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

Easter Memories

This weekend Easter Memories came flooding back to me unexpectedly. And they stopped me dead in my tracks. Disturbed me. Then, made me smile.

Easter Memories – Anniversary

Easter was a turbulent time of year for my family when I was a child. My parents had married on 29th March – on the same day as the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, the Grand National and  the Football Cup Final. So there were lots of uneasy-making reminders for my otherwise oblivious father.

I well remember being sent out on an emergency mission to buy “flowers for your Mother’s Wedding Anniversary”.

Fortunately she thought it was funny – and she always loved the flowers. That stinging smell of daffodils always reminds me of her laughing. 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

Reader Chemistry

first person narrative chemistryEver since I blogged about what a reader may take against in 1st person narrative, I’ve found the idea of reader chemistry nagging away at me.  Why are some words so loaded for one person, and totally neutral for another?

But I never meant to blog about it so quickly.

But then, as some of you will know, I was struck down by a monster virus. I couldn’t stop shivering. Or coughing.

reading with catI went from bed to fireside and back again, accompanied by regularly refreshed hot water bottles and The Companion Cat.

I had absolutely no physical energy. All I wanted to do was read. But I was quite likely to fall asleep in the middle of a page.

And I’d become very, VERY picky about the books I was willing to pick up. And not at all in the usual way. WHY? 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

First Person Narrative and Reader Resistance

The first thing my agent ever said to me was, “Readers hate first person narrative.” I had sent her a thrilling escape-from-the-bad-guys romantic suspense set in Greece under the Colonels. And, yes, it was told in the first person.

Still she’d read the thing. And then taken me to lunch.

So I nodded politely and murmured that it seemed to have worked all right for Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, P G Wodehouse and Mary Stewart.

“Yes, but they’re great,” she said impatiently.

I couldn’t deny it.

“What you need to do is forget all this ‘I think, I feel’ stuff. Readers won’t buy it. Concentrate on what people DO.” 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

Story Inspiration – Where Do Stories Come From?

This week I have been asking myself: where do I find story inspiration? It’s never been a problem for me. Stories are always queueing up. But I don’t really know how they get into the line in the first place.

Where do Stories Come from RoNA trophyMaybe this is partly because I’m in final edit mode at the moment. I have to admit to a chronic state of excitement, terror and permanent why-on-earth-did-I-think-I-could-write-this-story?-itis.

But no, it isn’t just displacement activity. Honest. It’s That Time of Year. The Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the Year short list is out. 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

Must You Murder Your Darlings?

Readers - murder your darlingsThis isn’t the first time that the Libertà Hive has pondered the advice to writers to “murder your darlings.”

Indeed, Joanna got seriously confessional about doing exactly that a few months ago. Actually, in her case, it wasn’t so much wilful murder as a contract killing. Editors can be ruthless.

WHO WANTS YOU TO MURDER YOUR DARLINGS?

Stephen King On writing, kill your darlingsWell, Stephen King does a pretty good job of it in his On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” He was following William Faulkner. But even Faulkner wasn’t the originator.

It turns out to be Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch — that’s the Victorian Arthur Double-Barrelled who was NOT the author of Sherlock Holmes. He did write novels, lots of ’em, signing himself “Q”. But I’ve never read one. (Hmm. Maybe this year?)

But he was also a serious critic and anthologist. And from 1912 to his death in 1944 he was the King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge. I’ve always thought that he pretty much invented Lit Crit, in fact. Continue reading