Leather and Lace: Fool’s Gold by Zana Bell

Happy e-publication day to Zana Bell! Fool’s Gold is released in digital format today. Read on for an insight into the inspirations for her latest novel, as well as a tantalising extract! 

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What is the fascination of love across the classes? The Cinderella trope is, of course, perennially popular. My great-great-great grandfather ran away to Gretna Green with his mother’s maid and I am inordinately proud of my impetuous ancestors. But what about the reversal – the woodcutter and the princess? There’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Go-Between. In Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil married the chauffeur. Yet none of these has the triumphant happily-ever-after we expect from the Cinderella story. Why is that?

Class structures buckled and bent considerably in New Zealand in the 1860s when survival depended less on inherited wealth and considerably more on courage, quick wits and plain good luck. I had a lot of fun in Fool’s Gold in throwing together characters who normally would never have met. Lady Guinevere Stanhope is cast upon her own resources when her father unexpectedly dies and, luckily for her, she is rescued from drowning by Quinn O’Donnell, an Irish doctor turned gold digger. He was raised by priests and has a great loathing for the English aristocracy, but having saved Guinevere, he feels responsible for her until she recovers her strength. Here is a scene where he brings medicine to her in a rackety hotel in a rowdy gold-mining town (think the Wild West in glorious Lord of the Rings scenery):

Guinevere tasted the medicine and made a face.

‘Ugh. What on earth is it?’

The corner of Quinn’s mouth lifted. ‘’Tis the druggist’s own recipe. I checked the ingredients and it’s sound enough, but I did wonder how it would taste.’

 ‘Disgusting.’

‘Ah well, as the priests used to say, it seems it is always the unpalatable things that do us the most good and must be endured virtuously without complaint.’

Guinevere couldn’t help smiling at his ironic tone, though she grimaced again at the next sip. ‘My father was fervently against anything that made one uncomfortable and had no belief in virtue either, saying it was a scourge to unsettle one’s natural desires.’

Quinn took the empty cup from her hands and put it on the table before pulling a chair up and sitting beside the bed. ‘Did he now?’

Perhaps the illness was making her overly sensitive but Guinevere thought she detected a censorious undertone. ‘I don’t mean he wasn’t honourable,’ she said defensively. ‘He was the kindest, most generous of men but he just thought differently from most about actively seeking happiness and enjoyment of life.’

‘Mm.’

‘What do you mean by “mm”?’ Guinevere eyed Quinn. He’d ceased being a handsome interloper in her room and was back to being infuriating. His lips were folded into a flat line of disapproval.

‘Just seems to me ’tis easier to seek happiness and enjoyment when you don’t have to be spending time seeking food, warmth and safety instead.’

‘Well, of course.’

‘There’s no “of course” about it, where I come from.’

‘But that was not my father’s fault. Don’t make it seem as though it was. And don’t sit in judgment of him either when you never met him. Your life has had nothing to do with his.’

‘No, but I know his sort. If one is born into luxury, ten must be born into poverty to support it.’

‘That’s not true.’

‘No? Then just how many servants did you have, Lady Guinevere, to look after you and your father?’

Guinevere was outraged but also thrown. ‘I don’t know,’ she stammered. ‘I’ve never thought about it.’

‘No,’ he agreed. ‘I’m quite sure you haven’t.’

‘Don’t you use that tone on me. How dare you be so condescending.’

‘Don’t be absurd. How can a penniless Irishman condescend to an English lady?’

‘I don’t know but you do!’

For a second they glared at each other but to Guinevere’s surprise, Quinn was the first to break. A rueful smile tugged at his lips and this time it did soften that horrid coolness in his eyes.

‘A fine doctor I am, to be getting my patient’s temperature soaring again. Lady Guinevere, I apologise. I shouldn’t have said anything about your daddy.’

‘Thank you,’ she said gruffly. ‘He was a good man, you know.’

‘I’m sure he was.’

‘He supported lots of artists.’

‘Looked after artists, did he? Ah well, there you go then. And a very fine job he did of it too, I’m sure.’

Guinevere threw him a suspicious sideways glance but his expression was bland. Her eyes narrowed. ‘Mr O’Donnell,’ she began then paused.

‘Lady Guinevere?’ Again, his tone was politely neutral but she did not trust him at all. 

‘You’re laughing at me.’

‘Sure, now would I do that?’

‘Sure, yes you would.’

There was no denying the mischief in his eyes and he laughed. ‘I’m sorry, I truly am. I shouldn’t be teasing you.’

‘No you shouldn’t!’ But Guinevere could feel herself weakening and despite being still very ruffled, she couldn’t help smiling back. ‘You are quite insufferable, you know.’

‘So I’ve been told before – two nights ago, in fact.’

Guinevere laughed. ‘It seems such a long time ago now. I feel like I’ve known you for much longer.’

