at the gate, be escorted to the front door and delivered to the butler, then wait to be announced. On most days of the week, uninvited guests below a certain rank in society would have difficulty making it past the first obstacle, but on Thursday afternoons, the Duchess of Haverford was ‘at home’ to petitioners.

Past encounters had always been initiated by Her Grace. A scented note would arrive by footman, and Prue would obey the summons and receive the duchess’s commission. Though she was always gracious, never, by word or deed, had Her Grace indicated that she and Prue had any closer relationship than employer and agent.

The entrance and public rooms of Haverford House were designed to impress lesser mortals with the greatness of the family—and their own lesser status. Prue was ushered to a room just off the lofty entrance hall. Small by Haverford standards, this waiting area nonetheless dwarfed the people waiting to see the duchess.

Two women, one middle-aged and the other a copy some twenty years younger, nervously perched on two of the ladder-backed chairs lining one wall. Next to them, but several chairs along, a lean young man with an anxious frown pretended to read some papers, shuffling them frequently, peering over the tops of his spectacles at the door to the next room. Two men strolled slowly along the wall, examining the large paintings and conversing in low whispers. A lone woman walked back and forth before the small window, hushing the baby fretting on her shoulder.

Prue took a seat and prepared for a wait. She would not tremble. She had nothing to fear. Both Tolliver and David said so, and Aldridge, too. But how she wished the waiting was over.

It seemed a long time but was only a few minutes, before a servant hurried in and approached her.

“Miss Virtue? Her Grace will see you now.”

Prue gave the other occupants an apologetic nod and followed the servant.

The duchess received her in a pretty parlour, somehow cosy despite its grand scale. Prue curtseyed to her and the woman with her. Were all petitioners waved to a seat on an elegant sofa facing Her Grace? Addressed as ‘my dear’? Asked if they should care for a cup of tea?

“Miss Virtue takes her tea black, with a slice of lemon,” the duchess told her companion. Or was the woman her secretary?

“Miss Virtue, my companion, Miss Grant. Miss Grant, Miss Virtue has been of great service to me and to those I love. I am always at home to her.”

Was Miss Grant one of the army of relatives for whom Her Grace had found employment, or perhaps one of the dozens of noble godchildren she sponsored? The young woman did not have the look of either Aldridge or his brother, nor of their parents. Prue murmured a greeting.

“I was not expecting you, Miss Virtue, was I? Is anything wrong?”

“Nothing is wrong, Your Grace. I just… I have some questions, Ma’am.”

“You should have sent a note, my dear. I will always take time to see you. I was happy to give a good report of you to my friend Lady Georgiana, of course.” As she spoke, the duchess took the tea cup from Miss Grant and passed it to her.

“Your Grace, I would like to speak with you alone, if I may. I beg your pardon, Miss Grant. I do not mean to be discourteous.”

The duchess stopped her own cup partway to her lips and put it carefully back into the saucer, examining Prue’s face carefully.

When she spoke, it was to Miss Grant. “Celia, my dear, will you let those waiting know that I will be delayed…” she consulted her lapel watch, “…thirty-five minutes, but I will see them all today? Perhaps you could arrange refreshments for them? Return on the half hour, please. That is all the time I can spare, Miss Virtue. If you need longer, I will ask you to wait or return another day.”

Prue shook her head. “The time will be ample, Ma’am. Thank you.”

As Miss Grant left the room, Prue was silent, collecting her thoughts. The duchess waited.

“You knew. You have known all along.” Prue shifted uneasily. She had not intended to sound accusing.

The duchess inclined her head in agreement, her face showing nothing but calm.


Lawlessness and bounty hunting in the late-Georgian

The Bow Street Magistrates Court

(This is a repeat of an article I wrote for Caroline Warfield’s blog in June.)

Crime was a personal affair

Before 1829, our modern idea of a police force, and of one law for all, simply didn’t exist. In the pre 19th Century world, crime was a private matter, an offence against the victim. Doing something about it was up to the victim, though if the crime was a felony, the victim could expect help from constables and magistrates.

