Babies and children on WIP Wednesday

29e344e7e89a24d7c75d422b5a5b5aedPerhaps because I’m a mother and a grandmother, I tend to have children in my novels. Such were the times, that an author can easily write a story without ever including scenes with children, leaving them safely out of sight and out of mind in the nursery or schoolroom — but I like them.

So, with apologies to those who can’t play, this week’s work-in-progress Wednesday is looking for the little people. Post me an extract with the child or baby in your work-in-progress (or published novel, if your current WIP doesn’t have any).

Here’s mine, having breakfast after an eventful night.

Aldridge watched Antonia eat.

Gren was sitting beside her eating bacon, eggs, and toast as if he had been starved for months, and it was to him that Antonia addressed the question.

“Uncle Gren, why does He keep looking at me?” The initial capital was audible. “Is he my uncle too, like you and Uncle David?” Gren stopped, a fork halfway to his mouth. He put it down while he considered the question, looking from Prue to Aldridge.

It was Aldridge who answered. “Yes, Antonia. I am your uncle.”

She slipped from her chair and gave him a polite curtsey. “I am pleased to make your ’quaintance, Uncle. How do you do?”

He bowed, gravely. “I am well, thank you, Miss Virtue. How do you do?”

Antonia considered this. “I am sad to be leaving my chickens and my pondering tree, but I think the journey will be a very great a’venture. We are travelling a long way and will have a new home where people do not call names, Auntie Charity says. And it is closer for Mama to visit, Mama says.”

“Sit and eat your breakfast, child,” Charity told her. “Lord Aldridge says we must leave soon.”

Aldridge accepted a loaded plate from Cook and took it to sit on the other side of Antonia. Soon, they were engaged in low-voiced conversation. The Aldridge charm, Prue noted, worked as well on six-year-olds as it did on grown-up females.

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Once upon a time I invented a rake

WALLACE COLLECTION - THEATRES OF LIFE   Eug ne Lami, A supper during the Regency or The Prodigal Son or The orgy, 1853 Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trust)   The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.  Photographer: Mike Fear  127.1995_c_2.jpg

I joke that my creative process relies on the plot elves. I sit down to do my 500 words, or 1000 words, or 2000 words, or whatever the target for the day is, and the characters start acting out the scene disclosing all sorts of things the plot elves have been working on in the background.

The truth is that my creative process is a mystery to me. The invention of my Marquis of Aldridge is a case in point.

Here’s his very first appearance on a page, in my work-in-progress, Embracing Prudence. David Wakefield, base-born son of the Duke of Haverford, is investigating a case of blackmail.

A knock on the door heralded Aldridge’s arrival. A maid showed him into the private parlour. He’d clearly been treating her to a display of his facile charm; she was dimpling, blushing, and preening.

David examined him as he gave the girl a coin “and a kiss for your trouble, my darling.” The beautiful child had grown into a handsome man. David had heard him described as ‘well-put together, and all over, if you know what I mean.’ The white-blonde hair of childhood had darkened to a light brown, and he had golden-brown eyes under a thick arch of brow he and David had both inherited from their father.

Aldridge navigated the shoals of the marriage market with practiced ease, holding the mothers and their daughters off while not offending them, and carrying out a gentleman’s role in the ballroom with every evidence of enjoyment.

But his real success, by all accounts, was with bored widows and wives, where he performed a role in the bedroom with equal enjoyment. Society was littered with former lovers of the Merry Marquess, though he had the enviable ability to end an affair and retain their friendship.

He ushered the laughing maid out of the room and closed the door behind her, acknowledging David’s appraisal with a wry nod.

“Wakefield. You summoned me. I am here.”

David ignored the thread of irritation in the young aristocrat’s voice.

“I have some questions I wish to ask about the story your brother tells.”

Uninvited, Aldridge grabbed a chair and straddled it, resting his chin on his forearms. “Our brother,” he said, flatly.

