Happy Bastille Day, my dears–and we have a chat!

It’s Bastille Day in the middle of the Tour de France, so time to wave the tricoleur! (And as much as I enjoy my royal ancestors, I had a little shiver of history-lover delight when I saw the birth record for my 5th-great-grandfather who was born in Alsace-Lorraine during the French Revolution to “Citizeness” Meuret…) For me, this day always marks the middle of summer, the midway point in a lovely season and a reminder to get out and enjoy the sunshine as much as I can. As it happens, I am hard at work on Veronica’s third adventure, planning to finish this draft before my scheduled travels in August. Because of that, I am taking a brief hiatus from blogging and will be back in a month.

In the meantime, I have a chat scheduled! If you’d like to join me and discuss A CURIOUS BEGINNING–and enter to win a signed copy–pop by Writerspace on Thursday, July 21, at 9pm eastern. See you there!

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Bonus post!

To celebrate the release of her latest Lady Darby mystery, AS DEATH DRAWS NEAR, the delightful Anna Lee Huber popped by to share a post. Yay! Catch up with Anna and get all the up-to-date info at her site.

Off the Beaten Path in Rathfarnham. Ireland with Anna Lee Huber

I chose Rathfarnham, Ireland as the setting for my next book in the Lady Darby series, AS DEATH DRAWS NEAR, solely because it had a working abbey and school in 1831, and it was also convenient to Dublin. But once I began researching the area, I realized I’d stumbled upon a treasure trove of interesting buildings and history, some of which I used and some of which I didn’t. Most people recognize the name Rathfarnham and the Sisters of Loreto in conjunction with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who trained at Rathfarnham Abbey in 1928 to learn English for missionary work, but there is also so much more. Without giving away any spoilers from the book, I would love to share with you some of the most fascinating details I wasn’t able to include.

Rathfarnham Castle does appear in the book, but there were some intriguing facts I wasn’t able to weave in. Such as its connection to the hellfire club, and the skeletal remains of a young woman found in the hollow walls in 1880. She was purportedly a young maiden who was locked in a secret compartment during a ball while her two suitors dueled for her affections, killing each other and taking the secret of her location to their graves. Some of the current cushions on the furniture are supposed to have been made from her silk dress! How deliciously morbid.

Though now separated from the castle’s property, Lord Ely’s Arch was the original entrance to Rathfarnham Castle. It was built sometime between 1769 and 1783, and in February 1841 was the scene of a shocking murder. Newspapers reported it as “one of the most horrible and cold-blooded murders perpetuated in this country for the last century.” A man was tried and hanged for the crime, but it’s uncertain whether the real culprit was ever actually apprehended.

There are a large number of gentleman’s residences in the area, including the Hermitage, or as it was known later, St Enda’s. This was the home of Edward Hudson, an eminent dentist, until his death in 1821. At the time he owned it, the property was called the Fields of Odin or Oden. Hudson had a passion for Irish antiquities, and consequently constructed a series of rather romantic ruins all over his estate. Built from rough stone to make them appear much older, these follies included a watchtower near the entrance gates; a hermit’s cave; a dolmen, which is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb; a ruined abbey; a grotto; a temple; a Brehon’s chair, another type of sacred megalithic site; and many more. He even erected two boulders balanced one on top of the other and inscribed a fake ancient inscription, which mentioned his eminent self. Of course.

Not far from Rathfarnham Abbey stand the remains of another curious structure. Known as the Bottle Tower or Hall’s Barn, it was built in 1742 by Major Hall in imitation of a Wonderful Barn near Leixlip. It contained fabulous timberwork and a spiral stone staircase from the barn on the first floor up to the residential spaces on the second and third floors. However, in 1795 it was converted into a boarding house by Mr. MI Kelly.

Rathfarnham is a remarkable place with an absorbing history. Well worth a visit if you’re ever in this part of Ireland, though you’ll have to look beyond the many layers of modernization.

