Bit parts in WIP Wednesday

I have a tendency to become absorbed in the lives of my bit parts — those minor characters who walk on stage and walk off again. Enter, messenger, stage left. Exit, messenger, stage right. But I want to know! Who are they? What are they like? Why are they that way?

I’d like to think it adds texture, even if little of it reaches the page. But whether or not, I can’t help but dream up little backstories for the street sweeper and the third footman and the serving girl in the tobacco shop.

What do other authors do? Why not show me in the comments. An excerpt with a walk-on part, please, and I’ll show you mine. This is from The Realm of Silence, and my hero and heroine are meeting with an anxious innkeeper. In my mind, Mr Withers has children of his own, all grown now. His dear departed wife would have insisted that he help this worried mother as if the missing child was one of their own grandchildren.

At Doncaster, the Ship and Anchor rewarded Susan with the information she and Gil sought. It was possible that a French governess and her charges had stayed the night, and did Madam by any chance know the name of those charges?

“Why do you ask?” Susan wondered.

The clerk, an earnest young man with thinning hair and a face set in lines of anxiety cast his gaze around the room, as if for inspiration, and an older man cut short his conversation with an aproned maid and limped over to speak to them. This man was altogether more prosperous looking; no less neat and his equally subdued clothing of higher quality cut, fabric, and stitching.

“Is there a problem, Clemowes? May I be of service, madam? I am the proprietor, Mr Withers.”

“I am seeking some information, Mr Withers,” Susan explained.

“This lady was asking after the French lady, sir, and the young lady and gentleman.”

Withers pulled his spectacles down his nose to regard her over the top, then appeared to make up his mind. “Clemowes, you have the helm. Madam, would you be so good as to step into my office.

Gil came in from ordering the next change of horses, and followed them as she and Withers crossed the inn’s entry hall through a door hidden in the panelling.

The office was small, with barely enough room for the desk, shelves neatly stacked with file boxes and books, and three upright chairs; one behind the desk and two in front. “If you would be kind enough to be seated, Mrs— Er—, I will explain.” Withers squeezed between the desk and wall of shelves, and faced them with his hands on his own chair, standing until Susan had selected her chair and lowered herself into it. Like the man himself, it was serviceable but not ostentatious.

Gil ignored the remaining seat to stand behind her, his silent presence an unaccountable comfort.

Withers tidied an already neat stack of papers then more perfectly aligned an ink pot on its tray.

If he would not begin the conversation, Susan would. “I asked your clerk about the French woman and her two charges, Mr Withers. In return, he asked me an impertinent question. I trust you do not intend to follow that example.”

Mr Withers grimaced. “It is an odd circumstance, madam, but I could not be easy in my mind if I did not follow the instructions I was given, as Mr Clemowes has followed mine.”

“And those instructions are?”

“First, madam, would you indulge me by naming at least one of the young people? Even just a first name? I would not insist, but yours is not the first enquiry, and the previous fellow did not appear to be aware of… But never mind.”

Susan glanced up over her shoulder, and Gil nodded his agreement. “I am seeking Amelia, known as Amy, and Patrice, known as Pat. Pat is travelling as a male.”

Mr Withers let out his breath in a sigh, and opened a drawer to his right. “Then you are the rightful recipient of this note, madam, left for me by one of the young ladies. I might add that the note was wrapped in another, addressed to me as innkeeper. Before I hand it over, I must ask for the full name of one or both of the young ladies.”

“Amelia Susanna Elizabeth Cunningham and Patrice Grahame,” Susan told him, and Mr Withers passed her the folded piece of paper, and another that he said was the note to him. Gil reached over her shoulder to abstract that one from the innkeeper’s hand.

Susan recognised her daughter’s neat schoolgirl hand on the single sheet, clearly torn from a lined notebook, with some commonplace about the weather written in ink at the top and crossed out in pencil, and a pencil-written message taking the rest of both sides of the paper.

“To our rescuer,” she read. “We suspect Mlle Cornilac of being a French spy. She caught us following her and has forced us to go with her. We don’t know our destination, but the post-chaise is booked for Newcastle, and she has inquired about accommodation in York. We will be staying at The White Rose. Ask there for a further message.

“Look for a lady with a French accent accompanied by a girl in the costume of our school, and a boy. Amy is the girl and Pat is the boy.

“Please let Amy’s mama and Pat’s aunt know that Mlle has not hurt us, and we are both quite safe. But she is very clever, so when we seek help, she turns it so people do not believe us. If we get the chance, we will escape.

