It feels like a good time to celebrate Writing with Labradors – the first six months.
Toby and Joey
I published my first e-book, a Respectable Woman, on Amazon kindle on 22 February which is actually rather less than six months ago. I feel like celebrating today, though. I’ve just received a parcel with several author’s copies of the first of my books to be published in paperback and there is something amazing about actually holding a copy in my hand.
I dreamed of being a writer when I was a teenager but back then it didn’t seem like a possibility at all. Over the years I’ve written more words than I can remember and I made numerous attempts to find an agent or a publisher for my novels. I often wonder how many people actually read any of what I’d written. What is clear to me is how many people have read what I’ve written now.
Since publishing A Respectable Woman back in February, things have gone better than I ever imagined. I’ve sold books, I’ve received reviews and ratings, most of which have been good, and I’ve had a lot of messages from readers telling me how much they’ve enjoyed the books. I’ve set up a website and written a blog and an author Facebook page. I’ve joined Twitter, which is something I never thought likely and I’ve begun to learn, by tiny steps, about marketing and selling books as well as about writing them.
There have been so many good things during these months that I’m a bit overwhelmed. People have been incredibly supportive and I’m so grateful to all of you who read and comment and encourage me.
So far, all the books I’ve published were already written when I made the decision to publish independently on kindle. This weekend I am publishing the first book which I’ve written from scratch since then and it’s a regency romance. I have a few books floating around in my head at present, and before I started this, I admit that I wouldn’t have thought the next book I wrote would be another regency. This decision was based purely on the success of the previous regency, The Reluctant Debutante which has proved the most popular of all my books so far.
When I began to get ratings and even a few reviews for the books I was very excited. There is something fairly astonishing that complete strangers are reading my books and apparently enjoying them. There was also the unpleasant shock of a bad review. I’ve had a couple, not too many, and I now understand why experienced writers recommend that you try not to read the reviews. It’s difficult to avoid when you’re independently published; you want to know something about what your readers think and it’s very tempting. I am trying not to now. I can’t change the way I write because one or two people don’t like it. The books are selling and people are buying more than one of them which I’m guessing means they enjoyed them, so I am going to try to stay away from the reviews. A bad review is painful; a good one feels great. I’ve decided to leave them alone and just write.
Still, going by sales alone, a second regency makes a lot of sense. I really enjoyed writing this one. It was good to come up with some new characters and good to research a subject I knew very little about. I have written a slightly different kind of heroine this time and I hope my readers like her because I really do.
My next published book is likely to be the fourth in the Peninsular war saga, which is already written although needs some revising. A Redoubtable Citadel is the most difficult book I’ve written so far, a very emotional one for me. I am also planning on a book with a Manx theme but there is a fair bit of research involved in that. I have a children’s story which I want to finish, and I’ve got an idea for a sequel to one of my original books. I also need to get on with book five which is about half way through.
It’s been an amazing first six months and I’m looking forward to more in the future. Thank you to everyone buying the books, sending me messages, engaging on the Facebook page and writing reviews and ratings – even the bad ones, since they remind me to keep getting better.
I hear the sounds of barking labradors in the distance which reminds me that it’s breakfast time. I couldn’t have done this without all of you. I also couldn’t have done it without Toby and Joey, my constant companions, who never forget to remind me to stop work for a meal time.
A Regrettable Reputation takes us to Yorkshire in 1816 where the former Captain Nicholas Witham of the 110th Infantry is adjusting to civilian life as land agent on the Ashberry estate…
In the event it was several weeks before Miss Dorne made an appearance. It was a damp afternoon and Witham had spent the morning writing letters and doing accounts before joining the grooms as they exercised the racehorses. He rode back to the stables with the lads to find a post-chaise drawn up on the carriage drive with luggage strapped to the roof. Witham sighed and waved for one of the grooms to come and take his horse. He had no desire to converse with a spoiled woman with a lost reputation, but common civility demanded that he at least introduce himself. Giving the lad some brief instructions about the horse, he walked up to the house as the driver was lowering the carriage steps and opening the door. Mrs Hogan, the housekeeper was standing stiffly at the front door. The woman who climbed down from the coach was of medium height, clothed in a dark travelling dress with a dark green pelisse over it and a small bonnet trimmed with feathers. She paused for a moment, looking up at the red brick of the house which was to become her home for a while. Witham could see no sign of a maid although he could not believe she had been allowed to travel without one. The girl looked at Mrs Hogan and the woman bobbed a reluctant curtsey. “Miss Dorne. I am Mrs Hogan, the housekeeper.” “How do you do?” the newcomer said quietly. “I’ll try not to be a trouble to you.” “Not at all,” Mrs Hogan said. “In his letter, Lord Ashberry suggested I serve meals in the east parlour since you’ll hardly be wanting to use the big dining room on your own. Your room is ready, if you’ll follow me. Ah – Mr Witham. Miss Dorne, this is Lord Ashberry’s