Sir Walter Elliot and Me

I’ve been fascinated by English nobility for as long as I can remember. And like most writers who pen stories set in the era of Regency England, I’ve made a study of the peerage with its ranks and titles, hierarchies and presidencies.

That explains why—whenever I read the opening paragraphs of Jane Austen’s Persuasion—I feel a strong connection with Sir Walter Elliot and his preoccupation with his own book about the baronetage:

Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed. This was the page at which the favourite volume always opened:

ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH HALL.

“Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, November 5, 1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791.”

There are plenty of instances in Persuasion where Austen gives readers reasons to dislike Sir Walter Elliot for his arrogance, or holds him up to ridicule for his vanity; but I have to agree with Sir Walter on one thing: I love a good book about the peerage.

Several years ago, I found my own copy of a book like Sir Walter’s Baronetage, and it’s one of my prized possessions.

In a used book store in southern California I found a battered 1806 edition of Debrett’s Peerage of England, Scotland and Ireland. Here’s the title page:

It’s a thick book, weighing in at over 400 pages of very tiny type; but it contains everything you’d ever want to know about the hereditary peers of Great Britain and Ireland in the early Nineteenth Century.

The book names each peer by rank, his wife (if married), his children (detailing whether they’re alive or deceased), and the name of the peer’s heir.

It even includes illustrations of the major peers’ coats of arms, and their mottoes. For example, the Marquis of Downshire’s motto is:

“Either attempt not, or accomplish.”

That sounds a lot like Yoda’s “Do or do not; there is no try,” doesn’t it? Here’s a page showing some of the coats of arms for English Marquisses:

And like Sir Walter Elliot, I enjoy browsing through the pages of the book whenever I have an idle moment.

In my novel Mary and the Captain, my copy of Debrett’s played a pivotal role in the story. Mary Bennet used the entries in Debrett’s to figure out the identity of a boy apprentice she and Captain Robert Bingley (Caroline and Charles’ brother) rescue from a cruel taskmaster.

But I don’t want to give you the impression that there’s nothing to Debrett’s but a long list of peers, their ancestors, and heirs.

My 1806 edition includes a handy explanation of heraldic terms. I’ve spent many enjoyable hours poring over these pages with a magnifying glass trying to reason out for myself what each symbol meant on a given coat of arms.

Every little detail on a coat of arms means something. For someone like me who enjoys solving puzzles, interpreting the arms shown in the book has been a fun challenge using the illustrations of terms.

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Like Sir Walter, my Debrett’s has given me “occupation for an idle hour” and I’m still discovering fascinating new bits of information in its pages; like this entry for Elizabeth Rawdon, Baroness Hungerford:

What?!? I was pretty startled to see a woman listed among the barons, since all my research showed noble titles were passed from male to male in each generation. But with Lady Hungerford’s entry, I charged off on a new flurry of research to figure out how it was possible that a woman inherited a baronetcy.

I’m still working my way through the book, and with each reading I seem to discover new revelations that fascinate me. That’s why I can whole-heartedly agree with Sir Walter: poring over the pages of a book about the peerage never fails to hold my interest.

 

 

My Inspiration for Mary and the Captain

Mary and the Captain was so much fun to write! As part of my writing process I collected several images that helped inspire (directly and indirectly) different scenes in the story. I thought I’d share a few of those images with you.

We all know Mary Bennet loved to play the pianoforte and the image below made me think of Mary (although I believe Mary would have worn her hair in a much plainer style). Added inspiration: I love the intricate mullions that divide the panes of glass in the window behind Mary.

I found the following image on an old Rafael Tuck French postcard. Although I didn’t have a scene in the book where Mary played for a young child, I though this illustration was very sweet.

In the book, ten-year-old boy Daniel Westover receives a gift of new toys from Kitty Bennet. This 1774 painting by Jean Simeon Chardin shows a boy about the same age as Daniel Westover, playing with a small top, similar to the one Kitty would have given Daniel.

And this painting by Louis Monzies shows three men playing with bilbo-catchers, trying to get the ball in the cup.

When I wrote the scene where Caroline Bingley calls upon Mr. Penrose at the vicarage, I had in mind this lovely watercolor of Oakham Parsonage by John Hassell:

And here’s a second view by the same artist showing Oakham Church. Wouldn’t this be a lovely place to listen to one of Mr. Penrose’s sermons?

Now that I’ve shared these images with you, I wonder if they match the way you envisioned the same scenes in Mary and the Captain?

Haven’t read Mary and the Captain yet? You can read the first four chapters of Mary and the Captain; just click here!

 

Let’s Dance!

I’m about half-way through the first draft of my next book (tentatively titled The Company She Keeps). In one of the early chapters there’s a ball at the home of the fictional Lady Pangborn. You may have noticed that balls, dressing up and beautiful ladies dancing with handsome gentlemen are staples of the Regency romance. They’re also a few of the reasons I enjoy reading and writing the genre.

Quadrille_Practicing at Home ed

Practicing the Quadrille at home

So when it comes time for me to write said ballroom scene, it’s pretty important that I know what I’m talking about. The truth of the matter is that I really don’t know the difference between a quadrille or a country dance. I grew up in the twentieth century, where the last dance I can remember that had a name was the Macarena.

Quadrilles ed

“The Summer” by an unknown artist.

As an avid viewer of Dancing with the Stars I can recognize a Waltz and an Argentinian Tango, and several other modern ballroom dances. Each dance has certain required elements, but at the same time, dancers have a broad leeway for interpreting the dance in their own way.

Quadrille_A Droit Sur Le Cote ed

Beginning the “Right Side of the Coast” quadrille. Artist unknown

Not so during the Regency. Ballroom dances during the Regency were highly proscribed. With the exception of the Waltz, most dances were based on regimented formations and intricate stepping patterns.

Quadrille_La Pastourelle ed

“The Shepherdess,” a quadrille.

The quadrille was just such a dance. The quadrille was all about the dancers forming precise figures; and each figure was specific to the tune being played. Quadrilles were long, difficult dances. Practicing at home or with a dancing master was a necessity to ensure one knew all the steps, figures and changes. Quadrilles were popular but woe to anyone who missed a step. The caricature below shows dancers desperately trying to master Le Moulinet (The Reel) so they can dance it flawlessly in the ballroom:

Practicing at Home ed

Le Moulinet; practicing quadrille dancing at home for fear of accidents at the ball. Artist unknown

In Regency romances the purpose of the ballroom dance is much more than just an opportunity for characters to move to the music. Jane Austen herself set the standard for what ballroom scenes should accomplish when she wrote the exchange between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield ball:

They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with: “It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some sort of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”

He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.

“Very well. That reply will do for the present. Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. But now we may be silent.”

But Darcy had no intention of being silent, and what followed (as seen in the clip below from the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice) is one of the finest thrust-and-parry romantic duels in literature.

 

Once I finish my first draft of my book, I’m going to pull out all my research notes and reread everything I can get my hands on about Regency dances before I go back and edit the ballroom scene. My goal is to write that scene as accurately as possible, including any descriptions of the dance itself. But secretly, deep down, I’m pretty thankful that we don’t dance Quadrilles and Cotillons anymore. If we did, my presence in a ballroom would be more like Mary Bennet’s than Elizabeth’s. I can barely get through the Macarena.

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Rosemount’s Folly

The hero in my book Miss Hamilton’s Hero is Owen Kendrick, a young man who inherited a vast estate near Brighton. On the estate is a folly, which Owen promised to show Miss Hamilton on one of their morning horseback rides together.

Temple of Apollo_Stourhead gardens_Wiltshire from pinterest

When I think of an architectural folly, I immediately think of the the Temple of Apollo at Stourhead in Wiltshire. You know the one I’m talking about . . . It’s the location where Darcy proposed marriage to Elizabeth Bennet in the 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice.

Follies were a popular extravagance in the gardens of great English estates in  the 18th century. They were built in a range of styles and sizes.

The Ionic Temple at Chiswick House  (below) is quite small compared to the Temple at Stourhead:

Follow_Ionic Temple at Chiswick House

Here’s the Temple of Ancient Virtue at Stowe, built in 1737:

Folly_Temple of Ancient Virtue at Sowe 1737

Not all follies were built on classical themes. The Brizlee Tower at Alnwick in Northumberland was built (in 1781) on more gothic lines. It has a much more romantic style. The widow’s walk at the top of the tower makes me think of the story of Rapunzel!

