Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rake with a Frozen Heart Giveaway

Character v Plot 

When I first started writing, I thought that each book would get easier than the last. In fact, in my experience the direct opposite is the case because with every book I challenge myself to do better. And with every book, I’ve also found that there’s a key lesson to be learned as a writer. Rake with a Frozen Heart taught me that character has to come before plot.

Right from the start, I had a very clear picture of the opening scene of Henrietta and Rafe’s story, with my heroine unconscious in a ditch on my hero’s estate. I was reading Lucy Moore’s excellent book Con Men and Cutpurses at the time, and was enthralled by the seamier side of the Regency it depicted. The dark and dangerous world of London’s rookeries was almost on the doorstep of the opulence and luxury of the haute ton. I found this contrast fascinating, and I was determined to include it in my story, which meant I had to have a crime. 

Another project I’d been working on (shelved, for the moment anyway) was set during the French Revolution. Many of the crown jewels disappeared during this time, including the legendary Bleu de France, part of which is now reputed to be the cursed Hope diamond. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if I could somehow incorporate this bit of research into my story too.  

I came up with a plot so complicated that it made unravelling the Da Vinci Code seem like a piece of cake. But when I started to write it, I realised it left very little time for romance, and even more importantly, beyond throwing them together and expecting them to play the sleuth, I had no idea at all what made my hero and heroine tick, never mind why they would be perfect for each other.

I wrote the first three chapters and got stuck. Then I rewrote them and got stuck again. I showed them to my editor in the vain hope that I might be wrong, but she agreed. It just wasn’t working. Deflated, I put the whole lot away in a virtual drawer.

Funnily enough, it wasn’t the story, but my heroine who wouldn’t let me be. Over the next year, Henrietta came to life in my mind. A heroine who was different, flawed, and definitely not beautiful. Henrietta was well-intentioned but by no means always right. She was an innocent abroad, but she wasn’t naïve. She suffered badly from foot-in-the-mouth disease, but she was always true to herself, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

Once I had her fully-formed, so to speak, it was actually quite easy to find her a perfect hero. Henrietta was a bit of a crusader, so Rafe had to be a man with a past which made him a real challenge to save. With the complex plot stripped right back, finally I could write my story.

I learnt my lesson with Rake with a Frozen Heart – it’s fatal, in a romance, to put plot before characters. It was a tough one, and this book was a long time in the writing as a result, but it’s a lesson I certainly won’t forget in a hurry. What’s more, although I lost the story of the Bleu de France from this book, the research wasn’t in vain, because the diamond features in the opening chapter of my August release, Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah. So in a way, I eventually got two for one!

I think Henrietta and Rafe’s story was worth the pain. I hope you agree, and I have a signed copy of Rake with a Frozen Heart to give away so that at least one of you can decide for yourself. All you have to do is leave a comment, and I’ll pick a winner on Monday 30th April. Good luck.

There’s excerpts, background and more about my books on www.margueritekaye.com. I’m always happy to chat on Facebook or Twitter. And if you want to see the ideas and inspiration behind some of my stories, including Rake with a Frozen Heart, then check out my boards on Pinterest

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Titanic: A Date with Destiny

This week it’s a hundred years since RMS Titanic sank on her maiden voyage. To commemorate the occasion, I’ve written a short romance set on board the ship. I’ve tried to capture the essence of the liner in my book, but what exactly is that essence? What is it that makes the Titanic so iconic, and why are we so fascinated by her story?
It seems to me that the Titanic represents the end of an age, that her sinking presaged the turmoil and change which the Great War brought about. The glamour of the Edwardian age, where position was by and large determined by the accident of birth, and power was wielded by a privileged few in a class system where everyone had their place and mostly stuck to it was, like the stately liner, about to disintegrate.
For those passengers in first class at least, glamour was what the Titanic was all about – and if you paid the top price of almost £900 for a state room (compared to about £3 for a third class berth) then you had the right to expect it. Gates, doors and a host of ‘keep out’ signage made sure that those travelling first had exclusive use of the salons, reading rooms, smoking rooms and restaurants. For tea there was the Veranda Café or Palm Court. If the opulent dining room with its entrance at the foot of one of those legendary grand staircases wasn’t exclusive enough, then there was the Café Parisien, which impressed Lady Duff Gordon. ‘Fancy,’ she said, ‘strawberries in April, and in mid ocean. Why, you would think you were at the Ritz.’
First class passengers were  monied and titled. They expected to be pampered, and the Titanic was equipped with a dedicated array of first class servants (who of course, had separate quarters from the those assigned to second and third class) to make sure that they were. Passengers were expected to dress appropriately for each social occasion. In her professional life, Lady Duff Gordon was the acclaimed fashion designer Lucille who, amongst other things, transformed corsetry, extending the silhouette and doing away with the whalebones and tight lacing of the Victorian age. Without doubt, Lady Duff Gordon’s wardrobe would have included morning gowns, tea gowns, walking gowns and evening gowns, peignoirs and capes, hats and gloves, and of course jewellery. When the Titanic began to sink, ladies bedecked in diamonds and rubies, emeralds and sapphires, their elaborate coiffure topped by millinery creations of wispy net and satin ribbons, were an incongruous sight on the boat deck in their bulky cork lifejackets.
The contrast between first, second and third class accommodation on board was stark and deliberate. The plain white china used in steerage was marked with the White Star Line’s logo to discourage theft. While first class passengers could bathe in their cabins, swim in the pool or take a Turkish Bath, and every cabin in second class had washing facilities, there were a meagre two baths for the nearly one thousand passengers in third. No cushions or carpets for steerage passengers either. Their ‘general room’ had tiled floors and hard wooden benches, for it was thought that upholstery would absorb the stench of the great unwashed.
Mind you, no matter what you paid for your ticket, if you were female you were banned from the smoking rooms. There’s a sexist bias to the survival statistics too. Almost every single one of the first class ladies made it, and half of those in steerage, but more than two thirds of the male passengers and crew perished.
A society in microcosm, the Titanic has often been labelled, and that’s what I wanted to show. Max, my hero, occupies stateroom A-20, which was actually where Lady Duff Gordon slept. Jennifer, my heroine, is one of the eighteen stewardesses on board. From the enclosed promenade deck where the fortunate few strolled protected from the elements, to the poop deck, where steerage passengers fought for space with cargo and bollards, I have tried to show both the ‘upstairs’ and the ‘downstairs’ of life on board the Titanic at the end of an era.
I’d love to know if you think I’ve succeeded. Titanic: A Date with Destiny is available to buy now in the UK. It's also out as a free  on-line read on the Harlequin website here, and you can join in the debate with myself and other readers here.
There’s excerpts, background and more about my books on www.margueritekaye.com. I’m always happy to chat on Facebook or Twitter. And if you want to see the ideas and inspiration behind some of my stories, including Titanic: A Date with Destiny, then check out my boards on Pinterest.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Captain Corcoran's Hoyden Bride

