Where to start on WIP Wednesday

When I write, I have trouble starting at the beginning, because I have to find it first. In life, all beginnings continue from an earlier story, and all ends transmute into a later story. But in fiction, we need to start each book and each chapter at the beginning. At that point in time and space where at least one of the characters we care about is revealing their story, and making it matter to us.

Dear fellow authors, share a beginning with me and the blog readers, if you would. Something from a current work in progress. The start of a chapter or perhaps the start of the whole book. Mine is from The Realm of Silence, and it is the first scene in the book. At least, it is at the moment. Anything could happen in edit.

Stamford, England

1812

Gil Rutledge sat in the small garden to the side of the Crown and Eagle, and frowned at the spread provided for him to break his fast. Grilled trout with white butter sauce, soft-boiled eggs, grilled kidney, sausages, mashed potatoes, bacon, a beef pie, two different kinds of breads (one lightly toasted), bread rolls, a selection of preserves, and a dish of stewed peaches, all cooked to perfection and none of it appealing.

Two days with his sister, Madelina, had left old guilt sitting heavy on his stomach, choking his throat and souring his digestion. And the errand he was on did not improve matters.

He cut a corner off a slice of toast and loaded it with bits of bacon and a spoonful of egg. He was too old a campaigner to allow loss of appetite to stop him from refuelling. He washed the mouthful down with a sip from his coffee. It was the one part of the meal Moffat had not trusted to the inn kitchen. His soldier-servant insisted on preparing it himself, since he knew how Gil like it.

No. Not his soldier-servant. Not any more. His valet, butler, factotum. Manservant. Yes, his manservant.

Gil raised the mug to the shade of his despised older brother. “This is the worst trick you’ve played on me yet,” he muttered. The viscount’s death had landed the estranged exile with a title he never wanted, a bankrupt estate, a sister-in-law and her two frail little daughters left to his guardianship but fled from his home, and an endless snarl of legal and financial problems. And then there were Gil’s mother and his sisters.

Lena had at least consented to see him; had assured him that she no longer blamed him for her tragedies. Her forgiveness did not absolve him. He should have found another solution; should have explained better; should have kept a closer watch.

With a sigh, he took another sip, and loaded his fork again. The sooner he managed to swallow some of this food, the sooner he could be on the road.

Beyond the fence that bordered the garden, carriages were collecting their passengers from the front of the inn. Stamford was on the Great North Road, and a hub to half of England, with roads leading in every direction. As Gil stoically soldiered his way through breakfast, he watched idly, amusing himself by imagining errands and destinations.

Until one glimpsed face had him sitting forward. Surely that was Amelia Cunningham, the goddess’s eldest daughter? No. This girl was older, almost an adult though still dressed as a schoolgirl.

He frowned, trying to work out how old little Amy must be by now. He had last seen her at the beginning of 1808, just before he was posted overseas, first to Gibraltar and then to the Peninsular wars. He remembered, because that was the day he parted with the best horse a man had ever owned. More than four years ago. The goddess had been a widow these past two years and Amy must be— what? Good Lord. She would be sixteen by now.

He craned his head, trying to see under the spreading hat that shielded the girl’s face, but she climbed into a yellow post chaise with a companion — a tall stripling boy of about the same age. And the woman who followed them was definitely not the goddess; not unless she had lost all her curves, shrunk a good six inches, dyed her golden hair black, and traded her fashionable attire for a governess’s dull and shapeless garb.

No. That was not Susan Cunningham, so the girl could not have been Amy.

The door closed, the post boy mounted, the chaise headed north, and Gil went back to his repast.

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Tea with Sally

Sally Grenford roamed the room, bewildered by the way it mixed familiar and unfamiliar. The note had invited her to take tea with her grandmother this Christmas afternoon, and she recognised many of the room’s appointments as treasures her grandmother kept in her private sitting room. But many were also missing; gifts she and others had given Grandmama, the experimental dagguerreotype of her and Jonny that Papa had commissioned as part of an investment in the new process, keepsakes from the merchant wanderings of the Winshires.

