Tea with Alex

The best way to move Alex downstairs, his sister had decreed, was to press a chair into use and set a stout footman on each leg. Susan insisted he spend part of each day out of his room, and in truth he was going mad with only the same four walls, the same ceiling, to distract him from the pain and the craving for the oblivion of poppy juice. To which he would not surrender. He might be in agony, but at least he was in his right mind.

So here he was, dressed at least above the waist, ensconced on a sofa in the smaller of the two drawing rooms with a view out over the early Spring garden.

The blanket draped over his bandaged broken legs to hide them from sight and protect the modesty of the maids was the lightest Susan could find, most of its weight taken on cushions either side of the useless appendages. They would heal. Or so the doctors promised, though weeks ago they had proclaimed he was certain to die, so perhaps they were wrong again.

Susan had left him with a pile of books and a pack of cards, all within easy reach, and had promised him visitors to amuse him. Even so, he did not expect the butler’s announcement.

“Her Grace the Duchess of Haverford. The Marquis of Aldridge.”

Decades of conditioning had him attempting to rise—a poor effort that died in a white blaze of pain, and the gracious lady had seated herself and was holding his hand in a firm grip before he fought it back enough to be conscious of her again. And of her son, who was returning across the room from the brandy decanter, a glass in his hand.

“Redepenning,” he said, in greeting, handing over the drink. Alex let it burn down his throat, not waiting for it to warm. Breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth. And again.

“Don’t try to talk until you are ready, Major Redepenning,” Her Grace cautioned. “The sick bed is no place for conventional manners. Besides, Aldridge and I have come to entertain you, not make you feel worse.”

Even a serving officer (at least one from his family) knew the Duchess of Haverford entertained visitors At Home on a Monday, and surely today was a Monday?

But Her Grace answered the unasked question. “I have been anxiously waiting to see for myself how you are, and today is the first that Mrs Cunningham allowed you to have visitors. So here I am, though it is a Monday, and Aldridge swears that the world shall wobble in its orbit at my departure from practice.”

“But one would not wish to be predictable, Mama,” Aldridge teased.

Alex cracked open an eyelid and then another. The room was no longer spinning, and the brandy had helped settle his nausea. He had been wrestling with his pain for long enough that the servants had brought in a tea trolley.

“Thank you for your good wishes,” he said, his voice calm, if a little strained.

The duchess gave his hand another squeeze and released it so that she could prepare herself a cup of tea. Aldridge, Alex noted, had helped himself to the brandy.

“I can see you are in pain, and look half-starved, my dear,” Her Grace said, “so I will need to take your sister’s word that your condition has improved, and forgive her for being so protective. Now. We shall not remain long, so what do you wish from us on this first visit? Shall Aldridge give you the news? Or shall I show you what we have brought to amuse you?”

“I have war, government, and court news,” Aldridge offered, “and Mama knows more than me about what is newsworthy in Society. If you want to hear about less disreputable matters,” he slid a glance sideways at his Mama, “we will ask Her Grace to step into the next room.”

The world was carrying on without him, and Alex could not summon the energy to care. “Presents, Your Grace? You are too kind.”

“My dear Major, you were raised almost a brother to my dear nephew, you are my good friend’s son, and I have known you from the cradle. I can spoil you if I wish. Besides…” She lowered her voice, “Her Majesty has told me something of the circumstances of your injury, and I am grateful on her behalf.”

Alex grimaced. All the gratitude in the world wouldn’t give him back the use of his legs.

But the duchess intended him to make the most of sitting in one place. In the ten minutes that was all she allowed herself, she loaded him with gifts, some purchased and others made specifically for him.

First, she had Aldridge and a footman bring in a table made with two legs so that it would fit across the sofa, and informed him that one with higher legs had been delivered to his bedroom.

“Now that you can sit up, Major Redepenning, you will find this surface more stable than a tray for taking meals, keeping up with your correspondence, playing cards, or whatever pleases you.”

A long procession of packages followed: books, a games board marked for backgammon on one side and chess on the other, the pieces in a matching box, several packs of cards, note paper, an inkwell that Aldridge assured him was non-spill.

So many, each showing the giver’s awareness of his interests and his limited abilities, but when Alex roused himself to express his gratitude, the duchess claimed that Aldridge had been her deputy in choosing what to bring, and Aldridge brushed off his thanks with a challenge to a game of backgammon “In a day or too, when you are more the thing.”

