Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Introducing Our Exciting New Regency Series, Castonbury Park

‘We’re going to do an historical continuity series,’ my editor told me last June. ‘It will be Regency, with an Upstairs/Downstairs theme, and you’d be one of eight authors. What do you think?’

I thought it sounded like a really exciting opportunity, so I leapt at it. Almost a year on, the first book (a prequel not originally scheduled) about to be published, and I think I speak for all eight of us when I say that it was definitely exciting, but also extremely challenging, at times frustrating, seriously time-consuming, and much more complicated than any of us anticipated. It was also great fun, and maybe most importantly, we think that Castonbury Park, which has intrigue, tragedy, and scandalous liaisons galore, is a really different take on the Regency world.

But back in July last year, we were just eight authors in three countries and several different time zones, struggling to understand what on earth we’d got ourselves into. With the first deadlines already looming, we had to come up with a family to provide the heroes and heroines for each of the books, a world for them to live in, a timeframe which complemented our existing historical expertise, and a thread, an overarching story of some sort that would bind all the books together.

Emails came thick and fast as we debated dates, locations and names – you would not believe how many emails and how much research it took to come up with names. As an author you are accustomed to being in charge of creating your own worlds, your own plot, allowing your characters to go in whichever direction you choose, whenever you choose. As part of a continuity team, you are to an extent constrained, something which those of who, like me, prefer their plot-line to be ‘fluid’, found –  well, quite frustrating!. In a continuity series, you must keep your story within the agreed timeframe, maintain the setting and be true to the landscape, make sure that you keep other people’s creations consistent, and, perhaps most difficult of all, you have to commit to taking the overall story forward, while at the same time writing a book that still has your hero and heroine at the forefront. See what I mean about challenging?

After much debate, checking with our editor, more debate, tweaking, checking and double-checking, we agreed to set our series in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, which had left our wealthy, aristocratic Montague family in a state of turmoil. One son killed at Waterloo, a missing heir, monstrous debts, and a duke in decline provided the starting point for eight linked but highly original stories. We chose Derbyshire as our setting, a county which is home to one of our authors, we based our stately home on the real-life Kedleston Hall, which two of our group had visited, and we populated it with some key servants who would be present in every story.

But the devil, as they say, is in the detail. It was when we all started writing more or less at the same time, that the complexity of what we had taken on hit us. What colour were the dining room walls? What kinds of food did the new French chef like to serve for dinner? What did the Montague children remember about their dead mother? What games did they play together when they were younger? Who rode, what horse, which carriage? Did the butler start out in service as a boot boy or a second footman? And most challengingly of all, how did the family and household in the next book react to the ending of the previous one – which is a pretty tricky question to answer, when the previous book hasn’t actually been written! Not only did we have to understand our own characters, we had to make sure that the ‘continuity’ characters were consistent. and we to make sure that if we wrote dialogue for someone else’s hero or heroine, it sounded right. Now you can see what I mean about time-consuming – and stressful!

‘We want scandal, scandal, scandal,’ our series editor told us, and Castonbury Park certainly has that, with some outrageous relationships between ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’. While the house and servants are key continuity ‘characters’ which play a role in every book, some of the stories travel further afield to Spain and to India.

The first book, an ‘extra’ prequel which I’ve written, is out on 1st June. Flirting with Ruin  is a short story which sets the scene for the series and introduces some of the main characters. It’s also a sexy, passionate romance between two people who meet by chance and take a chance on love.

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for our Regency continuity series. You can be sure you’ll be hearing more from us and from Castonbury Park very soon.

Castonbury Park
Flirting with Ruin (Undone! Prequel) - Marguerite Kaye, June 2012
The Wicked Lord Montague - Carole Mortimer, August 2012
The Housemaid’s Scandalous Secret - Helen Dickson, September 2012
The Lady Who Broke the Rules  - Marguerite Kaye, October 2012
Lady of Shame - Ann Lethbridge, November 2012
The Illegitimate Montague - Sarah Mallory, December 2012
Unbefitting a Lady - Bronwyn Scott, January 2013
Redemption of a Fallen Woman - Joanna Fulford, February 2013
A Stranger at Castonbury - Amanda McCabe, March 2013

There’s excerpts, background and more about Castonbury Park on my website here. 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 the two Castonbury books, then check out my boards on Pinterest

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Harlequin Historical Authors' First "Round Robin"

Lady Ambleforth’s Afternoon Adventure

Does this title intrigue you?  I hope so.  Starting on June 18 some of the Harlequin Historical authors are coming out to play.  They are bringing you a round robin story.  And it will appear right here on this blog, one chapter per day for two weeks.