The proportions of the room were familiar, too, but not from the palatial townhouse where Grandmama lived with her second husband. No, Sally could swear that this was her own mother’s private suite, though from the window all she could see was fog with an occasional swirl of snow.

The portrait of Grandmama over the mantel belonged in the portrait gallery, where it had hung for as long as Sally could remember. Longer. Since Mama became Duchess of Haverford and Grandmama married her second duke, and became Duchess of Winshire.

A stir at the door had her turning, and there stood the woman in the portrait. The self-same woman. Her grandmother, but as she had been nearly thirty years before. This duchess stood to one side of the door, allowing a small troop of maids and a butler to hurry in and out setting up a side table with tea makings.

Both the duchess and Sally waited until they completed their tasks and left the room, then Sally took a tentative step forward. Familiar, but not familiar.

“Grandmama?” she asked.

The duchess hurried forward, reaching with both hands for Sally’s and in moments Sally was enveloped in Her Grace’s familiar scent, hearing the voice she had loved since before she could speak.

“Lady Sarah Grenford. You are my granddaughter, are you not? My dear, when I saw the name I hoped so much — Aldridge’s or Jonathan’s? But let me look at you. Yes, there are the Haverford eyes, and I see something of my boys about your chin. I’ll warrant you are stubborn.”

“What is happening?” Sally asked. “Where am I?”

The duchess led Sally to the sofa next to the tea table, and they sat, the duchess still holding Sally’s hand. “It is odd, is it not? I have quite recovered from being unsettled by the different people who visit me on a Monday afternoon, from many different places and times, Sarah, and I have no idea how or why. I see the names on the invitation and then they appear here in my room at Haverford House. But you have not told me whose daughter you are, dear.”

“Haverford’s,” Sally explained. “Aldridge in your time, of course.” She nodded at the portrait. “But Haverford long before I was born.”

“He finally married then. I am so glad. And so tempted to ask for more detail, but one must not, of course. Just tell me, dear, has he found love? Is he content with your mother? Oh dear. Do not answer that. What a question to ask a child!”

Sally laughed confident of the answer and delighted to reassure her grandmother, whose rattle of conversation made her more familiar by the moment. “Papa and Mama deeply love one another, and are never happier than when they are together.”

Papa had been a rake and a scoundrel when he was young, by all accounts, but Sally could not imagine him loving anyone but Mama.

The duchess gave a pleased sigh. “Then I shall be patient. It will be easier knowing that he will marry, and happily. And a beautiful daughter, too!”

“And a son.” Sally was five years older, but Jonny, the Marquis of Aldridge, was the pride of the house. Sally mostly didn’t mind.

Another pleased sigh. “Excellent. Your papa must be very proud. Now, dear, tell me what you have in your hand. Something you have brought to show me?”

On receiving the summons, Sally had picked up her favourite Christmas present; perhaps the best Christmas present she had ever received. It was not just because that the box of precisely engineered mathematical tools was exactly what she wanted, though she had not felt the lack until she unwrapped them. It was also — even mostly — that the boy who held her heart had known, acknowledged, and respected her passion for understanding the infinitely wonderful universe of numbers.

“Look, Grandmama,” she said, opening the box on her lap, eager to share. “Look what David Abersham gave me.”

Sally’s Grandmama is in 2011. Sally is fifteen, and is visiting from  1838, on the afternoon of the Christmas morning featured in God Help Ye, Merry Gentleman, the story that starts the collection of the same name, which Mariana Gabrielle and I released just before Christmas. For blurb and buy links, click on the title.

Excerpt from God Help Ye, Merry Gentleman

As she began unwrapping the first box, he murmured a bit closer to her ear, “Have you found all eight, then?”

Blushing, and with a quick glance at her parents, completely immersed in discussion with the Wellbridges, she whispered, “No, not yet. But I will.”

