Thursday, 8 February 2018

7 Shades of Sin - A Cardinal's Nightmare Begins

On occasion I do endeavour to write a Historical Romance that is a little different than the norm of tried and tested Georgian and Regency tropes. So where better to set the story than Italy 1796, just as Napoleon begins spreading his wings farther east across Europe.  Whilst northern Italy resided under Austrian overlords there were Italian nobles who mingled with their Austrian overlords and despised their very presence. But the noble Italian elite for the most part despised the French revolutionary forces even more, and a great many rose up against the French by allying themselves to the Austrians in hope of regaining former independent status for the differing regions. In the end after many years of war between the French, the Austrians and other countries who allied with Britain, Napoleon was  finally vanquished for the second time in 1815 following the Battle of Waterloo. The only region in the meanwhile to gain independent status was that of Venice.

This novella has one illustration for every chapter so it is priced accordingly at 1.99 as opposed to  0.99. Is it a love at first sight plot, well it is for the heroine, and the hero is soon smitten! Whilst it is all about sin, this is not an erotic novel in the vein of 50 shades of Grey. No, no, no. it does reveal dark practices, but wholly different than 50 shades, but that is for the reader to discover! 

Aside from history and all that befell Italy, it has an abundance of beautiful villas with spectacular gardens, and beautiful Fontanas. Thus a Fontana has a part to play in this love story, as does one statue.

The book's blurb: “...It would be unforgiveable for him to break his oath...”

Presented with a dreadful and frightening fait accompli, the Contessa de’ Medici is ordered to commit to a shameful act to beget an heir to her husband’s fortune. In defiance of the laws of the church and the sanctity of marriage, her husband has determined only one direct de’ Medici bloodline is acceptable. Fearful she can never lure her husband’s chosen man to her bed, she seeks to deceive him. But war comes to Italy, scandal rocks the foundations of the nearby village, dark secrets are unveiled, and Portia is finally blessed with true love.

Excerpt: An excerpt:
Drawing breath, the air was cooler than expected for September. Nonetheless, she ventured down the steps, and through the courtyard garden where the walls radiated sense of stored heat, but again the air fell cool whilst traversing along the lower path to the Fontana.
...The gardens basking in moonlight were so familiar no sense of fear befell her. Every shadow, every bush, every tree, lay mapped in her mind.
...In the distance Lodovico’s statue shone stark and ghostly white against the evergreens hedging the walkway. All the while the sound of cascading water grew louder as she drew nearer to the path that circumnavigated the Fontana’s pool.
...She walked on and paused beside the statue of her husband but momentary, his beauty forever carved in stone. But the olive grove beckoned; the statue of the young man with a drying cloth slung over his shoulder, the cloth itself as though blowing in the wind and concealing his back was so lifelike it always seemed as though animated, walking toward one. 
...It was strange to compare the statue of Vincenzo against the real blood man. Here naked, and in real life shrouded in papal robes.
...The memory of him standing under the cascading waters of the Fontana leapt to mind, and she now pondered...

This Fontana features in the story!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Why Author notes are a good thing for historical novels

When a Fiction romance novel is read and the reader views the story line as unreal and unbelievable, how does an author view that kind of criticism? There can be no comeback as such, for how the reader has assessed the story is that person’s POV, and it really would be extremely arrogant of said author to respond with a scathing remark. However, the story, though not exactly biographical, was indeed inspired by two historical persons of note within the Georgian period, therefore the characters are representative of the lives of the aristocracy in their time. Would author notes have helped in providing the reader with more in depth knowledge of the period in general?    

After all, the Georgian period was renowned for men who acquired mistresses at will resulting in hard-done-by wives, and of course, in many cases, a string of illegitimate offspring. One of the most notorious of the Georgian aristocrats was William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, whose wife, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire suffered the indignity of her husband’s mistress residing within the family abode along with the illegitimate fruit of his loins. It was her story, read long ago, that indeed inspired the writing of The Reluctant Duchess, though unlike Georgiana's heartbreaking story, the character Liliana has a happy ever after!  

Georgiana was young, beautiful and vibrant and as good as sold into marriage to William Cavendish, a man of good dress, outwardly brusque though charming in manner, and with a considered eye to the prospect and acquisition of future heirs. When married to Cavendish poor Georgiana soon realised his charm was a mask, his tongue cruel, his actions no less cruel. Of course Georgiana’s story is recounted within many biographies, and she did become a popular English socialite, style icon, political activist, and author:   "The Sylph" is attributed to Georgiana Cavendish.

