Tag Archives: historical romance

Strongholds, Sea, Sand. And Swordmakers

Sarah opens up on the tortuous route of the author’s imagination…towards swordmakers


Every author needs it. Something that sparks the imagination and begins the tortuous route that leads to a full novel. It might take months, or even years, but we all have to start somewhere.

For every book.

This is the story of one such route to inspiration

It started with a castle. This castle to be exact. Dunstanburgh, standing proud on a windy, sea-battered promontory on the Northumberland coast.

Dunstanburgh Castle and rolling waves

Northumberland is thick with castles and one autumn, years ago, I went on a castle hunting holiday. I  had seen Alnwick, Bambrugh, Warkworth, several pele towers and one or two hill forts, but it was Dunstanburgh that caught my heart and my imagination.

Dunstanburgh Castle, sea and sand

We started from Embleton and walked the long, sandy beach with the white-crested breakers rolling in.

Sea, sand, scope for galloping hero

Imagine hero, booted and spurred, galloping…

It was cold as only the coast can be, but warm coats, sunshine and the enticing ruins ahead kept us going. I was already imagining my hero galloping across the sand.

John of Gaunt Attr. de Kock (1495-1552)

John of Gaunt
Attr. de Kock (1495-1552)




Having read the history, I knew the castle had been built by Thomas of Lancaster in the early 14th century on the site of an iron age fort. It was improved at the end of the century by John of Gaunt.

A route to inspiration for poets and painters…

The castle changed hands several times during the Wars of the Roses, but the sieges it had undergone left their mark and by the 16th century it was already a ruin. It was owned by the Grey family and became popular as a romantic ruin in the 18th century, painted by Thomas Girton and J.M.W. Turner.

It also inspired a poem by Matthew Lewis (author of the notorious gothic novel, The Monk), called Sir Guy the Seeker.ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle from the land side

Raised high on a mound that castle frowned
In ruined pagean-trie;
And where to the north did rocks jut forth,
In towers hung o’er the sea.

Proud they stood, and darkened the flood
For the cliffs were so rugged and steep,
Had a plummet been dropt from their summit, unstopped
That plummet had reached the deep.

Dunstanburgh Castle's sheer drop to the sea

The drop to the sea

Route to inspiration continues…

Gatehouse of Dunstanburgh CastleWe left the beach and cut inland around the base of the castle to enter by what was left of the gatehouse. Still pretty impressive, I think.

Now all this medieval majesty could have inspired me to write a novel of knights and maidens in distress, but my thoughts were turning more to my favoured period, the 18th century.

view from battlements of Dunstanburgh

I spy strangers approaching the gates!



As we walked around what is left of the castle, I could imagine a party of riders riding up to the approach, and guards watching from the battlements.

interior of Dunstanburgh

A little DIY and it would be as good as new!



In my mind I rebuilt the castle into a stronghold for my villain, making use of the existing stone building and of course adding wooden ones into the bailey for minions, etc.

Melinda Hammond sits in window of Dunstanburgh

I also found a window from which my embattled heroine might look out for her hero — not a knight in shining armour, but a Georgian gentleman complete with tricorne hat and a sword at his side!

But here my imagination stopped. I enjoyed wandering around the castle, mentally repairing walls, building stables, checking out the towers and generally setting the scene but the story was not yet written. In fact I had no idea what the actual story was going to be.silhouette of 18th century unknown hero

And I had no hero. Who was he, what was he?

That had to wait until my next visit.

The following spring, we visited a quiet, leafy little spot in County Durham. Shotley Bridge is a small village beside the River Derwent.

Shotley Bridge, home of 17th century swordmakers

Shotley Bridge


River DerwentIn the 17th century a group of swordmakers left Solingen in Germany, to avoid religious persecution, and settled there. The area had good quality ironstone and a wonderful source of water. (The Derwent provides very soft water, good for tempering steel.)

18th and 19th century swords

18th & 19th century swords

Very soon these swordmakers were making the highest quality swords, rivalling both Toledo and Damascus steel. By the time of the Napoleonic Wars, their swords were much sought after.