I should, perhaps, explain that I’ve been creating an entire fictional world these last five years, peopled with enough characters for at least the forty books for which I have plot lines. Many of the characters are just names in my database and spreadsheet, but if I need a mother, or a cousin, or villain, or an old school friend, I look there first before I invent someone new. So when David needed a case to investigate, I involved his patroness, the Duchess of Haverford, and her son Aldridge came with the territory.

I knew Aldridge existed, and I knew he was a rake. There’s a crusading social zealot growing up in my world who will one day need a hero who is as much a challenge to her as she is to him. But I hadn’t given him much more thought than that, till I inserted him into David and Prue’s story. I generally start a book with tidy character descriptions (eight pages for protagonists and major antagonists, and one page for anyone else with more than a walk-on part), a plot outline, and maps. After I start, though, the plot elves take over and anything might happen. And so it was with Aldridge.

Very soon, he proved to be a larger part of Prue’s past than David knows. He is also deeply concerned about his younger brother Jonathan, who becomes David’s assistant in the investigation. What with one thing and another, by the time Prue, Jonathan, and David disappear from England, Aldridge has enough guilt riding him to dive into a bottle and hide there for months, as explained in this deleted scene from A Baron for Becky.

“Cousin, I don’t believe you’ve been sober since June—this business with Jonathan is not your fault, you know.”

Aldridge shook his head. He didn’t agree. Jonathan was his younger brother, and he’d promised to keep him safe. He’d promised Mama.

“Do you remember the frogs in your tutor’s bed?” Rede asked.

Aldridge was not fooled by the seeming change of subject. He’d taken the blame for that, though the prank had been Jonathan’s. “The tutor was a vicious fool, and would have beaten Jonathan until his arm fell off. And His Grace would have done nothing; Jonathan was only the spare. Disciplining me was reserved to His Grace, and the tutor would not disturb him for such a minor infringement.”

It was Rede’s turn for the dismissive shake. “Jonathan’s not nine any more, Aldridge. The scandal was of his own making; quite deliberately from what I heard. ”

Aldridge grinned. He was worried, and he felt guilty, but he still admired his brother’s strategy. “He wanted to travel and His Grace said ‘no’. So Jonathan arranged to be exiled. Pudding-brain. Doesn’t he know there’s a war on? I hope David finds him.”

Rede slid the brandy decanter towards him. “David? David went after his… after a lady that he loves.”

Aldridge busied himself pouring another glass and exerted every ounce of control not to tip it straight down his throat. There was the crux of it—not Jonathan’s defection, though Aldridge still believed he should have been able to prevent it. But Aldridge’s contribution to the loss of his other brother, his father’s bastard; Aldridge’s treatment of the woman David loved.

“Did you not know? She went with Jonathan. And I don’t think David will ever forgive me, Rede.”

I had just realised what a crucial part Aldridge played in Prudence’s backstory and the major misunderstanding between David and Prue when my group of Historical writers, the Bluestocking Belles, embarked on a three week marathon of interactive story telling on Facebook.  We invented a magical inn that allowed our fictional worlds to collide, and brought along our characters for an impromptu party.

I contributed one drunk and depressed Aldridge to the fun, and it was fun! Poor Aldridge. He had a frustrating time, with his advances to one lady after another being rejected, sometimes violently.

Then along came Mrs A. Mrs Angel is the invention of Catherine Curzon, and she is a wonderful character, mistress to princes, owner of brothels, and a rollicking good-time girl. Aldridge’s pursuit of Mrs A. jumped from thread to thread and took days, with one accident after another keeping him from his goal.

I decided to write it up as a light-hearted romp; the story of Aldridge and the golden-hearted harlot who saved him. But I soon realised that Aldridge needed quite a different kind of experience at this point in his life. Becky began to take shape in my mind – a broken bird, rescued by Aldridge but carrying scars from her past experiences. The book became Becky’s story, and the elderly baron Catherine and I had first envisaged became Hugh, Aldridge’s best friend, a man with his own scars.

