Regency Romantic Adventure with Alison Stuart!

Alison-web smallNicola here, and today I am thrilled to be interviewing author Alison Stuart on the blog. I've been a fan of Alison's books for a while and when I heard that she was forsaking the 17th century to write her first Regency I was intrigued by this change of era. Having had the pleasure of reading Lord Somerton's Heir I can confirm that it has all Alison's trademark adventure and action as well as intriguing characters and passionate romance. So, over to Alison!

AS: Thank you so much for inviting me to join the august company of Word Wenches today!

NC: It's a pleasure to have you visiting the blog, Alison. Please tell us a little about Lord Somerton’s Heir.

AS: I think my publisher (Escape Publishing) summed up the story of LORD SOMERTON’S HEIR rather succinctly in a recent promo piece: “A Regency romantic suspense about a widow who wants to move on, a war veteran with an unexpected inheritance, an estate in desperate need of a Lord, and an unexpected attraction that complicates everything.”

LORD SOMERTON’S HEIR is about the characters and in Sebastian and Isabel I found two damaged people seeking forgiveness and redemption.  Dark shadows haunt both characters and a mysterious death stands between them. Sebastian and Isabel have to work hard for their HEA! There is also a cast of secondary characters that I had a lot of fun with, particularly Sebastian’s batman, Bennet, who is guaranteed to lighten the mood.

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Music and The Muse

Beethoven PortraitCara/Andrea here,

Being easily distracted, I have always tended to write in silence. My brain doesn’t seem to be capable of doing two things at once—I am slightly dyslexic so thinking and typing is sometimes a comedy of errors. (You would laugh yourself silly if you saw of the pages of my manuscript before I go back and correct the gibberish.) So I have always worried that thinking and listening might not be a wise idea.

Eroica-Beethoven_titleBut recently I was chatting with a friend about music. He had been listening to Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony the night before and we began to muse about art, and its forms in sound, image and the written word. It was a fascinating conversation—he’s far more knowledgeable about music than I am—and it got me to thinking . . . and listening.

Napoleon4I immediately went out bought the complete symphonies of Beethoven. That the composer was perhaps the most important musical influence on the Regency era only piqued my interest in seeing whether I could listen to music as I wrote. (Hey, my heroes and heroines are pretty emotional and angst-y, so it seemed a perfect fit.) So I brought up i-Tunes, opened my Word doc, doubled clicked on Eroica, also known as Symphony #3 in E Flat, Op. 55, and hunched over my keyboard . . .

But before I get to the result, allow me to digress a little on the symphony’s creation. I will not embarrass myself by trying to wax eloquent on Beethoven’s life or complex personality, but highlighting few details about one of the most important pieces of Regency music might be fun, so let’s take a quick dance through the score.

 Young BeethovenBeethoven started composing the symphony in late 1803 and intended to dedicate his work in progress to Napoleon Bonaparte, for he greatly admired the revolutionary ideas of the new French Republic. The decision would cost him financially—dedicating it to Prince Franz Joseph Maximillian Lobkowitz would have earned him a handsome fee. But he stuck to his guns and called it “Bonaparte. ” However, in May 1804, Napoleon had himself proclaimed Emperor of France, and when Beethoven heard the news, he was both disillusioned and furious, feeling his idealism had been betrayed. His assistant and pupil, Ferdinand Ries described the scene in his memoir:

Napoleon CoronationI was the first to tell him the news that Buonaparte had declared himself Emperor, whereupon he broke into a rage and exclaimed, "So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!" Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page had to be re-copied and it was only now that the symphony received the title “Sinfonia eroica.”(Eroica means “heroic” in Italian.)

