Category Archives: writing

It all began with a garden…

January sees the publication of my 70th book for Harlequin Mills and Boon and in the darkest days of winter, it offers the scents and colour of warm early summer days.

Redeemed by Her Midsummer Kiss

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The garden…

When a book is written and has been through the publication process, I often struggle to remember what inspired the original idea. How it got from a blank screen to the physical book that I’m holding in my hand.

Redeemed by Her Midsummer Kiss was like that.

blackberries

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I do know that I was thinking about an earlier book in which the garden had featured heavily and which I’d loved writing.

That one had started with blackberries hanging over a garden wall. It was set in a world I had begun to create more than twenty-five years (and many books) ago.

My world

dandelions

https://pixabay.com/users/mabelamber-1377835/

Back in that world – Maybridge and the villages of Upper Haughton and Longbourne – I once again started with a garden.

Not a manicured, tidy garden with perfect herbaceous borders and an immaculate lawn. This was a garden where the “lawn” was a wildflower meadow, where nettles were allowed to grow undisturbed to nurture butterflies, and dandelions were not dug up, but the flowers were made into wine.

butterfly on nettlesMy first thought was to return to the village of Upper Haughton. But I needed a river in the story that was beginning to take shape in my imagination.  Lower Haughton had a mention way back in The Bachelor’s Baby, so I set it there.

Having settled on the location, I disappeared down the rabbit hole that is  Pinterest to find a garden, and cottage, that matched my imagination. You can see the result here.

So, who would live in a house like this?

blonde woman with rose

https://pixabay.com/users/nastya_gepp-3773230/

Setting sorted, I needed my heroine. Why was she living in this extraordinary garden? Was she happy or hurting?

Silly question. Happy people, bless their hearts, do not make great stories.

Trying out names for her gave me family history. The Rose family, gardeners, travellers, innovators for generations, who always named their baby girls after their birth month flower. And so Honeysuckle Rose – raised in the cottage by her recently deceased great-aunt from the age of six and who, until a few weeks ago, had been nursing in refugee camps with an international medical charity – stepped into my garden.

This was a much-loved place, but a responsibility, too. One she didn’t feel ready to take on.

And a title?

It’s always easier to write a book when you have a title and with Honey’s name came my title. Even though I knew that my editor would never agree to it, all the while that I was writing this book, in my head it was Honey’s Garden for the Broken-Hearted. In my heart, it always will be.

And who lives next door?

man in garden

Burned out and hurting from one loss too many, Honey has retired to lick her wounds in the peace of her aunt’s garden. But there is more than one person who needs the garden’s healing touch.

Step in Honey’s reclusive neighbour, Lucien Grey, to shatter her peace.

These two people have spent years working in some of the toughest places in the world. They have both seen tragedy on an epic scale. Scarred by the experience, they have retreated behind high emotional barriers.

Lucien is struggling with PTSD. Writing about any kind of disability is fraught with danger, but I’ve witnessed the kind of panic attack he experiences and was writing from personal experience.

He doesn’t want to see anyone. It’s Honey, driven by fury, who is hammering on his door.

This is how it goes…

‘MURDERER!’

door knocker

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Lucien Grey’s first reaction to the furious pounding on his front door had been to ignore it. After a succession of village worthies, from the vicar to the chair of the parish council, had called to introduce themselves, invite him to open the summer fete, join the bridge, cricket and tennis clubs, all of which he’d politely declined, he’d found a screwdriver and removed the knocker.

And the village had finally got the message.

This, however, was not the polite knock of someone hoping to involve him in a local good cause.

The hammering was hard enough to rattle the letterbox.

Concerned that there might have been an accident in the lane, that there might be casualties, he curled his fingers into fists to stop his hands from shaking and forced himself away from his desk.

Confronted by a furious female thrusting a fistful of wilting vegetation in his face, it was too late to regret his decision, but he didn’t have to stand there and take abuse from some crazy woman.

Wearing dungarees that had seen better days, her white-blonde hair escaping from a knotted scarf and pink, overheated cheeks, she looked like someone out of a Dig for Victory poster circa 1942.

muddy boots

https://pixabay.com/users/eatonab12-21083734/

He took a step back, intending to close the door, but she had her boot on the sill faster than the thought could travel from his brain to his hand.

It was a substantial leather boot, laced with green twine and as he stared at it, a lump of dried mud broke off, shattering into dust and clouding the polished surface of the hall floor.

‘Who are you?’ he demanded. ‘What do you want?’

The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. He didn’t care who she was or what she wanted.

Too late.

She was going to tell him…

And, finally…

book with matching nailartI’ve had all kinds of fun with special occasion nails, but Covid has meant that I’ve been missing this treat.

Liz's nail art to match her new bookI did have red, glittery nails for Christmas. This week, when I went to see Charlotte, she had the UK cover of my book on her phone and was as excited as I was to make the nails match.

This is the result.

Nails to match the cover, and the wildflower meadow that appears in the book!

Liz

Liz

Sexy, seductive silk—and sexy, seductive IN silk

Silk is a fabric the delights the eye and, particularly, the sense of touch. Run your fingers over a piece of silk—smooth, luscious, sensuous. And slightly baffling, too, in the way it can be so very tough while seeming so fine and fragile. Colorful threads of Thai silk

Silk seduced me the first time I saw it. I loved the jewel-like colours that the magical fibres can take. The ones shown above will make Thai silk. Aren’t those colours sumptuous? (Which makes me think, in passing, of Sumptuary Laws and the prohibition on the wearing of materials like silk by “inferior persons”. Possibly a topic for a future blog?)

Sewing silk: joys and pitfalls

Paisley pattern silkWhen I was in my teens and early twenties, I made a lot of my own clothes. A friend who was an air stewardess offered to sell me a dress length she’d brought back from Thailand. I couldn’t resist. The silk was mostly ruby and garnet coloured, with a paisley-type pattern, with hints of sapphire and amethyst. Gorgeous. (The pattern was something like the one shown here, only much, much nicer and without the orange.)

girl in red and gold cheongsamAnd then I had to decide what to turn it into. There wasn’t really enough of it to make a long dress, but long dresses were all the rage. I determined to do it, somehow.
Eventually, I succeeded.

I made a cheongsam out of it. I did have to leave out the sleeves and reverse the nap on part of the bodice in order to have enough material. The great thing about a cheongsam is that the skirt has slits up the sides without any fullness at all. So it takes less silk than you’d imagine.

And I loved it to bits. I thought I still had that dress but I’ve been unable to find it, so, sadly, I can’t show it to you.

red chinese silk evening dressBut I do still have a vibrant red Chinese silk evening gown with pintucks down the front that had me tearing my hair out as I sewed. Never, never, try to put parallel tucks into fine, slippery Chinese silk. It might work with Thai silk, which is often thicker and easier to stitch, but really fine silk is a nightmare to sew. If you look closely [click to enlarge], you can see all those nightmarish pintucks. But I hope you’ll agree that the figured silk is both delicate and beautiful.

Selling silk

1760s mantua © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1760s mantua © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Sophie reminded me about silk this week when (courtesy of @AStitchinTime13) she tweeted a link to a Swatch Book in the collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. It dates from 1764. A salesman (a middleman) would have used it to display wares to potential customers. Each sample has a code so the salesman knows where to buy it but the customer does not. Sneaky, eh?

These silks would have been used to make extraordinary gowns such as this mantua from the 1760s. The silk is French but the V&A’s notes say it was sewn in England.

The swatch book contains hundreds of images of the silks and scrolling through them is an engrossing way to spend an hour or two. Do have a look. Having been protected from light inside the book, the colours are vibrant. You’ll find more like these gems:

Silk weaving in Lyon

Lyon was the centre of French silk-making and contains a fascinating museum, the musée des tissus, with many displays about the silk industry. It’s definitely worth a visit if you love silk.

Weaver at loom making silk brocade in Lyon, FranceJacquard machine for silk weaving 19th centuryIn the old city, weaving used traditional hand looms like the one shown left. The more automated process perfected by Jacquard used very tall looms that couldn’t be accommodated in the houses of the old city. So new houses were built on the northern hill of La Croix-Rousse with high ceilings to accommodate the new machines and their punch-card mechanisms. This illustration (from later in the 19th century) shows quite a small machine; they could be much bigger.

Apparently, Napoleon realised the potential of the Jacquard loom to help France compete against Britain’s industrialised textile industry. He and Josephine visited Lyon in April 1805. Three days later, he granted the patent for the loom to the city of Lyon. Jacquard himself didn’t lose out. He got a pension of 3,000 francs and a royalty of 50 francs on each loom sold. This print seems to commemorate Napoleon’s visit.Napoleon visits Jacquard in Lyon 1805

Silk and Lyon: and The Aikenhead Honours series

Cover of His Silken Seduction by Joanna MaitlandHis Silken Seduction new coverWhen I was writing about The Hundred Days and my brotherhood of noble spies in The Aikenhead Honours quartet, I couldn’t resist using the old city of Lyon as a setting in book 3 and, especially, book 4 which is a true Lyon love story.