“I will give you the key if you promise to never ask me another question about any of it.”

“I do not need to give up my questions, for I shall find the latches without your help.”

Toad rubbed his right hand over his face and groaned. “Of course you will.” He brightened, though, as he added, “But I am afraid your questions must wait, for Etcetera and I ride out this afternoon to my cousin Smythe’s place.” Another of their set at Eton. “We will return next week for your mother’s ball, but I’d like to see my aunt and uncle and cousins before I go off to school.”

Sally sighed. “Of course, you must go, and I hope you will remember me to Lord and Lady Ostelbrooke. But we only have such a short time left before you go away to school.” She stopped herself a second too late. She mustn’t whine. She mustn’t impose herself on his time, or annoy him.

“I’ll not neglect you, Monkey. I promise. On my return, you shall have first pick of every moment of every day before I leave. And you’ll hardly know I am gone, with all the activities your mother has planned.” She hardly wished to consider what sorts of activities he, Smythe, and Etcetera had planned, once outside their parents’ purview.

“You are right, but I will miss you, Toad.”

“I will be back in no time.”

She opened the top box, a finely wrought wooden case with brass latches, that opened on three hinged tiers of mathematical instruments, a full set of more than two dozen items also wrought of brass, each piece engraved with her initials and set snugly in its own velvet-covered place.

“I found them in Germany.”  Running his finger along the side of the box in a way that made Sally shiver, Toad offered, “They are Swiss, so of course, they are as precise as can be.”

Sally couldn’t explain why she had to suddenly blink away tears. It was such a functional gift. Not something frilly or girlish or decadent, like practically every other gift she’d ever been given in fifteen years. But something that acknowledged her intellect; acknowledged and applauded the love of numbers that others, even Papa, found inexplicable and unfeminine. That Toad should give her such a gift moved her, soul-deep.

“Toad, I… thank you. I think I shall surpass Mr Galbraith’s knowledge of mathematics with these at hand.”

“Then the other box will see you the first woman admitted to Oxford.”

Something in her chest was shifting with every word he said, and she couldn’t explain it. It was seismic—and perfectly right in every respect. And completely foreign.

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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,
Gaudete!

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

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.

 

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The Christmas card custom

The first Christmas card was designed and sold in 1843. It was the brainchild of Sir Henry Cole, who had helped set up the government department that was later called the Post Office. Sir Henry had helped to introduce the Penny Post in 1840, taking advantage of the railways to move post quickly and cheaply.

And people did. The story goes that Sir Henry had lots of friends who wrote to him at Christmas. It was only polite to reply, but Sir Henry was a busy man. He came up with the idea of a card with Christmas greetings, and a space at the top to write people’s names.

John Horsley, a friend of Sir Henry’s designed the card with three panels: the outer two showing charitable works and the inner one a family Christmas dinner.

Over time, Sir Henry’s idea caught on, helped as printing methods and mass production brought printing prices down. When the cost of sending dropped to half a penny in the 1870s, Christmas cards took off, and spread around the world.

Annie Oakley sent the first known personalised card. She was in Scotland in 1891, and sent a Christmas card back to family and friends in the United States with her own photo on it.

Do you send Christmas cards? Or a Christmas newsletter? By post or electronically? Or do you wish to do so, and just not have enough time?

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Epistles on WIP Wednesday

Snippets from letters, notes, diaries, articles, and other written texts are often a good way for our character to tell the reader what’s going on in their lives without a long scene that might otherwise bog down the plot. Do you use them? Show me and the readers an excerpt in the comments.

Mariana Gabrielle and I use this device quite often in our on-going novel Never Kiss a Toad,  (currently being published in episodes on Wattpad) and my rake Aldridge’s daughter and her rake Nick Wellbridge’s son. Sally and Toad are torn apart after being discovered in compromising circumstances (in the heir’s wing at Haverford House; if you’ve read A Baron for Becky, you’ll understand why that was adding insult to injury). They spend most of the novel in separate countries, and we use their letters to maintain their connection.

