Category Archives: a writer’s life

The Romantic Novel of the Year Awards 2024

Celebrations for the RNA Awards 2024

This week, the Romantic Novelists’ Association announced their shortlists for the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards 2024

…which means I can now share the news that The Night She Met the Duke is a finalist in the Historical Romantic Novel category. Woohoo!

And it’s not just me: there are any number of familiar names amongst the finalists, this year, including Louise Allen and Kate Hardy   I am in illustrious company!

Wow. Just…wow

There I was, minding my own business one evening when my phone pinged. It was an email from the Romantic Novelists’ Association, informing me that I am a finalist in the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards 2024: Historical Romantic Novel category.

For those who might not know…

Sarah Mallory Historical Romantic Novel finalist, RNA Awards 2024

The Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) administers the Romantic Novel of the Year awards and their website says this:

“The RNA’s Romantic Novel of the Year Awards are presented annually, recognising and celebrating the very best in romantic fiction.”

Let me just say that again:

woman in bed uncorks exploding champagnerecognising and celebrating the very best in romantic fiction… What romantic novelist would not want to be included in that? Woohoo!

I confess, I was surprised. I had submitted a book last year and since Christmas I had forgotten all about it. Which is the best thing to do, really – one cannot sit there biting one’s nails.

Then it sank in.  My book – my baby – had been read, and liked, by other people. Strangers. Suddenly I wasn’t feeling like this about my work

Writer in despair

Authors spend their lives…

…making up stories and putting them out there, hoping readers will like them. You have put in all the hard work: lived, loved, laughed and suffered with your characters.

Now the story is out in the big wide world. On its own.Sarah Mallory, looking shocked

Then you find out that someone likes your book. Not only that. They think it’s good enough to go on a shortlist, a finalist for an award.

Suddenly I feel like this…

Historical Romance

The Night She Met the Duke by Sarah Mallory, Finalist for RNA Awrds 2024

Finalist for the Awards 2024

To quote from the RNA’s own website, the Historical Romantic Novel category is “for stories set in the past (pre-1980) where romance forms a substantive and crucial part of the story.” Well, there is no denying my book is full of romance, but it has its share of history, too.

Although Pru and Garrick, my main characters, are fictitious, the background to their story is based on events that were happening in London in the summer of 1814.

For a start, there was the visit of the Allied sovereigns to England in June, to celebrate the defeat of France and Napoleon’s abdication. Then there was the centenary of the Hanoverian Monarchy. And as if that wasn’t enough, Princess Charlotte was going to marry the Prince of Orange!

Well, none of that could be allowed to pass unremarked, could it? The Prince Regent decided on a party. A big one.

And nobody does parties like the Prince Regent

Regency, party

Cruikshank. Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room 1818

Prinny needed glamour; he needed glitz. With no luxurious royal residences such as Versailles or the Hermitage for his guests to enjoy, the best he could do was to evict his brothers from Cumberland House and give the place a makeover.

The great and the good of Europe arrived in Dover at the beginning of June. Just like today, people turned out to line the roads, waiting to see all these royal dignitaries as they made their way into London.

Phillips, Thomas; The Allied Sovereigns at Petworth, 24 June 1814

The crowds cheered for Blücher, hero of Waterloo. They fell in love with Tsar Alexander, regal and handsome.

There were military reviews, illuminations, balls, balloon ascensions, banquets,  soirees, a visit to Woolwich Arsenal, a trip to the races at Ascot, honours to be bestowed on Blücher at Oxford and Cambridge.

It wasn’t all plain sailing

The public loved all this, but Prinny wasn’t quite so happy. For a start, the Tsar didn’t like the accommodation in Cumberland House and decided to stay with his sister, the Duchess of Oldenburg, at the Pulteney Hotel. Not only that, but the Duchess was against Princess Charlotte’s marriage to the Prince of Orange and persuaded Charlotte to call it off. Entente Cordiale it wasn’t.

The sovereigns left England by the end of June, but the Prince Regent didn’t stop there.

Jubilee Fair 1814

Jubilee Fair 1814

On 21st July 1814, he hosted a lavish fete and ball in the grounds of Carlton House. Then a Jubilee Fair was organised to celebrate both the centenary of the Hanoverian monarchy and the 16th anniversary of the Battle of the Nile. It celebrated The Treaty of Paris as well, which was supposed to herald the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Such a busy summer!

Yes, there was a wealth of material to choose from. However my characters have their own story and I needed to concentrate on their romance.