‘Do you?’ he asked, and as he smiled down into her eyes, there was something in his tone that suddenly made her feel shy. For a second their eyes locked and Guinevere’s heart skipped.

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Can you think of any stories where the woodcutter and princess do get to live happily ever after? Why does their love often seem doomed?

 

 

Three Heroes, Three Times the Trouble

Next week Monsoon Mists, the final instalment in my Kinross trilogy, is released in paperback and as always I’m chewing my nails wondering how it will be received and whether readers will like my hero.  Because let’s face it, the hero is the most important part of a romantic novel and the ideal scenario is of course that readers will fall in love with him.  It’s what you’d like for every hero you create, but this time there was added pressure – would he be able to match up to his father and brother who’d gone before him?

TradeWinds:Layout 1When I wrote Trade Winds I was totally in love with the hero, Killian Kinross, myself.  As an author you have to be, otherwise why would anyone else feel the same?  He’s handsome, with long auburn hair and intensely blue eyes (and yes, he was based on my favourite actor in the looks department) – what can I say, I’m shallow and I like my heroes to be good-looking!  But I think what I liked most about him was his sense of humour and mischievousness.  He didn’t take himself too seriously, was a bit of a ‘bad boy’ (okay, a lot of a ‘bad boy’!) as he’d never been in love until he met the heroine, and he just generally enjoyed life to the full, making the best of every situation and his skills.  I was told readers liked him too, which was lovely but rather daunting when I came to write the second book in the trilogy, Highland Storms.  This featured Killian’s eldest son, but how to create another gorgeous hero without making him a copy of his father?

Layout 1I solved that problem by (a) making him take after his mother in looks, apart from the blue eyes, so although still handsome he’s totally different to Killian, and (b) giving him a personality that’s almost the opposite of his father’s.  Brice had been in love with the same girl since his teens and would never have dreamed of cheating on her.  He’s quiet and calm, and although he has a sense of humour and can sometimes be mischievous, he’s a lot steadier than his father ever was.  Doing what’s right is important to him and he’d never go looking for adventure just for the sake of it.  He has all the ‘big brother’ traits when it comes to his siblings and his clan – caring, protective and careful.  Yet when it matters most, he shows himself to be every bit as strong as his father.

9781781891674The third book, Monsoon Mists, features Brice’s younger brother Jamie.  He had a lot to live up to and I must admit I found writing him very difficult at first!  In the end, however, I let him show me his character himself.  I started to write down his back story and somehow he evolved inside my head and little by little, I realised what he was like.  I knew he was a ‘bad boy’, like his father, since he’d caused Brice a lot of grief in Highland Storms.  In looks, he also took after Killian (apart from having his mother’s eyes) and to begin with, he was just as wild, if not worse.  Poor Brice had his work cut out keeping his little brother out of trouble, while Jamie himself never had a care in the world until a scheming minx called Elisabet changed everything.  That’s when his life is suddenly turned upside down and so is his character.

From having been a carefree young man, he becomes cynical, introverted and a staunch supporter of justice.  A womanizer no longer, he mistrusts all females and it takes a very special lady to try and make him see that they’re not all like Elisabet.  But has he really changed completely?  You’ll have to read the book to find out, but we all know the past has a habit of catching up with us when we least expect it …

Monsoon Mists

Sometimes the most precious things cannot be bought …

It’s 1759 and Jamie Kinross has travelled far to escape his troubled existence – from the pine forests of Sweden to the bustling streets of India.

Jamie starts a new life as a gem trader, but when his mentor’s family are kidnapped as part of a criminal plot, he vows to save them and embarks on a dangerous mission to the city of Surat, carrying the stolen talisman of an Indian Rajah.

There he encounters Zarmina Miller. She is rich and beautiful, but her infamous haughtiness has earned her a nickname: “The Ice Widow”.  Jamie is instantly tempted by the challenge she presents.

When it becomes clear that Zarmina’s step-son is involved in the plot Jamie begins to see another side to her – a dark past to rival his own and a heart just waiting to be thawed. But is it too late?

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Christina can be contacted via her website, Twitter and Facebook.

Monsoon Mists is available in paperback and on all eBook platforms including Apple and Kobo. Kindle UK, Kindle US and Kindle AUS

Ladies of the Road by Henriette Gyland

Recently I wrote a guest post on Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell about highwaymen in general and why they make excellent heroes in a work of fiction. In my latest novel The Highwayman’s Daughter the heroine, Cora, holds up a carriage belonging to the hero and gets more than she bargained for.

I chose to make her a highway robber because I wanted to create a heroine who was both gutsy and bold and wouldn’t shy away from what was generally perceived as a male domain. However, while I was doing my research for the book, I discovered that it wasn’t actually that unusual for women to turn to the road and a life of crime in this way. Throughout history, a number of notorious female highway robbers have made their mark, and here are a few of them.

Moll Cutpurse, whose real name was Mary Frith, was born in 1584. After driving her

Moll Cutpurse

Moll Cutpurse

parents to distraction for being a “rumpscuttle”, an old word for “tomboy”, they decided to put her on a ship to America, but she absconded as it was setting sail and ran away to the infamous rookeries in St Giles in London where she set herself up as a fence.

An astute businesswoman with a reputation for integrity in the wicked world, she became an institution, not least because she wore men’s clothes and smoked a briar pipe. She was caught after holding up General Fairfax but managed to buy her freedom for £2000, and died of natural causes in 1659 – a relatively long life for that period and despite her exploits.

Ann Meders born 1643 was another female highway robber, and she added fraud and bigamy to her portfolio. Obsessed with the idea of achieving high social and financial status, she regarded marriage to a wealthy man as one way and married three times in rapid succession without dissolving her previous marriages. She worked her way through a number of wealthy lovers but no matter how much money she received, she was always broke. She turned to the road and carried out many robberies, but was eventually arrested for stealing a silver plate.

At the Old Bailey she caused a stir by wearing a low-cut dress, however, when that didn’t provide her with the sympathy she needed from the jury, she claimed to be pregnant. A new jury, consisting of women only, was sworn in, but they found her claim to be false, and she was hanged at Tyburn in 1673, aged 30.

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Lady Katherine Ferrers

Perhaps the most famous female highway robber was Lady Katherine Ferrers, born in 1662. Her marriage at 16 to a much older man proved to be a bit of a disappointment to her as her husband seemed far more interested in the running of his estate than in his bored, young wife. To add some spice to her life she turned to highway robbery where she enjoyed the sense of power from seeing men lose their bluster with a pistol pointed at them.

Her career on the road could have come to an abrupt end when she held up a celebrated highwayman named Jerry Jackson, but he saw the funny side, and they became lovers. Catherine Ferrers ended up adding murder to her list of crimes, and her partner was later hanged at Tyburn. What happened to end her career is less certain, but she may have sustained a wound during a robbery and died from that.

Her adventures were the inspiration for two films both entitled The Wicked Lady.

Is it a crime to steal a heart? 
Hounslow, 1768. Jack Blythe, heir to the Earl of Lampton, is a man with great expectations. So when his carriage is held up by a masked woman, brandishing a pistol and dressed as a gentleman of the road, he wholly expects to have his purse stolen. And when he senses something strangely familiar about the lovely little bandit, Jack also expects to win his cousin’s wager by tracking her down first. 
But as Jack and the highwaywoman enter into a swashbuckling game of cat and mouse, uncovering an intricate web of fiercely guarded family secrets, the last thing Jack expects to have stolen is his heart.

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The Gilded Fan – Publication Day!

tgf_packshot-copy2It’s finally here – publication day for The Gilded Fan – and I’m afraid that against Sarah’s advice (well, it was good advice even though you couldn’t possibly follow it for a debut novel), I’m not going to be professional, I’m going to start this post with a ‘squeeeeeeeeeeeee!’

Even though this isn’t my first ‘baby’ to be released into the world, it still feels the same – exciting, terrifying, awesome and a lot more besides! The Gilded Fan is one of those books that has been through dozens of incarnations and each time I’ve thought ‘this is the one’, the one that’s going to get published. And it wasn’t … until now!

What is it about some books that makes it so hard to get them just right? Some stories seem to write themselves, whereas others you sweat blood and have to pummel them into submission. And yet, it’s so worth it when you feel that you finally get there and it’s done. Yes, I could probably have gone on tweaking it for years (do we ever stop tweaking?), but I’m happy to leave it now to fend for itself in the big wide world.

So, The Gilded Fan – what is it about? It’s the sequel to The Scarlet Kimono (although it can be read on its own) and features the daughter of the hero and heroine of that novel. A half-Japanese girl who is forced to go back to her mother’s country, England, to live with relatives she considers barbarians. There’s a handsome hero (long-haired of course – you know me), the small matter of the English Civil War and a whole lot of prejudices on all sides … No, I think I’d better just give you the blurb:-

How do you start a new life, leaving behind all you love?

It’s 1641, and when Midori Kumashiro, the orphaned daughter of a warlord, is told she has to leave Japan or die, she has no choice but to flee to England. Midori is trained in the arts of war, but is that enough to help her survive a journey, with a lecherous crew and an attractive captain she doesn’t trust?

Having come to Nagasaki to trade, the last thing Captain Nico Noordholt wants is a female passenger, especially a beautiful one. How can he protect her from his crew when he can’t keep his own eyes off her?

During their journey, Nico and Midori form a tentative bond, but they both have secrets that can change everything. When they arrive in England, a civil war is brewing, and only by standing together can they hope to survive …

I’m off to celebrate with some chocolate! (Ok, a lot of chocolate, if you insist!)  Why not join me?