Tea with Susan

“Yes, that should work well.” Her Grace, the Duchess of Haverford set the last of the pages she had been reading onto the pile before her, and smiled at her goddaughter. “I like the way you have involved the parents in the running of the school, Susan. I shall have to adopt that idea for my own establishments.”

Susan Cunningham returned the smile as she explained, “Our Scots villagers are theoretically in favour of education, at least for their sons. But they will not support anything that interferes with work on the farm. So it makes sense to organise the school sessions around the demands of the harvest.”

“Yes, and if the leading farmers are the ones who set the timetable, the others will follow their example. Good. Well done, and of course I am happy to be named as a patroness of the school, although you have done all the work, my dear.”

Susan sipped her tea before answering. “A duchess on our letterhead will be much more impressive than a mere Missus, even if I am the widow of a prominent local landlord.”

The duchess laughed. “Yes, by all means use my title to collect donations from your local gentry. But Susan, I wanted to ask about your daughter. How is Amyafter all her adventures?”

“Unscathed,” Susan replied, dryly, then corrected herself. “To be fair, the experience has left her more thoughtful and less impetuous. But she is safe, thanks mostly to Gi- to Lord Rutledge. I do not know what might have happened without him.”

“Your father mentioned that he escorted you on your trip north, but he said little else, except that Amy was found safe and well.”

Susan shuddered. “She is safe and well because she was found, and only just in time.”

The duchess reached for a cucumber sandwich. “And how is Lord Rutledge? I have always thought the pair of you liked one another rather more than you made out.”

Susan sighed. “It is complicated,” she said.

Susan and Gil Rutledge, childhood friends who have been estranged for twenty years, are forced to work together when Susan’s daughter runs away from school. Their story is told in book 3 of The Golden Redepennings, The Realm of Silence (coming in May). Here’s an excerpt.

Dear Lord. All these years she’d held a small bubble of resentment that he’d left London and then England without a note or a message. She should have thrown caution to the wind and written to him before she agreed to marry James.

She snorted at the thought. A fine letter that would have been. “Dear Lieutenant Rutledge, a fine young naval officer has asked me to marry him, and before I give him my answer, I just wish to enquire whether you have any interest in having me instead.”

Regrets and might-have-beens were stupid. She had been happy with James, at least in the beginning, until he proved to lack the gift of fidelity. Even after he made it clear that he would not give up his other women, he did not flaunt them in her face. He was courteous and friendly, respected her abilities and supported her decisions, gave her control of his estate and his income, expected little from her except his nominated allowance and the occasional public appearance. She had been content in her life, if not her marriage, and she had the three most wonderful children in the world.

Accepting Gil’s hand back up into the cabriolet-phaeton, she composed herself for the next stretch of the journey. Knowing he admired her still, at least enough to kiss her, set all of her body singing. She needed to be realistic, and smother the foolish dreams creeping from her memories. She was thirty-seven, and he was a baron. He would need to find a young wife who could give him an heir, and she would need to smile and be glad for him.

A less personal subject than family was needed for the next part of the trip.

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The Realm of Silence – coming in May

I am biting the bullet and committing to publishing The Realm of Silence in May. The book blurb is now up on my book page, and in the next couple of days I’ll set up a preorder through Smashwords for iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. Too early for Amazon, but that will come later in the month.

So go take a look (by clicking on the link), and see what you think. Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt and the cover.

Gil was as quick to understand her now as when they ran wild over the lands around Longford. Susan made short work of discovering what Clementine didn’t want her aunt to know, and re-joined Gil by the stables.

“This governess. Was she slightly built, of below average height, and dark haired?” she asked, then, at Gil’s nod, “We need to find out whether a boy hired a post chaise, or possibly a young woman with a French accent. I have no idea whether there is a connection, but apparently the French music teacher is also missing, and she fits that description.”

She had thought he would take over the questioning, but he seemed content to allow her to coax answers out of the stable master, confining himself to looming at her left shoulder.

