It’s Official!

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m now an author on the Austen Authors blog!

I’ve been reading the Austen Authors blog for years, and I’ve always enjoyed the Jane Austen inspired stories its members create. So you can imagine how “over the moon” I was when they asked me to join their roster!

My debut post appears today and you can read it here. I hope you’ll join me on the blog as we chat about royal weddings past and present. See you there!

 

 

A Much Anticipated Wedding

The final count-down has begun! In less than a week American Meghan Markle will marry Britain’s Prince Harry, and I plan to spend the day watching every possible moment of TV coverage from the comfort of my home.

Royal marriages don’t come along every day; neither do royal marriages involving a bride and groom who love each other.

The last major royal wedding was in 2011 when Catherine Middleton wed Prince William.

That may seem like a strange thing to say in our modern times, but even modern British Royals didn’t always marry for love.

When it comes to choosing a spouse, the British Royal Family has to adhere to the pesky rules contained in the Royal Marriage Act of 1772. Instituted by George III after he was angered by his own brother’s ill-judged marriage, the Act decreed that no member of the Royal Family could marry without the reigning monarch’s approval. Those who defied the law risked losing his or her place in the line of succession. The Act even criminalized officiating at or attending an unsanctioned royal wedding.

George III

It didn’t take long for the King George’s eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, to defy his father (out of habit, probably, as he defied his father in many other ways, as well). Just thirteen years after The Act became law, the Prince of Wales secretly married the object of his affection, Maria Fitzherbert, a twice-widowed Catholic.

George IV, when he was Prince of Wales

Not only did the Prince of Wales violate the Royal Marriage Act by marrying Mrs. Fitzherbert without his father’s permission, he also violated the Act of Settlement of 1701, which forbade Royal marriages to “papists.” Eventually, their marriage was ruled to be invalid and the Prince of Wales later married Caroline of Brunswick. Theirs was a loveless marriage that proved to be a disaster.

Maria Fitzherbert

History records only one other instance of a British monarch refusing to grant a family member’s petition to marry. It happened in 1946 when King George VI refused to grant a cousin, Prince George William of Hanover, permission to marry Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark. The couple married anyway.

Unofficially, Queen Elizabeth II had to withhold her permission in 1955 when her younger sister, Princess Margaret, wanted to marry divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend. After pressure from Parliament that included a threat to strip her of her income and royal privileges, Margaret ended her relationship with Captain Townsend, relieving the Queen of having to decide whether or not to approve their marriage. Princess Margaret married, instead, Anthony Snowdon; they divorced in 1978.

Captain Peter Townsend and Princess Margaret

Interestingly, in 1936, when King Edward VIII wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, the Royal Marriage Act didn’t apply to him. He was the reigning monarch, and had the ability to give himself permission to marry the twice-divorced Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson. Their love-match lasted 35 years, but it cost him the throne.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, formerly Edward VII and Wallis Warfield Simpson

In the generations since then, the Royal Family has taken great steps forward to keep up with the times. Although the rule is still in effect that prohibits Royals in line for the succession from marrying Catholics, The Royal Marriage Act was repealed in 2015.

That paved the way for this Saturday’s royal wedding, since Meghan Markle is a divorced woman.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry

Queen Elizabeth has already issued an official Instrument of Consent, which formally declares her approval in writing of their marriage.

The Instrument of Consent, signed by Queen Elizabeth

So the scene is set, the paperwork has been filed, the dress and the cake have been ordered, and the guests have been invited. All that’s left is for Meghan Markle to walk down the aisle and exchange wedding vows with her prince.

I plan to watch every moment of television coverage, from sun up to sun down. I’ll also be sharing more about royal weddings on the Austen Authors blog on Saturday so please join me!

Rules of London

I love it when I find some unexpected bit of history while researching a totally unrelated topic. That’s what happened when I was researching famous places in Regency London, and stumbled across a reference to one of London’s most famous and historic spots.

I’m talking about Rules restaurant on Maiden Lane in Covent Garden.

