Thursday, July 28, 2011

Inspiration can strike you anywhere...

People are always interested in where writers get the inspiration for their stories. For me the ideas can come from anywhere. The idea for "To Catch A Husband" grew out of living on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border and being surrounded by old mills. The small mill towns around me are still full of reminders of the past, the small stone houses with their rows of upstairs windows, giving light into the room where the weaving would be done. The loom would clack away throughout the daylight hours weaving cloth and providing a living for the family, the Piece Hall in Halifax where the cloth merchants used to bring their cloth (or "pieces") to sell,. and Quarry Bank Mill just south of Manchester, now a fascinating museum with working machinery that shows just how tough (and noisy) life in the mills was in the 18th and 19th centuries.
For my next book, "The Dangerous Lord Darrington", inspiration came when I was staying with a friend in Sussex and she took me to see Michelham Priory pictured above).

We went to see it on a sunny summer's day, but I immediately imagined what it would be like to approach this ancient building on a dark and stormy night and have the steeply gabled roof towering over you. I wasn't planning to write a gothic novel, but I did think it would be a splendid setting for a mystery.

I decided to set my own house, the Priory, in the wilds of Yorkshire. In the opening scenes of the book, Guy Wylder (Lord Darrington) brings his wounded friend to the house on a wet and windy evening, when the house looks at its most gloomy and menacing. Then, in the dark reaches of the night he hears strange noises and uncovers a family secret.

Of course, the house is also the family home of my heroine, Beth Forrester, so it is not really as dark and threatening as it first appears, but the first images give the story a terrific impact and set the scene for a fast-paced adventure that sees Beth and Guy thrown together in a desperate search for justice.

But, as I said at the beginning, inspiration can come from anywhere. I recently had a great holiday on Exmoor, which has provided me with ideas for my next couple of books… this space!

Sarah Mallory

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ancient Words, Modern Meanings

I hope some of you saw the blogs Harlequin posted on the peregrine falcon family that nested within sight of the office windows in Toronto. The falcons, who mate for life by the way, had a baby bird and Harlequin staff named it Harlequin, or “Harlie,” for short. (Here’s a peak at the saga:
It’s a perfect romance.
I wish this camera had been in place when I was writing my last book, because the heroine of HIS BORDER BRIDE was an avid falconer who also raised a baby bird and trained it to hunt. This was not done during medieval time and still not recommended by many experts because the bird becomes too “imprinted” upon humans, potentially losing its natural hunting instincts.
As I studied the ancient sport of training raptors (birds like falcons and eagles) to hunt prey on command, I also learned some of the specialized terminology of the sport. I was surprised to find how many words from falconry are used today in a totally different context. Here’s a sample of ones I suspect most people use without knowing their origin:
Fledgling: A fledgling is a young falcon that has just grown it’s “flight feathers.” (To “fledge” is to take the first flight.) Today, a fledgling is a newbie. It is also used as an adjective, e.g. a fledgling novelist.
Codger: Originally “cadger.” This was a person who carried the cadge, a portable perch which could carry several birds, into the field for the hunt. Usually, the cadger was an old falconer. Hence, codger now means an old person.
Hoodwinked: We use it to say someone was fooled, but originally, it literally meant putting a hood over the falcon’s head. This made the bird think it was night and calmed it. This was done to prevent the bird from being disturbed or, for example, so the hunter could take the prey away without the bird knowing.
Gorge: This was originally the bird’s crop, a sort of sack in the bird’s throat in which food is stored before swallowing. Hence, to gorge, or overeat.
Mews: This was originally housing for falcons. Later, it became attached to the place where horses were kept, and then to a small of houses converted from stables, or made to look like stables.
Boozing: A bird drinking water, sometimes to excess, was said to be “bowsing.” Hence, drinking…other things…to excess.
Haggard: A haggard was a bird caught in the wild as an adult, older than a fledgling. The word evolved to indicate something or someone who looks well-worn.
Are any of these new to you? Or do you have words to contribute, from falconry or not, that have dramatically changed in meaning through the years?

P.S. The picture was taken at the South Carolina Center for Birds of Prey, when I was doing research for the book. This falcon is (dare I say it?) hoodwinked.

Blythe Gifford


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Regency Governess

One of this month’s Harlequin Historicals is Christine Merrill’s Dangerous Lord, Innocent Governess, reminding me that the governess has been a popular heroine in Regency Historical Romance. So popular that I’m even considering a governess heroine for my next book.

Perhaps literature’s most iconic governess heroine was Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte (and her sisters) knew first hand about the life of a governess. They each worked briefly as such. Jane Eyre’s experience as a governess had gothic overtones (as does Christine’s Dangerous Lord, Innocent Governess). But we also learn about the life of a governess from Jane Austen. In Emma, Austen shows both the best of a governess’s life and the worst. Emma’s beloved governess, Miss Taylor, was treated as a member of the family and, when Emma no longer needed her, married the prosperous Mr. Weston. On the other hand, Emma laments Jane Fairfax’s fate when Jane is any day expecting to be forced to accept a position as a governess and “retire from all the pleasures of life, of rational intercourse, equal society, peace and hope…”

The life of an early nineteenth century governess could be similar to Emma’s Miss Taylor—paid well, treated well, valued as important. A governess’s salary could be as much as 200 pounds a year, but often it was as little as 20 pounds or, in the worst cases, no salary at all, just room and board. Often a governess had no ability to save money for retirement. When her teaching days were over, her circumstances became even more dreadful.