By the time Susan returned from whatever errand had taken her out, Alex had slept for a restless half hour and was laying out a solitaire game of patience on his new table. He greeted her with a smile, and she exclaimed with delight, “You are feeling better, Alex. I hoped you would.”

And he was, he discovered. The pain was no less, the legs no more co-operative, but the visit had done him good, reminding him that he had friends who loved him, and that the wide world still waited on the other side of this long stretch in the sickroom. He would get better. He vowed it. He owed it, after all, to the doctors, having confounded their expectations once.

This scene takes place some time in March 1807. Readers of Farewell to Kindness will see Alex, a secondary character in that book, still recovering but able to get around on crutches and in an invalid chair. My forthcoming novel, A Raging Madness (published 9 May 2017), begins in October of that same year, as does A Baron for Becky. Alex is the hero of A Raging Madness, and Aldridge could have been the hero of A Baron for Becky, but chose to please his family rather than follow his heart. Poor Aldridge.

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Tea with Ruth

Ruth Henwood had taken tea with the Duchess of Haverford several times, and each time had felt out of place; a pit pony in a herd of thoroughbreds; no, a metal kitchen mug somehow displaced in among the exquisite oriental tea cups.

Today was a thousand times worse. On every previous occasion, she had trailed along as companion to Lady Chirbury or one of her sisters, to be included in the conversation not because she belonged, but because the ladies she worked for loved her and because the duchess was kind. Today, she was alone, and here by personal invitation.

She had reread the perfumed note several times; checked that the inscribed name was indeed her own; traced the signature with one mystified finger. Eleanor Haverford. What did Her Grace want?

Had she somehow discovered Ruth’s less than stellar origins? She had been born into the lower reaches of gentry as her improvident father and foolish mother made the final fall into poverty, orphaned before she was twelve, and educated only through the mercy of a charity school and a sponsor with a kindness for her mother. At her very first job as a governess, she had failed to protect herself or her charges. Somehow, years later, she found herself treated as an extra sister by the ladies of an earl. Surely they would stand up for her if the duchess was inclined to expose her to Society as the fraud she was?

She shifted uncomfortably then stilled her limbs. A lady did not fidget. A lady sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap and her face composed and calm, not matter how much turmoil disturbed her mind and her heart.

“Miss Henwood? Her Grace will see you now.” Ruth rose and followed the maid from the little room where she had been deposited to await the duchess’s pleasure. No. That was a sour thought. She had arrived early, and had waited not above ten minutes, for all it felt like hours.

The duchess was waiting an elegant room Ruth had seen before, but it seemed somehow larger and richer with only the two of them present, for the maid simply opened the door for Ruth and withdrew.

At the duchess’s invitation to take a seat, Ruth realised she had been frozen just inside the room. Only years of practice at hiding her thoughts allowed her to cross to the indicated chair; to keep up her side of a harmless conversation about the weather and Ruth’s beverage preferences.

What was the duchess up to? Even if Ruth dared put that question to the exalted lady, she would not receive an answer until Her Grace was good and ready. The duchess was known both for her near omnipotent knowledge about those who were broadly called Society, and her ability to keep her own council. She would speak if and when she was ready, and not before.

Ruth finished her tea and accepted a second cup, ate one of the dainty savoury tarts, discussed the dangers and benefits of the new gas lighting, and agreed that the fashion for square necklines would be very flattering to Kitty, Lady Chirbury’s sister.

Indeed, several of the gowns ordered for Kitty’s coming Season had that neckline. Ruth managed not to frown; the duchess herself was sponsoring Kitty at the Queen’s first Drawing Room in the new year, with her debutante ball to follow right here at Haverford House. The social whirl Kitty had so eagerly anticipated for several years was almost upon them, but last summer’s experiences had sucked the joy from her.

“Yes; I am very pleased with our purchases so far,” the duchess commented. “I am not so pleased, however, with what I observe of our dear Kitty.” She held up a hand as if to stop Ruth from commenting. “She jumps at shadows, and I see shadows in her eyes, Miss Henwood. Something has happened. She manages to hide it very well, especially when her sister is watching, but she has consented to this Season to please Lady Chirbury and not because she wishes for it.”

