::February 2008 - 10 Things I Love about 10 Things I Hate About You
Like so many people around the world, I was saddened and shocked to hear of the untimely death of talented Australian actor Heath Ledger. So I thought I’d dedicate this month’s MFT to him and to talking about the wonderful teen romantic comedy that was the first movie I ever saw him in.
::April 2008 - I'm Ready for my Close-Up, Mr. De Mille!
Brisbane Extra recently filmed a story on fabulously talented local historical romance author Christine Wells. To add a bit of background noise…um, detail, Christine invited a few of her romance writing pals to be involved. So very early on a Tuesday morning, Robyn Grady who writes for both Harlequin Presents and Harlequin Silhouette Desire arrived to pick me up in a limousine for our long trip from the Sunshine Coast. Well, we hoped for a limousine but clearly things were happening on the coast that day, because the best we could do was a people mover. Still, it was a very luxurious and comfortable way to get down to Brisbane and arrive feeling like a movie star.
We got to Christine's lovely old Queenslander house around 10am. For those from foreign parts, a Queenslander is a distinctive colonial form of architecture. Large wooden houses with verandahs and high ceilings based on Indian 19th century bungalows. The most distinctive feature of a Queenslander is that it's up on stilts to promote maximum airflow. While Christine was off being filmed, young adult author Alli Kincaid, romantic fantasy and erotica author Denise Rossetti and Harlequin Medical Romance author Amy Andrews discussed books very sensibly in Christine's kitchen. Well, actually what we did was eye with longing the unopened champagne and luscious morning tea and giggle a lot.
Eventually, we were called to our interviews. When we all displayed our books on the table, it was such an impressive show. Then each of us answered questions from host Doug Murray about the romance industry and our careers. By this stage, the champagne had indeed been opened, so I'm not sure how sensible I was! Although all the sugar from the morning tea should have soaked up some of the alcohol. At least that's my story and I intend to stick to it!
We then went out for the best part of the day. A gorgeous lunch at Two Small Rooms in Toowong. I hope you enjoy some photos of the filming. There were photos from the restaurant. They were ALL out of focus. I wonder why…
It's always such fun to catch up with my romance writing friends! Christine, I think this is the start of local stardom for you! Congratulations!
The segment was broadcast in South East Queensland on Friday, 28th March.
At last the champagne is open! (L-R): Amy Andrews, Christine Wells, Robyn Grady and Denise Rossetti raise their glasses in a toast.
A good time was had by all. (L-R): Alli Kincaid, Christine Wells, Doug Murray, director John and Amy Andrews.
I love soundtracks. I've been a movie fanatic from a very early age - although these days for various reasons, I hardly ever get to go, sadly. But the music was always something I took a lot of notice of. Who can forget the great composers of the Golden Age of Hollywood? Max Steiner with his magnificent music for Gone with the Wind. Miklos Rosza who did so many epics, although my favorite soundtrack of his is the one for Young Bess. Erich Wolfgang Korngold with his swashbucklers for Errol Flynn - The Sea Hawk soundtrack is symphonic in scope and complexity. Alfred Newman who wrote the swirling romantic music for Anastasia. Wonderful, all of them.
I write to music - it really gets my creative juices going. And because soundtracks summon up such cinematic images in my head, they're among my favorite choices when I'm working. So here, in no particular order, are my choices for favorite soundtracks:
The Last of the Mohicans by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman
Spartacus by Alex North
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Bernard Herrmann
The Mission by Ennio Morricone
Braveheart by James Horner
The Big Country by Jerome Moross
The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein
The Piano by Michael Nyman
The Robe by Alfred Newman
Gladiator by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard
Lawrence of Arabia by Maurice Jarre
And sorry, but I couldn't stop at 11. So these are the backups, depending
on how I'm feeling on the day.
Romeo and Juliet by Nino Rota
Henry V by Patrick Doyle
El Cid by Mikos Rosza
Out of Africa by John Barry
Christine, you oughta be in pictures! While Robyn Grady casts host Doug Murray a doubtful look.
Do you have comfort reads? You know, those books that warm your soul the way a good fire on a winter day warms your cold feet? The sort of book you turn to when life just gets a bit much to handle and you need somewhere to escape to?
I wanted to share something really lovely that happened to me last week. I finally got down to Brisbane to have lunch with one of my favorite people (and favorite writers) Christine Wells. We've talked about this forever but for various reasons, our lives have interfered with any plans. Lunch was fun and full of chatter, as you can imagine. And yes, it was lovely. But that's not exactly what this month's MFT is about.
