What We’re Reading – May

Traitor's KnotNicola here, introducing this month's feature on our Wenchly reading. After what felt like a long reading slump I’ve had an amazing month of good books. I was lucky enough to be a judge for the RNA Debut Novel award and really enjoyed the experience; there was a huge range of books in contention this year, ranging from an 18th century historical set in Ireland that was based on a riveting true story – Heart of Stone by John Jackson – to a laugh out loud romantic comedy – Perfect Match by Zoe May – with a load of other great books as well. You can find the whole list here if you would like to see what else is on there and if you enjoy the 17th century I can really recommend Traitor’s Knot by Cryssa Basos, a brilliantly-written, fast-paced and romantic historical adventure set during the English Civil War.

As if that wasn’t enough, I read Island in the East by Jenny Ashcroft which is one of the richest My Lady Thief and most exotic romantic historicals I’ve read in a long time. It reminded me of MM Kaye in the vivid drawing of the characters, the complex emotional relationships, the beautiful writing and the way that the location was a vivid character in itself.  The story is set in a dual time frame, Singapore in the Second World War and a parallel story forty years earlier.  In 1897, identical twins Harriet and Mae Grafton are sent to Singapore by their wealthy benefactor and their sibling love and support is fractured by rivalry and betrayal. In 1941, Ivy Harcourt, already suffering from wartime trauma, is posted to Singapore where she uncovers secrets from her grandmother Mae's past and experiences a romantic love of her own. I particularly loved Ivy and her hero Kit and were rooting for them all the way through.

 In between I also found the opportunity to glom on more of Emily Larkin’s Regency historicals (thank you, Anne, for the original recommendation!) and found what I think is my favourite so far, My Lady Thief. I loved everything about this book; the admirably confident heroine who had been made all the stronger by her traumatic past, the uptight hero who was utterly gorgeous underneath his stuffy exterior, and the beautiful way in which their relationship developed.

Dark AngelAnne writes: I finished Sebastien de Castell's four book swashbuckling series, "The Greatcoats", and found it a most satisfying read. If you're interested, start with Traitor's Blade.

Next I read Elly Griffiths, Dark Angel.  It's book #10 in her Dr. Ruth Galloway series, and I recommend you start at the beginning, not because each mystery can't be read on its own, but because the development of various characters through the series is a big part of the pleasure in reading these books. Elly Griffiths' narrator, Ruth has a dry, ironic humor that gently infuses her observations. Well worth reading.

I also read an advanced copy of Lucy Parker's new book, Making Up, which I loved. Lucy Parker wowed the Making up wenches with her debut, Act Like It, and the follow-up, Pretty Face, and I felt very smug that I scored an early read of her third book in her "London Celebrities" series. I'm interviewing Lucy Parker on Friday. Stay tuned.

Mary Jo here:

Amanda Quick is the historical pseudonym of Jayne Ann Krentz, and she's made an interesting progression over the years: The Quick books started with Regencies, moved to Victorians, and in her new Burning Cove series, the setting is the 1930s in a glitzy California seaside resort with links to Hollywood.  The first book of the series, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, came out last year and the second, The Other Lady Vanishes, is a new release. 

The other lady vanishesThe book begins with heroine Adelaide escaping from a horrible private asylum where she has been illegally held captive.  Once free, she heads to Burning Cove and a quiet life working in a tea shop.  But the past reaches out to ensnare her, a hot guy named Jake is in town in theory to help his nerves (which are actually made of steel <G>) and the action is on.  I like the 1930s setting, which is both familiar and distant, and there are hints of a world building toward war, though the focus is on Adelaide and Jake.  A rousing good read.

I also noticed that the first books in two series by Sharon Shinn, one of my favorite fantasy authors, are now Archangelonly $2.99 in e-editions. Shinn is a master of world building, and Archangel is set in a world where human-but-winged angels are overseers for the rest of the population.  Gabriel, who is slated to become the next Archangel, a post that is held for 20 years, needs to find his god-designated wife, but she has disappeared–and when he finds her, she is not keen on the program!  Don't be put off by the dark cover, it's a great read with a powerful romance.

The other series is the Elemental Blessings and the first book is Troubled Waters. Again, there is great world building and a fine romance.  Happy reading!


Still lifeThis past month I’ve been delving into the far-too-mountainous TBR pile, trying to catch up with all the recommendations I’ve been meaning to read. I heard Louise Penny speak at the Malice Domestic mystery conference last month, so was determined to finally start her Chief Inspector Gamache contemporary mystery series, set in Quebec, Canada. Am I glad I did! The first book, Still Life, follows the traditional cozy trope of a murder—this one of a 70 yr old woman in a small, isolated town, who seemed to have no enemies. But as the Inspector begins delving into the lives of the inhabitants, the peaceful tranquility is not what it seems. Penny writes wonderfully complex and vulnerable characters, and has a sharp eye for the nuances of family dynamics and marital relations. Inspector Gamache is a very interesting protagonist, too, and I’n really looking forward to continuing the series.

I also finally  read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonsson, a delightfully charming book about a Major Pettigrewwidowed retired English officer—a seemingly ordinary, by-the-book pillar of the community who strikes up a friendship with the Pakistani widow of the local convenience store . . . and suddenly begins to question what’s really important in life. There are laugh aloud scenes as the “new” major deals with his ambitious status-conscious son and his long-time friends at the golf club who think he’s gone off the rails. It’s a sly, witty commentary on modern life, but also a sweetly poignat celebration of "second acts” in life.

From Pat:

Heirs of GraceI've been in a reading slump lately, so perversely, I decided to clean out my TBR stack. You know how a TBR stack goes–the ones you just don't feel like reading right now drift to the bottom. It's probably a totally unfair means of choosing a book and predictably, I haven't finished a book in weeks. Nothing made me happy except a few old comfort reads I'd bought because they were on sale.

But back before my slump, I read HEIRS OF GRACE by Tim Pratt. Okay, I bought this because I'm a sucker for the fantasy of inheriting a big old mysterious house. In this case, the protagonist is an impoverished art student from Chicago who oddly inherits a derelict hoarder’s mansion in the mountains of NC. She knows she’s an orphan and assumes the person who left her the house was a relative—and quite a relative he was. The story is basically fantasy with Rebekah Lull learning about her magical family and having adventures and learning the morality of being almost all-powerful. There’s a witty boyfriend for the romance plot. I really wanted more on the personal side, but the story was a fun fantasy ride, and I happily followed it to the conclusion. If inheriting old houses and magic is your thing, this one’s for you!

 So, what are you reading  that delights, surprises, moves or intrigues you?

Behind the E-Pubbing Curtain

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2006-08-03 21.34.38by Mary Jo

Historical romance is my first and lasting writing love, and I’ve been writing it continuously since—heavens, 1986!  But the muse craves variety, so I’ve written in other directions along the way.  Always there is romance and a happy ending, and almost always there is history—except for my venture into contemporary romance. 

I wrote three novellas and one related novella in my Circle of Friends series, and it was a wonderful and challenging experience.  I had to develop a contemporary “voice,” and all the books were demanding, high research stories.  They were actually halfway between contemporary romance and mainstream women’s fiction.  If I had to categorize them, it would be as “romantic women’s fiction.”

From a marketing point of view, my timing was terrible.  I was writing serious books at a time when the market was moving to very frothy, light contemporary romances.  (Remember all those cartoon covers?) 

StirringTheEmbers_200The books were well reviewed, but they didn’t set the world on fire.  I learned many interesting things, such as the fact that there isn’t a huge crossover between historical and contemporary readers.  I got emails on the contemporaries asking if I’d ever written any other books. <G>

 So after the trilogy was done, I didn’t write any more contemporaries.  I had never quit my “day job”—I was still writing historical romance–so in the great scheme of things, the contemporaries were an interesting side excursion.  When they went out of print, I got the rights back as a matter of principle and that was that.


Then came the e-book revolution, and all of a sudden, it was possible to make backlist books available to readers.  Authors LOVE this!  All of our children, free at last!  The contemporaries were the very first books I published in e-form since they wouldn’t conflict with my ongoing historical work.