In our Christmas collection about our hero and heroine’s younger days, God Help Ye, Merry Gentleman, we offer readers more than 90,000 words of fiction: purpose-written for this book or gathered together from other stories about Sally, Toad, their families, and their friends (including the explanation of how Toad got his nickname). It goes on sale this week, as is a light-hearted way to entertain yourself this Christmas. Only USD 99c, too, so it won’t break the bank.

The following letters are in God Help Ye, and also in Never Kiss a Toad.

Christmas 1841: Sally’s letter to Toad

(Sent through the Duchess of Winshire)

January 2nd, 1841

London

Dear Toad,

We are heading home to Margate, after spending Christmastide at Wellstone. How strange it was to be there without you. I kept expecting to see you around every corner, in every room I entered, in all of our favourite places. My usual letter, sent by Papa’s hand, will be full of enthusiasm for the dinners we attended, the parties we held, the entertainments we enjoyed. My first grown-up holiday at Wellstone.

All of that is true, and none of it.

Here, where only you will see, I can tell the truth, my dearest friend. I wished myself anywhere but there. In London, even in Margate, I can pretend you are away at school or on some escapade with your friends, and will be back shortly. I have never been to Wellstone without you, and every moment of every day, I missed you.

Why did they not let you return home for Christmas, David? I cannot understand it. Papa would say only that Uncle Wellbridge thought it best, and Uncle Wellbridge would not answer at all, but kept arranging new activities for me, as though a sleigh ride or a game of charades would distract me, like a child in the nursery.

Enough of that. I do not mean to fill this letter with whinging, and give you a distaste for me. I hope all is well with you, and that you are studying hard, so you can excel in your examinations and come home at your next school break.

I feel I must tell you some of the guests at Wellstone met you in Paris, and they say you spend much of your time in gaming clubs and with women of dubious morality. I told them I did not believe them, and I did not wish to hear any more. Oh Toad, if it is true, I pray you will think of your dear mother, and others who miss you and would hate to see you demean yourself so.

I have no right to scold, and I know you have always done well at school despite your other activities. (About which I am supposed to know nothing, at least according to Papa and Uncle Wellbridge. As if I have no ears.) I can imagine you telling me it is none of my business, which is true. But even if I have no right to object to how you spend your time, I do not want you to come to harm, or to draw the kind of slanderous comment I heard this holiday at your mother’s own dining table. Please be careful and circumspect.

Do not be cross with me for writing so. We have been the closest of confidants our whole lives, which I hope gives me some small license to opine. Write and tell me that you are still my friend, for I am yours.

 

Your faithful,

Sally

 

Christmas 1841: Toad’s letter to Sally

(Sent through the Duchess of Winshire)

December 16, 1841

Dear Sally,

As you may know by now, my parents have decreed I not return to England for the winter holiday. My mother blames travel times and shipyard scheduling, but of course, my father is behind it. I am so sorry I cannot be there to visit with you and enjoy the Yuletide season together, as we have every year of our lives. I beg you understand I have done all my parents have asked to be afforded the chance to come home, if only for a few days, and have been refused in any case. I cannot see what they hold so zealously against me; but equally, I cannot fight against what I cannot see.

I am writing from my cabin on the family frigate, docked in Marseilles, and will send this through Aunt Eleanor before we set sail. With luck and a fast wind, this will arrive in time for Christmas. I wish I had posted it earlier, but I had hoped so much to see you in person. We will be on our way to Livorno in the morning, then Florence, where I will spend the holiday with Lord Piero d’Alvieri and his family at the count’s castello.

You will like Piero when you meet him, though he is even more a rogue than your David, so you must never be alone with him. He has five younger sisters, the eldest, Maddalena, a year younger than Almyra. Piero assures me we will be followed incessantly by pestilential girl children, which will remind me how much I miss my own pestilential shadow, Monkey. I’ve only just met his brother, Arturo, il conte d’Alvieri, who is quite a good chap, though Piero will forever accuse him of meddling.