“Yours faithfully, Amelia Cunningham and Patrice Grahame.”

Susan handed Gil the letter and read the note to Mr Withers. “To the innkeeper. Please keep the enclosed note safe and give it only to someone who asks after us and who knows our names. This is not a game. Our lives could be forfeit if you fail.”

Like the other note, it was signed with both girls’ names.

“Clever girls,” Gil murmured, making Susan smile.

“It is true, then?” Mr Withers flushed a little. “I must beg your pardon, Mrs Cunningham. I took the liberty of reading the enclosure in order to be certain I was not caught up in some child’s prank. It is Mrs Cunningham, is it not? The eyes. One cannot mistake the relationship. And you would be Mr Cunningham, sir, I take it.” He bowed to Gil, as well as he could while still seated.

Gil accepted the name without demur. “Why York? It is but four or five hours away.”

“A delay with the post chaise.” Mr Withers colour deepened as he explained that the post chaise lost a wheel not thirty minutes after leaving Doncaster, and that the passengers had been left in a farm cottage while the post boy rode back for an alternative equipage. With nothing available but Mr Withers’ own gig, he had himself fetched them and brought them back to the Ship and Anchor to wait for either the repair of the broken wheel or the next post chaise to return from its travels. The note had been discovered after the party’s second departure from the inn.

Gil nodded at the conclusion of the saga. “So they did not leave until early afternoon. Good. That helps us, Susan. Now, Mr Withers, we cannot delay. We have but another three hours of daylight and I wish to be as close to York as I can before we stop for the night. We will take some refreshment, and will you join us, sir, to answer some further questions?”

Within thirty minutes, they were on their way, warmed as much by the news of the girls as by the warm stew and the pint of ale inside them. Thanks to the accident with the post chaise, they were catching up faster than they’d hoped.

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“What’s in a kiss?” on WIP Wednesday

What’s in a kiss? sings Gilbert O’Sullivan, and this week I’m looking for excerpts that answer that questions. The kiss itself, if you please, but also what it means to the hero or the heroine. One moment of bliss? A delicatessen supplying every need? Something less or something more?

My extract is from The Realm of Silence. Gil has absolutely no idea what Susan thinks of him.

Susan was washing her turnover down with a swallow of ale, shifting impatiently as her hands inched towards the knife and fork she had placed on her plate between mouthfuls, as proper table etiquette required. Her inclination to rush the meal and be on her way was clearly at war with her training in manners.

“Relax, Susan. A few minutes will make the world of difference to your digestion, and very little to our arrival time.”

What a valiant creature his goddess was. She managed a smile, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “I know you are right, you annoying man. I will try not to worry and to be patient.

“You are thinking I have no notion what you are suffering, and you are right that I have never been a father, and have never had to wait and worry about a child of my flesh.” Gil almost left it at that, but then he took a deep breath and spoke the rest of his thought. “But I have been an officer with men I loved and who loved and trusted me, and I have had to send them into danger knowing that some of them will be killed and others wounded. That perhaps gives me a small inkling of your feelings, goddess.”

He winced as the last word slipped out. She hated when people called her that, but it was how he felt. He had worshipped her from the moment he met her as a boy; carried a candle before her image in his heart since that day; held her as a beacon of the best of English womanhood through a thousand engagements on four continents and any number of islands. She was his goddess.

She was oblivious to his preoccupation, considering what he had said. “I had not thought about it like that. Yes. I imagine you were a father, or at least an elder brother, to your men. My brothers are the same. It is like, Gil. So you know how hard it is.”

Susan called him Gil, he noticed, when she was moved, just as he slipped into calling her goddess. He did not call her attention to his mistake, but when he moved her chair back to help her rise, and she stepped to one side almost into his arms, he could not resist wrapping them around her.

He had intended a brief peck on her hair. She lifted her mouth as if she had been waiting for just such a move, and he was lost. She was all that existed. The elusive scent of her filled his nostrils, her yielding curves filled his arms, and her lips and mouth consumed all of his thoughts as he tenderly explored them.

How long the kiss lasted he had no idea, but when she stiffened and pulled away, he let her go immediately, sense rushing back into his brain and berating it for the most arrant stupidity. She didn’t comment — wouldn’t even meet his eyes — but led the way out of the garden, almost running in her hurry.

They had to wait in the stableyard while the groom assisted a man in a hurry; a rider who spurred his way out of the yard without leaving a gratuity, much to the groom’s disgust.

“Didn’t give me nothing day afore yesterday, neither,” he grumbled to Gil as Gil helped him with the horses for the phaeton. “Silly fool. What’s he want to go dashing up and down to Scotland for?”