I'm currently nearly at the end of the first draft of my fourth Regency noir for Avon. This book is set in 1821. Originally this story was set a few years later but when I started research (aha, we return to the subject in a roundabout way!), I discovered that date wouldn't work. Why? Because a large part of the plot relies on an elopement and the marriage laws changed in 1823. My runaway marriage story wouldn't work if the book was set after that. Sometimes research can be mighty inconvenient!
Anyway, I thought you might be interested in some of the books I've been using as I write this new story. The book is set in what is, for me, fairly familiar territory, the reign of George IV, and all the events take place in Britain (and islands but I'm coming to that). But while the story is set firmly in England, my hero's backstory involves his time working for the East India Company in India.
:: August 2008 - Favorite Research Books (Part 3)
I thought I'd wind up this brief look at my research resources with some of my favorite reference books. These are the books that sit on top of my bookcase and I use constantly for everything I write.
My greatest friend is THE SHORTER OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY (two volumes). My edition is a much-loved birthday present from my parents when I was studying English literature at Queensland University. The OED is a fantastic resource for a historical romance writer, not only because it has a great range of obscure vocabulary, but also because it details when words came into the language. Occasionally I'll find myself surprised - 'prototype', for example, sounds modern but is actually a product of the scientific revolution of the 17th century.
::September 2008 - I left my heart in San Francisco…
Well, perhaps not, but I had a fantastic visit there. I started out my ten days doing touristy things. I went down the coast to Monterey and Carmel, I had a day in Yosemite (VERY smoky!) and a day in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys (very boozy). Then I had a couple of days catching up with romance writing friends (especially my darling Romance Bandits) and seeing a bit of SF itself. What brilliant shopping! I went so wild, I needed a second suitcase to bring home - although some of that, of course, was all the wonderful books I got at the conference.
From the literacy signing on Wednesday evening (you can see a video here), everything was an absolute whirl and my feet hardly touched the ground. Here's a couple of photos from the signing. The first one (above right) is with fabulous young adult writer Vanessa Barneveld. The second (right) is me with books and prominent RITA flag (currently decorating my office!). Thank you to everyone who came by. It was a blast of a night!
Also on Wednesday evening, we had the inaugural Bandita bash which was a huge crush as they say in the best Regencies. Here's a photo of me with mega-talented Harlequin Presents author Jennie Lucas (below far right). And a cute picture of the world-famous Golden Rooster, the Bandita mascot, getting a glint in his eye as he surveys Donna MacMeans's corset purse. He is a saucy young fellow, our chook!
Thursday and Friday were just a social whirl. Highlights included the prize ceremonies on Thursday night and the Golden Network Booting Out Ceremony for those who have been published since they finaled in the Golden Heart. Not to mention a huge amount of schmoozing that was fantastic fun. The Friday night of the conference is always one of my favorite events - it's the Avon Family dinner, this year held at the very glamorous Mandarin Hotel. Here's one of my favorite photos from the conference. That's me with stars Jenna Petersen and Julie Anne Long. (right).
Saturday is the lead-up to the big awards night which was fabulous fun. Congratulations to all the winners! Here's two fun photos - the first is me with the gorgeous Toni Blake and her gorgeous ballgown (left), the second (above) is me with Romance Bandit pals, Donna MacMeans, Kirsten Scott, Susan Seyfarth, Christine Wells and Jeanne Adams.
I can't wait for next year's conference in Washington DC!
I LOVE the Romance Writers of Australia conference every August. It's a great chance to touch base with wonderful people I only see once in a blue moon and to meet new wonderful new people (who I then only see once in a blue moon - sigh!).
A special treat this year was that we were in my favorite hotel in Australia, the Langham in Melbourne. This place puts the 'L' into 'luxury' unlike the 'ell' into 'ellhole' which describes some other places I've stayed in over the years!
Another special treat was that our keynote speaker was Barbara Samuel/Ruth Wind who has long been one of the writers I most admire. I love her books - they're true. You get that feeling of the texture and richness of real life and emotion when you read her. Barbara gave the whole day Friday workshop on keeping inspiration alive and it was fantastic. Then even better, I ended up having a chance to talk to her and she's just as warm and witty and wise as I thought she'd be. OK, I know I sound like a fangirl…
The cocktail party was a paranormal fest - the theme was One Enchanted Century and it celebrated Mills & Boon's centenary which falls this year. The room was heaving with witches and vampires and things that go bump in the night.
The real business started on Saturday morning with a full two-day program of workshops and plenary sessions. I ran a workshop on deep point of view and I'd like to thank everyone who came to that - you were a wonderful crowd! I also really enjoy the meet the author sessions. They're such fun although I'm sure I'm hitting a stage where most people HAVE met me!
Saturday night was the gala dinner and awards ceremony. It's a great excuse to get dressed up and let your hair down. Or get dressed down and let your hair up - it's your decision, really. Sadly, no Romantic Book of the Year for me, but I'd like to congratulate the winners Kimberley Freeman who won the long category for her book DUET and Anne Oliver who won the short category for her book ONE NIGHT BEFORE MARRIAGE. This is a huge achievement for Anne, who won last year too with BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, her debut for Harlequin. So that's two out of two for her. Brava, Ms. Oliver!
I also presented the inaugural Anna Campbell Award to a very worth recipient Carolyn Comito for her Emerald-winning manuscript HER MAJESTY'S SPY. This involves a check for $200 and a critique of a partial which I give to the historical manuscript that places highest in our equivalent of the Golden Heart contest, the Emerald Award. Congratulations to Carolyn. I'm sure she's got a stellar career ahead of her!
And speaking of awards, the green monster was not forgotten. It won best cover in the long category at the conference! I'm not surprised. That's a gorgeous cover, even if I do say so myself!
One of the things I love about the conference is it gives us all a chance to celebrate each other's achievements. It's wonderful to congratulate people who have sold during the year. Particularly exciting this year was that Golden Heart finalist Tracey O'Hara heard from Avon/Eos in New York on Saturday morning that she got a three-book deal for her dark paranormal series. Yay!
So the conference ended for another year with a lot of people saying it was their favorite conference ever. I think it would definitely be one of mine! Thank you to the organizing committee who ran yourselves ragged to make sure we had a wonderful get-together. Now I'm already looking forward to doing it again next year in Brisbane!
Having just got a new book in to Avon, I recently rewarded myself with a couple of days of heavy reading. Like most aficionados of romance novels, I have a to-be-read pile that blocks out the sun and it was getting higher by the day. It was wonderful just to immerse myself in good books for a little while (wish it had been longer!) so I thought I'd share some of my discoveries with you.
The first one is an out of print book from 1978 which you can still pick up on the secondhand circuit. THE GIRL FROM THE DIADEM (also known as EDWARDIAN BELLE) is by an author who was new to me until I went to our local conference in Melbourne and met Roz, who is a huge fan of Jean Merrill, the author. The first JM I read was a sparkling romance called SERAFINA. It had me laughing out loud and reminded me very much of books I used to read as a teenager. Not a lot of naughty bits but it has such verve and wit and a prose style that can rival Georgette Heyer's at her best. What's not to like? THE GIRL FROM THE DIADEM is equally enchanting. They don't write books like this any more, but man, I wish they did! It's an unabashed romp with complications upon complications and the comedy just gets richer and richer until the final heart-warming clinch at the end when the poor but brave heroine falls into the arms of the rich and aristocratic hero.
The next also isn't a new release although it's considerably more recent than TGFTD. It'sFIRST LADY by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I, like most romance readers, adore SEP, especially her Chicago Stars books which almost make me love footballers (only joking, she said cowering away from the hordes of angry footballers about to descend upon her). This is a stand-alone story about the widow of an American President who goes on the run to experience real life and falls in love on the way. It's full of fantastic dialogue and comedy and also SEP's trademark deep emotion. And I've got to say, I so admire the way she writes teenagers. The secondary characters in this story will really steal your heart.
So onto something more recent. As regular readers of MFT would know, I absolutely adored Laura Lee Guhrke'sAND THEN HE KISSED HER which I discovered via a sprained ankle last year. She's got a new Girl Bachelors book out, SECRET DESIRES OF A GENTLEMAN. It's a wonderfully warm and witty mixture of SABRINA and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. The heroine is a darling, gutsy and brave. The hero is one of my favorite types - the buttoned up man who loses control of his well-ordered life once he falls in love (shades of Mr. Darcy!). Highly recommended and sure to leave a smile on your face.