Brizlee Tower at Alnwick Northumberland built ca 1781

You can see more examples of English follies at Twisted Sifter. Just click on this link.

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Miss Hamilton’s Hero is Now on Kindle

Miss Hamilton’s Hero is now available on Kindle!

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I had such a good time updating the story (it was originally published by Zebra Books in 1999) and preparing it for a new audience of readers. I especially love the cover because the model fits the heroine’s description to a tee.

What is Miss Hamilton’s Hero about? So glad you asked!

When Miss Penelope Hamilton is sent to live with her grandmother, the fashionable Mrs. Kendrick, Pen’s carriage is held up by the most wanted highwayman in all of England. But that’s just the beginning of adventure for Pen, for she soon discovers that Mrs. Kendrick’s magnificent estate is not what it seems…and neither is her serious and handsome step-son, Owen. For Owen is keeping a secret that will soon impact Pen and her grandmother, unless Pen can find a way to earn Owen’s trust … and win his heart in the process.

I hope you enjoy reading about Pen’s adventures and the lessons she learns along the way. You can click on the book cover below to begin reading sample chapters.
Cover_Miss Hamiltons Hero v12 resized

 

 

New Pinterest Board: The Brighton Pavilion

For the last few weeks I’ve been revising and editing my book Miss Hamilton’s Hero so it can be released as an e-book (it was originally published as a paperback by Zebra Books in 1999).

Original Front Cover 1997

The original 1997 cover for Miss Hamilton’s Hero.

As I was editing and rechecking facts, I was struck by how different my writing process is now. Back in the 1990s I used a big 3-ring binder to capture all my notes and research. I kept a photo album from my trip to England open on my desk so I could constantly flip through my photos of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton. And when I imagined how Rosemount (the hero’s estate) would look, I used … well, my imagination, because at the time I didn’t have an actual photo of an English manor house constructed of rose-colored stone.

Stables at Royal Pavilion by John Nash

Even the stables at the Royal Pavilion were magnificent, as seen in this illustration by John Nash.

What a difference sixteen years make! Today I use Scrivener to organize my writing and research, and Pinterest is my one-stop resource for finding and saving photos of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton. I also used Pinterest to save images of Aston Hall in Birmingham, England, which perfectly matches the way I imagined Rosemount would look.

Aston Hall from Pictures of England dot com

Aston Hall from Pinterest.

You’re invited to stop by and view my inspiration board. I hope you enjoy it! Just click here to visit Pinterest and see all the images that inspired me and fired my imagination.

Miss Hamilton’s Hero will be released on Amazon Kindle in late February 2016.

When Miss Penelope Hamilton is sent to live with her grandmother, the fashionable Mrs. Kendrick, Pen’s carriage is held up by the most wanted highwayman in all of England. But that’s just the beginning of adventure for Pen, for she soon discovers that Mrs. Kendrick’s magnificent estate is not what it seems…and neither is her serious and handsome step-son, Owen. For Owen is keeping a secret that will soon impact Pen and her grandmother, unless Pen can find a way to earn Owen’s trust … and win his heart in the process.

 

A Mothers’ Day Story

Sunday is Mother’s Day and I’m already wishing I could spend the day with my mother. In fact, I’d settle for spending just an hour or two with her; but since she’s living three states away, we both know that my wish won’t come true . . . not this year, at least.

Cover_Sweet Companion 2015 resizedEven though we can’t be together, my thoughts are already with her. Mother’s Day is a commemoration that seems to bring out the best in people. It’s a day to dwell on family, appreciation for possibly the toughest job in the world, and celebrating the one person you can always rely on to love you no matter what.

A few years ago I wrote a Mother’s Day story called Sweet Companion (set during the Regency Period, of course!) about a son who learns to appreciate his mother a little more, thanks to an interfering young lady.

Sweet Companion is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes. Click a link below to read the story on your favorite device.

iBookstore     Nook button     Amazon Kindle

It’s All Hallow’s Eve

Halloween is here and I’m ready to go. I have three of those big, warehouse-sized bags of candy to distribute to trick-or-treaters. Naturally, I’ve removed all of the Almond Joys; I need them to keep up my strength while I hand out the rest of the candy to the kids who knock on my door.

