Today it’s the turn of author Anne Stenhouse to give us a glimpse into her life as a writer. Anne writes both contemporary and historical fiction and she’s a fellow Scot. She’s also a friend from my days in the Edinburgh Writers Club and at the Scottish Association of Writers conferences. So, over to Anne.
Anne Stenhouse’s Writing Life in a Day
A day in the life of this writer varies a lot. The strange times of Lockdown have meant that I’ve experienced that phenomenon known as ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Not that I wanted a pandemic or anything like it, but who hasn’t longed for unexpected free, or freed-up, time? Then when lockdown came there it was. There was also a sort of mourning and with that a brain freeze.
So, deciding that strange times merited a new or different approach, I began to write a daily diary called The Lockdown Diary. In it I began with the idea of recording the folk I encountered on my constitutional walks around the area, but it has morphed. Today might be No 117 and I’ve mentioned items from the news, other writers’ launches, my submissions, local businesses trying to stay above the water-line, idiocies of high-ups, the changing seasons, and more. It got me out of bed in the morning and ensured I read the newspaper.
Eventually, the writing mojo kicked back in and I’ve completed a short novel, a short story and a synopsis with first instalment of a magazine serial.
Let’s take the serial. This one is set in late Victorian Edinburgh and it’s about a highly specific and well known issue. So, the research was and is a big part of the undertaking. These serials have to be planned and that goes against all my writing instinct. The description ‘pantster’ was invented for me, I’m sure. It doesn’t wash with these publishers, however, and I have to have a plan. Then, if it’s accepted, writing it is amazingly straightforward. Why, I think, don’t I do this with everything?
Once the writing is underway, the general knowledge I have of the period requires bolstering and research has to be undertaken as I write. One has to be careful as research is just so interesting and before you know it, it’s coffee time and not a word has been written. I try to stick to the point I need to confirm or understand with a wee promise to myself that I’ll look back later.
When writing a serial, instalments are divided up among the principle characters. If I have a lot of time, I might write all three sections in one sitting, but more commonly, I’ll write the section relating to one character and come back to do the others.
Research is also needed for contemporary work. There are so many things we’ve known forever that turn out to be slightly off. While I am writing fiction, I don’t want to draw any reader out of my story because of a careless reference. For example, in my lifetime it has become the norm for men to wear a suit but not a tie on even quite formal occasions. When did it become acceptable to go to a restaurant without a tie? When did it become acceptable for women and older girls to go to church without a hat? These little touches can make or break your constructed reality.
Most days will begin with a read through of the previous session’s writing and I edit as I go. I rarely print stuff off but will if I’m stuck with progressing a plot and always print off a short story so I have a copy. At my stage in life, writing is an enjoyable and sometimes paying hobby. I’ve been a story-teller all my life and I don’t see me stopping anytime soon.
Thank you, Anne, for sharing your day – and all the best for your new book. And readers, do go and check out Anne’s regency romances on her Amazon page at the link below. They’re fab.
About Anne’s new book:
Her next publication is scheduled for 23rd July and is a contemporary Pocket Novel, entitled A Debt For Rosalie for women’s magazine, My Weekly, MW2009, available from Sainsbury’s, some newsagents and by phoning the DC Thomson shop on 0800 904 7260.
Here’s a bit more about it:
A DEBT FOR ROSALIE
Rosalie Garden arrives at Maldington House, an upmarket guest house, to work as a chef and earn enough to repay her father who has bailed her out after her Ex brought down her catering business. David Logie is the house’s owner and son of the guest house proprietrix, Agnes. Still mourning the early death of his wife, David wants to sell his inheritance. Together with Agnes, Rosalie works hard to frustrate David’s plans and bring him to realise he can love again.
Anne Stenhouse is a novelist and has written both historical and contemporary fiction; a magazine short story and serial writer and a performed one-act playwright. She has worked on a factory conveyer line, in a supermarket, for the civil service and in an addictions’ unit. Anne likes to dance Scottish Country Dancing and the absence of class has been a big frustration through the lockdown. She is married and lives in Edinburgh with her husband.
Anne is a life-member of Edinburgh Writers’ Club, a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of authors; and one of the four Capital Writers with whom she has published three collections of short stories set in Edinburgh. Anne has an Amazon author’s pageHERE where details of some of these publications can be found.
You can read the daily entries in Anne’s Lockdown Diary on her blog, Novels Now here
Hello and thank you for visiting the Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s my pleasure to welcome historical novelist, Anne Stenhouse. Anne is going to tell us about her route into writing novels, why she chose to write historical fiction and how this has developed.