The offence might be settled between the disputants, or it might go to court to be judged by a magistrate or a jury. If the offence was against the Crown, the King was the offended party, and therefore one of the disputants, a convention we remember in the way we talk about a case as being Jones v Rex (King) or Brown v Regina (Queen). It was still a private affair, a personal interaction.

In our modern world, crime is seen as something that disturbs the public peace and disrupts the smooth running of society. Our police and the courts are charged with restoring social harmony. It is a very different model.

No one wanted a standing police force

The system worked very well in rural England in times of peace, provided you had a fair and reasonable local magistrate. People didn’t move around much. The local magistrate probably knew everyone, and could tell who needed a swift kick to the rear, who should be shipped off to the army and the navy, and who was unregenerate and nothing but trouble. And if he was in doubt, he had plenty of local people to talk to.

The idea of a central police force did not appeal to very many people. The middle and working classes saw such a force as a potential instrument of oppression. Royalty strongly disliked the idea of a standing army. And the gentry felt central control of policing would threaten their individual liberties and their place in local government.

Enter the bounty hunter

Eventually, as we know, the collapse of the traditional village social structure and the increasing mobility of the population made a police force inevitable, and three influential people made it palatable. Henry Fielding founded the Bow Street Runners. Patrick Colquhoun created a philosophy of policing that quieted people’s fears, and Sir Robert Peel established the first modern police force.

But before all of that, thief takers hunted across county lines to capture villains and bring them back to face justice.

Thief takers worked for a reward. Later, and on the other side of the Atlantic, they would be known as bounty hunters. The government, or perhaps a private individual, would post a reward, and off they’d go.

And they had an extremely disreputable reputation:

…the more corrupt thief-takers went further: they blackmailed criminals with threats of prosecution if they failed to pay protection money. Some even became “thief-makers” by encouraging gullible men to commit crimes, and then apprehending and prosecuting them in order to collect the reward. Such practices illustrate the point that not all “crimes” prosecuted at the Old Bailey had actually taken place; some prosecutions were malicious. [Old Bailey Online]

In the early 18th Century, Jonathan Wild, who styled himself ‘Thief taker General of England and Ireland’ was tried and convicted for receiving stolen goods after a decade of dominating the London criminal underworld.

No wonder my hero of Revealed in Mist, David Wakefield, wanted to be called an enquiry agent!

Revealed in Mist

Prue’s job is to uncover secrets, but she hides a few of her own. When she is framed for murder and cast into Newgate, her one-time lover comes to her rescue. Will revealing what she knows help in their hunt for blackmailers, traitors, and murderers? Or threaten all she holds dear?

Enquiry agent David solves problems for the ton, but will never be one of them. When his latest case includes his legitimate half-brothers as well as the lover who left him months ago, he finds the past and the circumstances of his birth difficult to ignore. Danger to Prue makes it impossible.

See my book page for more about the book, buy links, and the first two chapters.

Meet David

From within the protective camouflage of the gaggle of companions, Prudence Virtue watched her sometime partner and one-night-only lover drift around the banquet hall. No-one else saw him. Like the shadow he named himself, he skirted the edges of the pools of candle light, but even when his self-appointed duties moved him close to a group of guests, they overlooked him. None of the privileged, not even the host and hostess, noticed one extra footman.

He was very good. He had the walk, the submissive bend of the head, the lowered eyes. Even Prue—herself hiding as just one more brown-clad, unimpressive companion among a dozen others, waiting patiently in an alcove for the commands of an employer—did not detect him for her first half hour in the room.

But Prue’s body was wiser than her mind, and left her restless in his presence until her eyes caught so many times on a single footman among dozens she began to take notice. And she saw Shadow, for the first time since that disastrous morning five months before.

On the slim chance Shadow was not here for the same meeting as her, Prue stayed out of sight in the back of the alcove as the time for her to make her move approached. He had left the room several times in the hour she had been watching. With luck… Yes. There he went again. Now, if several of the dowagers would call at once… Done. Moving to where any of three or four ladies might be giving her instructions, she hurried away as if running an errand.

The key, the man she knew as Tolliver had taught her, was to fit into people’s preconceived ideas of the universe; to appear to be someone doing something they had an explanation for. The key was to blend into the background of the story they were telling themselves. ‘Don’t notice me. I’m just a companion running an errand,’ her behaviour said. And five minutes after she left, not one of them would remember what she looked like or where she went.