Candy Bowl

Like most holidays, Halloween can be inspiring to a writer. A few years ago, I wrote a Halloween-themed short story about a Regency kitten with some supernatural powers . . . at least, that’s what the heroine believed. It was a fun story to write, with a doubting lord, an over-imaginative heroine, and things that go bump in the night (literally!).

Cover_A Bewitching Minx 3 resizedOriginally included in a Zebra Regency anthology, the story is now available on Amazon, Nook, iTunes and other e-book outlets. If you scroll down you can read a brief preview.

I hope today’s celebration fires your imagination to write, dream of romance, create a great costume, or do what you love to do best!

Here’s the promised preview:

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A Bewitching Minx

Sebastian Camerford, Lord Byefield looked into her eyes and knew he could not resist her. He had never been able to refuse her anything; not when she looked at him just so, with the light of anticipation in her eyes; not when she looked at him with that soft expression of pleading that had the power to melt his resolve as nothing else on earth could.

He should have scolded her. He should have explained to her in no uncertain terms that no female of his acquaintance was ever allowed to disrupt the solitude of his library. He should have told her how audacious and unladylike she was for daring to sit on his desktop, bringing her head level with his, looking him straight in the eye, as if she thought by doing so she could bend him to her will.

He should have done all those things, but he didn’t. Instead, his stern, gray eyes met her blue eyes and he forced his brows together in a slight frown. “A kitten?” he repeated, discouragingly.

His gruff demeanor didn’t fool her for a moment. She smiled slightly and returned his gaze with wide, unblinking eyes. “Yes, Uncle.”

“And what, may I ask, makes you think I wish to spend my afternoon looking for a stray kitten?”

“Because it is the dearest little thing,” she responded, with all the reasoning of a five-year-old. “I found it in your garden earlier and Mama said I might keep it, but when I tried to dress it properly for tea, it scampered away and I cannot find it anywhere!”

Since Sebastian was well acquainted with his niece’s penchant for dressing in human attire any animal unfortunate enough to come within her orbit, it came as no surprise to him that one of the poor creatures had tried to escape. “The kitten sounds a very ill-mannered guest. Perhaps you should consider having your tea without it, Mary.”

“No, Uncle, I cannot.” There was the merest trace of a pout about her lips. “Truly, it is the prettiest little kitten I have ever seen, with white hair and blue eyes. I’ve never seen a kitten with blue eyes before, so I know it must be very special. Please help me find it. Please?”

Her voice held that pleading tone again; the same tone that, in one fell swoop, held the power to make him abandon all his plans for the afternoon and believe with all his heart that nothing was as important at that very moment as finding a kitten possessed of white hair and blue eyes.

Click here to read more with Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.

Free on Amazon: A Scandalous Season

My Regency romance A Scandalous Season is available for free on Amazon Kindle. You’ll have to hurry: this offer is only good for the next 5 days!

Cover Art_A Scandalous Season 3Headstrong Lady Eleanor Chilton is determined to marry a country gentleman of her own choosing. But when her father insists that she have a London Season, she resolves to be so disagreeable, no man will even dance with her. Her icy demeanor and unpleasant words soon repel every dandy who makes her acquaintance – Including Sir Andrew de Ardescote, London’s most sought-after bachelor.

Sir Andrew is not used to being snubbed, and he doesn’t take to it kindly, even though the contrary young lady is quite the loveliest creature he’s ever met. He’ll have his revenge: A simple wager with friends that he will be the first to melt the icy young maiden’s heart with a kiss.
As he sets about charm Lady Eleanor to fall in love with him, it isn’t long before Sir Andrew realizes he’s the one in danger of losing his heart.

“A light-hearted drawing room comedy to brighten your day.” – Romantic Times
“Pretty entertaining, I must say!” – Goodreads

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Follow his link to Amazon to get your copy:

Amazon Kindle

Now Available: One Dance with You

Cover One Dance with You 2015 resizedMy Regency short story “One Dance with You” is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes!

I enjoyed writing this story of a young woman who gives up on love, only to discover it again in a most unexpected place.

You can read an excerpt from the story on your favorite reader:

Amazon Kindle    Nook button    iBookstore