A real duke

Tf2012Tempting Fortune has just been reissued.You can read an excerpt here.

Yes, the cover is odd for a Georgian romance with a short, red-haired, quite plain and under-endowed heroine, but there you go! The British edition (see below) did a better job, but I think it's too dark in tone and mood. It's accurately portraying Portia on her way to be auctioned off in a brothel, but that is the darkest part of the book.

Covers. So complicated, but this book has had its full share. The original (see below) was created when the publisher was experimenting with new styles for covers and it's all-over foil. As a result it doesn't reproduce well, and even on the shelf the light  can blank the whole thing out.  I don't think they tried that again.

Tempting Fortune is the second book of the main Malloren series

It was first published in 1995. The hero is Lord Arcenbryght Malloren, the second son, who has an edgy relationship with his half-brother, the Marquess of Rothgar. He's a more fiery man and likes risk. Rothgar has turned him from gaming onto handling the family's business affairs and investments, but there's risk there, too, because in those days the shareholders of a company were liable for all losses.

That would curb some of the wild investments we see today, wouldn't it?Tfold

The book is about gambling, with money and with other things. It seems a suitable theme for the middle of the eighteenth century when a passion for games of chance gripped everyone, but it was combined with an exhilarated exploration of new ways and new ideas the Enlightenment. To the visionaries of this time nothing seemed impossible, and they had no doubt that the new would be wonderful. They had not learned as we have that progress inevitably brings costs. Or perhaps they simply did not care.

Who's the real duke, then?

Bryght's business partner, the Duke of Bridgewater.

My author's note from Tempting Fortune.

I'm reproducing here an edited version of the author's note from the back of the book. It was the first meaty one I did because I found myself trying to explain the Duke of Bridgwater's canals in the text. Definite information dumping. Not good.

BridgewaterThe Duke of Bridgewater was just such a visionary.

It's hard to tell now what drove him, though the fact that he had grown up a sickly youth called the Poor Duke may have had something to do with it. (A string of short-lived predecessors had bankrupted the dukedom.) Perhaps he was destined by his title, for it is intriguing that Bridgewater should be the first person in England to attempt the construction of an aqueduct, a "water bridge."

Love had something to do with it, though, for it was after his betrothed wife jilted him that he devoted all his energies to construction.

Elizabeth, Duchess of Hamilton, was one of the famous Gunning sisters who had taken London by storm, much like modern pop stars. The king had to order them an escort of the Guards to keep back the adoring crowds when they walked the streets.  Maria, the elder sister married Lord Coventry. Elizabeth married the dissolute Duke of Hamilton and was soon left a rich widow. Bridgewater was just back from his Grand Tour, and still a young man, but he fell deeply in love, proposed, and was accepted. Elizabeth, however, changed her mind and chose instead a Colonel Campbell, who would one day be the Duke of Argyll. Thus, Elizabeth Gunning married two dukes and jilted a third, and what's more, was in time the mother of four.

Bridgewater turned his back on matrimony and became entranced with construction.

In the beginning, his plan was modest — no more than to use the drainage channel from his mine to float coal a short distance. But then he saw the advantages of extending the waterway to Manchester. Manchester was a new city, growing rapidly as the spinning and weaving of cotton became an industry. Development there was being held back by the high price of fuel. The Poor Duke saw the opportunity to make a lot of money.

Even then, Bridgewater's plan was merely to link up with an established river-rout using the River Irwell. However, the existing Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company demanded an extortionate rate to use their system, and Bridgewater took the bold leap of planning a canal all the way, one which would leap the Irwell with an aqueduct.

Nearly everyone thought him mad. No one had constructed a canal in England since Roman times, and his engineers  — Brindley and Gilbert — were largely self-taught, but Bridgewater at only twenty-four proved determined. When he failed to raise money by other means, he sold or mortgaged just about everything he had and went around soliciting small loans from anyone with money to spare.

Money wasn't the only problem, though.

Canal construction required a number of acts of parliament, and those proved hard to get. As the duke complains in Tempting Fortune, bribery was a way of life in London. In addition, there were many honest doubters. In order to persuade the committee of Parliament to approve the act, Brindley had to build a working model of the aqueduct in front of them.