agent who runs the estate. He lives in the Dower House which you will have passed on the drive.” Witham approached the two women. Miss Dorne turned. “How do you do?” she said again. Witham held out his hand. “Welcome to Ashberry Hall, Miss Dorne. We’ll try to make your stay as comfortable as possible.” “Thank you.” Her youth startled him. He had been expecting an older woman given her unfortunate reputation but this girl could be no more than eighteen. She was slight and fair, with a pale oval face and expressive blue eyes. There were dark shadows under her eyes which looked like bruises. She looked painfully thin with a fragile delicacy which unexpectedly touched his heart. Whatever she had done wrong, somebody should be looking after this girl and she was here alone many miles from home and family. He realised he was staring and that he had failed to release her hand. With a laugh he did so. “I’m sorry, Miss Dorne, you must think me a half-wit standing here staring. Mrs Hogan will show you your room and get you some tea.” The well-shaped mouth twisted in a wry smile. “Don’t think of it, Mr Witham. Recently I have become very well accustomed to being stared at.” There was bitterness in her tone. Nicholas smiled. “I wouldn’t worry about it here, Miss Dorne, you’re in the middle of nowhere, you’ll find yourself an object of interest to the horses and sheep but not much else. You must be exhausted, so I’ll let you get within and rest and eat. When you’re ready in a few days, come to the stables and I’ll find you a horse to ride. The grooms are at your disposal.” “I prefer to ride alone, but thank you.” “Well take one with you at least until you’ve learned your way about,” Witham said. “Good day to you.” She disappeared inside the house and Witham stood watching as the servants began to unload her luggage from the top of the carriage. There was a sense of immense loneliness about her. It was hard to imagine her laughing and flirting with her lover before disaster had overtaken them. She looked defeated. Mrs Hogan reappeared at the door, watching the last of the boxes being carried inside. “A hussy if ever I saw one!” she said sharply. “God save us, Mrs Hogan, she’s a child!” Witham said shortly. “Not such a child that she couldn’t disgrace her poor family by behaving like a common whore! She says she needs little from me, which is just as well because it’s bad enough to have to have her in the house…” “You’ll show her the courtesy that’s due a guest of Lord Ashberry’s, ma’am!” Witham cut in sharply. “And if you don’t, I’ll see to it that he finds another housekeeper who will!” The woman took a deep indignant breath and opened her mouth. Witham held up a hand. “Enough! You’re a narrow minded woman, and that’s fine by me, but I’ll be watching you and if there’s a sign of rudeness to that young woman, you’re out!” He watched, amused, as she stormed back into the house, and then turned and walked towards the Dower House wondering with some sympathy how Camilla Dorne would cope with the lonely isolation of Ashberry Hall.
In 1816 war is over, Napoleon in exile and Regency England is at peace.
Mr Nicholas Witham, land agent at the Yorkshire estate of Lord Ashberry has found a haven of quiet, far from the bloodshed of war and the horror of Waterloo. With poachers and lost sheep his most pressing concerns, Nicholas is not seeking anything more exciting than the occasional trip to York and a game of cards with friends.
The tranquillity of Ashberry is about to be disrupted by the arrival of Miss Camilla Dorne, a young woman of doubtful reputation, sent away from London by her guardian to avoid the consequences of a disastrous and very public love affair with a disreputable officer which has broken her heart.
An army officer, past or present, is the last man Camilla wishes to spend time with. But she discovers that a lost reputation can bring unexpected freedom and possibly a second chance at happiness.
With the shadow of war firmly behind him, Nicholas is ready to move on, but poverty and rising prices bring rumblings of discontent and rumours of Luddite activity in the industrial towns, and as violence erupts, the land agent of Ashberry finds himself swept up in a new conflict where the enemy is hard to identify. Faced with a stark choice between love and duty, Nicholas is beginning to realise that he may not have left the regiment behind at all…
A Regrettable Reputation, a Regency romance, is the first book in the Light Division Romances which follow the varying fortunes of the men of Wellington’s elite troops once war is over. Now available on Amazon kindle and in paperback at the Amazon store.
An Irregular Regiment, book two in the Peninsular War saga is available free on Amazon kindle for the next two days, while book one An Unconventional Officer is just 99p. Why not get both of them for your holiday reading.
The Peninsular War saga follows the story of Lieutenant Paul van Daan from his early days with the 110th infantry in India and on to Portugal and Spain under Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Lord Wellington.
Book one covers the period from 1802 when Paul joins the regiment as a young officer and follows his career and his personal life up to the eve of the battle of Bussaco in 1810. Book two takes up
The books are thoroughly researched historical novels which tell the story of the men and women at all levels of army life during Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns. They cover skirmishes and marches, campaigns and winter quarters, the bloody scenes of the battlefields and the even bloodier sights in the surgeons tents. They also tell a love story of an unusual couple in difficult times.
Two for the price of one. Why not give them a try?
An Irregular Regiment, book two in the Peninsular War saga, is due for publication on 4th July.
The novel continues the story of Major Paul van Daan and the 110th infantry as they prepare to meet the French on the ridge of Bussaco in Portugal. Back on the battlefield only two weeks after his scandalous marriage to the young widow of Captain Robert Carlyon, Paul is ready for the challenge of the invading French army.
