Meet Nicola Cornick . . .

1valchloesmall Hi all, Anne here, introducing my friend English historical romance author, Nicola Cornick. We started off as "baby" authors at much the same time, and struck up a cyber friendship from our different corners of the world. Nicola's written twenty-three historical romances for Harlequin Mills and Boon (Harlequin Historicals) and seven for HQN Books. As well as being popular with readers all over the world, she's also had critical acclaim; she's been a RITA finalist twice, has twice finalled in the Romantic Novelists’ Association's Romance Prize and has been nominated for several Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Awards. 


I am delighted to welcome Nicola to the Word Wench blog. 

NC: Thank you very much for inviting me to blog with the Word Wenches, Anne! It’s a great pleasure to be here.  

AG: Nicola, tell us a little about yourself. 

Nicola portrait

NC:  Well, to introduce myself – I was born in Yorkshire, in the North of England, of largely Scandinavian ancestry. According to the studies on personality types that apparently makes me practical, down to earth, very relationship-oriented and conscientious! It’s certainly true that I value family, friends – and pets – very highly indeed and that I work hard and fret over the stuff that doesn’t get done. The flipside of the character is apparently a tendency to sadness (not helped by all those long, dark northern winters) but actually I’ve found this useful for my writing! Romantic Times reviews frequently comment that my books are very emotional and I think I’m accessing that “northern melancholy.” But most of the time I’m a jolly soul because I love my writing life and consider myself very lucky.

When I’m not writing I’m usually to be found working for the National Trust at Ashdown House, more of which later, or training guide dog puppies, or travelling! I have American cousins and love to visit them and I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the world although I still have Australia and New Zealand on my “must visit” list!


AG: Oh, good, you must come one day — we'd love to have you. The Australian and NZ conferences are in August each year. (hint hint) 

What drew you to a) writing fiction and b) historical romance?

NC: I never made a conscious decision to become a writer, which may sound odd but looking back I can see I was rather slow in working out what I really wanted to do as a career! After I graduated from college in London I became a university administrator and followed that career for 15 years. It was fine but it didn’t set my world alight. I wanted to work with history in some way and kept considering other jobs but nothing really appealed.

At the same time I was an avid reader and had been since childhood. Like so many historical authors I started out reading Georgette Heyer when I was in my teens (Devil’s Cub was my first) and I devoured books by writers including Anya Seton, Mary Stewart – both the historicals and the contemporary novels – and Victoria Holt. Then I discovered Mills & Boon historical romances at my local library and I was in seventh heaven! I read every Mills & Boon historical they had plus all the 1970s UK Regency authors as well such as Sheila Walsh, Clare Darcy and Alice Chetwynd Ley. I was desperate for new reading matter and I kept popping in to the library every week hoping that my favourite authors would have written something new. Eventually the librarians had to explain to me that it took longer than a week to produce a book! True colours - US

By the time I was eighteen I had run out of historical romances to read so I started to write my own. It took me twelve years to be published, Mills & Boon rejected the book three times, but eventually it became my first Regency True Colours. I can remember the moment when I suddenly realised that this was what I wanted to do. It was so exciting – and hey, it only took me 12 years to work it out! 

AG: I'm so very glad you persisted, and True Colours is a lovely book. Your passion for history is not simply related to your writing, is it? Tell us how history permeates some of the other areas your life, in particular your work at Ashdown House.

Ashdown1 NC: Yes, Ashdown House is most definitely one of my passions! It’s a beautiful seventeenth century hunting lodge and I work there as a guide and a historian. I’m writing the history of the house and the Craven family who owned it. It’s taking me years and years because I keep getting distracted by obscure pieces of research and disappear off at a tangent! Not only is the house stunningly pretty and well worth a visit but the Craven family history is fascinating. The Regency Earl of Craven was the sort of man who could inspire a book. He had a successful army career, married an actress and sailed his armed schooner in the English Channel during the Napoleonic Wars, in defiance of the French privateers! 