Rules as it appears today.

First established in 1798 as an oyster bar, Rules is still in business and holds the distinction of being the city’s oldest surviving restaurant.

Thomas Rule, who founded the place, bragged in the early 1800s that his “porter, pies, and oysters” attracted the best “rakes, dandies and superior intelligence.”

A plaque outside the restaurant tells the story of Rules’ history.

For more than two centuries since then, the very best of British society have dined, gossiped, embibed, and entertained each other within Rules’ walls—from members of the Royal Family to movie stars Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Sir Laurence Olivier.

Literary giants Charles Dickens and HG Wells dined there, too. Rules has even been used as a set for Downton Abbey and the James Bond film, “Spectre.”

A scene from Downton Abbey, shot at Rules.

Perhaps Rules is most famously known as the place where Queen Victoria’s son and heir, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) wooed the beautiful Lillie Langtry.

Lillie Langtry.

The Prince frequently smuggled Mrs Langtry up a back staircase to a private room where they could dine alone, far away from prying eyes.

A cozy corner at Rules. I love the diamond-paned windows and rich wood tones of the mouldings.

Rules’ walls are covered with mementos and souvenirs from 200 years of historical events and famous customers.

One corner of the restaurant; its walls are adorned with photos, drawings, and caricatures of famous people.

It’s a beautifully decorated restaurant; and despite its present décor that leans heavily toward the Edwardian era, I can very well imagine a Regency gentleman partaking of oysters and porter at one of Rules’ tables. Who knows? Maybe some day, Rules may make an appearance in one of my Regency romances.

You can see more photos of Rules by clicking here.

No. 10 Downing Street’s American Connection

Look what I discovered while researching Whitehall . . .

The land on which Downing Street stands was once owned by Sir George Downing. He was raised in New England (his uncle was New York’s Governor Winthrop), and he was one of the first graduates of Harvard University (Class of 1642).

Sir George Downing, 1st Baronet, by Thomas Smith

By the 1660s Downing was back in England. He was knighted in 1663; and in the 1680s he began developing land he owned in Whitehall. He created Downing Street and constructed residences “for persons of good quality to inhabit.”

In 1732 King George II gave Sir Robert Walpole the house which is now 10 Downing Street, as a perquisite for the office he held of First Lord of the Treasury. Walpole made extensive renovations, then moved into the house in 1735.

Sir Robert Walpole, who accepted the King’s gift, on behalf of the Office of the First Lord of the Treasury.

This view of Downing Street in 1827 was produced by architect John Chessell Buckler.

Not every First Lord, or Prime Minister, lived at Downing Street, but William Pitt the Younger lived there longer than any other Prime Minister. He called Downing Street home from 1783 to 1801 and again from 1804 to 1806.

William Pitt the Younger

In the early 19th Century, No. 10 Downing Street was established as the official residence of the Prime Minister. Heads of government have been passing through, and having their photographs taken, in front of the residence’s iconic entry door ever since.

I’ve not been lucky enough to have my photo taken there, since security measures keep general pedestrians (like me) a good distance from the house itself (although I do have several photographs of iron gates and accommodating security personnel who let me take as many snaps as I wanted through the iron bars). Still, I enjoyed learning about the histoiry of the Prime Minister’s residence, and it’s early connection to America through it’s original owner.

Click here to read more about the fascinating life of Sir George Downing, 1st Baronet.

Click here to read more about the history of No. 10 Downing Street.

U.S. Taxes and the Bank of England

I’m thinking about money today, because I’m getting ready to file my income tax return for 2018 (the deadline for filing is tomorrow here in the U.S.).

The Bank of England on Threadneedle Street, London. A 1788 engraving by Daniel Havell.

As I bid farewell to an admittedly small amount of money that I have to pay with my return, I was reminded (by my “On This Date” calendar) that today is the birthday of Charles Montague, first Earl of Halifax and founder of the Bank of England. He was born on this day in 1661.

The Bank of England rotunda, when it was used as a stock exchange; from a 1792 etching by Thomas Rowlandson.

My small neighborhood bank (which temporarily holds the money I’ll be paying to the IRS) is all steel and glass. It simply doesn’t have the imposing presence the Bank of England had in Regency London.

Lothbury Court, one of the Bank of England’s interior courtyards, 1801.

The images in this post show how the Bank appeared in Jane Austen’s time, although Jane was never a customer of the Bank of England. Instead, she deposited her hard-earned money at Hoare’s Bank in Fleet Street.

The rear facade of the Bank of England, known as Tivoli Corner. In 1807 the wall niches contained figurative statues.

Whenever I decide to visit my money in person, I go to my local branch, where the first thing I see on entering is wide open area, containing neat rows of desks and a line of teller windows. By contrast, here’s the Bank of England’s Doric Vestibule, as it appeared in 1803.

Interior of the Doric Vestibule, 1803.

My poor little neighborhood bank simply cannot compete with the Bank of England. The Bank’s magnificent exterior, the Great Hall, the vast Rotunda—they were all designed by architect John Sloan to portray wealth and elegance. It was an imposing building, meant to inspire trust and awe.

The Northwest corner of the Bank of England, as it appeared in 1808.

I think Mr. Sloan accomplished his purpose. Here’s a bird’s-eye-view drawing of the Bank of England after it underwent an expansion in 1810, under Mr. Sloan’s direction. After the expansion, the Bank of England covered over three acres of prime London real estate. In the drawing you can see the various courts and interior buildings contained within the Bank’s impressive outer walls.

A bird’s-eye-view drawing, showing the interior courtyards and buildings after the 1810 expansion.

It would be a treat to tour the Bank of England as John Sloan designed it. Unfortunately, the magnificent Bank of England was remodeled in 1933 by architect Sir Herbert Baker. In the remodel process, much of the original building was demolished, which, according to architectural writer Nikolaus Pevsner, was “the greatest architectural crime in the City of London, of the twentieth century.”

Despite that, I’d still like to see the Bank of England, and I hope to do so one day. Whatever it looks like now, I have a feeling its design is more inspiring than the dreary but efficient steel and glass  design of my little neighborhood bank.

New Journal Find

I’m a slow writer. I freely admit it. There are times when I envy other writers who can produce four or five (or more!) books a year, and have them all hit best-seller lists (an indication that those high-producing writers are publishing quality stories). But I’m the proverbial turtle when it comes to the writing race.

Still, I like to document my progress. I keep a journal open on my desk, and every day I write down things I do related to my writing career, like the number of new words I write each day, or the research I conduct.

Here’s the journal I kept last year when I was writing Mary and the Captain:

There’s nothing fancy about it; 300 lined pages, which gives me plenty of room to document my progress on a new page every day. Here’s an entry for a book I’m working on right now:

And yes, I use stickers to show when I’ve met a daily goal.

I’ve come to rely on stickers. They keep me focused. They motivate me. I hate having to turn a page in my journal if I haven’t first applied a sticker on it. To me those stickers validate that I’m doing my work and meeting my goals.

On average I go through two journals a year. Here’s a new one I picked up this week at my local Tuesday Morning store:

The cover has a soft, suede-y feel. I can’t wait to begin writing in it (although I think I should finish filling my current journal first).

And here’s the pen I just started using to write in my journal. It’s brand new; I picked it up as a souvenir at the theater when I saw Hamilton:

Journals and pens and stickers may not seem like very much; but combined together, they help make writing fun. They’re also my way of rewarding myself for plowing ahead, meeting my goals, and writing my book . . . no matter how slowly I do it!

 

 

Darcy’s Declaration

I always marvel over the creativity some people have in expressing Jane Austen’s beloved novels as pieces of art.

On Etsy I found these cuff-style bracelets designed around Mr. Darcy’s declaration of love to Elizabeth Bennet in which he uttered those famous words:

You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.