Fortunate am I that he meddles, for, ever your errant boy, I managed to find myself gaoled for fighting in a gaming hell, and Arturo used his influence to secure my release. (It truly was a minor incident, resolved in less than a day.) I would think this the reason I was denied the chance to come home, but it was my mother’s letter refusing me that sent me off on the unfortunate drunken spree that resulted in my incarceration. If you can discover what I have done that is so awful as to keep me from your side, even for a visit, pray, write to me so I may rectify the error. I cannot think news of my imprisonment will help, but I have received the highest marks, and, on the whole, my life has been far less profligate than in the past.

My mother writes you will have Christmas at Wellstone, so you may be sure I hold you in my heart and my mind’s eye as I remember all the winter months we have spent there. Please write, I beg, with an account of the holiday, for I cannot expect to enjoy any of our favourite Yuletide pastimes in Italy. From Piero’s descriptions, one wonders if we will do anything but attend endless Catholic masses morning to night. (I pray you do not say so to my mother, lest she fear for my immortal Anglican soul.)

Since you are at Wellstone, and I cannot safely send a gift through all the ports of France and England, I have written to the bookshop in the village and placed ten pounds on account for you to spend as you like, and I have instructed they send to London for any book you request, without question, without bothering the dukes and duchesses about the subject matter. (I leave to you the damage to your reputation, should you choose unwisely.)

I will miss you sorely, Monkey, for there is no one else with whom I can always prevail at every parlour game. Happy Christmas and Joyous New Year, my dearest girl.

 

Ever Your,

David Abersham

 

Christmas 1842: Sally’s letter to Toad

(Sent through the Duke of Haverford)

December 12, 1842

Wind’s Gate

Dear Toad,

How odd that you will receive and be reading this letter sometime in the new year, and I am writing it in early December. Where are you at the moment, I wonder? And where will you be as this gigantic house fills with guests and then with all the festivities? I hope you are with congenial friends since you cannot be at home with us.

As I told you in my last, Grandmama has commandeered my services as her aide-de-camp, to organise the house party she was determined to hold, which is now but days away. Her role is to drop vague suggestions; mine, to scurry from attics to cellars, by way of every bedchamber and three separate kitchens, in order to carry them out.

Yes, Toad, I said three kitchens. I am sure, when we were six or seven and attempted to count all the rooms in Winds’ Gate, we failed to notice at least one of these kitchens, without which, three separate cooks and their respective staffs would murder one another (or so I have come to believe) while preparing the food needed for all the dozens of guests Grandmama has invited. Or rather, I have invited, in the name of the Duchess of Winshire, who has had very little to do with the enterprise. Still, I am certain she would be distressed should dinner consist of braised kitchen boy and roast haunch of chef, so I shall endeavour to keep the peace between the three independent domains ruled by my three gustatory tyrants.

Grandmama says I must never forget that I rule them, and indeed, Toad, you would laugh to see how I give my orders to high and low, sending out lists and minions from the sitting room Etcetera has dubbed The Command Centre.

Did I mention Etcetera is here? He came to keep company with Grandmama, and when I first saw him, I was a little in awe. He must have been sixteen the last time we met, abetting you as you tried to avoid me the Christmas after you returned from touring Europe. He has, I can assure you, grown considerably; the giant who bent over my hand bore little resemblance, aside from his fair hair, to the lanky boy who supported you in vexing me so unmercifully that winter.

I have quickly lost my shyness, for the same Etcetera lurks behind the beard and broad shoulders. As ever, he is always ready with a joke and willing to turn his hand to anything. He is not my only helper, of course. I am also ably assisted by Jonny and Almyra and several of my other cousins. The stalwarts are Elf—I should say Sutton, but it does not come easily when I have called him Elf all my life—and his sister Anna, Michael St James and his sister Henry, who have come to spend the holidays with us.