That was true. Kitty had even cited Anne’s desire to give her a Season when Ruth had suggested they could postpone if Kitty felt unready.

“You must see that I need to know, so that I can protect and support her, Miss Henwood. I cannot ask Kitty herself; not when all I have is guesses and rumours. Nor will I ask Lady Chirbury, given her condition. So I depend on you. What happened to my protegée? And what did Lord Selby have to do with it?”

Ruth is a secondary character in Farewell to Kindness, and a witness to at least one of the experiences that changed Kitty from a carefree and confident young woman to one who is papering over the cracks in her composure by sheer force of will. Kitty will have her turn as heroine later in The Golden Redepenning series, in The Flavour of Our Deeds.

Also see Tea with Anne, Tea with Kitty, and Tea with Rede.

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Confidantes and Confederates on WIP Wednesday

Who do your main characters confide in? Their confidantes and confederates hear their plans, their worries, and perhaps even the secrets of their hearts. Some give excellent advice. Some slouch off to grumble to their fellows. But we couldn’t do without them.

This week, I’m opening the comment stream to extracts about those secondary characters. My bit is from Farewell to Kindness, published two years ago this coming Saturday. My hero is receiving advice from his enquiry agent, who has been his friend since school. Oh, and yes, that is David Wakefield. This scene comes between the end of Revealed in Mist and the beginning of its sequel, Concealed in Shadow.

As Will left, John appeared with a tray—hot coffee and some bread rolls stuffed with meat and pickle. “Get your mouth around that lot, then. Expect it’ll be a while till we eat again.”

“Rede, I can’t come to Longford with you.” David was back on the balls of his feet again, and leaning slightly towards the door.

“Care to tell me what’s going on, David? Perhaps I can help.”

David paused, then asked, “Was that a special licence you gave Will, by any chance?”

Rede accepted the change of subject, and nodded.

“You love Anne.”

Again he nodded.

“So much you’re willing to give up the revenge you’ve worked three years for.”

“I still think they need to be stopped. Not for revenge, but what they’re doing is evil, David. Anne’s safety comes first, though. Once I know she’s safe, I’ll figure out how to stop the Wades, Spencer and their backer in a way that doesn’t put her at risk.”

“Prue… Mist, I mean—she’s gone, Rede, and I didn’t tell her how I feel.”

“Surely she knows…”

David shook his head. “How? Men make love to women they don’t love every day of the week. How is a woman to know we love them if we don’t say? I need to find her. I need to tell her, and I need to make sure she’s not in danger. I’m sorry, I can’t come with you.”

“No. Don’t be sorry.” Rede clasped David’s hand and gave it a firm shake. “Go well, and look after your lady. I wish you every success.”

“And I you, old friend.” He hesitated again, his heart and body still straining towards the door. “If I think of anything else, I’ll write.”

“Go. Find your lady.”

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Tea with Kitty

Her Grace paused for a moment in the doorway of the private sitting room where today’s guest was waiting. Kitty’s attention was currently caught by something outside the window, so Eleanor could examine her without embarrassing the young woman. Her popularity on the social rounds was not unexpected. She had wealth, youth, good looks, intelligence and excellent manners. Her beautiful voice charmed all who heard her sing. And the value of Eleanor’s sponsorship could not be discounted.

But something was wrong. She was too thin. Her eyes, when she thought herself unobserved, hinted at shadowed horrors. Eleanor’s servants reported that she kept a lamp burning in her room all night, and was besieged by nightmares even so. She flinched when touched unexpectedly, had to steel herself to accept the arm of gentlemen to whom she had just been introduced, and refused any but the most decorous of round and line dance.

Eleanor was determined to get to the bottom of it, for she could not help if she didn’t understand. So today she had sent Ruth, Kitty’s constant companion,  on an errand to allow her to see the girl alone.

Eleanor knew something of what had happened in June when her nephew, the Earl of Chirbury, had brought down a criminal gang run by people with the highest connections. The whole matter had been kept very quiet, though the death of two peers made complete secrecy impossible. Eleanor did not know why it affected Kitty, or how, but her knowledge of the younger of the two malefactors meant she could make an educated guess

Best, perhaps, just to ask.

“My dear Kitty,” she said, sweeping into the room. “Come and sit beside me. You shall make the tea, my dear, and tell me what you are most enjoying about London.”

A servant had already set out the tea makings, and a selection of savouries and sweet cakes. Eleanor kept the conversation light. Kitty’s pleasures, it seemed, were solitary or with a friend: visits to the bookshops, museums, and art displays; trips to the theatre; shopping for presents to send to her sisters and her niece.

“So tell me, Kitty,” Eleanor said, once they both had a cup of fragrant oolong, “what did the Earl of Selby do to you?”

Kitty is the younger sister of Anne, the heroine in Farewell to Kindness. The story discloses her relationship with the wicked Earl of Selby and the reason for her distress. Farewell to Kindness was published in 2015 and is the first book in the Golden Redepenning series. I’m publishing the second, A Raging Madness, in May this year, and am working on the third, The Realm of Silence. Kitty’s turn comes fifth in the series, in The Flavour of Our Deeds.

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Tea with Rede

An excerpt post this week. My hero Rede from Farewell to Kindness has travelled to Margate to consult with his aunt, the Duchess of Haverford.

The sun was setting on Saturday evening, and Rede was beside himself with frustration, before the Duchess of Haverford’s coach was finally seen tooling up the road to the castle.

He was waiting when she entered the front door, and she greeted him with pleasure. “Rede, darling. What a lovely surprise. Have you been waiting for me long?

“Such a circus in Deal. The electors were inclined to listen to the merchants, and the merchants did not favour Haverford’s man. Not at all.

“So I had to visit every shop in the town and buy something. The carriage, I can assure you, is laden. But Haverford believes it may have done the trick.

“Just as well, dear, for I have enough Christmas presents for every one of my godchildren for the next three years. And some of them are not of the best quality, I can assure you.”

She was talking as she ascended the stairs, giving her cloak to a maid as she passed, her bonnet to a footman, and her reticule to another maid.

“You want something, I expect. Well, you shall tell me all about it at dinner. I left most of the food I purchased at the orphanage in Margate, but I kept a pineapple for dessert. Such fun, my dear, have you tried one?”

“No, dear aunt,” he managed to say, sliding his comment in as she paused to give her gloves to yet another maid. Or it may have been the first maid again.

“Well, today you shall. Join me in the dining room in—shall we say one hour?” And she sailed away towards her apartments, leaving him, as always, feeling as if he had been assaulted by a friendly and affectionate hurricane.

Over dinner, he laid all honestly before her. Well, perhaps not all. The lovely widow, betrayed by George, the three sisters, the little daughter. No need to mention that he’d played fast and loose himself with the lady’s virtue. Just that he needed to rehabilitate her. Just that he wanted to marry her and she had refused.

“She refused you, Rede?” Her Grace was surprised. “But you are handsome, wealthy and charming. And rich. What does she object to?”

Rede hadn’t been able to work it out, either. “I know she cares for me, Aunt Eleanor. But she keeps saying no. The first time—to be honest, the first time I made a disaster of it. I told her… I gave her the impression that I only wanted her for a wife because she was too virtuous to be my mistress.”

Her Grace gave a peal of laughter. “Oh Rede, you didn’t.”

“I’m afraid I did. But the second time I assured her I wanted her for my Countess.”

“And you told her that you loved her,” the Duchess stated.

“No. Not exactly. I told her I wanted to keep her safe. I told her I wanted to protect her.”

“I see. And I suppose you think if you bring her into society, she will consent to marry you?”

“I don’t know, aunt. I only know that she deserves a better life than stuck in a worker’s cottage in the back of nowhere working as a teacher so she can one day give her sister a decent life. If she won’t have me… Well, she has been to see a lawyer about a small inheritance she has coming. I thought perhaps I could make it a bit bigger. Without her knowing.”

“You do love her,” said the Duchess, with great satisfaction.

“Yes, but… Yes.” There were no buts. He loved her. At least he hadn’t told her so. He had no taste for laying his heart on the floor for her to walk on.

“You need to tell her so.” The Duchess echoed and denied his thinking, all in one short sentence. “She is probably afraid that you are marrying her out of a misplaced sense of duty. You are far too responsible, Rede.”

“No, she couldn’t think that. Could she?”

“Who knows? Well, I will do it. I cannot have my niece-in-law having her babies in scandal. I take it there is the possibility of a baby? You would not be feeling so guilty otherwise.”