But Lord Wellington has another posting for his most difficult officer and Paul and Anne find themselves back in Lisbon dealing with a whole new set of challenges with army supplies, new recruits and a young officer who seems to represent everything Paul despises in the army’s views on discipline and punishment. Anne is getting used to life as the wife of a newly promoted regimental colonel as two other women join the regiment under very different circumstances. And an old adversary appears in the shape of Captain Vincent Longford whose resentment at serving under Paul is as strong as ever.
It’s a relief to return to the field but Paul finds himself serving under the worst General in the army in a situation which could endanger his career, his regiment and his life.
Given a brief by Wellington which requires him to use tact and diplomacy as well as his formidable fighting skills, it’s hardly surprising that the army is holding it’s breath waiting for Wellington’s newest and most explosive colonel to fail spectacularly.
Of all historical novels, Regency romances seem to be one of the most distinctive genres, and although their popularity has waxed and waned they have never completely gone out of style. Setapproximately during the period of the British Regency (1811–1820) they have their own plot and stylistic conventions. Many people think of Jane Austen when Regencies are mentioned and certainly her novels are set in the right period, but of course she was writing as a contemporary not as a historian.
It has always seemed to me that Georgette Heyer was the mother of the current Regency genre. She wrote more than twenty novels set during the Regency, between 1935 and her death in 1974 and her books were very much like a comedy of manners. There was little discussion of sex, understandable given the different views of her generation, and a great emphasis on clever, quick witted dialogue between the characters.
These days, Regencies seem to be divided into two sub genres. There are the traditional Regencies which are similar to Heyer’s originals, and a more modern Regency historical genre. Many authors do not seem to confine themselves to one of these two types but may move between the two. Both are currently popular.
Traditional Regencies emphasise the main romantic plot. They play close attention to historical detail and take care to replicate the voice of the genre. There is a good deal of research for writers of traditional Regencies. Heroes and heroines generally remain within the accepted rules and conditions of the period and although their may be some sex it is very likely that the action stops at the bedroom door, probably at the proposal of marriage.
The more modern Regency historical novels break more rules. They may be set during the time period but not necessarily in high society with an insight into life outside of the world of wealth and privilege inhabited by Georgette Heyer’s characters. They may also include characters who behave in a more modern way, particularly when it comes to sexual behaviour and moral values. The style can be very different to the more traditional works. There is another sub genre, the sensual Regency which has become very popular in recent years. These novels are far more explicit than the traditional Regency and the sexual relationship between the hero and heroine is key to the book.
There are some elements which are likely to crop up in all genres of Regency novels. Many are set in, or will refer to the Ton, which means the top layer of English society. They revolve around social activities such as balls, dinners, assemblies and other common pastimes. Men are often involved in sporting activities. There are detailed descriptions of fashion and a consciousness of social class and the rules of behaviour. The difference between them is that in traditional Regencies the heroine is likely to stick to them; in the modern genre pretty much anything goes.
The shift in the genre seems to have come about because of a slump in the popularity of Regencies in the 1990s. Some authors began incorporating more sex into their novels and while lovers of traditional Regencies disliked it, publishers and readers seemed to approve and the Regency novel got a new lease of life.
I grew up reading Georgette Heyer and owned every one of her books in paperback – I still have some of them and still read them from time to time. They are, for me, the ultimate comfort book – the only other series which comes close are P G Wodehouse’s tales of Jeeves and Wooster. These are the books I’ll turn to if I’m ill or miserable or sometimes just because my brain hurts and I can’t focus on anything else. They are written to entertain and with their quick dialogue and comedic moments they never let me down.
I wrote my first Regency novel for the Mills and Boon market during the years I was trying to find a traditional publisher. I’d tried several other novels, including at least two contemporary ones which are never going to see the light of day again, and had joined the Romantic Novelists Association new writers scheme. After very positive feedback on both A Respectable Woman and A Marcher Lord it was suggested that I try to adapt these to Mills and Boon. I did try, but it couldn’t be done. It appeared that I simply could not have a heroine who defended herself very capably against attack; it was the job of the hero to rescue her and Jenny Marchant simply wouldn’t wait. In fact she was more likely to do the rescuing. Philippa Maclay was even worse, she didn’t make it through two chapters without doing something so appalling that it put her beyond hope of redemption. If I rewrote these characters then I would be writing a different book. I gave it up and decided to start from scratch.
Out of that decision came Cordelia Summers and Giles Fenwick of The Reluctant Debutante. Once I got into the swing of it I really loved writing this book. It’s fun and fairly light hearted. I was already doing a lot of research into the period for my series set during the Peninsular war and that fitted very well with a Regency so it wasn’t that much extra work. And the fast paced dialogue and witty characters of the Regency genre exist in all my books, no matter which period they’re set in. I realise that those years of reading Georgette Heyer and Dorothy Dunnett have affected the way all my characters speak. They may have different accents and different levels of education, but most of them are smart mouths.
I had a lovely response from Mills and Boon on the Reluctant Debutante. It was a no, but a very detailed no. They liked the setting and the characters and even the plot, but once again my characters let me down. There was not enough internal conflict between them, it seemed; most of their difficulties were external and their way of overcoming them was not dramatic enough. Could I rewrite it to include more conflict between Cordelia and Giles?