I am determined everyone will have a wonderful time. The party will fill every one of those 103 bedchambers we counted, and every day, a succession of planned activities. And the food coming out of those three kitchens would make your eyes widen and your mouth water, I can assure you!

You would be proud of your Sal, were you here, my dear friend. I wish you were.

 

Your,

Sal

 

Christmas 1842: Toad’s letter to Sally

 (Sent by courier)

December 5, 1842

Marseilles

Sally, my dearest,

I’m sorry to send this in a manner that may alarm you, but the rough man who delivered it was the only Seventh Sea sailor willing to defy Hawley—only because he is soon leaving my mother’s employ to join my new venture with Uncle Firthley, which is a great secret. I will ask Bey to explain in detail when he is in London for Sutton’s nuptials in January.

I wish you to know I will return home after my graduation, before I go to Greece—with or without the duke’s assent—and stay until the weather warms enough to easily make the passage. Yours is the first face I hope to see when I reach English shores again.

If, that is, you will have me.

I have been a damned fool, my love. With that dreadful comtesse, to start (for whom I cannot apologize abjectly enough), but every time I have behaved in a manner that might bring you shame, make you doubt my devotion, or keep me banished from England and apart from you. Until a few months ago, I was a terrible choice for a husband, and while I will never forgive your father, I begin to understand his reservations about placing you in my care. I swear to you, my sweet, I repent my wicked deeds, and beg you forgive me as I become a man upon whom you can depend for the rest of our lives.

It will be Christmastime by the time you receive this, and while I do not feel comfortable sending anything of excessive value with this particular courier, I wished you to have some token of my adoration, so I had these calling cards made when last I visited Florence with Piero. (His oldest two sisters are exceptionally talented with brush and quill, and they have adopted me as another older brother.) The cards are not the sort of thing you expect me to send for your Scrapbook, but I hope you will not mind if I bare my heart to you this once, and not more carnal assets, though both are yours in their entirety, my dear one.

I must go now, my darling, but pray, do not forsake me before I can come to you.

 

Your devoted slave,

David

Mari and I take it in turns to post a new episode, so follow us both to get the latest chapter every Friday.

Find Never Kiss a Toad on Jude’s Wattpad

Find Never Kiss a Toad on Mari’s Wattpad

Buy links for God Help Ye, Merry Gentleman

Amazon US ♦ Amazon UK ♦ iBooks ♦ Nook ♦ Kobo

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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.

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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.

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Getting to know your character on WIP Wednesday

As I near the end of the first draft of The Realm of Silence, I’m well into planning for the next book, House of Thorns. For me, the first step is usually a scene, and the scene that sparked this story came to me years ago. A woman in her early twenties, on a rickety ladder reaching for an early rose blooming on the side of a house. A late snow is beginning to fall, and below in the garden a large and angry man shouts at this intrusion, startling the woman so that she falls.

I have most of the rest of the plot now, but I’m working on character, and this week I’m inviting you other authors to share with me about one of your characters. I find out a lot about my characters before I start writing. I answer character questionnaires. I give them backstories and birthdays and hobbies. I interview them. I explore their greatest longings and their deepest wounds. I find out more when I start to write, but I’m not at that stage yet in House of Thorns.

Here’s some of what I know about Hugh Gavenor, the large shouting man, who is known as Bear.

Bear has always been big for his age. As a small child, he had a sister eleven months older, who was dainty, very clever, charming, and the apple of their parents’ eyes. She, it was, who gave Bear the nickname that has stuck to him throughout his life. His parents thought it was cute, because he was large, clumsy, and slow at his lessons (he has mild dyslexia).

The family were minor gentry: effectively farmers, but with pretensions.

When Bear was ten, his mother and sister died of an infection he brought home from the nearby village. Afterwards, his father sent him to school and pretty much became a recluse. He neglected the estate, and when he died the property sold for enough to buy Bear his colours. Bear served in the army until after Waterloo.