And so, in the end, Becky and Hugh took over what began as Aldridge’s story, and A Baron for Becky is a far better book than I originally intended.

Where to from here? I have a vague idea, but quite a distance to travel first. In the main stream of my novel writing, I have yet to finish 1807. Aldridge will be a bit player in several more books before 1814, when his own story begins with a social reforming spinster bursting into his bedroom demanding that he come save his bastard son from a molly brothel. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.

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Writing realistic rakes in romantic fiction

This post was first published on Quenby Olsen Eisenacher’s blog as part of my blog tour for A Baron for Becky.

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In modern historical romantic fiction, the hero is often a rake who sees the error of his ways when he falls in love with the heroine, and—after undergoing various trials—becomes a faithful husband and devoted family man.

Most of those rakes, I suggest, are not rakes at all. They’re what we today would call womanisers or players, but they’re not rakes in the sense that the term was used in Georgian and Regency England. Our rake heroes sleep with multiple lovers (either sequentially or concurrently) or keep a series of mistresses, or both. But back then, the term signified a much more disreputable character. It needed to. Otherwise, most of the male half of Polite Society would have been defined as rakes. And a fair percentage of the female half.

We are talking of a time when one in five women in London earned their living from the sex trade, guide books to the charms, locations, and prices of various sex workers were best-selling publications, men vied for the attention of the reigning courtesans of the day and of leading actresses, and both men and women chose their spouses for pedigree and social advantage then sought love elsewhere.

In those days, a rakehell was defined as a person who was lewd, debauched, and womanising. Rakes gambled, partied and drank hard, and they pursued their pleasures with cold calculation. To earn the name of rake or rakehell meant doing something outrageous—seducing innocence, conducting orgies in public, waving a public flag of corrupt behaviour under the noses of the keepers of moral outrage. For example, two of those who defined the term simulated sex with one another while preaching naked to the crowd from an alehouse balcony.

Drunkenness certainly didn’t make a man a rake—the consumption of alcohol recorded in diaries of the time is staggering. Fornication and adultery weren’t enough either, at least when conducted with a modicum of discretion (which meant in private or, if in public, then with other people who were doing the same thing).

Lord Byron earned the name with many sexual escapades, including—so rumour had it—an affair with his sister. His drinking and gambling didn’t help, either. But none of these would have been particularly notable if they had not been carried out in public.

The Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova mixed in the highest circles, and did not become notorious until he wrote the story of his life.

On the other hand, William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, lived with his wife and his mistress, who was his wife’s best friend. The three did not share the details of their relationship with the wider world, so there was gossip, but not condemnation. Devonshire is also rumoured to have been one of Lady Jersey’s lovers (the mother of the Lady Jersey of Almack fame).

I planned for my Marquis of Aldridge to be a real rake: a person whose behaviour, despite his social status as the heir to a duke, causes mothers to warn their daughters about him. On the other hand, I didn’t want him to be a totally unsympathetic character. After all, not only is he the only hero on the scene for the first half of the book; he’s also going to be the hero of his own book after he has been through a few more trials and tribulations.

He has had mixed reviews since A Baron for Becky was published. Most reviewers like the rogue, and are asking for his story, while still acknowledging that he is a libertine. One or two dislike him heartily, and one said:

Note to author: your main characters were very interesting but you hinted at some type of redemption for one particular character that I just cannot fathom. I challenge you to make me like him better because I disliked him throughout the story.

Now there’s a challenge I can’t refuse!

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Two heroes. Two centuries divide them. Two different fictional worlds. Part 2

Today, I’m continuing the story Keisha Page and I wrote for her blog, The Word Mistress. Our heroes – the Marquis of Aldridge from A Baron for Becky and 1810, and Alex from Rhythm of Love and the 21st century – have found their way to a mysterious inn where the food is excellent and time no longer applies.

awY3dMbAlex’s grasp was firm for a hallucination. And he returned to the slice of fresh bread he’s cut with an enthusiasm Aldridge did not associate with ghosts. “Margate?” he asked, between mouthfuls. “Is that your home?”

“It will be,” Aldridge said, without much enthusiasm. “One of them. I mostly live in London, though.” He smiled, his expression softening. Officially, his London residence was the heir’s wing at Haverford House. But the townhouse he’d purchased for his mistress, Becky, was more of a home to him than anywhere else on the planet. “I’ll be home tomorrow,” he said.

Aldridge hoped this was true; that he’d walk out of here and it would still be 1810. “And do you live in New York, Alex?”

“I’ve been to London a few times. I’m guessing it looks much different now. Cars and pollution, and, oh, all of the new buildings that have been built. I live here, in an apartment in the Bronx. My kids live with their mother, in a house a few miles from my place. At least they’re close enough that I can see them all the time.” Alex dunked his piece of bread in his stew.

The London Aldridge knew had dirt and filth enough; pollution, certainly. Cars? He’d seen a few processions, but perhaps this modern London had more? He focussed on the part of Alex’s statement he could make sense of. The term ‘kids’ clearly meant children. “I also have children who live with their mothers, but I see little of them. You are fortunate to have yours close.”

Alex nodded.

“I am pretty lucky. My girl, Leslie, wants to move here, but if she does, then her kids’ dad wouldn’t be able to see their kids. It’s kind of a pain in the ass. Not the kids, but the making sure that everyone gets to see each other when they’re supposed to. I don’t know how anyone makes a second marriage work.”

Another statement with outlandish implications. The man had been married to the mother of his children and now wanted to be married again to someone who had children by another man? How outraged Society’s dragons would be to hear Alex refer so casually to second marriages.

“So, Aldridge, how many times have you been married?”

Aldridge ignored the question, still thinking about Alex’s statement. Perhaps his interpretation was wrong.  “May I… I do not wish to give offence, so please tell me if I breach courtesy in asking this… may I confirm that I understand correctly? Your children live with their mother. And the woman you would marry lives near the father of her children.

‘But you speak of a second marriage. You are both divorced, then? And all the parties work together so that the children can see their fathers and their mothers?”

“Dude. That is the least offensive thing you could say.” Alex smiled at Aldridge, clearly not offended.

“Yes, Leslie is divorced from her first husband, the father of her children. They both live in Denver. I am divorced from my first wife, who is the mother of my children. She lives near me here. We’re actually required by law to make things work. If Leslie moved the children here without her ex-husband’s permission, a judge could put her in jail. And so far, her husband won’t agree to let her move here.

“Truthfully, I can’t say I blame the guy, but it’s frustrating. Leslie and I… I can’t stand being without her. She lives 1800 miles away, so we only get to see each other every few months. The last time I got to see her, it was only for a couple of days; I was in the middle of a tour, so I couldn’t stay long.”

He held up his brandy snifter to catch the attention of the waitress. She nodded in his direction. He sat the glass down and looked at Aldridge.

“I didn’t realize divorce was common in 1810. Or even legal, I guess.”

“It isn’t common,” Aldridge confirmed. “It requires a Bill in Parliament, which means washing the family’s dirty linen in full view of every gossip in England.”

Not an option for any person of consequence. No decent man would do that to his wife and children, not any respectable woman, either, unless in peril of her life.

“A man can get a divorce and custody of his children if he proves his wife was unfaithful. A woman has to prove extreme cruelty, and even then she might not keep the children. A man might survive the scandal, but a woman? I can only imagine what would drive a woman to such a course.”

He took another slow sip of brandy, saying out loud the doom his father had been enjoining on him all this last visit to Margate.

“I’ll have to marry some day. When I do, it will be for the rest of my life.”

Alex said, “Oh boy. It works much differently now. It’s mostly paperwork. You file papers in court, and if a judge agrees that the division of assets is equitable, then six months later, you’re single again.”

It couldn’t possibly be as easy as that. Could it? Aldridge took another bite of the excellent bread. Alex was still talking.

“I hope it works out forever with Leslie. I love her more than I ever thought I could love someone. When we’re together, I feel like I can conquer the world. Do you have a girlfriend?”

At two score and ten, he was old for a girl, but he’d have to choose one, he supposed. A girl who was a friend? He had largely ignored this year’s crop of debutantes, but it seemed unlikely he’d find a friend in their ranks. How he wished…  Well. No point in that. “I envy you, Alex. And I hope it works out for you, too.”

“I’ll marry some women with the right lineage, and for the land or political advantage she offers my family. It doesn’t matter for me… I think I’m not capable of the kind of love you mention. But I feel sorry for the poor lady I marry.” Despite his determination, his mind drifted back to his mistress, and he heard himself saying, “If I could love, I expect I’d be head over heels for Becky, the woman I am going to now. She’s… well, she’s a fine woman. Beautiful, intelligent, kind. I could see spending the rest of my life with Becky.”

If he married his mistress, elevated her to future Duchess of Haverford, the dragons would tear her to pieces. They would never accept her. They would not rest until they had destroyed her and her children with her. He could not subject her to that horror.

See Keisha’s post for her hero’s point of view, and find out how he feels about Aldridge’s revelations.

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A Baron for Becky – this is how it starts

BfBcoverAldridge never did find out how he came to be naked, alone, and sleeping in the small summerhouse in the garden of a country cottage. His last memory of the night before had him twenty miles away, and — although not dressed — in a comfortable bed, and in company.

The first time he woke, he had no idea how far he’d come, but the moonlight was bright enough to show him half trellised window openings, and an archway leading down a short flight of steps into a garden. A house loomed a few hundred feet away, a dark shape against the star bright sky. But getting up seemed like too much trouble, particularly with a headache that seemed to hang inches above him, threatening to split his head if he moved. The cushioned bench on which he lay invited him to shut his eyes and go back to sleep. Time enough to find out where he was in the morning.

When he woke again he was facing away from the archway entrance, and there was someone behind him. Silence now, but in his memory the sound of light footsteps shifting the stones on the path outside, followed by twin intakes of breath as the walkers saw him.

One of them spoke; a woman’s voice, but low—almost husky. “Sarah, go back to the first rose bush and watch the house.”

“Yes, mama.” A child’s voice.

Aldridge waited until he heard her dance lightly down the steps and away along the path, then shifted his weight slightly so that his pelvis flattened, dragging the rest of his torso over till he was lying on his back.

He waited for the exclamation of shock, but none came. Carefully— he wanted to observe her before he let her know he was awake, and anyway, any sudden movement might start up the hammers above his eye sockets—he cracked open his lids enough so that he could see through his lashes.

He could see more than he expected. The woman had a shuttered lantern that she was using to examine him, starting at his feet, pausing so long when she reached his morning salute that it grew even prouder, then sweeping up his torso so quickly he barely had time to slam his lids shut before the light reached and lingered over his face.

She’d been just a vague shadow behind the light, but the smell that reached him spoke of young woman. He held himself still while she completed her examination, which she did with a snort of disgust. Not the reaction he was accustomed to.

“Now what do we do,” she muttered. “Perhaps if Sarah and I…? I’ll have to cover him. What on earth is he doing here? And like that? Not that it matters. Unless he is something to do with Perry? Or the men Perry said would come?” Her voice was rising a little and becoming more shrill as she grew agitated. “Stop it, Becky.” She took a deep calming breath. “Stay calm. You must think.”

redingote1For all her efforts, there was an edge of panic in her voice. Aldridge risked opening his eyes a mere slit, and was rewarded by a better look at the woman as she paced up and down the summerhouse in the light of the lantern she’d placed on one of the window ledges.