A governess was expected to come from a respectable family with a social background similar or better than the family employing her. But, of course, her need for employment meant that her status was unequal to her employers. Neither was she considered a member of the servant class. Her situation in a household could, therefore, be a lonely one, fitting in neither Upstairs nor Downstairs. Her reputation must be spotless.

No scandal could be attached to her name or she might be seen as corrupting her charges rather than instructing them in moral behavior. She had great responsibility for the children in her care, both for their education and behavior, but she might not necessarily have authority over them. Always she must please the parents lest she be let go and not given a good reference.

A governess’s grim life makes her a perfect heroine for a Cinderella story. Who would not cheer such a heroine for earning the love of the hero and achieving a happily ever after? Another popular governess heroine, and the premise Christine uses, is a respectable lady pretending to be a governess.

Can you think of another story premise involving a governess heroine? Do you have a favorite governess heroine? And, most importantly for me, are you up for another governess story?

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Two Faces of Masquerade

Lately I've been working on a story that begins at a masquerade. The masquerade isn't important to the story except to facilitate a case of mistaken identity, but it occured to me (belatedly) that a masquerade is the perfect place for two strangers to meet and fall in love. There's something so thrilling about the costumes, the secrets, the flirtations... My interest in masquerade as a setting was triggered by Vic Gatrell's Love and Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London. Yes, I've mentioned it before. I adore this book. It's chock-full of fascinating stuff about what made people laugh a few centuries ago. (Among other things -- potty humor! The 18th Century was a very down-to-earth time. :))

Masquerades gave people an opportunity to play at being someone they weren't. To indulge in risky behavior without being frowned upon. To throw off the bonds of civilization and be just a little bit (or perhaps a lot) wild. Despite the illicit sexual behavior associated with masquerades, plenty of respectable people indulged in them, even though the costumes often weren't good enough to conceal the wearer's identity -- or even intended to.

For example, in 1749, Elizabeth Chudleigh, Maid of Honor to the Princess of Wales, attended a masquerade bare-breasted! Theoretically, she was disguised as Iphigenia, the Greek maiden who, in most versions of the myth, is saved at the last moment from being sacrificed. Obviously, though, Miss Chudleigh wasn't in disguise at all, but just out for some exhibitionistic fun! She offended many people, but doesn't seem to have cared. Here's a picture of her in costume, with a few very interested fellows:
That's the entertaining aspect of masquerade, but there were also the potential consequences, such as disease and unwanted pregnancies. By the early 1800s, values had changed and masquerades were more likely to be frowned upon. Here's an 1816 print by Rowlandson called Dance of Death: The Masquerade. Everyone shrinks away as Death stalks his latest victim at the masquerade -- a clear message about the consequences of self-indulgence.

Not much has changed, has it? People still long to be bad, to throw off the shackles of good manners, to indulge in risky sexual behavior regardless of the consequences, and often they regret it afterward. The sorts of scandals we see from time to time in the political arena are only a reflection of what goes on everywhere -- always has and maybe always will. My question is, why? What in the human psyche drives us toward this sort of release? Is it a useful aspect of human nature or only a perilous one? And since this is a blog about romance, is the hero as bad boy -- which we certainly find plenty of -- a safe way of satisfying the longing to throw off restraints and indulge in exciting and dangerous pleasures?

Barbara Monajem
My new Harlequin Undone, The Wanton Governess, will be out August 1st!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Harlequin Historical Authors converge on the Big Apple!

This past week saw over 2,000 romance authors converge on Times Square in NYC, to attend the 2011 Romance Writers of America national conference. This is a place to learn, network and basically refuel the writer's well, so to speak.

There were many of your favorite Harlequin Historical Authors there, too --and wouldn't you know, we'd find a way to get to some fascinating local history during our stay there! The HH editors sponsored a wonderful and informative afternoon for us at the Mount Vernon Hotel, a historical landmark in the midst of bustling modern day Manhattan.

The Mount Vernon Hotel began as a carriage house, built out of local stone, in 1799. Since the original owner went bankrupt shortly after the main house was finished, and the new owner lost it in a fire sometime thereafter, the carriage house was eventually converted to a hotel. Situated a few miles from the bustling new port city of New York, we were informed that this 'day hotel' became a popular day trip for folks looking to get to the country side. Later, it was converted into a private home, and in the 20th century it was purchased by a utility and several monstrous oil tanks were erected behind it (not unlike the towering skyscrapers that surround the little building today).

The hotel is currently being restored with period pieces, and boasts a full kitchen, dining area, common room, men's parlor, ladies' parlor and bedroom. I was fascinated by the location of the ladies parlor directly above the common room, where locals would come for drink and merriment --I imagine their delicate ears were exposed to quite a few improper remarks that drifted through the floorboards below!

Most fun of all, was the opportunity to share time with the awesomely talented editors and authors who contribute to the wonderful reads in the Harlequin Historical line.

Some of the authors you may know:
Carole Mortimer, Ann Lethbridge, Terri Brisbin, Deborah Hale, Diane Gaston, Elaine Golden, Blythe Gifford, Christine Merrill, Kate Bridges, Michelle Willingham, Julia Justiss, Jeannie Lin.


Elaine Golden has written for Harlequin Historical since 2011, debuting with a Regency series, the Fortney Follies, for Harlequin Historical Undone! The 3rd book in the series, A COMPROMISED INNOCENT, released this month.

You can read an excerpt from A COMPROMISED INNOCENT and find a link for information on how to order on her website: