Tag Archives: historical romance

Cakes, Crooks and Fallen Women. Controlling Characters?

So. It is Almost Out (just like one of Heyer’s hopeful young ladies of the Regency). The Highborn Housekeeper. My book about a noblewoman turned cook. A kind of Regency Nigella.
And funnily enough, my heroine resembles her, too. In my head.

Picture by Brian Minkoff-London Pixels

Controlling Fallen Women?The Ton's Most Notorious Rake by Sarah Mallory

A few years ago I wrote about the fallen women of Compton Parva. (That was my working title. It was published by Harlequin/Mills & Boon as The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake.)

One of the “fallen women” was Nancy, the big-hearted, big-bosomed earl’s daughter who was the mother hen of the group, looking after everyone.

Controlling Nancy? She was far too large a personality to be confined to a bit part in one book.
I fought it, I truly did, but no. She would NOT lie down.

She persuaded me to let her have a role in Beauty and the Brooding Lord, where she masquerades as the widow of a rich tradesman to help bring down a villain…

Gillray's Lyoness, controlling her impossible?

Beauty and the Brooding Lord by Sarah Mallory

possibly NOT quite like Gillray’s “Lyoness!” (shown right)

A BIG mistake.

Having taken an inch, Nancy wanted a mile!

Or, in this case, her own book.


controlling characters? author at computer in despairControlling characters — a trial for authors

What is it with the characters we create?

Mary Shelley knew a thing or two, when she wrote Frankenstein. He puts together a creature that he cannot control.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. 1922 Cornhill Publishing Company

And so it is with authors everywhere. Even after we are long gone. Just think of all the fandom sequels that have been written, featuring Jane Austen’s characters. They will just not give in.

woodpecker on tree trunk

We authors think we dream up the character, but do we, really?

Perhaps they are already there, waiting for us to let them into our consciousness, and then they stay there, banging on the inside of our skulls like a woodpecker…

…until we let them fulfil their potential.

And are they grateful for all our hard work?

The English Housekeeper, by Elizabeth Raffald, 1769Controlling Cooks and Crooks?

Take Nancy, for instance. She is a jolly good cook.

But who was it spent hours poring over 18th cookbooks, reading Elizabeth Raffald’s “The English Housekeeper”, published first in 1769 and containing such gems as how to dress and make a sauce for a cod’s head, how to souse pigs ears and feet?
Even how to fricassee ox palates, should you have a couple you don’t know what to do with.

Not Nancy, but yours truly. Hmmph.

Maria Felice Tibaldi. Dinner at the House of the Pharisee

Maria Felice Tibaldi. Dinner at the House of the Pharisee

Not that these delicacies ended up in the book. Keeping the modern reader in mind, Nancy prepared much simpler dishes such as pork ragout, brisket and stewed mushrooms.  And, channelling a certain “Mr K”, she does make exceedingly good Bath cakes (a type of breakfast roll, served fresh and warm from the oven. FYI)

Then there is her soulmate, Lord Gabriel Ravenshaw. Nancy’s equal in birth — not that she would have worried about that — and intelligence — much more important to our Nancy! Amongst his many skills he is an expert lockpicker.

Lockpicking Tools, courtesy of Chris Mitchell

Lockpicking Tools, courtesy of Chris Mitchell

Now that’s all very well for Gabriel, but as the author, I feel I need to know something about it.

Cary GrantSo it’s off to the internet, trolling through websites for information on eighteenth century locks and ways to pick them. (I sometimes think,  if MI5 really are screening everyone’s online searches, then authors must be constantly popping up as prime suspects for any number of varied and nefarious crimes.)

Not that Gabriel is a criminal, you understand. Oh no. He is on the right side of the law, but he needs to know these things. He is a Good Guy.

Like Cary Grant. Trust me.

Out of control heroine?

The Wicked Baron, by Sarah Mallory

Still one of my favourite covers!

In an even earlier book, The Wicked Baron, there is Carlotta, the heroine.

Carlotta is the  daughter of an Italian artist. She’s capable of taking over from her father to paint the ceiling frescos of the hero’s grand mansion (as you do).


For someone who barely knows her Rubens from a Rubik’s Cube and who thought Raphael was a ninja turtle, this was a vast learning curve!

[Do I really need to explain?]

Raphael the artist

Ninja Turtles








Suddenly, I was studying fresco technique, (virtually) grinding pigments and mixing colours. And learning about Italian snails (don’t ask). Not to mention experimenting with a ballet shoe to see if it really was possible to drink champagne from a lady’s satin slipper (messy).

That last piece of research was on behalf of my hero, you understand.
Not my idea at all.

Not the author’s fault…honest

So please, dear Reader, when you next wonder why a book takes an unexpected direction, don’t blame the author. It’s the characters. Sometimes they just get away…

La Dolce Vita, Mastroianni and Ekberg

Me: “No. No! Move away. You are not meant for one another!”

Author Sarah Mallory Honestly, it’s like herding cats!

Yours, in frustration,


The Highborn Housekeeper is published on 27th June and available to preorder now.

Perfecting the Practice of Procrastination

Procrastination? Oh look, there’s a squirrel!

a cute squirrel is an excuse for procrastination

Hi, Sarah here. If you think writing is easy, think again!

Yes, an author might have a burst of creativity, ideas may come thick and fast, but translating those scenes in one’s head into a publishable book can be tortuous. Sometimes anything seems a better option than actually putting words on the page.

Recently, Liz Fielding and I sat down to discuss the problem of procrastination. Then we were distracted!

So — yesterday we finally sat down to discuss it!

Procrastination is the thief of time

Liz:  Ah, the P word, Sarah. What can I say?  When the words are slow to come, there is always the lure of Pinterest… Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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