This week I want to praise books with friends in them.
I confess, this is pure sentiment on my part. I’ve had an emotional time in which I have been hugely grateful for my friends. They sustain me. This week I’ve been on a writing retreat with several of them, and they were stars. When asked, they gave me constructive suggestions. If necessary, they took the piss out of me. We laughed lots.
And they all held out a hand when I needed that, too.
So I started thinking about friends in books. It is not a genre that bookshops recognise. But it’s a quality that always enhances a book and often endears it to the reader.
Blessed Bertie Wooster is not just a silly ass, but a chap who touches your heartstrings for exactly that reason. He sets out his stall in Right Ho, Jeeves. “Gussie and I, as I say, had rather lost touch, but all the same I was exercised about the poor fish, as I am about all my pals, close or distant, who find themselves treading upon Life’s banana skins.” Ah yes. A chap one can rely on. Definitely hero material. I knew there had to be a reason why I’ve always loved him so much. Continue reading →
This week I have been remembering the first draft of my first book. Well, the first book I actually completed.
I remember that it was written by hand, mostly while I was waiting for books to be retrieved from the stack in a very famous library.
The leather-bound tomes, the scholarly hush, the dust dancing in the sunbeams, the academics concentrating all around me…. oh, I remember them as if I’ve only just walked in from that day with my book bag stuffed with notes and my head full of my characters.
Or sometimes I wrote that first draft while I was waiting for an old friend in our favourite coffee shop.
When inspiration struck there, I sometimes scribbled the idea down on any old scrap of paper — including a cafe napkin once or twice.
I usually write Regency romances. So I have to keep an eye on developments in the market. And covers are a vital part of getting readers to pick up a book.
What prompted a modern woman to pick up a Regency romance?
If I were to generalise from the many Regency covers I’m seeing these days, I’d say that quite a lot of them look too modern. They don’t say “Regency” to me.
I’m not sure whether it’s the heavy make-up, or the hairstyles, or the clothes, or just the knowingness that 21st century models seem to display. Whatever it is, very few of the females on today’s Regency covers look (to me) anything other than a modern woman playing at being in the Regency. Continue reading →
I don’t know if I’m a particularly picky reader, but I do like a novel to have some sort of resolution. It doesn’t have to be a traditional happy ending – though, as a writer, I always end up with my characters looking forward hopefully. But that’s my quirk.
I can take bereavement, despair or the end of the world in other people’s books. Even enjoy them in a Having a Good Cry sort of way.
What I can’t be doing with, is to turn the page and find that there’s no more book. And in the last few months I’ve found that happening more and more.
Detail does matter. The Regency lady going to dinner, or going to a ball, wanted every detail of her appearance to be perfect. Especially if her aim was to attract a potential husband. (She might, of course, have been a married lady looking for a little diversion with a new lover.)
Did the gentlemen in question notice these details? Possibly they did, because most of the details on these gorgeous gowns were around two areas of the female body that drew the masculine eye — the low-cut neckline exposing much of the lady’s bosom, and the naughty ankle, glimpsed as the lady walked or danced. Continue reading →
Regency gowns are familiar to anyone who has ever watched a Jane Austen adaptation on TV or film. We expect to see ladies floating around in high-waisted dresses, probably made of fine white muslin. We expect to see large quantities of bosom on display. But from our modern perspective of mass-produced clothing and home sewing machines, we rarely think about how these supposedly simple Regency garments were made.
By female hand and eye. Every last cut and stitch.
Our guest blogger today is multi-published historical author Elizabeth Hawksley. She does more than write novels. Her plays have been performed at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, the Oxford Playhouse and the Edinburgh Festival. She is currently the UK Children’s Book Review editor for the Historical Novel Society Review and also teaches creative writing via courses, workshop and lectures.
It is not surprising that she is in demand on the platform. Many writers will remember a certain Sunday afternoon at the RNA Conference. Elizabeth recited the whole of Elinor Glyn with a perfectly straight face while her audience rolled around, aching with laughter and pleading to be given a chance to catch their breath. A real tour de force.
Today, Elizabeth is writing about emotion in the shrubbery and how it figures in the much-loved novels of Jane Austen.
Jane Austen : Emotion in the Shrubbery
In the early 19th century, every house of consequence had a shrubbery: a grassy area with shrubs, a few trees, a bench to sit on, and a winding gravel path. In essence, it was the antithesis of the formal parterres, geometrical shapes and clipped box hedges at the front of the house which proclaimed the owner’s status and control over Nature. Continue reading →
Love match weddings, achieved after much conflict and tribulation, have been a staple of popular novels ever since Pamela. These days it is a given in western society that young people make their own marital choices — in theory, every wedding should be a love match.
So it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always so, especially among the gentry and aristocracy about whom Joanna and our guest bloggers Anne Gracie, Louise Allen and Nicola Cornick write so delightfully. The grim evidence of bullying, family interests and the protection of property at all costs, is set out in historian Lawrence Stone’s masterly account of courtship, marriage and divorce in England before the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act, which reformed the law on divorce.
Yet those Georgian and Regency writers do have some historical justification for their True Love and Happy Ever After stories. And that’s all we readers need, right? It wasn’t all bad. Sometimes love triumphed in real life. Continue reading →