Napoleon EmperorSo, did playing Eroica—a masterpiece which is considered to mark the beginning of the Romantic era in music—inspire me to greatness? Well I am at the stage in a book where I, like Beethoven, feel like seizing the pages, tearing them in half and throwing them on the floor. (Unlike the Maestro, I’d also jump up and down on them. Except I have a deadline looming, so I will refrain from such childish urges.) But that said, I discovered to my delight that music has proven to be a very lovely addition to my writing routine. Eroica is a marvelous work of genius, and I hope I absorbed a touch of brilliant creativity by osmosis. The long hours at the computer certainly were more harmonious than usual.

Beethoven-PastoralI also love Symphony #5 and #6, which is named “Pastoral.” Beethoven, like many of the artists who pioneered the Romantic era, was a great lover of nature, and often left Vienna to work on his music in the countryside. He said of “Pastoral”, which was written in 1802, that it was “more the expression of feeling than painting . . ."

So what about you? Do you enjoy Beethoven’s music? And do you listen to music while you write or do other tasks? If so, what are some of your favorite pieces?

Terms of Endearment

HeartNicola here, reflecting on the way in which people have
expressed their affection for each other over the centuries. I started thinking
about this last week when a reader asked me if my use of the endearment
“sweetheart” was authentic to the Regency period. I was pretty sure that the
word originated long before the 19th century but I ran to check my
dictionary anyway and found that sweetheart was first used in the 14th
century. (Back in the days when Henry VIII actually liked Anne Boleyn he called her sweetheart a lot.) "Darling" is even earlier usage, dating to before the 12th century. Evidently finding an affectionate term for a loved one is something people have been doing for a long, long time.

By coincidence, the BBC also published a list last week of the ten
most unusual endearments people choose to describe their beloved, so I
thought I would share some of those with you today and also talk a bit about
the historical background to terms of endearment.

 A Sweet Tooth

 Like sweetheart, the word honey has been used an endearment
since the fourteenth century. It derives
Honey from the Old English word “hunig” and
is also found as a term of endearment in many other languages. In the 16th
century a Scots poet romantically called his love a “honey sop” which is a
piece of bread soaked in honey. In the same verse he compared her to a “swete
posset” a drink made from hot milk curdled with ale, sugar and spice. That
might not sound very attractive to us but on a cold Scottish night it might be
just what you needed! 

Whilst honey in all its forms works as a complement in the
Germanic languages it doesn’t translate well into the French. If you call a French
person “miel” they may think you are suggesting that they are a bit of a sticky
mess. To endear yourself to the French, go for “chouchou” which literally means
“little cabbage.” This suggests something small and round and like a delicious
(chou) pastry.

PumpkinIn South American Portuguese the word “chuchu” means a
squash and the word “chuchuzinho,” little squash, is a term of affection in
Brazil. I suppose this is pretty close to pumpkin!

It was not only sweets and vegetables that were used to
express love in the past. In Chaucer’s day it was complimentary to compare
someone to some of the more attractive spices. In the Miller’s Tale he wrote: “My faire bryd, my swete
cynemome.” Spices were expensive and exotic in Chaucer's day – pretty special, in fact – so being a stick of cinnamon was a real compliment! 

In A Pig’s Eye

Hard as it is to believe, the word “pigsnie” deriving from
pig’s eye, was once a term of great
Pigsnie admiration. I first came across the word
pigsnie used affectionately when I read The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis.
Again, this dates back to the time of Chaucer who wrote admiringly: “She was a prymerole, (primrose) a
pigggesnye, for any lord to leggen in his bed.”

The Japanese also admire fine eyes and a particular
compliment in Japan is to call someone Tamago gata no kao, an egg with eyes, the classic
oval-shaped face being much admired in Japan.

Other Birds and animals

“Little dove” may be the earliest recorded term of
endearment there is, as it is mentioned in the Bible in the Song of Songs. “Oh
my dove… Let me see thy countenance.” Dove is still a term of affection in Russia
to this day. Interestingly the word “turtle” which was also used to mean
“lover” as early as the 16th century derives from turtle dove rather
than the turtle with the shell. This term was still popular in the 18th
century when Lady MW Montagu described a ball where there were “several couple of true turtles… saying
soft things to one another.”

ElephantMeanwhile it is the term chang noi, “little elephant,” that
is used affectionately in Thailand, elephants being the most prized of animals in Thai culture. 

When I was growing up in the North of England I was
frequently called “pet.” This northern term of endearment is very old and was
found only in Scotland and the North of England until the mid 18th
century when it started to spread south. Comparing your loved one to a favourite
tamed animal is very cute, furry and cuddly.

 Some terms of affection have sinister origins, however. The
word “poppet” originated in the 1300s as a small human figure used in sorcery.
Its usage had changed by the late 14th century to also mean a small and
dainty person.

Shakespeare’s Sweet Chuck

ChickShakespeare contributed a great many words and phrases to
the language and so it is only appropriate that he should have given us some
fine terms of endearment. In Romeo and Juliet the nurse calls Juliet a
ladybird. Then there is “sweet chuck,” an ancient variant on “chicken.” Chuck
is still used affectionately in the north of England, and chicken was another endearment I heard a lot when I was growing up.

 Less attractive to our modern taste, perhaps, is the comparison of a loved one to a bat or “flitter-mouse.”  Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, used this term of endearment in a play published in 1610. The heroine was so touched to be compared with a bat that she kissed the hero!

Jane Austen's Restraint

Jane Austen did not show intimate scenes between characters so it is not surprising that her characters
Mrs Elton are so seldom demonstrative in their use of language. The occasional use of the word "dear" and the reference to a spouse by their formal name is about as affectionate as they get. The only character who
appears to be addicted to terms of endearment is Isabella Thorpe in Northanger
Abbey who calls Catherine Morland “dearest, sweetest Catherine.” Isaballa's terms of endearment are empty of true affection. Jane also
pokes fun at Mrs Elton whose use of the term “caro sposo,” “dear husband” seems
pretentious and flowery given the restraint with which the other characters

Some endearments that sound modern to us actually have
origins much earlier than you might imagine. I had no idea that “baby” was
first recorded as a term of endearment back in 1839. Even bunny, with or without the snuggle, dates back to the 1680s in Scotland! 

Do you have a favourite term of endearment? Or one you can't stand? Has anyone ever called you "my little marmoset"? Are there unusual local terms of endearment used where you live? (Just out of interest, the word "Wench" originated as a wanton woman but by the 1580s had become a tem of endearment meaning sweetheart!)

Let’s Dance!

StrictlyNicola here. Here in the UK the hit TV series Strictly Come Dancing is down to
its final few couples and the competition is really hotting up. The show pairs
celebrities with professional dancers who each week compete against each other
in front of a panel of judges and the viewing public. The format of the show
has been exported to 40 other countries around the world (I think it’s called
Dancing with the Stars in the US and Canada) and is hugely popular. It has
spawned dance classes across the country and created an upsurge of interest in
the “old-fashioned” Ballroom and Latin dances. It reminded me that when I was
in my teens my grandfather taught me how to dance and I used to attend
old-fashioned “tea dances” and waltz around the room in the arms of various elderly
gentlemen! There never seemed to be anyone of my own age there, least of all

All this has led me to wonder about those dances that were
popular in the Regency era – the country dances, cotillons and waltzes, amongst
others – where they were danced, which were the most popular and what people were saying about them at the time. It’s a huge topic but here are a few of the interesting
nuggets of information I picked up from my researches.

Where did the dances come from originally?

Dancing is a social pastime and it has been influenced over
the centuries by changes in the habits and customs of society. In some
countries, dances have started as folk dances and worked their way up through
society. In others cases the well-travelled aristocracy have introduced a new
dance into their ballrooms and from there it spread to the public assemblies.
One thing of which I was completely unaware was that in the Regency period
there was a big difference between the programmes favoured by the upper classes
and those in vogue at the popular assemblies. Often a dance would become fashionable in London and would then be picked up in the regional assembly rooms and at country balls, where it would be seen as very dashing and cutting edge!