Spectacular. That was the only appropriate word. Hair that looked black in the poor light but was probably dark brown, porcelain skin currently flushed pink with her agitation, a heart-shaped face, cornflower blue eyes under perfectly curved brows, and a perfect cupid’s bow of a mouth, the lower lip—which she was currently chewing—larger than the upper.

The redingote she wore was fitted to a shape of amazing promise, as far as he could see as the shawl over her shoulders swung with her movements. Even more blood surged to his ever-hopeful member. “Down, boy,” he told it, silently.

“Mama?” That was the little girl, returning down the path. “Mama, I can hear horses.”

The woman froze, every line of her screaming alarm.

Aldridge could hear them now, coming closer through the rustling noises of the night; the quiet clop of walking horses, the riders exchanged a word or two, then nothing. They must have stopped on the other side of the house.

“Sarah.” The woman’s voice, pitched to carry only as far as her daughter’s ears, retreated as she crossed the summerhouse. “Sarah, we must go quickly.”

harpicture_876“But Mama! The escape baskets!” the girl protested.

“I do not dare wake the man, my love. He might stop us.”

Aldridge responded to the fear in her voice. “I won’t stop you. I’m not a danger to you.” As he spoke, he swung himself upright, wincing as the headache closed its vices around his skull. Though he screwed his eyes with the pain, he kept them open enough to watch the woman, turned to a statue by his voice, her hand on the framework of the arched entrance as if without that support she would fall.

“Mama?” The girl’s fearful voice freed the woman from her freeze, and she moved to block the child’s sight of him. “Sarah. Watch the house. Do not turn around until I say.”

Eyes wide open, he could confirm his initial assessment as she spun to face him. Spectacular. Then she shone the lantern straight on him, and he flinched from the light. “Not in my eyes, please. I have such a head.”

She made that same disgusted sound again, then stripped the shawl from her shoulders and tossed it to him, taking care to stay out of arms’ reach.

“Please cover yourself, sir.”

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Royal Regard meets Encouraging Prudence – Part 1 of 4 now available

Authors’ note: In the virtual worlds of historical fiction, authors create whole societies of characters, interacting with real historical events and even real people. But each virtual world sits alone, never touching the worlds of other authors. Until now.

The Bluestocking Belles11025188_432122276937344_5770461272420998884_n, as part of the launch of our new website for historical romance readers, created a magical coaching inn—fittingly called ‘The Crock and Bull’—a place for characters to meet from all of our books’ worlds and those of our guests.

Mariana Gabrielle and Jude Knight soon discovered that two of their characters knew one another well. Rather too well, according to all who knew them as young men.

During the course of the party, the Duke of Wellbridge and the Marquis of Aldridge have referred on several occasions to an incident that saw them banned from an entire town, from the Prince of Wales’ presence, and even—for a time—from England. Until now, even the Duchess of Wellbridge hasn’t known the whole truth.

What was that mysterious event? How do Aldridge and Wellbridge know each other? Why has it been so long since they’ve spoken? Are they still keeping secrets?

Now, exclusively for readers of our blogs, Mariana Gabrielle and Jude Knight have co-written a small bit of backstory shared by a young Lord Nicholas Northope (from Royal Regard) and his protégé in crime, the Merry Marquis of Aldridge (who first appears in Jude Knight’s work-in-progress, Encouraging Prudence).

Mariana and I will share sections of this scandalous story the week of March 8-13, leading up to the Bluestocking Ball on March 14.

The year is 1801 in Fickleton Wells, Somerset.

The Marquis of Aldridge, heir to the Duke of Haverford, is 21, just down from Oxford. Lord Nicholas Northope, second son of the Duke of Wellbridge has been, at 27, racketing about England unchecked a fair few years without much purpose. And the trajectories of both young lives are about to change.

See Mari’s blog for part 1.

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