Beach Party a go-go…and another series to rec!

One of my favorite cozy mystery series is the Southern Sisters set by Anne George. Set in Birmingham in the 1990s, the books feature retired teacher, Patricia Hollowell, and her unforgettable sister, Mary Alice. They are warm and funny, and hugely nostalgic for me since Patricia is an almost perfect rendering of my grandmother–also a Patricia. These are the ultimate comfort read for me, and I was delighted when the publisher made them available on Kindle. The series can absolutely be read out of order, but the first is MURDER ON A GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT. (George, who passed away some years ago, was also a Pulitzer-nominated poet.)

Hey, hey–don’t forget about the Writerspace Beach Party on August 28! The fun begins at 8pm eastern, and you can win all kind of fabulous prizes and chat with your favorite authors. Come join the fun!


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From tiny acorns, grow mighty oaks…

Time to catch up, chickens! First, if you haven’t dropped by the Contest page on the site lately, DO. Every month we’re giving away entire book club sets of signed paperbacks. (And you can find the reading guides for each book on the book’s page here on the site.) Prizes change on the first of each month, so be sure to check back.

Also, for a chance to win some SUPERB prizes, check out the Writerspace Beach Party on August 28 starting at 8pm eastern. I’ll be dropping by to give away a signed trade paperback of A CURIOUS BEGINNING, but there are LOADS of great things to win and you can chat with some of your favorite authors.

For the rest of August, I will be posting about some books I love–specifically series you might have missed. Today’s shout-out goes to the Agatha Raisin books by M.C. Beaton. (You might also know her as Regency novelist Marion Chesney.) Beaton has two ongoing contemporary British cozy series, the Agatha books, following a pugnacious retired PR executive as she sleuths through the Cotswolds, and the Hamish Macbeth mysteries set in the Scottish Highlands. The Agatha series is my favorite–quick, funny reads with an outrageous and frequently unlikable main character. (You might not like Agatha, but you will always root for her.)

The Agatha Raisin TV series debuted in the UK this summer and is now available for streaming in the US on Acorn TV. (I’m particularly excited because the producer responsible for the Agatha series is currently developing the Lady Julia books for TV.) The Agatha series has gotten a fabulous response in the UK and I can’t wait to check it out! If you’re looking to start reading, the first book is AGATHA RAISIN AND THE QUICHE OF DEATH.

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I’m back–and with a FUN announcement: I have a Twitter chat with the incomparable Lyndsay Faye! (Y’all may remember that JANE STEELE was one of my favorite reads of 2016.) We’ll be talking books and badass heroines, so join us from 8-9pm eastern TONIGHT!

Raybourn and Faye Twitter Chat Social Share

And I’ll see you back here on Thursday when we’re back to regularly scheduled bloggery.

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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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