AG: He certainly sounds like a real hero.  You and I were first published around the same time, and with the same editor, and I think we were some of the first non US-based authors to be published in Harlequin Historicals. Did this change anything for you? 

NC: We were! You and I were the first two non US-based authors to be published in Harlequin Historicals. I remember feeling honoured to be chosen but also daunted as well. I knew very little about the US market and when I received my first reviews and started to hear from readers I realised how active and engaged the US romance community was. This was a total eye opener for me! I also discovered all the wonderful US and Australian authors writing in the Regency genre so as a reader it was amazing – seventh heaven all over again!  It also made me feel the need to raise my game in a market where there were so many great books, and authors writing with such verve and freshness. So in terms of my writing development it was extremely good for me.

AG: Of course these days Harlequin Historicals and Mills and Boon historicals are both edited out of London. One of the things I always loved about the London office is that they're very open to different time periods and different settings. You yourself have written books set in a range of eras and locations – even writing a 1908 book for the Mills and Boon centenary. That sounds like fun — modern and yet not modern. 

NC: I totally agree that it is one of the great strengths of HMB that they encourage authors to write historicals with such diverse backgrounds and periods. I’ve written two books for them that were set outside the Regency era. My first was Lord Greville’s Captive, which was set in the English Civil War. It’s a period of history I would love to revisit with my writing because it was a time of such intense conflict leading to equally intense passions and loyalties. The other book, the Edwardian-set one was a lot of fun to write. In some ways the period reminded me of the Regency, with its conspicuous consumption and glittering high society. What surprised me was that so many aspects of our daily life were already in place a hundred years ago. For example the London Underground was operating and was already known as the Tube, cars were becoming more frequent on the streets and if the King wanted to visit his friends he would telephone to let them know! I loved researching the fashions as well.

HMB have also published a first person Regency of mine that came out in March this year which is called Kidnapped: His Innocent Mistress. It’s good to know that I can refresh my writing by doing something different and writing a first person book was definitely different!


AG: I believe you've also written a story for Harlequin's new "Undone" e-book line. Tell us about that.


NC: It was lots of fun writing a Harlequin Historical Undone for the launch of the new line! I like writing short stories so to be asked to write one that was super-hot was super-fun! The Undone imprint really sizzles, it’s very naughty and a great way for writers to draw on their wild side! To my mind the challenge is to create something that is short and sexy but also very romantic, to build convincing characters and create a meaningful relationship between them, and all in 15 000 words max!

Monty


AG: Do you have a writing routine? You have a dog and two cats, who no doubt supervise much of your writing. 

NC: Yes, they do!  I imagine lots of authors find that their pets do this, including yourself! They are arch-manipulators and have me perfectly trained to fit my writing around their requirements rather than vice versa! My cats try to steal my office chair each day and really resent being thrown off. Monty, my dog, is an expert at staring. If I am so engrossed in my writing he will come up and put his head on my lap and stare fixedly at me until he breaks my concentration! I’ve written about how my writing routine is dictated by my pets on my website at: http://www.nicolacornick.co.uk/day_in_the_life.htm


AG:  What's the difference between your Harlequin Historicals and your books for HQN?Lord of scandal - US

NC: Well, first of all it’s a huge privilege to be able to write for both lines because they give me different challenges. My Harlequin Historicals are the ones that are more diverse in that they are set in different eras or I can try something experimental with the style, like the first person narrative. 

I started writing for HQN in 2006. My editor had pointed out to me that my Harlequin Historical Regencies were becoming more and more like single titles – they were getting too long for the word count and I kept introducing secondary characters and complex sub-plots. I was very fortunate that Harlequin had established the HQN Books imprint around that time to publish mainstream romance so now I write my Regency Historicals for HQN Books and throw in secondary romances and sub-plots to my heart’s content!

AG: Lovely. It's also great that the HQN Nicola Cornicks remain available to buy longer than your series books. Will you share an extract from one your HQN books, please?