Revealed in Mist was released on 13 December.



Revealed in Mist is available now


Prue’s job is to uncover secrets, but she hides a few of her own. When she is framed for murder and cast into Newgate, her one-time lover comes to her rescue. Will revealing what she knows help in their hunt for blackmailers, traitors, and murderers? Or threaten all she holds dear?

Enquiry agent David solves problems for the ton, but will never be one of them. When his latest case includes his legitimate half-brothers as well as the lover who left him months ago, he finds the past and the circumstances of his birth difficult to ignore. Danger to Prue makes it impossible.

Smashwords: http://bit.ly/2dBfNGq

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Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N7HI8IA/


Tea with Charity

Charity Smith waited in the beautiful parlour to which she had been shown. Built to a more human scale than the gargantuan halls and stairways along which the butler had whisked her, the parlour was still rich and elegant, but she sensed that the paintings had been chosen to suit the pleasure of the room’s owner; that the duchess herself had the pretty wallpaper above the carved wainscoting and the plush drapes that picked out the cornflower blue of the wallpaper pattern. The chairs and sofas had been upholstered in darker blues or sea greens; here a floral, there a stripe. And here and there a bold red vase or cushion set off the more muted colours. And gold, or at least gilt, was everywhere: in the frames of paintings, on cupboard doors, inlaid into table tops, gilding the curves of carving.

Above, the same colours repeated in the ornately painted ceiling. This room was a far cry from the humble cottage in which she had been hidden for six years, or the farmhouse in Oxfordshire she shared with two other women and all their children. She stiffened her spine. The Charity of six months ago would have slunk away, intimidated by the gap between her and the woman she was about to meet. But the loss of her reputation, her marriage, and her home had paradoxically taught her her own strength. She would not be returning home without the child.

She stood and curtseyed when the Duchess of Haverford entered the room, unconsciously squaring her shoulders ready to fight. But the duchess surprised her. “Mrs Smith, I am so sorry to have kept you waiting. You must be beside yourself with worry about your dear sister. But I am confident that David will find her, and all will be well in the end. And, of course, you shall take your niece home with you when you go.”

As she spoke, she took a seat and patted the place at her side. “But come and sit down. Take tea with me and tell me about your children. Did you leave them well?”

Charity is the sister of Prudence Virtue, my heroine in Revealed in Mist. This scene happens after the end of Revealed in Mist, and during the events that start Concealed in Shadow. The first (which is a complete romance and thriller plot, and a stand-alone story) is released tomorrow. Follow the links to find out more, or read on for an excerpt.

“Are you sure Mr. Wakefield will not mind?” Charity asked for the hundredth time.

Prue reassured her again. Of course he would not object to her bringing Charity to his town house for a few days. Would he? Weeks of separation had left her yearning for him, but had it given him time for second thoughts? One slightly used spy, no longer in the first flush of youth, and with a secret that would surely give him a disgust of her, if he ever discovered it.

But Mrs. Allen made them welcome and told Prue the mail had brought a letter from David yesterday, saying he and Gren were leaving for London. They should be home tomorrow or the next day. Prue left Charity to settle into the bedroom Mrs. Allen prepared for her, while Prue wrote a note to Lady Georgiana, asking for permission to call.

They had talked it over at length while with Charissa, and in the carriage on the way from Essex. At inordinate length.

Charity could not, would not, stay in Selby’s cottage. She would go somewhere she was not known and introduce herself as a widow, using another name. Mrs. Smith, she said, for who was to find one Mrs. Smith among thousands?

But how she and the children were to live was a problem. Prue would help, of course. She could double the allowance she was paying, would triple it if Charity would allow. Tolliver’s work paid well enough, and she had a little set aside.

Charity wanted to borrow Prue’s nest egg. She had some idea of setting up a milliner’s shop. Not in London, but somewhere cheaper to live and safer for the children. “Even you said I make beautiful hats, Prue,” she argued.

True enough, but running a business required more than an eye for fashion and an artistic touch with a needle. Prue didn’t want her savings to be frittered away and leave Charity and the girls in a worse situation than before.