Tsar Alexander by Gerard

Tsar Alexander, by François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the parties I used for Pru and Garrick was the White’s Club Ball, at Burlington House on 20th June. Over two thousand people sat down to supper and the triumph of the evening was that Tsar Alexander joined in the dancing. Then, in July, they attended the Carlton House Fete, another lavish affair. If you want to know more about these sumptuous events, there are brilliant descriptions on the Regency Dances website.

There were so many events that summer that it was impossible to include them all, although I will just mention one more. The Jubilee Fair provides the backdrop for some of the most exciting scenes in the story, involving villainous abductors and heroic rescues. However, there just wasn’t space to mention everything that was going on. Which brings me to a serious point:

How much history is too much?

blue question marksA big question!

When I was a new author with a passion for the historical romantic novel, I became aware of the dreaded information dump — putting in too many facts to the detriment of the narrative.  I am writing romance, and much as I love the history, it is the tapestry into which I weave my characters’ stories.

I shall leave it there

The RNA’s judges think The Night She Met the Duke good enough to be a finalist in their awards 2024 and I am very happy about that. I know these things are subjective. We don’t all like the same thing, thankfully. My own reading tastes can change depending on the mood I am in. For now, it is enough that someone liked it.

Sarah

Sarah Mallory research

Spring means Yellow Daffodils. Or does it?

Daffodils in Liz's gardenOn Friday 5th April, driving to Monmouth for a Society of Authors’ meeting, I was ambushed by yellow daffodils. Everywhere. But then, Monmouth IS in Wales and the daffodil is the flower of Wales.

However, the ones shown right were in Liz’s garden. Thank you for the pic, Liz. They’re lovely.

As you drive down the A40 dual carriageway from Ross-on-Wye to Monmouth, there are daffodils, thousands of them, on the verges. In places, the central reservation is both wide and steep—we are blessed (?) with loads of hills round here—and even those vast banks are covered in yellow daffodils.

Be quick if you want to see them, though.
They’re starting to go over, especially where they’re in full sun.
Sun? Wot’s sun, I hear you cry? We only have rain 🙁 True. More on that later.

Yellow and only yellow?

creamy double daffodilsYes, I also know the flowers aren’t always yellow. Indeed, I have creamy-coloured ones in my kitchen at the moment, as you can see (right).

But most of the daffodils on the roadsides round here are the standard yellow—bright, intense, uplifting. Sadly, the best displays are on roads like the A40 where it’s not possible to stop to take photographs so you’ll have to take my word for it. However, this image of Llancloudy, a local village lined with daffodils from end to end, shows you what it’s like. Gorgeous, isn’t it? (The sun was kind enough to shine for this pic. Clearly not taken this year.)

roadside daffodils Llancloudy Wales

Llancloudy: nearly in Wales allenpaul1000 stock.adobe.com

Yellow, the colour of sunshine, always seem so cheering, doesn’t it? I love seeing the daffodils, especially where they’re set against that wonderfully fresh spring green as the trees begin to come into leaf. All clean, bright, new. Lifts the heart. Can also inspire the writing soul.

Does it have to be yellow, though?

There is a lot of yellow about, true. But there’s a lot of white, as well. Wild cherries are blooming. I took this close-up in my own garden a few years ago, but it looks much the same now.
Or it would, if the sun were shining. Sighing, again, at that.cherry blossom Spring coloursMany of the white-blossomed trees and shrubs aren’t native, of course. Like this amelanchier in my garden. The picture was taken against a blue sky but it didn’t last. Yes, it soon came on to rain. Again!amelanchier in blossomSo here’s a close-up of the gorgeous amelanchier blossom, from a previous year!

amelanchier canadensis blossom in springWhite can shade into pink, of course. This is my neighbour’s huge magnolia against a background of bare branches (and another grey sky).

And I do have pink in my own garden, in spite of the rain. This is a picture I took of my pink camellia back in January. It’s still flowering now, in the first week of April. Not a lot of blooms, but a few. I love it for that.pink camellia January 2024However, the single pink flowers are totally outgunned by the stunning double red camellia next to it. I think it’s camellia x williamsii “Les Jury” but I can’t quite remember. Its flowering season is much shorter—one month, rather than three—but you definitely can’t miss it. Like those yellow daffodils, it zings.

     

So clearly, I’m wrong to be saying yellow is the colour of spring.
Or am I?

