Author Archives: Joanna

The mental image of a character : the influence of covers

A Mental Image from Voice alone

a blank face so we create our own mental imagesHave you ever met someone on the phone — a business colleague, perhaps — and created a mental image of them from voice and conversation alone? If you later met them face to face, how did the reality measure up to your mental picture?

I vividly remember doing just that with a woman who subsequently became a close colleague when I was working in London. From her voice on the phone, from her senior position in the organisation and from what she said to me, I pictured a middle-aged, rather motherly figure with mid-brown hair in a beautifully-coiffed jaw-length bob. It was a pretty strong mental picture, though I have no idea where it came from.

We had quite a few phone conversations. (This was long ago, in the days before social media, so there were no online images that I could view.)

motherly mental image turned into glamorous blondeAnd then I met her.

When she walked in, I was shocked.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.

She had a wild mane of curly ash-blonde hair, she was bubbly and she was fun. She was senior and responsible, certainly, but neither middle-aged nor motherly. Oops 😉

Mental Image : the Influence of a Book Cover

Cover of Sara Craven's last bookA few days ago, I was given a copy of the last book by the late, great Sara Craven, bestselling writer of deeply emotional romances and much-missed friend of the Libertà hive. I didn’t read the blurb on the back — I didn’t want anything to spoil the unfolding of a taut, unputdownable Sara Craven story — but I couldn’t help looking at the cover.

It’s lovely. That dark-eyed beauty with long straight ebony hair certainly registered with me. Yes, she could easily be the heroine of a Sara Craven romance. (For some reason, the chiselled, bearded hero didn’t make as deep an impression. It was the woman who set my imagination working. Something to do with the light on her jawline, maybe?)

Me-time: Cup of tea, book, mental images of charactersTime for me-time. Delicious luxury.
I sat down with a cup of tea and began to read. The voice of the ebony-haired beauty sang out from the first page. i was quickly hooked into her story and dying to uncover her secrets.

About three pages in, my mental image was shattered. Sara’s heroine, Alanna, had a cloud of dark auburn hair. What? Did that mean it was curly as well as red? What’s more, her eyes were green. Nooo! Not possible. She was already in my subconscious as that dark-haired, dark-eyed siren.

I read on — of course I did; it’s a fabulous read, a real belter of a story — but I’ll admit I had difficulty “seeing” Alanna in my mind’s eye after that, because my original mental image had been so wrong.writing for a reader - stressed

How to give Readers the “right” Mental Image

Is there a solution?

For my self-published books, the choice of cover model is my responsibility. And I try very hard to get it right. Mind you, it can be difficult, because I generally write historicals and because — whisper it ever so softly — many of the picture studios that produce shots for use in cover art don’t seem to have a clue about the period they’re supposed to be representing. If you don’t believe me, look at a typical example: female in ball gown, kneeling male in evening dress and…?

Riding boots in the drawing room?

…and boots. Riding boots! 

My #1 and biggest beef, by far.

Think of a cover scene.

It’s outdoors. He’s dressed for riding. Boots? Yes, fine. Totally appropriate. But how often is that kind of shot used?

More often, he’s in the lady’s drawing room. Boots? Well, possibly Hessian boots and pantaloons. Certainly not knee-high jobs for riding.

Ballgown and riding boots?

Often in these shots, though, he’s seducing the heroine at a ball. We know that, because she’s wearing a ballgown.
Hero in boots? No. Never.
Dancing shoes. Plus knee breeches, quite possibly, and silk stockings. But NOT boots.

I have a solution here that I’m happy to share. I usually ask my cover designer to hide the boots somehow — with the title, or a logo, or simply by cropping the shot. If it’s my own cover, I will NOT have my hero wearing riding boots at a ball.

Will photo galleries ever get the message? I’ve never yet seen a gallery shot featuring dancing pumps.
If you find one, please do let me know.

The Right Mental Image : Beef #2

A Regency Invitation, Edition in Polish

A Regency Invitation, Polish Edition

My second biggest beef is facial hair. In the Regency period, gentlemen were clean-shaven. They didn’t have moustaches or beards. And they absolutely did NOT have designer stubble.

Here’s one of my own covers that made the facial-hair mistake (though only in the background). Please don’t complain to the poor author, dear readers. I tried to get that beard photoshopped out as soon as I saw it, but I was too late. Much gnashing of authorly teeth.

Sometimes, both my beefs appear in a single shot. Have a look at these examples of a Regency couple: not only boots, but designer stubble as well. ARGH.

OK, that’s 2 beefs about the male models.
What about the females? Surely those are right?
Or a bit more right?

Rake’s Reward
Regency Lords & Ladies Collection


That, I fancy, is a topic for another blog.


And in the meantime, I leave you with the only one of my covers to include a gent in knee breeches. Problem is that, although he’s in period, he’s not exactly my mental image of a hero…

Sigh.Joanna Maitland, author


Veronica the crafty companion : Guest blog by Judy Astley

Judy Astley authorThis month, we welcome another Libertà friend and much-loved author, Judy Astley, to the blog.

Like so many of our guest bloggers, Judy has a fascinating portfolio of skills. She spent several years as a dressmaker, painter and illustrator before writing her first book, Just For The Summer. She’s since written nineteen more. Phew! And now, after a two-year rest to refill the creative well, she’s working on book number twenty-one. Her many fans will be delighted.

Like many other writers, Judy has a furry friend — Veronica. And Veronica sounds to be quite a character, as Judy explains…

Veronica has her own ideas about what to wear…

Veronica the crafty Burmese cat (+ friend)


My cat’s collar was starting to look like a charm bracelet. From it dangled her metal tag with her address and phone number, a magnetic gadget that opened her catflap and then this new addition: a soft blue disc that held a new device — a tracker.