This was the site of one of the earlier factories for steel making but unfortunately, after the industrial revolution they could not compete with Sheffield. The sword works closed in 1840.

Late 18th century cavalry sword (officer)

Late 18th century cavalry sword (officer)



The very last of the swordmakers of Shotley Bridge, Joseph Otley, died in 1896, aged 90.

Apparently the last of the Shotley Bridge steel companies was eventually taken over by the famous makers of Wilkinson Sword.

My hero…

He would be a  man from a sword-making family. He would be taking a consignment of swords to a stronghold in the north of England, a castle held by an opponent of the king (a nod back to the original builder of Dunstanburgh).

Tricorne hate on anonymous face

My hero…

Aaagh — what does he look like?

Well, he’s tall and good-looking (naturally) with very fair hair and blue eyes (the Shotley Bridge swordmakers had those German origins). I leave the rest to the reader’s imagination!

Successful writer has storySo — NOW I had my story!

Well… the bare bones of it. I had real life places for my setting, although I fictionalized them so I could add/remove or rebuild as required.

I threw in a goodly measure of romance (of course) and an added pinch of Jacobite rebellion. It was complete!

All apart from the actual sitting down and writing it, of course.

Snoopy the writer typing

Now, many hours of typing later, the story is written and published as The Bladesmith.

cover of The Bladesmith by Melinda Hammond

So that’s one story put to bed. Now searching for the next one….

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory seeks inspiration

Sarah (aka Melinda Hammond)

Georgette Heyer Study Day

Georgette HeyerThis week I spent a day with Georgette Heyer. Billed as The Nonesuch Conference, this was at a hybrid gathering at London University, offering a selection of papers from accredited academics together with reader/writer participation from people labelled in the programme as independent scholars.

Clearly, and heartwarmingly, most of the speakers I heard were also fans.

Georgette Heyer regency invitationIt was preceded by a writing workshop the day before. And there was a Regency Soirée in the evening after the conference, which sounds like a lot of fun.

Sadly, I couldn’t make either of these events. For one thing I’m still convalescent. (My energy gives out unexpectedly, so I didn’t want to push it.) For another, the programme was really full. Academics seemed to be supercharged, cheerily steaming from session to session, enthusiasm still at white heat.

When I read my notes I was astonished at the sheer volume of ideas I had noted down for further consideration. 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

Writing for a Reader – a personal journey of discovery

Writing for a ReaderWriting for a reader is how I finished my very first book. That probably sounds strange, after my heartfelt blog about writing for one’s own inner reader. But the truth is that, although I’d been writing all my life, the very first book I finished was written for a particular reader.

And the key word here is FINISHED.

My First Time Writing for a Reader

Continue reading

What Copy Editors Do and How They Save the World

Dickens and editorFor some time now, people have been asking me to write about what copy editors do and why they’re important. This is a companion piece to last year’s little trot through the origins and history of publishers’ editing: “What Editors Do”.

Why now? I have just actually been reviewing the copy editor’s changes on the text of my new book. So the mind is focused on what I did and what it felt like.

I should point out that, like my blog on editors, this is highly personal. Though I have also drawn on conversations with copy editors and a great talk, some years ago at an RNA Chapter, by jay Dixon, a trained copy editor. Continue reading

Napoleon bares his breast — a cautionary editing tale


Napoleon Bares his Breast
~ or ~
The Editor Is [almost] Always Right

Two hundred and two years ago — on 7th March 1815, to be precise — Napoleon bared his breast to (what looked like) certain death and lived to fight one more great battle. (And if you’re wondering why we didn’t do this blog two years ago, on the bicentenary, we would plead that this website was a mere twinkle in the hively eye back then.)

A cautionary tale of author and editor

Once upon a time there was an author — let’s call her Joanna — who was writing a trilogy of love stories set in 1814-15, the end of the Napoleonic Wars. (He lost, by the way.) Continue reading

Gritty Saga Research: Jean Fullerton guests

jean-fullerton-author-picTwo weeks ago, we had Katie Fforde digging in the dirt — with and without Ray Mears! — in order to write about life in the here-and-now. This week, we welcome Jean Fullerton who writes award-winning historical sagas about the not-so-very-long-ago.

