Tuesday, 27 December 2005

Heyeroines in need of a slap

14. Drusilla Morville (The Quiet Gentleman)

For any person of refined sensibility it must come as something of a shock to find someone like Drusilla Morville comfortably settled in to the opening passage of a Heyer story. Seeing the daughter of a Free Thinker and, of all the unsuitable occupations for a mother, a novelist, usurping the position that should be held by a peerless beauty, or at the very least, a considerable heiress, is enough to make one suspect foul play. As things turn out, however, we are faced with much, much worse.

By prosing on and on about her oh-so-radical parents, and by pretending not to understand the Dowager Countess's shafts of admittedly somewhat artless wit, and by repeatedly insisting on how short, fat and unromantic she herself is, Miss Morville manages to exclude the so much more suitable Miss Bolderwood (who is undoubtedly, it should be noted, not merely taller, thinner and more romantic, but also both a peerless beauty and a considerable heiress) from the action until well into Chapter Four. Past experience tells us that this is a position within the story arc from which, despite her Heroic efforts (that is to say, despite doing her best to look lost but kittenish by the side of the road), there is no serious prospect of her ever finding her way back into contention. The only option left open to Marianne is foul play, something that would surely never be considered by one so tall, thin, romantic, beautiful and, let us not forget, so well-endowed as Miss Bolderwood. How very different from Drusilla.

For now the real mystery begins. Once Miss Morville has insinuated herself, viper-like, into the very bosom of our tale, what is she planning to do with her advantageous situation? Obviously she isn't planning to marry the Earl of St Erth: such a romantic - indeed reactionary - idea must clearly be out of the question for the daughter of that scourge of both orthodoxy and orthography, Mr Harvey Hervey Morville, and his wife, scourge of both Coleridges, Cordelia Consett. And so it proves. Drusilla's aim is not true love, but treachery; not romance but republicanism.

Her objective is, shockingly (but, given her family background, unsurprisingly), the destruction of the entire British aristocracy, one family at a time, and on this occasion the family under threat is the Frants. Miss Morville's audacious scheme involves setting the only three male members of the Frant family against each other. Her plan is to murder the Earl in a way that, to the untutored eye, appears to be at the hand of his half-brother but which to the somewhat-more-but-still-not-quite-sufficiently tutored eye points towards his cousin. You may have thought that Theo was misdirecting you to believe that Martin was the would-be murderer; I suggest that the truth is utterly otherwise: Miss Morville was misdirecting you to believe that Theo was misdirecting you to believe that Martin was the murderer.

And the worst of it is that we cannot be sure that Miss Morville does not succeed. We leave the narrative at a critical juncture, with the Earl carrying Drusilla, who is apparently suffering from a broken arm, up the main stairs of Stanyon Castle. We are never, ever, told whether St Erth ever came down those stairs again.

On a more cheerful note, the langour that went missing in Regency Buck turns up at the very start of Chapter 12 of The Quiet Gentleman, having apparently made a home for itself in the dining room chandelier at Stanyon.

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Saturday, 24 December 2005

May I just wish all my readers a suitably self-indulgent Christmas, and my best wishes for an elegant and sophisticated New Year.

Friday, 23 December 2005

In the end I had a slight change of plan, and only sent my two-chapters-and-a-synopsis of Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth to one agent as an trial attempt. This was to my first choice agency - first choice for various reasons, to do with both the clients that they represent, and the fact that I had met them, and we got on OK (and that makes it so much easier to do a query letter). So the package went into the post, and they said that they would be back in touch within four weeks.

They came back in about four days, to ask to see the rest of it.

An instant combination of elation and panic. Elation for the obvious reason; panic because I hadn't checked the rest of the typescript as thoroughly as I might have done, and I knew that there was some work needed doing. Luckily my employers were understanding and allowed me to take some leave at very short notice and I scrubbed through chapters 3 to 11 as thoroughly as I could. Out went a couple of thousand words, in came about six thousand more. Names were changed to protect the guilty (me - I had called the great man "Wellington" in the early spring of 1809, when he was still General Wellesley). There is a limit to how much better one can make a draft in a day and a half, but I think that it was improved.

With the Christmas post what it is, and the agent being not too far away, I biked the package over to the agent this afternoon, had a very pleasant chat, and came home feeling really rather optimistic. They'll get back to me in a couple of weeks, which leaves me time to work on the various Christmas Quizzes that I have picked up about the place, to read plenty, and perhaps to make a start on Lady Cardington's Folly; or, the Limehouse Leviathan.

There may even be time to run the rule over one or two more heyeroines.

Sunday, 18 December 2005

Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth will be bigger than Gone with the Wind. Not in word count - it's nowhere near the length of Margaret Mitchell's monster - but in terms of its chances for best-sellerdom.

Language Log has pointed me at the Lulu Book Title Analyzer, which uses an algorithm based on a book's title to forecast its chances. LAC;o,tBB scores 55.4%, which more than GWTW (44.2%) and considerably more than The Da Vinci Code (10.2%).

I fall short, however of the heights reached by the illustrious Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility apparently each have a 59.3% chance of being best-sellers, with Emma only a little way behind at 45.6%. That young lady will go far.

Thursday, 8 December 2005

I burned quite a few lampfuls of midnight oil last night and completed the rewriting of chapter 2. I will give it a final spit and polish tomorrow evening (I'm too sleepy tonight and I could easily miss some silly little errors) and then get it printed off. The first two chapters are about 21,000 words, or 98 pages with the way I have set my margins.)

I really appreciate all the comments, and the thoughts about finding agents at this time of year. I am sure that now is not the best time for approaching publishers, who do, I believe, wind down somewhat in the run-up to Christmas, but I think that things are different for agents, particularly the smaller operations (a view that I am sure I saw stated by Miss Snark recently). If publishers are less responsive then now might be a good time to catch agents with more time to read - and I reckon that Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth is perfect for reading in front of a roaring log fire while the tendrils of a London Particular or the icy blast of a Cotswolds blizzard blows past one's window.

At this stage I am going to limit myself to UK-based agents. I don't plan to post all the gory details of whom I have approached on Wenlock. If and when I do find an agent (or indeed a publisher) who will deal with me I shall tell you about it, but for now it will be a matter of waiting and hoping.

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

I must apologise for my recent lack of posts. I am currently slogging away at rewrites so that I can get Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth off to a selection of agents before Christmas. I hope that by Sunday I will be able to report that a small stack of padded envelopes is waiting to hit the post office the next day. My plan is to try half a dozen in the first wave, and see what happens.

Heyeroines will return, I promise.

Wednesday, 30 November 2005

I was saddened to learn this weekend that Pam Cleaver has died. Pam was a regular reader of Wenlock and a frequent commenter. A while ago she asked whether I would be prepared to take a look at her novel, The Reluctant Governess, and see whether or not its heroine was in need of a slap. I never got round to doing it before she died, but now I have.

Belinda Farrington (The Reluctant Governess by Pamela Cleaver)

Our first impression of Miss Farrington is that she is a very sensible young woman. Orphaned, and with the fiancé that she hardly knew killed in the war, all that she really wants to do is become a romantic novelist. However she recognises that this is a remarkably foolish ambition that nobody in their right mind would consider when other options, such as marrying for money, or even becoming a governess, are readily available. She therefore abandons this idea.

Unfortunately this seems to be her last sensible move.

Anyone who has read any Heyer would know that Harrogate would be the perfect place to find either a rich husband or a post as a governess. The town is dripping with cousins of peers and crawling with every type of mushroom. However for reasons that we never really understand, Belinda decides to leave Harrogate and try her luck in York, whose Regency credentials do not go much further than an association with Dick Turpin. It is hardly surprising that Belinda finds rich widowers and governorial vacancies few and far between. Before she takes the sensible step of giving up and going back to Harrogate, however, an opening appears, and Belinda dives right in.

What Belinda fails to spot is that the post that she has accepted is in Suffolk.

There are only a few places to be found in Regency England that have even the smallest amount of ton. London of course, and Brighton, Bath and Harrogate. Leicestershire contains nothing but hunting boxes, and Newark is no more than a place to change horses. Hampshire is the preserve of Captain Swing. That's about it. Suffolk certainly had no ton until it was brought into fashion some 130 years later, and even then it was basically just a place for children in boats. The only explanation I can come up with for Belinda's decision is that she was aiming to get a jump on Mr Ransome.