To add to the problems, the real one began to fail as the first water ran through it. It was a minor flaw, however, and the engineers fixed it, working without sophisticated plans, almost by string and sealing wax. Thereafter people made special trips to see this modern marvel, and to watch ships sail through the air. Beneath, the proprietors of the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company gnashed their teeth and feared the future.

It was the beginning of a new age, the new age Bryght foresees. By the end of the 18th century, England was criss-crossed by canals, which meant cheap, safe transportation of raw materials and finished products. This led to rapid industrial expansion, and Britain was poised for the Victorian age, when it would be the richest and most powerful nation on earth. It can be argued that this was all due to a 24 year old duke, so please don't assume young men or aristocrats are useless. He was a brilliant entrepreneur, and not out of keeping with his age or class.

This all made Bridgewater a very rich man. Bridgold

The profit from his coal mines rose from 406 pounds per annum at the time of this book, 1763, to 48,000 pounds at the time of his death, still unmarried, in 1810. In addition, he had the income from fees for the use of his canals, and from many other ventures such as the land on the new dockland of Liverpool mentioned in the book. I'm sure Bryght became just as rich in the process, but great wealth was never really his motivation. It was the fascination of new opportunities and the necessary risks that stirred him.

Bridgewater pops up in some other Malloren romances, usually as a desirable marital prospect. Can anyone remember when and where he appears?

What do you think of this real duke and his story? Share your thoughts and your name will go in the hat for a copy of the new edition of Tempting Fortune.




K7987w Charlie, Billy and the towelsHi, here's Jo, talking about friends in fiction. On the left is Charlie and Billy with some new friends they made on our recent cruise.

I didn't plan A Scandalous Countess to be a novel so rich with friends, but it is, and it's got me thinking about the role of friends in a romance novel.

Nearly everyone accumulates friends during their lives, even if the friends are scattered around the world, as are many of mine. A fictional hero or heroine without friends is unlikely to appeal to me, and I think most readers will wonder what's wrong with them. Of course the character can be far from any friends, because that's not the same as not having any. In fact snatching a character from their family and friends is a well-used fictional device.

If the hero or heroine is truly friendless, however, it can be a concern. As a reader I wonder if they are capable of forming that deep, warm, believable relationship that's the happy ending I want in a romance novel.

Do you agree with me, or do you like to see loners brought into community? Do you have a favorite romance novel in which the hero, heroine, or both is friendless at the beginning? Scandsm

Friends and the Author

Friends can be very useful to the author, especially if they're to hand in the book. They give a character someone to vent to, explain things to, and seek advice from. In A Scandalous Countess, my heroine Georgia, dowager Countess of Maybury (and doesn't she hate that "dowager", given that she's only 20!) has a lot of social friends, because she was a popular leader of the young set in Town. However mourning, and the scandal surrounding her husband's death in a duel, causes her to retreat to her family's Worcestershire estate.

Thus she's isolated and away from her friends — but she has the postal system, which wasn't bad in 18th century England if you could afford it. The BBC recently did a radio programme on the postal system, and you can listen to the episodes. The one relevant to this topic is A Culture of Letters  

After the first shock of grief has passed, Georgia writes to her particular friend, Lizzie, Lady Torrismonde, of the situation in which she finds herself. This fills in some details and gives us a taste of Georgia's character and "voice."

A Letter to a Friend.

"Dear Lizzie,

when I returned to Herne, I half expected to return to the schoolroom bedchamber I shared with Winnie. Instead, I’m installed in a handsome set of rooms, but in all other ways I could be sixteen again! I have no more say in the running of Herne than I did at sixteen, when I so recently was accustomed to managing three houses.

I have no money! In truth, I do, for I have my portion back, but it’s returned to my father and he doles out a few guineas a month. I wasn’t aware a portion could be returned, but I suppose anything is possible if all parties agree to it. The new Earl of Maybury was eager to shed the commitment to pay my jointure of two thousand for perhaps sixty years, even at the cost of twelve thousand now.