Now I've left my two favourites till last. The first is by Kathleen O'Reilly, who wrote a marvelous trilogy for Blaze featuring the O'Sullivan Brothers and their bar in New York. COURTING DISASTER is her latest - it's a longer book and has come out under the Silhouette Special Edition banner. It's part of a continuation called THOROUGHBRED LEGACYbut don't let that turn you off. I hadn't read the others in the series and had no trouble following what was going on. I love bad boy falling for good girl stories and this one is a doozey. Formula 1 driver Demetri Lucas tumbles like a ton of bricks for squeaky clean country singer Elizabeth Innis and the sparks fly from there. Kathleen writes the most amazing sexual tension. Seriously these pages sizzle - I needed asbestos gloves to read them. But for all the heat, it's the emotional heart of her stories that always gets me. I dare you to put this one down until you finish it. I sure couldn't.
::December 2008 - A Salute to Anne Stuart!
A really special event in my life happened last year at the Romance Writers of Australia conference where I got to meet one of my writing idols, multi-RITA-award winning Anne Stuart. And she was utterly delightful with a fiendish sense of humor that always cracked me up. Hard to believe this fun woman wrote those devilish heroes, those nail-biting suspense stories, those dark historicals. Shows you can never rely on appearances.
Last month, I reviewed Anne's Ice romantic suspense series for Romance Novel TV - you can find the reviews here. It got me thinking about what a wonderful writer Anne Stuart is and how she has blessed us with her extensive backlist. I thought I'd pick out a few of my favorites by her, but honestly, I've never read a bad book by this wonderful author who is a multiple-RITA Award winner, a New York Times bestseller and the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from Romance Writers of America.
So if you haven't read Anne Stuart, I hope this will encourage you to start. You have a huge treat in front of you. If you have read her, I'm sure you'll enjoy revisiting some of her stories and remembering how great she is.
The hardest bit is narrowing down the books to a couple of highlights!
One of the best historical romances I've ever read is A ROSE AT MIDNIGHT (Avon 1993). Sadly, it's out of print. But you can still get it secondhand. It's one of the first Anne Stuarts I ever read and it features a number of her trademarks. One of these is flawed, troubled characters finding redemption in love - this theme always adds incredible power to her stories.
The dark, decadent, rakish hero - and believe me, her heroes don't just pretend to be dangerous, they really are jungle cats with the power to inflict serious damage, even death, upon the heroines. Nicholas Blackthorne is one of my favorites because he's so tormented and lost. And he's so BAAAAAD too! You really get an emotional payoff when this gorgeous fallen angel succumbs to love. The heroine Ghislaine de Lorgny is gutsy and tortured too - she's a French aristocrat forced to sell herself on the streets of Paris after the revolution. Why does she have to sell herself? Because Nicholas refused to save her! See what I mean about a dark and dangerous story? But her dreams of vengeance turn to passionate love in a story which will sweep you completely away.
Another fantastic read is RITUAL SINS (Onyx, 1997). Luke Bardell, the hero, is EVEN darker than Nicholas. He's been in prison for murder and he's now running a scam retreat where he offers false hope of spiritual peace to rich dilettantes dabbling in New Age religion. I know he sounds awful but believe me, on the page he's amazingly compelling and sexy. I think because he's so self-aware. He knows his faults and there is at his core a really unexpected strain of integrity. Oh, and there's the fact that he's dragged kicking and screaming into falling in love with the gutsy, tortured (are you picking up a theme here?) heroine Rachel Connery. There's a strong suspense plot in this book but for me, the heart of the story is the passionate, complex, difficult romance that develops between Luke and Rachel. Highly recommended.
Finally, I'd like to talk about SHADOWS AT SUNSET (Mira, 2000). Again, there's a suspense plot in this but it never overshadows (no pun intended!) the romances. Yes, romances. One of the things Anne Stuart does better than almost anybody else I can think of is include a secondary romance that illuminates the central romance while still being so heartfelt and emotional on its own. There are two sisters in SHADOWS, Jilly and Rachel-Ann, and they both get their happy endings with the most unexpected heroes. Actually there's even a third romance because there are a couple of ghosts who play a crucial part in the story. The redemption theme in this book becomes cosmic! One leading man is the trademark Stuart dark, difficult villain/hero, Coltrane. The other is a gorgeous Latino doctor Rico. See if you can find this book. You won't be at all sorry you did!
Oh, man, so many Anne Stuart books, so little space. Other books I'd recommend - and the list isn't exhaustive - are THE DEVIL'S WALTZ, COLD AS ICE, STILL LAKE, LADY FORTUNE, PRINCE OF DANGER, TO LOVE A DARK LORD, CINDERMAN, GLASS HOUSES and NIGHTFALL.
Go on, I dare you - take a walk on the dark side! Grab an Anne Stuart today!
I absolutely love Japanese porcelain. To date, I have amassed a huge collection of one piece! I had a very adventurous spinster aunty (back then, she was definitely considered a spinster!) who loved to travel. Actually, she wasn't my aunty, she was my grandfather's cousin but we used to call her aunty. After every trip, she'd descend upon us with amazing gifts. I look back and think how odd some of the things she brought were for a little girl. When I was ten, she'd just been to India and she gave me a gorgeous folder of Mughal prints. After a trip to Scandinavia, when I was 11, she brought me back a very scholarly book on the Vikings. Happily, I was a rather strange little girl and all this stuff was wildly exciting! I still think Aunty Jean is at least partly to blame for my perpetually itchy feet.
One of my absolute favorite presents she brought me is an exquisite Japanese cup and saucer that she must have given me when I was about five. It's as fine as eggshell and the light shines through it and if you hold the bottom up to the light, you can see a geisha girl. I have no idea if it's valuable - I suspect not. But it's exquisite with jewel-like birds perched in a peony tree.
But since seeing Christine last week, my collection has doubled. With incredible and completely unnecessary generosity, Christine gave me a gorgeous Satsuma bowl from around 1900. Inside the bowl, there's a beautifully detailed pheasant perched on a gnarled branch of a tree with red flowers. On the outside, it's decorated with more leaves and chased gold. Absolutely gorgeous. I just love it and it immediately became one of my favorite things!
So what are the 10 Things I love about TTIHAY?
10. The pregnancy suit that Kat’s half-mad doctor father makes the girls wear before they go out so they’ll know what it’s like to be teenage and expecting a baby.
9. The vomit at the party scene. Oh, man, if that hasn’t happened to you, it’s happened to someone you know. Ain’t pretty, but sure was funny. And Patrick was just so gorgeous taking care of Kat in that scene. But more on Patrick later…
8. The romance-writing school counsellor. Yeah, she was a bit caricatured. But believe me, I’ve had jobs where I’ve tried to work and write and it’s a bit difficult dragging yourself out of a steamy scene with a hunky and passionate Regency rake to pay attention to the day-to-day stuff!
7. The very subtly done secondary romance between geek guy, Cameron’s friend, and geek girl, Kat’s friend, ending with a mutual adoration of Shakespeare. Sigh.
6. The really sweet, emotionally touching secondary romance between Cameron, almost geek, and Bianca, virginal school sweetheart. Sigh.
5. The scene on the sports ground where hunky Patrick gets the school band to play Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.
4. Patrick using his tough guy image to try and scare away Cameron and Michael, even drilling through a French text book with an electric tool to prove his tough guy status.
3. Patrick really being sweet and funny and gorgeous and just the man for Kat. And you know this from the moment he watches her with his heart in his eyes as she back-ends Joey the creep’s sportscar.
2. Joey-the-creep’s comeuppance. Actually, Joey-the-creep all together. Love his self-obsession. Him doing the underwear model poses is classic! I think that’s one of the reasons I adore this film so much. Every character is magic. There’s no bland spots.
1. And obviously, number one is the fantastic romance between Kat and Patrick. What chemistry. What sparkling dialogue. What emotional depths. Honestly, this is one of the best romance films I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen it and want something clever and sexy and funny and romantic to pass a few hours watching, get it! You won’t be sorry.
Vale, Heath. You’ll be missed.
I have quite a few comfort reads and I'll probably end up talking about most of them here before I finish because they're definitely among my favorite things. But the one I turn to first is an old (1981) historical romance called A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS by Eva Ibbotson. I discovered this book first in the less-than-salubrious surrounds of the Brisbane City Library - it may be salubrious now but it certainly wasn't then! I must have borrowed it about ten times. I spent years trying to track down a copy of my own. Eventually I got an Arrow edition on a remainders table. Because Eva Ibbotson has since had huge success as a young adult writer, ACBS has been republished and is now reasonably easily available so grab it while you can!
'Heartwarming' can sound so smarmy. But this story really does warm your heart. It tells the story of luminous, gutsy Anna Grazinsky, the countess of the title, who arrives in England after the Russian Revolution with nothing but her courage and her generous spirit to sustain her. She finds a job as a housemaid in a stately home called Mersham which is being readied for the arrival of the new earl and his fiancée.
Rupert Frayne, the Earl of Westerholme, is one of my favorite heroes in romance. Partly because he's such an individual. He's quiet and scholarly and a man of unshakable honor. His courage and his strength under pressure match Anna's so you know right from the start that these two are made for each other. Gradually they fall in love, unwillingly, reluctantly, eternally. But Rupert can't in honor break his engagement.
The sexual tension is tight enough to cut with a knife but there are no actual love scenes. There's hardly even much kissing but still this book is incredibly romantic and achieves its effects through staying true to its emotional core. There's a couple of bits that always give me goosebumps. One in particular has Rupert and Anna waltzing at a ball and it's one of the best scenes I've ever read in a romance.
The book abounds in vivid secondary characters, the way a good Georgette Heyer does. There are the other servants at Mersham, Rupert's social circle and the exiled Russians. It sparkles with humor and humanity. In many ways, it's like a fairytale, the kind where the real world is full of threat and sadness and danger but a good heart will guide you through to your happy ending. I urge you to find this book and read it! You won't be sorry.
Actually, if you asked my friends or relatives, they'd just say most writers are NUTS. But that's another subject. This month, I want to talk about some of my favorite research books.
I LOVE research. It's one of the fun bits about writing, especially historicals where you discover the most amazing and interesting facts and often you'll read something that leads you in a totally unexpected direction or even gives you an idea that sparks a new story.
It's exciting! Really!
All authors approach research differently. This is my usual process. I have a fairly good general knowledge of the Regency period although in no way would I call myself a specialist. Luckily, I have friends whose knowledge of the period's minutiae is such that I can call on them for anything I'm having trouble with. When I come up with a story idea, I usually have a fair inkling of whether it will work in the historical context. I read a lot of historical books for enjoyment too because, as I said, I never know what will spark an idea.
So having come up with the premise, I let it stew until it's come together in my head to a point where I'm ready to start writing. This is usually when I start specific research. If I do too much research ahead of time, it can break my focus on that particular story. Research is an endless ocean and unless you're disciplined, you could research until you die and never actually write the story.
Then it's strange. Each of my stories seems to need just ONE research book that gives me the detail and flavor I need. Although I'll read widely across specific subjects, there's one book I keep going back to over and over. With CLAIMING THE COURTESAN, that book was Katie Hickman's COURTESANS. I picked this up at Ottokar's Bookshop in Oban on the West Coast of Scotland after I'd written the first draft of CTC. So the information didn't actually feed into the story, but it confirmed much of what I'd intuited about Verity's life as a courtesan in the 1820s.
COURTESANS contains a series of short biographies of famous courtesans. I read numerous books about working girls but this was the one that gave me a sense of them as individuals with hearts and hopes and faults. In short, it revealed their humanity. And one of the courtesans, Elizabeth Armistead, was my Verity come to life. It astonished me how the lives and natures of the two women, real and fictional, corresponded. Elizabeth even ended up falling in love with her protector Charles James Fox and marrying him very happily. It was confirmation that I was onto something 'true' with my story.
While COURTESANS didn't give me any specific information that appeared in CTC, it did spark the idea for what became my third book TEMPT THE DEVIL (which Avon will release in January 2009). One of the courtesans Katie Hickman wrote about was the famous Skittles, Catherine Walters, who was acknowledged as the most stylish woman of her time. Her courage and sheer chutzpah in rising from a seemingly hopeless life as a child prostitute to becoming the confidante of the greatest men of her time, including kings and princes, was inspiring. Her vibrant spirit invested the heroine of TTD, Olivia Raines, London's most notorious courtesan. One small fact brought Olivia into focus for me - Skittles was a superb horsewoman with a spectacular figure. In order to advertise her wares, she'd have herself sewn into her riding habit for her canters in Hyde Park. I must admit I stole that detail for Olivia - it just seemed to say so much about the world these women lived in and their innate sense of style.
With UNTOUCHED, the book that helped me most to gain a picture of Matthew's trials was MADMEN by Roy Porter. Although I'm really sad I didn't get the English edition of this book with the much more evocative title of 'Mind-Forg'd Manacles'. It's a history of mental illness and its treatment in the 19th century and it provided some really scary details. The cruelty and ignorance of many of the treatments would make your hair curl. Because people knew nothing of the mind and its afflictions, quackery abounded. The 'cures' Matthew's doctors inflict upon him are based upon actual examples I found in this book.
I hope you've enjoyed this visit to my bookcase. Next month, I'll be talking about the books I'm using for the work in progress.
I also read the latest Nicola Cornick, UNMASKED. Also as long-term readers of my website know, I'm a huge fan of Nicola's work. I think she does a wonderful job of combining vivid Regency detail with an emotional, dramatic love story. But I think UNMASKED may actually be my favorite of hers yet. The stakes are so high, the emotions run so deep, the conflict is so real and heart-wrenching. The hero Nicholas Falconer suspects the heroine Marina Osbourne of not just being a notorious highwaywoman but the murderer of his cousin. His investigations lead him into complex issues of loyalty and love as the more he finds out about the mysterious widow, the more he is drawn to her. I read this non-stop and couldn't put it down. Seriously, it's a treat!
I also have a ROGET'S THESAURUS. There have been many variations on Roget's original over the years but I actually like his way of setting things out. Perhaps because I'm used to it. This is a modern edition, obviously, but it still uses his classification system.
I have a good atlas although I find Google has largely superseded this. The detail you can get on maps over the Internet is fantastic.
My fourth reference book is a little obscure. It was a school prize so I've had it for many years. It's THE READER'S ENCYCLOPEDIA by William Rose Benét. It gives précis of books. It provides short biographies of writers and other people of historical significance. It recounts myths and explains philosophical movements and historical events. And more! All in one volume! This book is so interesting, I've actually spent hours just READING it. I've never seen it anywhere else but I recommend it highly. And of course I've just checked on Amazon and find I'm not the only person who thinks this book is the best thing since sliced bread. There's even a new edition!
My last reference book is WHAT JANE AUSTEN ATE AND CHARLES DICTIONS KNEW: FROM FOX HUNTING TO WHIST: THE FACTS OF DAILY LIFE IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND by Daniel Pool. It's basic and you have to check on some of the facts because it's not clear whether they refer to Regency or Victorian England. But it's a wonderful introduction to those fiddly issues like titles and forms of address, the season, the ton, parliament and servants. Essential equipment for the keen Regency writer!
Because I need to understand my hero, I need to understand something about colonial India. I've read a really great book called THE WHITE MUGHALS: LOVE AND BETRAYAL IN 18TH CENTURY INDIA by William Dalrymple. This tells the tragic love story of an Indian Muslim noblewoman and a very dashing Englishman. It also has some fascinating stories about cross-cultural meetings and influences at the turn of the 19th century. It was also a good introduction to the intrigues of court life in India, although thank goodness nobody in THE WHITE MUGHALS is quite as ruthlessly evil as the villainous Nawab in my story.
I've also got waiting for me THE HONORABLE COMPANY: A HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH EAST INDIA COMPANY by John Keay and INDIA UNDER BRITISH RULE: FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE EAST INDIA COMPANY by J. Talboys Wheeler. I suspect, though, that WHITE MUGHALS might be the book that for this particular story has the really telling details. We'll see!
Part of this story is set on Jersey in the Channel Islands. Sadly, I've never visited Jersey, although one day I'd love to. It sounds a fascinating mixture of the French and the English. But because I've never been there, I'm relying on the Internet and guidebooks to stop me making a fool of myself with descriptions. At my right-hand, I've got THE BLUE GUIDE TO THE CHANNEL ISLANDS andTHE SUNFLOWER GUIDE TO JERSEY.
A book I'm absolutely drooling over (yes, I know, not a pretty picture) is one in a series called ENGLAND'S LANDSCAPE released by English Heritage. Absolutely gorgeous photos and some amazingly detailed local information. I heard about this series in a UK National Trust magazine and realized I had to have them.
So far, I've bought THE SOUTH WEST which focuses on Cornwall and Devon. My hero's home is in Cornwall and a substantial portion of the story takes place using the dramatic cliffs and moors as background. I've been to Cornwall, so those bits of the story don't feel quite as alien as the Jersey ones. But it's been fun checking out what stone they use for local buildings and details of tin mining. Tin mines and secret passages feature prominently in the story!
Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed a peek into my work in progress. Next month, I'm talking about the books I absolutely can't live without. The references that sit in my office and I use all the time.