So what are authors to do when readers have little or no knowledge of a historical period and cannot envisage events as they unfold, e.g. a character who flaunts his mistress before his wife, albeit essentially as a means unto a purposeful and happy ending! The simple answer is to include author notes to enlighten the less historically well-read, and I have no desire to belittle the reader, I just wish I had thought to include author’s notes at end of novel. 

Aside from the notorious Cavendish household; what of Prinny, the Prince Regent and his string of mistresses? What of Admiral Lord Nelson the great Georgian naval hero, and his mistress Emma Lady Hamilton, who was another fashion icon of her day and forever on view within numerous portraits. Go a little farther back in time to the Restoration of Charles II, for he and the Duke of Buckingham acquired a string of mistresses as did others of their ilk, and again the Duke of Buckingham’s wife suffered the indignity of more than one mistress residing under the marital roof.

One could blame Jane Austen for having given a false impression of Georgian society as that of a twee idealistic world in which gossip, humour, and social mores were far from blighted with immoral sins and indecent behaviour. But when all is said and done, Jane Austen was writing escapist fiction, escapism from the real-life aspect of her time: when poverty could be but one unpaid debt away, when sickness could mean death in days, when war was raging across the channel – The French Revolution, The Peninsular Wars, The Napoleonic era until 1815 when Napoleon was finally dispatched into exile on the island of St Helena situated in the South Atlantic Ocean.

As an aside, it is said by experts that all the portraits supposedly depicting Jane Austen are idealistic artists impressions derived from her biographer, James Edward Austen (1869), who commissioned a local artist James Andrews of Maidenhead to recreate Jane from a description of the lady herself.

In reality not only did Jane Austen write idealistic escapist fiction, images in her name are equally idealistic impressions of a young Jane Austen.

Friday, 12 January 2018

The minuetiae of Historical Research

The minuetiae of research detail = one simple object that is often taken for granted within a Regency novel. Take a carafe as opposed to decanter - one and the same but in which country would it be a Carafe not a decanter, and who when visiting England may refer to it as a carafe? 

Did you think clothes hangers didn't exist during the Georgian period, that coat hangers were much later inventions. They were markedly different than coat hangers of today but existed as far back as the 1700s if not before - If you've seen meet hooks of old (from a smithy) then you are looking at precisely how robes, gowns during the late 17th century (1600s) were kept crease free from being hung inside out from hooks. That said, make a note of the next paragraph. 

Simple meet hooks became the forerunners to early clothes hangers? Now that is a fact discovered by a couple who purchased a  French chateau and there by chance during internal renovations a hidden closet was found behind a spring-loaded hinged panel; itself adjoined to one of the bedchambers. Inside were numerous hangers similar to this one - why the extra hook? Good Question, but not all had that extra hook, so it was supposed gowns etc., were hung from the ribbon loops (as sewn into the shoulders of gowns much as they are today) and made life a good deal easier for a mistress of the robe when selecting gowns!  

Have you assumed when purchasing a dress, evening gown, or even a humble T-shirt, that the ribbon ties attached to the shoulders are a handy device merely to prevent the item sliding from a hanger? I'll let you into a secret, those ties were once the hallmark of good in-house seamstresses, and most high ranking aristocrats had several within the household, who made shirts, chemise/sundries et al, and glorious gowns. Whereas for others a local modiste or a fashion house served purpose in provision of more regular clothing, and as today, the chances were likely two ladies may have ended up with similar if not identical gowns from a modiste. Tailors of course for the gentlemen. 

But I digress from those hangers, and where they themselves were attached = iron bars within dressing closets, much like the iron bars which supported drapes to tester beds. Dressing closets were purely for storage, sometimes quite narrow, sometimes spacious.     

This is a modern refashioning of an early Robe Closet, but it gives a fair example of curtains used as dust prevention! Bear in mind vacuum cleaners didn't exist in the Georgian period. And an armoire or two were often kept within the closet.  A royal closet resembled (according to a duchess' journal) a theatrical dressing closet with clothes strung from rails.  

Bear in mind ladies entertained within their boudoirs, so clothing on show was considered slutty within the bedchamber.    

A very basic Armoire.

Elaborate Armoir with lower drawers.  

So what did ladies of the robe to a Queen, and grooms to a King's bedchamber do with the clothes of their master's and mistresses. Given that Ladies of the Robe were the forerunners to a lady's maid (abigail), thus Ladies of the Robe were usually a duchess or countess in her own right. The latter "abigail/lady's maid" were a great deal lesser and merely of lower commoner order, many employed as servants to senior lady courtiers. 

Not all trunks had hasp catches. Many had iron rings to left and right of the chest, and when the lid closed it too had iron rings which fell in line with the rings on the chest. An Iron bar was threaded through the rings.  

Captains' trunks were great for storage and popular for travelling in earlier times when coaches were slower! 

Thus Flat-topped trunks became more popular for travelling because they stacked safer on the rear or the roof of the faster coaches/carriages of the 18-19th centuries. 

Light and winter weight clothing were interchanged with the seasons from packing trunks to those meet hooks within dressing/robe closets - the Grooms and Ladies of the Robe being "wards" of the royal clothing = modern terminology Wardrobe = a place to store hanging clothes. 

But, early armoires/wardrobe interiors consisted of shelves and drawers where shirts, chemise, neckties/cravats, hose, and accessories were stored. 

Similarly Grooms to the Bedchamber were rarely lesser than a knight/baron, though untitled commoners (squire) indeed often made it into the King's bedchamber staff and were oft knighted during service to that King - basically favoured subjects. Such rank was standard for many decades, most noticeable during the reign of Charles II and thence onward until the latter Georgian period and the coming of The Regent.

Positions within the Regent's entourage acquired differing titles recognised in earlier decades as quite other in respect of duties performed. A squire was no longer a servant, he was a lower gentry localised county landowner and often a Justice of the Peace. 

Thus valet's once again became in vogue for Dukes, Earls, and any gentleman of means who commanded or served in the military during the Georgian Period. Bedchamber staff became singularly intimate with their masters (one as opposed to many), and of those valets, many were formerly non-commissioned officers assigned duties of care and attendance to the former commander/officer's upkeep in turnout (dress). In general a valet's rank was from sergeant upwards to commissioned lieutenant: later referred to as a batman. In the navy from a cabin boy to flag lieutenant served as a valet to captain upwards to admiral - in differing ways from menial tasks to personal assistant.     

For the lesser gentleman Here's a pic of a dumb valet, and one can see where the design for a gentleman's wooden hangers originated in the latter part of the 19th century. But, iron and brass hangers were already popular in Continental countries.   

This particular dumb valet is circa 1800.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Character Interview!

Welcome to Regency England. I’m Edwin Brockenbury, and it seems I am your host for the moment. Where Francine has scuttled off to I know not, so let me begin by telling you a little about my childhood home, the place you have now entered at your peril.

Beyond dutiful attendance at family gatherings or when I am summoned back to the family fold to appraise legal documentation on behalf of pater, my life remains relatively detached from Monkton Abbeyfields. I grieve not in absence from its dark and forbidding walls, and well remember how my elder brothers and I were left to indulge whatever youthful vices we chose to while away our time.
James the eldest finally chose soldiering before the mantle of lord and master of the Brockenbury Estate would fall to his shoulders. Adam chose hedonism, and I chose books and learning. Then at age ten and eight I astounded my father by announcing I had a serious inclination to carve a career out of law and the courts of justice. Such news immediately drew momentary resistance from father, for he had thought I would follow the family tradition of a third son duly dispatched to ecclesiastical cloisters for enlightenment and knowledge all things Heavenly pastoral delights, but not I. Such was my determination to fulfil my dreams I rebelled in no uncertain terms and rode away from the house one dark night and found lodgings in London.

My present sojourn to Monkton Abbeyfields is entirely due to my literary creator who sought to intervene and set me on a homeward path. Though I readily confess I am most grateful on this occasion, for a pleasant encounter along the way has left me reeling in thoughts of what-if. Nonetheless, I suspect I have already slipped from Georgette, Lady Beaumont’s mind, albeit we indulged a fleeting engagement of the flirtatious variety en route from London to Bath.

Having now retreated to my younger brother’s chambers, a portrait of a beautiful young woman thus stands before me. Ranulph’s artistic abilities are no mystery to me, for a distant memory steals forth and I see my mother young and beautiful and full of life; a child asleep on a chaise before her. But of course, she is sketching a charcoal portrait of her slumbering crippled infant: the one so heartlessly abandoned by our father. To mother's chagrin Ranulph was banned from the rest of the house and confined to his chambers and to the care of specially selected servants.
Dear God, how precious the memory of mother has become to me. Her death albeit far from a mystery the perpetrator of her fatal fall has forever escaped justice due to lack of proof of a child’s guilt in wishing his mother dead. Like father like son, Adam treats Ranulph no better than a dog to be kicked and bullied with a stick. And James, my eldest brother dead by his own hand some two years past, I still cannot believe there was ever reason enough for the taking of his own life.
Over the years little at Monkton Abbyfields changed for young Ranulph, though against all odds he determined he would learn to walk. Albeit with great difficulty and much pain suffered in the learning he mastered that which we take for granted, and today he still harbours dreams of a romantic nature, but little does he know that a murder committed this very night will provide the wherewithal for that dream to become reality.
Adam is, from that death forward, now lord and master of the Brockenbury Estate, though a rude awakening awaits on the reading of father’s will. Sadly, I have never felt anything for Adam, neither love nor friendship, yet he plagues my mind as though clues to all the deaths that have occurred here at Monkton Abbeyfields are emblazoned on his brow. Alas, I cannot read what is written. And Cousin Eliza, my father’s ward, is a Dark Miss if ever such could be tagged to her collar, and the damnably unpleasant madam already despises Georgette Lady Beaumont. Worse, Adam has long since coveted Georgette as he once coveted Monkton Abbeyfields.
What lies ahead I know not, but gut instinct tells me danger is lurking in dark corners and will strike not only at Ranulph and I, but at Georgette as well, more especially should my feelings for her become common knowledge. How am I then to unravel mysterious deaths from the past, solve the reason for my father’s untimely death and keep safe those whom my heart abides with? I fear a murder most foul is yet to be committed and perhaps more than one man must die if truths are to remain shrouded beneath lies.

Although duty to family has been part of life, I fear dreadful happenings have passed me by. Therefore I must cast selfish indulgence aside, and duty to loved ones must again take precedence.  

Edwin Brockenbury is the hero within the Regency Murder Mystery:
“Infamous Rival”

Book blurb:

Once the darling of the beau monde, unfortunately Georgette Lady Beaumont’s reputation lies in tatters after the apparent suicide of Lord Brockenbury’s heir. Shunned by society she embraces a secretive lifestyle in which she endeavours to evade Adam Brockenbury, whom she loathes as much as he desires her. Believing him capable of murder to gain his heart’s desire, she is not alone in thinking his elder brother’s death as somewhat suspicious, and whilst on a clandestine visit to her dearest friends she encounters a stranger of note.

Her travelling companion, although of charming disposition and considerable handsomeness, something about him errs dark and secretive, but unmitigated mutual attraction exists that neither can deny. Unfortunately he’s a Brockenbury too, and as love, jealousy and hate take precedence, three murders are committed and Georgette quite believes she will be the murderer’s next victim, but who is the real murderer?

Author note:
I make no apology for writing romantic historical murder mysteries that break the rules of the romance genre, for love and lust can drive both men and women to fits of jealous rage and to committing crimes of passion.   As an aside, ladies often did and still do introduce themselves as first name (Georgette) then title, so in my narrative I do utilise her own address.  Other characters may refer to her as Georgette, merely Lady Beaumont, or other... 

Amazon UK      Amazon  US 

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Random bits of fun...

What women really talk about...

Here we have to imagine a Phone call to friend:

'What are you doing this evening? Thought we could get together over a bottle of best Vino.'

'No, no, can't come over this evening, I'm holding a dinner party for a character.'

'You what? Are you kidding?'

'No, I said character, as in novel, fiction novel.'

'OK, so who've you invited?'

First off I love Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, er Colin Firth, but I feel sure a conversation would drag in talk of books and estate affairs and little action would result from such an engagement.

Such a pity because he's devilishly handsome!

'He's a bit too suave, and so up his own... Well, you know what I mean.'  

Then of course there's Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre, psst, (Toby Stephens - Black Sails)  though I fear his moody Rochester brooding nature and dour countenance may leave me suffering the pangs of boredom, and he has difficulty in raising more than a grunt in response to female chatter.

A pity because he has eyes that see beyond his immediate surroundings and seem so full of sorrow.

'Rochester? Oh yeah, but bet his carnal grunts are worth suffering the boring bits.'

So my choice then is that of Sharpe, Richard Sharpe,  (Beano) for I know conversing will be no hardship with this bold warrior. In truth I fear words will be few and humour all the greater.

We shall dine, partaking of black Russian caviar and champagne, best beef and claret, and lemon mousse. With brandy for him and coffee for me we shall retire to the orangery. What then, who knows, and I wager it won't all be chat - much laughter!

Friend on phone: 'Oh my, Oh my. Always knew you had the hots for Sean Bean. On my way. It's so long since we caught up on things. See ya - kissy kissy.'

Reply as phone goes dead: "Another girlie night reminiscing over characters in novels it is, then."