Last week I returned to my home state of South Australia for Clare Writers’ Week. The organisers had worked for 18 months on this successful inaugural week-long event and I was delighted to be part of it, presenting my
Clare Book Signing – me and my 8-year-old, Lillie‘History Through Costume Talk’ as part of my book launch for The Reluctant Bride.
‘History Through Costume Talk’ as part of my book launch for The Reluctant Bride.
The Reluctant Bride is a Napoleonic espionage romantic suspense, with a backstory that begins during Robespierre’s Reign of Terror in 1792. It ends just after the Battle of Waterloo, so I made two costumes for a talk entitled: ‘From Georgian Splendour to Regency Simplicity’. The gown I wore was a 1780s polonaise while my sister modelled an 1805 Regency gown, both made using Janet Arnold’s patterns based on deconstructed gowns of the era. (My daughters paraded their 1850s and 1860s dresses for the Victorian segment, but that’s another story.)
As a keen costume-maker, I don’t need many excuses to launch into making another costume. It is true, though, that I feel I can get inside the minds of my characters if I have a better understanding of their physical limitations, and how they actually might have felt wearing the clothes of the day.
I now understand that if a lady wearing a narrow-shouldered 1780s polonaise drops her handkerchief, a gentleman has to pick it up because she simply can’t. During many rushed costume changes for the various talks I’ve done I also know that my heroine must put on her shoes and stockings before her corset. Bending over to put on slippers or boots is simply not possible.
That’s not to say a corset is uncomfortable. I find the 1780s corset, designed to create a barrel-shaped, rather than wasp-waisted torso, to be a very comfortable. It provides support and forces me to adopt good posture, which makes me feel more of a lady.
Clare Writers’ Festival book launch
It’s also interesting to compare a tight embrace with my husband while wearing a full-skirted polonaise with its false rump, multiple petticoats, corset and narrow-shouldered gown, as opposed to when he’s hugging me while I’m wearing a simple muslin Regency gown with no corset. In both costumes I find twining my arms around his neck difficult because of the tight inset sleeve.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both styles. The beautiful French female spy in The Reluctant Bride would have found her polonaise the ideal garment for transporting clandestine objects – especially her pistol and poison – hidden in the enormous pockets within her skirts. Her daughter, sheathed in a simple Empire style gown, had to carry a reticule, so transporting, say, a pistol, wasn’t as easy. Not that innocent Emily ever carried a pistol – until the final cataclysmic pages of the book. The poor girl had absolutely no idea that everything she’d been brought up to believe was a lie.
Clare Book signing, Collins Bookstore
If you like ‘marriage of convenience’ stories featuring spies, lies, betrayal and grand passion, The Reluctant Bride is FREE on Apple iTunes, Kobo, Google Play and Kindle until December 11. It will also be an audio book in early 2014.
So Ben Messina, noted mathematician and romantic hero, welcome to the blog. Thanks for coming along. First things first, tell us about that name – I’m guessing you’re not originally from Yorkshire.
Actually I am. I lived in Whitby for eighteen years and then moved to York. My mum and dad are Italian though.
So the Italians have a reputation for being a very passionate nation. Do you think that applies to you?
Well, erm, I’m not sure.
[At this point Ben starts to look around a bit nervously.]
Erm, what’s this interview for?
It’s for the Choc Lit blog – about the book you’re in.
Yes. About my book. It’s about zero. Zero is the most fascinating number you know. It’s completely different from any other integer. Do you know that the Romans didn’t even have a concept of zero? Neither did the Greeks. Pythagoras, himself…
The triangle guy?
That’s right – he never accepted that nothing could be a thing.
I did not know that. But that’s not what the interview’s about. It’s about the book you’re in.
The book you’re in – Much Ado About Sweet Nothing. You’re the hero.
What do you mean, hero? Like the men on the front of those books they have in the library – the ones with worrying hair and no shirt on.
Well not exactly like that, but it’s about love and romance and, well, you.
No. You must have got that wrong. Now my brother, Claudio, he’s more the romantic hero type. He’s completely smitten in fact with this girl Henrietta. It’s sickening. I’ve tried to explain to him that infatuation is all just a matter of brain chemistry, and it’ll inevitably pass given time, but he won’t listen. He even has the romantic hero tall, dark look. He goes to the gym and everything. It’s not right.