In the absence of ton, the people of Suffolk have to make their own entertainment, and it seems that they have gone in for an odd little game called "Who is the Master-smuggler?" The rules are complex, falling somewhere between Cluedo and Mornington Crescent, and involve china cats, windmills and the occasional lynching. The object of the game appears to be to collect various items - brandy for the Parson, tobacco for the Clerk, laces for a lady, and so on. The winner perhaps being the first person to collect a complete Kipling poem, providing that the Riding Officer doesn't catch them first. In most respects the Suffolk game is exactly as played in Cornwall, Devon, even Norfolk, but what Belinda seems not to have spotted is that in Suffolk thay have introduced an extra rule: if you accuse somebody of being the Master-smuggler without any evidence they can propose marriage to you, at which point they get another turn.

So poor Miss Carrington spends her time trying to turn the turbulent Sheldon family into Swallows and Amazons, while sending accusations flying and failing to understand why every eligible young man in the area is popping up and proposing marriage. With her charges unconvinced of the virtues of the Ransome oeuvre, this situation might have gone on for a considerable while, were it not for one of the Sheldons making a tactical error (possibly while attempting to get points for something torn with the lining wet and warm) and getting caught by the Riding Officer. At this point the game is declared officially over, and it is discovered that rather than real brandy and tobacco, everybody has just been smuggling pecadilloes after all.

It would spoil the story to give away the full details of the ending, but suffice it to say that if this is the behaviour of a reluctant governess, just think what an enthusiastic one might have gotten up to.
I have always envied Max Ravenscar's calling card, as described by Georgette Heyer in Faro's Daughter. It was a plain card that just bore the words "Max Ravenscar, Esq". At the time - the late 18th century - such a card would have been hand engraved and printed on cream board. I was pleased to find that Mount Street Printers and Stationers could make cards of this sort, so last time I was in London I ordered some, and I picked them up on Monday. Mount Street have done me proud:

If you click on the image you will see a magnified version which shows clearly that it has been hand-engraved. What you cannot tell from the scan is that the print is slightly raised - the sign of proper engraving. I decided to go without the "Esq"; I understand that in some circles it is taken as indicating that one is a lawyer, which I am not.

In Max Ravenscar's day everybody would have known how to find him, so an address would have been unnecessary, and of course, with the exception of Bertrand Saint-Vire in Devil's Cub, nobody in Heyer's books had a mobile, or indeed any other sort of telephone. Even I must occasionally accept that times have changed, so the back of the card carries all the necessary details.

Oscar Wilde wrote that "three addresses always inspire confidence, even in tradesmen", so in this case we have a street address, an e-mail address and a url - although you already know the last of these.

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

Last night saw a reunion of the RNA University Challenge Team for the 2005 PEN Media-Biz Quiz. The team (Catherine Jones, Anne Ashurst, Jenny Haddon and I) was joined by Judy Astley, Katie Fforde, Joanne Harris, Jill Mansell, Evelyn Ryle and Roger Sanderson to form a table of ten for an evening of dining, drinking and answering fiendish questions for a good cause.

I had a cunning plan for the evening. We would do spectacularly well in the early rounds, thus raising our profile and ensuring that the hordes of publishers and agents present would flock to see us. This plan worked brilliantly all through the pre-dinner drinks (it's nice when an event gets sponsored by Dom Perignon) and was still on track as we sat down to our appetising appetisers, and then, as the first set of questions ("The Sports Pages") were read out, I realised that it wasn't going to be quite that easy. We did OK - we knew that Claudio had suggested that Benedict's beard had been used to stuff tennis balls, and that Rabbit Angstrom had played a game of basketball at the beginning of Rabbit Run (I never made it past chapter one, but luckily that was where this event took place), and we knew that Alice played croquet with a flamingo. We were less good at knowing what greasy ball had flown past James Joyce's face in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and couldn't remember who had played against the Dingley Dellers in the criket match in The Pickwick Papers. OK was never going to be enough in such company.

We did even worse in the second round ("Courtroom Sketch") and by the end of Round 3 ("Talk of the Town") it looked as if we were in severe danger of coming bottom out of the 37 tables taking part. So much for stunning the assembled cream of the literary scene with our intellect. Luckily the rest of the dinner was served at this point so we could concentrate on other things.

The fourth round ("Juke Box Jury") had yet more fiendish questions and we were by now in about 34th place, three places and three points off the bottom. All was not lost, however. Before and during dinner we had been working on the Picture Round. With the title of "Soulmates" this was surely right up our street. We had two sheets, each showing 24 pictures of people. We simply had to pair everybody on one sheet with somebody on the other sheet. Some were easy - Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara went with Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas. Nigel Bruce as Watson clearly went with the silhouette of Sherlock Holmes. That drawing of an Egyptian queen must go with the classical bust of a young Roman. We thought that we had done quite well.

Then there was the Joker, which would double our score for the round in which we played it. We hadn't played ours yet, always hoping that the next round would prove easier than the one before. Now it was the last round, so we had to play it or waste it - not that we had a clue what "Critic's Choice" would entail. It turned out to be ten true/false questions. Had Matisse's Le Bateau hung upside down unnoticed for several weeks in a New York Gallery? Were Shakespeare, Mel Gibson, Oscar Wilde and one other who I have forgotten all the fathers of twins? Should Nottingham really be called Snottingham after its founder? We hummed, we ha-ed, we guessed. When the questionmaster, John Sergeant, read out the answers we had got nine right out of ten, and all but three of the Soulmates (well, who really can distinguish between the Wordsworths and the Brownings?)

When the final results were announced we had leapt up to about 12th place. The overall winners were Pan Macmillan, who squeezed out Orion in a tiebreak.

Not too bad for our first time at the event. We'll be back next year.

Sunday, 27 November 2005

Since these heyeroine pieces seem to be quite popular I have been back to the brilliant button maker and made a couple more brilliant buttons.

Perfect for linking to your favourite heyeroine in need of a slap?
I then went on to create the obvious partner for that one, which might come in handy if ever I get around to "Heyeros in need of a cuddle".

If you want to use them, go ahead - but do let me know all about it.
Heyeroines in need of a slap

13. Phoebe Marlow (Sylvester)

Quite how Phoebe Marlow managed to become a published author is something of a mystery, as she seems relentlessly to have broken most of the rules laid down for the advice and betterment of aspiring novelists.

Her first questionable move was her choice of agent. Miss "Sibby" Battersby is not, to my knowledge, a member of any professional body for authors' agents, and has no prior experience of the editorial side of publishing. Indeed her only credential is that she has a cousin who is a junior partner in the publishing house of Newsham and Otley, although as they are, if not a vanity house, a house with more self-regard than any reputation for publishing romances, this hardly qualifies her to represent Miss Marlow. I can only assume that Phoebe had somehow discovered Miss Battersby's propensity to hit the gin pail and assumed that she must be Miss Snark.

Given Miss Battersby's lack of experience, qualifications and indeed any sign of innate ability, it is hardly surprising that her first and only move is to attempt to place The Lost Heir with Newsham and Otley. As publishers at the opposite end of the literary spectrum from the world of fictional romance, it is easy enough to see how they would react when presented with a hopelessly overwritten gothic extravaganza by an incompetent agent representing a naïve and trusting new writer. They would obviously snap it up on contract terms that would make the Society of Authors gibber before selling it on under considerably more advantageous terms to Anthony King Newman's operation. And what contract terms they are. The idea that the author should pay to have the book bound is still somewhat frowned upon by the Society of Authors, and many reputable agents would suggest that the author bearing all losses was coming it a little too brown. What Miss Battersby might have gained from this contract is unclear, much like the gin in which she would almost have certainly invested it.

Luckily Miss Marlow must by this stage have read a few how-to books, and while she does not go as far as sacking her agent she does manage to secure an advance (payable through her agent, who thus ensures that she can keep herself in mothers' ruin for a little while longer), although had she read beyond the blurbs on the back she might have noticed that her contract apparently gave her no royalties nor a two book deal, nor any clarity on translation or theatrical adaptation rights. This contract does, however seem to have forced Newsham and Otley into publishing The Lost Heir themselves, perhaps for fear that the vastly more experienced Mr Newman would hoodwink them the way they tried to hoodwink Miss Marlow.