I did try. I wrote a selection of scenes for them. The trouble was, trying to fit them into the book made no sense whatsoever. I’d already created these people and their responses to events grew out of their essential character. Cordelia might have flatly refused to see Giles after their quarrel and there could have been weeks of agonising and misunderstandings. But there wasn’t. Cordelia was as mad as a wet hen but once she saw him again, she didn’t have it in her not to listen to his explanation. She’s a practical girl with a wealth of common sense. She simply can’t behave like a drama queen.
So Giles and Cordelia remained as themselves and I published the book pretty much as I’d originally written it, with the removal of one or two completely gratuitous sex scenes which didn’t seem to add anything to the plot. I’ve been delighted with people’s response to it. So far it’s the best selling of all the books although the others are starting to catch up and readers seem to love it.
The amount of sex in my books varies a fair bit and for me that reflects reality. Everyone is different in how they feel about sex both in books and in real life. It’s not hard for me to write about sex; I used to be a relationship counsellor so I’m difficult to shock. At the same time I need my characters to develop their own attitudes towards sex and it needs to fit within the social norms of the time and one of the most important things to remember is that there was no reliable form of contraception available to any of my heroines which meant that there was an enormous risk involved in illicit sex.
Jenny and Will in a Marcher Lord are very compatible. He’s around thirty, never been married although knows he should be for dynastic reasons, and likes women. You have the sense he had a good relationship with his mother and adores his younger sister, so he’s likely to be fairly respectful around women although given his age and status there have definitely been a few adventures along the way. He’s not particularly a womaniser despite some of his cousins jokes about it and he knows how to behave. Jenny on the other hand grew up in a loving family where marriage wasn’t really an issue which has given her a very untraditional view on marriage and sex. Circumstances rather than morality dictate the progress of Jenny and Will’s relationship and they understand each other very well.
For Philippa and Kit, sex is a very different issue since at the start their entire relationship is based around his attempt to persuade her to be his mistress and her steadfast refusal. Their stances on this are very traditional for the time but there are a lot of other reasons why a sexual relationship is complicated for this couple and it was quite hard to write about at times. Certainly this was not a couple who were going to fall into bed every five minutes, that’s not what their story is about.
Giles and Cordelia are also fairly traditional. Giles might forget his manners from time to time but he understands what is expected of him. They are strongly attracted to one another but their relationship takes a fairly traditional course, for the first half of the book at least.
Paul and Anne are very different. Technically, An Unconventional Officer could be considered a Regency given the period but it is not; it’s a love story but it’s also the story of two very individual people and their experiences in the army during Wellington’s Peninsular wars and the Ton and Almack’s don’t really feature. When Anne and Paul meet there is no question of a romantic relationship between them; he’s married and she’s going to be soon. But of all of my characters, Paul and Anne are by far the most openly physical in their relationship. He is a shameless womaniser with a string of broken hearts behind him and she is young and inexperienced but neither of those things really matters. For Paul and Anne the chemistry is instant and undeniable and completely irresistible. It is also really obvious to everybody around them. It isn’t hard writing love scenes for Paul and Anne, the difficulty is trying to get them to behave with any degree of propriety at all.
I suspect The Reluctant Debutante falls somewhere between the old and the new when it comes to Regency. I do like my heroines to have something more about them than a pretty face and good manners, but on the whole I’ve allowed Cordelia to be fairly well-behaved in public although privately she’s a little different. She’s very grown up but she’s also led a sheltered life in comparison to all three of my other heroines and she behaves accordingly. It was nice to write something normal for a change…
My new Regency has the working title of A Regrettable Reputation and it’s early days yet but at least some of it is likely to be set in Yorkshire. Sophia Dorne is very different to Cordelia both in circumstances and in character. Nicholas Witham is nothing like Giles, having neither his fortune nor his arrogance although they do have some things in common. I’m looking forward to seeing how things work out for them.
I had a lovely time today recording a radio interview for Manx radio with the fabulous Sarah Hendy whom I used to work with at the Sayle Gallery in Douglas. Sarah now presents Spotlight, the stations weekly arts programme and asked me to come for a chat about my books and in particular the latest
It took me right back to my first ever post when I wrote about how difficult it was for me to ‘come out’ and admit that I write historical novels and consider myself to be an author. I was writing when I was working with Sarah but we didn’t talk about it because at that stage only my closest friends and family knew that I wrote at all. I’m not sure why, looking back on it, except that it is a slightly unusual hobby. A lot of people put reading or hiking or cycling at a hobby on their CV but writing tends to raise eyebrows.
I enjoyed the interview. It helps a lot to know the person interviewing you and Sarah and I know each other very well. But I also enjoyed some of the questions, in particular the one about the process of creating the story.
I don’t know how other authors put together their novels. Do they start by typing chapter one and then write through in a logical order until the end? I’ve never been very good at doing that. I tend to write a selection of scenes involving my characters and then string them together. Once I’ve got a fair chunk of the book, I can go back and fill in the gaps, and a lot of rewriting is done then.
It sounds like a slightly mad way of doing things, but my books are very character driven. One of the comments made by Sarah today was that it sounds at times as if my characters get away from me. It’s really hard to explain it, but they do. Sometimes they seem to behave in ways that I find very difficult to understand. Heroes behave like idiots, heroines lose their marbles at an unexpected moment and a villain who up until now has been completely dislikable will step up and do something good which I then have to deal with.
That’s why writing individual scenes often works well for me. I can throw a collection of people together in a situation and see how they behave. Sometimes it works really well and I will incorporate the scene into the book and at other times I decide I don’t want to use it. But even the unused scenes have developed relationships between my characters and I think that makes the scenes I do use a lot stronger.
The exception to this slightly off beat way of writing has been the Peninsular War Saga. Initially I began with the same approach but once I got to grips with the research, it was obvious I needed to focus a bit better or the whole thing was going nowhere. Lord Wellington did not hang about during the war and my poor characters are constantly on the move, constantly busy. Scenes I particularly wanted to include needed to be ruthlessly adapted to fit in with what the commander in chief wanted.
I didn’t mind. Wellington was giving the orders here, it’s our job just to get on with it. In many ways it makes the whole situation more realistic. The number of times one of my characters needs to march out to battle just as a crisis occurs at home is numerous but completely real. It must have happened in real life, which is probably why Wellington didn’t really like his officers and men to be married at all, and if they were, preferred their families to be left at home. He needed his army to focus and became annoyed very quickly at requests for leave to deal with family crises, romantic interludes or personal bereavement.
Wellington remained in the field for the whole of the war apart from the one occasion right at the start when he was recalled with the other commanders to answer for the fiasco of the Convention of Sintra. While he was away Sir John Moore marched into Spain, a disastrous campaign which ended with his death at Corunna. I rather suspect that didn’t help with Wellington’s conviction that everything tended to go wrong if he wasn’t there to personally take charge.
With the Peninsular books I now have my characters, and a fairly fixed timeline, and all I need to do is work out what happens to them during that time period. It’s fairly obvious where Paul needs to be. Battle follows battle and he’s going to be involved in them. Occasionally there’s a short break during winter quarters, but I tend to find him a job elsewhere during those periods. He doesn’t like to be bored.
I’d like to thank Sarah and Manx Radio for letting me ramble on about my books. It’s something I love to do. The programme is aired on Wednesday 7th June at 5.30pm.
Twenty three years ago today I got married and the anniversary has made me think about love and marriage, an important issue in all of my books.
Inevitably it was in a castle. Dalhousie Castle on the Scottish Borders is a beautiful place, converted into a hotel with a small chapel which as far as I know still does weddings. Ours was a small affair with only close family and two or three friends. We went on honeymoon afterwards and then came back and had a huge party with all our friends to celebrate.
I write historical fiction with a strong element of romance so relationships and how they develop are of interest to me. I also spent years working as a relationship counsellor which meant I saw the ups and downs of more couples than I can remember. And I’ve been in a relationship now for around twenty seven years. Believe me, I’ve thought about love and marriage during all this.
It’s the aim of a writer of romance, even if the romance is only part of the theme of the book, to try to make it realistic while still retaining the magical element of falling in love. A lot of romantic novels end with wedding bells, or at least with the couple falling into each others arms and admitting that after all their trials and tribulations, they want to be together. There’s something very satisfying about reading the last page, closing the book, and knowing that the couple that you have become attached to (hopefully) have worked it out.
Of course they haven’t. They’ve just worked out the first bit. There’s a whole lot of work still to come which a lot of the time we don’t see. But because I do get attached to the characters I write about, I do wonder what happened to them next.
In historical fiction, the drama of divorce would have been less common. Certainly before the Victorian era when divorce became slightly more realistic, although still very difficult, only the very wealthy could afford divorce which had to be confirmed by an act of Parliament. And it was only available to men.
This didn’t mean that couples didn’t separate. For many it was a quiet affair, simply drifting apart and living separate lives. There was not always the same pressure for couples to spend all their time together as we have now. These days, if one partner takes a job which keeps them away for weeks, months or even years at a time, there is often an expectation that the marriage is going to fail. In the early nineteenth century, married officers and men in the British army might not see their wives or families for years. Some marriages did end during that time but a surprising number succeeded, helped along by endless letter writing and a determination to keep the relationship alive.
There was probably a different attitude to adultery in some quarters, for men at least. It was not considered so shocking for a man to have relations with a mistress as long as he was discreet. In an age where many marriages, particularly among the middle and upper classes, were arranged for reasons other than love, one wonders how often both partners were unfaithful at times. Some of these marriages worked very well. Others did not. There are examples of both of these in the books I’ve written.
I do wonder, though, if some couples pushed through their difficulties and came out stronger when divorce and separation were more difficult. Some, we know, lived in misery, and I wouldn’t go back to the days when divorce was seen as shocking. But relationships are tough at times and there’s a feeling of satisfaction in coming out the other side of a difficult patch and feeling close again.
I’ve been thinking about the couples in my books so far and wondering how they’d do. Jenny and Will fromA Marcher Lordwill do well, I suspect. Both had parents who made successes of their marriages; Will’s had an arranged marriage and Jenny’s was a runaway love match but both worked. Jenny and Will would have led a busy and active life keeping castle and estates running successfully and they have already proved they make a good working team. They’ll argue, but they have shared values and interests and I think they’ll be fine. I’m planning a second book featuring this couple some time next year and I’m looking forward to catching up with them.