Looming was unnecessary, however. The stable master remembered the French lady on Saturday morning. “Just the lady on her own, ma’am. She wanted a post chaise for Newcastle, but I told her we didn’t go no further than York. She could get another there, I told her.”

“What of other travellers that same morning? Was there a boy, perhaps around fifteen or sixteen? He may have had a young lady with him of a similar age? Perhaps also travelling to York or Newcastle?”

The stable master was shaking his head when another ostler spoke up. “I saw the boy. With a girl, he was, but I didn’t see her proper. The boy came in and rented the post chaise while the girl waited out the front. It was while you was with that dook’s party, Ben. For York, but they only took ’un as far as Stamford. Joe—he’s the post boy, ma’am—he came back last night.”

The stable master nodded once, a swift jerk of the chin. “Right.”

“We will speak with the post boy,” Gil decreed. But the post boy was out on a job to a nearby town. He would return within the hour, and the stable master would keep him against Susan’s return.

“I will be back in one hour,” she said. “Thank you for your help.” She repeated the thanks to Gil before setting off at a brisk pace for the school. The fear jittered inside, but she quelled it. She had a lead, which was more than she’d had half an hour ago. If the French lady was the music mistress. If the boy was Patrice in disguise. If the two young people the ostler saw were her runaways. The whole trail of ‘ifs’ depended on Gil’s observation. If the girl in Stamford was Amy, the rest fell into place.

This time, she would demand to see Amy’s room and to talk to some of the other girls. She also had questions to ask the head mistress about the French music teacher.

The presence at her elbow impinged on her conscious mind. Gil, still looming, his long stride easily keeping pace with her rapid steps.

She stopped. “Did you want something, Lord Rutledge?”

Grave brown eyes met her glare, dark brows meeting above the straight aristocratic nose in a return glare. “I am helping.” Not an offer or even a request. An obdurate statement. Arrogant male.

Susan fought to keep her irritation from showing. “You have been helpful. Thank you. I can handle it from here.”

Gil lifted one shoulder and dropped it again. “Undoubtedly. Nonetheless…” A second shrug, as expressive as the first. She didn’t have time to argue; not that arguing ever changed Gilbert Rutledge’s mind once it was made up.

He had clearly decided his participation was a foregone conclusion. “What did the Foster chit tell you?”

She would be a fool to refuse him information that might make his help useful. “The Grahame chit,” she corrected. “Clementine Grahame said that her sister and Amy were always whispering together, and would not tell their secrets, so when Amy arrived at their house before breakfast and she and Patrice went up to Patrice’s bedroom, Clementine put her ear to the door to try to hear them or, failing that, spy on what they did next.”

He did not ask the obvious question; just waited for her to continue.

“They talked too low for her to understand. But Patrice left her room dressed as a boy and she and Amy caught Clementine in the hall. They threatened her with retribution if she told anyone what she had seen, and instructed her to tell the aunt they had left for the exhibition together. The rest of Clementine’s story is true, or so she assures me. She followed them here, and actually waited until they left in the post chaise. She then went off to school and pretended the whole thing had not happened.”

Exasperation coloured the last sentence. Susan understood the child’s fear of her unyielding aunt, and her jealousy of the friendship between the two older girls. But if Clementine had spoken earlier, Amy would be safe now.

“Come then, if you must. I am going to the school. You can question the headmistress about the French woman while I talk to Amy’s friends and check her room.” And if Susan weren’t so worried about her daughter, she might be amused at the thought of the coming confrontation between the haughtily disapproving educationalist and the grim uncompromising soldier.

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An end and a new beginning

Yesterday morning, I wrote the final scene of The Realm of Silence, ending with those welcome and wonderful words ‘THE END’.

Not, of course, that the task is finished. I have a first draft, with plot threads still dangling, new ideas in the second half that need to be woven back earlier into the book, passages that make outrageous leaps and others that limp like a wounded snail — meandering, slow, and purposeless. The next task is a paper read through, and the book has been printed and is sitting waiting for me. I’ll make notes as I go this first time, but I won’t map anything.

That’s next. Story analysis. I’ll open the spreadsheet with my plot lines and all the other things I need to track, and I’ll read the book again, this time writing a brief synopsis of each scene and filling in the columns across the spreadsheet. Which plots were advanced? Which characters were involved? (And what were they called? — I have a bad habit of changing people’s names in mid-stream.) What is the hero arc for each of my protagonists, and how does it match the arc I planned when I began? If I’ve changed it, is it for the better?

Are the characters true to themselves? If not, how do I fix it? What about my secondary and background characters? Are there too many? Can I remove some, or fade them into the wallpaper? Are they real people with hints of their histories and personalities?

Once I have the storylines mapped, I can see what I’ve dropped or failed to resolve, or where an earlier hint or clue would help build tension. I go back through the draft, and use the spreadsheet as my guide to scrawl all over, giving myself instructions for the rewrite.

Which is just that. A rewrite. Scenes changed, expanded or cut. New scenes added. This is the point at which I add chapter breaks, because up until now I’ve only had scenes. Each chapter needs a lure to end on and a hook to start. I don’t much worry about length. A chapter is as long as it needs to be.

At last (and by end of January, all going to plan) I have a draft for my beta readers, and off the baby goes, out into the world, ready to face the critics. I hope.

My wonderful team of beta readers will have The Realm of Silence for  February and I’ll be back working on it, making final changes in response to their comments, in March. It will still need a copy edit and a proofread after that, but I’m aiming at publication in late April.

Meanwhile, I have created a hero’s journey and character interviews for the hero and heroine of my next book, written a plot synopsis, and begun to write. I’m going to follow the same process that finally got me going on The Realm of Silence — a first cut that is mostly dialogue, then a second pass to fill in the rest of story and give me a first draft. I’m aiming at 60,000 words for House of Thorns, which is for a Marriage of Inconvenience line for Scarsdale Publishing. It’s due to them on 1 March, so the first draft needs to be done by 10 February. With 5,000 words on the page so far, I’d better get writing.

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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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Thank you to the historians

Look what arrived in my mail box yesterday! 905 pages of detailed research pertinent to my current work in progress, The Realm of Silence.

Pertinent in the tiniest of ways. I am, after all, writing an historical romance. I might use my blog to prose on about the interesting facts I discover in my reading, especially on Fridays, but I don’t stuff them all into the stories.

Still, I’m about to take some of my characters in to Penicuik, and they need to talk to a French sergeant who is imprisoned there. So how could that happen? Were the prisoners isolated from the local citizens? Did they get a chance to mix? What happened when they were sick? Or if they died?

Ian MacDougall can tell me, and from the first 50 pages, which is all I’ve read so far, he can do so in a clear and interesting manner. Not always the case, I can tell you!

So far, for this book, I’ve read two guides to the Great North Road in Regency England, several books about rebels, radicals, and agitators, and a number of journal articles about prisoners-of-war.

Undoubtedly, as the characters continue telling me their stories, I’ll be off to find out more.

So this post is to thank all the serious historians who have spent years reading everything they can find on a topic (including contemporary sources), talking to other experts, studying artefacts, and writing up their results. MacDougall has six pages of bibliography and three pages of thank-yous to people he has interviewed or who have sent him stuff.

He and all the other wonderful historians I’ve relied on over the years save me from making wrong turns in the story or artefacts or actions or language that is wrong for the period. It matters to me, and it matters to many of the readers, and I just wanted to stop for a moment to say I’m grateful.

Thank you.

And watch this Friday spot for more about Prisoners of War in Scotland from 1803 to 1814.

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Secrets on WIP Wednesday

You can’t possibly tell all that you know, and certainly your protagonists can’t. The story would be over almost before it started.

So what secrets are they hiding from one another or from the wider world? Their feelings? Something shameful in their past? A secret they’re keeping for someone else? Big or trivial, secrets help us to keep up the tension. What’s yours? Share an excerpt in the comments.

This week, I’m sharing from The Realm of Silence, which I still haven’t made a book page for. I can at least show you the cover, and link to The Golden Redepenning page. (Note to self: write a book blurb and set up a book page.)

They made their next change in Durham, since the stage that followed included a long steep pull out of the valley. At first, the fresh horses required all of Gil’s attention, but they soon settled to their work and Susan broke the long silence.

“We have talked for two days about my family, Rutledge. What of yours? How are your sisters?”

The horses startled, and tried to sidle sideways, and Gil realised he’d tightened his grip. He relaxed his hands, calling, “Steady, there. Steady,” and they settled back into the swift walk suitable for the gentler terrain on this plateau.

Susan waited until he had the horses back under control before she said, “If your family is off limits, Gil, I will respect that. But I am a safe pair of ears if you need someone to listen. I knew your brother, remember. Your sister-in-law, too, though not well. And Lena and Clem were friends of mine once.”

He had almost forgotten. He was accustomed to thinking of the Redepenning boys as school friends, but it began before that, when he and his mother and sisters had moved to West Gloucestershire, just under the Cotswold Edge, after his grandfather took an apoplexy and died at the news of the death of Gil’s father. Rupert, the new Lord Rutledge, had ordered his mother and much younger siblings to his new estate, but had not bothered to bestir himself from London and its myriad entertainments.

And the three Rutledge children had fallen instantly in love with the family on the neighbouring estate of Longford Court, where Lord and Lady Henry were raising their own five children and one of their nephews.

Gil had gone gaily off to school with the boys, and returned only for holidays until he bought his colours.

But Susan’s words filled his head with images of three little girls at the Longford Whitsunday Fair and the Harvest Festival and numerous festivities during the twelve days of Christmas: Clementine and Susan, just a year apart in age and arm in arm, watching over Madelena, who was four years younger. 

He bit hard on his upper lip and blinked rapidly to chase away liquid that clouded his eyes. “I had forgotten. They were happy then, weren’t they? My sisters? Before?” Before he embraced school life, throwing himself into the friendships he forged there, and forgot his responsibility to protect his family.

“We all were. I loved having neighbours of my own age just a short ride away.” Susan gave a soft snort of amusement. “Even if my mother did hold them up as models of decorum every time I slipped out of the house to run away with you boys.”

Gil hadn’t known her mother disapproved. He had thought Susan perfect, just as she was. “I used to wish they were more like you. But they never would step outside of my father’s rules. My father had firm views about how ladies behaved”

“I never met your father. Did he not die before you moved to Thornbury Hall?”

“Yes. Killed in a drunken race that he lost to my brother Rupert. But his memory still controlled my mother and sisters.”

He’d said more than he intended, but he trusted Susan; perhaps even more than he trusted her brothers and cousin. Not that he could tell her the whole. He would go to the grave keeping his sisters’ secret. He could, perhaps, share a little, though. She was a wise woman, was Susan. No one could absolve Gil, but talking to her might ease the burden a little. “If you knew Rupert, you know what he was like.”

“He was a dissolute, vicious monster,” Susan said, decidedly.

“He was the image of our father,” Gil admitted.

“I did not know your father, but your mother and sisters were terrified of Rupert, and I know what he did to Clem, and why she ran away with William Byrne.”

This time, the horses stopped, responding to a signal he was unaware of giving as he turned to look at Susan, his mouth gaping. “She told you?”

“Of course not. I was only fifteen then, and still in the schoolroom. I knew she became withdrawn and unhappy when your brother returned to Thornbury for the summer, and then she disappeared. I never even knew that she had eloped with Byrne until I heard the servants talking about how Byrne had ruined your sister and your brother was going to kill him.”

“Walk on,” Gil said to the horses. He had to control himself better. He was confusing the beasts. “Then…” He didn’t know how to ask what she thought she knew without disclosing the scandal at the heart of his family’s misery. Perhaps she had heard of the beatings; the cruel punishments. But not the other.

“Papa told me all when your brother thought to court me. He had it from Will when Will asked for his help to get Clem away.”

Gil didn’t know what question to ask first. When had Rupert courted Susan? Did Lord Henry help the fleeing couple, and was it him Gil had to thank for getting them away so secretly that Rupert never found a trace of them? And what, exactly, did Lord Henry tell his daughter?

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Tea with Lord Henry

Today’s guest is an old friend. Eleanor Haverford has known Brigadier General Lord Henry Redepenning since he was a mere captain and she a girl barely graduated from the nursery to the schoolroom.

They met at the baptism of their mutual niece Emily, daughter of Eleanor’s sister and Lord Henry’s brother, and met again six years later when the Reverend Lord Stephen Redepenning and Lady Stephen proudly presented their second child and only son to God and  the fashionable world. Eleanor was thirteen then, and Lord and Lady Henry had two children and a third on the way.

The friendship had been forged in the nursery that week. Lady Stephen had a wet nurse and little interest in her children beyond their dynastic purpose, so Eleanor and Lord and Lady Henry found the nursery a safe place to escape the lady’s loudly expressed disappointment over the recent marriage of her husband’s elder brother, the Earl of Chirbury, and his new wife’s obvious fecundity, which showed Chirbury’s clear intention to depose Lord Stephen as heir presumptive with a brand new heir apparent.

That had been forty years ago, and the friendship between the duchess, as she became within six years, and the Brigadier General and his wife had survived the test of time, and even been strengthened by the death of Lady Henry twenty years ago.

Today, Lord Henry had come seeking a favour, which was his without question, though Eleanor burned with curiosity about his reasons.

“Thank you for taking the children,” Lord Henry said.

“It is no trouble, Henry. It is nice for Frances to have Anna’s company, and the older girls are in a fair way to making a pet of your little Michael. But how do you come to have charge of your daughter’s two little ones? Susan always keeps them close.”

Lord Henry frowned, staring into his cup as if for inspiration. “It is worrying, Eleanor. In fact, that is why I asked you to take Anna and Michael. Because I mean to go north and see what I can do to help.”

Eleanor leant forward a little, her head tipped to one side. She would assist her dear friend without an explanation, but she devoutly hoped he intended to give her one.

And yes, he responded to her silence as she had hoped. “I should explain. Susan has been in Scotland with the younger two children. She insists on Michael visiting his estate several times a year, young as he is, so that the tenants and local gentry come to know him. I expected her back in London some time this week, but Anna and Michael arrived with her servants, and a note saying she had detoured to visit her daughter Amy at school, and would be following within a day. That was a week ago.”

Now Eleanor’s frown mirrored Henry’s. “A whole week? Is Susan ill? Has there been an accident?”

Lord Henry shook his head. “It seems that Amy was missing when Susan arrived, and Susan has gone after her. She sent me a note, but it didn’t make a lot of sense. Something about spies and a French music mistress. Then I had another note from Stafford, where Susan left her groom because he was ill.”

Eleanor put her cup down, spilling her tea in her agitation. “So she is on her own? Henry!”

“No. Not as bad as that. Or worse, perhaps. She is travelling with Gil Rutledge, who is an old friend of my children, Eleanor, as you know. He is a good man, is Rutledge.”

“Oh dear. I mean, I am pleased, of course, that Susan has support, and I trust Rutledge to help Susan find Amy quickly, but I do hope no-one sees the two of them travelling together.”

“On the busiest road in the kingdom? For Amy is heading north up the Great North Road, and Susan and Gil after her.” Lord Henry gave a heavy sigh. “At least Rutledge is unwed, and Susan is a widow, so they can salvage their reputations with a wedding.”

“That is the least of our concerns, dear Henry,” Eleanor corrected him, sternly. “What has become of dear Amy?”

“You are right, Eleanor. And that is why I have ventured to burden you with my grandchildren. I must go north and see what I can do. I would have sent one of Susan’s brothers, but with three of them overseas and Alex’s wife due to deliver a baby any day… No, I must do this myself.”

“You can count on me to care for Anna and Michael, my dear friend. Yes, and for anything else you might need.”

 

Lord Henry’s daughter is the heroine of my current work-in-progress, The Realm of Silence, which is the third novel in The Golden Redepennings. I am working on it, honest! I was trying for December, but February might be more realistic.

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First lines on WIP Wednesday

Just for fun, let’s post the first paragraph of several chapters from our current work-in-progress. You pick the number of excerpts and which chapters. Mine are from The Realm of Silence, book 3 in The Golden Redepennings.

Chapter Two:

Four years since he had last crossed verbal swords with Susan Cunningham, and she looked no older. Did the infernal woman have the secret of an elixir of youth? She had been widowed long enough to be out of her blacks, and back into the blues she favoured: some concoction that was probably the height of fashion and that both hid and enhanced her not insubstantial charms.

Chapter Four:

The goddess fought him every inch of the way right through dinner, and went up to her room still determined to do without his support. Gil’s blood ran cold at the thought of her facing the perils of the road with none but her elderly groom to defend her safety and her honour. Especially a groom who would take bribes, as the man Lyons did when Gil found his room above the stables. Gil paid the old man to warn him when the goddess ordered her carriage, and set his own man to watching the groom.

Chapter Seven:

180 miles north, in Newcastle
“No dawdling,” Mam’selle Cornilac commanded, setting a rapid pace through the busy market. For the first time on their travels, they had stopped for the day in the mid afternoon, and Mam’selle had taken full advantage of several used-clothing vendors, determined to reclothe her two unwelcome companions.

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Backstory in WIP Wednesday

One of the most challenging skills in the writer’s arsenal involves the backstory. We need readers to know what led to the circumstances of the plot; what made the characters the way they are; what secrets they hide, perhaps even from themselves. But, by definition, the backstory is the events that happened before the story we’re telling. How much do we tell? How much ‘telling’ is going to disturb the flow? How can we weave backstory into our writing so that it illuminates rather than drowns?

So this week’s WIP Wednesday is for excerpts with backstory. I’ll show you mine, and you show me yours in the comments. I have two bits from The Realm of Silence, showing Gil’s and Susan’s relationship from each POV.

First, Gil:

The traffic thinned as they left the town, crossing the bridge into the country. Gil held his horse to the rear of the phaeton, giving silent thanks for the rain in the night that had laid the dust. He had little hope that staying out of Susan’s sight would lessen her ire. Any man would understand that he could not let a female relative of his oldest friends wander the roads of England on her own.

A female would not understand the duty a man had to his friends. And the goddess—her appeal in no way dimmed today by the carriage coat covering her curves—was very much a female. He would not revisit his reasons for insisting on escorting her. He’d spent long enough in the night cross-examining himself. Duty was reason enough, and the rest was irrelevant.

It was true that, for twenty-seven years, since she was a child of ten and he a mere two years older, he’d been prepared to move heaven and earth to be near her. It was also true that his heart lightened as he rode further from his responsibilities in the southwest. Not relevant. He was her brothers’ friend and her cousin’s, and therefore he would keep her from harm and help rescue her daughter.

And then Susan’s, several pages later.

“If you ride with me in the phaeton, we can discuss our strategy.” It would be a tight fit. The phaeton was not designed for three. Still, Lyons could go up behind. But Gil was shaking his head.

“No room. And your man won’t last half an hour on the footman’s perch. He should be retired, goddess.

“Don’t call me that!” He had made her childhood a misery with that nickname. One long summer of it, anyway. She had still worn the ridiculous name her parents had bestowed on her. Not just Athene, though that would have been bad enough. Joan Athene Boaducea. Jab, her brothers called her. But when Gil and two other boys had come home from school with Susan’s cousin Rede, Gil dubbed her ‘the goddess’. It had become Jab the Goddess, and she had been forced to take stern measures to win back the space to be herself.

She glared at him. To be fair, he had not been part of the tormenting; had even tried to stop it. But she could not forget that it was his mocking remark that set it off.

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Intervals on WIP Wednesday

Our plots hurtle on, one adventure after another, disaster and excitement at every turn, but even fictional characters occasionally need a pleasant stroll along the straight before the next twist in the tale. A change of pace lets our readers take a breath and allows us to show character and reveal backstory in a quieter setting.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the moment of light relief, the domestic interlude, the interval in the midst of mayhem. As always, I invite you to post yours in the comments.

Mine is from The Realm of Silence. My two schoolgirl runaways have been shopping with their quarry turned kidnapper.

180 miles north, in Newcastle

“No dawdling,” Mam’selle commanded, setting a rapid pace through the busy market. For the first time on their travels, they had stopped for the day in the mid afternoon, and Mam’selle had taken full advantage of several used-clothing vendors, determined to redress her two unwelcome companions.

“Which is further evidence that she is up to no good, Amy,” Pat insisted as they hung back as much as they dared. “She thinks we are being followed and wants to disguise us.” They had been sharing a coach with Mam’selle during the day, and a bedchamber at night, limiting their opportunities for conversation.

“I’m sure you’re right, but I will be pleased to have something other than school uniform to wear.” Amy shot a glance at her friend. Pat made a pretty boy: tall, even lanky in schoolboy pantaloons, and the hair left after she’d sacrificed her heavy mop for the mission had sprung into a thousand curls. “Don’t you want to wear a dress again?”

Mam’selle had reached the inn where she’d taken a bedchamber, and was waiting for them on the step.

Pat was shaking her head. “Not really. You have no idea how much easier it is to walk, and people treat you differently, as if you have half a brain. I may still be a child, but I’m a boy child, or so they think. I am to be encouraged, not stuffed into a box and tamped down, with all the bits that don’t fit to be worried at till they drop off.”

They had caught up with Mam’selle. “Come.” She led the way up the stairs from the main hall and along the labyrinth of halls and passages to the little room they’d been assigned. She spoke to a maid they passed on the way, and not long after they’d spread their purchases out on the shared bed that took up most of the room, hot water arrived.

Mam’selle clapped her hands. “First, we shall turn Master Pat into Miss Patrice again, n’est ce pas?”

Mam’selle had an eye, no doubt about it. The lilac figured-cotton dress was of a grown-up length, with only the tips of Pat’s sensible boots showing. With her lanky calves hidden, she suddenly looked willowy rather than coltish, the ribbon under her breasts hinting at a womanly shape that the straight lines of the school uniform had obscured. Mam’selle took to the butchered hair with scissors and several lengths of ribbon whose colour matched the flowers on the dress, and in a few moments the curls framed Pat’s face.

Amy loved Pat, but had always rather pitied her for her long face, square jaw, and decided nose. Suddenly, with the new hair style, all of these features fell into new proportions, and Pat looked almost pretty.

“There.” Mam’selle’s satisfied smile grew broader at Pat’s reaction when she looked at herself in the music teacher’s small hand mirror, then stood and twisted to try to take in her new finery.

“You look lovely, Pat,” Amy told her, looking forward to her own turn in Mam’selle’s magical hands.

The dress Mam’selle had chosen for her to wear today was a light green with narrow cream stripes. “It is a little long, Miss Amelia,” Mam’selle acknowledged, “but we three shall repair that fault, and meanwhile pins shall do for this evening, oui?” She deftly plaited and twisted Amy’s hair, pinning it high on her head and pinning it with some of Mam’selle’s own pins.

“So pretty,” Pat declared, and from what she could see in the mirror, Amy had to agree. “Thank you, Mam’selle.”

Mam’selle waved her away. “Now be seated, if you will, while I repair my own toilette. I have commanded a private parlour for le diner“.

“We could await you downstairs, Mam’selle,” Amy suggested, unsurprised when Mam’selle refused with uplifted brows and a sardonic curl of the lips. Amy and Pat had sought help York, insisting that they were being kidnapped by a French spy, but the officer they had approached had laughed, and taken them back to Mam’selle, sympathising with her for the imaginations of her charges.

Before long, Mam’selle had also changed. At Doncaster on the night of their journey, she had abandoned the severe, plain, dark dresses that Mrs Fellowes mandated for her teachers. In a light floral print with her hair caught up into a simple knot of cascading curls rather than a tight bun under a white cap, she looked not much older than Amy and Pat, and certainly nothing at all like a teacher.

 

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