As every writer knows, publication is just the beginning. To be successful a book must be marketed, and here Newsham and Otley's inexperience in the field of commercial fiction starts to show. They at least have the sense to ride the wave created by Glenarvon, but here their ideas seem to have run out.

Meanwhile Miss Marlow's reading of how-to books must have come on apace, as she seems to have spotted Newsham and Otley's faults, and contracted the Dowager Duchess of Salford to run her marketing. There is a long tradition of women of aristocratic background going into the marketing and PR business (although they are usually a little younger than Her Grace of Salford) and not without good reason: "Mama-Duchess" Rayne clearly knows her stuff. Despite it being some 60 years before Pasteur came up with the concept of viruses, the Dowager Duchess manages to launch an extremely successful viral marketing campaign, ensuring that The Lost Heir is talked about as the publishing sensation of the season. It is however when Lizzie Rayne ventures into the field of author PR that things become a bit shaky. Her plan is certainly bold; marrying her author off to a Duke would certainly get her talked about. Her plan is also a little self-serving, as the Duke in question is her own son, a relationship that is unlikely to go unremarked upon, even in the deeply nepotistic world of the haut ton. But where the Dowager Duchess really slips up is in not remembering that her client has been published anonymously, and as countless anonymous and pseudonymous writers have discovered, combining the mystique of a pen name with a sustained existence in the on dit columns is a tricky act to pull off. Where was Miss Marlow's agent at this point? Need we ask?

It is not surprising then that everything goes pear-shaped. On the one hand the anonymity strategy crashes and burns as Ianthe Rayne, that archetypal D-list celebrity, blows her cover resulting in nothing less than the cut direct from Lady Ribbleton. On the otherhand the connection with the Duke leads to Miss Marlow becoming entangled with the affairs of Sir Nugent Fotherby, of the Fotherby Tie and the silly Hessians - hardly the sort of company with whom an aspiring author would wish to become associated. Even the author tour to France seems to have been a hopeless fiasco, with nowhere expecting Miss Marlow to visit, no copies of The Lost Heir available, and the combination of Edmund and Chien once again proving that writing for children (and animals) is a less daunting prospect than working with them. Somehow Phoebe survives all this, and even ends up marrying her Duke (although with little sign of the PR spin from such an event contributing to her sales figures), but it seems to have been a somewhat fraught and conflict-ridden exercise throughout.

Surely it would have been so much more sensible for Miss Marlow to have simply written a killer synopsis and taken her chances in the Minerva Press slush pile?

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Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Heyeroines in need of a slap

12. Ancilla Trent (The Nonesuch)

Tempting as it is, I am not going to comment upon the fact that Miss Trent's parents appear to have blessed her with a name that makes her sound less like a romantic heroine, and more like a management consultancy partnership offering advisory services to the water and sewerage sector. Nor will I comment on the fact that she appears to live in a house named after one of the more humble classes of stationery consumables. After all, hard though it is to conceive, neither business consultants nor document binding solutions existed during the Regency, and Ancilla's parents must have had their reasons, much as her grandfather must have done when he named one of his sons after a chemical used in the dying process and still managed to spell it wrong. And if Ancilla can, as she makes quite clear, earn £150 a year as a Governess, her name cannot have been much of a hindrance.

Nor am I going to dwell much upon the bucolic delights of the village of Oversett, where our tale unfolds. It does not take much knowledge of the field of place name studies to conclude that a village bearing such a name must be a traditional home of badgers, but it rapidly becomes clear that this is no mere philological hangover. While the locals consisted merely of Shilbottles, Tumbys, Wrangles and Butterlaws one could imagine that this part of the country was no more than an outpost of Tolkien's Shire, but as soon as Mrs Underhill (an even more hobbity name than the rest), who, we should not forget, pays Ancilla £150 a year, contemplates sending a card to the Badgers we have an inkling that Yorkshire is not a lost corner of Middle Earth, but a hidden tendril of Narnia.

As this is a series of essays on heyeroines, it is not the place to dwell unduly upon our hero, except to note that in any civilised age a man with the outrageous name of Waldo Hawkridge, who combines a tendency to do a great deal for charidee with not liking to talk about it, could only be a disk jockey. Should we conclude from this that today's DJs are the spiritual descendents of the Corinthian set? Is there something about the precise control of the wheels of a phaeton that is transferable to the spinning of twin turntables? Would that other great Corinthian, Beau Wyndham, be happy doing the breakfast show or would he insist on the drive time slot? Alas, we shall never know.

But let us return to Miss Trent. I do not consider that she merits a slap simply for being tediously, relentlessly, unflappably nice. Nor can I condemn her for being the only woman in Oversett between the schoolroom and late matronhood (although I, and possibly the Bow Street Runners, would be interested to know what she did with all the other marriageable females of the village). Furthermore I will excuse her for having acquired a reputation for being able to manage the tantrums and hissy fits of the dreadful Miss Theophania Wield, despite showing no evidence that she has managed to achieve the slightest sustainable improvement in Tiffany's behaviour (and for which skill she pockets £150 a year).

No. Eminently censurable though these faults are, they pale into insignificance beside Miss Trent's greatest fault, which is this: she indulged in a Big Misunderstanding, and that is unforgiveable.

Here we have a woman whose analytical capabilities are such that from nothing but a crumpled riding habit, a hysterical maid and a missing bandbox she can determine that her charge has visited the vicarage, learned of an engagement that Ancilla herself did not know for sure had been entered into, returned home, and tricked a visitor to the area into carrying her to Leeds with the express intent of taking the stage to London to stay with an uncle. All entirely accurate. Yet at the same time we must suppose her so wet-goosish that, from an ambiguous passing remark by a man that she knows to be loose of tongue and far from steadfast in his views, she conjures up an inexplicably gothic image of a well-regarded and exceptionally mannered man of whom she has become fond as some devil-may-care rakehell capable of leaving a trail of by-blows across the country, and so devoid of sensibility that he can contemplate rounding them up and housing them in a country house in the Narnian Yorkshire countryside. And having conjured up this absurd fantasy Miss Trent, who claims to be able to quell Miss Wield with a glance, and disconcert her employer's neighbours with a few well chosen words (well worth £150 a year of anybody's money), is utterly unable to ask her beau just what he is actually up to.

I am afraid that it is all coming it a bit strong.

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Monday, 14 November 2005

A combination of redrafting Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth and some busy weekends seeing family and friends has left me neglectful of Wenlock. My apologies. I will try to get another heyeroine up during the course of the week.

Meanwhile if you are interested in historical fiction, particularly of a romantic disposition, then I can heartily recommend UK Historical Romance, a brand new blog set up by a group of writers of historical romance including Amanda Grange, Kate Allan, Melinda Hammond and Pamela Cleaver. It currently features the cover of Amanda Grange's latest, Darcy's Diary (which I took with me to the barber's on Saturday to indicate how I wanted my hair cut).

In addition to contributing to UK Historical Romance, Kate Allan has also started another blog, Marketing for Authors, which should be required readers for aspirant authors this side of the Atlantic at least (we do things slightly differently over here, so the leading blog on the subject, Buzz, Balls & Hype, needs a bit of translation).

Tuesday, 8 November 2005

Beau Brummell, The Ultimate Dandy by Ian Kelly

More than any other single person, with the possible exception of the Prince himself, George Bryan Brummell epitomised the "Regency Age" (which I tend to define as lasting from about 1780 to 1830). He was described by Byron as one of the "three great men of our age" alongside Napoleon and Byron himself. "But of we three," the poet continued, "the greatest of all is Brummell." In his essay on Dandyism, Who is a Dandy, George Walden suggests that the modern world is defined by three things: science & technology; liberal economics; and fashion. He suggests therefore that the three most important influences on today's society are Charles Darwin, Adam Smith, and George Bryan Brummell. Does Brummell's life match up to such glowing encomia, and does Ian Kelly's biography match up to its subject? While the answer to that first question is open to debate, the answer to the second is undoubtedly yes.

Ian Kelly does more than just recount Brummell's life story. He places it within its context, in terms of social, economic and political history. He begins with London in the mid-18th Century, where Beau Brummell's grandfather William was employed as servant to an MP from Hertfordshire, and where his grandmother, the daughter of a pastrycook, was a washerwoman. From this humble beginning William did well, through hard work and loyal service, and his employer was sufficiently impressed that he helped William's son Billy secure an appointment as office boy to another MP, Charles Jenkinson, later Lord Liverpool. Billy's own diligence secured him rapid preferment and he became an underclerk at the Treasury, working for Charles Townshend, and then his successor as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord North. When North became Prime Minister, Billy Brummell followed him to Downing Street, and, as was the way of such things, in the course of his duties there he amassed a fortune, and an apartment at Hampton Court where, having married his courtesan mistress on the King's orders, he raised a family of two boys, William and George Bryan, and one daughter, Maria.

In 1786, at the age of eight, Brummell went up to Eton alongside his older brother, where he studied for six years. Kelly shows that this was an important episode in Brummell's life. It was, he argues, in his role as a Poleman in Eton's raucous Ad Montem festivities that Brummell found the spare minimalist style of dress that he perfected during his adult life, and which is still at the heart of men's fashion today. It was at Eton that Brummell's first encounter with the opposite sex is recorded, in the form of a noisy serenading of the headmaster's daughter from below her window.

After Eton came Oxford, but not before another important amatory episode, Brummell's brief and unhappy relationship with the daughter of his parents' neighbours at Hampton Court, Julia Storer, who later achieved notoriety alongside Harriette Wilson and her sister Amy as the "Three Graces" of the demi-monde.

After Oxford Brummell joined the army. He did not join just any regiment, but, thanks to his father's fortune and contacts in the fashionable and political world or perhaps his own encounters with the heir to the throne, he was able to join the 10th regiment of Light Dragoons, whose Colonel-in-Chief was the Prince of Wales, and so which was destined not to serve abroad. The Prince of Wales' Own were modelled in drill and uniform on European Hussar regiments, among whose virtues are spectacular (and very expensive) uniforms. It was, Kelly suggests, his time in the army that honed the rhetorical whimsey at which Brummell had shown himself adept at Eton and Oxford into the darker wit that he deployed so readily in later years. Brummell sold out late in 1798.

All this serves as the scene-setter for the period in his life for which Brummell is best known, the years from 1799 to 1816 where he ruled London Society as the arbiter of elegance. For a biographer this period poses something of a problem, in that very little actually happened. Kelly negotiates this brilliantly by describing Brummell's life in terms of "a day in the high life", taking us through the morning: Brummell's famous levée, and the circle of friends that attended it; his choice of tailors and other suppliers, the afternoon: riding on Rotten Row; visiting Brooke's, White's and Watier's, the evening: visiting the theatre; attending that famous Seventh Heaven of the Fashionable World, and then on into the demi-monde, where the seeds of his downfall were eventually sown.

This central section of Kelly's book contains the best account of the life of the haut ton in early 19th Century London that I have come across. It is certainly more reliable than Venetia Murray's High Society in the Regency Period, and the copious bibliography is a great blessing too. Kelly has been both thorough and meticulous in his research.

From 1816 Brummell's life begins its gradual decline as his debts and syphilis take their toll. Once Brummell moves to France, never to return (Kelly considers, but tends not to favour, the suggestion that an entry in Berry Brothers' weighing book from 1821 is a genuine indication of Brummell's visiting London that year), the focus of the book moves away from the glittering world that he left behind and concentrates on his activities in Calais and then, from 1830, Caen. One of Kelly's great finds in researching this book was the detail of Brummell's last days as venereal disease destroyed his body and his mind. The last few chapters of the book are quite harrowing reading, as Kelly does not flinch from a comprehensive account of the pathology of tertiary syphilis, alongside his description of Brummell's increasing penury and his desperate attempts to seek support from his old friends. Brummell died on 30 March, 1840 in the Bon Sauveur asylum in Caen.

Kelly opens Beau Brummell with a short essay on what Dandyism has meant, in Brummell's time and our own. He ends with an epilogue on Brummell's legacy, tracing his influence through later dandies such as Oscar Wilde and Nöel Coward to the likes of Jarvis Cocker, his overwhelming influence on men's tailoring and even, thanks to Coco Chanel, women's fashion. While Brummell has most influenced the English, the French and the Americans, he can also be seen as part of the inspiration for Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, and even Nabokov's Humbert Humbert in Lolita.

Beau Brummell is illustrated with both colour prints and black-and-white drawings, including a useful map of fashionable London in 1800. Kelly's written style is very easy to read (although the book's physical bulk makes it rather unsuitable for reading on the bus or tube).

As a reference book for the Regency Age, as well as a comprehensive account of a remarkable individual, I unhesitatingly recommend this book to you all.

Beau Brummell, The Ultimate Dandy by Ian Kelly, Hodder and Stoughton, 2005. £20-00

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Sunday, 6 November 2005

I created this little blog button at the Brilliant Button Maker site. Now all I need to do is come up with some sort of practical use for it.

Here's another one which is perhaps that little bit more specialist. Thanks to Niles for alerting me to this useful facility.
Heyeroines in need of a slap

11. Deborah Grantham (Faro's Daughter)

Any establishment that spends £70 on green peas for every £42 that it spends on champagne (chapter 4 - Wenlock does the maths so you don't have to) has obviously got something seriously wrong with it. In crossing that threshold in St James's Square Max Ravenscar is stumbling into something more than your common or garden gambling hell. That he initially gets the wrong end of the stick is shown by his second visit, when he comes supplied with some spare whiplashes. Clearly he reckons that there are some things that Priddy's Foreign Warehouse and Vaults cannot supply, and I don't just mean Best K.Q. iron, faggoted edgeways.

It is probably on this second visit that he discovers what is wrong. Lady Bellingham's establishment is not just suffering from bizarre gastronomy and the pursuit of exotic ironware. The colour scheme is highly questionable with the yellow saloon hosting first Miss Grantham in a green dress (presumably intended to go with the peas) and then Sir James Filey in puce (Ravenscar, we learn in chapter 17, is much more conservative in his tastes, spending much of his time in a brown study). However the reason for such disastrous combinations quickly becomes apparent. Miss Grantham suffers from Daltonism: perhaps deuteranomalous tricomacy, tritanopic dichromacy or even achromatopsia (colour blindness - Wenlock does the long words so you can be impressed). This becomes quite obvious when she starts sewing coquelicot ribbons onto a green and white striped dress and wishes to accessorise this outfit with garnets.

Suddenly the reasons for the significant losses suffered by Lady Bellingham become explicable. Refusing to admit to her problem, Miss Grantham has been attempting to play cards, and run EO tables while unable to see what she is actually doing. Without colour cues to allow her to sum up gaming situations at a glance she is always going to be at a disadvantage, and it is her poor aunt who has to bear the cost of the inevitable losses.

Luckily for Miss Grantham, Ravenscar has a solution. Just as Mad Margaret from Ruddigore could be calmed by Sir Despard Murgatroyd's occasional use of the word "Basingstoke", so Miss Grantham can be alerted when she is handling something scarlet or green by Ravenscar's whispering "Jezebel" or "Jade" accordingly.

He never does explain what colour he means by "Doxy".

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Friday, 4 November 2005

Anybody who has ever wondered how authors collaborate to produce a single work should pop over to A Regency Invitation, where the three authors of A Regency Invitation - Nicola Cornick, Joanna Maitland and Elizabeth Rolls - are blogging the hundreds of e-mails that they exchanged in the course of writing their three interlocking stories set against the background of a Regency Country House party.

Wednesday, 2 November 2005

Alex has tagged me (serves me right for doing the same to her a few weeks back). She wants me to answer a few questions.

Three screen names that you've had: Wenlock; Beau Bowden; Constantine Maroulis (sorry).

Three things you like about yourself: my sense of humour; my writing style; my eyes.

Three things you don't like about yourself: the fact that I snore; my tendency to procrastinate; I'll add the third one tomorrow.

Three parts of your heritage: generation after generation of Derbyshire textile workers on my father's father's side; Lincolnshire clergymen on my mother's father's side; and Russian Jewish emigrés on my mother's mother's side.

Three things that scare you: ignorance; madness; the thought of dying.

Three of your everyday essentials: theguardian; strong black coffee; fresh air.

Three things you are wearing right now: a rugby shirt; my new Paul Smith half boots; a thoughtful expression.

Three of your favorite songs: Boulder to Birmingham (Emmylou Harris); Save it for a Rainy Day (The Jayhawks); Thunder Road (Bruce Springsteen)

Three things you want in a relationship: wide horizons; laughter; not having to try hard all of the time.

Two truths and a lie: George is Will's son; George is Ed's son; it will all end in tears.

Three things you can't live without: my family; my radio; my writing.

Three places you want to go on vacation: Finland in the Winter; Venice in the Spring; Uzbekistan in the days of Tamburlaine.

Three things you just can't do: bowl a leg break; speak Chinese; sing in tune.

Three kids names: Giles, Isobel, Fay

Three things you want to do before you die: walk in the high Pamirs; gallop full-tilt across the English countryside; dine on honeydew and drink the milk of paradise.

Three celeb crushes: Louise Brooks; Joan Baez; Charlotte Green.

Three of your favorite musicians: Richard Thompson; Tom Waits; John Tams.

Three physical things about the opposite sex that appeal to you: expressive eyes; a slim figure; a clear complexion.

Three of your favorite hobbies: cross-country skiing; cooking; solving cryptic crosswords

Three things you really want to do badly right now: finish my redrafting; find an agent; get a contract.

Three careers you're considering/you've considered: novelist; academic; spy.

Three ways that you are stereotypically a boy: I ride a motorbike; I like prog rock; I drink real ale.

Three ways that you are stereotypically a girl: I write romantic fiction; I care about footwear; I think that I am too fat.

Three people that I would like to see post this meme: Kate; Candy; Gabriele.

Monday, 31 October 2005

Grumpy Old Bookman has posted today about Universal Pictures' attempt to have Gerald Jones' Everyone Who's Anyone website closed down. I don't think that I am quite as much a fan of Mr Jones as GOB is, but like him I do not like to see large corporations using heavy-handed techniques to suppress those less well-resourced than themselves. Please go and see what Grumpy has written, and follow up (or not) as you see fit.

Sunday, 30 October 2005

In addition to posting the latest Heyeroine in Need of a Slap, I have fixed the broken links to numbers 2, 3 and 4 in the series.

Now I must go and sort out my novel.
Heyeroines in need of a slap

10. Abigail Wendover (Black Sheep)

On our first introduction to Miss Abigail Wendover we are forcibly reminded of the cloaked and cowled figure in Ingmar Bergman's Scandinavian cinematic masterpiece, Det Sjunde Inseglet. It is not just that, like Bengt Ekerot's character, her own appearance is totally subsumed within what she wears, but also that Abigail brings plague, pestilence and destruction wherever she goes.

The carnage within the Wendover family is shocking. Abigail has already accounted for both of her parents and four of her siblings, as well as the wife of the only one of them that survived into adulthood before our tale has even started. The sister with whom she lives is, unsurprisingly, a martyr to sickness. Indeed it is telling that she only recovers from consumption when Abigail leaves Bath on a tour of her surviving family, and comes down with a putrid sore throat, a fever, a headache and colic as soon as she returns. That tour was, of course, conducted amidst a miasma of measles and misfortunes. One family servant even went as far as breaking her own leg rather than be in the house when Abigail called.

In choosing to name his daughter so, Mr Wendover was clearly not mistaken. It was not father rejoiced that he had in mind, however, but his daughter's role as the handmaiden of Death.

While Miss Wendover and Miss Fanny Wendover still live, Miss Abigail Wendover's task cannot be considered complete, and it is clear that in encouraging her neice to favour the unhealthily thin and largely Bath-bound Oliver Grayshott rather than the more robustly constitutioned Stacy Calverleigh (among whose many accomplishments must surely include access to the sort of competent physicianship that is plainly absent entirely from the City of Healing Waters), Abigail is attempting to keep Fanny within range of her pernicious aura for as long as possible. By chapter 12 this plan appears to be working, as Fanny is struck down by influenza and about to fall into the hands of Abigail's partner in crime, Dr Rowton, a man who seems to believe that the Hippocratic Oath is more like guidelines. With Selina suffering a spasm or two, all seems set for Abigail to finish off in Bath and then to move back to Huntingdonshire and London where the last survivors still lurk.

Fortunately for the rest of the world, Miss Abigail Wendover's baleful influence seems to be fairly ineffectual beyond her family. It is only in chapter 18 that she finally strikes outside the Wendover clan, inflicting a toothache on Miss Butterbank. Given Miss Butterbank's role as spreader of gossip throughout Bath, it is likely that Abigail was aiming to inflict something a little more contagious for her victim to disperse alongside the latest on dits, but this perhaps proves, at this point at least beyond her power.

Until she grows stronger and more malevolent, he only way that Abigail appears able to harm those beyond her family is by having them marry into it. Whether this effect can then propagate beyond the immediate in-law is unclear, but it is without doubt a risk. It is clearly his concern over this prospect that motivates Miles Calverleigh to do all in his power to prevent his nephew marrying into the Wendovers, buying out his debts and throwing choicely endowed widows like Mrs Clapham into his path in an attempt to distract him from the poisoned chalice that is Fanny. This approach, however, can only ever win a few battles; it can never win the war against epidemic illness, and time, to judge by Miss Butterbank's fate, is running out.

Luckily Miles has a solution. It appears that whatever else he may have picked up during his sojourn in India, he has developed some sort of immunity to sickness such that he, and maybe he alone, can survive the rigours of marriage to Typhoid Abby. By marrying her he is in a position to tackle the sickness at its root. He has a plan, but for it to succeed, he must acquire not just Danescourt and the few unencumbered acres around it, but the extensive estates that close it off from the outside world.

Quarantined behind such an extensive cordon sanitaire, and under the military jurisdiction of the mysterious Colonel Ongar and his obedient henchmen, the Penns, Miss Abigail Wendover - now of course Mrs Miles Calverleigh - can be safely isolated from the rest of humanity, and Bath can once again be safe for its Misses, Quizzes, Olivers, Dowds and other assorted Janeites.

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Saturday, 29 October 2005

Unsurprisingly, in between taking the Wenlock Heir to see Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and reading theguardian (there's an interesting piece about life in the UEA creative writing course by Juliet Sutcliffe), I have been thinking about what needs to be done with Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth.

One thing that has been nagging at me is the question of why, if I can see the sense in so much of my NWS report, I didn't spot the problems for myself. I think that there are two main reasons.

First, there was (and still is) "new writer's insecurity" - it's difficult to look too deeply into my own work for fear, at worst, that I will discover that it is all garbage, and at best, that I will unpick something good and replace it with something less good. Of course, once I am published this sort of anxiety will be a thing of the past. Or will it?

Second, there was the looming deadline set by the NWS. Having started LAC;o,tBB in April, and trying to write it in evenings and weekends (apart from a wonderful week on my own in Shropshire that netted about a quarter of the final version) I didn't give myself enough time to get things sorted. I certainly could not afford the time to step back and look at my wip with any sort of detachment. My NWS reader was seriously shocked that I had ducked a perfect opportunity to bring my hero and heroine together at a party by giving her a political headache. How could I have done that? Well, the real reason was that I had rejigged the sequence of events. The scene had originally taken place when the heroine was a hundred miles away and couldn't have been there. The new chronology had her still in London, but I didn't have the time to put her in the scene and make all the consequential adjustments. I hope that, without the NWS deadline (invaluable though the deadline was for my productivity) there would have been a point at which I would have realised that I was missing an opportunity with that scene.

Other awkwardnesses in the story arise from the fact that I didn't do any plotting before I started - I dived right in and wrote. Once I had worked out what made the most sense I had run out of time to do any major recasting at the beginning. At my reader's suggestion I now intend to change one character - the heroine's confidante - from being a mysterious stranger into being an old family friend. She can still serve the vital function of putting the heroine into both the romantic plot and the adventure subplot - but she can do so from a position of trust, which makes it more plausible that the heroine does not trust the hero as much as she trusts this confidante. I can also do some clever misdirection with the scene where they meet up.

