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.

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?

King Charles I: Art Collector Extraordinaire

King Charles I ruled England for 24 years before he was executed in 1649. During his reign he amassed a collection of over 2,000 works of art.

Portrait of King Charles I of England by Anthony van Dyck

His hoard included classical sculptures, oil on canvas portraits, enormous tapestries, and delicate miniatures. Charles even augmented the collection by commissioning artist Anthony van Dyck to paint a series of very flattering portraits of himself. This tri-view portrait of Charles I is just one example:

His discerning eye and royal patronage fostered a new and exciting culture of art and expression in England. But when Charles was executed in 1649, his massive collection was sold off, with individual pieces scattering across Europe’s museums and even some private homes.

This year the Royal Academy of Arts will reunite some of the legendary masterpieces of Charles’ magnificent collection in one exhibit.

The exhibition, titled Charles I: King and Collector embodies everything I love in a museum offering:

  • It has small pieces that invite you to stand close and drink in each delicate detail.
  • It has large pieces that demand you stand back in order to admire the whole.
  • It has that overall aura of royalty about it, and I love anything related to English royalty.

Unfortunately, I live on the wrong side the Atlantic, so I won’t be able to see the exhibit in London. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, though, that the collection will go on tour in the U.S. sometime soon.

Charles I: King and Collector opens January 27 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and runs until April 15. You can find out more about the exhibit on the Royal Academy’s website here.

 

 

A Visit from Book Santa

I woke up on Christmas morning to find that Book Santa had visited my house!

Book Santa's Offering

I’ve had visits from Book Santa in the past, so I knew to expect two things:

  1. His reading tastes are varied; he enjoys giving fiction titles just as much as non-fiction titles
  2. His reading tastes are a lot like my own (a happy co-ink-ee-dink, right?)

So you can imagine how excited I was to unwrap these titles on Christmas morning:

Jane Austen's WorthingJane Austen’s Worthing by Antony Edmonds.

I thought I owned just about every Jane Austen-related book there was until Book Santa dropped this one under my Christmas tree. It’s an account of the seaside resort town that inspired Austen’s Sanditon, one of my favorite (if unfinished) Austen novels.

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King John by Marc MorrisKing John: Treachery and Tyranny in Medieval England by Marc Morris

I have a very personal interest in learning all I can about King John of England; through my Cornell ancestors I’m a direct descendant of that notorious king who was ultimately forced to sign the Magna Carta. Every time I open the pages of a new book about King John, I hope to read about some redeeming quality in the man (he is family, after all). Could this be the book that finally shows King John to have some humanity? Here’s hoping …

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Organize Your GenealogyOrganize Your Genealogy by Drew Smith

After years of gathering family histories, photographs, and documents, I have paper coming out of my ears. Book Santa must have known I needed a book like this to help me safely and sensibly share and store each precious item I’ve collected. Check in with me in a couple of months to see if I’ve put this book’s suggestions to good use.

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Calico Spy by Margaret BrownelyCalico Spy by Margaret Brownley

Everybody knows Book Santa has a great sense of humor, which is why he knew I’d enjoy Calico Spy. It’s book three in Ms. Brownley’s Undercover Ladies series of old west mysteries featuring female detectives. Ever have a hankerin’ for a good laugh, memorable characters, and an intriguing who-done-it mystery? Yup, me, too. I think I just talked myself into making this the first of my new books to read.

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The Successful Author MindsetThe Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn

I’ve been a Joanna Penn fan for years. I read her fiction, follow her blog, listen to her podcasts, and look to her for inspiration when I need an indie-author-pick-me-up. She never fails to deliver.  I rather suspect Book Santa gave me this Joanna Penn offering because he knows I could do a better job of managing my writing career (and he’d be right!). But, God bless him, Book Santa never judges; he just gives the right book at the right time to give us all the kick in the pants we need.  And speaking of time, I’m currently in the process of setting my writing goals for 2017; and I suspect The Successful Author Mindset will be a big help in the process.

So there you have it … Book Santa’s Christmas delivery to my house was generous and well-planned, and his selections showed his usual flair for variety.

I hope Book Santa visited your house, too. What did he bring you?

Mr. Darcy and “That Shirt”

When it comes to “Pride and Prejudice” on the big and small screens, I’ve watched every available version, from “Lizzie Bennet’s Diary” to the this year’s “Zombies” to the 1940 Hollywood film starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Of all the different interpretations, the 1995 BBC series starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth remains my favorite.

1995 version DVD

What makes that version different from all others? Simple: its stars’ winning performances, lots of period details, and the way in which it stays true to the original novel—except, of course, for one particular scene.

You know what I’m talking about … THAT scene, where Darcy dives into the lake at Pemberley wearing a loose tunic, only to emerge soaking wet with the fabric clinging to his body.

Darcy screenshot

The scene caused an immediate sensation when the series first aired, and Darcy’s reputation as a brooding and misunderstood romantic hero instantly morphed into that of a brooding, misunderstood, and hot romantic hero.

For those familiar with Jane Austen’s novel, there was just one problem: the scene never happened. Jane Austen never wrote about Darcy getting wet and turning into a heartthrob for women everywhere.

And yet, we love that scene and appreciate it as part of the way the BBC version showed Elizabeth’s evolving attraction to Darcy.