The background of my first self-published cover for book 4, left, is a print of the old city. The current cover, right, shows some of the old silk quarter. This is the much longer book that is intended to provide a more complete and satisfying story than the original short novella. I loved having the opportunity to be able to write it and to give my hero and heroine a proper rounded story of their own.

My silk weavers weren’t using Jacquard looms, but the older, narrow hand looms to make their silks and velvets. Of course, the silks that my characters wove would have been different from the ornate floral patterns so common in earlier decades. replica silk evening gowns from Pride and PrejudiceStyles in the 1810s were flowing and clinging. A lot of the fabric patterns were very simple, like the ones used to make these replica ballgowns from the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (shown in the Bath Museum).

My heroines, Marguerite and Suzanne, are sisters whose father is dead and whose mother has early dementia. The sisters are valiantly trying to keep their silk business going by hiding the death of their father and doing both the weaving and the selling themselves. Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 and the return of King Louis seem to herald a new era of prosperity for their royalist family.

And then it all goes pear-shaped…
Napoleon's return from Elba 1815

Napoleon returns to France. And, worse, the sisters have spies hidden in their house.

The family’s precious silks and velvets are kept safely in a windowless room upstairs, with Marguerite’s bedroom on one side and Suzanne’s on the other. Each bedroom has a door into the silk store. By book 4, Marguerite and Jack have left for Paris and England.

Selection of Thai silkSuzanne stays behind, in charge of the business. She’s also taking care of Ben, the fourth Aikenhead Honour, who’s recovering from a bullet wound. And he’s hiding in Marguerite’s room, just through the connecting doors via the silk store. All that’s keeping Suzanne away from Ben, the man she fell in love with at first sight, is a couple of doors to which she holds the keys. She tells herself he’s too weak and ill to be a threat to her virtue, even though she’d rather like such a threat to materialise 😉

Ballerina leaps surrounded by silkYou won’t be surprised to learn that it does, though you’ll have to read the story to find out exactly how. I can tell you, though, just to whet your appetite, that the encounter takes place in the silk store and involves a great deal of draping of wonderful, sensuous fabrics. Mutual draping, too. And mutual lessons in how to be sexy and seductive IN silk.

Sadly I have only an image of an ecstatic female dancer surrounded by flying silk. Perhaps imagine Nureyev leaping across the stage in  Romeo and Juliet, trailing one of those dramatic floor-length silk cloaks? That would certainly do it for me. You?

His Silken Seduction

The ebook of His Silken Seduction is available here. And I promise it contains a great deal of sexy, sensuous silk as well as the HEA. Or, if you prefer, the whole Aikenhead Honours series is here and free on Kindle Unlimited. Enjoy!

Libertà co-founder Joanna Maitland

Joanna, silk lover (and sometime dressmaker)

Seeking the Invisible Genre

shortlist for Liberta Books shorter romantic novel award 2021Slightly to my surprise, this week I find myself in search of an allegedly invisible genre. Romantic fiction! I was a little surprised. Libertà has sponsored a Romantic Novelists’ Association prize for books in this non genre.

Of course, romantic fiction has not shown its face in the pages of so-called respectable newspapers and magazines, or even on the shelves of major bookshops, for some years now.

But I was taken aback to see a tweet two days ago from Andrew Holgate, Literary editor of The Sunday Times casting existential doubt on the genre in which I have been writing and reading for most of my life. Continue reading

Cinderella and the Birth of a Book…

December sees the publication of my latest Regency romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon. It is also the time of festive fun and pantomimes, so the Cinderella title is very apt, I think.

Cinderella and the Scarred Viscount

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Once upon a time….

Philip James de Loutherbourg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The story is set in Regency England but its origins are much further afield. Spain in fact. The whole thing starts with the Spanish Armada!

Many Spanish ships from that ill-fated expedition came to grief around the British Isles, and the are many stories of survivors “leaving their mark” on the local population in the form of dark eyed, dark haired children. My heroine, Carenza, has this dark colouring, inherited from her mother.

Of course, she isn’t the first literary character to have such a heritage. The one that springs first to my mind is Jimmy Perez in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series (not that the lovely Dougie Henshall, who plays Perez in the TV series is dark haired OR dark-eyed).

Then there are The Westray Dons

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Keeping a timeline for your book: why and how

timeline starts with "once upon a time" on typewriterWhat is a timeline? Why should you create one?

Actually, there’s no should about it. You might find it useful. You might not.

I do find it useful while I’m writing, but then I’m a pantser. If you’re a plotter or planner, you might not need it. And even if you’re a pantser, you might find it too much faff.

