Regency Quick Fix

Christina here. We all lead very busy lives and sometimes we might not have time to read an entire novel – that’s when a short story collection or a novella comes in handy. A few years ago, I wrote some Regency novellas and I was delighted to find that Choc Lit are relaunching them this month with gorgeous new covers! It’s lovely to see them going out into the world again and I hope they are picked up by new readers. If you want a “quick fix” of the Regency period, these should do the trick!

In a recent post, some of the Wenches mentioned how they fell in love with Regency romance thanks to Georgette Heyer. It was the same for me. I first discovered her novels in my high school library when I was supposed to be doing homework. Always a voracious reader, I couldn’t resist checking out the shelves to see what was on offer, and her novels looked intriguing. At the time, I was hooked on Victoria Holt’s gothic romances and had never read anything set in the Regency period. That was soon remedied. Luckily for me, that library had at least half of Ms Heyer’s stories, and I was very happily reading those instead of the boring books I was supposed to read for class.

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A Scene can be a Seed

Anne here, and today I’m musing about the process of writing. Several readers have indicated that they’re curious about how we wenches go about writing our books, and while I can’t speak for any of the others — all writers’ processes are unique — this is mine.  (Photo by Rhett Wesley on Unsplash)

A wall is made of bricks and mortar;  a novel is made of scenes and the mortar is causality.

I once attended a talk by Queensland writer Kate Morton — read her, she’s fabulous — and in the question session at the end, someone in the audience asked how she decided what book to write next. I love knowing what sparks a story idea and why, out of the many story ideas you might have buzzing in your brain, one stands out.

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Unusual Settings

Christina here. I like stories with slightly unusual settings, and have written a few myself. A while back I did a talk with fellow author Liz Harris on how to go about creating them, and it’s not always easy, especially if the story takes place in the past. All authors who write historical novels are really writing about unknown locations since none of us can ever go back there and experience them for ourselves. Therefore, we have to do lots of research to find out what they were like at the time, if possible, then use our imagination to convey this to our readers. Some are more difficult than others!

If we can visit the location in the present and walk in the footsteps of our ancestors, that helps a lot. Some places haven’t changed all that much and it is easy to picture them during times gone by.  Others, like London for example, have obviously changed in many respects, but are still essentially the same layout so it’s possible to imagine where places of interest to us were situated.  And there are often old maps you can consult as well.

Canton – Wikimedia Commons

Things get a little more difficult if we want to write about faraway places or locations which have disappeared or changed completely. I’ve set a couple of my novels in 17th century Japan, for instance, one in 18th century Surat in India, and another partly in 18th century Canton in China, with brief mentions of other places along the way. Canton is now called Guanghzhou and, as far as I can tell, nothing much remains of the old city, so even if I’d gone there, it wouldn’t have helped me much. Instead, I had to rely on old eyewitness accounts to find out what it was like at the time my story takes place.

The potential for getting it wrong is there – someone else will always be more of an expert no matter how much research you do. It’s easy to make mistakes regarding the language, customs, food, topographical layout etc, and even the weather unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. But if we disregard the pitfalls and still decide to set our novel in an unusual place, what can we do to make sure we avoid mistakes?

First of all, we do a lot of reading. The obvious place to start is with an overview of the period and country concerned, plus its relations to England at the time if applicable. It helps to know exactly what was going on in this particular country at the time and also how English people then would have viewed this foreign place (if they even knew it existed). Once you have the basics, you can start to learn about the country itself and its customs now, as they may still be similar. For instance, Japan is a very modern country in many ways, but the people have still kept a lot of their ancient traditions, especially during certain times of the year.

You can read up about the clothing, food, language, traditions, history and so on in general, then do more detailed research into particular events, rulers, wars, possible catastrophes like earthquakes etc – using books written specifically about the period. When you have an overview, you can move on to primary sources like biographies written at the time (if available), journals and travel accounts. Finally, you look for the specific points necessary for your novel (and sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to need until you actually sit down and write the story, so the research is ongoing throughout the writing process).