A lot of native colour is yellow…

table for tea in gardenIt’s cheating, I’d say, to use the pinks and reds I’ve shown above. They’re not native. The magnolia comes from Asia. The amelanchier is from North America. And the beautiful camellia is also from Asia. Such a wonderful plant, especially as it produces tea, from camellia sinensis. Where would we Brits be without that?

vase of tulips, yellow, flame, purpleHowever, I’ve missed out tulips, originally native to southern Europe, among other places.

This gorgeous bunch, mostly yellow 😉 I have to say, were a gift that graced my kitchen for quite a while. I dare say we all know the tales of the Dutch tulip mania of the 17th century when prices reached astronomical levels for single bulbs.

They’re much more reasonable nowadays, thankfully, so it’s easy to raise a cheerful pot of them. Or a garden full?

More yellow but not daffodils…

As I drove home from Monmouth, I realised that there’s more to a yellow spring than daffodils.

For a start, where the verges didn’t have daffodils, they had dandelions. They’re weeds to some, but a salad crop to others. (Beware not to consume too much. The French don’t call it piss-en-lit for nothing.)

In my own village, we have bright yellow marsh marigolds. Loads of them. This is one of our single-track roads, lined with them. Since in quantity they cause gastric problems, animals don’t eat them and they thrive to delight us from year to year. A great plus.

On the minus side, I’m sure you’ll note the standing water on the road. And you may not be surprised to learn that the puddles conceal potholes.

Yes, we’ve had vast amounts of rain this winter. One of our local roads has been closed because of flooding. First time that’s happened since we came here over 20 years ago. So it’s pretty bad.

I’ll finish with more of my cheery marigolds.

I love this image because it’s tantalising. What’s up that footpath? Doesn’t it look inviting? A writer could easily manufacture a twisty tale about what happens at the end of it.

I’ll leave you with that uplifting thought, rather than the reality which is, I’m sorry to say, mud and brambles.

While the wind and rain closes in again, we’re better off with our inner fantasies, don’t you think? Especially as, this weekend, we have scary Storm Kathleen to contend with.

I hope very much that everyone keeps safe and your lights stay on.

Joanna Maitland author

Joanna

PS I couldn’t resist including this pic, taken yesterday (Friday) in Monmouth itself. Not yellow. Not daffodils, either. It’s one of the many, many trees in this part of the world that are host to mistletoe. I’d add that, in spite of what’s said in Asterix, I’ve never seen mistletoe on a oak tree in my part of the world. France is clearly different…?mistletoe on a Monmouth tree

Lord Byron : what I didn’t know about the man

A few years back I took part in an event at this venue –

Rochdale Town Hall 1909

Okay, not quite that long, perhaps. This is a postcard of Rochdale Town Hall from 1909 and I was there in 2012. However the building is still as impressive as it was at the turn of the 20th century. It has recently undergone a massive restoration project and is well worth a visit, if you are ever in the area.

So why was I there?

I was taking part in a celebration for this man on his 224th birthday.

Lord Byron

It’s Byron. Of course. He was 6th Baron Byron of Rochdale, in case you were wondering about the connection. Continue reading

Clothes and character : does fashion matter?

Blogging Inspiration and Regency clothes

AI generated picture of three cats dressed in historical costume.

AI generated image by GrumpyBeere at Pixabay

Joanna recently blogged about blogging, and where we could find inspiration. All very helpful but I envy the fact that, as an historical novelist, she has photographs to share from costume exhibits at the museums she has visited.

Lovely dresses, shoes, uniforms as well as what her characters wore beneath them. So much fascinating detail to write about.

Regency fashion is such an important part of the pleasure in reading books set in an era when clothes and character are inextricably linked.

As someone who has always written contemporary novels – and with a very low personal fashion threshold – I tend to find dressing my characters a bit of a challenge. Continue reading

For the love of owls : Sophie Weston reprise

owls,. Little owlDear Readers: Sophie is currently hors de combat with a broken arm so we’re republishing one of her inspiring nature blogs: this one is about owls (from 2019). Enjoy.

First you should know: I love owls. When I was at college, I lived for a time in a cottage opposite a field. We had a visiting Little Owl. I first encountered it when I came home at dusk to find Something sitting on the stone wall that surrounded our garden. I thought a child had dropped a stuffed toy and I reached to retrieve it. Until it OPENED ITS EYES.

It was a Little Owl. And they are really small, as you see. 1.5 bricks tall, max. But the message was direct, unmistakeable and compelling: DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.

I’ve been a huge fan of owls ever since. Continue reading

Divided by a common language? Britspeak vs USspeak

divided by a common language, half and half apple“Divided by a common language” was, I thought, something that Churchill (more from him below) said in relation to the UK and the USA. Checking, I found I was wrong. It was George Bernard Shaw, echoing Oscar Wilde. Never mind who said it. This week, I’ve been finding out how right it is.

It happened like this…

I had submitted a contemporary urban fantasy novel to a New York publisher. The editor came back asking for the full MS. (Cheering in Maitland Manor, natch.) But this publisher specifically asked that all submissions be in US spelling. That made me think.

question markWhat if the US editor doesn’t understand my Brit language? After all, my MS had pavements and lifts instead of sidewalks and elevators. I decided I’d go through the MS and change all the offending words and phrases from British English (BrE) to American (AmE). Wouldn’t take long, I thought.

Er, no. Continue reading

Bristol research: Cricket, Cary Grant, Banksy…and Dracula?

It’s not often Cricket, Cary Grant and Dracula come up in the same conversation. Oh, and Banksy. But they do here, following my Bristol research trip.

Why Bristol research?

Bristol research curved terrace

Why not? It’s my home town so a research trip really appealed! It’s the city where I spent the first decades of my life. I am currently writing a book, set in the Regency, with scenes around the docks and in what was then South Gloucestershire, now just outside the city centre…

But more about the book at a later date

For today’s blog, I want to share with you my delight in a Bristol research trip where I discovered an area of the city that I only knew by name. Montpelier. Continue reading

Women’s Fiction Festival 2023

I promised so many people I would report back on this inaugural festival of Women’s Fiction. My apologies for not doing it sooner, but here we go:

The first  Womens Fiction Festival was held over two days in early October.  It was a celebration of popular women’s fiction and the line up of authors was very impressive. This was women’s fiction in many of its forms – historical, feel-good and rom-com, to name a few.

The weather decided to do its worst. Rain disrupted trains and flooded roads that  weekend, but it didn’t deter a great many  women’s fiction fans from making their way to Morningside. They turned up in force to listen, learn and enjoy the varied programme put together by the organisers.

Edinburgh

Scotland’s capital city was impressive, too, despite the rain. Continue reading

Why romance writers turn to crime…

Changing genre to crime

Cover of Murder Among the Roses by Liz FieldingSince I made the major step to turn to crime writing (with just a touch of romance) I’ve noticed how many other romance authors have decided to turn to crime.

In my case, the story that became Murder Among the Roses (which is out in audio later this month) had been at the back of my mind for years. I had written a few thousand words, but had never had time to take a serious look at it. But it never let go. It was always there, a little voice nagging at me to get on with it.

It was lockdown, combined with the end of a publishing contract that did it. I realised that if I didn’t write it then, I never would. That gave me the push to take six months away from romance and go for it.

Crime needs more Characters

Cover of Murder Under the MistletoeIt was a sharp learning curve. Writing crime is a lot more complex than romance, no matter how many twists and turns it takes to get to the happy ending.

You need a lot more characters for one thing or, as I quickly discovered, the murderer is going to be obvious from about chapter two!

And some advice to anyone thinking of starting a series. You need to keep a very clear bible of who they all are, as they appear, and all the places you mention.

But, with the publication of the second of my Maybridge Murder Mysteries – Murder Under the Mistletoe – this week, I decided to ask a few other authors why they had been drawn to the crime genre. Continue reading

The joy of lists for writers (and for normal people too)

The to-do list

lists of listsThis weekend, with the revisions for my second crime novel on my editor’s desk rather than on mine, I spent the weekend working through lists: essentially my “to do list”, catching up on housework, the ironing and reading a “treat” book.

They were on my mental list of things to do and, mentally, I ticked them off.

One of the things I did, once the heavy lifting was done, was sit down with a cup of tea. The radio was on – I love the radio – and Weekend Woman’s Hour was playing.

shopping list

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Lucy Ireland Gray was talking about the 200 discarded shopping lists that she’d collected from shopping trolleys (we’ve all seen those) and picked up from the ground. They went on display at the Museum of London Brands, in Notting Hill. 

One of her friends was horrified that one of the lists might be hers. Not so much worried that her shopping list would betray her inner secrets, but that it would out her as a litter lout. 

Why do we make lists?

Continue reading