In fact, that Regency wet tee-shirt moment has made something of a celebrity of the shirt itself; and if you’ve ever wanted to see the real thing—that famous tunic worn by Collin Firth in the 1995 BBC series of “Pride and Prejudice”—you will soon have your chance.

Beginning August 6 the shirt will be on display as part of an exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C.

Interior view of the Folger Shakespeare Library, courtesy of Google Maps.

Interior view of the Folger Shakespeare Library, courtesy of Google Maps.

Titled “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity,” the display examines the staying power of Austen and Shakespeare, with displays of fashions, movie adaptations, and milestone events that illustrate why these famous authors are still popular in the 21st Century.

Darcy’s shirt will be front and center at the exhibition, although it will be under glass to keep it safe. As one of the curators remarked, “We will be giving the Folger some Windex, to be used in what we anticipate will be a daily wiping-down of lipstick marks.”

The exhibit opens Saturday, August 6 and runs through November 6. Click here for information on times and tickets.

Enjoy the exhibit and your chance to see the shirt that helped us all fall a little bit more in love with Mr. Darcy.

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Lady Susan on the Big Screen

In a previous post I wrote about one of my favorite Jane Austen novels, Lady Susan; and lamented the fact that it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I think that’s about to change. A new movie, based on the novel, will hit theaters in May.

Love and Friendship movie poster

For some reason the movie version has been named “Love and Friendship” (which I think is a little confusing, since its an adaptation of Lady Susan, not Jane Austen’s book Love and Freindship). But who am I to quibble with the title when the movie trailer clearly shows the film has everything I love in a Jane Austen adaptation?

Kate Beckinsale makes a perfect Lady Susan; deliciously snarky, cunningly manipulative, and vastly entertaining. Add in gorgeous costumes, authentic period settings, and witty dialogue, and I’m ready to stand in line for a theater ticket.

It looks like I’m not the only one who can’t wait to see the movie. Vogue included “Love and Friendship” in their recent list of 16 movies you should see this spring. And Slashfilm said it was laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The movie hits theaters May 13, but no word yet on the cities in which it will first be released. You can get updates about the movie’s release dates on Facebook and on Twitter.

Here’s to you, Lady Susan. See you in May.

Classic Agatha Christie Murder and Mayhem

I love Agatha Christie mysteries, so I’m looking forward to watching Lifetime’s new version of “And Then There Were None.” The first episode airs tomorrow with Miranda Richardson, Sam Neill, Charles Dance, Anna Maxwell-Martin (who looks kind of creepy in the trailer), and the gorgeous Aiden Turner among the cast.

Not too long ago I saw the 1940’s version with Barry Fitzgerald in one of the lead roles, and enjoyed it; so I’m ready to be thoroughly entertained by this new, atmospheric version of the classic murder mystery.

imagesSo what do Agatha Christie murder mysteries have to do with Regency-era romance?

Absolutely nothing.

But every now and then we all need to cleanse our palates from the every-day stuff. Murder does that for me. A dose of poison and some mayhem give me a much-needed break from my usual world of excruciatingly proper manners and witty ballroom repartee. So I’m going to spend my Sunday evening watching to see how and when the first guest at dinner will fall. Judging from the trailer, there may even be a couple of made-you-jump moments.

But that’s Sunday. By the time I wake up on Monday morning, I’ll be refreshed and ready to type away at my next story of polite heroines and witty heroes.

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America Waits for Downton Abbey

It’s not easy to be an American right now. Downton Abbey’s sixth and final season hasn’t yet aired here in the U.S. We Americans have to wait until January 2016 to see Season 6 while the rest of world is consuming and savoring every last detail of the final episodes right now. (The last part of the preceding sentence should be read with an increasingly whining tone.)

Season 6 Cast

While I do my best to patiently wait for PBS to air the show in America (and for Amazon to fulfill my pre-ordered DVD of Season 6), I started looking for ways to still be part of the Season 6 hoopla. It’s a bit of a tricky tight-rope walk. For example, I wouldn’t mind seeing some still photos of the production, but I don’t want to know what happens in the plot. I wouldn’t mind seeing reveals of some of the gorgeous costumes Edith and Mary and Cora will wear, I but I don’t want to read editorials that criticize the final season (gasp!).

What’s a patient American Downton Abbey fan to do?

Highclere Castle, site of the fictional Downton Abbey (BritishHeritage.com)

Highclere Castle, site of the fictional Downton Abbey (BritishHeritage.com)

Answer: Turn to British Heritage. I’ve subscribed to this magazine for years, and it’s one of my favorites (see my previous post). And in honor of the show’s final season, British Heritage has included a nice article about Downton Abbey in their winter edition.

Even better, they’ve delivered the first in a series of podcasts that describe the social and economic world of post World War I Britain and how those factors might influence Season 6 plot lines.

The Ladies of Downton Abbey in Season 6(PBS.org)

The Ladies of Downton Abbey in Season 6 (PBS.org)

Thank goodness! British Heritage delivered just enough Downton Abbey to satisfy me. I think I can wait until January now (although I may have to revisit PBS’s website and watch those one minute teasers a couple more times).

If you’re like me and are patiently waiting (more or less) for the final season of Downton Abbey to air, please leave a comment and share how you’re passing the time.