“We need somewhere for you and the children to stay while we consider how best to make your plan work,” she told Charity. “I know a lady who supports women in your sort of trouble. She may have a place.” Or she may never wish to speak to Prue again, in which case they needed to think of something else.

On one thing Charity was determined: Prue was not to ask Selby to support his daughters until they moved somewhere he could not find them. “It is not as if he is going to give us any money, anyway, Prue. He barely gave us a thing when I thought I was his wife. Just a few pounds now and again, when he visited. The servants’ pay is several quarters in arrears. Oh, dear. Should I not pay them before I let them go?” Another problem for her to worry at, until Prue was ready to leap screaming from the carriage with her hands over her ears.

The note sent, Prue went to check that Charity had everything she needed.

Her sister was sitting next to the window in her bedchamber, looking out.

“It is very grand, Prue, is it not? Not your David’s town house, though that is finer than I expected. But the streets, the carriages, the people. We are not even in London here, are we? Not really?”

“This is Chelsea,” Prue told her. “We are not in the City, but nor are we far. What would you like to see while we are here, Charity?”

“I will just stay here, Prue, please, except when we go to visit your friend. I want to make arrangements for somewhere to live, then go and collect the girls to take them to their new home. I miss them so much. Besides, imagine if I bumped into Selby!” Charity shuddered.

Perhaps she was wise, though in a city the size of London, the chances of her meeting Selby were slender.

“I need to go out, Charity. I received a note from the agency.”

Prue had told Charity about the mythical agency that placed her with people who needed temporary staff to fill a particular short-term need, and Charity anxiously grasped Prue’s hand.

“You are not going alone, Prue? Is there a footman you can take to protect you?” She shook her head, dismissing whatever thoughts of assault and robbery had entered them. “How silly of me. You know how to…” She made a vague gesture with one hand. Prue had been teaching Charity a few tricks to save herself from attack, some of which would discourage the most persistent man. Charity had been both repelled and intrigued.

“I will take a hackney, Charity, and my little gun.” And the knife strapped to her calf. And the pins in her hair.

“They will not want to send you away, will they? Oh, I am being so selfish. But Prue, I do not know what I would have done these past weeks without you.”

“I will not leave until you and the girls are safe,” Prue assured her. “If it is a job, I will tell them to find someone else.”


Revealed in Mist is nearly here

Revealed in Mist is released on iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords on 13 December. It’ll be coming on Amazon at around the same time — I’m putting the file up this evening or tomorrow evening New Zealand time, so it will be published as soon as it goes through their approval process. And it has been up on Amazon as a print book for over a week, since I wanted to order some books to come to New Zealand in time for an event in February, and the cheapest form of delivery takes a couple of months. I’ve even sold two print books! Woohoo!

Apart from sharing the memes I’ve made (see them below), I’m not making a big splash, but look in the New Year for a blog tour and some other activities. In particular, I’m planning a detective game, which I hope you’ll enjoy. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of my hero and heroine.


Dear brother, on WIP Wednesday

A romance novel, by definition, is about the developing love between the two main protagonists. But the story is often given strength and substance through relationships with other characters: family members, friends, even enemies. In particular, we grow to know our main characters through their actions towards those they love but with whom they are in conflict: and that’s the theme of this week’s work-in-progress Wednesday: conflict between the main character and family members or friends.

Mine comes from Concealed in Shadow, which is in the very early stages of writing. At this point, I have a few paragraphs of beginning, a general idea of the overall shape of the plot, and random scenes, most of them still in my head. This one happens early on, after David comes eagerly to London to meet and marry Prue, and finds her missing. His half-brothers were the last to be seen with her, and only one of them is still in London.

(Concealed in Shadow is the sequel to Revealed in Mist, which is on presale and will be released next week. See the link for purchase information.)

The early morning sun was just filtering through the fog when David’s quarry let himself into his bed chamber. He had already discarded his hat and gloves somewhere between the outside door and this upper floor, but he was shrugging out of his overcoat as he entered the room.

The overcoat flew to drape over the arm of a couch, and the muffler beneath followed. David watched from the shadowed corner behind the draped head of the bed as the man stripped to his shirt and breeches, with swift economical movements. The coat, richly embroidered waistcoat and cravat followed the rest, and the man crossed to a fireside chair to pour himself a brandy from the decanter that stood ready and slip out of his dancing shoes.