As you might imagine, it is unlike anything we normally do!

Each day an author will write a chapter following on from the previous one, having never seen it before. No one knows where the story is going,  or where it will end up.  Writing tends to be a solitary endeavor, so this is something different for us. You can imagine how much fun we will be having and the surprises we will spring on each other.

To get our muses fired up, we are going to ask you to participate in the fun.  Get involved as the story develops. See it you can guess what might happen next. Ooh and aah as the surprises roll out.

And perhaps you can tell us which bachelor you think our heroine will decide is a keeper.

So mark your calendars and join the fun.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mr Oldman Travels to London in 1795

Inevitably in the course of writing a book I find myself working out how my characters get from A to B, how long it takes and what it costs them. I have maps of the period, road books, coaching timetables – but nothing beats original documents, so imagine my delight when I found an original expenses claim on EBay!

Sometime in December 1795 Mr Oldman, an agent of Sir John Musgrave of Edenhall near Penrith, set out on a journey to carry out business for his employer and the expenses claim is the one he sent Sir John on his return. (Prices given below are shown as £ s d ie pounds, shillings and pence).
We do not know why Sir John needed Mr Oldham to travel all the way to Kempton Park via York and London, a journey by modern routes of over three hundred miles each way, but the details of the trip are fascinating for anyone wondering what things cost in the Georgian period.

Mr Oldham started out by sharing a post chaise from Penrith to York with two others. His share of this – the hire of the chaise, driver, turnpike tolls and food cost him £2. 4s 8d and, as no cost for overnight accommodation is given, they must have accomplished the hundred miles in the day. Post chaises were an expensive mode of travel (the total bill for the three men was £6.14s), but it was faster than the public stage. The photograph below is of an original postchaise taken in the Mossman Collection (Luton, England).

Whether it was more comfortable was debateable – they had privacy and were not jammed in with total strangers possessing various degrees of personal hygiene, but the post chaises were not known as Yellow Bounders for nothing and travel sickness was not uncommon. The print below shows a post chaise driven by postillions thundering through the countryside causing chaos – although this one does contain an eloping couple, which might explain it!

Mr Oldham needed a day and a night in York to recover, which cost him 10s 6d before he then set out on the stagecoach for London. The bill for that was £3.3s for his ticket, 4s 6d in tips to the drivers, 5s 6d for his luggage and 11s 6d for eating and drinking on the way.
He would have undoubtedly been exhausted by the time he arrived at the White Horse, Fetter Lane in the City of London. The White Horse was a major coaching inn, dating back to 1766 at least, and it survived until 1899 when it was rebuilt and finally demolished in 1989. He would have expected a good room and food at such a reputable inn.
His room cost Mr Oldham 6s and then on top of that he had to find 4s 11d to tip the maid and the waiter, pay for his hot shaving water and for a cab to take him to the local stage coach stop for the Chertsey stage coach which took him to Kempton Park at a cost of 5s.

Finally, after a couple of meetings with his employer (during the course of which Mr Oldham had to lend him 6s 6d) he caught the stage coach back from London to Penrith, apparently going direct that time. It cost him £5 plus £1 for his luggage and £1.7s 9d in sundry expenses, including tips and food. The photgraph below shows the cramped seating inside a stage coach - imagine sharing these thinly upholstered benches with five other people in their thick travelling clothing for over three hundred miles! (Coach in Mossman Collection).

The entire trip cost Sir John £17. 19s . Price comparisons are not easy, but that is approximately £900 ($1,453) in today’s money.

Find details of my books at www.louiseallenregency.co.uk along with my Et Cetera page of Regency research.

Louise Allen