So you’ve never been in love.
Not even when you were younger. There wasn’t ever a girl who got away.
Well, there was one girl. She was different, I suppose. Anyway, that was a really long time ago.
And you never wonder about going back?
You can’t go back. Deciding whether to be with someone is an all or nothing thing. You can’t just flip and change. It’s nothing or everything. [He laughs.]
Nothing or everything. That’s what my book’s about. I’m much happier talking about that to be honest. Love and romance aren’t my thing. I could tell you about infinity, if you want. Infinity is all encompassing. You can’t break it or make it smaller whatever you do to it. Infinity is everything. It’s bigger than all of us.
A bit like love then?
Well no. I mean love is just a neurological or psychological response to a specific human mate, based on the evolutionary imperative to reproduce and…
[Ben keeps talking. I wonder if he’d notice if I sidled away.]
Follow Alison on Twitter and add her on Facebook.
Fans of flirty Shakespeare modernisations like 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s the Man are in for a real treat today. We have a brand new Choc Lit Lite novel, Much Ado About Sweet Nothing by Alison May, available for download to your Kindle, and it’s a cracker!
Is something always better than nothing?
Ben Messina is a certified maths genius and romance sceptic. He and Trix met at university and have been quarreling and quibbling ever since, not least because of Ben’s decision to abandon their relationship in favour of … more maths! Can Trix forget past hurt and help Ben see a life beyond numbers, or is their long history in danger of ending in nothing?
Charming and sensitive, Claudio Messina, is as different from his brother as it is possible to be and Trix’s best friend, Henrietta, cannot believe her luck when the Italian model of her dreams chooses her. But will Claudio and Henrietta’s pursuit for perfection end in a disaster that will see both of them starting from zero once again?
This is a fresh and funny retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, set in the present day.
Follow Alison on Twitter and let her know what you think
I loved writing Dangerous Decisions, and almost equally loved researching the Edwardian era. I don’t suppose I’m alone in daydreaming when a small girl that I was in reality a princess, adopted at birth! One of my favourite books and one I would borrow several times from the library was ‘A Coronet for Cathy’ by Gwendoline Courtney, the story of a young school girl who was in reality a duchess. Fiction afficionado – me? Absolutely, and the more romantic the better. DD is set the Golden Age of the Edwardian era, and I was astonished to discover that even among clever men there was the widespread belief that education should be witheld from the female sex as ‘too much thinking causes their wombs to wither’. Or maybe that was yet another ploy to maintain their own superior status. Certainly arrogance – as portrayed by Oliver, and so often in novels written during that time, seemed to be regarded as essential in a hero. I prefer the sensitive and idealistic Nicholas.
Which brings me to my competition question. If you were born during that time and had the choice, would you opt for a silver spoon, or an ordinary family. Pampered and sheltered as Helena was? Or would you prefer, however harsh your background, to at least live in the real world? (Leave a comment and you could win an advance paperback copy of Dangerous Decisions.) As for the 21st century, many say that the rigid class divide portrayed in the Upstairs and Downstairs mentality of Dangerous Decisions, no longer applies. We are, the politicians claim, a ‘classless society’. Mmn, that takes some thinking about. While it is true that massive changes have taken place, subtle social divisions still remain, perhaps they always will.
A good hero is essential to a good romance. Popular wisdom would have it that writers need to be a little bit in love with their hero, and that, ideally, your reader should feel the same. So what do you do if the classic romantic heroes leave you cold, if you feel Mr Darcy would benefit from a slap round the chops with a wet fish, and suspect, therefore, that your taste in heroes might be a little bit off?
Well, I started by making my romantic hero a mathematician, because I know that absolutely every girl likes a side order of quadratic equations alongside their tall dark and handsome. But actually, being clever scores definite hero points in my world. It’s why generations of girls, myself included, grew up obsessing over Doctor Who. The idea of a hero who can save the world, not with muscles or guns, but by thinking faster than the bad guy definitely does it for me. Smart is sexy. Come on – I can’t be the only one who wouldn’t kick Professor Brian Cox out of bed for talking about special relativity, can I?
Fun is sexy too. I’ll take an average looking boy who’s prepared to be the first one on the dancefloor, over an Adonis who needs to get home early to top up his beauty sleep, every single time. Better a face that’s lived a little, burnt a bit of midnight oil here and there, made a few ill-advised choices, than a perfectly unlined, and utterly uninteresting, mannequin.
And last, but far from least, kind is sexy. Spare me from dark brooding heroes with cruelness in their gaze. Cruelty, brooding, arrogance, and moodiness aren’t sexy. They’re tiresome in a hormonal fifteen year old, and kind of beyond the pail in a fully grown man. Ok, so maybe he’s had a bad experience and he’s scared of getting hurt. Well, here’s a newsflash, aren’t we all? And that might excuse a little light moodiness, even a hint of very occasional brooding, but cruelty is a no-no. Kind men treat the people around them, including their heroines, with respect, and it it’s good enough for Aretha, it’s good enough for me too.
So lets hear it for the smart, fun, kind guys, be they geeky and shy, weather worn and muscle bound or anywhere in between. You show me a smart, fun, kind man, and, regardless of age or physical beauty, I’ll show you a hero.
Follow Alison on Twitter and visit her blog. Alison’s debut with Choc Lit Lite, Much Ado About Sweet Nothing is coming soon …
I like to read about hot heroes so it’s always gives me a surge of satisfaction when readers contact me to say that they find the heroes I write hot, too. And that’s what’s happening with Jed Cassius, from Is This Love?
Jed’s enigmatic and hard to read.
I perceived a wariness about him, as if he was on his guard in case everything he had was somehow taken away. Talking to a retired police officer about young men who drop out of society and find it hard to get back to normal life, I began to wonder if Jed had that kind of background, one that had left him never taking a hot bath for granted and always wanting everything to be super-clean. It fitted so well with his being taken away from Middledip village shortly after Lyddie, the girl with whom he had a teenage thing, received a head injury in a hit-and-run accident. As his parents separated soon after, teen Jed was left angry and confused about why he’d been uprooted from his friends and school.
I decided that Jed had detached himself from both parents and spent some time living in a squat.
It was a hard time for him but it shaped him into the man he is, adaptable, determined, sometimes a bit of a loner, possessed of a fierce loyalty to his stepbrother Manny, who took him under his wing in the squat, and his employer, Mr Hilton. It’s actually a bit of a mystery how Jed did get his amazing job, nice car and apartment. I suppose he’s a bit mysterious all around, really.
Tamara Rix, who had a big crush on him when she was ten, finds those old feelings all too easy to transfer to the adult Jed. He’s in her mind night and day and he’s quite open about how much he wants her.
Despite wanting him right back, Tamara’s not sure whether he’s one of the good guys. A hot man is one thing – but will she get burned?
For more information visit www.suemoorcroft.com, follow her on Twitter, and find her on Facebook.
Okay, it’s confession time here – my name’s Linda and I’m addicted to glossy magazines. I love those home-improvement ones best of all, and over the years I must have bought at least twice my body weight in Ideal Home, Living etc, House Beautiful, and their ilk.
I can’t bear to think of the money I’ve spent on them – possibly enough for a world tour. I’ve kept all my favourite issues, and this would be hilarious if it wasn’t also a bit sad because I have never, ever, bought a tin of Farrow & Ball paint, or a designer anything. My bathroom still sports the white plastic lampshades I bought for 2/6d (yes, really!) back in 1969. In 1972 I took all the seats (except the driver’s, obvs) out of my Renault 4 and went to Woolworth’s to collect the flat-pack, white, malamine wardrobe unit which is still in my bedroom today (assembled, of course) – well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and all that.
Sometimes I think it is best to dream a little – would I be wanting to change everything on an annual basis if I coveted (and bought) everything I saw in glossy magazines? Probably. But I think there must be an interior designer in me somewhere wanting to get out and flash her samples and her mood boards about. And she has. Her name is Carrie Fraser and she’s the heroine of my novella, GRAND DESIGNS.
As we all know, a little research is essential when we write novels. So, as Carrie was going to go to the south of France and mingle with the rich, the famous, and the beautiful, I thought it my duty to go there too. So I did. And I had a lovely time. And as we all also know, there has to be a bit more to a novel than girl meets boy, girl parts from boy, girl makes it up with boy and lives happily ever after. So, while GRAND DESIGNS is published under Choc Lit Lite there is depth to it, too….we all have sadness and regret in our lives and Carrie has her fair share. As – she finds out – does Morgan Harrington.
So, I hope that like Carrie on the front of GRAND DESIGNS (thank you, Berni, you’re a star!) you will sit down and get comfortable and find out what designs Carrie has on Morgan – or was it the other way around?
A week on from my debut novel, Truth or Dare? going ‘live’, I find myself wondering which of the risen dead will come knocking at my door and speak those immortal words: ‘Trick or Treat?’
In my experience, it’s usually a skeleton no taller than my knees, an infant vampire in desperate need of his two front teeth, and a very cute, very round, padded pumpkin with arms perpendicular to its body.
My children are excited about Halloween – the moment the bell rings, they rush to the front door, ready to dish out to their friends jelly dummies, foam shrimps, and fruit chews that take a year to break down. It is an event with which I have only recently become accustomed, as trick or treating wasn’t as popular in England in my youth.
As children of the seventies, it’s unlikely Kate Blair and Rosie Jenkins, the two friends in Truth or Dare?, would have ventured out on a cold, October night on the off-chance of bagging free chocolate from their neighbours, and the thought of tricking an elder would have horrified and perplexed Kate to the point she’d have turned as white as a ghost – an upshot Rosie would have used to her advantage, given the chance.
Even as an adult, studious Kate wouldn’t dream of taking on a mystical persona and bang on the door of a poor, unsuspecting soul on All Hallows’ Even. But don’t be fooled. Should she choose to cast the spell, she possesses the magic to enchant Declan O’Brien.
Rosie, on the other hand, is a cheeky devil, whose charm bewitches and bewilders every unsuspecting soul in to dishing out all sorts of wonderful treats and delights, and should she choose to use it, she has the power to mesmerise computer wizard, Josh Willis.
Now, here’s spooky … Halloween falls the night before All Saints’ Day, and it is in All Saints’ church, at the beginning of 1989, where Kate and Rosie pledge to bury their past, unveil their true selves, and enter in to the spirit of a new life.
What does their future hold?
There are no crystal balls here, but my future is clear. It will involve sweets. And chocolate, which is the best defence against deflated car tyres, flour-bombed windows, and mummified trees, wrapped in a hundred miles of toilet paper.
So, as the ghastly ghouls and the walking dead come knocking on your door, here’s a thought with which to conjure: Trick or treat? Truth or dare?
Whichever you choose, take care out there. And chocolate.
Always take chocolate.
Truth or Dare?
Love’s a dangerous game …
Kate Blair’s sick of unrequited love. She’s quietly waited for Mickey for the past six years and finding a compass-carved heart, with their initials scratched through the middle, only strengthens her resolve: no more Mickey and no more playing it safe.
It’s time to take a chance on real love and Declan O’Brien’s the perfect risk. He’s handsome, kind, and crazy about her so it’s not long before all thoughts of Mickey come few and far between.
But old habits die-hard. Kate may have started to forget … but has Mickey?
Truth or Dare? is available on Kindle now.
It has been nominated for the Festival of Romance Best Romantic Ebook, with the winner to be announced in Bedford on November 9th 2013.
You can follow Laura at www.lauraejames.co.uk and on Twitter @Laura_E_James and on Facebook.
Last year’s pumpkin
Halloween is one of my very favourite times of the year. The fact it comes just before my birthday is irrelevant – honest! I can’t help that I love all things creepy and spooky, and I’ve always been drawn to the supernatural – books, films, legends –anything paranormal really.
When Halloween comes around, I want to carve a pumpkin, decorate the house, watch scary films – and eat chocolate! Bliss.
One of my favourite Halloween films has to be Hocus Pocus, and if you haven’t ever seen it – shame on you! Released in 1993, it starred Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson Sisters, a family of witches burned at the stake in 1693, in (where else) but Salem. Inadvertently resurrected by the teenage Max Dennison on Halloween 1993, the three witches set off in search of small children to kill in order to restore their youth. In spite of the storyline, it is a children’s film, creepy but very funny! My son loved it and watched it all year round – a lot.
So what is my favourite supernatural being? To anyone who knows me, that’s easy – it is, of course, the vampire. Ever since I first read Dracula when I was fourteen, I’ve read anything I could find with a vampire in. I do also have a soft spot for witches, werewolves and ghosts, although I’m not so keen on zombies! (Apart from Michael Jackson’s Thriller.)