So, in this blog, I’m going to explain what a timeline is and the benefits I get from using one. Of course, you wouldn’t have to follow my approach. There are all sorts of permutations on a writing timeline. Once you know what’s what, you can make up your own mind, can’t you?

diverging paths, which to choose?

Image by PixxlTeufel from Pixabay

Timeline: an example

A timeline is simply a way of recording what’s happening in your book as you create it: plot, characters, timing, motivations, emotions. The lot. There are all sorts of ways of doing a timeline for your book. Continue reading

In Search of Svengali – Part One

Svengali, silent movie

Wilton Lackaye as Svengali (1905)

Looking for Svengali has been in my mind for a while now. I have a Project. (It’s medium term, no need to think I’m abandoning The Book I Need to Finish, Libertà hivies!)

When I realised that today would be Halloween, I thought  the time had come to share a little of my digging so far. After all, on Halloween the novelist’s imagination lightly turns to thoughts of spookiness. And Svengali is surely one of the most unsettling creations of any novelist.

As it happens, last year I got the Halloween brief too . It took me on a wild ride of serendipity. We went to 1938 New York, by way of my neighbours’ pumpkins and The Golden Bough.

So this year please follow me to the nineteenth century in Paris;  and London; and Australia; well all around the world really. Continue reading

In the flesh! With hugs!

hugging a tree but hugs between writers are betterSome of the Libertà hive, plus friends and supporters, have been on writing retreat this past week. In the flesh! With hugs!

And it was utterly wonderful.

Yes, I know that the image here is someone hugging a tree. We did that too, but the real joy was hugs with each other. Wine bottles may also have been hugged. Usually while still partly full.

Why Zoom can’t compete with hugs

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Space Breaking Up Text, the Reader’s Friend

Punctuation was invented to help the Reader. And the very first invention was space breaking up text — so you could tell one word from the next. Seriously.

A couple of months ago I was putting the final touches to an online course on punctuation. Not a subject to rock them in the aisles, I thought. Mind you, I love the stuff. But I have learned that, as a subject of conversation, it doesn’t generally draw children from play and old men from the chimney corner.

exclamation mark in fireSo when I was preparing the course, I thought I’d throw in a bit of history for context.

Only then, of course, I had to check online whether what I remembered was a) accurate and b) still received wisdom. And found something new to me: Aristophanes, Head Librarian of Alexandria aged sixty. He was sitting there, receiving rolls in Greek, the language of the prevailing empire.

Most people then, of course, would be illiterate. So the purpose of these scrolls was to provide a text for someone else to deliver in the market place or to perform as an entertainment.

BUT they arrived with all the letters in a continuous line. Presumably to save papyrus and possibly time, as they were being hand-copied by scribes.

So Aristophanes thought of a way of marking up copies of the text to help the Poor Bloody Orator who had to read them out loud. Continue reading

Imperfect Past of Romantic Author

fog of memoryThis week I have been contemplating the imperfect past of a romantic author, namely me.

It is imperfect in two distinct ways. First – it was often a pretty messy present at the time. Second – I’m not at all good with recalling precise details. In fact, the only bits I remember with any clarity are the stuff where I went badly WRONG.

London skyline with St Paul's dome and skyscrapers in fogExample: I’m drifting with a vague image of some day, pleasantly foggy, footsteps on wet pavement maybe. And then BAMM!! I’ve fallen over a stranger’s suitcase.

I’ve probably pushed the poor chap into the gutter, to boot. And he’s bleeding and going to miss his train and I can’t even apologise properly because he doesn’t speak enough English…

You get the picture? Wince-making, right? Continue reading

Writing your Manuscript using Word Styles: The Easy Way

oops! on key on keyboardWe’ve just passed the submission deadline for the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. And I’ve heard whispers from some readers that the MSS they are being sent to read are not as professionally prepared as they should be. That’s sad. And unnecessary, too.
Professional layout isn’t difficult. Especially with Word Styles.

Some aspiring writers, I’m sure, tell themselves that the most important thing is to get their pearls onto the page. They can sort out the niceties of formatting later. But that’s a waste of effort. It means doing stuff twice when it could be done once, Right First Time. So this blog is about how to set yourself up to get your MS Right First Time, while you’re actually creating it.

This blog is long—sorry—because I’m trying to explain every step of what you need to do. But it won’t take long to do it, and you only have to set up these Word styles once, so it’s no great chore. In fact, it’s an investment. Once you’ve created them, you can keep using them in every story you write.

Easy write, right? 😉Hello I'm a Time Saver badge

What does a writer need by way of Word Styles?

Continue reading