Unmasked - US

NC: Of course. Here is an extract from my most recent HQN Regency historical, Unmasked:

“I know it was you in the fountain,” he said softly, whilst her trapped mind ran back and forth over the possibilities. “You may protest if you wish but I believe I would recognise you anywhere.”

 A shiver ran along Mari’s nerves and she drew the silver shawl more tightly about her shoulders. Oh yes, he recognised her from the gardens but did he know her from the tavern as well? It felt as though they were already deeply involved in a game of hunter and hunted and any admission she made could be so very dangerous.

Challenge him. See how far he will go, what he will give away…

She had always been a gambler. She had had to be in order to survive. Sometimes to throw down the gauntlet was the only way.

She gave a little shrug. “Very well. I concede that I was the woman you saw in the fountain. I thought I was unobserved. It was… careless of me.”

He flashed her a smile, a disturbingly attractive one. Her toes curled instinctively within her slippers and her heart did another giddy little skip as though she was a schoolroom miss developing a tendre rather than a mature woman of five and twenty. 

“I like it that you do not pretend,” he said. His voice was intimately low. “Ninety nine women out of one hundred would have claimed not to understand me.”

If only he knew. Sometimes she forgot where the pretence began – and where it ended.

She gave him a very straight look. “Of course they would, and who could blame them? A reputation dies all too easily, as you must know, Major Falconer.”

When he remained silent, watching her face, she raised her brows. “Was that all?"

She saw his lips twitch into another smile at her attempted dismissal of him.

“No, it was not all.” He reached forward. His fingers brushed against her neck very lightly and lingered, warm against her skin. “You had better hide that curl if you do not wish anyone else to guess your secret. Your hair is still wet. You must have rushed home and dressed in a great hurry.”

 * * * * *
AG: Sounds fabulous, Nicola. Thank you so much for joining us on Word Wenches.

Nicola is giving away a copy of Unmasked and her previous HQN title, Lord of Scandal. To enter in the draw for one of these books, answer the following question: Which historical era fascinates you the most and what is your favourite book set in that era?

And to learn more about Nicola and her books, go here.

Guests . . . and a New Wench!

NicolaCornick On Monday, 4/27, Nicola Cornick will be the guest of Anne Gracie.  Nicola is a very popular, prolific and well respected English writer of historical romance. She's written twenty-three historical romances for Harlequin Mills and Boon (Harlequin Historicals) and seven for HQN Books. As well as being popular with readers all over the world,  she's finalled for such prestigious awards as the RWA RITA, the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association's Romance Prize and for Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Awards. She's a passionate historian, she gained an honors degree in Medieval History from London University, and went on later to study for a Masters degree at Ruskin College at Oxford University. Her dissertation was on heroes.

Then on Wednesday, 4/29, PATI NAGLE will be Mary Jo Putney's guest.  Pati lives in the mountains of New Mexico, and like many writers, she is easily TheBetrayaldistracted from the throes of creativity by her numerous pastimes, which include gardening, going to tea, making music, cooking, digital photography, role-playing games her writer buddies, and all sorts of card games, from bridge to poker.  She's been writing science fiction and fantasy since the 1980s, and her stories have appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction, the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Cricket, and several anthologies.  She has also written historical novels as P.G. Nagle. Her fantasy novel The Betrayal debuted this year.  

And hold onto your hats, because on 5/1 our NEW WENCH makes her curtsy!  We're keeping it a mystery until Friday, but here's hint:  she's been a guest before, and is an Honorary Word Wench who just won a Romantic Times award.  She'll be joining us on a regular basis starting Friday.

Mark your calendars and bring your buddies.  Let the festivities begin!

Easters I have known…

Valchloesmall Hi, Anne here, at the beginning of Easter. I've always enjoyed Easter. Here it's a public holiday, a four day "weekend" when most shops and businesses close down and many people hit the road on Thursday afternoon and hope for a last burst of warm weather. It's traditionally a family time, and it usually starts with hot cross buns on Friday morning. Mostly I buy them from the supermarket and heat them up, but there's nothing better than hot, home- baked buns fresh from the oven, so here's a recipe for hot cross buns from the wonderful Delia Smith. 

Hotcrossbuns


Sunday's the next most important day and whether you go to church or have an Easter egg hunt for the kids (or both) many families get together on the Sunday for a big roast dinner. 

Ovensriver Often, during my childhood, Easter was a time for barbecues in the bush. Dad disdained special equipment for barbecues — a piece of tin and a box of matches was all we needed, apart from food.  We kids would be sent scouring the bush for wood and we'd build a rough semicircle with river stones and get a fire going while Mum and my godmother and various other Easter regular visitors would butter bread or slice tomatoes. Then we'd cook sausages and lamb chops, washed down with tea for the adults and cold water straight from the stream for us. All very simple, but a veritable feast to us kids — there's something about cooking and eating out of doors, isn't there? This is the river along which many of those barbecues were held — beautiful, isn't it? If you want to read a little more detail about those barbecues, go here.

Another Easter ritual in my family was the reading of The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes,Countrybunny  by Dubose Heyward, illustrated by Marjorie Flack. I still have my copy. It's a lovely story with beautiful illustrations and I'm delighted to see it's still in print today.


I've also enjoyed Orthodox Easter celebrations, both overseas and in Australia. I remember long, chilly, midnight services, and then the moment when the candle-flame is passed from person to person and it's utterly beautiful in its simplicity. I love the cracking of the red eggs and all the delicious food that follows, though not the lamb's innards soup — it's an acquired taste, I'm told ;) 

I also adore eggs of all sorts, especially chocolate ones. When I was a kid we started the Sunday at crack of dawn with an Easter egg hunt, but we weren't supposed to eat them until after church. I can tell you, there was much furtive crackling of foil during Sunday school ;) 

Decoratedeggs Then there are the intricately decorated eggs. My schoolfriend Nadija, who's of Ukrainian background, used to make the most beautiful eggs, painstakingly waxed and dipped in dye and rewaxed and dipped. 

And look at these brilliant eggs, made by Danish egg carver, Franc Grom, 

Carvedegg who drills away the shell to make the most beautiful delicate designs. Read more about his creations here.


If Easter is wet, kids can get very bored, so here are a few craft activities that might help. Here's a site that gives some lovely, simple ideas for decorating eggs at home, including the use of natural dyes from your garden and kitchen. 

Pop-up cards are easier to make than you think. Here's a good tutorial. 

And here's a youtube demo of how to make an Easter chick pop-up card. A pattern for the card is here.

And try an Easter bunny pop-up card. This site has some amazing designs, so it's a great activity for all ages.

Danish papercrafter, Margit Ammentorp has some beautiful paper basket patterns that she very generously shares. Here are some simple print-off-and-cut-out ones for children.

Paperbaskets Try making Danish woven paper hearts. They're perfect for putting a few little eggs in. Looks complicated but isn't. Here are some more Danish heart designs from Margit Ammentorp. I made these from her printable designs. Click on the link for the pattern for the robins, the pandas or the poppies.


So, what will you be doing this Easter? And do you have any special memories of Easters from your childhood. Any special recipes or crafts? And if you don't celebrate Easter, what do you celebrate around this time of year?

If wishes were movies…

1valchloesmall
Anne here, responding to a question from one of our readers. JaneAnn  asked, "Why can't we see more books go to TV movies? Although I predominately read, I do like a good movie —generally after I have read the book.  TV stinks so my nose is always in a book of one kind or another. I like them all, if well written. Live to read and read to Live."  ( JaneAnn will receive a book for the question)

JaneAnn, it's an interesting question. Of course, authors aren't the ones who make the decision about whether to turn a book into a movie, but it's also an issue that's been niggling at me lately. Quite often contemporary romances get made into movies, but I don't know of many (any?) historicals — and given the current popularity of costume dramas, I think that's a pity. Is it maybe because movie producers don't know about the wealth of stories out there, or are there too many to look at, so they don't look at any? 

I love Jane Austen, but lately I've been wondering how many more Jane Austen movies, remakes and spinoffs can we bear? Don't get me wrong — I've enjoyed every version of Pride and Prejudice I've seen, from the old black and white version with Greer Garson as Lizzy and Sir Laurence Olivier as a wonderfully stiff Darcy, to the Colin Firth wet shirt series and I even enjoyed the Keira Knightly / Matthew Macfayden version with the peculiar pig-wandering-through scene (what were they thinking of?) I've liked them each for each for different reasons, though the series was the only one that could live up to the book, simply because of its length. And that's just from one title. But really, I think it's time to give Austen a little rest — look around, movie makers and TV producers — there are many more wonderful books out there that would make wonderful costume dramas.Cranford

For instance, Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters, North and South (with Richard Armitage, sigh,) and more recently, Cranford have all been excellent. 

But I would love producers and directors to look wider afield, not just at nineteenth century novelists, but at some more recent novels set in historical times.

In particular, I would dearly love to see Georgette Heyer's books made into movies. Her books are superb — witty, fast paced, well plotted, with brilliant characters. There have been just two of her books filmed, as far as I know — a German version of Arabella, about which I know nothing, and a British adaptation of The Reluctant Widow in 1950 which was so bad that Heyer was reportedly horrified and refused to allow any more of her books to be turned into films. 

Widow

.

I've seen that film — it turns up on late night tv reruns from time to time. It was made as a gothic adventure and the hero was acted by a tall, cadaverous fellow with long gangly legs and a very strange hairdo. Not my image of a hero at all! And the movie heroine was a helpless wimp, not at all like Heyer's Elinore, who was a woman of humor and character. The script writers had no understanding of the appeal of the novel, so they culled all the humor, characterization and subtlety from the book, keeping only the bare bones of the mystery plot. So I can understand Heyer's distress and her subsequent ban.

.Heyer

But fifty years has passed since that debacle, and as far as I am concerned the time is ripe for Heyer books to be filmed, hopefully by the people who did such a superb job of the Gaskell books, or the people who made P&P the series (cue to wet shirt) and not by screen adaptors who don't understand the appeal of the original.

But it's not just Heyer, there are dozens more, probably hundreds of historical romances I can think of that have the qualities necessary to make great movies  — action, lively, sparky dialogue and a rattling good yarn, and written by (gasp!) living writers. 

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I'd love to see Elizabeth Lowell's 3 connected medieval historicals (Untamed, Forbidden and Untouched) made into movies. Amanda Quick's stories would easily adapt to the screen, I think. Mary Jo Putney and Jo Beverley's books are so meaty and complex they'd make brilliant mini series. I'd love to see Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm made into a movie, and  Eva Ibbotson's books would, I think make excellent films. And I would probably kill to see Loretta Chase's Mr. Impossible in a movie, though I'm not sure who'd play Rupert…

And the list goes on as more and more titles spring to mind…

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So if you had the power to make just one historical into a movie or TV series, what would it be, and why? 

And if you were able to cast a movie for Mr Impossible, who would you choose to play Rupert? 

And if you know any movie producers, please, hand them your favorite historical romance.

In Praise of Everyday Heroes

1valchloesmall
 Anne here. A month ago I blogged about extreme weather and the heat wave that struck Melbourne, the city I live in. The next day we had the worst bushfires in our history. The extreme heat, the prolonged drought and the weather conditions on the days following all contributed to the most appalling disaster. 

Whole communities have been devastated, two hundred and ten people killed, hundreds of houses, thousands of animals killed, and miles and miles of beautiful bushland reduced to ash and charcoal.  Words cannot describe the tragedy that resulted. My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones, homes, livelihoods in the fire. Almost everyone I know has someone who has been touched by this disaster.

Below is the view from Kinglake, one of the devastated communities, to the city. [Picture: David Geraghty]Ciytyscape

The speed, intensity and power of the fires was unimaginable. Cars melted as people tried to drive them away. Houses, and all their contents were reduced to ash and rubble. It came like a tsunami of fire, and whole communities, accustomed to fighting bushfires, were devoured in minutes. 

Fireman

Which brings me to the topic of this blog. I'm not talking about heroes in books this time. This is a tribute to the everyday heroes who've been fighting these fires, day and night for weeks on end. The firefighters, the men and women who've battled on, exhausted in the heat and smoke, facing the unimaginable, but never giving up.

Because the vast majority of these ordinary men and women are volunteer firefighters. They are members of the Country Fire Authority, which is one of the largest volunteer-based organizations in the world. The CFA services more than 150,000 square kilometres and 2.8 million people, and currently has nearly 60,000 active volunteers with almost 500 career firefighters and 700 career support staff.[Photo: Jason South (theage.com.au)]

They are volunteers, unpaid, but highly trained, regularly risking their lives, and giving up their time to fight fires. In the last month they have worked around the clock to bring these fires under control. Some of them have lost their own houses to the fires while they were battling to save someone else's.

Heroes one and all. As are their partners, the husbands and wives who support them, and the families who must cope with the anxiety and the aftermath. It's not just a dangerous, exhausting job, it's also emotionally devastating. 

 The fires raged on. For weeks the city air was  a haze of smoke. But a few days ago it rained — the first rain we've had in months — and finally, finally the last of the bushfires were brought under control. [Photo : David Caird]

Rain

And after the fires passed, while the firefighters and volunteer rescue services were cleaning up, more heroes came to pick up the pieces; the survivors — human and animal — fed, clothed and housed, the tragic remains identified. Donations have been flooding in — the whole country is appalled by the loss. People are desperate to help.

Almost immediately after the fires were reported, other local communities started to organize. There but for the grace of God…

Following is part of an email sent to me by a friend, a fellow writer who volunteers as a tourist guide one morning a week. It was sentn on 11th February. I have her permission to share it. 

Today was simply amazing – our local shire took it upon themselves  to put out a plea for any sort of animal needs from budgie to camel. We  diverted the big stuff – that's on its way already – what we coped with today  was the small stuff. I have never seen a com
munity so desperate to do something. We had old men with budgie food and old ladies staggering under 40 kg bags of dog food and people who looked like they had no money to bless themselves with coming in with a boot load of quality dog  food – `in small lots cos they'd be more useful in a tent' – aren't some people thoughtful? We had vets arriving with vet stuff – things like teats for injured animals – we had kennels arriving – one guy arrived with ten brand new trampoline beds for big dogs. And so much kitty litter!!! The woman I was working with was muttering "What's wrong with ash?" We filled the local hall which is huge. People came to give and stayed to help.


We had wooden pallets donated – every time we needed something it  generally took half a phone call – moving van guys donated boxes – we needed plastic and tape and the manager of local stationery supplier was there in a  minute -we'd organized trailers but just when the stuff was starting to look overwhelming, one guy came in with a whole bunch of horse gear —fantastic stuff — his daughter's grown out of riding – looked around said you guys look like you could use a semi trailer and five minutes later he had it organized so we have a huge semi – then had to reorganize load so every centre gets what it needs and stuff is easy  to unpack. Thanks to our stationery guy every pallet is cling wrapped so they're totally weather proof and vermin proof.


Cos I had a name tag – there were five of us with name tags – everyone assumed we knew what we were doing and amazingly it sort of worked. Half way through the afternoon when tins of cat food were starting to blow a hole in our heads the manager of the local disability workshop arrived with ten kids – they took over a couple of stalls and did the most fantastic job boxing tins according to pics on cans. And the people,… I can't tell you – horse floats and ancient utes and a zippy little open topped Mazda Mx 5 loaded with chook feed – lined up in the street waiting for their turn to unload.


And one lady brought in a huge load of old blankets which was fab – looked at us all, went away and came back with two cartons of cold drinks. Aren't people fabulous?


Ain't it the truth? People can be fabulous, and we need to remind ourselves of that, when the media mainly shows us the other side of the coin. There are everyday heroes all around us, not just in books.

So who are your everyday heroes?