“I’m sorry, but you’ve brought it on yourself,” I told Veronica (a blue Burmese, sweet but crafty).

She gave me a look that clearly said, “You expect me to go out in this?” Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1820: a spencer for a skimpy gown?

In BBC's 1995 Pride and Prejudice, Mary and Jane wear spencers, Lizzie wears a shawl, and Lydia wears…er…nothing

In BBC’s 1995 Pride & Prejudice, Mary and Jane wear a spencer, Lizzie wears a shawl, and Lydia wears…er…nothing

What to wear if it’s cold? A spencer?

replica Regency gowns with spencers

Replica spencers (BBC’s Persuasion)

As the Pride & Prejudice picture shows, the high-waisted Regency gown needed a particular kind of outerwear.
A normally-waisted coat would have ruined the shape of the lady’s silhouette. So fashion called for something special. The answer was the spencer.

From about 1804, the spencer was a short-waisted jacket with long sleeves. It could be prim and proper, buttoned up to the neck, as modelled by Mary Bennet (above). Or it could be rather more risqué, accentuating the bosom, as Jane Bennet’s does.

But why was it called a spencer? Continue reading

Spring is late this year, ditto the Libertà Sunday blog

late spring for marsh marigolds and candelabra primulas

Late Spring for marsh marigolds and candelabra primulas, but cheerful and welcome

Apologies to readers looking for our normal Sunday morning blog. Unfortunately we’re not able to post today but we’ll be back soon and blogging, as usual, next weekend. Meanwhile, enjoy the sunshine and the spring flowers. And for those running the London Marathon, take care in the heat. You have all our admiration.

Spring carpet of lilac alpine phlox

Late Spring 2017 carpet of lilac alpine phlox; not out yet this year but coming soon 😉

Naming characters: hints and tips plus a fun quiz

Naming characters — there’s no single right way

naming characters - what is MY name cartoonAuthors have different ways of naming characters. Some label their key characters hero and heroine until they have finished the first draft, others need names for their characters before they can write a word.

(And some need to know all the character’s backstory before they start to write… But that’s another blog altogether.) Continue reading

My Hairy-Chested Hero : Guest Blog by Christina Hollis

portrait of author Christina HollisToday, we welcome our first guest blogger of 2018, Christina Hollis, a writer with quite a pedigree.

Christina has written non-fiction, historical novels, and modern romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon and other publishers, selling nearly 3 million books in more than twenty languages.

But today, Christina is not talking about her writing.
Today her guest blog is about Alex, her beloved hairy-chested hero…

My Hero with the Hairy Chest…

Intelligent, a good listener, the perfect companion for long country walks—but that’s enough about my husband. I’m here to tell you about Alex, our retriever/labrador cross. Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1820 : the simple Regency gown?

1807 white muslin wedding dress © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

A Regency gown might not be so simple?

1807 wedding dress asymmetric embroidery on front

A Regency gown might look simple but the wedding dress shown above clearly is not. Mainly because of the hand-embroidered muslin, rather than the fairly standard design.

That stunning dress was worn by a seventeen-year-old bride, Mary Dalton Norcliffe, for her marriage to Dr Charles Best in York on 11 June 1807. It’s made of Indian muslin and the V&A suggests the embroidery was done in India, too. Not only is there beautiful embroidery all round the hem and train, there is asymmetric embroidery across the front of the skirt, recalling the classical toga. You may find it easier to see the white-on-white embroidery in the close-up, shown left. Continue reading

Historical Costume 1780s : Caraco. But what IS a caraco?

What is a Caraco?

Striped silk sack-backed caraco, 1760-1780

Striped silk sack-backed caraco, 1760-1780

Caraco isn’t a word that many of us are familiar with. It’s not in many dictionaries, either. It is in Wikipedia, though, along with this illustration of a lovely caraco jacket, dating from 1760 but altered in the 1780s. The original is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

So… what is a caraco?

It’s a woman’s jacket, usually waisted and thigh length, with a front opening. It could be worn as the bodice of a gown and was termed a “caraco dress” when it was complete with a skirt. Some simple versions had high waists even as early as the 1780s.

According to Wikipedia, the original French caraco was often worn with a stomacher to fill the front opening, as with the silk one in the picture above. The English version was designed to meet in front and didn’t need a stomacher. Which is a pity, as stomachers can be truly beautiful, like these from earlier periods… Continue reading

Historical Costume 1780s : Polonaise Gown

Polonaise not Panniers!

1780 polonaise replica

1780 polonaise replica

1787 polonaise original

1787 polonaise original

This blog looks at the lovely Georgian polonaise gown, as a follow-up to my earlier blogs about the hard work of the seamstress and the lady’s maid. We marvel at these gowns in museums — and most of us know that every stitch was hand-sewn — but do we stop to think about the detail of the process?

Shown left is a modern replica of a 1780 polonaise gown, made in plain white fabric to show off the detail of construction. Shown right is an original gown dating from the late 1780s and with the back only partly lifted.

Normally, the back of the polonaise would be lifted in two or more places to show the petticoat beneath, as shown below. Continue reading

Beautiful heroines, handsome heroes : never ugly, never bald?

Let’s hear it for the heroes! Tall, dark and handsome?

mysterious hero but is he handsome?

Hero = handsome; heroine = beautiful?
Bestselling author Susanna Kearsley published a blog last week that asks a thought-provoking question about romantic heroines:  — why is it that “some readers, when faced with a blank face, are programmed to fill in the features as ‘beautiful’?”

Good question.
A disturbing question, too, perhaps.

But what about the heroes? Do we readers fill in male features in a similar way? Why?
Do the heroes of our imagination have to be tall, dark and handsome? Continue reading