Rede was without a response for a long moment, finally huffing a laugh. “Aunt Eleanor, a hundred years ago you would have burnt as a witch,” he told her.

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Tea with Anne

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Lady Anne Stocke and her governess present themselves on the terrace at precisely three in the afternoon to find Her Grace already waiting for them.

“Anne, my dear. And Miss Henwood. Do take a seat. Are the little girls happily amused?”

Anne seats herself next to the duchess. “Indeed, Aunt Eleanor. Kitty has gone down into the village with Miss Stirling, and Meg is helping cook make gingerbread.”

farewell-to-kindness-ebook“Would you be kind enough to pour the tea, Anne?” the duchess asked, and sat back to watch the pretty picture that the girl made as she concentrated on the ritual. She was almost seventeen, and would make her debut not this Season but the next, sponsored by the duchess as her godmother. She would ‘take’, beyond a doubt. She was pretty and lively, with a good wit and a kind heart. And she was the daughter and sister of an earl, with a healthy inheritance in trust, to be paid on marriage or when Anne turned twenty-five.

Her brother the young Earl of Selby was a foolish young man,, barely more than a boy, and far too much in the company of the dissolute Earl of Chirbury for the Duchess of Haverford’s liking. And what Anne’s father had been thinking making Chirbury guardian to his children, she could not imagine! But he would not have the disposition of the Stocke girls. The duchess might not be able to do much about Chirbury’s influence over Anne’s brother, but she was determined that neither bachelor would have a voice in who was permitted to court dear Anne. Or Kitty either, when the time came.

“Thank you, dear,” she said, accepting the tea, made just the way she liked it. Yes. Anne would take very well.

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Little does Her Grace know, but Anne’s life is about to take a dramatic turn. Read Farewell to Kindness to meet her again seven years in the future.

Farewell to Kindness won the Romance Writers of New Zealand Great Beginnings Award in 2015. Click on the link to see the blurb and read the first three chapters.

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Sunday retrospective

timetravelIn the last half of November in 2014, I was sent Farewell to Kindness off to beta readers and began writing Candle’s Christmas Chair.

The Epilogue to Farewell to Kindness threw me a curve ball that took me more than nine months to find in the bushes. I lost the heroine of what was then still called Encouraging Prudence. (And figuring out what my characters were trying to tell me has turned that book into two: Prudence in Love, and Prudence in Peril.) In ‘When you break eggs make omelettes’, I posted about the conundrum of stories that escape their author, with a long quote from Juliet Marillier.

I posted about happy endings, agreeing with those who criticise them as unrealistic, and pointing out:

The critics are, of course, quite right. Happy endings do not happen in reality. And neither do sad endings. In fact, endings of any kind are a totally artificial construct. My personal story didn’t begin with my conception; my conception was simply an event in the story of my parents, and my story is an integral part of that. Nor will it end at my death. What I’ve made (children, garden, quilts, books) will carry on after me.

Whenever we write and whatever we write, we impose an artificial structure on reality. We choose a point and call that the beginning. And we choose another point and call that the end.

My post about psalm singers might be worth a look. They played an important role in the communities of the 18th and early 19th century, and in my novel Farewell to Kindness. I give a bit of history and a couple of YouTube clips of songs as they might have sung them (one psalm and one considerably more secular).

‘How to tell what novel you are in’ was a link and quotes from a series of Toast posts, including How to tell whether you’re in a Regency novel, and How to tell whether you are in novels by a number of other authors. A sample?

7. A gentleman of your acquaintance once addressed you by your Christian name as he brushed his fingers against the lace filigree of your fichu. You still blush at the recollection.

And in my last post for November, I talked about the cycle of the liturgical year, and how earlier times fitted this cycle to the rhythms of the season and the demands of agriculture. Before most people were driven from the land and commerce began to rule over piety, church holy days meant holidays. And even into the late Georgian, the week long feast of Whitsuntide remained.

In Farewell to Kindness, the action of a third of the novel happens before the backdrop ofWhitsunweek (also known as Whitsuntide).

Carl Spitzweg - Das PicknickApart from walks, fairs, picnics, horse races and other activities, the week was known for the brewing of the Whitsunale. This was a church fundraising activity–the church wardens would take subscriptions, create a brew, and sell or distribute it during the week of Whitsuntide. It has a certain appeal. It would certainly be a change from cake stalls and sausage sizzles!