So the series has been available, though never selling as well as my historical backlist.  Then Nina Paules, who has built an amazing business producing and publishing e-books, casually mentioned that she thought the contemporaries would do well if they were renamed, repackaged, and relaunched with a more women’s fiction look.  (Nina and I met through this blog,  One of many benefits I’ve received at Word Wenches!)

I was reluctant to change titles because I don’t ever want to confuse readers into accidentally buying a book they’ve already read.  But I was persuaded that the titles needed to be changed to escape bad earlier reviews in online sites. Most of these reviews were for the first book, The Burning Point, and they dated back to the original release in 2000. 


All of the COF stories had edgy, controversial elements because I like exploring complicated issues and complicated people.  And in TBP, I tackled the most challenging situation I’ve ever done: Is it possible for two people who divorced over domestic violence to move on, grow, change—and then come together again to build on the love that never died to create a strong, healthy relationship?

The story is built around a romance, but the premise is very mainstream.  Escapist?  Not even close.  But powerful, important, and ultimately romantic?  Well, I thought so.  So did others—TBP was listed by LIBRARY JOURNAL as one of the top five romances of the year 2000, a recognition I’m very proud of.  It was also a Top Pick at Romantic Times

But light hearted escapism the books were not.  I understand that readers who were looking for more
Phoenix, Largetraditional romance wouldn’t like the story line.  But since I love all my books and want to find readers who enjoy them, I decided to work with Nina to repackage the contemporaries in hopes of finding a more women’s fiction audience. 

And so the Circle of Friends Series has become the Starting Over Series.  The Burning Point became Stirring the Embers.  The Spiral Path became Phoenix Fallling.  Twist of Fate became An Imperfect ProcessThe covers are dramatic and emotional, but not particularly sexy. 

But the story hasn’t changed.  Stirring the Embers is one of the rare books where I remember the exact inspiration: a feature article in the Baltimore Sun Sunday business section about the world famous explosive demolition company Controlled Demolition, Inc


CDI is a Baltimore company founded by Jack Loizeaux, a former army explosive expert who started by blowing up tree stumps and over time developed techniques for demolishing buildings in one grand bang rather than bashing away piece by piece. 

These days the company is run by his two sons, Mark and Doug.  In the article, they talked about studying a building till they know it on a deep, almost spiritual level.  They work with such precision that they don’t always feel the need to clear the parking lot next door to the imploded building.

I thought, “Wow, this is really interesting!!!  It would make a great story if a daughter of the company wanted to be one of their demolition engineers but her old-fashioned father won’t allow it. So she goes away and comes back later…”

I had years to think about the story before I had the chance to write it. I decided that a romance that had exploded and now might be rebuilt seemed like a good fit with the story of an explosive demolition company.  And by setting it in my hometown of Baltimore, I could use the flavor and texture of the city as my backdrop. 

I did lots of research!  Stacey Loizeaux, a third generation demolition engineer, was tremendously helpful in explaining how the business works.  Some of her anecdotes are in the story.  I looked at lots of movies of imploding buildings , and watched a couple of them live. 

I also researched violence, a subject that I have been exploring in my books since my very first Signet Regency. I talked with the director of the House of Ruth, Baltimore’s safe house for battered women and children.  I studied the role of substance abuse in domestic violence, and found people who had overcome abusive tendencies and saved their marriages. 


The result was Kate Corsi, daughter of a mother who comes from old money and an energetic Italian American father who’d founded Phoenix Demolition, Inc.  She and Patrick Donovan fell madly in love and married young, with Donovan becoming the son Sam Corsi had always wanted.  When the marriage implodes, it’s Kate who takes off to California to become an architect while Donovan becomes Sam’s right hand man. 

When Sam is killed in an accident, Kate returns home for the first time in ten years—and finds that her father has left a diabolical will that requires Kate and Donovan to live under the same roof for a year, or the firm will be sold to a competitor.  Kate and Donovan are equally horrified—but ultimately agree as a way of finally laying the past to rest. 

AnImperfectProcess_150As Kate finally gets her chance to blow things up, she also sees how Donovan has grown and changed—and maybe dealt with his issues better than she has.  As they discover who they are now, they also find the old attraction is burningly alive.  But they discover that a broken heart isn’t the only danger that faces them and the business they both love, and maybe Sam's death wasn't an accident….

Here’s an excerpt of Stirring the Embers if you’d like to take a look.  I guarantee a happy ending!  At some later time, I’ll blog about Phoenix Falling and An Imperfect Process and give you the story-behind-the-story on them.

As a lagniappe of the relaunch of my contemporaries, I’ll give away an original print copy of Stirring the Embers/The Burning Point to someone who leaves a comment between now and midnight Saturday. 

A Holiday FlingHere’s also the cover for "A Holiday Fling," the Christmas novella I wrote with two secondary characters from Phoenix Falling.  This is the only cover that is allowed to look happy!

Mary Jo



Some Some Summertime

Joanna here, 

The thermometer tells us it's 100 degrees today, (thank you, Mercury, god of thermometers). Another ikea bookcases
The cat is conked out on her back in the shade, too tired to harass the birds.  I'm listening to my heatstroke playlist. That's the one that starts with the Beachboy's Kokomo, ("Aruba, Jamaica ooo I wanna take ya to …") and shimmies on to the Lovin' Spoonful's Summer in the City, ("Doesn't seem to be a shadow  in the City").

Summer is upon us.

So let me ask, "What books would you take to the beach this summer?  Old friends?  New discoveries?"

There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs. 
                                 Henry Ward Beecher

HammockonBeach wiki

Here in the South we know all about the heat index creeping stealthily up toward the triple digits.  We've raised 'doing nothing' to a graceful art form.  It's an art practiced by the swimming pool or a big 'ole lake,  or at least in company with a hose spraying around the backyard.  Bonus points for the lifestyle include barbecued ribs and cold Mountain Dew.  And beer.    Backyardhose attribclapstar

For me, any day of the simmering summer is incomplete without a book in the bag.  Or a couple books, since you never know exactly how the spirit will move you.  Summer reading needs the background noise of kids running around barefoot and yelling about nothing at all.  It needs a shady porch or umbrella and maybe a dragonfly hovering just off the port side of the hammock.    

Kai lungI'll tuck an old friend in the straw bag — Kai-Lung's Golden Hours by Ernest Bramah.  There's a funny, clever, dreamy, irrationality to it that suits hot weather and lying by the pool.  I own it in paperback, but it's free on e-readers, being out of copyright an' all. 

(Go ahead and click on any of these book names for more information 'bout the book.)

Jennifer Crusie always picks me up.  Funny, funny woman.  I haven't had a chance to read, Tell Me Lies yet, and I'm looking forward to it.  Susan Elizabeth Phillips has a new book out in July The Great Escape: A Novel.  I might top those two off with rum and coke and Grace Burrowes' most recent book, Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal

In one of those fortunate happenstances, the ARCs for Mischief and Mistletoe are wending their way Wenchward, so I have that to look forward to.  A cool read in so many ways.

Mary Jo Putney says:

I am a Reader for All Seasons, and certainly can’t evoke languid summer reading times as well as Joanna can. (The dragonfly is a nice touch. <G>)

But a favorite I just reread fits the summer reading theme: White Lies by Jayne Ann Krentz.  The  book is one of her Arcane Society romantic suspense novels, and it’s set in blazing summer heat in Arizona as the heroine, Clare Painteddesert wikiLancaster, becomes involved with murder, mayhem, and a hot alpha hunter named Jake.  I like  the characters and the plot—Clare is a human lie detector, which gives her an unusual philosophy of life.  And I like the JAK banter. 

I also like the way the book makes a reader feel the Arizona heat.  The burning steering wheels and the blasts of air conditioning when entering a building.  The deliciousness of a desert night, with softly slinking coyotes and giant stars on a dark velvet sky.  The crunch of bruschetta and the cool wine that follows.  Perfect summer reading if one is lounging on a shaded patio.  

But in general, any good story will do, summer or winter!

(Teacup attrib merdeglace, girl with hose attrib clapstar, bookshelves charliebrewer)

Nicola Cornick, who is not suffering the Virginia swelter or even Arizona's At-Least-It's-A-Dry-Heat desert, says: Teacup attrib merdeglace

There is a saying that summer in the UK consists of three hot days and then a thunderstorm, but this year it’s been so cool and damp we’ve barely had three hot days in a row and not much in the way of humidity.  So when my thoughts turn to summer reads they tend provoke ideas of pale sandy beaches and cool breezes off the sea and me sitting behind a wind break as I try to read, cradling a cup of tea from the flask to warm me up!

5 Paul Cesar Helleu (French artist, 1859-1927) ReaderMaybe that’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to reading The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick. It sounds wonderfully evocative of the county, its coastline, its history and its atmosphere. I love holidays in Cornwall and one of my all time favourite books is Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier, which evokes the spirit of time and place in Cornwall so beautifully. I was even lucky enough to stay in Daphne Du Maurier's house at Frenchman's Creek one year and I could feel the ghosts all around me.

Which brings me neatly to my other hotly anticipated summer read. This is The Silent Touch of Shadows by HWW Christina Courtenay, a time slip book set in the present and the 15th century. I love time travel books and can never find enough of them to read. There's a pdf file with an extract from the here.  It's out in a couple of weeks and I can't wait to pick it up! 

Susan King brings us three recommendations and a garden:

I'm a dedicated year-round reader, though I tend to read a little more during the summer, with the pace of the household quieter, the Guys being busy and not around as much — I'll find an air-conditioned corner, curl up with the dog, and make a dent in the TBR pile. If it's not too hot 'n buggy, I love sitting out Morton_distanthoursto read on the shady side of the deck. But summer or winter, the reading situation depends on the deadline situation, but with my deadline a ways off yet (I'm time-dyslexic, ahem), this summer I have serious Reading Intentions.  

I've just started The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, and then I've got my eye on A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. At the same time (because who reads just one book), I'm catchingDeck_summer up with some Wench novels (Mary Jo's delicious No Longer A Gentleman is toppling the stack). I've also loaded up the Kindle with lots of books and good intentions — mysteries, romance, a couple of YAs.
In a few weeks, when we'll be at Lake George for a bit, I'll find time to sit out on the breezy porch and read for hours. There's always the bottomless stack of research books, notes, and pages to read/revise — that sort of reading never stops!
It's a lovely thing, reading. I couldn't get through a summer (fall, winter, spring) or a lifetime without it!
The library in summer is the most wonderful thing because there you get books on any subject and read them each for only as long as they hold your interest, abandoning any that don't, halfway or a quarter of the way through if you like, and store up all that knowledge in the happy corners of your mind for your own self and not to show off how much you know or spit it back at your teacher on a test paper.
                    Polly Horvath

Andrea Pickens
brings us a couple few interesting suggestions, including our only hit on nonfiction:
It’s been a little hard to think of summer reads because here in the northeast where I live, it’s been unseasonably cool. But the vernal equinox seems to be bringing in a wave of sun and heat, so am looking forward to stretching out under a beach umbrella and diving into some of the books on my TBR pile.

I can highly recommend one that I just finished. Anatomy of Murder, by Imogen Robertson, is the second in her Georgian-set mystery series and it features fascinating characters, a compelling plot and wonderfully gritty description of life in London. It’s a compelling read that’s very hard to put down.  I’ve also got Past Wench Loretta Chase’s new release, Scandal Wears Satin, in my beach bag, for her pithy humor is perfect for making me laugh on a lazy summer day.

Now,  I know it’s the season for light reads, but I thought you all might get a laugh at what else I’m currently reading. A  dear friend of mine is fascinated by physics—about which I know less than nothing. However, he finds the subject so interesting that I recently read The Clockwork Universe, which was about Isaac Newton,  the Royal Society and the making of the modern world of science, so I could talk to him about it. To my surprise, I found it fascinating. However, I’ve now opened Pandora’s Box, because he just gave me Quantum, a book on quantuBanished bridem physics. I have started it—and feel like I’m back in school because I’ve started taking notes so I can try to understand some of the concepts. To my utter shock, I am enjoying learning about something that is utterly alien to me. And given that we want young people to get excited about science as well as reading, I feel I’m doing my bit. (If I don’t surface for the rest of the summer, you will know why!)

And (Shameless plug!) for those of you in the mood for a traditional Regency read, I've just posted three more of my old Signet books in e-book format at Amazon.  The Banished Bride, Second Chances, and A Stroke of Luck.

Jo Beverley points out:

I've never understood the concept of summer reads. To many it seems to mean a Marie_Danforth_Page Young Girl Reading 1914time when they're allowed to goof off and read the books they actually enjoy instead of the ought-to tomes. Come on now, break free and read for pleasure all year long!

Next, I'm not sure people have the most reading time in summer. Why should that be? Surely many people spend their summer holidays places they enjoy, not escaping to somewhere else in fiction. Now a long winter evening — that sounds like good reading time!

Anyway, I've never liked reading in the sun. However, that might not be a problem, given the weather summer's starting with here in England!
Irving Ramsay Wiles (American artist, 1861–1948) Reading in the Garden
Do you read more in summer?

And we round it off with suggestions from Anne Gracie:

It's a lovely idea — summer reads — but it's a bit hard to wrap my head around at the moment, because where I am (downunder) it's cold and wet and wintry, so I'm thinking more of reading curled up in front of the fire, or snuggling down under the bedclothes with a good book. In any case, I'm like Jo — I don't much like reading on the beach. Too bright and glarey to read, and I always end up with sand in the pages.  Give me a shady garden with a hammock and a long, cool glass standing by, any time.

R Curt Herrmann (1854-1929) Sophie Herrmann. (2)I'm actually not reading a lot at the moment because I'm on deadline, and at such times I reread, more than read,  but I have a lovely pile of new books ready on my TBR pile, and a few more on order.

I have Eloisa James's Paris book waiting, and Loretta Chase's Scandal Wears Satin on order, and I did try to leave Nalini Singh's Tangle of Need until after I'd finished my book, but I gave in. I've been hooked this series since Slave to Sensation. Julia Quinn's latest is singing its siren song to me, too. I've also got a pile of P.G. Wodehouses standing by — a lot of my old copies have gone walkabout, so I treated myself to a pile of new ones recently.

But summer heat or winter chills, as far as I'm concerned it's always time for a good book.

So, there you are — round about two dozen books for your delectation and enjoyment.  Have you read any of these?  Would you second the recommendations?

Is summer your time for light reading and a lot of it?  Are you expecting to get much reading done over the next few weeks?

An Interview with Julie Cohen!

Julie CohenNicola here. I’ve been a fan of Julie Cohen’s writing for a long time, ever since I read Delicious, a Harlequin Mills & Boon contemporary romance. These days Julie writes contemporary novels for Headline and when I discovered that her new book, The Summer of Living Dangerously, has a strong element of the Regency about it, I was very excited! The book lived up to all my expectations; it's warm, emotional, funny and one of the best books I've read in a long time.

Nicola: Julie, welcome to the Word Wenches! Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a writer.

Julie: I grew up in a small town in the woods in Maine and I never really wanted to be anything other than a reader and a writer. I read everything I could get my hands on and started writing my first ‘novel’ when I was eleven. I received my first payment for published writing when I was twelve—a cheque for six dollars. And when I was fifteen I started co-writing romance novels with my best friend Kathy Love instead of paying attention in chemistry lessons.

There isn’t any guaranteed career path for becoming a writer, though, and I spent many years being a reader instead, studying English Literature at Brown University and Cambridge University, and doing an MPhil in fairies in Victorian children’s literature. I met a sexy guitar-playing Englishman and got married. It was only when I was teaching secondary school English full time that I decided to chase my writing dreams again. I started trying to write a Mills & Boon novel, and it took many rejections before my first one was accepted in 2004. Since then I’ve written fourteen novels, first for Harlequin Mills & Boon, and then for the Little Black Dress romance imprint and more recently standalone women’s fiction novels for Headline Review.

Nicola: Your new book, The Summer of Living Dangerously, is out now. It’s a contemporary novelThe Summer jacket but with a very strong Regency theme running through the book, a story within a story. What was it that inspired you to tell the story in that particular way?

Julie: My husband and I were in Brighton for our anniversary and we went to the Brighton Pavilion on a day when there were historical interpreters there. They were wearing Regency dress and speaking to visitors as if we’d come as guests of the Prince Regent; we were quite surprised to see the Prince himself walking the corridors, attended by servants and courtiers. It was great fun, but the thing that really struck me was that the interpreters stayed in character even when they weren’t actively working. They wandered the corridors trading period jokes and gossip with each other, as if they really did live there. And of course my novelist’s mind started working: what would it be like to pretend, every day, that you were 200 years in the past? What if you got so involved in the fictional past that it became more important in your mind than your real, present life? That’s exactly what happens to Alice, my heroine: she takes a job as a costumed interpreter in a stately home, and she tries to escape into a romantic 1814-world. But her real life keeps on getting in the way.

I also love writing dual narratives, where the secondary one reflects and illuminates the main story. I’ve done it a few times before, where the heroine has a fictional storyline that she’s creating since she’s a novelist or an artist, but this is the first time where my heroine has actually acted out her fantasies and tried to live in her dream world. All of my books, in some way, are about identity or about pretending to be someone you’re not. It’s an idea that really resonates with me for some reason, though I’ve never lived a dual life myself.

Nicola: I’ve known for a while that you are a Regency fan and we were on a panel together at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Regency Day, so where did your interest in the Regency period originally come from?

Julie: Jane Austen, of course, and Georgette Heyer. By training I’m a Victorianist, but let’s face it, Regency is where the romance is at. And the tight breeches. Ahem.

Nicola: Indeed it is! The historical elements of the book are very well researched. How did you set about your Regency research and which part did you enjoy the most?

Julie: Thank you! It was part of my terror that People Who Really Know These Things would find all kinds of mistakes so I did try to research everything as fully as I could. But because I only had to know certain things—mostly the things that a woman in 2012 would notice—it presented different challenges than writing an actual historical novel. A Regency gentlewoman would know what ratafia was, for example, and wouldn’t have to explain it to the reader. A modern woman would sniff it, taste it, wonder what the heck it was and whether it was going to get her drunk. Likewise, a Regency gentlewoman wouldn’t discuss her underwear. But my heroine Alice was going to have to adjust to wearing stays, and question why she hasn’t been provided with knickers.

Regency Julie 2 smallMostly, I tried to experience most of the things my heroine does for myself. I tried on Regency clothing and spoke to costume experts; I learned Regency dancing and went to a Regency ball. Wearing period costume makes you carry yourself differently; it really does educate you in the physical restrictions of the time. I think I liked the dancing the best, even though I did learn about the hazards of doing the Duke of Kent’s Waltz when you are wearing a tall plume and dancing with a short (though charming) gentleman!

Nicola: Ah, the pleasures and pitfalls of research! Alice, the heroine, works as a costumed interpreter in a stately home where they are re-creating the events of the summer of 1814. Is this a job that would appeal to you – or not?

It sounds like great fun, at least for some of the time. I think I’d enjoy the acting part of it, and the frocks of course. In the novel though I did skim over the more boring bits of the job, for example talking about the paintings on the wall over and over and over again all day, all summer. I talked to some NT volunteers and I learned that being a tour guide is not for the faint-hearted. (You know this already, Nicola, I imagine!)

Nicola: Well, yes, that’s true! As a reader and a writer I love a hot Regency hero so I was expecting to lose my heart to James Fitzwilliam in the Regency story. And don’t get me wrong – he is gorgeous – but in the end it was Leo, the contemporary hero who stole the book for me. How did you create two such different and appealing heroes in one book? 

Julie: It wasn’t easy. I always fall in love with my heroes and I was so, so in love with reckless, wounded Leo that I found in writing my first draft, I was reluctant to let James steal any of his limelight. But I needed responsible, aristocratic James to be attractive, too. Essentially I had to write the book twice: I did the first draft being in love with Leo, and then after I’d finished that draft, I let myself crawl into James’s head and fall in love with him, too, so I could rewrite the bits of the book with him in it, and do him justice.

Nicola: You certainly succeeded! Which was your favourite scene in the book? And I have to ask – what was the inspiration for the “chandelier and crotch” scene?

Julie: Ahhh well the chandelier and crotch scene really happened, and I believe you were there, Nicola. ItNelson painting large was the evening of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s anniversary gala dinner, in the Trafalgar Tavern, Greenwich, a wonderful historical setting. At one point between the starter and the main, the light shone in through the windows overlooking the Thames, struck a crystal on the chandelier, and shone a rainbow onto the large oil painting of Nelson and his compatriots: directly onto Nelson’s crotch.

I have a suspicion this is a deliberate thing—a sort of sundial. Anyway, I shamelessly stole it. I was wondering if there would be a rash of ‘rainbows on crotch’ scenes in RNA members’ novels, but I haven’t noticed any other ones yet.

My two favourite scenes are ones that came to me in dreams. One is the flashback to the moment that Alice and Leo fell in love. It’s several summers ago, and they’re innocent and unsuspecting, and this attraction flares out of nowhere and suddenly, they know they’re meant to be together. It was such a simple, romantic scene to write, and yet by the beginning of the actual novel, that relationship is in tatters and neither think it can be revived.

The other favourite scene is about another painting: Leo’s portrait of his dead alcoholic father, which he paints on the wall late one night in despair. It crystallised everything I was trying to say about how complicated love is and what a complex and yet inescapable relationship we have with the past.

Nicola: Nelson was always very proud of his prowess, wasn't he! I do love the picture and I can't believe I missed the whole illuminated crotch experience that night at the Trafalgar Tavern!

As well as making me laugh out loud, The Summer of Living Dangerously also tackles some tough emotional issues and made me cry quite a lot. How do you create such depth of emotion in a story?

Julie: The book is really about loss, and how the past can’t ever truly be recreated. Everything, all the Regency plot and all the contemporary plot, centres around the loss that Alice and Leo have suffered in the past; I tried very hard to make everything relate back to that one, core emotion in the story. For example, Alice’s 1814 character is wearing mourning for her fictional parents, and the real Alice is also mourning, though she is hiding it deep inside. Although not every reader will have shared Alice’s pain in their own lives, I think everyone can relate to loss, so hopefully it will strike a chord with many readers.

Nicola: You’re quite a guru when it comes to advice for authors. How did you get to be so famous for giving workshops on writing sex scenes?

Julie: It was sort of by mistake. Before I was published, I gave a workshop on writing sex scenes to my local writing group, and we had a lot of fun. A member mentioned it to someone else, who booked me to give it at an RNA conference. Apparently the people in the next room to that workshop could hear us laughing, and that led to a lot more bookings of the workshop so that they could find out what was going on! Over the past few years I’ve given the workshop all over the place to entirely different groups of people, and I’m next giving it at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, on 21 April.

Nicola: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and what advice would you give to other aspiring authors?

Julie: The most liberating advice is the one I now always give to aspiring authors: give yourself permission to write crap. Your first draft doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to be written. Sometimes we need to write the wrong words in order to find the right ones.

Nicola: Thank you very much for chatting with us today!

Julie: Thank you so much for having me, Nicola and the Word Wenches!

You can find Julie's website here: http://www.julie-cohen.com and follow her on Twitter @julie_cohen and Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/julie.cohen.books

The Summer jacketThe Summer of Living Dangerously is available from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Summer-Living-Dangerously-Julie-Cohen/dp/0755350650/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1 and also from the Book Depository with free international postage: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Summer-Living-Dangerously-Julie-Cohen/9780755350650

Julie is offering a signed copy of The Summer of Living Dangerously to one reader who leaves a comment between now and Midnight Tuesday. Her question is: What would be your ideal romantic summer job?