The first style is made of brass with the novel’s text serving as a background to Darcy’s famous words, which are overlaid in red.

The second bracelet is also in brass, but the text is set against a dark background, and Mr. Darcy’s declaration isn’t highlighted like it is in the first style.

I have to say, I like them both for different reasons. The darker one seems much more subtle, which I like; but I do love the way Darcy’s words are captured in red script in the first style.

Even after I compare them side-by-side, I still can’t decide which I like better.

     

What do you think? Which bracelet would you choose? You can click on any of the images to see more views of each style on Etsy.

7 Lessons a Favorite Movie Taught Me about Writing Romance

I’m a big believer in romance and true love’s journey. When I meet a couple for the first time, there’s nothing I like better than to ask, “So, how did you guys meet?” and “When did you know he/she was The One?”

I appreciate a good love story, whether it’s told through conversation, written in the pages of a book, or viewed on a movie screen; and one of my favorite romance stories has been made into a movie twice.

In 1939 director Leo Carey made Love Affair. This black and white film starred Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer.

Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer in a scene from the 1939 movie, Love Affair.

The plot is pretty straightforward: A man and a woman—both engaged to other people—meet on board a ship and fall in love.

There’s a lot to like about this movie, especially Irene Dunne. She’s a wonderful actress, and she makes her character extremely likable. Add to that some snappy dialogue and a handsome male lead, and you have the makings for a lovely romance.

Carey remade the movie in 1957 and gave it a new title: An Affair to Remember. This version starred Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant, and it’s one of my all-time favorite movies . . . and I’m not alone in that opinion. Women around the world (the movie’s been dubbed into several languages) love this movie because of the way it makes them feel when they watch it.

Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in a promo photo for 1957’s An Affair to Remember.

I’ve always been content to watch An Affair to Remember just for that reason–the way it makes me feel. But last week I decided to watch it with a more critical eye.

1957 Theater poster for An Affair to Remember.

As I watched, I wondered why women find this movie so romantic? And can that same magic mojo apply to plotting and writing romance novels?

I think it can. So here, without further ado, are the seven lessons An Affair to Remember taught me about writing romance:

1. Back-story is essential.

The main characters, Nickie (played by Cary Grant) and Terry (played by Deborah Kerr) have baggage. When the movie opens Nickie has no real job, but he’s world-famous for being a womanizer and a playboy. He’s also happens to be engaged to a wealthy woman who will be able to support his lavish lifestyle.

Cary Grant as Nickie Ferrante.

Terry, on the other hand, is down-to-earth and knows what it’s like to have to work for a living. She, too, is engaged; her wealthy businessman fiancé whisked her out of the working world and set her up in style in a New York penthouse. She loves him, but more than that, she feels indebted to him for changing her life.

Deborah Kerr as Terry McKay.

These character histories are the main drivers for Nickie’s and Terry’s behaviors throughout the movie.

2. A great plot needs a great subplot.

An Affair to Remember has a simple premise: A man and a woman meet aboard ship on a lengthy trans-Atlantic crossing and fall in love. But that plot line only takes up the first half of the movie.

Nickie and Terry on board the ship.

The second half of the movie deals with the difficulties our hero and heroine encounter as they try to extricate themselves from their old relationships and prepare for life with their new love.

Interestingly, the movie doesn’t have a foil or villain; Life is the villain as it throws one challenge after another at our hero and heroine in their quest to reunite by the end of the movie.

3. Characters must grow and change.

Nickie and Terry both change during the course of the movie. When the movie begins, Nickie is a bit of a jerk, although a charming one. His claim to fame is dating then dumping one wealthy woman after another. Even though he’s newly engaged to yet another heiress, he pursues Terry, letting her know he wants nothing more than a brief fling before their ship docks in New York, where his rich fiancé is waiting for him.

He’s selfish, thinking only of his own needs, giving no thought to his fiancé, as he pursues Terry. He’s simply bored, and he wants Terry to keep him entertained.

“Must you be so darn delightful?” croons Nickie in Terrys ear.