(Rathfarnham Castle)


(Lord Ely’s Arch)

Lord Ely's Arch

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It’s release day, my dears–I am BEYOND DELIGHTED that A CURIOUS BEGINNING is available in paperback today! It’s a gorgeous trade edition that is absolutely perfect for reading groups. Have you seen the reading group questions? Just click on the page for A CURIOUS BEGINNING and follow the link to the full guide for your group. Happy reading!

ACB Paperback Final

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Wrapping up Twitter questions

Today we’ve got a twofer! I’m answering the last two Twitter questions. First up, Christina had a query about imposter syndrome vs. historical fiction:

Do you ever feel like you’ve captured the time period?

Capturing the time period is impossible, so I don’t aim to. The difficulty is that, while familiar, the past is a foreign country. (Nod to L. P. Hartley.) Whatever we think we know about the past has been filtered through other people’s impressions. Facts have been misreported; events can only be viewed through the prism of time. We have the benefit–and blinders of–hindsight. We cannot see the past clearly, so whatever we construct is, by definition, flawed in some capacity. The best we can hope for is to create something plausible. In order for that to be successful in historical fiction, we have to find the intersection between reality–as much as we can know it–and the reader’s belief of what the period was like. The more you study history, the more you realize that what you think you know about it is wrong. The average person will tell you Victorians were sexually repressed prudes who did nothing but go to church and worry about covering their table legs with fabric. While Victorian mores certainly represented a swing back to modesty and propriety compared with the Regency years, the common notion of uptight prudery is entirely wrong and largely limited to the middle classes. We know that well over 50% of the brides from the lower classes were pregnant when they wed, and the Prince of Wales set the fashion for hedonism and infidelity amongst aristocrats. (And if you think Victorians were stuffy about sex, I beg you to follow Whore of Yore on Twitter. There is nothing new under the sun, my dears.) Victorians were also familiar with vegetarianism, working out, department stores, seaside holidays, escalators, free love, and the rights of children and workers and animals. Artists and writers and lesbians all experimented with communal living, and new technology like photography and stereoscopy offered new outlets for pornography. But the average reader doesn’t know this, so throwing all of these facts into a book would make it feel inauthentic even though it’s entirely accurate. The key is to balance what people THINK they know with what actually existed, giving them the framework they expect but providing new details to color the picture within.

Finally, Ashley wondered:

Do you use any specific process–program, sticky notes–to keep characters and stories organized as you write?

My system is haphazard, but it works for me. I don’t use any programs because I loathe organizing on a screen. I only write on a computer and I only organize on paper. I will collage in order to collect faces that I want to remember for my characters, and occasionally I will use notecards for plotting, not for character details. I tend to scribble notes about appearances and mannerisms in the margins of my plot notes. When I’ve worked out how the next several scenes need to flow, I will sometimes print out a scene list as a reminder and tack that to the wall next to my computer. As the scenes get written, I will cross them off. It’s all random and makes no sense to anyone but me, yet that’s the trick. You have to know yourself and what works best for you. I’d be hopeless at using a program like Scrivener because I like to spread out my notes. I’m also the sort of learner who remembers things I have written down, so keeping notes by hand is essential for me. Figuring out what sort of memory you have is the first step in developing your own system. I used to try to conform to how other people did things because I thought it was right or proper, but I have long since learned that however I choose to do it is right for me. The combination of notecards, printouts, tear sheets, collages, and punch lists is the sort of controlled chaos that serves me best.

Heaps of thanks to all who posed questions on Twitter!

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References for Kate

Via Twitter, Kate asked:

What are your go-to references for historical accuracy in fashion, politics, social interaction, etc?

Most readers and writers are familiar with the obvious sources, so I’m going to list a few that might not immediately come to mind:

*Instagram. I’ve only been Instagramming for about a year, but I’ve found a few accounts that have really informative and lovely posts on period fashion, mourning jewelry, taxidermy, butterflies, and London history. The accounts all list sources, so it’s easy to make the leap from the photos to more detailed information. Favorite account: The Corseted Beauty

*Children’s nonfiction books. When I am first digging into a subject, I will often hit up the kids’ section of the library. The nonfiction area is a great place to get an introduction to a subject. The authors strip out the extraneous details and focus on the essentials. From there, it’s easy to figure out what angles you need to pursue.

*Wikipedia. I know. Everybody likes to slag Wikipedia, and of course you have to be careful. However. The articles on wiki offer a quick introduction, and the printable and book options allow you to assemble a general guide to a subject quite handily. The best part is that the foot of each article includes references for more in-depth research including official websites, periodical links, interviews, etc.

*Archives. From Parliamentary reports to newspaper stories, LOADS of things from the Victorian age have been uploaded to digital archives. Some require a subscription fee, but others are entirely free and full of information. Favorite: British Newspaper Archive

Bonus: for all things related to British aristocrats, Debrett’s Essential Guide to the Peerage.

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A question about process

Dawn from Twitter asked:

Of all your published works, which was the most challenging to write?

It’s a strange thing, but every few books I get one that just won’t cooperate. I feel like I’m fighting it from day one. I have to push through and struggle and use every bit of willpower to put myself in the chair EVERY SINGLE DAY. These are the books that fight back, and I can never predict which ones will or why. (The saving grace is that the books after this are usually bliss to write.)

The three that have proven the most challenging so far have been:

*A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS. It was a completely different type of heroine and a very new setting both geographically and in time period. Getting my head around that was extremely tricky. The book is also the least humorous of any I’ve written, and I realized I want a bit more whimsy in what I create because that is just a more enjoyable headspace. Having said that, I think that book has some of my best work in it.

*THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST. This was a challenge because it was my first departure from the Lady Julia Grey series. Getting the voice took FOREVER, and when I finished it, my editor hated the book. I rewrote it, handing in 400 new pages in four weeks. It was BRUTAL, but I think there are a couple of strong scenes that taught me a lot.

*A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING. Heavens, this book was a trial! Because I was still learning Veronica and Stoker, entering their world a second time was challenging. I lost my editor right at the time I would have loved her guidance on it which added an extra layer of angst. But I pushed through and am quite fond of it now. It releases in January, and I think readers will truly enjoy it. *fingers crossed*

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A question about Twitter…

Still fielding questions from Twitter and this one comes from Suzy:

You seem very connected with people on Twitter. What do you like most about this form of social media?

I do love Twitter; it’s my favorite form of social medial although I did finally cave and open an Instagram account which is BLISS. (I follow very positive accounts there and Instagram is an immediate mood-boost for me.) But Twitter is where my people are. I chat with writer friends, readers, librarians, and bloggers. Here’s what I love best about it:

*It’s connection. Writing is an isolating business 95% of the time. I don’t have an office with other people; I don’t go out and see humans unless I make an effort. It’s easy to slip into hermit mode and live in your yoga pants or kimono. Twitter is a reminder that there are other people out there.

*It’s a hivemind full of experiences and knowledge greater than mine. I can log on anytime day or night and people I know are posting from around the world. I can dash off a quick tweet and invariably get a response–a very useful thing when I need to know something.

*It’s broadening. My Twitter feed is a bit of an echo chamber. I tend to follow people whose values coincide with mine, and seeing how those values play out in other countries under other systems of government is fascinating. I have also been inspired to do things I wouldn’t have done without the example of Twitter pals who are more politically active than I was. I have made donations of money and blood, signed petitions, called and emailed my representatives–all things I probably wouldn’t have bothered with before Twitter.

*It’s entertaining. I can always count on Twitter for a pithy cartoon or an otter gif.

*It’s informative. With so many of our media outlets more concerned with clicks and ad revenue than reporting facts, having people sharing their experiences from demonstrations, protests, sit-ins, and rallies is crucial. I’ve also been able to follow news feeds from media outlets in other countries which offer a perspective that is global rather than Americentric.

What I don’t love: it’s a time suck. Since I can pop in anytime, I DO, and that means that minutes slip by without me noticing I’ve done nothing truly constructive. Since I’ve just finished a rest period, that’s no problem, but now I’m moving into a time where I will be researching and writing my third Veronica book and my focus is shifting. I’ll be promoting A CURIOUS BEGINNING’s paperback release in July, but otherwise my tweeting will be a bit curtailed.

