Sunday, 18 June 2017

Pushing Romance and Romantic Boundaries.

As an avaricious reader of books, and quite long in the tooth age wise, of all the wonderful books read to date, there are four that I treasure. Namely that of War & Peace (Tolstoy), The Magus (Fowles) and The Green Mantle (Delderfield). All the former were penned by men, and I learned much from a man’s perspective of love and how men view women. 

But the fourth book is Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek. It is the one book she laid claim to as a romantic novel.

In a personal sense, I am of mind her writing is romantic in itself, albeit most of her books have a dark side. To give a brief summary of Frenchman’s Creek, let us imagine the glorious spectacle that was the court of Charles II (the Merry Monarch).

Amidst the glittering array of Charles' courtiers, hell-rakes and courtesans abound, and unseemly amours cause marital strife, while common whores share the King’s bedchamber. But one young wife has had enough of lies, deceits and court politics. She takes flight with her children and retreats to her husband’s remote Cornish estate. Expecting peace and tranquillity, trouble of a very different kind exists in the waters off the Cornish coast. Subsequently, Dona – Lady St. Columb – has no idea that far more excitement and daring than experienced at court is about to turn her world upside down and inside out. Had a soothsayer told her she would fall in love with a French pirate captain, she would have laughed at such a silly notion. But Captain Jean Benoit Aubrey is not your average pirate. He’s well-educated, well-read, and Dona falls deeply, madly in love with him. She indulges in dangerous and daring escapades with her lover captain. But all good things must come to an end, and the end in this novel is not always as many readers expect. Without doubt, Frenchman’s Creek is a clean novel sex-wise and reader imagination fills in the gaps. Some people love Frenchman’s Creek, while others hate it.

But you see, in the same way the heroine dared to break with convention so does the author. Daphne du Maurier, who gives us a thrill-packed action romance and then steals an HEA right from under the reader. But could she have done otherwise? A sacrificial choice must be made by Dona, Lady St. Columb. She must choose between true love or that of her children and husband. What one has to remember is that in the 17th century women risked everything for love outside of marriage, where men risked nothing. Perhaps the emotions are so strong in this novel because it reflects in part a decisive moment in the author’s life: though that is a story in itself.  

In the same way Daphne broke with convention and her novels daringly ventured to the darker side of life and emotions, she also highlights the dangers of illicit affairs and the subsequent fallout. I too throw romance novel conventions to the wind as an author. Perhaps I outgrew the typical romance novel formula at a young age because they all followed the expected norm of hero meets heroine, they fall in love, conflict arises, and ends with a fairy tale HEA. Of course authors did and still do strive for originality by leading their characters along differing paths, differing situations, and differing places, but the heroine always ends up with the expected hero. But perfect fairy tale romances sell, don't they? Whereas shock plots upset readers. Well yes, but Daphne's novels pushed boundaries, not in sexual matters per se, she was cleverer than that by setting precedence for huge emotional flash points, and I really love it when I encounter novels where the author has thrown the fairy tale plot to the wind, picked up the broken pieces and rearranges them to beget an unusual plot, a daring plot to test the mettle of the characters. That's precisely what Daphne du Maurier does in Frenchman's Creek.

Whether sacrifice entails convention and the safety of what is, or the thrill of the unknown, Lady St Columb is faced with a crucial heartrending choice. She must choose between the love of her life, or her husband and children... Her final choice for many readers is the right one, for others not so. But you see, it's not really a Happy Ever After, it is compromise and sacrifice and the what-if will haunt her, perhaps to her dying days. Similarly in Daphne's novel The King's General, tragedy, selfish need, and a what-if abound!   

It is the what-if factor that fascinates me, and writing romance for me is a roller-coaster ride with no guaranteed HEA. Characters can be fickle, arrogant, and they don't do as expected. They sometimes rebel, or unexpected events occur and cause trauma. Some heroine's stand and fight for what they want whilst others turn away and take flight. Similarly a hero may want and as good as takes what he wants, with permission of sorts, whilst another hero may be confronted with walls at every turn and he has to climb them and jump through fired hoops to gain what he wants. But what of the hero who gained what he wanted and loses it and is left with the dilemma of What did I do Wrong? Could you as an author write a tragic love story which is just as much a romance as the standardised  romantic novel?  I have, and I even penned an erotic novel in which the heroine learns the difference between lust that is only skin deep, and that of true love. But, I am a rebel at heart. 

If I've intrigued you with writing unconventional romance novels, as well as steamy romances and you'd like to see a list of my books, please browse the "my books at Amazon" feature on the bar top of this page.              

Monday, 12 June 2017

New Cover artwork!

Just occasionally I have an overwhelming desire to create new covers for published books, so I  do just that, and my latest is for The Royal Series. 

I wanted a more romantic feel to the first novel in the series, and this fits the bill: 

Love & Scandalous Seduction. All set against the backdrop of the English Civil Wars 1642 -1649. co-starring Charles Prince of Wales (Charles II) and Prince Rupert.

Orphaned at royal court, Anna Lady Maitcliffe has embraced freedom from courtly restraint whilst residing at Axebury Hall Estate. Wilful and impulsive she wins hearts with ease, but Viscount Axebury duly rejects her romantic overtures, not once but twice and for good reason. Civil War is marching across England and he will soon be regarded as the enemy.

Distraught by his rejection she turns to another for solace, an older suitor whom she trusts above all others. Seduced by her feminine wiles Lord Gantry's overt desire to possess her gives rise to new meaning of amour. Nonetheless she is trapped in a loveless betrothal. Fate suddenly intervenes and throws her and the viscount together, but hell lies before them and claims terrible dues in payment for their undying love for each other.

Similarly I wanted a romantic feel to Toast of Clifton:

This steamy romance is set against the backdrop of Charles Stuart’s attempt to wrest England from Oliver Cromwell’s clutches (1651), and takes the reader to that of the royal court in exile. As swordsmen and musketeers fight for supremacy their women face the tragedies of war. 

Once renowned as the Toast of Clifton, Elizabeth Mountjoy strives to shake off rumours she was ever mistress to Charles II, for she’s madly in love with Captain Thomas Thornton: a Parliamentarian Captain of Horse. Unfortunately, past betrayal haunts Thomas, and when the chance to right a wrong comes his way he once again fights for the King. But to lose his estate lands is a high price to pay for heroism in defeat. Worse, the love of his life suffers the wrath of one of Cromwell’s officers, and Thomas is finally forced to decide who must come first whilst in exile, wife or King? He’s not alone in facing a dilemma, for the King too is forced to put his country first before his heart as court intrigues in exile take precedence.

And likewise with Royal Secrets:

After all, they are essentially romance novels as well as family sagas.  

A 17th century romance involving forbidden passion, lust, betrayal, abduction and all set within Restoration England and the royal court of Charles II.

It's 1669, and Justine Thornton's heart is lost to that of Richard Viscount Axebury. Although wise and malicious counsel from family and friends warn of his reputation as a courtly rake, a chance encounter with James Scott Duke of Monmouth causes her heart to waver and suddenly her life seems infinitely charmed. But family indiscretion at the court of Charles II turns Justine's life from one of carefree bliss to that of surviving rogue intrigues and political ambitions. 

As old and new feuds take precedence at court Justine becomes party to information that cannot be allowed to reach the King's ears, for not only does she pose a threat to one of the King's mistresses, the King’s brother too will be called to account for his actions. Upon Justine’s sudden abduction the heroic camaraderie of Viscount Axebury and the Duke of Monmouth pose an even greater threat to her kidnapper, and her father the Earl of Loxton is soon face to face with an old adversary. But who will prove to be Justine’s champion, the viscount or the duke, and can the king’s mistress be toppled from her elevated position?

Is Writing Author Notes Necessary for Historical Romance Fiction?


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Is the writing of author notes necessary for historical fiction, more especially romance fiction? The straight answer is, yes, if characters lives are set against specific historical events and real persons of note. It's far too easy to say, but it's only fictional romance when in fact as soon as a real-time great battle is featured, a political storm, or a king loses his head, the novel is no longer mere fiction it has crossed the line into a recorded historical moment in time. Therefore the author is obliged to enlighten with at least a summary of events prior to and post the featured event/s, There will of course be readers who are cognisant to that period in history whilst many readers will be far from knowledgeable of your chosen subject matter, and likewise many readers have idealistic impressions of times past garnered from historical fiction novels. 

Sometimes short author notes suffice. At other times the story requires no enlightenment, the obvious is there, but on occasion there are times when long notes seem wise. I really did ponder the following notes for the above book, and then I remembered an American reader having said in a discussion that she knew little about the period of the ECWs, and although she had read one of the other books in The Royal Series, and albeit regional in content, as much as the entertainment and romantic value of the story she also valued the learning aspect, the desire to read more ECWs novels. A coup? Damn it yes, because I'd got her interested in a period she had never read before. And but a week past I received a lovely email from another reader who had indeed purchased the above novel (English male) and he was so impressed by the story and my author notes he purchased and read all the presently published Royal Series novels and awaits the next in the series with enthusiasm. This was from a man who wouldn't ordinarily have read a romance novel quote: ...never judge a book by its cover is the saying and as war novels go it was excellent and on a par with Bernard Cornwell with added spice worth reading. Not a word was skipped Ms Howarth, not a single word. You have yourself a convert and one who will look more closely at novels with romance headers... He went on and praised the author notes, so I thought I would post them here, for it's so hard to write author notes that don't sound too damnably tutorial in tone...                

There is no disputing the fact the 17th century – for the United Kingdoms’ of Scotland, England, and the Principality of Wales, and the former Commonwealth Protectorates – paid witness to a bloody period in history. There are many theories as to why the first Civil War (1642) erupted and all have merit in their own right of reasoned analysis. Unfortunately, few historians venture to the greatest impact on the populous such as that of the legacy bestowed by James I to his people. At a time when Bishops, priests and pastors held power of religious intellect, the preaching and teachings of the holy-scriptures were delivered in verbal context from the church to the people. Thus, when King James (VI Scotland) was declared by Queen Elizabeth I, as her successor on her death, it was he James (I England) who afforded new purpose to the people with his translation of the Bible from Latin to plain speak English. His great feat duly awakened aspiration within his subjects to read the scriptures in their own homes, hence his literary endeavour as good as opened the lid of Pandora’s Box.
The people, the greater by no means simpletons, a great majority were multi-lingual in English and French let alone Welsh, Gaelic et al. But James translation of the Bible was suddenly theirs’ to behold, to turn the pages, and of those who were illiterate in the written word, suddenly this wondrous book willed incentive to learn the words as writ. James I had provided a means for the people, in simple terms of religious beliefs, to communicate directly with “God” and they did. Once they were educated in one medium, a whole new world of the written word was available to the masses via pamphlets and documents. James I by selfless literary intellect effectively spawned a literary revolution within the masses.

(Of course I am aware James didn’t translate the ruddy bible himself. That he delegated the job to numerous translators, and I also know others had translated the bible beforehand, but it has to be said the KJ bible was put into mass print at his instigation!)
As this book has nothing to do with James I in terms of story, nor directly to do with his son Charles I, a brief pass through history is nonetheless a means of understanding the religious differences at the time of Cromwell’s rise to fame (or infamy) during the years of the first English Civil Wars, and how those differences impact within the Royal Series of novels as a whole. For in truth, differing religions had a smaller part to play at the time of the first Civil War than did the fact the general populous could no longer be manipulated by church teachings. More than half the peoples were beginning to refuse to accept the divine right of a monarch to rule as that of God’s edict. Any further right to impose taxes and levies upon his people at will without recourse to the Commons Parliament, a body elected by the people to represent the people and protect their rights to at least subsistence living – before taxes could be levied against them – added further fuel to seething discontent. What is more, wealthy merchants and merchant guilds were equally incensed by proposed increased levies against imported goods by royal command, thereby cutting their profit margins. Thus the earlier Civil Wars were only in part stirred by religious bent.
However, the Monmouth Rebellion was indeed a religiously motivated rebellion against a Catholic monarch who became the King of a Protestant nation. Fear had prior arisen during the reign of Charles II, that if his brother became king, then James would in a short while bring about the dissolution of the Protestant Church of England and re-instate the Catholic Church of France, if not the Holy Roman Church, the very same Henry VIII had rid the country of for personal reasons. Thus throughout the reign of Charles II, many aristocrats, parliamentary figures, ecclesiastical clergy inclusive bishops, and ordinary folk had foreseen the grave issue of no male heir come the death of Charles II, and many strongly believed, and a few had indeed claimed to have witnessed marriage papers declaring Charles II (when Prince of Wales) had married the Duke of Monmouth’s mother Lucy Walter, not once, but twice. There is far too much about this particular period in history to venture into in great detail here, but a few questionable notions arose throughout in my research project, and that is why I never take history as writ, and indeed look to the reasons why history becomes distorted and why with a detective mind-set, events, times, dates declared within memoirs (James II), and others’ diaries, private letters, and state papers, even names, simply don’t always add up. In order to evaluate some nuance of the truth of what really occurred, one should remember the victor, in any dispute, war, whatever, holds sway on how that event is recorded.
Further to the general mystery, “there must have been some truth in the matter of a marriage/s between Lucy and Charles (?)” else why at the time of Lucy’s “so-called disgrace” was great effort made to retrieve “papers” that were detrimental to his majesty and to any subsequent marriage proposals to European princesses, and all whilst the royal court was in exile on the Continent? The greater question, if Charles was not married to Lucy Walter, what possible threat as his mere mistress could she pose to a future contracted marriage? Scandal and rumour were part and parcel of court life, some true, some false, and some created for nefarious purposes. At the same time, Queen Henrietta Maria, (Charles mother) dispatched a trusted agent to the County of Pembrokeshire to retrieve church papers (marriage record) at Rhos Church (Rosemarket), though unfortunately for Mr Proger (agent) – at that time – Lucy’s brother Richard Walter was High Sheriff of Pembrokeshire.
There are many strange coincidences (sad fate) regarding people who had direct connections with Lucy, for as you know from having read this novel, there is mention of William Lord Russell, who was headed for treason. Here I now present you with a piece garnered from Lord George Scott, a descendent of the Duke of Monmouth, which clearly provides a little background to Lord Russell’s deeper insight to Monmouth as the legitimate son of Charles II, in that, the Earl of Shaftesbury was the prime instigator in the parliamentary exclusion bill crisis, and was indeed a friend of William Lord Russell (married to Lady Rachel Vaughan, this lady prior married to Lucy Walter’s cousin), who knew Lucy well. No wonder then Lord Russell was viewed as a dire threat to James Stuart’s desire to become King of England. Aside from all that, twenty years after Lucy’s death calumnies against her name persisted, and were cast from James Stuart’s suite. Therefore, is it pure speculation to suppose James’ sole purpose for denigrating Lucy and the King’s son for so long, the only son (illegitimate or otherwise) from amongst Charles’ offspring, whom he treated in the manner of a royal blood prince, thus viewed by James as a serious rival for the crown?

While I shall hope and pray I have conveyed the Catholic perspective by way of Henry Gantry, who early on in the book, as you know, allies himself to James Duke of York, later James II. So too, the perspective of Protestants are reflected through the eyes of the Thornton family, Henry’s parents and his brother.
The greatest tragedy post-Battle of Sedgemoor was not only the dreadful botched heading of Monmouth on Tower Hill July 15th 1685 – deliberate butchery or otherwise – it was the Bloody Assizes presided over by Judge Jeffreys, which culminated in a blood bath greater than that encountered on the battle field. So gruesome are the official accounts of the gross injustice inflicted upon those who were tried and sentenced, truly sickens one. Of those who were hung drawn and quartered, as noted by honourable ecclesiastical witnesses, many were butchered whilst still alive before their bodies were left hanging from every available tree alongside the highway from Glastonbury to Bridgewater, from trees elsewhere, and from gibbets in town squares across Somerset and Dorset. Of the most noted rebels, their private parts were lopped off, packaged up, and dispatched to their loved ones as a salutary warning to never again rebel against the King. It was a terrible revenge enacted in the name of James II, and as Justine said: “The name Monmouth is now engraved on the West Country. We are his headstone, the mark of his loss and ours.”
Some accounts claim 400 rebel soldiers were killed on the battlefield, and only 24 royalist soldiers perished. The latter figure is considered iffy, and merely an exercise in propaganda, for in greater consideration of 80 royalist soldiers killed during a previous skirmish at Philips Norton (Norton St Philip), the rebel soldiers had thoroughly thrashed the hides of the royalist forces on that occasion. But, of the rebels who were captured at the Langmoor Rhyne (rhine), and chased through the surrounding corn fields, 1,200 were taken prisoner. Others were hunted down further afield, routed and rounded-up, and they too were later brought before Judge Jeffreys. The figure of 3,000 horse and foot making up the total of Monmouth’s army on that fatal day gives rise to how many of them succeeded in evading capture? Further to all that, one has to remember of the I,000 + rebels who were known to have deserted Monmouth’s army a few days beforehand on written promise of merciful pardon by James II – so long as they provided their names to local militia upon dispersal – the majority were dragged from their homes, arrested and the “lucky ones” were deported to the colonies. That was the true fact of the King’s merciful promise, barring exceptions where rebels turned informer and thereby retained their heads and body parts. Amongst the escapees from the battlefield was that of Daniel Defoe, who escaped to the Scilly Isles, he who became a novelist, his most famous works: Robinson Crusoe & Moll Flanders.
To the novel:
Albeit the novel is in part Henry’s story, it is also part of a greater tapestry set against the backdrop of two main family estates, and the royal court. The whole series duly spans the years from the first English Civil War beginning the year of 1642 through to the Glorious Revolution of 1688. True to his nature, and due to elements of his past, the Hon Henry Gantry has traversed a troubled path to and throughout his early adulthood – perhaps more evident within previous books, and through his perspective I have endeavoured to portray the Catholic aspect of James rise to power as that of a Catholic monarch within a Protestant nation. As for the Protestant perspective, it could not be otherwise, than through the thoughts and actions of the Thornton and Gantry families, barring Henry who had converted to Catholicism before the story begins.

Had he met his grandmother, the Lady Arabella Gantry, a woman of strong religious bent, she may well have encouraged him to look to the priesthood when he was young and troubled, as opposed to seeking his destiny within the royal court. For me, Henry is a complex character, a love-hate bond existing between us, but in the next book “Lady of the Tower” an honourable gesture enacted by Henry, whilst on the Sedgemoor battlefield, post-battle, strengthens his resolve to build on family loyalty afore that of the King.

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