Gil looked after the disappearing hooves of the horse. “He’s come down from Scotland? Did he say how the roads were?”

The groom shrugged. “Bit of a slip at Grantshouse, but he said he was ready for it, seeing as how he passed it on the way up yesteren. So what does he want to turn around and come back for, I says. He had business in Scotland, says he, and now he has business in Newcastle. Silly fool.”

Gil backed the horse in his charge into the traces. It seemed a steady sort, and moved without complaint or resistance.

The groom was doing the same with the other horse, but he suddenly stopped. “Hey, I just thought me. You was asking ’bout the man what was following the French lady? That was him there, what just rode out of this yard. Got as far as Dunbar then turned around and come back. Must be mad. What’s at Dunbar?”

Amy and Pat, perhaps. That news would take Susan’s mind off his impudent kiss. If that was their mysterious pursuer, then they might be closer than they thought. Gil pondered the implications while his hands went ahead with the familiar tasks of buckling and fastening. The man was heading back to Newcastle in haste. Had he finished the task that sent him north? And if so, what did that mean for Amy and Pat?

Years in combat had taught him not to fret overlong about what he couldn’t know and couldn’t change. He thanked the groom and gave him a tip a dozen times the size of the despised measly offering for the pursuer.

“If that fellow comes through again, delay him, will you?”

Soon, they were rolling north again, and Gil told Amy what he’d learned, and what he had concluded.

“Will we find them at Dunbar?” she asked

“We will be there by late afternoon. We will find out then.”

She was silent again, probably worrying about her daughter, though Gil was finding it near impossible to think about anything but that devastatingly beautiful kiss. It was dawning on him that the goddess had kissed him back. What was he to take from that? He could reasonably conclude that she wanted to be kissed. Wanted to be kissed by him? She was a chaste and respectable lady; one, furthermore, who had managed her own affairs and those of her household and her husband for more than twenty years. She kissed him back, and he couldn’t believe that she gave her kisses lightly.

It was probably the situation. She was worried about her daughter and needed comfort. He dare not read more into it than that.

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Danger on WIP Wednesday

This week, I’m inviting your excerpts about moments when danger brings your couple closer or drives them apart. I tend to write romantic suspense, at least in my novels, so my heroes and heroines often face physical danger. But I’d be delighted to see excerpts about other types of risk: scandal, embarrassment, parental disapproval, misunderstanding.

Mine is from The Realm of Silence, and was written yesterday. I hope to have the first draft finished by mid-December, but am not yet predicting a release date in case my plans turn to custard.

Susan startled awake at the sound of a crash, followed by more crashes and bangs. The sound of a fight? She would swear it was within the house, and not far away. She lit a candle, steadying her hand so it didn’t shake in her hurry, and dragged a robe over her night dress. The sound of a shot had her racing to the door. Another crash, definitely just the other side of the wall she faced, the one between the rooms of the house and Hamish’s apartment.

Candles approached her from the servants’ stairs, McMurdo with the housekeeper, Mrs Anderson, behind him, and further up the stair two of the footmen.

“Mrs Anderson, fetch me the key to Mr Cunningham’s apartment. The shot came from there,” Susan commanded, and the housekeeper hurried back up the stairs to her room.

The locked door was a little further down the hall. Before Mrs Anderson could return, it opened, and Hamish put his head out into the hall, blinking a little at the sight of Susan and the three men hurrying towards him.

“Send someone to fetch a doctor, Cousin. Lord Rutledge has been shot.”

For a moment, Susan felt a rushing in her head and the world swam, but she took a deep breath. No time for nonsense. “He is not…?”

Hamish looked surprised at the half-question. “A glancing shot. He is not badly hurt, he says.” He disappeared back into the apartment, leaving the door open behind him.

He says. So he is not dead. She gave the order for the doctor and hurried after Hamish.

Gil was sitting on the edge of his bed, being helped into a pair of trousers. Susan hastily averted her eyes and turned her back, but not before seeing a pair of long muscular legs marred on the left by a ropy scar. The man had clearly been naked when he was shot. Did he sleep that way? The brief glimpse she’d had of his masculine equipment was etched into her brain.

“Susan, you should not be here,” Hamish fussed.

Susan ignored him. “Where are you hurt, Gil?”

“You can look if you wish, now that I have my trousers on.” She would also ignore the infernal man’s amusement at her embarrassment, especially when he went on to assure her, “It’s just a scrape. It knocked me backwards for a moment, or I would have had him.”

“Let me look.” The wound was clear, even in the candle light and from across the room. The bullet had struck the fleshy part of his upper arm, which seeped a trail of blood down towards Gil’s elbow.

Gil stood as she approached, and Hamish stepped in her way.

“We should wait for the doctor, cousin Susan,” he insisted. “And it is most inappropriate for you to be in a gentleman’s bed chamber.”

Susan had no time for such nonsense. “Gil, sit down before you fall down. This is no time to fuss about propriety, Hamish.”

She moved her cousin to one side, and examined the arm Gil presented for her inspection. “Hmm. Yes. It seems to have missed anything vital, but the bullet is still in the wound and will need to be removed. What happened?”

“I could do with a brandy. And some more clothes,” Gil prevaricated.

Hamish clearly sympathised, since he gave the order to the manservant. “Pass Lord Rutledge his robe, Mendles, and then fetch him some brandy.” The manservant obeyed, fetching a brightly coloured banyan from where it lay on a chair.

Susan capitulated, reflecting that Gil’s naked chest a few inches from her face was not conducive to focus.

“Oh very well.” She stopped Mendles before he could hurry out of the room. “I’ll need a clean cloth to cover the wound before that robe goes over his shoulder.” She turned back to Gil. “My sister-in-law Ella swears keeping wounds clean reduces the risk of infection. It is fortunate you were unclothed when he shot you, Rutledge. No dirty pieces of cloth in the wound.”

Gil managed a facsimile of a smile. “My manservant would be offended to hear you imply my clothing is unclean, Susan.”

Mendles passed her a pad made from clean handkerchiefs and then several strips of linen to bind it in place, and Susan bent to the work.

“There,” she said, after several moments. “That should be comfortable enough until the doctor arrives. Do you feel well enough to tell us what happened?”

Gill shrugged. “Not much to tell. I woke to find someone searching through my satchel. I called out, and he turned a gun on me. He wanted the note from the girls; the one they left at Newcastle. I told him I had thrown it away, but he didn’t believe me. He said he’d shoot me if I didn’t hand it over.”

Susan made her displeasure heard on a huff of air, which Gil correctly interpreted.

“I didn’t tell him you had it, Susan, and I’m glad he was the sort of idiot that thinks men can’t trust women, because if he’d tried your room first…”

Susan was having none of such typical wrong-headed male gallantry. “I would have given him the note and would be perfectly well. I suppose you tried to assail him, you foolish man. And him with a gun.”

“A weedy idiot with a big voice, so frightened that his hand shook.” Gil’s voice was laden with scorn. “Of course, I lunged for him. I was as like to get shot by mistake, the way he was trembling. But he pulled the trigger and had better aim than I’d calculated.”

Susan blinked back tears, and could not resist taking Gil’s hand. “Foolishness,” she told him, her voice soft.

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Plans gone awry on WIP Wednesday

Think ‘what could possibly go wrong’, someone suggested to me years back when I talked about developing a plot. And I’ve always been fond of the saying that when people lay plans, God laughs.

So this week’s work-in-progress Wednesday post is about plans that don’t work out or that get overrun by circumstances or that hit a brick wall. Please post your excerpt in the comments. In mine, my widow’s groom has fallen ill with a cold, just as predicted by the childhood friend who has insisted on travelling with her.

Lyons’ sneezing increased as the horses consumed the miles to Stamford. By the time they pulled into the stable yard at the Crown and Eagle, he was wheezing with each breath, and failing in his attempts to subdue paroxysms of coughing. His flushed face indicated a fever, which was probably lower than if they had not been driving into a chilly wind for the past hour.

Gil handed his horse into the care of a stable boy and came to help her down, stopping when he looked across her at Lyons. The groom leant forward and swayed, paling so alarmingly that Susan clutched at his arm and pulled him back into his seat. “Stay where you are until Lord Rutledge comes around to help you,” she commanded.

Gil was wearing his granite face again. If he hadn’t donned the expression to hide the urge to say ‘I told you so’, her instincts were completely at sea. She gave him credit for being gentleman enough not to crow. “Lyons is wretched, Rutledge. We must get him inside.”

The groom protested, but weakly, letting Gil help him to the ground, then leaning against the much taller man, his eyes shut. Gil wrapped a firm arm around him to keep him upright. “He’s burning with fever, Mrs Cunningham. Come, Lyons. Let’s get you into a bed.”

“I’ll deal with the horses,” Susan offered. “Will you ask the innkeeper to send for a doctor?” Lyons was so sunk in misery he didn’t respond. Gil supported him through another spasm of racking coughs then half carried him into the inn, and Susan turned to give her instructions to the stable hand.

