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.



Be joyful! It’s Christmas!

As the United Kingdom and then the United States and Canada wake up to Christmas Eve, here in New Zealand we are watching the sun go down with Christmas Day just a few hours away.

In our local parish, the vigil mass is over, which I reckon means Christmas is here, and certainly by the time you read this, I’ll either be at church or putting the finishing touches to the dinner.

So here’s the joyful song that sums up how I feel about Christmas.

It is an ancient Latin hymn, with the lyrics below (rough English translation after).

Gaudete, Gaudete!
Christus et natus
Ex maria virgine,

(Rejoice, Rejoice!
Christ is born
Of the virgin Mary,

Tempus ad est gratiae,
Hoc quod optabamus;
Carmina laetitiae,
Devote redamus.

(It is now the time of grace
That we have desired;
Let us sing songs of joy,
Let us give devotion.)

Deus homo factus est,
Natura mirante;
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.

(God was made man,
And nature marvels;
The world was renewed
By Christ who is King.)

Ezechiellis porta
Clausa pertransitur;
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.

(The closed gate of Ezechiel
Has been passed through;
From where the light rises
Salvation is found.)

Ergo nostra cantio,
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.

(Therefore let our assembly now sing,
Sing the Psalms to purify us;
Let it praise the Lord:
Greetings to our King.)

Merry Christmas to you all.



Tea with Jude, one day late

I was not surprised to see her. She was sitting on the chair at the end of my bed, her favourite tea set on the butler’s tray my son-in-law made for my birthday years back. Her Grace is, of course, far too well bred to allow her irritation to show, apart from a slight flare to the aristocratic nostrils. Her every movement as she prepared a cup of tea, just the way I like it, was completely controlled, with a trained elegance that she had learned from the cradle.

I’d thought about her often during the day, wondering what her reaction would be to missing one of her Monday’s for Tea. And now I knew. She was here for an explanation.

She looked up from her task and met my eyes. “Tea, Jude?” A glance around the room, more habit than expectation. No, Eleanor, the Knight household does not run to servants, except the mechanical and electronic kind, two centuries away from your experience.

Beside me, my personal romantic hero slumbered on, as Eleanor, the Duchess of Haverford carried the tea to my beside table with her own aristocratic hands before resuming her seat and pouring a cup for herself.

”I trust your indisposition is minor,” she hinted, sweetly. I suppressed a smile at her assumption that only an illness or injury could have prevented me from making a priority of writing her regular weekly engagement with the denizens of the fictionsphere. It was not untrue, but I was pleased to reassure her.

”Indeed. I am almost fully recovered. The usual problem complicated by a fall and the demands of a busy season. I lost Sunday to bed rest, and have been trying to catch up without overdoing things.”

She nodded, once, and the slight stiffness eased. “I am relieved you were not badly hurt, and are feeling better. Of course, you have other matters that need your attention.”

”A major project at the day job, Christmas crafts with my grandchildren (that was Saturday gone), a new book with a deadline for final loading of tomorrow and last minute changes to the cover and the interior. Yes, you could say that.” I offered a palm branch. “You will be pleased with the book, I think, Eleanor.  It is about a granddaughter of yours and her suitor.”

”Truly? The name on the invitation for yesterday was Sarah Grenford. One of my descendants, I thought, perhaps.”

”Next week, Eleanor, I promise. God Help Ye, Merry Gentleman will be published over the weekend, and Sally and David will visit you on Christmas Day.”

“That will be very pleasant,” her Grace agreed.

”I am on holiday from Friday, and during my three weeks off I plan to set up the schedule for next year and send out invitations for other authors to send their characters to visit you.” I sipped my tea, appreciating the fine bouquet, though I usually drink decaffeinated in the night. Not something I could expect Eleanor to know about.

She favoured me with her warm smile. ”Thank you, dear. I know my social calendar is only one of your jobs, but I do so enjoy my Monday afternoons.”