The Assembly Rooms

The earliest assembly rooms developed in places such as Bath
and Epsom, in association with the
Assembly rooms medicinal waters. They added social
attractions such as ballrooms and card rooms to the pump rooms that provided
“the cure.” Balls at Bath in the 18th century began at 6pm and ended
at 11pm precisely. They started with the minuets, which lasted two hours, and
ended with country dancing. They were very closely governed by social status.
The first minuet was danced by two persons "of the highest distinction present". Similarly
ladies of quality stood up first for the country dance according to rank. Pity the poor person deemed lowest in rank who had to wait until the end to take the floor!

AlmacksDuring the second half of the 18th century a
number of very sumptuous assembly rooms opened in the centre of London in
addition to those at Vauxhall, Ranelagh, Hampstead Wells and others. Of these
only Almacks (pictured) lasted into the 19th century. Twelve balls a season
were held at Almacks of which four were masked balls. Tickets for Almacks balls were
notoriously difficult to obtain. It was said that of the 300 officers in the
Foot Guards, only six were ever granted admission and of course the Duke of Wellington himself was turned away – twice – once for turning up late and a second time for wearing the wrong evening dress!

By the early years of the 19th century many of
the provincial assembly rooms were bringing in draconian attendance rules. At
Cheltenham the rules stated: “No clerk, hired or otherwise, in this town or
neighbourhood; no person concerned in retail trade, no theatrical or other
public performers by profession be admitted.” The provincial assemblies copied
the fashionable dances from London; it was at Almacks that both the Quadrille
and the Waltz were introduced to England. By this time the dances started
later, at 8pm, and finished at midnight.

There were also other balls, also known as “Assemblies”
which were held in hotels and inns. (The picture below is of a ballroom at an inn in the small Dorset town of Bridport). These balls were
Regency-ballroom never as exclusive as the events
held in the formal Assembly Rooms and whilst some of them attempted to vet the attendees, others were unashamedly popular and open to anyone who bought a
ticket. They would have been just the place for an aristocratic lady or gentleman to dance with someone quite unsuitable!

The Popular Dances

At the beginning of the 19th century the dances
in vogue were the Minuet, the Country Dance, the Contredanse and the Cotillon.
The country dances were most popular but the old-fashioned Minuet was still the ceremonial
dance at court and was also danced at Almacks and the more prestigious regional
Assemblies. The Contredanse was the
forerunner of the Waltz. The Waltz in an earlier form was almost certainly
known in English ballrooms before 1812 but without the “close hold.” Even in
its more staid form it incurred disapproval from those who deplored its
whirling action. Some of the clergy denounced it, saying the Waltz “assails
both the honour and the health of the lady.”

By the time of the Carlton House Ball of 1813, given by the
Prince Regent to celebrate the victory at Vittoria and also the come out ball
for Princess Charlotte, Scottish dances were all the rage. The influence of Sir
Walter Scott combined with the success of Scottish troops in the Peninsular
Wars led to a revival of interest in the Ecossaise and in Scottish reels. The Prince Regent was said to be mad for all things Scottish, often appearing at balls in full highland dress.

The_First_QuadrilleMeanwhile the Contredanse had developed into the Quadrille in the early years of the 19th century. Apparently it was Lady Jersey who saw the Quadrille danced in Paris
and introduced it to Almacks, after which it became all the rage. Captain Gronow wrote of one famous occasion when it was danced: “The late Lord Graves, who
was extremely fat but who danced well for his size, engaged the beautiful Lady
Harriet Butler one evening as his partner in the Quadrille. Her ladyship had
just arrived from Paris… She electrified the English with the graceful ease
with which she made her entrechats… Lord Graves, desirous of doing his utmost
to please his fair partner, ventured on imitating the lady’s entrechat but fell
heavily to the floor. Sir John Clarke in a sarcastic manner said “What could
have induced you at your age and in your state to make so great a fool of
youself?” Poor Lord Graves! The Quadrille was the sort of dance that allowed
accomplished dancers to show off their skill with difficult steps but could also be modified for the less skilled.

Of course the most scandalous dance of them all was the “new” Waltz. When it stormed the ballrooms in 1812 it caused
an outcry for its indelicacy. Lord Byron wrote: “Judge my surprise on entering
the ballroom to see poor dear Mrs Hornem with her arms half round the loins of
a hussar-looking gentleman… turning round and round to a damned see-saw up and
down tune until it made me quite giddy.”

MAtters were going downhill. By 1830 the Waltz had developed an
even more indecorous cousin, the Galop, where partners held each other in a
hold similar to the waltz and galloped down the room. It was, as one
disapproving commentator noted, “an outright romp, as destitute of figure or
variety as the motion of a horse in a mill.” One wonders what they would have
made of the some of the risqué movements and holds in the modern ballroom

Are you a fan of Strictly Come Dancing or Dancing with the
Stars? Are you a ballroom dancer yourself? 
Which are your favourite dances and do you think you would have enjoyed
the waltzes and country dances of the Regency period? 

Heroines in an era lacking women’s rights

Anne here, blogging on a question sent in by Maureen Emmons (and thus Maureen wins one of my books.)

On women's rights:  Before women had the right to vote I was under the impression that they had no rights at all.  If this is correct then do you take this into consideration when writing your female characters?

Thanks for the interesting question, Maureen. It's quite a complex area, so forgive me, experts, if I over simplify. And feel free to explain in more depth in the comments section.

Single Women retained much
It's not quite correct to say women had no rights at all. They were limited, depending on the woman's marital status. If a woman never married, she retained the rights to any property she had inherited or any money she earned, as any individual would. In practice, daughters most commonly inherited personal property and sums of money, while sons inherited land, houses, businesses and the like, but if there were no sons, women could inherit everything, unless the estate was entailed. 

Entailed means there was a legal agreement in place that prevented a current owner from selling or otherwise disposing of property such as estates or houses or land. It was designed to protect the heir's inheritance, and it took a legal act to break an entail. 

Brides Married Women lost everything
Married women pretty much lost all their individual rights on marriage. By the law of the time, the act of marriage united two persons into one, and thus all property and rights were held by the husband. Children were likewise held to be the property of the husband, as was in effect the woman — she had no right to deny her husband his conjugal rights to her body. He also had the right in law to any money she earned. WmarriageC

But marriage settlements could help.
Having no legal rights in marriage didn't mean that all women were entirely unprotected, however. Many families took great care to draw up marriage settlements — contracts in which the welfare of the women were safeguarded as far as possible. Marriage settlements could contain agreements that some or all of the property a woman brought to a marriage would revert to her after the death of her husband. These settlements would also stipulate income — the  allowance a married woman might be paid quarterly or annually (sometimes referred to as 'pin money') and there might be conditions about future children and what they might inherit.  Images

Marriage settlements would also make provision for a woman after widowhood. A dowager is a widow who lives under conditions that would have been set up in her marriage settlements.  A 'dower house' is a house set aside for the use of a widow until her death, and the 'jointure' you may have read of is the annual income set aside for the support of a widow. 

These provisions would be set out in in legal contracts signed by the heads of both families before the wedding, and thus her rights would be protected by law. These rights were usually overseen, however, by a male relative on her behalf. She still had little personal control.

A widow could inherit money or property from her husband, and retain it, just as an unmarried woman could. However the only way she could keep it and still marry again was to place it in a trust.

It all depended on the luck of the draw
In summary, a woman's welfare more or less depended on the benevolence of her husband or male relatives, and on how clever and comprehensive the settlements before her marriage were. Some women's rights were gradually introduced long before they were given the right to vote, but that's a subject for another blog.

The Law and my heroines
As for how I deal with this situation in writing my female characters, it's a balancing act. And an opportunity.