Cordelia and Giles from The Reluctant Debutante come from different social backgrounds, but she’s already proved that she can make the shift into the Ton very well. I think both of them enjoy country life. They might argue about social obligations; she’s probably always going to be more social than he is, have better manners and be nicer to people. But they share a sense of humour and a love of the ridiculous and I think for Giles there will always be an enormous sense of gratitude to her. He was in bits after Waterloo and she’s a big part of his rehabilitation. There is a planned series of books set around the lives and loves of some of the men and women of the third brigade of the Light Division after the war, of which this is the second, so I think we will meet Cordelia and Giles again.
Kit and Philippa from A Respectable Womanare the most interesting in some ways. Somebody who has just finished the book and loved it asked about a sequel and it has made me think how this marriage is likely to work. Of all of them the gap between these two is the widest. Philippa has a lot to learn about how to be a Countess and for all his protestations that she can do as she likes, Kit is going to need to learn to let her be herself. I think the key to this one is going to be for both of them to find something to do outside of the marriage so that neither of them feel smothered. They’re both used to being busy and having a job to do. The big advantage that they have is Kit’s mother, a very wise and understanding woman who is going to be a big help to Philippa. I think they’ll be all right but I suspect there might be a few fireworks along the way.
Then we have Paul and Anne who began their journey in An Unconventional Officer. There is a lot about relationships in this and the subsequent novels in the Peninsular War saga. There’s no point in speculating about Paul and Anne because their story doesn’t end with the book, it continues through the series. We’re going to see how Paul and Anne and the other characters cope with trying to be together in the middle of a war and it’s not always likely to be easy.
I’ve been lucky enough to see an example of a very happy marriage with my parents. They’d been married for over fifty years when my Dad died and there were definitely ups and downs. But they stayed devoted to one another. Theirs is a story I’d like to write one day
In the meantime, Happy Anniversary to the man I married. 23 years and we’re still here. It feels like something to celebrate…
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Introducing An Unconventional Officer, the first in a major new series about the Peninsular War which spans the years from 1802 to 1810.
Melton Barracks, Leicestershire, 1802….
“Sergeant, what is going on out on the parade ground?”
Michael had been vaguely aware of the rising noise. “Bayonet training, sir. Mr van Daan is supposed to be running it.”
He got up to go to the door. The men had been paired off and were running through the basic movements using wooden bayonets. He had looked out earlier and it had been going smoothly. The young lieutenant had obviously paid good attention to his lessons on the south coast. He had paired up each new man with an experienced soldier and he, Lieutenant Swanson and Sergeant Stewart had been doing the rounds of the men, commenting and correcting. By now O’Reilly was fairly sure that the light company had found its new officers. It was still early days, but they were workers. There had not been a single morning when he had arrived for early drill on the parade ground and found either of them absent or late.
But something had gone badly wrong now. Rory Stewart had been demonstrating a drill using a real weapon. The Van Daan lad was still holding the wooden replica he had been using earlier. What had happened, Michael had no idea, but Stewart was steadily advancing on the younger man, his face grim and set, and Van Daan was backing up, parrying quickly. Around them the men had all stopped to stare. Carl Swanson called out to Stewart to stop, and the Scot ignored him. Michael stared in horror for a moment, as Lieutenant Wheeler yelled an order to Stewart. The sergeant did not appear to even hear him.
“What the bloody hell is he doing?” Wheeler demanded, spinning round in search of a weapon. “Has he gone stark staring mad?”
“Sally Crane,” Michael whispered. He was temporarily frozen to the spot. “Oh dear Christ, this is my fault. Stewart is going to kill him.”
“Not on my bloody parade ground he’s not!” Wheeler said. He had located his pistol and was loading it fast. Michael ran out onto the parade ground, shouting again at Stewart. The Scot did not even look round. He lunged suddenly and Michael was nowhere near close enough to reach him and the point thrust directly at the boy’s throat and Michael closed his eyes in horror. And then there was an agonised yell, and he opened them again because it had been the broad Scots of Stewart’s voice that shouted.
Paul van Daan and the Scot were both on the ground. As O’Reilly watched, Paul got up. Stewart lay there, clutching both shins in agony. Van Daan tossed aside the wooden training tool and picked up Stewart’s bayonet, which he had dropped. Astonished, O’Reilly realised that the boy had waited until Stewart was close enough to reach him, and then dropped onto the ground and hit him across the legs with the wooden bayonet. He must have used considerable force, as Stewart seemed unable to get up. Paul van Daan stood over the Scot and pointed the bayonet directly at his throat and O’Reilly caught his breath. There was a completely new expression on his face and he no longer looked anything like the laughing boy from the tavern. (From An Unconventional Officer by Lynn Bryant)
Welcome to the 110th Infantry. A new regiment and not that well regarded, it is being sent not to Europe to fight Napoleon, but to India, under a young and relatively inexperienced General called Arthur Wellesley. For months the 110th has been trying to attract new officers without success. It lacks the prestige, the history and the social standing of other regiments and commissions are cheap.
All that is about to change.