“I do, too, Eleanor,” I assured her.


Sunday Spotlight on box sets

Lots of quality reading at a bargain price

Do you like box sets? I do. They’re usually a great value way to acquire a lot of reading. Tell me what you like about them, and what you don’t. I’m planning to be in at least five, and possibly seven, in 2018, so it would be a great help to know what to avoid.

Box sets of the first few books in a series are wonderful. I’ve bought them both to go back to earlier books I’ve missed when I come across a new-to-me author in book 4 or 5 of a series, and also when I’ve followed the series from the beginning through my library, and yearn to own it. The Mary Jo Putney Lost Lords set was one such book. I also have the Lucinda Brant Alec Halsey Mysteries, books 1 to 3. Among others.

I’m less inclined to purchase multi-author box sets of novels, unless the authors are mostly writing heroines of mine. It’s the librarian training I had as an adolescent. I want to shelve all the books by a particular author together.  (And yes, I can do that with electronic books; shelve them in several places all at the same time. But what can I say? I have my obsessive moments.) Still, I have a few, because what can you do but grab a bargain when you see one?

On the other hand, multi-author box sets of novellas are catnip to me. I’ve discovered many new favourite authors that way. Particularly at this time of year, when holiday box sets abound. I love seeing how authors combine the magic of Christmas and the magic of romance.

I have just read Christmas in Duke Street, every story of which is a gem. Waiting in my TBR unread books collection on Kindle, I have 7 Rogues for Christmas, The Dukes of Vauxhall, How to Find a Duke in Ten Days, Romance on the High Seas, Lords of Love, A Regency Collection, An Encounter at Hyde Park, Historical Hellions and more. Joy!

I have, as you know, published my own Christmas box set this year: all my holiday romances between one set of covers. If Mistletoe Could Tell Tales is available now, so if you don’t have my four holiday novellas, grab it and the two bonus novelettes.

I’ve also co-written a holiday story in the world of Sally and Toad, from Never Kiss a Toad. God Help Ye, Merry Gentleman is a prequel short story to Never Kiss a Toad, and also has a number of other shorts and excerpts from the world of Sally, Toad, their families, and their friends. It it is up for presale on Amazon, and will be published on 23rd December. (At the moment, it is free to my Wattpad and newsletter subscribers, who have a link to the unproofed version on a password protected page on my website, but I plan to take that down later this week. And put up a page for the presale links on my book tab.)

And, of course, I have novellas in three multi-author box sets: Never Too Late, with the Bluestocking Belles; Rejoice and Resist, with the Speakeasy Scribes; and Christmas Babies on Main Street, with the Authors of Main Street.


Sunday spotlight on the past three years

The two on the far right are from a previous career. The rest have been published in the past three years. The collections bulk it out, with stories by other writers. On the other hand, I don’t yet have print copies of two of the anthologies I was in this holiday season.

As I race toward the release of my third story collection (If Mistletoe Could Tell Tales), I’ve been thinking about my brief (so far) career as an independently published historical romance writer.

My first post on my blog was three years and three months ago, on 16 September 2014. ‘Tentative first steps’, I called it. At that point, I was still writing Farewell to Kindness, my first novel. Candle and Min Avery had not yet wandered into the Assembly at Chipping Nidwick, and I had no idea that a month later I’d be consumed by their story, that two months’ later I’d be writing it, and that three months’ later the novella Candle’s Christmas Chair would be my first published historical romance.

Things have not turned out the way I planned at the beginning. Based on those two books, I figured I could manage three novels a year, while working full-time in the day job. I didn’t allow for the sheer volume of work required of an indie publisher and all the marketing needed in the bazillion-book marketplace. I didn’t factor in the changing needs of family, or the ill health that was about to dog my PEH (personal romantic hero) and I.

In the event, I’ve managed to write and publish four novels in three years, and I’m nearing the end of the fifth. I’ve also written and published eight novellas and a dozen or so novelettes or longish short stories.

