Author Archives: Joanna

Heroines, Heroes, Failure and Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand map with pinThis blog doesn’t normally touch politics but today (Friday) I learned that Jacinda Ardern is resigning as Prime Minister of New Zealand. She has decided to leave the job after more than five years because, she said, she “no longer has enough in the tank to do it justice.” It’s a frank and honest statement. Possibly even heroic? But is it failure?

Can heroes admit to failure?

handsome dark-haired young man with beard and faraway gazeAnd then I started thinking about the heroes we write and wondering whether any of them would get away with making a statement like Ardern’s. Does an alpha hero (say) ever admit that he’s no longer up to whatever it is he does? That he’s a failure? Or that he would be if he continued?

Can’t say I’ve met many in the fiction I read, especially not in contemporary romances. Romantic heroes may occasionally fail at some task, sure. But don’t they usually learn from their failure and go on to bigger and better things?

And, even when they do fail, do they confess it to the world at large? Or do they keep that chiselled jaw suitably clamped and say nothing?

The key question, I suppose, is this:
is a hero a failure—unheroic—if he admits he is no longer up to the job?

Is failure OK for heroines but not for heroes?

Now, there’s a loaded question, wouldn’t you say? But is it a fair question?

Female climber clinging to the edge.

Is this what “being up to the job” means?

I can remember only one other politician who resigned on grounds of not being able to keep doing the job.

Yes, it was a woman. Are you surprised?
Estelle Morris was the Secretary of State for Education for England back in 2002. She resigned because she felt she was “not up to the job”.
A heroine? Or a failure?
Or perhaps both?

Woman chained to her working desk

Maybe this is “being up to the job” for a heroine?

Somehow, I can’t see many (any?) real-life male politicians doing what Morris or Ardern have done. But maybe I’ve missed some?

Cartoon brain lifting dumbbellsThe Guardian article I’ve linked to at the top of the blog reminds us that Nelson Mandela insisted on stepping down after only one term as President of South Africa. Because, they write, “even successful leaders need to know when it’s time to go.” But President Mandela’s refusal wasn’t because he was a failure. He did it for a higher purpose: in order to ensure a democratic transition. In my book, that qualifies him as a hero. But there aren’t many like him about, are there? Not in real life, sadly.

And possibly not many heroic failures in romantic fiction either? Can you think of any?

Romance is fantasy land…and can’t include failure?

happy young womanWe read about alpha heroes in romantic fiction and we’re often carried away by the love story. Especially as we know that the heroine—whoever she is and however lowly—will end up with the alpha male in the end. HEA. Happy sighs. But…

Ask yourself a question, just once in a while. Could you stand having a man like that in your own life? Your real life? Do you love the love story only because it’s set in a fantasy land with a fantasy hero?

I find myself wondering, subversively, whether the alpha hero would remember to take out the bins.
Yes, OK. I know the alpha male hero has money coming out of his ears so he probably has a minion to see to the bins. But it’s still a fair point, to my mind.

No doubt he could defend the heroine if they were beset by hostiles but, sometimes, it’s not heroics the heroine needs. Sometimes, she needs help with practical, down-and-dirty chores. Like smelly bins.

And I will admit to having a reminder on my computer about the need to remind my own personal hero that Wednesday is the day for him to put out the bins. If I forget to remind him, then the failure is my fault, of course, not his. (And no, it is NOT nagging. No way.)
So that’s all right, isn’t it?

sunrise over rubbish dump with birds

NOT what the Maitland rubbish bin looks like…

Stories with acknowledged failure in them?

I’m sure I’m a failure here, but just at the moment, I can’t think of romantic failure stories where the hero fesses up and changes course completely. I’m sure that’s just brain failure 😉 on my part. Can you help me out here? I really do want to be proved wrong.

Joanna Maitland author

Joanna, failed bin nagger?

Underwear: what was worn under Regency gowns?

petticoat-gathered-back-flounced-hem-closeup

See-through petticoat with flounced hem

What underwear did ladies have beneath their Regency gowns? Generally, not much. I’ve blogged before about see-through gowns and the Regency petticoat but what else was underneath?

The go-to reference book for underwear is The History of Underclothes by C. Willet and Phillis Cunnington which starts at the medieval period and finishes at 1939. The History of Underclothes by C Willet and Phillis Cunnington

 

 

As you can see from the cover, it includes corsets and bustles and much, much more. And it includes underwear for men. That gent in the middle of the cover is wearing a Jaeger nightgown, dating from the early 1880s.

The lady to his right is wearing “cami-knickers in crêpe-de-chine” from 1922. (No, they didn’t look like knickers to me either!) The lady to his left is much earlier, of course. She may look fully dressed, but she isn’t. That’s corset, chemise and underskirt, dating from about 1780. And French!

Regency underwear

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Christmas greetings and a variant on 12 days

Fire Oranges Happy Christmas 2017

The Libertà hive is again taking Christmas and New Year off. The next “proper” blog will appear on Sunday 8th January, 2023.