Paul van Daan is an officer with a mission and isn’t much interested in letting anybody stand in his way. From the bloody battlefield of Assaye through Europe and into Portugal and Spain, An Unconventional Officer follows the men and women of the 110th as they prepare to take a stand against the might of Napoleon’s French Empire.
With the 110th travel two very different women.
Rowena Summers, the shy young governess whose steady affection brings stability and peace to Paul’s life.
Anne Howard, lovely strong-willed and intelligent, who changes everything Paul thought he knew about women.
As Europe explodes into war, an unforgettable love story unfolds which spans the continent and the years of the Peninsular War and changes the lives of everyone it touches.
Welcome to the Peninsular War Saga book 1 – An Unconventional Officer
Published May 30th 2017. Available on Kindle or as a paperback.
Why not head over and read the whole of the first chapter here.
At the age of thirty two, Giles Fenwick, Earl of Rockcliffe had earned himself a reputation in the polite world as a dangerous rake, adept at seduction and quick to boredom with the women he pursued. The matchmaking mammas had welcomed him with open arms three years earlier upon his return from Waterloo, a professional soldier come unexpectedly into the ancient title and accompanying fortune. These days, the Earl was aware that the same ladies eyed him askance and warned their delicate charges to avoid him if possible. There seemed no prospect of him doing his duty and marrying to secure the succession, and few mothers would have wanted to entrust their daughters to the scarred, cynical Earl with his unpredictable temper, his reputation for seducing married women, for keeping low company, having expensive mistresses in his keeping and for saying whatever outrageous thing should enter his head on any occasion. The nobility of his birth and the size of his fortune ensured his continued welcome in the houses of the ton. Rockcliffe, who had returned from the army reluctant to be in any kind of society, was sardonically amused at how easy people found it to ignore his behaviour when dazzled by his title and money. But he had little in common with most of the well born people who saw themselves as his equals, and at times found their company stifling and overwhelmingly tedious.
Rockcliffe knew that the nature of his military service had a good deal to do with that. For many years he had served in the Peninsula under Wellington. Initially an excellent junior officer of light infantry, his intelligence, his talent for languages and his initiative had brought a transfer and he had served for much of the war as an exploring officer. These officers in Wellington’s army were under the command of the Quartermaster General. They operated on their own or with one or two local guides and their task was to collect first-hand tactical intelligence by riding to enemy positions, observing and noting movements and making sketch maps of uncharted land. The work was highly dangerous and required physical fitness, good horsemanship and a willingness to take risks. Captain Giles Fenwick had been a legend in Wellington’s army, his exploits talked of and laughed over in mess and over campfires.
It was a solitary life, and bred independence and impatience with rules and conventions. Hardly the best training, the Earl thought wryly, swinging himself out of bed, for an Earl entering polite society. But he could have done better if he had tried harder. He had not wanted to. The years of danger and excitement, the fights and the killing had culminated in the horror of Waterloo where he had seen friends and comrades cut down around him. He had expected to die from the wounds received on that day. But he had lived, had come home to be courted and feted by the polite world who would have petted him and made a hero of him if they could. He could not bear it – and made no attempt to hide the fact.
I’m delighted by how many people seem to be reading and enjoying The Reluctant Debutante which is now also available in paperback.
By the time we meet him in a humble tavern on the London road in 1819, Giles has inherited a title from his uncle and is the Earl of Rockcliffe. It has been a difficult transition for Giles who was, for many years, a penniless young officer in Wellington’s army, initially in a line regiment and then as one of Wellington’s exploring officers. He returned to regular service for the battle of Waterloo where he was seriously wounded and lost Simon Carlton, one of his best friends.
For anybody who would like to know more about Giles’ early years before he met and fell in love with a merchant’s daughter, you’ll be glad to know that the opportunity will arise during the course of the Peninsular War Saga as the regiment that young Ensign Fenwick joins is the first battalion of the 110th Infantry, commanded by the young and flamboyant Major Paul van Daan.
I wrote The Reluctant Debutante as a standalone novel and when I began writing the first of the Peninsular Books some time afterwards, the connection did not immediately occur to me. Giles was an exploring officer who operated away from the main army. However, as I spent more and more time researching Wellington’s army, it became clear to me that Giles would have started out in an ordinary regiment before being seconded to that post. We already know that he was poor, with no money to join the guards or an expensive cavalry regiment, and we also already know that his uncle, whom he visited, had an estate in Leicestershire, the home county for the 110th.
Giles is a few years younger than Paul van Daan. When Paul joins the 110th in 1802 he would have been just fifteen, still at school. But it did not seem unreasonable that when he was looking to join the army, he might have found a commission in the local regiment, the 110th cheap to buy, just as Carl Swanson did some years earlier. Moreover, I had a strong feeling that the young Giles Fenwick was probably the sort of lad who would catch the attention of Major van Daan and his clever wife. They like young officers with a strong personality and a lot to offer and Lord Wellington was always looking for men who might be suitable for his Corps of Guides.
After that the connection was obvious. Giles does not appear in the first book, although he joins the 110th in 1805 when he is eighteen. But he has the misfortune to be commissioned into the seventh company of the first battalion under the disaster that was Captain Vincent Longford, which means it is going to be some years before he finds himself under the command of Major van Daan. What happens then and how he becomes an exploring officer will be told during the course of the series.