Terry has her own set of problems. She’s traveling alone because her fiancé had to take care of some business instead of sailing with her.

Terry greets her fiance when the ship docks in New York, as Nickie looks on.

As she explains this to Nickie, you see the sadness in Terry’s expression, and you get the feeling that Terry’s fiancé often chooses his business needs over hers. Terry tells Nickie:

He had to go to Texas on a big merger. He thought it’d be a good idea if I took a little trip while he consummated this big deal because I have no head for business. Silly, isn’t it? He doesn’t think I’m dumb, but he doesn’t think I’m very bright about things like that.

Terry’s relationship with her fiancé may not be very satisfying, but she’s determined to be faithful to him. She tells Nickie to take a hike and stop trying to flirt with her.

But eventually, Terry changes her mind about Nickie. She realizes she enjoys his company, and it may not be such a bad thing to spend time with him while she’s stuck on a ship in the middle of an ocean. But that doesn’t mean she’s going to let him cross her line in the sand.

That’s how the movie sets up essential questions about the main characters that drives the story forward:

Can Nickie really change? Is he really falling in love with Terry for the first time in his life; or is he just using her for that ship-board fling?

Can Terry really change? Is Terry really falling for Nickie; or is she simply lonely and in need of a little romance in her life to make up for her neglectful fiancé?

4. Dialog is a writer’s friend.

The banter between Nickie and Terry is one of the best things about this movie. Not long after their ship sets sail in the autumn of 1957, Nickie invites Terry to his cabin. Terry replies:

My mother told me never to enter any man’s room in months ending in R.

Terry is steadfastly faithful to her fiancé, parrying each of Nickie’s flirtations with good old-fashioned common sense:

Nickie: I was bored to death. I hadn’t seen one attractive woman on this ship since we left. Now isn’t that terrible? I was alarmed. I said to myself, don’t beautiful women travel anymore? And then I saw you, and I was saved… I hope.

Terry: Tell me, have you been getting results with a line like that, or would I be surprised?

And after Terry rejects him yet again, Nickie mutters, “I’ll just take my ego for a walk.”

With each exchange, we learn more about Nickie and Terry as individuals. His dialogue is smooth and urbane. Her lines reveal her skepticism and intelligence.

The more Terry fends him off, the more Nickie is attracted to her; and by the time they dock in New York, they’re in love and trying to figure out how to end their current relationships so they can be together.

5. But description is important, too.

Every good novel needs a certain amount of description so readers can visualize the places the characters inhabit.

Terry McKay’s simple blouse and jewelry.

What a character wears can give us an instant visual cue into his or her personality. That’s true of Terry in An Affair to Remember. In the movie she wears dresses and suits, gowns and bonnets, and each one is beautiful and tasteful. Her clothing declares her to be a lady through and through, and a stylish one, at that.

When Terry first meets Nickie, she’s wearing this orange creamcicle gown, and it’s a stunner.

Nickie is no slouch himself. He’s impeccably dressed throughout the movie. The suit he wears when he takes Terry ashore on one of the ship’s ports of call is not only expensive, it just happens to be the perfect color for him.

And the little Mediterranean home he takes Terry to while they’re ashore turns out to be a lovely, romantic bit of paradise, high on a hill. It’s while they’re visiting that little hill-top Garden of Eden that Nickie and Terry first begin to see each other through fresh eyes.

Nickie and Terry at a Mediterranean port of call.

Turns out, the home they visit belongs to Nickie’s grandmother, and they all spend a very pleasant afternoon together. Near the end of their visit, while Grandmother is playing the piano, Nickie gives Terry a look that telegraphs his growing feelings for her.

Its a glance that reminds me of a similar look Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy exchanged at Pemberley in the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice . . . and we all know what happened to Darcy and Lizzie after that.

6. You don’t have to show everything . . .

Sometimes it’s best to allow your reader to fill in the blanks for themselves. This is probably the most important lesson I learned from watching this movie. Here’s an example:

This video is a montage of clips from the movie. At time marker 1:04 you’ll come to the scene where Nickie and Terry share their first kiss.

The thing is, you don’t really see them kiss, but you know that’s exactly what they’re doing. You also know that Terry knew the kiss was coming; she gave one fleeting to stopping Nickie—She even retreated a step—but in the end she decided to stand her ground and let Nickie kiss her.

And that is the point in the movie when you know Terry’s falling in love; she has let down her barriers and is no longer fighting the attraction she feels for Nickie.

There’s no dialogue in the scene to explain her feelings, and he doesn’t explain his. But we know what Nickie and Terry are feeling and doing in the scene, all because of a kiss that we never actually see.

That kiss on the stairway is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. It’s subtle, tender, and romantic. The scene taught me that any movie can show two people kissing, but very few movies can melt your heart by leaving a kiss to your imagination.

7 . . . but you have to have a great ending.

As any decent romance writer or reader will tell you:

The course of true love never runs smooth.

An Affair to Remember offers proof of that adage as Nickie and Terry spend the second half of the movie dealing with one trial after another. And just when you begin to believe they’ll never end up together because there’s only about five minutes of film left, and they can’t possibly overcome their difficulties in so short an amount of time, you see a mere glimmer of hope.

The closing scene in the move always gets to me. No matter how many times I watch it — and I’ve watched it dozens of times — it never fails to pulls at my emotions. I’ve learned to watch An Affair to Remember with a fresh box of Kleenex close at hand.

The last scene in the movie: Nickie visits Terry at her New York apartment.

In the end, Nickie and Terry get their happy ending, and its well worth waiting for. It’s the kind of ending where I sigh and wish it weren’t over and feel as if I want to know what happens after the words “The End” flash on my television screen.

That, I think, is the perfect ending for a book, too, because readers who want to know more are readers who are invested in the story. They believe in the characters and believe in their struggles. Readers who want to know more want to be assured the characters they’ve come to love are going to be okay even after the story on paper ends.

* * *

Those are the seven lessons An Affair to Remember taught me about writing romance, and I’m grateful for the instruction.

Right now I’m working on two books (both romances, of course), and I’m definitely keeping those seven lessons in mind.

In my writing journey I haven’t yet reached the level of perfection An Affair to Remember has achieved when it comes to setting romantic standards, but I’m working on it. And in the meantime, I have my own copy of the movie to watch again and again. And one of these days, I hope I’ll be able to write a great romance to rival An Affair to Remember.

How about you? Have you ever seen An Affair to Remember? What did you think of the movie?

A Regency-era Shooting Party

In my book Mary and the Captain, Charles Bingley’s younger brother Robert rescued a young boy named Daniel from a difficult situation. Robert took Daniel to Netherfield, and had to find a way to keep young Daniel busy during the day. Robert and Daniel spent as much time as possible out of doors, where Daniel could run and play to his heart’s content. Charles and Robert even took Daniel shooting with them in the high meadow at Netherfield.

The illustrations below helped me envision those Regency-era shooting parties.

In the story, I tried to convey the fact that shooting was a usual past-time for the men at Netherfield.

At one point in the story, beautiful Helena Paget complains that while she finds nothing to do in the country, the men get to enjoy shooting.

And Mr. Penrose, the vicar of Meryton, admits to Caroline Bingley that he has a been a guest of her brother Charles on one or two afternoons of shooting in the meadow.

I added these shooting-party illustrations to my Pinterest board; it contains many of the images that inspired me and sparked my imagination as I wrote Mary and the Captain. You can see all the photos and illustrations by clicking here to visit my Pinterest board.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

In honor of the day, here are some vintage Valentine greeting cards for you to enjoy and share. The cards feature ladies wearing Regency-inspired costumes. Just click on each image to see a larger version.

Cupid’s dart has touched my heart.

.

Cupid my messenger shall be
For he it is has wounded me.

.

Cupid to you his flight will wing,
A song of love in your hear to sing.