Sunday, February 26, 2012

Inspired by fairy tales

I’ve always loved fairy tales: African fairy stories, Old Peter’s Russian tales, Grimm’s fairy tales and the western classics – Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, The Goose Girl, The Frog Prince. The themes of love, sacrifice, keeping promises (the theme of the Frog prince) transformation (in The Goose Girl and Cinderella) justice (again in Cinderella) are epic to me and timeless, worthy of exploration in romances and modern stories.

Cinderella, the story of selfless devotion rewarded, is a popular theme for many romance stories, with the ‘prince’ often an Italian or Arab billionaire who sweeps in to transform the heroine’s drab, oppressed life. I’m sure there are romances to be written about the ugly sisters, too – positive stories where they grow from their petty spitefulness and obsession over balls and dances into generous, complete women, who also find love. That element of the happily ever after and the unexpected is strong in both fairy tales and in romance and both appeal to me greatly.

Fairy tales can also be epic, dealing with issues of life and death. Look at Gerda and her determination to win her brother out of enchantment in The Snow Queen. Look at Sleeping Beauty, where the prince rescues the princess from the ‘death’ of endless sleep.

Recently I did my own ‘take’ on Sleeping Beauty in my ‘A Christmas Sleeping Beauty’. I made it a story of transformation for both my heroine, Rosie, and the prince Orlando, who starts as a very arrogant and selfish young man who needs to learn to love and cherish. I didn’t want my Rosie to be passive, simply waiting to be woken, so she is active in the story both through her dreams and through her speaking directly to the hero in a letter. I also added more urgency by making it a ticking clock story – Orlando must wake Rosie in three days or he loses his chance forever.

The story of Beauty and the Beast has thrilled me since I was a child, with its dark and menacing beginning, the terrifying beast and Beauty’s courage and love for her father and ultimately for the beast. I was inspired by these basic tenets to write my own medieval version of Beauty and the Beast in my ‘The Snow Bride’. Magnus, the hero, has been hideously scarred by war and looks like a beast. He considers himself unworthy of love. Elfrida, my heroine, is also an outsider since she is a white witch, but she willingly sacrifices herself (as Beauty does in the fairy story) because of love, in her case her love for her younger sister, Christina, for whom she feels responsible. When she and Magnus encounter each other, I made it that they could not understand each other at first, to add to the mystery and dread – is Magnus as ugly in soul as in body? They must learn to trust each other, despite appearances, and come to love (just as in the original fairy tale).

I also added other fairy tale elements to ‘The Snow Bride’: magic, darkness, the idea of three (a common motif in fairy tales) spirits in the forest and more. Perhaps in the darker elements of my forest I was inspired by that other old fairy story – Red Riding Hood.

How about you? What inspires you in your reading or writing?


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chastleton House - A Jacobean Gem

I wanted to spread the word about this little known Jacobean gem I discovered near Moreton-in-the-Marsh. There is no café but the atmosphere is very much like having stepped back in time and the house is 'conserved' rather than preserved..

Chastleton House was completed in 1612, with typically Elizabethan and Jacobean gardens which have a ring of fascinating topiary at their heart. The house belongs to the National Trust, but to preserve the fabric of the building and its furnishings, admission is by timed ticket and advance booking is recommended. The maximum number of visitors admitted per day is 175.

The house was once owned by Robert Catesby, one of the Gunpowder Plot instigators. Catesby mortgaged the property to Walter Jones, and when Catesby fell on hard times and was unable to keep up payments, Jones took over the property, pulled down Catesby's house and built a new, grand mansion, which is the Chastleton House that exists today.

Anne Fettiplace , daughter of Sir Edmund  Fettiplace and Ann Alford, married Henry Jones in 1609 and lived at Chastleton House. As the house was still under construction at the time of the wedding, the Fettiplace Coat of Arms were incorporated in the overmantle.           