I love connections like this, and having realised that I was going to be able to explore Giles’ back story as part of my saga, I realised that thanks to having unintentionally used the same surname in two of my books, I could create another connection, this time with the gallant Major Kit Clevedon of A Respectable Woman Kit is another officer who comes late into a title unexpectedly, but at twenty he gained financial independence from his bullying father when he inherited a small estate from an uncle. It didn’t take me long to work out that the character from An Unconventional Officerwho shares his surname would have been 68 had he died that year. It would appear that Gervase Clevedon, one of Paul’s most reliable officers and very good friends, was the uncle from whom Kit inherited. I wonder if it was his idea for Kit to join the army to get him away from his unhappy home life? I rather suspect that it was; Gervase was a very good soldier and would have approved of the life for a favourite nephew…
Giles Fenwick also makes a cameo appearance in A Regrettable Reputationwhich is now the first book in the Light Division Romances, a series which follows the stories of some of the supporting characters from the Peninsular War Saga back into civilian life after the war.
My third standalone novel, A Marcher Lordis from a different time period entirely. However, the Scottish borders have provided fine soldiers to His Majesty’s armies for many hundreds of years. I have a strong suspicion that although nobody would know it, some red haired descendent of Will and Jenny Scott would have been fighting alongside the Van Daans, the Fenwicks and the Clevedons on Wellington’s front line. I’ll let you know if I run into him at some point.
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Paul had just rallied his men after their encounter with the left column, keeping a wary eye on the French and trying to assess the extent of the damage. The first company had taken the worst punishing. He had no way of knowing how many were dead and how many lay wounded on the field, but more than half of them were missing including all of the officers. His own light company was battered and bloody and there were faces he searched for and could not find. “Sergeant, where’s Grogan?” O’Reilly shook his head exhaustedly. He was sporting a bloody arm where it had been grazed by a musket ball. “Down, sir,” he said quietly. “Wounded?” “Dead. No doubt.” Paul nodded. The green-jacketed rifleman was one of the oldest in his company and had been with him since India. “Poor bastard. Isn’t his wife expecting again?”
I mentioned a few days ago that I am already tired of the battle of Talavera. Home again after spending the Easter weekend with friends I am contemplating another go at it. I’ve been whinging about Talavera but in some ways it illustrates the general problems of writing about battles.
In writing a series of books about the Peninsular War, it’s hard to avoid the odd battle. They occur with increasing regularity, interrupting the daily life of my characters and causing death and mayhem all over the place and they are impossible to ignore.
Researching battles is actually quite fun. There are a lot of first hand published accounts of this war as well as a fair few histories stuffed with maps and diagrams and other useful tools. In addition, some people have written modern guides to the battlefields for people wanting to tour them.
We weren’t able to get to Talavera during our recent trip around battle sites. It was too far off our route and I had read that a motorway recently built makes it difficult to get much sense of how the country would have looked. I found it incredibly helpful to visit the sites of some of the other battles I’m writing about. My fictional regiment, the 110th took part in Talavera, Sobral, Massena’s retreat and Sabugal, and then the fighting along the border the following year leading up to Salamanca and I made it to most of these places, but the two major battles in the first book were left out so I’m doing Talavera from books and maps and photos.
The problem of battles is how to write them. Battles weren’t particularly neat and tidy, they weren’t always well organised and they often took place over ground covering several miles. Things didn’t happen in neat chronological order, so the battle could be going well in one part of the field while disaster struck on the other. And the most crucial problem from an author’s point of view is that for whole sections of the time the men involved had no idea what was going on.
That leaves the choice of whether to write from the point of view of the individuals involved or whether to take a more general view so as to tell the reader what is happening all over the field. There is also, in my case, the action off the field since what is happening in the surgeons tents is of some importance to the plot. With so much going on there is a danger of flitting from one place to another leaving the reader completely bewildered. I suspect my first draft of Talavera was guilty of this since the man I married informed me he had no idea what was going on when he read it.
The other problem is how long to spend describing battles. Book one of the series begins with Paul joining the 110th and describes his early days with the regiment including the battle of Assaye. At this stage he has not met either of the two women in his life and the focus is very much on the action on the field and it’s aftermath.
By the time we reach Talavera there is some conflict. Not only do I have to work out where the 110th is fighting and what happens to the main characters in the regiment as the day unfolds, but I need to keep an eye on my female character who has her own role to play for the first time. It’s a delicate balance between turning the thing into a military history rather than a novel or giving the impression that the battle is a mere backdrop to the personal lives of the characters. I’m working on how to get that right. Time will tell.
Having said all of that, I like a good battle. It enables me to to bring out the best in some of my characters – and on occasion, the worst. It highlights personality traits and gives opportunities to move the plot along very quickly. There are opportunities for some light-hearted moments but far more opportunities for tragedy. At the end of a battle nothing is ever quite the same.
I’m rather looking forward to getting on with Talavera and I’m hoping it will be the last big section of rewriting I need to do on the first book before it’s ready to publish. I wonder if I’ll still be as cheerful about it by the end of next week…..