From early in his school career, Bear displayed a talent for trading, buying things other people didn’t want, fixing them, and selling them for a profit. This is now how he makes his living. He buys broken-down estates, does them up, and sells them to mill-owners and other newly rich so they can make believe they have moved up the classes. Bear is successful and rich, and always waiting for people to discover that he is still the large, clumsy, slow boy who was mocked at home and thrashed at school because of his mistakes in reading.

In particular, he is nervous of women, particularly clever or beautiful women, and even more if they are daintily built, as his mother and sister had been.

Naturally, my heroine is a pocket-sized Venus and as smart as can be.

Watch for a marriage of inconvenience that suits neither of them. Or so they think.

Your turn. How do you get to know your characters, and what do you know about them? An excerpt is fine, or a snippet of an interview, or just a bit of exposition.

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Tea with Mistletoe and Friends

The Duchess of Haverford looked around her drawing room with some satisfaction. Six lovely couples, and — while she could not claim to have matched them all — she had certainly had a part to play in most of their romances.

Her regular Mondays for Tea usually saw her in a more intimate setting with one, or perhaps two, guests: in her private sitting room, or on a pleasant day, a sheltered terrace. She never knew from just where or when those guests would come; not until she saw the mysterious invitations that rested for an hour on her little lap desk before departing by unknown means, presumably to the hands of those invited.

But the invitations this week had been rather special. Today, she was hostess to five couples she already knew from her own time, and one from the other side of the world and fifty years in the future.

“So why these six couples?” she murmured to her temporary secretary, the lovely Gwynneth Santalacaea, who had likewise appeared without warning. Or, indeed, references, beyond Her Grace’s strong sense that Gwynneth was just what the duchess needed for this holiday season.

“Christmas and mistletoe,” Gwynneth answered, obliquely, passing the cup of tea she had just poured to Lord Avery to convey to his wife, who sat with Mary Redepenning and Cedrica Fournier, comparing recipes for gingerbread and other Christmas sweet treats.

What a mixed group they were. And diverse couples, some of whom seemed destined for one another and some of whom should (in Society’s terms) never have met. A naval officer and an admiral’s daughter. A viscount and the maker of invalid chairs. An earl and the child of jewel merchants. Another earl (this one with barbaric tattoos spiraling across half his face) and his childhood sweetheart. A French chef and her own dear cousin. And from the future, an Irish-Canadian merchant and his Scots Presbyterian wife.

Lady Calne and Lady Halwick were talking to the woman from the 1860s, Rose O’Bryan, asking eager questions about the Otago goldfields in far away New Zealand, where Rose and her husband Thomas ran a chain of general stores.

Thomas was with Cedrica’s husband, Marcel Fournier, discussing shipping times with Captan Rick Redepenning, while Candle Avery collected cups from Gwynneth and handed them around, and Lord Calne and Lord Halwick argued about the best methods of crop rotation.

Yes, the duchess had every reason to be satisfied. She had played a part in the courtship of Cedrica and Marcel, had hosted the ball at which Lord and Lady Calne met, had supported Lord and Lady Halwick in their return to Society after the shocking scandal of his reappearance from the dead just in time to stop her wedding to another man. She was friends with Lord Avery’s mother and Captain Redepenning’s father, and was Lord Halwick’s godmother.

Gwynneth, she noted, bore a similar smile to the one she sensed on her own face. Did she, too, feel a sense of pride in a job well done? And if so, what exactly was that job?

Her Grace’s guests today are from the stories in my new release, If Mistletoe Could Tell Tales. Read this week’s Teatime Tattler to discover what part Gwynneth plays in their stories.

The book comes out on Friday and is a collection of already published novellas (four) and novelettes (two), at a discounted price over buying each book separately. And the print book is already available. At USD12.50 as a print book of 320 pages, it would make a great Christmas present for someone who loves the magic of romance in this special holiday season. Click on the book name above for blurb, details of the books, and buy links.

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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!

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