Whitsunweek was the week following the Feast of Pentecost (WhitSunday), and seems to have been the only week-long medieval holiday to survive into early modern times. It usually fell after sheep shearing and before harvest, and it was a week of village festivities and celebrations.

 

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What’s in a name?

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Book titles matter. A rose by any other name, Juliet claimed, would smell as sweet, but would people be as willing to put their noses close if it were called Skunkstink, or Fartflower? And titles bother me.

Sometimes, a title will occur immediately, surfacing from the interior of my brain without any effort on my part. Gingerbread Bride was like that. As soon as we came up with the concept of runaway brides for the Bluestocking Belles 2015 holiday box set, the title and the basic story appeared in my mind.

Sometimes, I’ll come up with a concept for a series, then have to find titles that will fit. All the titles for novels in The Golden Redepennings series are excerpts from quotes. Farewell to Kindness comes from The Count of Monte Cristo.

“And now…farewell to kindness, humanity and gratitude. I have substituted myself for Providence in rewarding the good; may the God of vengeance now yield me His place to punish the wicked.”

The one I’m working on now is called A Raging Madness, which comes from a quote by French philosopher Francois de La Rochefoucauld.

“…envy is a raging madness that cannot bear the wealth or fortune of others.”

Do these fulfill the criteria that Tucker Max lists in How to Title a Book The Right Way?
  1. Attention Grabbing
  2. Memorable
  3. Informative (gives idea of what book is about)
  4. Easy to say
  5. Not embarrassing or problematic for someone to say aloud to their friends

You tell me.

I’ve been fretting over two other titles, both books I’ve just finished.

The novel I have just received back from beta readers has been Seeking Prudence, Encouraging Prudence, and most recently Embracing Prudence. And it is part of a series loosely known as The Virtue Sisters. The other books would include a sequel to the current one, and also a book for each of Prudence Virtue’s sisters, Hope, Faith, and Charity. And all my titles are pretty blah.

After talking to friends and thinking—a lot—I’m leaning to the series titleThe Wages of Virtue.

The individual books would be Firstname in Something.

So either Prudence in Love followed by Prudence in Peril or Prudence in Desire followed by Prudence in Danger.

If we go with the ‘d’ words, we’d have Hope in Despair, Faith in Decline, and Charity in Doubt.

Otherwise, I’m sticking with Hope in Despair, but I might go for Faith in Jeopardy and Charity in Tribulation.

The novella is an entirely different matter! Tentatively entitled The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, which at least means what you see is what you get, it is again the first of a series. What to do, what to do?

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You cannot always choose both

choicesMy usual answer when I’m asked to make a choice between two good things is ‘yes’. Would you like chocolate cake or banana muffins? Yes. Would you prefer to have a bath or watch tv? Yes. Do you want to dance or have a glass of wine? Yes.

And this last two years, since I’ve started writing fiction for publication, I’ve been piling on the ‘boths’. I figure I have four lives, any one of which could be full time: writing fiction, a full-time day job, family and friends (including some fairly demanding responsibilities as an arms-length care giver), and then a whole mix of community activities I’m involved in.

It is interesting, sometimes thrilling, and mostly a lot of fun. But there’s no room for anything else. With a couple of health and family crises simmering since November, somethings had to give. I’m two months behind the frequently revised date for my draft of Embracing Prudence. And my marketing activity is way, way down, as shown by my book sales figures.

Thinking about priorities

I had a wake-up call, recently. I read a published book by a writer I admire, and it sounded to me like a first draft. Lots of long sequences of backstory, telling rather than showing, some odd sequencing stuff. And I think I know why.

Publish a book every three months, received wisdom says, and then live in the marketplace telling people about it. The pressure is on to rush to get stuff to the publisher or (in the case of us independent publishers) to get it on the bookshelf. And the time isn’t there to make it as close to perfect as we can.

I am not playing that game. I want every book to be better than the last. Because I don’t like doing the same thing over and over, I may not always please the same readers, but I need to know that at least I’m improving my grasp of the craft of writing.

Here are my priorities, more or less in order.