He had clearly been somewhere that required formal evening dress, though David was certain a ballroom had not been his last stop of the night, or David would have found him four hours ago. The man sat relaxed in his own private domain, a little tired — though his energy was legendary — beyond a doubt sated, resting a blond head back against the chair and shutting his hazel eyes as he cupped the glass in his hands to warm the brandy.

When David spoke, it was not much above a whisper, but shockingly noisy in the silent room. “Where is she, Aldridge. What have you and Gren done with her.”



First words on WIP Wednesday

graveyard-wc1104wI tend to cast around for a long time till I find the start of a book—and even then, I often get it wrong, either deleting what I have in favour of a later passage, or writing something earlier that leads up to my original first chapter. As a writer, I want to start in the middle of the action, but in a place that lets me bring readers into the story quickly, without a lot of explanation. I want to avoid the acronym SDT in the margins. Show Don’t Tell. My friend and editor Mari Christie sends my drafts back with that plastered through them, but so far I’ve been able to avoid the dreaded letters in my first chapters.

So my methodology for starting a book is to write until I recognise the beginning, then second guess that decision once I’ve finished the first draft. Next month’s new release didn’t get its beginning until the final edit. The current work in progress still starts with the first words I wrote in May.

How about you? How do you begin? And does your beginning change as you work your way towards publication?

Here are the first words of A Raging Madness, the first draft I’m hoping to finish by the end of the month. As always, please post your extracts in the comments.

The funeral of the dowager Lady Melville was poorly attended—just the rector, one or two local gentry, her stepson Edwin Braxton accompanied by a man who was surely a lawyer, and a handful of villagers.

Alex Redepenning was glad he had made the effort to come out of his way when he saw the death notice. He and Captain Sir Gervase Melville had not been close, but they had been comrades: had fought together in Egypt, Italy, and the Caribbean.

Melville’s widow was not at the funeral, but Alex was surprised not to see her when he went back to the house. Over the meagre offering set out in the drawing room, he asked Melville’s half brother where she was.

“Poor Eleanor.” Braxton had a way of gnashing his teeth at the end of each phrase, as if he needed to snip the words off before he could stop chewing them.

“She has never been strong, of course, and Mother Melville’s death has quite overset her.” Braxton tapped his head significantly.

Ella? Not strong? She had been her doctor father’s assistant in situations that would drive most men into a screaming decline, and had continued working with his successor after his death. She had followed the army all her life until Melville sent her home—ostensibly for her health, but really so he could chase whores in peace, without her taking loud and potentially uncomfortable exception. Alex smiled as he remembered the effects of stew laced with a potent purge.

Melville swore Ella had been trying to poison him. She assured the commander that if she wanted him poisoned he would be dead, and perhaps the watering of his bowels was the result of a guilty conscience. The commander, conscious that Ella was the closest to a physician the company, found Ella innocent.

Perhaps it had all caught up with her. Perhaps a flaw in the mind explained why she tried to trap Alex and succeeded in trapping Melville into marriage, why she had not attended Melville’s deathbed, though Alex had sent a carriage for her.

“I had hoped to see her,” Alex said. It was not entirely a lie. He had hoped and feared in equal measure: hoped to find her old before her time and feared the same fierce pull between them he had been resisting since she was a girl too young for him to decently desire.

“I cannot think it wise,” Braxton said, shaking his head. “No, Major Redepenning. I cannot think it wise. What do you say, Rector? Would it not disturb the balance of my poor sister’s mind if she met Major Redepenning? His association with things better forgotten, you know.”

What was better forgotten? War? Or her poor excuse for a husband? Not that it mattered,  any more than it mattered that Braxton used the rank Alex no longer held. It was not Braxton’s fault Alex’s injury had forced him to sell out.

The Rector agreed that Lady Melville should not be disturbed, and Alex was off the hook. “Perhaps you will convey my deepest sympathies and my best wishes to her ladyship,” he said. “I hope you will excuse me if I take my leave. I have a long journey yet to make, and would seek my bed.”