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Questions? We’ve got ’em!

This week I buckled down to writing Veronica #3 in earnest and have written two chapters in two days. (YAY!) It’s been such a good start that I completely forgot to write a post yesterday. So, belatedly, here you go:

Last week I thought I’d ask Twitter if they had questions–just general process type stuff. And goodness me! I got some great ones. Kicking us off is Carin who asked a deceptively simple question: “How do you name your characters?

The short answer is that there IS no answer. I have numerous tricks but no real method. I do know that if a name doesn’t suit a principal character, I have difficulty in “getting” them as a character. (This isn’t an issue with minor people. I’m more flexible with them.) Here are some random thoughts about naming:

*Each of my books has featured a name that is an homage to Agatha Christie. Pennyfeather, Lestrange, some of my favorite names I discovered in Christie’s books. Sometimes they are mentioned only once in passing; sometimes they are more prominent. I think of them as Easter eggs for diehard Christie fans.

*I scan the credits of British TV programs and films. There are some GEMS tucked away there. I never use a name in its entirety, but I will grab a surname from one spot and a given name from another.

*I Google major character names to make sure they’re not already in use by another author or belong to an actual human. It avoids awkwardness.

*I sometimes tuck jokes into names. Ryder White, the lead male character in A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS, is a professional big game hunter. He’s also lost his stomach for it and is shifting into conservation–the exact opposite of what the ‘great white hunter’ is supposed to do. It’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to the attitudes Ryder hates. Veronica Speedwell is a botanical joke because Speedwell is the common name of the plant called Veronica.

*I occasionally use a recognizable name as a springboard. I happened to be rereading COLD COMFORT FARM when I was preparing to write CITY OF JASMINE. Much as I would have loved to have used Starkadder, it was just too unique. I shortened it to Stark and used that for the name of my main female character.

*I lean towards feminine names for my heroines. Because I write historicals, I don’t have as much leeway as contemporary authors for curious or unisex names. Julia, Theodora, Evangeline, Delilah, Penelope (Poppy), Veronica–they are all period-appropriate but not nearly as common these days as Madison and Mackenzie and MacGyver or whatever people are calling their kids.

*I often choose simple last names. Grey, Stark, White, March. Since I enjoy longer given names, a short surname is essential.

*Occasionally, names are a clue to the character’s personality. Brisbane is Old French for “breaker of bones”. Appropriate.

*Sometimes I break all my own rules. Stoker, known properly as The Honourable Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, has the most gloriously lengthy name of any of my characters and it suits him. I keep a list of fabulous names that I add to continually. Some names never get used; some get used years after I hear them. I first heard Stoker’s nickname in a book by the Duchess of Devonshire–it was the nickname of her son, Peregrine.


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Making it rain–books!

A kindly tweep brought this to my attention on Twitter in order to give it a signal boost there, but I wanted to take it further. There is a library in Greenville, California, that needs help. It’s a combined library that serves a very small community that is desperately in need of books. The students who use this library haven’t even been able to check out books for almost a decade, and no new books have been purchased in about twenty years.

But it’s a new day in Greenville! Under new leadership they are trying to build a quality collection that will entertain and educate their young people, and we can help. The link at Throwing Chanclas will give you all the information about who they are and how to contribute. And it’s EASY. Send them books, send money, order books from your friendly neighborhood independent bookseller to be delivered–you don’t even have to get off the sofa!

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Because if you’re silent, you’re not an ally.

In the wake of the terrible shooting in Orlando, I want to make this completely clear: I stand with the LGBTQ community. This means I have zero tolerance for hate and judgment. This means I will happily share my bathroom with a transgender person. This means I have signed petitions calling for discriminatory and hateful legislation to be overturned. This means I have donated to causes that promote equality. This means I have made an appointment to donate blood to the Red Cross this week in the hope that it can be of some small help.This means I will continue to ask my LGBTQ friends what I can do to help and I will listen. And this means I am absolutely unwilling to stand by and be silent if you are on the wrong side of history. If you want to hang onto your bigotry, hold it tight. Because the world is changing and I have no problem leaving you behind.

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