Compiled by Mary Jo
I'm wearing the burgundy velvet gown I was married in, but I'm not the star of this occasion! That would be Lord Ross Carlisle, hero of one of my earlier books, Silk and Secrets, second in my Silk Trilogy. Though by nature he's rather reserved and scholarly, he's also deeply interested in all kinds of people and distant places. Which is why he became one of those amazingly intrepid early Victorian explorers who crossed mountains and deserts and dared all kinds of dangers to explore the mysteries of the unknown.
Ross was on his last expedition to Central Asia when he discovered his beloved, long estranged wife Juliet Cameron. Together they risk the lethal journey to Bokhara in hopes of rescuing her brother–and in the process they discover each other again. Ross and Juliet are generally inseparable, but she's starting the evening by joining a group of other wives in the library where they can sip brandy and claret and catch up on each other's news.
I've now published Silk and Secrets as an e-book and later this year there will be an audio edition narrated by Siobhan Waring. I chose this illustration from the NAL first edition because it's one of my all time favorite covers and Ross and Juliet both look so gorgeous, They are also dancing, though not anything you'd see in an English ballroom! Ross, endlessly interested in all kinds of people, is looking forward to meeting the tribe of Wenches and our companions!
Pat entering the ballroom:
Choosing one of my heroes to accompany me to a ball wasn’t easy. I’ve been writing for over thirty years and probably have more than eighty heroes waiting expectantly behind the curtains. Well, some of them have probably grown bored and gone off to play cards or look for a tavern, but there are some quite tame ones in the lot as well. Do I choose tame? Dangerous? Fun to be with?
I think we all know Wicked Wyckerly would probably be the most entertaining. He’s had lots of practice earning his keep with wit. But the man’s a gambler, first and foremost. You would be too if you could count cards. He’d leave me for the first card table, where he’d probably find his wife Abby waiting.
And as much as I love an arrogant marquess—I have several formidable ones hanging around, starting with the scarred beast in The Marquess—they’re born and bred to look down on petty scribblers like me.
Now Simon, in A Bewitching Governess, loves a good romping dance. I might enjoy a few country dances in his company, but he can be a bit tetchy, and I’d probably set him off by talk of ghosts and auras.
So I think I’ll choose someone most like my real husband— the Scots inventor, Drew Blair, in Lessons in Enchantment. He’s no aristocrat, but the man is brilliant and patient and open-minded. And since I don’t waltz well anyway, we’ll sit on the sidelines and have a good chat about his current ideas, and he’ll catch me up on what adorable animal his wife Phoebe is talking to now.
I’d love to show you my gorgeous gown, it’s a deep gold silk with vanilla lace and I’m wearing a fabulous Kashmir shawl woven in autumn colors, but alas, the current state of photography can’t do it justice. You’ll just have to admire Wyckerly and his modest bride.
My choice for the Wench Ball is a bit of a surprising one – Robert Dudley from my latest novel The Forgotten Sister. Robert comes out of the book pretty badly, more of an anti-hero than a hero. BUT he was the favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and she was a fascinating woman so there has to be something interesting about him, right? I want to discover where Robert’s reputation for charm and brilliance comes from and the Wench ball gives me the opportunity to find out.
Not only was Robert renowned for being a great sportsman but he was also clever, funny and interested in books. Plus, he was a good dancer. I really love dancing although I don’t do much of it these days, so I’d want someone who is prepared to enjoy themselves whilst I let my hair down. Robert’s also supposed to be the sort of guy who gets on well with other men so he should be fine with the other heroes, though there’s a chance he might just opt for brandy and cards instead of dancing.
The only drawback will be if Queen Elizabeth I gate crashes the event, looking for Robert. I suspect that neither I nor the other Wenches nor the wives will get a look in with him if that happens and she may well decide some of the other heroes are well worth flirting with as well! Nothing to worry about there, though, as they have all got immaculate manners and are devoted to their wives!
Just like Pat, I had a hard time deciding who to bring with me – as authors we fall in love with each and every one of our heroes and they all have their own attractions. I did consider inviting Haukr Erlendsson, my latest Viking hero, but he’s quite a big man and I don’t think ballroom dancing would be his thing. Instead he’d end up challenging the other men present to a bout of arm wrestling or something equally rowdy, so I thought it best to let him stay at home.
Out of my other heroes, I think the one who would be most at home in a ballroom is Killian Kinross from my first novel Trade Winds. He’s a Scotsman, although these days he lives in Sweden where he runs a very lucrative trading business with his lovely Swedish wife Jessamijn. He’s great fun to be with – a bit of a flirt, with a quick wit and great sense of humour, and he’s excellent at dancing. It doesn’t hurt that he has the looks of an archangel (according to his wife and I don't disagree) and I love watching his intensely blue eyes sparkle as he talks.
I have to admit, I don’t mind listening to his Scottish accent either! Like all Scotsmen, he’ partial to a glass or two of whisky (although Swedish akvavit will do at a pinch), so I’d better keep him away from the refreshment table. He also has the devil’s own luck at cards
– and in fact used to make his living that way – so I won’t let him anywhere near the card tables either as his playing often causes a fight. His opponents never want to believe he can be that lucky and frequently accuse him of cheating (which he never would and has no need for!).
As for a dress, I’ve dug out a vintage Laura Ashley ball gown I bought once in a sale. I’ve never actually worn it because this is the first ball I’ve ever been invited to (thank you Wenches – a dream come true!), but I couldn’t resist it anyway and I’m glad I can put it to good use at last. Although Killian is teasing me as he thought the colour meant I was in mourning for someone – he’s clearly never heard of the slimming properties of black grey! He’s looking very dashing himself, despite being the type of man who doesn’t care much about fashion. His dark auburn hair is, as always, pulled back into an untidy queue – no hair powder or wigs for him, thank you! The truth is he’d look great in a sack, but for this ball he’s donned a deep blue frock coat with silver buttons – like the type Captain Jack Sparrow wears – and actually I wouldn’t mind one of those myself so I might have to ask him to lend it to me later … In the meantime, we’re heading for the dance floor. Enjoy the ball everyone!
Honestly, it shouldn’t be so hard to find a handsome and charming hero to escort me to our grand 14th Anniversary Ball. After all, I have a number of eligible prospects who owe me a rather large favor. (After all, I did create them!) So I should be fending them off with elegant flutters of my fan, right?
But alas, no. While my heroes are fabulously interesting and engaging conversationalists—as well as quite skilled at other forms of communication—to a man they pulled a long face when asked to participate in the frivolities of Polite Society (Really, you wouldn’t believe the lame excuses I heard, as one by one they’ve cried off.) There was one exception—though I would have had to bend the rules. You see, the Honorable Christopher Sheffield, a fun-loving and very sociable gentleman who adore dancing, was quick to offer his services. Unfortunately I had to inform that he plays second fiddle to Lord Wrexford in my Wrexford & Sloane mystery series, and thus wasn’t eligible. His feelings were hurt, but he was quite gracious about the snub.
However, in an act that he claims was altruistic (though in truth I think it was a trifle mischievous) he gave me a sneak peek at Lord Wrexford’s upcoming book, which shows that His Lordship actually does attend fancy balls, and knows how to waltz quite well. When presented with the evidence, Wrexford admitted that he had fibbed about not knowing how to dance. And so, voila, I have a very dashing hero to lead me out on the dance . (Ignore his frown—he tends to scowl at everyone . . . except for Lady Charlotte Sloane.)
I will attend the ball escorted by the Duke of Everingham, the male lead in my book Marry In Scarlet (out on Tuesday!) I've chosen him because he needs to learn to be less arrogant and more charming. He's very intelligent, so I expect that closer acquaintance with the Wenches and all our lovely wenchly readers will rub off nicely on him — at least I hope so. But he definitely needs a lesson in how to behave. This is how he treated Lady George at a ball . . .
“A moment more of your time, if I may, Lady Georgiana.”
“Your partner won’t mind. This won’t take a moment.”
“He won’t mind? I suppose you’ve fixed it so that he has relinquished his dance, too? How many more of my partners have you suborned?”
“Don’t be melodramatic. A quiet word in his ear was all that was required. The fellow went quite willingly.” He gave an infinitesimal shrug. “To the victor go the spoils.”
“I am not anyone’s spoils.”
His gaze moved over her in a leisurely sweep. “No, you’re not, are you?”
What did he mean by that? She didn’t know but she didn’t like his tone, or the way he looked at her, like a cat surveying his next dish of cream.
“How splendid to be you and have everyone fall in with your wishes,” she said sarcastically.
“It is, rather,” he agreed.
Don't you agree, he needs a lesson or two? So, we will dance just before supper, and he will escort me in to the dining room and fill my glass with champagne and my plate with crab patties. I will wear this dress (only without the train) and he might even compliment me on it. Who knows? I hope he will bother to change out of his riding clothes.
I didn’t invite one of my characters to the ball. He just showed up.
“Here you are.” It was a British voice. Male. Impatient.
I hadn’t heard him come up behind me. Lots of chatter in all directions and the band was apparently getting paid by the decibel.
He wore faultless and expensive evening wear and a waistcoat that was making some kind of fashion statement with burgundy stripes. Dark hair, skin from the Mideast or the Mediterranean, not particularly tall. When he took the last couple steps in my direction he moved like an athlete—a dancer or a gymnast. Maybe somebody into martial arts. I was almost sure I’d met him somewhere.
“Jo,” he said, brisk and businesslike, “we’ve got a French agent in this crowd. How do I spot him? Who doesn’t fit?”
“. . . Hawker?”
He looked at me as if I were stupid. “Yes. Of course, it’s me. And it’s up to us to stop him. I assumed you’re armed.”
“Only with my wits,” I told him.
“That’s good enough.”
And off I went with Adrian Hawkhurst, master spy extraordinaire, to save the day.
Only the Word Wenches’ 14th Anniversary Ball could lure me out of my writing cave at the moment, so here I am, on the arm of a lovely man, tall and lean, with gilded brown hair and deep blue eyes, wearing austere black and white for the occasion—may I introduce my hero and very good friend, James MacCarran, Viscount Struan, walked straight out of the pages of Laird of Twilight.
That takes a little magic, but that’s all right, his story involves magic. Fairies, to be exact. His grandmother’s will obliges him to find a real fairy for his bride. Struan is not very happy about this, being a professor and lecturer in geology, lately working on a theory about ancient seas covering parts of the Highlands. He plans to visit his Highland property soon, but to look for rock strata, not fairies.
Just now, we are at Holyroodhouse at the Ladies’ Assembly held in honor of King George’s visit to Edinburgh. It’s August, 1822, terribly hot, and the rooms and hallways are crammed with over 2,000 ladies and gentlemen all hoping to meet the king, if they can get past the Royal Archers guarding the doors to the audience room.
I am thrilled to be invited to join Struan, his twin sister Miss Fiona MacCarran, and their Edinburgh cousins. I’m wearing a cream satin court dress with the long, required, cumbersome train, and I have a tartan sash of soft wool (so hot though!) in my family’s Fraser plaid, as we are descended of Inverness Frasers (not that Outlander kind!). I’m under five feet tall, so a bit invisible beside the striking Viscount Struan, and the long blue feather in my headdress tickles his chin as we wait in the crowd.
Struan wishes he could escape back to his study and his books—but now I spy an acquaintance, Miss Elspeth MacArthur of Kilcrennan, a lovely fairy-like creature in pale blue satin, a whimsical girl with a fiery spirit. Struan sees her too—he can’t take his eyes off of her. I think I had better introduce them . . .
As you can see below, we're each giving away one of our books to readers who comment here on the blog between now and midnight tomorrow. So who would you bring to the Word Wench Anniversary Ball???