2023?? Gosh, where did 2022 go?

However, we don’t want to leave you with nothing so, for those who haven’t seen it before (and for anyone who’d like to see it again), we are repeating Joanna’s 12 Days of Christmas, Botswana style.

Enjoy and do sing along. With love from all in the Libertà hive.

Twelve Days of Christmas, Botswana-style:
you may wish to sing along as you read 😉

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

a raptor in a bare tree.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Continue reading

Autumn colour: ups and downs

Autumn colour in carpet of fallen forest leaves.

Autumn colour can be uplifting. Good for the soul, perhaps?

Yes, we know that it’s essentially a by-product of deciduous trees closing down for winter, but it’s still beautiful, isn’t it? So I make no apology for filling this blog with gorgeous images of autumn colour. Though there are downsides to some of it (for me, at least). Read on to find out more…

Autumn Colour at Westonbirt Arboretum (one of the UPs)

autumn colour at Westonbirt

autumn colour at Westonbirt © Joanna Maitland

I had intended to go leaf-peeping at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire back in October. The tree collection there is fabulous and the maples, in particular, provide wonderful autumn colour.

But. Continue reading

Off-putting Openings : how not to start a book?

key in lock in door

Image by MasterTux from Pixabay

Recently, I’ve started reading several books that I have swiftly put aside. Why?
Because they had off-putting openings.

What did I mean by off-putting openings? I’d say the kind of start that left me—as a reader—confused, or bored, or annoyed. The kind of start that made me say something like, “if this is the best this author can do, then I have better ways of spending my precious reading time.”

Off-putting openings #1 : a crowd of named minor characters

name badge: what is my name?When should an author give a character a name?

That’s not easy to answer. It may seem obvious that all characters have names—of course they do—but does the reader want to know the name, or need to know the name?

Not necessarily, I suggest. Continue reading

Queen Elizabeth: with gasps and laughter

mourners for Queen Elizabeth II outside Buckingham PalaceTomorrow is the Queen’s funeral. There will be a great deal of black and much sombre music. And probably quite a few tears. Not a day for laughter.

But the Queen was a woman who had a mischievous sense of humour, a woman who, in private and sometimes in public, loved a joke.

Remembering the Queen’s sense of fun

So today, in advance of all that sombre black, I suggest we remember her funny side. Mostly, as Sophie said last week, she kept a straight face in case someone was offended. But sometimes, just sometimes, she had a chance to let her puckish sense of fun have full rein.

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Cover help and a Free Book Giveaway

I’m desperately in need of cover help.
Basically, I can’t decide between two different covers for the Christmas book that I’m about to republish. I’ve revised and extended it and I want it to be right. So I’m asking for advice here.

Please tell me which cover you think I should choose. Continue reading

Punctuating Dialogue (3) the Full Punctuation Rules?

magic bookIn this third and final part of the blog series on punctuating dialogue, we’re back in the magical, fairytale kingdom of Bel Paese with the unpunctuated Ricotta Dialogues [click to download]. There’s a link to the punctuated version later in this blog.

You can find part 2 of the series here, and part 1 is here. The latest version of The Rules is at the end of part 2 but I’ll be expanding them at the end of this blog, and providing a printable version, so you might prefer to wait for that magic rule book to be opened 😉

But first, last week’s answer?

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Punctuating dialogue (Part 2) Beyond the Basics

Lichtenstein castleLast week I introduced you to the fairytale kingdom of Bel Paese and gave you the first three rules of punctuating dialogue. Today we go beyond the basics.

If you want the recap, it’s at the end of my previous blog here. And you can still download the Ricotta Dialogues here.

This week we’re going to look at slightly more complicated punctuation of dialogue. It’s not used all the time, but it is useful to learn and apply the rules.
As before, they’re simple.

But first, last week’s answers?

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Punctuating dialogue need not be scary (Part 1)

woman tearing hairPunctuating dialogue seems to be a problem for many writers. But it need not be scary. There are conventions (rules) to apply, but once you know them, it’s straightforward. Honest 😉

Beautiful Woman Sitting At Night Forest And Reading Fairy Tale BookCome and discover the rules in the company of Princess Ricotta, her dim but impressively ripped suitors Prince Square-Jaw and Prince Six-Pack, and her conniving servants Slack-Britches and Mozarella. The fairytale kingdom of Bel Paese awaits you.

Those of you who are already confident about punctuating dialogue can read the fairytale just for fun. I hope you enjoy Ricotta’s adventures, even with unpunctuated dialogue. For those whose punctuation might need a bit of help, keep reading.

Punctuating dialogue is only convention

The conventions of punctuating dialogue have evolved over many years. Some of them seem pretty arbitrary but rules often are. We just have to accept them. Their aim is simple, though: to make it easy for readers to understand what’s going on. Continue reading