You will understand how bitter it is to have a pittance in my pocket. Father pays my bills, but I’m sure he feels entitled to question my purchases, and as all this is done through his clerk of accounts, you will appreciate how it galls me.

Thus far I’ve only purchased mourning clothes and a few essentials, but now I’m awakened, I’m tempted to order something outrageous. What do you think it should be?

A jewel-encrusted prayer book? A gold-plated chamber pot? I can see you laughing and shaking your head, and it makes me smile and cry at the same time. I would order a carriage now and race to see you, but I know you expect a new treasure at any time, so I’ll restrain myself. I’d inflict myself on Babs except that she and Harringay are in France. Ah, Versailles! Will I ever see Versailles again?"

The image is an 18th century letter from a museum in Malaga.

K8715w Spanish letter

As a young widow, Georgia is in an uncomfortable position. Legally, she is independent of her father, but he doesn't see it that way and nor, really, does she, for her world wouldn't accept her living independently, and she wants to return to her familiar world. With only weeks to go until the end of her mourning year, Georgia encounters the hero, a scarred ex-naval officer who has recently inherited a title and an impoverished estate. Her father has asked — demanded, in fact — that she help him adjust to society.

A Letter to a friend about a new friend.

Again, Georgia writes to Lizzie.

"Let me tell you of another lord—Dracy. Dracy is an original—that is certain sure. I came across him leaning so far over the terrace balustrade that I feared he intended to throw himself off. But no, he was merely seeking to identify flowers.

I suppose a life at sea doesn’t provide much experience of gardens. I’m sure I’d hate it, for I do love flowers. When I think of the ones in our London garden, and especially those at Sansouci . . But I will not pine. All that is over and I will have other gardens soon. Nicotiana

I expected a portly, weathered tar, but though he is browned and carries himself in a military manner, he is, in his own way, quite polished. And young. Not yet thirty, I’m sure. And with a fine, manly figure. He has much to learn, however. Would you believe that he lifted me, without request or permission, up onto the coping so I could identify the flowers for him! It quite flustered me, for he’s very strong."

 (You may remember that I blogged about the plant in question a while ago — the tall, white nicotiana that is intensely perfumed in the evening.)

Georgia ceased writing, brushing the tip of her quill across her lips. Despite the scar, the briskness, and the lack of stylish manner, there was something about the man. He was so firm, so complete in himself. So confident and strong. Such a shame about his appearance.

She was ashamed of her reaction there and resolved to do better if they ever met again. As a start, she could address the subject briskly now.

"The poor man is badly scarred by a burn across the right side of his face. The skin there is shiny and puckered and it twists up his brow and lips as if he’s constantly in a sneer. I made a point to treat him exactly as I would anyone else, but it is a sad injury, for I believe before he must have been a very handsome fellow."

You can read the encounter described here on my web site.

Friends and characterization.

Friends also serve to reflect different facets of a character, helping the author to bring them to life. Gentle Lizzie illuminates Georgia's lively nature. Worldly-wise Babs reveals that she is innocent and even naive in ways. When Dracy becomes a friend, he draws out her intelligence and practical abilities.

His becoming a friend is a mixed blessing, however. Georgia likes him very much, but he's unsuitable husband material — poor, and with a lowly title — and she worries he might be falling in love with her. Friends don't hurt friends.

I admit that I began the novel thinking scarred Dracy would be a solitary, even brooding type, but somehow my heroes never are. LOL! He, too, is rich in friends, though most are naval men, scattered around the world. However, he's already made a new one near his Devon estate and that's promising, especially as Knowlton is very different in nature. I think it's healthy for a character to have variety in friends, for it suggests an open mind and generous nature.

Friends care.

Of course, friends care, as we see in this little scene with Knowlton, who's come up to Town, pretending legal business, but really because he's worried about Dracy's entanglement with scandalous Lady Maybury. When out, they hear some gossip about her.

     When they left the chophouse to stroll back to their inn, Dracy said, "It's only a matter of someone stoking the old fires. And nothing to it, either."

     Tom held his silence.

     "Look, none of it's true. I know it. You might trust my judgment."

     Tom looked at him. "My brother almost married a gypsy girl, convinced she'd make an honest wife."

     "Perhaps she would have done."

     "Filched his silver spoons before the knot was tied."

     "Very well, I take your point, but up until that duel Lady Maybury was a respected wife. Flighty, perhaps, and inclined to mischief, but I've not heard anyone suggest a prior sin. It's the duel, Tom! Everything else flows from there. If Maybury had killed himself in that carriage race, she'd have lost her husband and her homes, but she would have been a tragic widow, not a scandalous one."

     "But he didn't," Tom said. "He was killed in a duel with a man some believe to have been her lover."

     "But why? Why believe that? If…" He'd been about to say Annie, but that would be too close to the bone, so he chose Lady Swanton, a virtuous wife of their Devon neighborhood. "If Sir James Swanton were to get himself killed in a duel — yes, I know it's unlikely — would anyone believe for a moment that they'd fought over Lady Swanton, still less that she'd been sneaking into the victor's bed?"

     "Lady Swanton hasn't acted a breeches part at Drury Lane."

     "'Struth, did she? Never mind, that's not the same thing."

     "I take your point, Dracy, but don't you see? People who know Lady Maybury better than you do think it possible."

     Dracy crossed the street between two wagons, frustrated by everything. A breeches part at Drury Lane. She did need reining in….

     But he didn't want to be her jailer.

     He wanted to be her lover.

     As they cut down Crick Lane, Tom said, "Bewitched. Come away back to Devon with me, Dracy, and clear your head of her."

     "I'm not bewitched," Dracy lied. "I believe her honest and I cannot tolerate injustice. I truly do have business to complete here, but I will return soon, within a fortnight of a certainty."

     "I'd ask for a promise if I thought you'd make it."

     A fortnight, and he'd already been away from Dracy almost that long. He couldn't neglect his primary responsibility indefinitely.

     "Then I give it. I'll set out to return to Dracy within a fortnight."

     "Good man."

     Dracy laughed. "You sound as if I'd sworn off gin! I'm in complete control of all my wits and appetites, I assure you."

     Tom looked as if he'd believe that only when Dracy was back attending to his Devonshire estate.


So what do you think about friends in romance novels? Do you notice a lack of them? Do you find too many clutter up a story?

What about friendship in the love relationship. How does that show?

As it happens my next heroine is rather friendless, but not by her own fault. She's keen to expand her social contacts and enjoy the company of others, but there may be problems there.

My publisher has made a video of me talking about A Scandalous Countess. You can see it here.

It was a bit nerve-wracking to do, and I was there for about an hour, but it boiled down to a pretty good couple of minutes, don't you think?

A Scandalous Countess will be officially out on the 7th, but it's trickled out in a few places already. To celebrate its arrival, I'll give a commenter a pick of my backlist, assuming I have spare copies. You can find that here.








Day Two of 2011

Here's Jo, dashing in just a bit late! But the advantage of living in England is that the American readers are just getting up. Whew! 

It's the new calendar thing that's got me. We have one, but it's a lovely one we got at the Canaletto Exhibition at the National Gallery and Ken wants to scan the pictures before grubby fingers, post it notes etc get at it.

Do you have a calendar to keep track of life? Do you choose them with care, or just take anything that comes by?

Xmastree BTW, it's still Christmastide, so you should still have all your decorations up. I hope you're observing tradition!

And have you done anything to mark the beginning of a new year? I cleaned my desk, mentally preparing to get back to work after my December break. Though I have been spending time there on my Malloren World wiki.

I'm tossing in peripheral research and perhaps it'll become a resource for other writers. I'm beginning to put in daily life stuff such as costs (under Daily Life) and I'm beginning something I've been meaning to do for years — tracking the Great North Road. I've only put in the north Yorkshire bit as I had that to hand from my research for An Unlikely Countess.

Read an excerpt and/or sign up for an on-sale reminder by clicking the link.

Off we go into another decade. Mayit be wonderful for all.

For your amusement, I offer this old ad. Believe it or not, it's not for weaponry, but tomatoes. Perhaps it inspired the film Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes!