Romantic Novelists in Wodehouse and Christie

resolution by letterA couple of weeks ago I gave a talk about romantic novelists in fiction and how they compared with the real thing. To be more precise, it was PG Wodehouse’s romantic novelists. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I have blogged about them before. (I am a huge fan of Rosie M Banks, before you ask.)

Two interesting things emerged from my researches. First, while PGW exaggerated some aspects for comic effect, in general he was pretty respectful of their work ethic – and success!

The second was – those exaggerations. I assumed they had sprung, new-minted, from the Master’s imagination. But just a bit of digging found that PGW had sources on which he might well have modelled even the most egregious. Glug. Continue reading

Pheasants are for more than game casserole

cock pheasantPheasants can be fun for stories. So… once upon a time, there was a cock pheasant. And “once upon a time” is not in the past. He’s still around.

He lives in my garden. Most of the time, that is. Sometimes, he goes on a foray next door, in hopes of convincing the neighbours that no one feeds him — no one ever! —  and he is a poor, starved creature. It works, too, according to the neighbours.

He is a handsome bird with shimmering gold and rust-brown feathers, a very long elegant tail and a wide white ruff round his neck. (Louise Allen, friend of Libertà, tells us that the bigger the white neck-ruff, the more testosterone in the, ahem, cock.)

cock pheasant close-upThis cock pheasant certainly fancies himself. He thinks he owns all he surveys. King of the World, in fact. And he tries to see off any other cock pheasant who dares to set foot on his patch. He barks — a sound like a strangulated cock crow — and rouses his feathers to show his importance and warn off rivals. He is a large chap with a small head and an even smaller, pea-sized brain. If he were human, I’d say he was “all mouth and (no) trousers”.

I’ve named him Boris. Continue reading

Mousetrap, Superman and Posterity

This blog contains two main stories – what The Mousetrap did to Hamlet and how Superman distorted an Edwardian hero. For me, anyway.

For some weeks now I’ve been engaged in editing a book that I have re-visited over several years. It has made me think about references which may shift with time.

Something that seemed set in stone in 2008 may have become seriously misleading in 2021. Even downright counter-productive. As, I hope, my two stories will show.

Hamlet’s Dilemma

I love Shakespeare. I saw my first Hamlet when I was fourteen and I have seen it countless times since. There’s usually something new to discover and always special moments of power that stop me dead in my tracks. These depend on the production, of course. But generally one of them is the play within a play in Act 3 Scene 2.

Murdoch's Tower at Caerlaverock Castle ScotlandHamlet is obsessing about his mother’s remarriage. His father, the King, died only four months ago and Hamlet suspects his uncle of murdering him. Not only has the Queen married him, Uncle is now King. Hamlet started with a vague suspicion, but then he encounters his father’s ghost walking the battlements. He confirms it. Continue reading

The Garden in Fiction…

The secret garden…

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

I imagine, for most of us, our first encounter with a garden in fiction will be Frances Hodgson Burnett’s wonderful book, The Secret Garden. The garden, locked away by a grieving man, is where Mary Lennox, with the help of a friendly robin, and two new friends, discovers a hidden world full of magic and life that transforms all their lives.

“The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place. The few books she had read and liked had been fairy-story books, and she had read of secret gardens in some of the stories. Sometimes people went to sleep in them for a hundred years, which she had thought must be rather stupid. She had no intention of going to sleep, and, in fact, she was becoming wider awake every day which passed at Misselthwaite.”

Much has been made during the last couple of years of the healing power of nature. That is what Mary’s secret garden does, for her, for her sickly cousin and for her grieving uncle.

The garden as paradise

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Regency food and characters

fabulous hotel foodRegency food is really interesting and characters’ preferences tell us a lot about them. Their preferences for drink do too, as I tried to show in my earlier blog about what characters (Regency and modern) drank.

But this week, I’m blogging about food in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Sometimes, food in glamorous surroundings, too…

Where Regency food came from…? Meat, fish, game

Mr Darcy and Lizzie Bennet at the danceThere isn’t much detail of food and drink in Pride and Prejudice, but Mrs Bennet does mention preparations being made for dinners to fête Mr Bingley’s return to Netherfield.

“Mrs Nicholls…was going to the butcher’s, she told me, on purpose to order in some meat on Wednesday, and she had got three couple of ducks, just fit to be killed.”

That shows that meat wasn’t instantly available from a butcher’s as it is now. And a hostess knew and accepted that providing meat entailed killing animals. Continue reading

How Long is a Novel?

Image by Hassan Nawaz from Pixabay

How long is a novel? I am at that stage in my current ms where I am starting to worry about novel length. A lot.

This is a story that has deepened and matured over time. The first draft umpty-um years ago was just over 100K words. Which I knew was too long for what it delivered. But is that still true?

I think it’s grown in complexity. But is it really delivering more, or is that just vainglorious fantasy because I’ve been working on it so long? AAARGH.

So I’ve been digging a bit to see what I can discover about novel length across time and genres.

Novel Length – in the Beginning

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Red Boots and Bow Tie (or RNA Awards Ceremony)

Hello again. I’m back about the RNA Awards…

Recently I was here with Louise Allen, chatting about how it felt like to be shortlisted for the RNA Awards. Now the Awards are over, and I’m back to tell you all about it.

RNA Awards invitation

Romanceland has been buzzing about the RNA Awards

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Drink and characters, Regency and modern

Modern Drink (well, modernish)

Vodka Martini drink for James BondDrink can tell us a lot about characters in the books we read. This image shows a martini, with olives.

Remind you of anyone?

For me, it’s James Bond and his famous vodka martini, shaken not stirred.

Bond drinks booze

Bond drinks a lot. He’s never seen to be the worse for wear, though.
Interesting, don’t you think?

In fact, his martini recipe (in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale) is quite something and not mainly vodka, either: 3 measures of Gordon’s gin, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, shaken till very cold and served with a long strip of lemon peel (rather than olives). He does say he only ever has one. Just as well, I’d say 😉 That’s most of a man’s weekly alcohol allowance right there in one glass. Continue reading

The RNA Awards Finalists are announced…

It’s that Awards time of year again –

The Romantic Novelist Association has released its shortlist for the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards and I am delighted to be amongst the finalists, along with fellow author and long time friend, Louise Allen.

Louise Allen shortlisted for RNA Awards Sarah Mallory shortlisted for RNA Awards

Earlier I caught up Louise for a natter and I thought you might like to listen in….

SM It came as a most delightful shock to me when I discovered I had been nominated for the RNA Awards this year. To be honest, I have been so involved in my latest book that I had forgotten all about submitting Cinderella and the Scarred Viscount. How did you feel when you heard the news? Something like this, perhaps…?

champagne for Awards finalists

LA Stunned, to be honest! I’d forgotten too, having agreed to a very tight deadline on the book I’ve just delivered. It came as a shock, but also a huge boost because I had just reached that ghastly stage with the current book when everything seemed to be wrong with it. It was such a joy to realise that sometimes I can write things people enjoy. Continue reading

Talking to Aliens

alien appearing to hand on foggy road

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Talking to aliens is not my bag. I could never write a science fiction novel because I would fall at the first hurdle. How the heck do you communicate?

I mean, I’ve tried. Two thousand words in and I was tearing my hair out trying to pick my way through that multi-dimensional minefield. (The alien was an interstellar traveller who had landed mistakenly in the upper reaches of the Thames in Oxfordshire. He was also a giant octopus.)

The sad thing is that I love science fiction. Adore the television series. See the movies several times. Read lots and lots of it. Recommend it with enthusiasm, including to people who recoil from the very idea.

A propos, try the novella The Seven Brides-to-Be of Generalissimo Vlad by Victoria Goddard. It’s a cracker.

Well, it’s on the cusp of science fiction and fantasy, I suppose. The author is best known for her epic fantasy series set in the Universe of the Nine Worlds, full of strangeness and moral challenges.

But the Generalissimo is a heck of whirl. Constructed like a fairy tale, plotted like true mystery, it has great world building, a fabulous brave and sassy narrator who makes me laugh, and a real lump-in-the-throat ending.

But in the universe of the Generalissimo everyone speaks the same language, even though they sometimes use electronic devices to disguise their voices. Nobody is actually talking to aliens.

Understanding the Reply – TV series

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