She followed a servant upstairs fifteen minutes later, while another trailed behind carrying Gil’s saddle bags over his shoulder and a valise from the curricle in each hand. Lyons’ bags and her own overnight things. Susan was not fool enough to think they’d be moving on tonight. She was unsurprised when the innkeeper greeted her as Mrs Rockingham, and told her that her husband had reserved a suite upstairs and was even now with the doctor. Rockingham indeed. She could only hope Lyons recovered quickly.

She waited while the leading servant knocked at a door and then opened it to let her into a nicely appointed sitting room. A door on either side led, presumably, to bedrooms. Yes. As she crossed to the warm fire, she caught a glimpse through the open door; the corner of an iron bedstead, part of Gil’s back and one strong leg. She could hear the murmur of voices, but none of the words.

The servants put the bags in the other room. “Will there be anything else, ma’am?”

“Can your cook make a soothing tisane for my groom’s throat? And Mr Rockingham and I would appreciate a pot of tea, please. Perhaps some bread and cheese?” Gil had a prodigious appetite.

They hurried away and Susan sat to await the doctor’s verdict and to fret about her daughter, another day’s hard travel away in Doncaster.

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Antagonists on WIP Wednesday

Our heroes and heroines need antagonists: some outside force that unites them and allows them to work together. These characters may be outright villains, or they may merely be avaricious matchmaking mothers or interfering relatives. Antagonists, this week’s post is for you.

Authors, please share an excerpt (in the comments) showing your antagonist at his or her disagreeable worst. I have two in my excerpt; my nasty rector and his equally unpleasant sister.

From behind the curtain in the parlour, Lalamani saw Philip arrive at the gate just as the Wagley’s gig pulled up. The two who descended, as Lalamani had noticed at church, were male and female counterparts: tall, gaunt, and elderly; spry, but a little bent. They put Lalamani in mind of herons—sharp features and an alert forward-leaning stance.

Lalamani flicked the curtain back into place and hurried into the front hall in time to introduce Philip.

“Allow me to present Philip Daventry, who works for the Earl of Calne.”

Two pair of pale eyes fixed first on Lalamani and then on Philip. Brother and sister both, Lalamani noted, jutted their chins forward and lengthened their necks, increasing the resemblance to herons. Dr Wagley, dressed top to toe in black, relieved only by a white stock, clearly stinted nothing on the cut and quality of his cloth, and Miss Wagley’s grey silk gown was trimmed with, if Lalamani was not mistaken, real French lace. The contrast between their finery and Aunt Hannah’s worn and much-mended widow’s wear could scarcely be greater.

Dr Wagley surveyed Philip from top to toe, and asked, coldly, “And what do you do here, sirrah? The people of this village think highly of Mrs Thorpe, and will not see her put upon.”

“I’m glad to hear it, Dr Wagley,” Philip answered mildly. “I am here to survey the Hall, to decide what repairs are necessary.”

Miss Wagley furrowed her brow. “You are a Daventry? How closely related are you to the earl, Mr Daventry?”

“The late earl was a connection of my father’s,” Philip prevaricated.

“Did you hear that, Jeremiah?” Miss Wagley tugged on her brother’s arm, but Wagley’s harrumph suggested he was not impressed.

The conversation in the parlour limped from one pronouncement by Dr Wagley after another. He frowned upon the evangelical fervour gripping a nearby parish, was suspicious about the proposed Act of Union, despised the call by radicals to widen the vote, and was scathing about the Speenhamland system of poor relief.

Addy’s invitation to the dining room interrupted a homily on the place of women—silent and obedient.

Over dinner, Lalamani made an effort to turn the conversation. “Mr Daventry was formerly in the army. Before you arrived, he was telling us a little about the markets in Egypt.”

Dr Wagley looked dourer than before. “Nothing unsuitable for a lady, I trust.”

“Oh, Jeremiah,” his sister chirped, “Mr Daventry is a gentleman; a relative of Calne, you know.”

Philip, catching Lalamani’s desperate eye-roll, picked up the conversational ball with a story about a carpet he and his friends had bargained for and how language difficulties had almost left them with a camel instead. He made an amusing tale of it, but only Lalamani laughed.

Dr Wagley spoke into the pause. “Another excellent meal, Mrs Thorpe. Mrs Thorpe sets a fine table, Daventry.”