  1. to deepen my relationship with God
  2. to look after my family
  3. to stay healthy
  4. to give my employer my best attention and commitment during working hours until the mortgage is paid and I can retire and write fiction as my full-time job
  5. to write books I am happy to put my name on
  6. to share those books with readers.

So writing comes ahead of marketing

When the squeeze is on, as it has been over the past four months, in future I’m choosing writing over marketing. Maybe this means that I’ll have another two years of adequate but not spectacular sales. (My author rank at Amazon generally sits somewhere in the 20,000–25,000 bracket. To put that in perspective, I’m not millionth, but each step from here is tightly fought, and I won’t be anywhere near making even a modest living till I’m up around 10,000th.)

In two years, when the mortgage is paid, I might be able to spend more time thinking about how to get my print books into libraries and book shops, and which review sites and other gate keepers might be persuaded to take a look. Meanwhile, I’m in the writing cave. I’ll pop out to play with my friends. Yes, and to do a bit of marketing, too, when I have time. But my priority is going to be the books.

What’s next from Jude Knight?

I’ve recently been project manager for the Belles on the Combined 2015 Editions of the Teatime Tattler, published last week. Click on the title to find out about it, and to get your copy while it is still free.

While you’re there, check out our previous box set, Mistletoe, Marriage and Mayhem. We’re removing it from publication on 31 March, so get it now for only 99c, all proceeds to the Malala Fund. After 1 April, we’ll each publish our own novella. I’m targeting 8 May with my Gingerbread Bride, which is about Rick Redepenning and his courtship of Mary, seven years before the events in my novel Farewell to Kindness.

Before the end of June, I plan to publish Embracing Prudence. That’s pretty tight, since I’m only halfway through the beta edit, so it may slip (once more), but no later than July.

I’ve made a good start on A Raging Madness. I’m 12,000 words in, and I have the rough plan for the rest mapped out. I expect to publish before the end of the year, possibly as early as September.

I have a 1 May deadline for the novella for the next Bluestocking Belles holiday box set, which has a house party theme. All our novellas have their lives affected in one way or another by the festivities at Hollystone Hall. The venue has its own Facebook page, where we’re posting character sketches and scenery on our way to publication on 1 November. My contribution is titled The Bluestocking and the Barbarian.

And Mariana Gabrielle and I are cowriting a novel that ambushed us when we were thinking about something else. We haven’t set a publication date for Never Kiss a Toad, but watch this space.

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Sunday retrospective

time-machineToday’s Sunday retrospective reaches back to the second half of October 2014, when I was writing the last third of Farewell to Kindness. I was reporting progress—and hiccups—as I went. I finished the month with a photo of the printed first draft of Farewell to Kindness and the heading #amediting. A couple of days before that, I posted a list called ‘Editing the book’ — everything I needed to do between finishing the first draft and sending the book for beta reading.

Criminal injustice was the post I wrote when I found out about the sea change in the British criminal justice system, and how this affected my plot. In 1807,  the old system was no longer working and the new system had not been invented.

Our modern view is that one law should apply to all. It doesn’t always work. Money buys better lawyers, for a start. But the basic principle is that we have laws that lay down the crime and the range of punishments, and judges who look at the circumstances and apply penalties without fear or favour.

The pre-19th century situation in England was far, far different.

I also posted on why I changed the name of my heroine in Farewell to Kindness in a blog post with the longest titleI have ever written: Ewww, just ewww: or the cautionary tale of the perils of naming characters in a whole lot of books at once and then starting one without reference to the real world.

I waxed philosophical about romance writing as a genre in a couple of posts that largely picked up what other people were saying:

  • Fear of vulnerability reports on research that suggests fear of vulnerability underpins the common dismissal of the romance genre by readers of other types of fiction
  • Romance novels are feminist novels has excerpts from a much longer article that directly confronts the view that all romance novels are trivial, and turns it on its head.

The first review I published on my website was for the wonderful Lady Beauchamp’s Proposal. Four months later, I was thrilled to find author Amy Rose Bennett as another potential Bluestocking Belle, and we’ve been colleagues and allies ever since.

And I also published a review of Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt. In less than a fortnight, I’m hosting a Belles’ Book Club discussing another of the Maiden Lane series, Scandalous Desires. Elizabeth has agreed to pop in for an hour, so don’t miss it. You can join the event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/929180810491602/

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