Little altered from its original design, the approach to the house is by way of a winding path down a moderate hill, with views to an attractive dovecote of similar age to the house. Which is a nice way of saying the car park is miles away! The 12th century parish church is next door and a small entry gateway gives onto an outer courtyard, with stables to the left and the house itself to the right. Visitors are shown through some beautiful, and authentically furnished and restored Jacobean and Tudor rooms.

Here, the floors bend and buckle with the wrinkles of aged timber, and the bedrooms are authentically furnished with period pieces. The long gallery on the upper floor occupies the entire length of the house. With a barrel vaulted roof, and superbly executed plasterwork ceiling the room is magnificent. Unfortunately there is also evidence of death watch beetle that has occupied the house for several centuries!

I especially liked the butler's chamber on upper floor gives an excellent view of the roof beams and the skeleton of the house frame. The kitchens were in use until the 1950s, where the blackened grime of centuries remains on the ceiling.  Legend says a former resident declared it was bad luck to clean kitchen ceilings, so it was never touched!

A large section of gardens behind the house form two large croquet lawns – it was here at Chastleton in 1865 that the rules of lawn croquet were first codified.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Rhapsody Creek

 Rhapsody Creek, originally published by Mills & Boon as Hester, is now available as an ebook. The idea for it came on a visit to the South Carolina and Georgia and viewed the ante-bellum mansions with their Spanish moss, exterior kitchens and slave shacks.What if something dreadful were to happen in one of those out houses, I thought. Who would hear your call for help?

With American independence won, her brother George dead, and the shame of bankruptcy threatening her beloved aunt, Hester Mackay accepts Benjamin Blake’s proposal of marriage, despite him being an English gunrunner. But her happiness at the Georgia plantation house is short-lived as Hester learns that her new husband has already killed two wives. Can this be true, and is he now trying to kill her?

Here is a short extract:

Later than evening, after Aunt Kizzy had retired for the night, Benjamin stayed on the porch with Hester, as had become their habit. Hester had noticed, to her amusement, that Aunt Kizzy had taken to retiring earlier and earlier as if she had no wish to intrude upon them. On this particular evening she’d gone to bed almost as soon as supper was over declaring she was exhausted having spent an hour closeted with her man of business. Now, in the softness of the Southern darkness, Benjamin began at last to talk.
   ‘There’s been something on my mind for some time, Hester, that should be said, perhaps before it is too late.’
   Hester’s hands stilled and she set aside her sewing. It was too dark now in any case, but she regretted the loss of the occupation. ‘That sounds dreadfully serious,’ she said with an attempt at a smile, but Benjamin was not smiling. He was not even looking at her. His eyes were fixed somewhere out in the middle distance, or perhaps way back into his life.
   ‘Perhaps it is. Or perhaps I am worrying unduly.’ He drew in a deep breath. `If this hurts you then I apologize in advance, for it is the last thing I intended.’
   ‘I understand.’ Did she? She rather thought not. What was it that troubled him so, that made him look so grim?
   ‘There was once someone in my life. We’d grown up together and so were good friends, at least I thought that was the case. I was used to her being around. Her name was Sarah. But I didn’t think of her as a woman, as my woman, if you take my meaning.’
   ‘I think so.’
   ‘That was not the case with Sarah.’ Benjamin got up from the rocker to stroll restlessly down the garden path and Hester was obliged to follow him. ‘Her fondness for me grew to a level beyond friendship.’ Hester held her breath. What was he trying to tell her? ‘It became almost obsessive. I could go nowhere without Sarah tagging on behind. Whatever I did, she watched me. Wherever I walked, she followed. She tried to pre-empt my every need, handing me things I had never asked for, buying me gifts I did not want. She would even stand outside the door of my home for hour upon hour, waiting for me to come out. It was unnerving.’
   Hester felt herself grow tense. ‘It must have been difficult.’
   Benjamin turned to face her and even in the half-light the grim, almost angry expression upon the planes of his handsome face was only too clear. ‘Never could I allow that to happen again. She should have married Stefan, who loved her, but she was obsessed by me, with catastrophic results. Stefan took it very badly and has borne me a grudge ever since. I could never risk a recurrence of such uncompromising devotion for it very nearly destroyed my life, do you see? A person must be allowed to live his or her own life without let or hindrance, make his own decisions and mistakes, and not be pushed into a corner simply out of pity.’
   She saw only too clearly. He was telling her not to grow too fond, not to fall in love with him. But it was too late. He was telling her that he ran from England to escape this Sarah, and would run from her if she too was foolish enough to try to capture his love. And he was telling her that on no account must she attempt to follow him to England when the time came for him to leave. That was the invisible line she had crossed earlier as they had talked down by the harbour, and he had seen the dawning love for him written in her face. But, much as she might wish it otherwise, whatever damage had been done to him in the past, he was making it abundantly clear that he wanted none of Hester’s help now to mend it. She was trembling so much he must be aware of it. Her palms felt clammy and a pain was beating at her temples. She must not let him see how she felt. Only the residue of her pride could save her now.
   Hester managed a sympathetic smile. ‘Poor girl. If you did not love her in return it must have made her most miserable. That is partly the reason I am constantly trying to disengage myself from Carter Lois, for I have no wish to hurt him, but it is so difficult for he is a very determined gentleman.’ She was gabbling now, attempting to prove herself unaffected so that her true feelings would not be laid bare, exposed to his censure.
   ‘You are right to keep your distance from Carter Lois. Oh, you are shivering, Hester. Are you cold? How thoughtless of me to keep you talking out here simply to get an old worry off my chest.’
   He slipped his coat about her shoulders and the pain of nestling into a garment which still carried the residual warmth and male scent of his body was almost the undoing of her. But she managed to hold herself together as he led her back through the knot of box-edged paths, past the old kitchen where Susie prepared most of the meals safely away from any danger of setting fire to the house, and back up the steps of the piazza. He placed his hands gently upon her shoulders and his touch almost scorched her through the thick cloth of his jacket. ‘Forgive me if I said it all too clumsily. But you are young, and vulnerable to the presence of a newcomer in your home. We are still friends, I hope, Hester, but you must not read into that more than there is, nor hope for more than there can be.’
   He could not have been plainer. Hester snatched the jacket from her shoulders and, thrusting it into his hands, gazed at him unseeing through tear-blurred eyes. ‘You need have no fear on that score. I can do nothing about my youth but my vulnerability, as you call it, is quite another matter. For your information Mr Blake, I am well able to take care of myself and would not dream of inconveniencing or embarrassing you in any way. Goodnight to you.’
   Whereupon, she fled into the house, to her bed, where she poured out all her misery and despair into a balled-up kerchief and a yielding pillow which would tell no tales on the morrow. And at breakfast she was able to serve Benjamin his eggs and biscuits without a tremor.

You can find out more from Amazon:

Best wishes,

Charle's d'Orleans - The Romantic Duke

One of the earliest Valentine's ever wrote for which we still have a record of was by the Duke of Orléans, Charles Valois.

Charles was born in Paris in November 1394 and became the Duke when his father, Louis, was murdered on the orders of John, Duke of Burgundy, a rival nobleman. His childhood was full of culture and wealth, and he spent his early years in the beautiful Loire region of France. Both his parents, Louis, and Valentina Visconti, supported his education.

Charles is best remembered as a poet, writing over 500 poems. Most of these were written when he was a prisoner of war.

Charles was 14 when his father passed and he became the Duke. He was young and impressionable, and fell under his father-in-law's influence, the Count of Armagnac.

Charles's first wife was Isabella of Valois (a daughter of French King Charles VI) He loved her dearly, but she died in childbirth. In 1410, he married Bonnie d'Armagnac, Count d'Armagnac's daughter.

In 1415, Charles was taken a prisoner of war in the Battle of Agincourt. He was 21. Henry V of England took him to the Tower of London were Charles composed most of his poetry. Charles was in captivity for over 24 years (he was in the line for the French throne and England didn't want to give him up.) With nothing better to do, Charles wrote.

Most of his poetry was for his wife, Bonnie, but she died before he was released. He was let out in 1440 at the age of 46 and married a third time. His son from his third marriage, became Louis XII. His poems are mostly French Rondeaus, a two line rhythm and are usually about love and the spring time.

Upon returning to his life in France, Charles showed himself to be an able administrator and a good politician.

Charles's Valentine in the original French:

Je suis desja d'amour tanné,
Ma tres doulce Valentinée

Rondeau VI, lines 1-2.

Here's another of Charle's poem in English:

(To his Mistress, to succor his heart that is beleaguered by jealousy)

Strengthen, my Love, this castle of my heart,
And with some store of pleasure give me aid,
For Jealousy, with all them of his part,
Strong siege about the weary tower has laid.

Nay, if to break his bands thou art afraid,
Too weak to make his cruel force depart,
Strengthen at least this castle of my heart,
And with some store of pleasure give me aid.

Nay, let not Jealousy, for all his art
Be master, and the tower in ruin laid,
That still, ah Love! Thy gracious rule obeyed.

Advance, and give me succor of they part;
Strengthen, my Love, this castle of my heart.







Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Release Day! AN INHERITANCE FOR THE BIRDS, Regency Comedy

My latest Regency comedy novella, An Inheritance for the Birds, the next entry in The Wild Rose Press's Love Letters series, is now available. All the stories start with a letter that changes the hero's and heroine's lives. Mine is a letter about an inheritance, but there's a catch...

Available at The Wild Rose Press.


Make the ducks happy and win an estate!

Mr. Christopher "Kit" Winnington can't believe the letter from his late great-aunt's solicitor. In order to inherit her estate, he must win a contest against her companion, Miss Angela Stratton. Whoever makes his great-aunt's pet ducks happy wins.

A contest: What a cork-brained idea. This Miss Stratton is probably a sly spinster who camouflaged her grasping nature from his good-natured relative. There is no way he will let the estate go to a usurper.

Angela never expected her former employer to name her in her will. Most likely, this Mr. Winnington is a trumped-up jackanapes who expects her to give up without a fight. Well, she is made of sterner stuff.

The ducks quack in avian bliss while Kit and Angela dance a duet of desire as they do their utmost to make the ducks--and themselves--happy.

Yawning, he shut the door behind him. Enough ducks and prickly ladies for one day. After dropping his satchel by the bed, he dragged off his clothes and draped them over the chair back. He dug a nightshirt from the valise and donned the garment before he blew out both candles.

Bates had already drawn back the bedclothes. The counterpane was soft under Kit's palm, and covered a featherbed. He grinned. By any chance, had they used the down from the pet ducks to stuff the mattress and pillows?

After tying the bed curtains back, he settled into the soft cocoon and laced his fingers behind his head. Tomorrow, he would have it out with Miss Stratton about the steward's residence, but that was tomorrow. He fluffed up his pillow and turned onto his side…


A bundle of flapping, squawking feathers exploded from the depths of the covers and attacked him. Throwing his arms over his head for protection, Kit fell out of bed. He scrambled to his feet and bolted for the door, the thrashing, quacking explosion battering him. A serrated knife edge scraped over his upper arm. "Ow!" Batting at the avian attacker with one hand, he groped for the latch with the other.

The door swung open. Miss Stratton, her candle flame flickering, dashed into the chamber. "Esmeralda, you stop that right now!"

The feathered windstorm quacked once more and, in a graceful arc, fluttered to the floor.

Kit lowered his arms and gave a mental groan. A duck. He should have known.

Thank you all,
Linda Banche
Welcome to My World of Historical Hilarity!