Tag: Georgette Heyer

7 Wonders


doing homeworkA schoolgirl, when asked to name the seven wonders of the world, skipped the pyramids and the Taj Mahal and came up with this list.  The seven wonders of the world are:
1. to see
2. to hear
3. to touch
4. to taste
5. to feel
                                                                  6. to laugh
                                                                   7. and to love.

The child may have failed her social studies exam but she nailed it for fiction writers. 

These days much of the author world is is focused on marketing,  Do ads work? Do we know an influencer? Can we find a niche? What’s the ROI on a publicity campaign? Should I buy space on a highway billboard?

With all these business questions hovering about our writing, we sometimes forget about craft. But craft is paramount. Without it, marketing is selling an empty promise.  

So, let’s take a little time today to think about the art of writing as opposed to the science of selling. 

One of the first “rules” a newbie author encounters is “use the five senses” — the first five wonders in our schoolgirl’s list. I notice she left off smell and that’s a really important one. Scent conjures up emotions and memories faster than any of the other senses.

But the senses alone aren’t enough for fiction. 

I’m reading a travel book just now . Here’s a description of town of St. Ives. “From the station we walk a jagged route along beach and cobble streets into town. A maypole dance is taking place just off the foreshore,  . . . Children skip and weave ribbons in a twisting rainbow.”

This passage uses the sense of sight but it misses out on feeling, laughing and loving. While colourful exposition is fine for a travel book, it is too shallow for good fiction.

By contrast, consider “The peaceful sea sighed as it lapped gently onto the white sand. . .” A.M. Stuart, Evil in Emerald. 

In the St. Ives example, we are observers only. We see the children skip, we see the jagged route, but we are indifferent. The second example adds feeling to the senses. Sighed and lapped are evocative words that draw the reader into the mood of the story. We expect romance — or mayhem, but we are no longer mere observers. We are participants.

**

“The Marsh stretched before them, smiling and lush in the September sunshine, yet with a suggestion of eery loneliness, about it. . .  ” Georgette Heyer, The Unknown Ajax. Even though Heyer is known for her light touch and sense of the ridiculous, this example shows her skill at conjuring a dark mood, in the midst of sunshine. 

**

“Intense wind picks up – fifty miles-per-hour gusting to sixty. Tide’s out, fishing boats and dories askew in the bay.” Here the travel book tells me the author is experiencing rough weather. But, although he may feel the wind, the reader doesn’t. We merely observe.

“My house stands at the edge of the earth. Together, the house and I have held strong against the churning tides of Fundy. Two sisters, stubborn in our bones.”  Ami McKay, the birthhouse. Ms McKay gives only a minimal description, “churning tides,” but the reader is drawn into the battle to survive on the edge of a heaving ocean. 

**

“A man sitting in a chair in the sun, reading a paper, and three children kicking a ball about. A dog jumping around the children and barking. The scene before her was so ordinary after what she had just  been though that she almost laughed in disbelief. ” Tracy Chevalier, A Single Thread

Can you identify with the terror of the heroine in this example? We see and hear a pleasant scene, yet the last line draws us into the emotion of the moment. This is more than a travelogue.

**

“She watched as [they] strolled across the village green. At first she thought they were going to the bistro for a nightcap, but then they veered to the right. To the light of Clara’s cottage.

And Reine -Marie heard them knock on her door. A soft, soft, insistent knocking. . .” Louise Penny, The Long Way Home.

Note how the word choice entices the reader into the drama. “veered” instead of “turned”, knocking that is “soft” yet “insistent.” There should be a great distance between the reader and the story at this point. We are watchers observing a watcher, and yet we sense the danger/intrigue/menace/heartache of the unfolding events.

**

“A glaring sun bore down on the small mining town . . . bleaching the colour from the landscape and sapping the strength of its citizens.” Alice Valdal, The Man for Her.  In this opening sentence I’ve set an ominous mood with oppressive heat and listless citizens. The reader not only observes the street, she feels sweat under her collar.

**

“[The dog’s] head would rise like a periscope and he would slide over the edge of his basket and work his way into the bedroom, keeping low to the ground, as if he were hunting. He would stop a foot short of the bed and cock an ear and listen . . . his nose only six inches away.” Stuart McLean, “Arthur”

Laughter, the sixth wonder. No reader can be disengaged from a story that makes her laugh. Shakespeare knew this. Even in his most heart-rending tragedies, he included scenes of comic relief. An audience, or a reader, needs release from tension. Put a little laughter in your story. Your readers will thank you for it.

**

“In her dreams Evelyn would always return to a pristine white beach where the sand felt soft between her toes and Henry’s hand was warm in her.” Joanna Nell, The Last Voyage of Mrs. Henry Parker.  Here we have the seventh and greatest wonder of them all, love.

**

In science class we are taught that the five senses are sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. As writer’s we should include the school girl’s wonders, feeling, laughter and love.

Visits: 79

House and Home

As every reader of Victorian and Regency romance knows, the restrictions around women of that time were numerous and unyielding. As those same readers know, the heroine of a romance is expected to challenge those restrictions, to defy her circumstances and thus win the hero’s heart. It is a genre expectation and authors who want to sell their work would do well to meet it.

No one really expects historical fiction to be a true account of women’t lives in that era but in the age of equal rights, it is difficult for many to understand just how dangerous it was for young women, or older women for that matter, to defy the rules. We might think being snubbed in the street is merely rude behaviour. For the Victorian girl, such a snub could affect her well-being for the rest of her life. If she became unmarriageable her financial security, her physical health and her emotional  fitness would  be lost, most likely forever. Such a disgraced female would be entirely dependent upon her family or the parish to feed, house and cloth her. Even if she could work she would have trouble finding respectable employment. 

This precept was brought home to me this week as I was doing some background reading on Victorian mores. I came across several instructions to women from books of the time, both fiction like Charles Dickens works and manuals for household management like Mrs. Beeton’s.  Here is a sampling. 

  • Man is the head of the household. Women are no better than children in their understanding and must bow to the superior knowledge of men.
  • Housekeeping keeps women busy and out of mischief.
  • Women should be “ministering angel to domestic bliss.”
  • it is the biological destiny to of women to be wives and mothers and therefore housekeepers.
  • The most important person in the household is the heard of the family, the father .. Though he may spend less time at home than any other member of the family – though he has scarcely a voice in family affairs – though the whole household machinery seems to go without the assistance of his management – still it does depend entirely on that active brain and those busy hands.
  • “It is quite possible you many have more talent than your husband, with higher attainments, and you may also have been generally more admired; this  has nothing whatever to do with your position as a woman which is, and must be, inferior to his as a man. — Sarah Stickney Ellis.
  • “Women are born to perpetual pupilage. Not that their inclinations were necessarily wanton; they were simply incapable of attaining maturity, remained throughout their life imperfect beings, at the mercy of craft, ever liable to be misled by childish misconceptions.” George Gissing in The Odd Women
  • Coventry Patmore “The Angel in the House”   Housework is ideal for women, as its unending, non-linear nature gave it a more virtuous air than something which was focused, and could be achieved and have a result. Women are very like children, it was rather a task to amuse them and to keep them out of mischief. Therefore the blessedness of household toil, in especial the blessedness of child-bearing and all that followed.

There are more examples but because I’m now ready to spit nails I’ll spare you from reading them. Suffice it to say, the view of women as helpless, hopeless and heedless was so pervasive that all of society, rich and poor, male and female bought into the concept. Anyone, especially a woman, who threatened the established order was outside the pale.

When one considers the cruelties inflicted on suffragettes it becomes clear that women demanding the right to vote were seen as the enemy of the home. Since an “Englishman’s home was his castle” women of an independent mind were threatening the very fibre of the nation. Secure in this belief, imprisonment and force-feeding could be justified. 

I love reading historical romance and am quite willing to suspend disbelief while my high-born lady masquerades as her brother or kicks over the conventions by dining alone with a man. The stories are fun and entertaining and brighten a gloomy day. But it is worth remembering that these tales are “fiction” and in some cases just as far-fetched as fantasy.

My all time favourite historical romance writer is Georgette Heyer. What’s yours?

 

 

 

Visits: 67

Books that Matter

My book club recently read a book titled, The Book That Matters Most, by Ann Hood.  The book tells the story of people in a book club where a year’s reading was chosen from the “book that mattered most” to each member of the group.  

I won’t go into detail of the book, but I will say that in my book group, we were all struck by the title, “the book that matters most,” and had a really fun evening discussing the books that have been most meaningful in our lives.

Of course, I put the Bible, at the top of the list. The Word of God has transformed millions, even billions of lives over time and shaped much of Western thought.

But leaving aside the Bible, we played with the notion of books that mattered. For many of us, it was childhood books., those tattered volumes that taught us to love reading.  For me I’d say Mother West Wind Why Stories, by Thornton W. Burgess. Burgess was a conservationist who wrote about the natural world, particularly animals, for children. This site lists his work totalling 172 books. My mother had read many of the books aloud as bedtime stories. My brothers and I knew all about Sammy Jay and Unc Billy Possom, and Grandfather Frog, and Reddy Fox, and Blackie the Crow. By the time we reached Mother West Wind our family was growing and Mom was short of time. It was also a period when I was learning to read for myself.

In school we had Dick and Jane books. If ever there was a series designed to discourage reading, that was it. How boring is “Look, look. See Dick. See Dick run?” Using those texts, I’d learned to read words, but Mother West Wind was the first time I read a story for myself.

Another of our book club named Anne of Green Gables as a seminal book for her. The reason? Her teacher read it aloud to the class. My friend’s home was different from mine – no one read bedtime stories. So, for her, hearing a book read aloud left a lasting impression.

Our group had a lively time calling up Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames and Little Women as favourites from childhood. One woman mentioned Catcher in the Rye, a book that was included in Ms Hood’s novel. My friend read the book as a teenager and found it “perfect” for the time.

As an adult, I discovered Georgette Heyer while travelling through non-English speaking countries. When I found Frederica in a book store, I had to buy it. It was my first experience of Regency Romance and opened a whole new world of books to me.

My book club had a delightful evening. I won’t expand on our discussion of The Book that Matters Most, you can read it for yourself and form your own conclusions,  but we all agreed that the title was a great conversation starter and proved that books matter.

How about you? What book matters most in your reading life? Leave a comment and I’ll enter you in a draw to win an advance copy of my not yet published book, Her One True LoveTwo winners to be announced May 2, 2018.

 

Visits: 585

Finding a New Favourite Author

 

We’ve all got our favourite authors, right? I love the classics, Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery, Georgette Heyer, for example.

About grade six I discovered Cherry Ames and Nancy Drew.  My grandmother gave me all of Louisa May Alcott’s books.  When I started reading category romance Essie Summers was a treat.  I loved the way she led me through New Zealand, almost as though I were on a mountain road, climbing to the snow cap, then dipping down to a bay of blue-green water.

Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Elizabeth George and Mary Higgins Clark made my list of mystery authors.

But times change. I’ve out-grown Nancy Drew and I’ve read everything Georgette Heyer wrote, so, like all readers, I’m constantly on the look-out for a new-to-me favourite.

I love roaming the aisles of a book store, the old-fashioned kind, with a front door, paperbacks on the shelf and a knowledgeable clerk who seems to have read every volume in the shop. I’m tantalized by the cover, then the back blurb and finally by a few sample paragraphs.  By the way, I’ve heard that as well as page one, a reader should read page 100, to see if the author is able to sustain the momentum of the story.  I’ve used that little trick and saved myself a few dollars and a lot of disappointment.  Still, there’s nothing like the look and feel of a brand, new book to lure me to a new author.

With e-books, it’s a lot harder. I can’t touch the books displayed on the screen.  I can’t leaf through the pages and those tiny icons can’t compare to a full-size cover.  And while my bookstore holds more volumes than I can properly peruse, the internet holds millions.  How can I find my true love in such an avalanche?  Here is where recommendations from trusted friends are helpful.  Or reviews.  Authors crave reviews nearly as much as they crave chocolate.  In the ocean of books clamouring to be read, a review helps narrow the choice.  If you read a book you love, encourage that author (and keep her writing) by posting a review

The recent Booksweeps event I was part of is another way of finding new-to-you authors. I hope everyone who participated found books they can read and enjoy.  I hope one of those books is mine.

I checked out all the authors on the list and found a few I want to know better.  Davalynne Spencer writes rollicking historical westerns with a good dose of bad guys in the mix.  Shana Hatfield writes sweet westerns with lots of humour. If you want something with more spice, try Cynthia Woolf.

I discovered all these authors through the Booksweeps.

What about you? What’s your best tip for find a new author you love?

Leave a comment and your name is entered in the draw for a free copy of my e-book collection of Christmas short stories.  Winner announced Nov. 1, 2017

Visits: 1756

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