The hero of my latest release "Captain Corcoran's Hoyden Bride" spent most of his early life in His Majesty's navy. The "crew" who work for him now that he has gone to live ashore permanently, form quite an important thread to this story, because it is through their attitude to him that my heroine comes to understand him. (Which isn't easy for her to do at first, since he virtually press-gangs her into marriage!)

I wanted to find out, in particular, what their uniform would have been like, so that I could give them a similar one as their new livery.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that at that date (1815), ordinary seamen did not have uniforms. Officers got one, in 1748, but the navy administration at that time thought it would be counter-productive to issue men, particularly pressed men, with a decent set of clothes. "It is not intended to clothe men...to make them handsome to run away..."

Imagine the poor pressed sailor, often coming on board in torn and dirty clothing, after a few weeks at sea. The harsh conditions on board would ruin what they wore so that one comment was that they ended up "...so naked that they are not able to undergo the duty of their watches and labours..."

Navy surgeons advocated such men were issued with clothes as a matter of urgency, "to avoid nasty beastliness, which many men are subjected to by the continual wearing of one suit of clothes."

The "nasty beastliness" to which the surgeons referred wasn't B.O. which I first assumed, but the lice which infested such men, resulting in often devastating outbreaks of typhus.

The sailors, it was true, could purchase clothing, or "slops" provided by the purser. The cost of these clothes was deducted from any pay they would be issued if they ever finished their voyage. By all accounts, not many of the men took advantage of the navy's "generosity". And good grief - they were even expected to buy their own hammocks!

Only a couple of groups of ordinary seamen, so far as I could discover, were provided with some kind of uniform. The first group were the ones who found their way into the navy by way of the Marine Society, which was set up to provide work for destitute men and boys. Not only did the founders believe that doing so would prevent spread of disease, but apparently young landsmen on first going aboard were at risk of bullying. Their clothing marked them out. Professional seamen, who wore short round jackets referred to the newcomers as Long Toggies. So the Marine Society boys got a pea jacket, a waistcoat and breeches in either blue or white kersey, a felt hat, two worsted caps, two pairs of hose, three shirts, one pair of shoes with buckles, a knife, a pillow, a blanket - and a bundle of religious tracts.

The other group of men who sometimes, (and only sometimes) got given a uniform, were the Captain's barge crew - those responsible for rowing him ashore. And their uniform was entirely at the Captain's whim. The captain of the Caledonia, for example, issued his with Scotch bonnets. Another, who had fought in the Greek war of independence and been very impressed by the Greek army's uniform kitted his men out in "petticoat trousers". The captain of the Harlequin gave his barge crew a "theatrical costume" (whatever that means - though I have visions of the diamond logo used by our publisher today!)

And then there was the captain of the Blazer, who issued his barge crew with striped blue and white jackets, ornamented with flashy brass buttons. I could not verify this beyond a shadow of a doubt, but I do believe that this is the origin of the garment still known today as a blazer.

Nor could I verify the other snippet of information which I found the most interesting -which was that when designing uniforms for the officers, somebody in their wisdom decided to place a row of brass buttons on the cuffs of the midshipmen's jackets to prevent them from wiping their noses on their sleeves.

I couldn't tell you how long I spent delving into the fascinating world of naval uniforms. As usual, I did not manage to shoehorn any of it into the book. But at least it helped me to understand why those poor deprived men were so fanatically loyal to their captain, when he gave them work ashore.

(If you'd like to receive a copy of Captain Corcoran's Hoyden Bride, please leave a comment)

You can find out more about my books on www.annie-burrows.co.uk

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