Old photos, prints or paintings from the time you’re writing about are invaluable, and a lot of the people who travelled to foreign countries in the past were excellent at sketching the scenery and other things that caught their eye. There are lots of images on the internet (although these have to be checked for authenticity), and it’s also fairly easy to find out about the weather during different times of the year in every part of the globe.

The best thing is obviously if you’re able to travel to the country yourself. If not, you have to rely on travel journals and contemporary accounts. Lots of people travelling overseas keep travel blogs now and these can be easily found on the internet.

Museums are another great source, for instance the Victoria  & Albert Museum in London has a wonderful Asian collection. If we’re really stuck, asking an expert might be possible. Authors often e-mail or call complete strangers to find out about specific topics, and they are usually happy to help (sometimes for a fee).

Apart from the scenery, scents and tastes are very important when describing an unusual setting. If this information can’t be found in journals or travel accounts, it might help to visit a restaurant serving that country’s cuisine so you can try it (and smell it) for yourself. Even if it’s not completely authentic, it will give a good idea of what the hero and heroine might encounter.

If we are really lucky, there are reconstructed villages or sets from the past where an author can really experience what it was like. Places like the outdoor museum at Newtonmore in Scotland where they have old dwellings with peat fires; the Viking village in Ribe in Denmark with its longhouses and workshops; and Butser Ancient Farm with its Iron Age huts. All these really helped me imagine what life had been in the past.

Setting isn’t just the location where the story takes place, but it can be things like ships and carriages the characters travel in. For my first historical, TRADE WINDS, I needed to know what it would be like to sail to China in the 18th century. I was able to go on board the Swedish sailing ship Götheborg (an exact replica of a ship used by the Swedish East India Company) and this gave me the details I needed to recreate my characters’ journey. At the Gothenburg City Museum, I was also fortunate enough to find the journal of Colin Campbell who was the supercargo (or chief of the trading expedition) for the first venture to China. From his account, I was able to imagine what life was like in Canton for foreign merchants.

Another travel journal, that of a Swede called Christian Hinric Braad who travelled with the SEIC to India and China in the 1750s, helped me picture the city of Surat in India for another book, MONSOON MISTS. It was very detailed and incredibly useful.

So that’s a short summary of the work that goes into creating the backdrop to a novel. Do you like unusual settings and, if so, is there somewhere in particular you would like to read about?

A Writer’s Life

Rice_SecretsofWycliffeManor600I am writing this on Sunday, August 20, for reasons, below. If you’re not interested in the fabulously glamorous life of a multi-published author, move on. Otherwise, hang around. I’d offer you a beer or glass of wine for my pity party, but it would have to be virtual…

Today, I dumped 20,000 words of Book #4 of my Gravesyde Priory Mystery series into my “Maybe Next Time,” file. Six weeks of hard work, plotting, developing characters, writing, rewriting… out the door.

Well, I never actually throw out that many words. I file them away, hoping they may bubble and ferment and take on a life some day. But I’ve been struggling with this story for weeks, and I think the yeast is dead. So they now reside in a file with a lot of other flat bread. Index

I still need to write a book. I have ideas. Never any shortage of ideas. I even have one, a better one, to fit the timeline of the series. But see above about bubbling and fermenting… this takes time. So, while the sky darkened on what ought to be a bright August day fit for wildfires here in Southern California, I sat at my desk and researched the Hundred Days War and French surnames. And brainstormed with myself. The humidity reached 100% (this is desert country—we don’t do humidity. We don’t even have air conditioning), and I had to throw a towel over the story bowl and let it rest.

PillowsWe were told a tropical storm was headed our way and to batten the hatches and stay home. So we went out and gathered all our outdoor pillows and brought them inside. Took down the wind chimes, folded up any chairs that fold, brought the ceramic planters down off the walls.