One of my favourite urban legends, The Highgate Vampire, fascinated me so much that I set my own book,
The entrance to the West Cemetery, Highgate. (Official tours only sadly.) http://highgatecemetery.org/
Dance Until Dawn, in North London’s Highgate, so I could feature the famous Gothic cemetery and its legend. It’s not hard to imagine vampires are real when walking around the West Cemetery. The Victorian Gothic mausoleums and tombs were said to be responsible for Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula, and it’s easy to see why.
The Highgate Vampire first made the news in 1968, with alleged sightings of a ‘ghost’ and various attacks reported. But on the 27th February 1970, the vampire made the front page of the Hampstead and Highgate Express, and ultimately the tabloids. A photograph of a young man scaling the wall of the West Cemetery armed with a wooden cross and several pointy stakes appeared in the national press later the same year. Several witnesses claimed to have seen a ‘tall man wearing a top hat and cloak,’ others said a woman in white had been seen staring through the bars of the gate, and one witness even claimed to have been bitten on the neck whilst sleepwalking along Swains Lane in the early hours of the morning. (Bear in mind we’re talking late sixties, early seventies here!)
If you look on YouTube you’ll find a clip of a programme presented by Anthony Head of Buffy fame. He walks around Highgate Cemetery, talking about the Highgate Vampire – and vampires in general.
According to legend, the vampire was eventually tracked to the Circle of Lebanon in the West Cemetery, where he was staked in his coffin and the tomb resealed with cement mixed with garlic. Another ending has a body exhumed, staked and burned at a derelict house close to the Cemetery. (To my knowledge, neither has ever been officially substantiated.)
The story changes depending which book or website you read, just like any legend. Although most agree the main protagonists at the time were Sean Manchester and David Farrant. Both have written books on the subject, and Farrant was actually jailed in 1974 for damaging memorials in the Cemetery. At one point, the men were going to have an ‘exorcism dual’ on Parliament Hill, scheduled for Friday 13th, 1973 – it never happened.
I first read about The Highgate Vampire in a book called The Vampire’s Bedside Companion by Peter Underwood. The book comes complete with photos, including one of Elizabeth Wojdyla, the young Polish girl who claimed to have been bitten by the vampire.
Whether The Highgate Vampire is ‘faction’ or pure hokum – it’s a great story for Halloween.
Available in April 2014!
The location of Umbria in Italy, courtesy of Wikipedia
Think pretty, resourceful young woman, frequently told by her bitter mother that the people responsible for her father’s death were the Castanien brothers, and you have Jenny O’Connor.
Think tall, good-looking man with a sense of humour, in need of someone to teach Art classes throughout the summer at his house in Umbria, and you have Max Castanien.
Think what might happen if Italian-speaking Jenny, seeing Max’s advert for an Art teacher, decides to apply for the job, hoping that by getting to know him she’ll be able to learn why he and his brother behaved as badly towards her father as they did, and you have the background to The Art of Deception, a rom without the com.
Living and teaching in one of two houses on Max’s property, situated on the slopes leading away from Montefalco, looking across the plain to Bevagna, Jennifer finds herself drawn to Max, but she refuses to face this attraction. She’s only there, she repeatedly tells herself, to lead Max into explaining his past behaviour towards her father. That and nothing else!
As for the members of her Art class, all is not necessarily what it seems to be…
I go to Italy every year, to Umbria, the area in which I’ve set The Art of Deception. I always visit Bevagna and Montefalco when I’m there, so when I decided to write a novella for Choc Lit Lite, I instantly thought of setting it in that beautiful part of the world.
My research for the story was the most pleasant kind – wandering through the streets of two small towns that I love, seeing again the glorious views, revisiting their art galleries, museums and places of interest, sitting with a caffè in one of the little streets, watching the world go by. To lift the words of someone else, it doesn’t get much better than that!
But see for yourself how lovely Bevagna is…
A view of Bevagna from the other side of the river.
Looking beneath a bridge into Bevagna. The ancient wash house is reflected in the water.
A side street in Bevagna
A piazza in Bevagna
The Vale of Bevagna
A little street leading up to the piazza in Montefalco