As for the central romance - I now have the time to analyse my hero and heroine using some technique such as enneagrams, about which we had an excellent talk at the RNA Conference, and use this to make their characters and their developing relationship as plausible, and above all attractive, as possible. If this triggers some knock on rewriting to correct back stories or change some actions and reactions I now have time to deal with the consequences.

Once I have delivered this week's Heyeroine in need of a slap I will get down to business.

Friday, 28 October 2005

While I was away the typescript of Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth came back from the NWS together with a report on its strong points and its weaknesses.

The strong points are, apparently, my writing ("literate", "elegant"), the plot, and some of the "set piece" scenes (especially the one where we meet the elephant, but also the one near the beginning with the balloon). This is good news because if the plot were hopeless, or even a bit weak, I would probably have to start again from scratch, and if my writing style were poor then I really shouldn't be in this game at all. I enjoyed writing the set pieces, and maybe a couple more wouldn't go amiss.

There is one major problem. For a historical romance, LAC;o,tBB is rather lacking in, er, romance. The central romantic relationship is too thin. The heroine is not proactive enough, and the relationship is not developed very well. The hero and heroine meet too little, and interact too little when they do. I think that this is fixable, particularly as my reader was quite specific about the scenes that she thought were the most problematic, and she has very sensible suggestions about what I ought to do about them.

There are other less critical problems - I need to work on the dialogue, and I need to thin out the number of names and make them less similar to each other. This last point is something that I was conscious of already. There's also the problem of my letting the chief villain escape without explanation. The explanation is that she is needed for a sequel, but I need to set that up.

There may be more stuff annotated on the typescript itself which I will look at tomorrow, but the bottom line is, I think, that I should work on making LAC;o,tBB better, rather than either binning it and starting again, or binning it and not starting again.

Overall I am very happy with my report, so three cheers for the RNA and the New Writers' Scheme.

Sunday, 23 October 2005

Wenlock is going away for a few days to relax in the shadow of the Marquess of Bath's country house. I will return next weekend, by when I might have heard back from the New Writers' Scheme.

While I am away, why not visit the Romantic Novelists' Association site and take part in their simple survey - who knows, you might win two tickets for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award lunch at the Savoy Hotel.
Heyeroines in need of a slap

9. Judith Taverner (Regency Buck)

So what are the chances that the capital whip that you almost force off the road in Chapter 1, and have further altercations with (including a kiss) in Chapter 3, will turn out to be the mysterious guardian whom you are due to meet in Chapter 4?

Well, as the heir to Wenlock would, unfortunately, say, Duh!

We are in the Regency, which saw the greatest concentration of Dukes, Earls and Viscounts that England has ever seen. This sort of chance encounter happened every day, even in Lincolnshire. Indeed during the Regency places like Newark and Grantham - or any town of reasonable size that was not London, Brighton or Bath - existed solely for the purpose of hosting such events, which would set up situations to be resolved later on in proper places like London, Brighton and Bath (or, in a few cases, at an obscure farm, coaching inn or toll gate in a remote location that is never very clearly defined). If any attractive young woman who found herself travelling from Yorkshire to London at any point between 1811 and 1820 did not realise that she was on her way into a romantic novel then she was almost certainly a couple of furbelows short of a reticule. Which brings us neatly back to Miss Taverner.

It might be possible to excuse Miss Taverner over her failure to recognise a romantic hero when she meets one for the first time. The fifth Earl of Worth does appear to be travelling with a small Indian menagerie. In addition to a talking tiger called Henry (possibly an early version of Hobbes) he has with him a langour, which the Oxford English Dictionary says is "the name applied in India to certain species of monkeys of the genus Semnopithecus" (and which doesn't appear in written English until well into the reign of George IV). Judith, understandably, appears not to be very taken with this creature. However she has no such excuse when Worth, perhaps realising that the animals were a bit overdone, engineers a further encounter. Miss Taverner has seen her brother (of whom more later) off to a Prize Fight, safe in the knowledge that it will be an occasion where Cant will Be Spoken By The Quality. Clearly this is to be an Authentic Regency Event, and thus it will lead to a Significant Plot Development. However even when the Plot Development picks her up and kisses her, she still seems oblivious of its Significance.

Worth is not an Earl for nothing, however, and he takes advantage of the First Surprising Plot-Twist to make it blindingly clear what is going on. He mentions White's, Watier's and Almack's. He commends Weston and Schweizer & Davidson. He disparages all who patronise Schulz, and anyone who lives in Kensington. He drops the name of his friend Beau Brummell into the conversation with all the subtlety of one of Cribb's facers. Short of ordering some cakes from Gunther's he could hardly have done more to make Miss Taverner understand her situation.

But it still isn't enough, and Miss Taverner falls straight into the classic "Beau Brummell is a dandy so he must look like a twit" error as if she were utterly unaware of the works of Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly. Do they not read On Dandyism in Yorkshire? Even when her by-the-numbers wet secondary character brother contracts a by-the-numbers unsuitable engagement to a by-the-numbers beautiful airhead she still doesn't get it, preferring instead to develop her taste for snorting lines of Masulipatam and Old Paris as if she were in the van of the fashionable world (a position apparently occupied by Brummell's friend, the Duke of Bedford).

Desperate stupidity calls for desperate measures. If Miss Taverner doesn't recognise that she is in a Regency when she is inhaling it through the nose, Worth can at least try to persuade her that she is in a novel. He does this by putting his langour aside again and concocting a totally implausible murder mystery, giving her a chance to do the Miss Marple In Sprig Muslin bit (known at the time as a pelisse procedural). Even then she seems totally unaware of what is going on, and allows her brother to become caught up in a fixed-cockfight-and-duel double cliché as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Almost down to his last throw, Worth hits on the ideal solution. Brighton. And not just Brighton but The Steyne, Marine Parade, the Pavilion and even a visit to the local Chalybeate Springs (which are in Hove, actually). But the pinnacle of this endeavour will be the Prince Regent himself. Needless to say Miss Taverner almost ruins everything by challenging her brother to a re-enactment of Genevieve some 150 years before the fact. Poor Peregrine is too sketchily drawn to protest, as he further demonstrates on being bundled off to a yacht in the Solent without a single complaint that the Isle of Wight is still sixty years away from being fashionable.

Extraordinarily, even a dramatic evening at the Royal Pavilion, complete with yards of guide-book description of the ornamentation, fails to penetrate that Dresden China Miss skull and alert Miss Taverner to what she really is. In the end Worth is forced back to basics, adopting the "you heroine, me alpha male hero" approach by knocking down her cousin while she is watching.

As that punishing left finally connects, we are left thinking that if only he had deployed it on page 27, when nobody else was looking (except Hobbes - sorry, Henry - who would probably not say a word when anybody was around) then we might have been spared so many of these antics.

We never do get to find out what happens to the langour.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2005

Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester

Amazon delivered this to me on Saturday while I was waiting for Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth to come back from the New Writers' Scheme. I don't know much about Dr Kloester, except that she has written a PhD Thesis (while at, I think, the University of Melbourne) on Heyer.

Before discussing what the book is, I should point out what it is not. GHRW is not a guide to Heyer's novels. There is a set of very brief outlines of each of her Regency books (it excludes These Old Shades and The Talisman Ring, among others, presumably because they are outside her definition of Regency), but these descriptions are little more than you might find on the back cover of the recent paperback reissues. While the book describes itself as "the definitive guide to the people, places and society in Georgette Heyer's Regency novels", the people in question are the historical, rather than the fictional characters.

Nor is GHRW a source for the history of Britain in the Regency period. Another appendix has a timeline of significant events, but there is no discussion within the book of, say, the circumstances that led up to the Peterloo Massacre. This is not meant as a criticism; GHRW is what it claims to be. Julian Rathbone's Regency World, were it to exist, would be a very different book. It might well tell you more than you needed to know about Peterloo, and next to nothing about Gunter's or Almack's.

There is a comprehensive outline of the structure of GHRW at the Georgette Heyer website, so I won't repeat that here.

I will say that I found the structure logical and sensible, and Dr Kloester's writing style is simple and straightforward, making the book easy to get through. Her approach throughout is to give a clear description of the various aspects of life in Regency England (London, Brighton, Bath and "the Country") and to illustrate it with references to events in Heyer's books. With a great deal to cover in little more than 350 pages (including assorted appendices) Dr Kloester inevitably has to deal in generalities, and some of her statements seem a little sweeping, but she is usually very clear that she is talking in broad terms. She also makes it clear that while the Regency properly only lasted from 1811 until 1820, the period she is describing extends back as far as about 1780 and forward as far as 1830.

She begins with the shape of society. As this is Heyer's world Dr Kloester gives plenty of attention to the upper classes, and negotiates the complexities of the Aristocracy and Gentry without doing more than clipping a wheel on the status of Baronets. She does not, however, ignore the rising middle class, and she is also good on the roles and internal pecking order of servants in the second chapter. As with most chapters I was left wanting even more on some of this.

After a discussion of town and country life we learn about the different lives of men and women, before visiting the genteel attractions of Almack's and Hyde Park, then the more manly establishments in St James' and elsewhere in town, and finally Brighton and Bath. There are little maps of these places amongst the many illustrations to indicate where the various locations that crop up in Heyer's novels can be found.

The chapter on transport is good, but again too short. The speed of travel is one of the great differences between Regency England and modern England (life changed radically with the arrival of the railways very soon after the Regency). As a writer I am eager for anything that can get me inside the heads of people who would spend a day on a journey that I can do in an hour; unfortunately Heyer followed Regency practice in not dwelling overly on such matters.

After transport comes fashion (men's and women's), shopping, food and drink, and fun and games. Finally there is a chapter on business and the military, and a Who's Who of those historical characters that appear in Heyer's books. In addition to the appendices already mentioned there is one on slang, one on books mentioned in Heyer, and one on newspapers.

There are a few gaps in Dr Kloester's book, some of which reflect things about which Heyer says little. Churcg-going was an integral part of Regency life but beyond a passing reference to Hugh Penicuik (from Cotillion) there is little said about this. Smuggling, which is a major concern in The Unknown Ajax, is hardly mentioned. There is nothing much said of the role of Government at this time, although several Heyer characters are involved in Government (one of the Carlyons in The Reluctant Widow works in government, and Kit Fancot in False Colours is a diplomat).

Having noted that I would have like more on various topics, I should point out that Dr Kloester has included a short bibliography for further reading.

Overall, however, this is a very useful book, and as a guide to life in the early 19th century it is certainly better in every respect than What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, which is perhaps the best point of comparison. Physically it is well produced, with illustrations by Graeme Tavendale that complement the text, and a cover that mirrors the style of the Heyer paperbacks recently published by Arrow.

Dr Kloester is apparently addressing the Historical Novel Society Conference on Saturday. I shall miss this event as it clashes with the Great British Cheese Festival here in Cheltenham.

Monday, 17 October 2005

As a change from offering excellent advice to would-be writers in her own inimitable style, Miss Snark the Literary Agent has flagged up Time Magazine's list of the 100 best books to have been published since Time began.

Given the recent piece by Peter Preston in theguardian in which he notes P D James' and Ian Rankine's statement that crime novels get short changed when it comes to literary prizes, I am pleased to see that crime, and indeed SF, both get a fair crack in the Time list.

That said, the crime novels tend to the hard-boiled end of the spectrum, with both Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest being 15-minute eggs at a minimum. There is no room for Dorothy L. Sayers, for instance.

Similarly the SF (apart from older classics like 1984 and Slaughterhouse 5) goes for the cyberpunk of William Gibson's Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash, and ignores the more optimistic vision of Ursula K. Le Guin, or the brilliant prose of Samuel R. Delaney.

There is virtually no historical fiction on the Time list, apart from I Clavdivs and Gone With The Wind, and there is nothing (unless you include that last title) that really counts as Romance. These deficiencies could, of course, have been mended by the inclusion of one or two books by Georgette Heyer.

I have already read 40 of the books on the list, which is not much more than an average of one per year since I learned to read. I might well be persuaded by this to read one or two more.

Sunday, 16 October 2005

Heyeroines in need of a slap

8. Sophia Stanton-Lacy (The Grand Sophy)

As regular readers of these pieces know, my highest prority is to be scrupulously fair to my subjects (whether they deserve it or not), so it is only right that I should note that it was not Miss Stanton-Lacy's own decision to billet herself upon the Ombersleys. That was her father's doing, and had he known the consequences I am sure that he would have put pressing matters of State to one side and come back to sort things out as soon as he learnt of his daughter's flagrant abuse of all the rules of hospitality and good society.

It is true that Sophy had no choice in coming to Berkeley Square. Those of an unduly sentimental bent would no doubt argue that she could hardly be expected to leave her Italian greyhound behind when she came to London (the more sensible would say "look what happened with Luffra" and "kennels are hardly beyond Sir Horace's means" but let us not dwell on that). However there can be nobody reading this who believes that it could ever be appropriate, when one is already imposing upon one's relatives, to arrive with a monkey amongst one's possessions. That was a choice that Sophy made freely, and one that shows clear contempt for her hosts.

It was not Miss Stanton-Lacy's own decision to stay in London, and of course once in London it was more or less obligatory for her to take regular turns in the Park with her relatives. She was by no means obliged, however, to do so while mounted upon Salamanca. The definition of a Regency Gentleman was, of course, one who could play upon the bagpipes, but didn't. Similarly, the contemporary measure of a great rider was one who could control a great beast like Salamanca when the occasion called for it, but did not feel the need to show off this capacity at every opportunity. The fact that Sophy finds it necessary, whenever she clambers aboard her steed, to "indulge his playfulness for a few moments" suggests that she does not quite have the seat that she thinks she has. Couple this with her penchant for dressing up as a Hussar, and we are forced to wonder whether she is subconsciously compensating for something.

We cannot blame Sophy for the fact that the Ombersleys are a disfunctional family. We can, however, fault her somewhat for encouraging their various weaknesses and delusions. It is beyond doubt that Hubert is a wastrel who will end up in a debtors prison sooner or later. By indulging in theatrics that would hardly be credible in even the most overwroughte of Miss Eleanor Sleath's Gothic romances, Miss Stanton-Lacy is merely delaying the inevitable (and at the same time risking putting a bullet through a very servicable muff).

Miss Cecilia Rivenhall is, frankly, more than a few dips short of a chandelier, and should have been left to impecunious misery with the equally dim Augustus Fawnhope. Instead Sophy once again indulges in her Flora-Poste-with-a-reticule impression and lands her upon the entirely innocent Lord Charlbury, who until her arrival was well placed to escape the noose that Charles Rivenhall and his father had so carefully strung up for him.

Which brings us neatly on to Charles Rivenhall. A tedious, self-important bore, he was, until Miss Stanton-Lacy's arrival, on the point of marrying Miss Eugenia Wraxton, a woman whose moral rectitude and prudishness would, very effectively, have taken both of them completely out of the gene pool, for the immense benefit of future generations. However Sophy's arrival upset this excellent arrangement, despite Mr Rivenhall's heroic attempts to keep things on track. In the end, though, faced with the utter ruin of his family name, amidst a chaos of Marquesas, mustard-baths, duelling pistols and ducklings, Charles has his Sidney Carton moment, realising that the true horror would be future generations of Stanton-Lacys riding roughshod over the delicate conventions of the Regency World. In proposing marriage (which we can be assured would be without issue) to the Grand Sophy he does a far, far better thing than he has hithertofore appeared capable of.

I do, however, worry a bit about just what they then got up to in the stables.

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Friday, 14 October 2005

I'm still waiting to hear from the RNA New Writers' Scheme. It's only been two weeks since I submitted, so it's not as if I was expecting to have heard by now, but I do feel in something of a writing limbo. I am coming up with plenty of ideas for my next book (Lady Cardington's Folly; or, the Limehouse Leviathan), but I am not actually writing anything down at present. It's like this. If Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth comes back with a report that says that there are major flaws in my writing, the chances are that anything that I have written subsequently will have the same flaws, and will need to be junked so I can start again. If, on the other hand, LA'sC;o,tBB comes back with a basically positive crit then I will want to get stuck into fixing what needs to be fixed and getting it out to agents etc before starting the LC'sF;o,tLL.

On the positive side, when I am writing I find that I don't drink much and I don't read much. So until that heavy package comes thumping onto the doormat there are two things that I can enjoy catching up on.
This week has been Cheltenham Literary Festival Week, and I have managed to organise myself sufficiently to go to a few of the talks. Today there were two that I was determined to attend.

The first was on Beau Brummell, and was a double act of Ian Kelly, who has recently written a biography of the great man called Beau Brummell, the Ultimate Dandy, and George Walden, who wrote a much smaller book a few years ago, Who is a Dandy, which includes a translation by Walden of Jules Barbey D'Aurevilly's essay Du Dandysme et de G. Brummell.

Walden suggested that if the modern World could be summed up in three things they would be science & technology, neo-liberal economics, and an infatuation with fashion and style. He suggests that Charles Darwin is the key to the first of these, and Adam Smith to the second. The third he traces back to George Bryan Brummell. Kelly took us through Brummell's rise from being the son of a Civil Servant and a Courtesan, to being the best man of the Prince of Wales, and his fall to poverty, insanity and death in Normandy from Tertiary Syphilis.

I had picked up Kelly's book earlier in the week, but I took the opportunity to get a copy of Who is a Dandy from one of the Festival Bookstalls. My "to be read" pile is huge at the moment, so it will be a little while before I get through them both.

The second event featured Kenneth Baker, the former Government minister and keen collector of political cartoons from the 1780s to the 1820s. His talk was entitled George IV, Cad or Catalyst, and was illustrated by dozens of cartoons, many from his own collections but some from elsewhere (including the US National Archives, to whom George VI sold his eponymous ancestor's personal collection of cartoons to raise some money for his own stamp collection).

Lord Baker's conclusion was that George IV was both cad - womaniser, glutton, gambler - and also catalyst - arguably our first truly constitutional monarch, our first civic planner and a visionary sponsor of architecture and the arts. His book is George IV, a life in caricature.

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

The Man Booker Prize was won last night by John Banville for The Sea. Here are a few features of the book that seem to have passed many other commentators by (although I suspect that Grumpy Old Bookman has noticed them, but does not care).

The Sea is the first Booker winner to have a title consisting of exactly half of a previous winner's title (Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea won in 1978).

The Sea is the 13th winner to start with The. Since there have been 39 winners since the prize began this is a hit rate of exactly one in three.

The Sea is the shortest winning title (6 letters and a space) since John Berger's G in 1972. It is the 8th winner to have a two-word title. There have been 6 winners with one-word titles (including Berger's).

John Banville is the second person called John to win the Booker (he is also the first person called Banville to win it, but that is less remarkable.) J M Coetzee is named John, but calls himself J M, which is why he doesn't count.

John Banville is the first male writer to win the Booker in a year ending in 5 (years ending in 0 have also been good for women, with only William Golding in 1980 bucking the trend).

No Booker prize winner has had the word or in the title. I don't think that any have featured an elephant in a leading role, although Yann Martel's Life of Pi was originally going to have one instead of a tiger.

Sunday, 9 October 2005

Heyeroines in need of a slap

7. Barbara Childe (An Infamous Army)

The trouble is that she would probably enjoy it, so for once I won't.

(Aren't you impressed that I didn't go for the "some people would give their right arm for a chance to marry Lady Barbara Childe" gag?)

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Friday, 7 October 2005

Candy has tagged me with a blog meme. I am asked to do the following:

1. Delve into my blog archive.
2. Find my 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in my blog along with these instructions. Ponder it for meaning, subtext or hidden agendas...
5. Tag five people to do the same.

My 23rd post was a Regency Slang term of the day, so I am going to go with my 22nd post instead.

This post followed on from a post which was probably not my wisest, dissing an author for being a Romance denier (she has now made it clear that I was being unfair on her). The follow-on post was about the idea of having Romantic "fringe" festivals around the edge of Literary Festivals. It's an idea that I have yet to do anything with, but I still think that it's a good one.

The 5th sentence reads:
Trouble is I can't lay my hands on my copy of John Carey's The Intellectuals and the Masses, which has lots of good stuff vaguely connected to this theme.
Which is quite spooky, because on Sunday, having hunted high and low through my bookshelves (and in the study the shelves go up to a 10 foot ceiling) I biked into Oxford and blew a small fortune on books, including a copy of that very book.

Now, who to tag? I would like to nominate Julie Cohen, Alex Bordessa, Kate Allan, Niles and Nell Dixon.

Tuesday, 4 October 2005

When I started Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth, I described it in the trendy "high concept" way as "Georgette Heyer meets James Bond."

The Georgette Heyer bit is fairly obvious - I was writing about the same social stratum, during the same historical period, and I wanted to achieve the same lightness of touch and subtle wit that she does so well. The finished draft now going through the NWS can reasonably be judged against that aim.

The James Bond-ness has evolved a bit. My hero was originally going to be the dashing secret agent type, with gadgets and cool one-liners, but he has turned out somewhat differently. I think that is a good thing, for at least two reasons.

Firstly I don't like James Bond as a character much - indeed I would argue that he is hardly a character at all, more a collection of attributes (poor taste in Martinis, good taste in cars) but with none of the flaws that might make him believeable, and thus make him work as a romantic hero rather than just an action hero.

Secondly, I didn't end up writing a Regency Q scene for him. I nearly did, and I have a bit of one left in the draft that doesn't go anywhere with a particular gadget, but I am glad that I didn't because I am currently reading Julian Rathbone's A Very English Agent and he does have a Regency Q scene. Much more knowing and arch than I would have tried, and very good. I would hate to have unknowingly produced a pale imitation of it in my story.

Monday, 3 October 2005

It will be a while before I have to worry about reviews on my own account, but I did enjoy Benjamin Markovits' piece on the subject of reviews in theguardian on Saturday. Markovits was a professional basketball player (admittedly only in the second division of the German league) and he brings his experience of that game to reviewing:
The business of reviewing is the closest literature comes to a competitive sport. Byron answered his first real critique in the Edinburgh Review with the beautifully acidic "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers". Posterity, on the whole, has been kinder to the poet than to his critic: it usually is. Byron himself described his response, of which he was later ostentatiously if not quite persuasively ashamed, in sporting terms: "I recollect the effect on me of the Edinburgh on my first poem; it was rage, and resistance, and redress - but not despondency nor despair. I grant that those are not amiable feelings; but, in this world of bustle and broil, and especially in the career of writing, a man should calculate upon his powers of resistance before he goes into the arena."
Markovits then talks in terms of books that he, as a reviewer, cannot compete with. The whole article gives a perspective on the whole business of reviewing books that I had not thought about before.

Sunday, 2 October 2005

Don't forget - this week is Buy a Friend a Book Week.
Heyeroines in need of a slap

6. Catherine Charing (Cotillion)

It has all the ingredients of a classic tragedy in the tradition of King Lear. Matthew Penicuik, a visionary leader in the field of drainage, finds himself in his old age surrounded by five excellent great nephews, but beset with the problem of off-loading his step-grand-daughter (whose mother, let us never forget, was called, if not quite Dolores, the next worst thing, Desirée).

The first thing we see of "Kitty" is her physically throwing an old woman out of the room she has just entered. Her language is littered with cant and slang. She confesses to a love of extravagance, but no wish for any intellectual development. She considers one of her step-father's great nephews a humbug, another cruel and two others stupid. And that's just what we learn of her in Chapter 2.

So much for her attitude. Her behaviour is no better than one might expect. She runs away from home on a whim without clothing or maid-servant. She gets "stupid" Freddy drunk on punch and tricks him into a sham betrothal, and then uses rumours of an epidemic to prevent her bluff being called. She uses her devious feminine wiles to trick poor Lady Buckhaven into spending a fortune on her wardrobe, and imposes on Lady Legerwood by comandeering her town carriage for a self-indulgent tour of London.

It gets worse. Having established herself in London on such outrageously false pretences, "Kitty" not only steamrollers herself into Almacks, but also allies herself with the distinctly un-tonnish Miss Plymstock in her pursuit of poor bewildered Lord Dolphinton.

Such a career can only end in tragedy, and in this cases the tragedy is Freddy's, as he sacrifices his bachelor happiness (not that there's anything wrong with that) for the shackles of matrimony. If only the Honourable and Reverend Hugh Rattray had been in possession of a bit more spine, we might have had a much more satisfactory resolution, with "Kitty" settling down as a vicar's wife, acting as the housekeeper that she herself admits is the only role for which she is qualified.

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