And I’ve blogged. I’m a bit more structured today than I was in the beginning, with four regular weekly features. But they cover the same ground.

I’ve also talked about the writing process, about my books, and occasionally about the philosophy that underpins the kind of stories I chose to write.

I’ve written to you, and you’ve written back to me, in the comments and in emails. I’m grateful to have you with me on this journey.

So what is in store for 2018? Better health, I hope. I have committed to a book for Scarsdale publishing and four (count them, four!) anthologies. The Realm of Silence will be completed before Christmas and in editing in January. I’d love to think I could finish the next in the series, Unkept Promises, as well as Concealed in Shadow, the sequel to Revealed in Mist. So many plots. So little time.

As I said in my very first post way back in 2014: watch this space!


Aaargh! The dog ate my homework!

Or the internet ate my newsletter subscribers, which is nearly the same thing.

I have finished The Mouse Fights Back, my story for newsletter subscribers. Yay! I’m sending out a newsletter this weekend, so just in time. 9,300 words, and I love it. Hope you do, too,

If you have subscribed to my newsletter recently, can I ask you to do so again? I’ve had some technical difficulties with my coding on the website, and the subscriptions were going through to the email service provider but not being recorded. You’ll know you’re in the system when you get an automated email with a link to a free copy of Gingerbread Bride!

To subscribe, fill out this form:

The Welcome email with Gingerbread Bride is the first of three with links to free stories and books, and this weekend’s newsletter also has a link to the Christmas present Mariana Gabrielle and I are giving away to our Wattpad and newsletter subscribers. God Help Ye, Merry Gentleman is a Christmas novelette, a prequel of our early Victorian novel Never Kiss a Toad, and comes packaged with vignettes, short stories, and excerpts about the hero’s and heroine’s family and friends.

But Mouse. Here’s the promised excerpt.

☆ ★.¸¸,.✶

Claudia had no idea when she fell in love with Tiberius.

Millchurch. The earl.

Perhaps the first time they danced. Perhaps when he was so indignant on her behalf in the garden, or later on the terrace when he faced down her aunt. Certainly, she was completely smitten by the time he climbed into her room on the day of her betrothal to the loathsome Lord Demetrius.

She had been locked in all day, refused company, books, and even food. They intended to have her consent to the marriage, they told her, and she need not expect Millchurch to save her. He had always run away from trouble, even as a boy, and the announcement ensured that any fuss he made would cause enormous trouble.

Even so, she heard the racket when he banged on the front door around noon, demanding admittance, and twice again in the afternoon. So when she heard tapping on the window, she half expected to find him clinging to the wall outside. His fingers and face were white with the strain of clinging to tenuous holds in the crumbling brick, and she was quick to help him inside, shaking more with fear for him than with the strain of his weight as he hung momentarily from her arm while swinging his leg over the sill.

She closed the window behind him, and was glad she had when the key scraped in the door.

The earl slithered under the bed, and she was glad for the heavy hangings that normally so oppressed her. Just in time, because all three of her tormentors had arrived to berate her for a wicked ungrateful girl, an unnatural niece, and deficient in any personal charms to make up for her lack of intelligence and beauty.

Claudia, as always, had nothing to say. Countless beatings since her mother’s death had taught her that any answer would be wrong, so she stood, head bowed, and waited for the storm to end. She hoped that the earl would have the sense to stay hidden, for he would stand no chance against the two sturdy footmen who stood either side of the door, witnessing her humiliation.

She would, she was told after quite ten minutes of ranting, be left to think on her deficiencies until the morning, by which time she would be wise to realise her good fortune in being selected by Lord Demetrius as his bride. As the door locked behind them, she took her first deep breath since Lord Millchurch had tapped on the window.

The earl emerged, pale with anger, his eyes blazing, but he did not comment on his horrid relatives or hers. Just unwrapped coil after coil of rope from around his waist and set to tying one end to a leg of the bed.

Satisfied with the strength of the knot, he opened the window and let the rope down outside. Only then did he turn to Claudia.

“What do you wish to take with you, Miss Chause?”

A vague resentment stirred. In fairness, it must be obvious to the meanest intellect that she could not want to stay to be bullied into handing her inheritance and her person over Lord Demetrius. But surely Lord Millchurch did not expect her to climb out a window and run away with a virtual stranger, without even being asked her opinion.

“Where?” Her voice squeaked through a dry throat.

He echoed her thoughts. “You do not want to marry my uncle, do you? And they will hound you until you do if you stay here. Take only things you cannot bear to leave behind. We can replace anything else once I have you safe.”

‘Safe’. That word carried her through packing her mother’s bible, the few bits of jewelleryjewelry that her aunt had rejected as cheap, and some other personal keepsakes. The earl advised her to leave her tooth stick and most of her clothes, so in minutes she had made a bundle of her essential belongings in a spare petticoat, which he wrapped into a parcel with one of her sashes and dropped out the window.

‘Safe’, she told herself again, as he let her down the wall supported by the rope. She needed to cling to the handholds, reach for the footholds, each movement a struggle against the terror that tried to lock her limbs. But he held the rope tightly, and let her down steadily, while all the time her skin crawled with the knowledge she was exposed to view, should anyone of the household wander around to this quiet corner of the house.

Never mind that the staff were not welcome in the private garden, and that the wind was too cold for pleasure walks.
‘Safe’. It became the repeated chorus in her head as the earl climbed out of the window and walked down the wall leaning out into the rope, making it look as simple as strolling in the park.

‘Safe’ took her to Lord Millchurch’s London townhouse, where his secretary, Jasper Minch, immediately deployed a small army of large men to keep the house secure and prevent entry by anyone without the earl’s express invitation.

Jasper frightened her at first. He was large and scarred, with a nose that had been broken more than once and a way of changing his normal casual prowl into a threatening strut at the least sign of danger. Introduced to his new mistress, he nodded politely then turned his light blue eyes to Tiberius. “You are marrying your mouse? Will it serve, Tiberius?”

“If she will have me, we will make it serve, and mind your manners, Jas.”

Claudia and Tiberius talked far into the night. Perhaps that was when she fell in love with him; when she found that he listened without judging as she told him about living in the quiet corners her mother created at the edges of the contentious and aggressive lives of her father and his sister; about her certainty that her aunt, her trustee, and her trustee’s lover were living on money they stole from the inheritance left in trust to her by her mother’s father.

Lord Millchurch—he said to call him Tiberius, and she did inside her head, but her mouth would not shape the sounds—Tiberius told her about his maternal uncle, and their adventures in exotic countries; about the threat from Lord Demetrius that sent them fleeing; about the dangers he still faced, and why he needed a wife, and soon.

When he offered her a choice, he stole what remained of her heart. He wanted to marry her, he said; had intended to ask in proper form. But if the idea didn’t please her, Tiberius would still protect her. He had friends with whom she could live, whose titles and estates would protect her, or she could stay on one of his estates and he would find her a companion.

“That may be less dangerous, Claudia,” he said. “My wife and the mother of my children will be at risk as long as my uncle is free to plot against me. But I have the resources to guard you well, I promise you. I will keep you safe.”

Before she had time to think, they were married by special licence.


Spotlight on Rejoice and Resist

Today at last I can give you pre-sale links to the third of the three anthologies I’m in this coming holiday season. Rejoice and Resist is a box set of nine stories set in different times and written in different genres, but all using the Final Draft Tavern. And it has been sitting at the top of the Amazon bestseller list for Shortstories and Anthologies since it went to pre-release on Monday.

Come share a drink in the Back Room of the Final Draft Tavern, where for nearly a millennium, the Marchand family and their cat, Whiskey, have led travelers through time and space: rebels and dissenters, heroes and villains, artists and lovers. These seven (longish) short stories feature characters united through the ages by resistance to tyranny, and celebrating the right to speak truth to power. Rejoice and Resist will amuse and entertain, but also inspire you to call out oppression, demand human rights, question the status quo, and stand up to be counted.

Travel backward and forward through time with multiple authors and fiction genres: drama, horror, women’s fiction, historical fiction, time travel, historical or contemporary romance, and paranormal. Shoot through the lens of a photographer or the pistol of a highway brigand; meet death with a ghost-writer, or a president and his cabinet with a deck of cards; brave life in a new country, or just in a new era of civil rights; or conceal yourself in time with an orphan of the apocalypse.

Whatever role you take in the struggle toward justice, step through a secret passageway and pull up a barstool, let the closest Marchand pour you a libation, and celebrate the holiday season with the Speakeasy Scribes.

And join us tomorrow at our Facebook party to meet the authors (online, at any computer, for nearly twelve hours of conversation and fun).

Here’s the Amazon US buy link. I’ll add others over the day.


So many plots, so little time

My latest set of short stories has hit the New Release Bestseller lists on Amazon UK and Amazon US, and my newsletter short story was opened by more than 200 people. I enjoy the short story format. Two main characters, one tight plot arc, and a gallop to a happy ever after you can enjoy over a lunch break, with a cup of coffee in one hand and the ebook reader of your choice in the other.

Could some of those stories be novels, as some readers have suggested? Yes, of course. Mostly, I manage to keep the word count tight by hinting at backstory, any part of which could be shown on the page.

But… if I write the books that occur to me as I go along, what will happen to the 45 or so plots I created before I wrote my first historical fiction novel?

I need to buckle down and write novels. At the moment, I’m still working in my day job 72 hours a fortnight, and writing in my spare time. I’m managing just under two novels a year. In due course (sooner if I suddenly start to sell lots more books), I’ll leave the day job, and make fiction writing my full-time work. Then, I reckon, I should be able to write at least four novels a year. Maybe five.

Here are the ones I have in the pipeline. Novels only. Short stories and novellas arrive like manna from heaven and get squeezed into the gaps. (The numbers are the order I’ve published.)

Standalone: not part of a series

2. A Baron for Becky (published)

A Monstrous Masquerade The tentative working name for the book about what Jonathan Grenford was up to between the end of Concealed in Shadow and the last quarter of The Bluestocking and the Barbarian (you may recall he was fetched from overseas during his mother’s house party.

The Golden Redepennings

1. Farewell to Kindness (published)

4. A Raging Madness (published)

5. The Realm of Silence (in progress)

Unkept Promises

The Flavour of Their Deeds

An Unpitied Sacrifice

Children of Wrath

The Children of the Mountain King

6. The Bluestocking and the Barbarian (being rewritten into a novel)

The Healer and the Hermit

The Rake and the Reformer (or The Saint and the Sinner)

The Diamond and the Doctor

The Lamb and the Lion

The Maid and the Mercenary

Danwood’s Daughters

Lord Danwood’s Dilemma

Lady Henry’s Choice

Charity Begins at Home

Smuggler’s Coast

Deborah and Destiny

And three others that don’t have titles yet

Lion’s Pride

(seven novel plots, no titles yet) — returned soldiers, all linked because they worked in a loosely connected group as Exploring Officers for Wellington

Series about three sisters

And also about the villain from the first three books — no series title yet

Lady Charlie Charms the Marquess

Lady Freddie Fascinates the Reverend

Lady Ernie Engages the Soldier

Miss Henwood Dices with Death

A Game of Mist and Shadows

(historical suspense with spies and thief takers)

3. Revealed in Mist (published)

7. Concealed in Shadow (work in progress)

Veiled in Darkness

The Wages of Virtue

3. (Revealed in Mist — Prue’s story belongs in both series)

Practising Charity

Finding Faith

Delivering Hope

And more…

Then there are the other three series that are no more than ideas on a piece of paper.

  • A half-formed idea about a series of eight novels under a series title The Curse of the Three: three linked families whose enmity dates from generations back and who each have a clue to a treasure.
  • Four West-Indies related stories in a series, one linked to Farewell to Kindness.
  • Four reverse fairy-story ideas.

Right. Better get on with it then.


First impressions on WIP Wednesday

I’m just finishing the short story to go out with my next newsletter, so I thought I’d choose something from that for my WIP Wednesday.

Give me an excerpt that tells me what one of your characters thought about another the first time they met.

My story is called A Gentleman Honours His Debts, and starts when the Earl of Bridgethorne takes passage on the ship where his bride has been hiding since she ran away a week after their marriage. This excerpt is a bit of backstory.

Leticia Fanshaw was one of three wallflowers Dickon danced with that first evening at the Bellowes house party. He’d almost passed her by; her discomfort when they were introduced rousing his pity but dousing any potential interest. This year, unlike the previous five, he had a stronger motive than the pleasures of the dance for his exercises on the dance floor. This year, he was in the market for a bride.

Not that he intended for any of Society’s matchmakers to know that, and fortunately his reputation helped keep his new motives secret. All the haut ton knew the Earl of Bridgethorne enjoyed dancing, and his skill made even the most awkward of partners look graceful. And he was kind, dancing with at least three of four of the least popular maidens at every event, as well as matrons, widows, and the more popular debutantes. Never more than one dance with each partner at any one event, a restriction that limited speculation about his marital intentions, and made courtship slightly harder now those intentions had changed.

Still, five years of conversation while standing out in line dances had given Dickon some definite views about the kind of bride he wanted. Not too proud, or too absorbed in her own beauty, which disqualified most of those to whom his fellows were drawn. Not foolish or inane or passionately fixated on an interest he did not share. He would have to converse with his wife, at least occasionally. Indeed, he hoped that, if he chose well, they might become friends. And, while he did not require physical perfection, he would, of course, have to be sufficiently attracted to the lady to do his duty by his title and estate, since an heir was the whole purpose of the exercise.

Five years of conversation had convinced him that the gem he sought was probably hidden among the wallflowers. Not an antidote, or a shy nervous creature afraid of men. But a woman whose intelligence and character had frightened off the fools who fell in love with the transitory sparkle of Society’s annual stars.

So when Miss Fanshaw blushed, stammered, and dropped her fan, he almost made his bow and his excuses, touching his hostess on her arm in the prearranged signal to present him to the next group. But was that fear in the look the young lady shot sideways to the aunt and uncle who were sponsoring her? And surely he imagined the menace in her uncle’s responding glare?

“If you would excuse us, Lord Bridgethorne and I…”

Dickon ruthlessly interrupted Lady Bellowes. How she would roast him later! “May I have the honour of a dance, Miss Fanshaw.”


Reading my way through a cold

I’m slowly surfacing from hibernation with a winter cold. The irritating cough lingers, and I still flake mid-afternoon and yearn for a nap, but at least the fog has lifted from my brain and the plot elves are functioning again.

I’ve put the time to good if lazy use by catching up on the books I’d downloaded to my kindle app but never read, and raiding my library’s electronic catalogue for entire series that I read years ago and wanted to read again. I’ve binge read most of Jo Beverly’s Company of Rogues, Shana Galen’s de Valère series, Elizabeth Boyle’s Brazen series, Stephanie Lauren’s Lester Family and her Adventurers’ Quartet, Anna Campbell’s Dashing Widows Club, and individual books by Shana Galen, Jane Ashford, Sally MacKenzie, Grace Burrowes, Allison Lane, Callie Hutton, Sandra Schwab, Tessa Dare, and others.

(Yes, I read fast.)

Who are your favourite go-to authors when you’re proper poorly?