It can seem worlds away from where we are now, even though some readers will have lived through the periods of Jean’s stories and experienced exactly the kind of gritty reality she describes. And if you enjoy Call the Midwife, you’ll love Jean Fullerton’s books.

Read on to find out more about the lengths an author goes to in order to get it right

Jean Fullerton, East London Author

Fullerton research 20th century nursing guide

District nurse Jean wasn’t quite like this!


I was born in East London where my family have lived since the 1820s.

I’ve written ten novels set in East London (published by Orion) and am just putting the finishing touches to my eleventh. This one is set during the Second World War, and also in East London. I’m now a full-time writer but I was a District Nurse in East London for over 25 years. These days, I live with my hero just outside London. Continue reading

Sugar tongs at dawn? Elizabeth Rolls guests

It’s useful, when researching, to be able to consult people who were there. But go back more than a century or so — to the Regency in Britain, for example — and there are no living witnesses to consult. Elizabeth Rolls authorRegency novelists — like today’s guest, Elizabeth Rolls — have to rely on other sources.

You may imagine that “other sources” means dusty history books and written materials. But there’s much more than that.

And getting to grips with the non-written stuff can present the odd challenge if the author in question lives 12,000 miles away, in Australia.

As Elizabeth Rolls does…

Elizabeth Rolls loves her research

To research or not to research?

For me, research is a must. I’ve had a book kick off in my mind over a snippet about the crossroads burial of suicides in the early 19th century. The past is very much a foreign country, but add 12 000 miles into the equation and you have a real challenge. Continue reading

Romantic Series: Guest Blog by Sarah Mallory

Sarah Mallory guest blogs on romantic series

Sarah Mallory

Today our guest blogger is multi-award-winning historical author Sarah Mallory who has more than 40 books under her belt, under various writing names including Melinda Hammond.

Although Sarah was born in the West Country, she now lives on the romantic Yorkshire moors, within a stone’s throw of Brontë country which is, she says, a constant source of inspiration. She is also inspired by history, an abiding love, and the Hive can vouch for her wide knowledge of the Regency and other periods. Get her into a corner (with a glass of something) and the discussion flows wonderfully.

At the request of the Hive, Sarah is going to tell us about her experience of writing historical romantic novels in a series. These days, it’s the received wisdom that readers want series books. So a guide from an award-winning author sounds just the ticket. Over to Sarah . . .

Romantic Series : The Infamous Arrandales

After two years and many thousands of words, I have finished the last book in The Infamous Arrandales series. The Outcast’s Redemption will be published in July. Hurrah! Continue reading

Confessions of a Country House Tour Guide: Guest Blog by Nicola Cornick

Nicola Cornick author and tour guide

Nicola Cornick, Author & Tour Guide

Today our guest blogger is bestselling historical author (and part-time tour guide) Nicola Cornick. She has wonderfully romantic origins that seem to us to be just right for the books she writes — full of the sweep of history, and with heroes to die for.

Nicola was born in Yorkshire within a stone’s throw of the moors that inspired the Brontë sisters. She grew up in a sprawling Edwardian house full of books and went to school in a converted Georgian mansion. Her grandmother nurtured her love of history as well as teaching her to play canasta and grow rhubarb. (Buzz from the hive: clearly even rhubarb can be romantic!)

Nicola has written over 30 Regency historical romances for Harlequin Books and now writes historical mystery.

Confessions of a Country House Tour Guide

Nicola’s Confessions start with a couple of tourist/tour guide exchanges…

“Did you enjoy the guided tour?” 
“Not much. I don’t really like history.”  

“What did you think of the view from the roof platform?”
 “I’ve seen better on the road into Swindon.”
Ashdown House restoration picture by tour guide

Ashdown House

Ah, the joys of being a National Trust guide at Ashdown House! Most of our visitors are absolutely fantastic — interested, engaged, out to enjoy their day and full of questions or indeed information about Ashdown House and the Craven family. Sometimes they are people with a family connection to the house or the estate, and are able to help us fill in a part of the history of the place. We learn a lot from them. Continue reading