Lalamani did not try to resist the impulse. “My aunt is very grateful for the charity of the people of the parish, Dr Wagley, without which she would undoubtedly starve. Though…”

She felt a blow on her ankle. Philip, who had clearly guessed she was about to mention her uncle’s provision for his sister. She shot him an accusing glance, but pressed her lips tightly together.

“The care of widows,” Dr Wagley opined, “is, of course, enjoined on us in Scripture. ‘But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.’ Charity begins at home.” He nodded seriously and took another mouthful of the donated chicken.

“And,” his sister added, “it is the duty of every Christian to support the men of the cloth.” She poked suspiciously at the chicken. “I would not like to think our parishioners were stinting their duty.”

“Now, now, Euphrania,” Dr Wagley said. “We do not begrudge Mrs Thorpe a chicken or two, especially when she has visitors. Do you make a long stay, Miss Finchurch? It would not do for you to be a charge on your aunt.” He cast her an admonishing stare over the top of his glasses, which had slipped almost to the tip of his nose.

“My plans are not fixed, Dr Wagley.” Lalamani was going to ask how it was his affair, but Philip spoke first, once again preventing her from antagonising the sour old man.

“How nice that you are able to support your brother in his parish work, Miss Wagley.”

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Assumptions in WIP Wednesday

Many plots rely upon characters being wrong about the motives, feelings, and even activities of other characters. If they’re just too dumb or too self-centred to talk, the author is going to really pull out the stops to maintain my interest. But many good reasons might prevent such conversations, and so the circuses begin.

This week, I’m inviting excerpts where one character has completely misread another. My example is actually two: two short pieces from The Mouse Fights Back, my next short story for my newsletter subscribers. First Tiberius.

As always when travelling to Redfern and Mouse, his heart lightened with the miles, and he whiled away the time thinking of places he could take his sweet wife once he no longer feared for her safety, and things they could do together while they waited for that happy day.

Would she be pleased he planned to stay at Redfern until she could travel with him? He found it hard to tell how she felt about him. When they joined at night, he felt he knew her through to the bone, but in the daytime, she would slip away, speaking with shy reserve if their duties brought them together, but otherwise finding other places to be.

At least now that he had destroyed their enemies, he would be free to court his wife.

And now Mouse, whose real name is Claudia.

She feared he would not bother to visit even once a month when he knew he had attained his objective. She was, after all, a means to an end, and however considerate and courteous he was, however passionate at night, she would do well not to forget that he had married her to secure the earldom away from his uncle.

And still she loved him, tumbling a little further every time they were together, but she need not embarrass herself by letting him know.

This is immediately before Tiberius and his entourage are ambushed on the road.

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Comic characters on WIP Wednesday

Dickens was the master of using the secondary character to provide a bit of light relief, and this week I’m looking for excerpts about those people. The bratty little sister. The nervous secretary. The bossy maid. The matchmaking mama. The wild and silly brother.

Mine is from Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby, which is in final editing. My heroine’s man of business has ventured into the country, and he is not happy.

The following morning, Philip escorted his uncle and the man of business on the two-mile walk to Aunt Hannah’s. Uncle Henry, country born and still a fit active man in his early sixties, thoroughly enjoyed the trek. The rain had cleared, and the mud had dried between the ruts so that, by stepping carefully, one could avoid the worst of the puddles.

Mr Wiggens regarded the hedgerows with suspicion, the sheep with distaste, and the cows with alarm.

“You are not accustomed to the country, Mr Wiggens,” Philip observed.

“I am a London man, sir. This place… the noises, the smells, the animals… How do people stand it?”

“Country people say the same when they come to London,” Uncle Henry said. “But you were here once before, Wiggens?”

“Yes, my lord, when I came down to—as I thought—put in place measures for Mrs Thorpe’s welfare. I blame myself, my lord. I blame myself very much. Had I not been so anxious to return to London… But a gentleman of the cloth, my lord, and so concerned for her, seemingly!”

“Yes, well, what’s done is done, Wiggens. Is this the place, Philip? But I have been here before! Visiting your great grandmother with your father, Philip. It is surely the estate’s dower house.”

In the thin winter sunshine, it looked better than it had on Philip’s first visit. The windows sparkled, cleaned inside and out, Kareema had holystoned the front door slab and Philip had painted the front door a fresh green.

Philip had sent the pot boy ahead of them to warn the ladies of the visit, and morning tea was laid out in the parlour, where Aunt Hannah waited to preside over the tea pot, still in her faded black, but with a clean white fischu Kareema had brought for her and a white lace cap decorated with pretty pink ribbons that Philip had watched Kareema making one afternoon while Mrs Thorpe slept.

“Lord Henry, this is such an honour. I do not know if you remember me, my lord, but I had the privilege of meeting you when you came here with the earl’s father. Back when you were at school, that would have been.”

“Indeed I remember,” Uncle Henry agreed, bowing over her hand. “You gave us a great slab of gingerbread each. I still remember how delicious it was.”

Aunt Hannah beamed. “Won’t you take a seat, my lord? And, Mr Wiggens, how very kind of you to come all this way. Please sit down, sir. How very delightful this is, to be sure. Why, I do not remember when I last had such visitors.”

Philip waited for her to get over her first fluster and to pour tea for Kareema to carry to each of the guests. Once everyone was settled, he turned to Mr Wiggens. “Mr Wiggens, will you explain to Mrs Thorpe why we are here today?”

“Oh dear,” Mr Wiggens said. He put down his cup, pulled some papers out of his omnipresent briefcase, and pushed his glasses back up his nose. “Mrs Thorpe, may I first say how very, very sorry I am.”

Aunt Hannah was bewildered. “Why, whatever can you mean, Mr Wiggens?”

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Backstory on WIP Wednesday

Backstory gives our books depth and texture. Backstory is the stuff we know about the characters and their lives that never finds its way onto the page. Some writers I know do very little backstory. Others have whole histories and landscapes that exist in their imaginations and notebooks, and that influence the story but don’t appear in it.

I lean in the second direction, not least because I find it impossible to understand a character’s motivation without understanding the influences that made her who she is.

This week, I’m inviting you to tell me a bit of the backstory of one of your characters or locations. Mine is from Lord Calne’s Christmas Story, my new Christmas novella, and is about the relationship between my hero, Philip Daventry, the new Earl of Calne, and his uncle Brigadier General Lord Henry Redepenning.

Lord Henry links the latest novella to my Golden Redepenning series.

Lord Henry Redepenning met Lord Hugo Daventry at school. Both were younger sons of earls. Both were destined for, and looking forward to, a future in the military, as officers in a cavalry regiment. They became fast friends.

In due course of time, in a London ballroom, they met Miss Susana Blanchard, older daughter of Admiral Blanchard, and both fell in love. To Society, either young man was a good match for the granddaughter of shopkeepers, though her father’s rank and their own lesser position in their families made it acceptable. They waited and watched to see if the two close friends would fall out over the maiden.

But they were to be disappointed. If Hugo’s heart was broken when Susana chose Henry, he hid it well. Indeed, the friends were closer than ever, with Susana included in their charmed circle, and Hugo assured Henry that his feelings had turned brotherly. If it had not been true at the start, it was certainly true the day he came to visit his friends and met Susana’s sister, Arabella.

Arabella was seven years Susana’s junior, and just out when she was introduced to her brother-in-law’s dearest friend, whom she had adored by report since her sister’s Season. He was everything she expected and more. Arabella’s worship-from-afar soon turned to something warmer and more personal.

Hugo found that Arabella was as lovely as her sister and three times as adventurous. Where Susana was happy to stay at home with her growing family, Arabella spoke of following the drum, her eyes sparkling with excitement. By the end of his visit, Hugo was deeply and irrevocably in love.

And so the two friends married two sisters. Henry and Susana created a haven for their five children and other family and friends, a place to be cherished and restored. Hugo and Arabella raised their son and daughter in army camps across the globe, enjoying the travel and adventure. Two very different couples, but firm friends, even to the next generation.

Nearly none of that is in the novella. But I needed it anyway.

Your turn.

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Book Blurbs on WIP Wednesday

Ask most writers what they find hardest to write, and they’ll tell you book blurbs. Probably as a close-running second to the dreaded synopsis.

So this week’s WIP Wednesday is about the book blurb. Feel free to post yours in the comments. Feel free to suggest how I can improve mine. It’s for Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby, the Christmas novella I’m completing at the moment.

Fashionable London holds nothing for wealthy merchant’s niece, Kareema Finchurch. Except perhaps for an earl with a twisted hand and a charming smile. Why is it that, for all the fortune hunters she has fended off since returning from India, the one man who seems to like her is so against marrying for money?

Philip has inherited an earldom so impoverished that his only two choices are to marry for money or to abandon Society altogether and return to his work as an engineer. Which is no choice at all, and he intends heading back north to his canal, until a tiny woman with beautiful eyes and a fine mind dances with him on his last night in London.

When they meet again in a small country village, they join forces to uncover larceny and deceit, to rescue Kareema’s aunt from poverty, and to discover that pride is a poor reason to refuse a love for a lifetime.