The heavy clouds broke, and the rain started. This is usually the day we go hiking on the bluff above the ocean, but there are flood warnings out. We live right at sea level, a mile from the sea, just down the road from a major flood channel. So instead of hiking, we went to Costco to get in our walk. Did you know you can walk a mile going up and down the aisles of Costco? We usually walk two miles, but I didn’t think we could afford them. Came out with all kinds of yummy frozen goodies to test in our new freezer. If the power goes out, we can test our new solar battery.

It’s still raining. Since I operate on solar power like our battery, there is very little story fermenting happening. So I read social media. Oh golly gee, there’s an earthquake in Ojai, a hundred miles from here. Hope the tropical storm doesn’t blow them off the bluff. I’m thinking all the recommendations for boarding up our windows and filling up our bathtubs may be overkill. It’s still raining, barely. But we didn’t feel any shaking, at least. More pillows

Day isn’t over and I need to feel useful. Did a first read for a fairly new author. Fell asleep by page 50. Not a good sign. Fine, then let’s hit social media. I do love my reader comments on Facebook, and the slices of life from other authors, and the chance to buy a favorite author on sale. I do not appreciate Facebook’s thug tactics of forcing me to read ads instead of posts, but I do my best to navigate around them and keep up with fellow authors. Twitter and Instagram… I have yet to see the point. And now that X has taken away my tweetdeck, I can’t find anything or anyone, so I wandered off.

Since we had some old celery and carrots and a leftover Costco chicken carcass from our prior trip, I figured a rainy day was perfect for chicken soup. I’m still trying to lose pounds from the Alaskan cruise, so I resisted baking, which Rainis what rainy days are best for.

Tried to find a movie on the umpteen streaming channels, but we don’t remember titles, and nothing looked interesting, so we switched to watching Astrid and Afterparty. I adore books and programs with autistic characters because I relate to them so well, so Astrid is a favorite. Afterparty—is just silly, but good silly. Neither of them give me ideas for resuscitating the flat pages or inflating the new ones.

I mourn the beautifully developed characters and the budding romance that may never see the light. I had mystery suspects with names beginning with X, Y, and Z even! Who could resist? Apparently, I can. That’s six weeks worth of work, buried in a Word file.

We went to bed still waiting for the winds that never arrived. Sometime during the night, one of the top-heavy scheffleras turned over, but the pot was plastic, so no harm done.

And that was our hurricane party—pretty much a normal rainy day back in Kentucky. I know Rice_TheMysteryoftheMissingHeiress_600x900elsewhere they had flash flooding and a few trees toppled here and there, but California hurricanes are petulant toddlers compared to east coast raging teenagers.

But I got a blog out of it, so there’s that. How’s the weather treating you lately? Is it as weird as it is here? Dumped any favorite projects lately?

(there should be a sample for book #2 on my website at )

Ask A Wench: Where Do You Write?

Pat here:

This month, the wenches are all under the gun and chose an easy fun question to discuss: “Do you find that the seasons or weather or time of day can affect your creativity or productivity? What is your favorite place to write?”

Nicola's gardenNicola: I’m writing this sitting in our living room with the view in the photo. This is a problem because on the rare fine days we have had this summer I would prefer to be sitting out there enjoying the garden. I generally find this time of year quite soporific, especially if it’s humid weather; by the early afternoon I want to take a nap which could go on for several hours! It doesn’t help that August in the UK is holiday season and so there’s a sense of putting your feet up and relaxing. Sadly this isn’t on the cards when, like me, you have a 1st September deadline!

I’ve always been a bit of a lark rather than an owl so I will start work early, flag a bit in the early afternoon but get a second wind between about 4 and 6pm. Most of the time I work in my study at the front of the house which, because it’s a Victorian cottage, has thick walls and is cool in the summer and warmer in the winter. Autumn always feels an energising season to me which is odd when the trees are losing their leaves, but I love the colours and the sense of a crisp chill in the air. I’m definitely not someone who responds well to the heat which I think may come from my North European genes!

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