I don't believe human nature has changed all that much over time. Expectations change, laws change, rights change but people are still people. I also think that in most day to day life we don't tend to resort to legal rights. It's the kind of thing we only think about if we're denied them. 

The lack of rights that women chafed against most in the Regency era were things like control of property, income, custody and access to their children, and the right to their own bodies — the right to say no to a husband, in effect. These were everyday realities for my heroines, and I try to imagine what any woman of spirit would do when confronted by them.

I've used some of these situations to put my heroines in a difficult position at the beginning of a novel. I've often had a heroine left in a vulnerable position as a result of her father's lack of care — Gallant Waif,  An Honorable Thief — or as a result of a husband's improvidence — The Virtuous Widow. AG-PRake-1

In The Perfect Rake, the sisters were under the control of a violent and unbalanced guardian — their grandfather. He had the right to beat them, and nobody would step in to act on their behalf, so they took their future into their own hands and ran away. Their solution also involves wills and settlements, but it's too complicated to explain here.

In The Stolen Princess, the heroine's main concern is to protect her son from his uncle, who has designs on his inheritance. Again, all she can do is flee, and in the end, she makes a convenient marriage for the protection the hero can provide.

In His Captive Lady, at the beginning of the story, the heroine had a baby out of wedlock, her father took the child away as she slept and she has no idea where her baby is. In To Catch a Bride, the heroine is very much regarded as a piece of property, and she uses all kinds of stratagems to avoid discovery. (To explain any further would be a spoiler, sorry.)

BridebyMistake68kb In my upcoming January book, Bride by Mistake, (see the beautiful cover on the left) the heroine's cousin berates her for losing her mother's fortune by marrying in haste without having proper marriage settlements drawn up to protect her interests and those of her children. 

Ramón glowered. He turned to Isabella. “Did you not negotiate the marriage settlements?”

Isabella flung him a scornful look. Of course she had not negotiated settlements. She was thirteen and fleeing from her violent pig of a cousin.

To Luke she said, “So, you would leave me entirely to your mother’s mercy?”

“Why not? My mother is very nice,” he assured her.

She narrowed her eyes at him. Luke smiled, confirming everything she’d thought. She bared her teeth at him in what was not exactly a smile. Oh, she would make him pay for this.

Ramón exploded. “You stupid bitch! Marrying an Englishman without thought or preparation. Dazzled by his pretty face!” He smashed his big meaty fist against the wall, making them all jump. “The money belongs here, here at Valle Verde! And now it’s lost, lost to you and lost to Valle Verde.”

“And lost to you, which is some compensation, at least,” Isabella said.

Ramón shook his head. “You should have married me! This is what comes of running from your family—you marry a stranger, an Englishman!” He spat.

“Still better than marrying you!” Isabella flashed.

“You brainless little slut, he’s not going to look after you. Don’t you understand? When he dies you’ll be penniless, no better than a beggar, dependent on the charity of strangers—”

“I’d rather be penniless than married to a pig like y—”

Ramón raised his hand. And found a sword at his throat.

“Lay one finger on my wife and you’re a dead man,” Luke said softly.

I don't give my heroines modern attitudes, but because I want modern readers to understand and identify with them, I try to show my heroines being strong and independent thinkers within the restrictions of their times. They use their wits, their brains and their courage to change their situations.

And then there are my heroes. I don't give my heroes modern sensibilities either, but as men of honor, they are protective and fair-minded toward women. And gorgeous. <G> As I said earlier, a woman's situation in marriage very much depended on the attitude of her husband.

So as a writer, I try to give my heroines a happy ending a modern reader would be happy with, but without violating or distorting the realities of the time. But as I said, it's a balancing act. 

What about you? Does it bother you to read Regency era characters with modern attitudes?  I must confess, some writers can sweep me away so I barely notice it. It all comes down to what you look for most, historical accuracy or story. What do you look for?
And if you're a writer, how would you answer Maureen's question?