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First meetings on WIP Wednesday

The theme for this week is first meetings. Or at least first meetings of your hero and heroine in this particular book, since parted lovers or old enemies or childhood friends can be fun, too. Please put your excerpt into the comments, as always.

Mine puts together two people who have not met until the first chapter of my story. I’ve picked up a deleted scene from several years ago and begun turning it into a new novella for Christmas, with a brand new beginning and a heap of edits throughout. It’s going to be called Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby, and I’m enjoying my reluctant earl who can barely wait until he offloads the last of his impoverished estate and gets back to building aqueducts, and my feisty Nabob’s heiress cast unwillingly upon the ton, who is counting the days until she turns twenty-five and has full control of her fortune.

The next room was dark, but the one after was lit, the door partly open, though not enough to see into the room. Women’s voices indicated the room was in use, and he paused to listen. He would not intrude on a private conversation.

“Really, Miss Finchurch, I cannot imagine what Lady Carngrove is thinking, bringing you here to mingle with your betters.”

Another voice; a vicious purr somehow familiar to Philip. “Perhaps she imagines that the perfume of Miss Finchurch’s wealth will overcome the stench of her origins?”

This was definitely not the card room. Harpies of this stamp would not attack so openly in front of an audience, and Uncle Henry would not stand by while they did. Philip should do something. While he hesitated, those inside continued to talk.

“I do not believe so, girls. Lady Carngrove intends all that lovely money for her darling Ceddie. As if he would even consider such a thing! Why, Miss Finchurch is quite old!”

The next voice was crisp, but with a bubble of a laugh running through it. “My goodness, I must really worry you, for you to descend to such a puerile level of nursery bullying.”

Philip grinned. The victim was not entirely helpless then.

Before the babble of rejoinders sorted themselves out, he pushed the door open. “Miss Finchurch? Ah, there you are.” It was a small reading room, lined with bookshelves and with comfortable chairs grouped around low tables, just the right height for a drink and a book.

The target of the others’ spite was clearly the one at bay, seated by the fire with an open book on her lap. She turned her face to him an instant before the others. Old? True, she was not a girl fresh from the schoolroom, but rather a lady in her mid-twenties, unlined face a perfect oval, with large brown eyes under arched brows, a tilt-tipped nose, and a quantity of light brown hair pulled up into a confection of hair atop her head, a few strands pulled loose to frame the delightful whole.

She met his smile with a quizzical tip of the head, and he ignored the five ladies standing over her. “Our dance is in a few minutes, Miss Finchurch, so I came to find you. Would you care to take a short stroll while we wait?”

Would she take the rescue, he wondered, glancing from her to the others. Three were strangers. One, he vaguely recognised. But the remaining woman… He nodded a polite but cold acknowledgement Lady Markhurst, who had pretended to accept his courtship when he was last in Society four years ago, after recovering from the injuries that ended his army career and brought him home to England.

Lady Markhurst had soon made it clear his only attraction was his unwed cousins, one an earl and one the heir to an earl. Philip wasn’t close to either, and had not seen her since she discovered that fact. He assumed her pursuit was unsuccessful; certainly, she had wed before the end of that season, to a lowly and rather elderly baron who proved to be not as wealthy as rumour had painted.

Clearly, Philip’s attractiveness had increased, since Lady Markhurst fluttered her fan and her eyelashes, and fingered the diamond drop that dangled from her ornate necklace into the valley between her breasts. “Why, Lord Calne. Surely you cannot intend to dance with a merchant’s daughter. Your inheritance cannot be in such a dire state as that. Let me save you from such a fate by offering myself as a partner instead.” The throaty note in her last sentence made it a naughty innuendo.

He ignored Lady Markhurst and her outstretched hand, offering Miss Finchurch his bad arm, which functioned well enough as a prop for a lady. Lady Markhurst’s face flushed and then whitened. She had not learned to control her temper, then.

Miss Finchurch made up her mind, set her book to one side, and stood to slip her hand into his elbow, and he turned to the door, but Lady Markhurst launched another attack before they reached it.

“Do be warned, Miss Finchurch. The Calne title comes with a bankrupt estate and a crippled earl.”

Miss Finchurch gripped his arm, making him wince, and she sensed it, too, the fires she was about to turn on Lady Markhurst doused by her concern for him. He took another step towards the door.

“Ignore Lady Markhurst, Miss Finchurch. I would say her disappointment in her ambitions has made her bitter, but she was always a scold.”

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