Q. What do you write?
A. Dialogue rich Scottish Regency with a touch of humour
People will ask ‘What do you write?’ and I normally answer historical romance, although I do write contemporary stories, too. And at heart, I’m a playwright. Prose writing took me some time to master even with the assistance of the wonderful editor, Judy Roth, then at publisher MuseItUp and now freelance http://www.judy-roth.com/. What was the attraction of the historical genre in the first place?
QUALIFICATIONS AND INFLUENCES
Drama and the written word crafted to be spoken, remain my favourite forms of communication. I think in conversations. Any incident replays in my head with different nuances. But, and it’s a biggy, drama only exists once it is performed. Performing drama needs actors, directors, stage crew, venues…
Or, put at its bald reality, money.
After a few years of minor successes and a spell as a Playwright in Residence with Theatre Broad of Stirling, it became clear that I wasn’t going to attract the thousands of pounds needed to make a Fringe breakthrough production. So, how to use the hard-won knowledge of what makes a scene dramatic and what makes conversations sound real?
Georgette Heyer has a lot to answer for. Many historical romance writers credit Heyer with their initial interest and ongoing love of the classic Regency novel.
I’m no exception.
We do have other mentors such as Jane Austen, but Heyer’s eye for the absurd and ear for Regency cant (slang) are a potent and captivating combination. She also uses a lot of dialogue.
In addition, I began at university taking enough papers in both English and History to enable me to choose Honours in either when the time came. I opted for English and American Literature and haven’t ever regretted that choice, but it does mean I have a grounding in British and European History which is useful for the author interested in writing a historical.
So, those were my qualifications and influences. Coupled with a desire to entertain and amuse, the choice was easily made.
PERIOD AND THE ROMANTIC ARENA
Having settled on historicals, what would my period be and what would the focus of my romance be?
The period was an interesting conundrum as I sometimes set my work into the 1820s and, therefore, just out of the Regency period. The Western world at that time was changing rapidly in the wake of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Rapid industrialisation was fuelling discontent of the non-establishment male. Entrenched legal idiocies fuelled discontent of all females.
I’m not an issues’ writer. My job is to entertain. But, I hope I’m not an irresponsible writer. I try very, very hard to get into what must/might have been the mindset of my heroines. I do try to show my heroines dealing with their problems in the way they would most likely have had to do in their period.
Readers who haven’t read much history may be surprised by some of the restrictions that held sway in Nineteenth century times.
No, a woman could not vote, attend university classes, keep her children after a divorce, keep her property after marriage…
If I leave my readers pondering how close to all of that we remain, then I’m happy. If they go on to reflect that in many parts of today’s world women still face such restrictions, then I’m even happier.
But, as I’m not an issues’ writer, where do I find that holy grail of writers, the CONFLICT and its resolution, the ROMANCE?
I find it in the age-old Battle of the Sexes. We start early, if we have brothers or boy cousins, and we progress through mixed school classes. In the early nineteenth century, of course, while brothers and cousins were facts of life, mixed classes were harder to come by.
This is an opportunity for the romantic novelist because there are so many, and so patently ludicrous, stereotypes to work with. From the woman who thinks all men eat most of a sheep for breakfast to the man who thinks no woman ever eats, the material is endless.
Did I mention how I like a fair dollop of humour in my work? I do write to bring out the ridiculous and help people recognise it. My first published hero, Tobias, is taken aback to discover Miss Mariah Fox would rather teach urchin children than become his Countess. However, he’s a man and he’s got her in his sights so he tricks her into a little delicious scandal and she’s in the bag. Along the way, he buys and sends her most of the cut-flowers available in London. There is a darker seam in Mariah’s Marriage, though, and through its resolution Tobias comes to realise he does love this woman.
THE SCOTTISH ANGLE
Bella’s Betrothal, which is featured below, opens in Dalkeith and features a lady escaping from a scandal which is life-changing rather than delicious. I was prompted to think of the Edinburgh setting when I discovered that there were Assembly Rooms in Haddington and Glasgow as well as Edinburgh. And there’s little anywhere to rival Edinburgh’s New Town. I find I like the microcosm. I enjoy the concerns of a small society which mimic those of the larger and I’m fascinated by the rise of the architect.
So, as well as Georgette Heyer, David Bryce has much to answer for. My hero in Bella’s Betrothal is of the smaller landed gentry, but he’s a rising architect in the manner of the eighteenth and nineteenth century greats like Bryce, the Adams’ family members and William Burn.
Last year I was commissioned to write an anniversary serial for People’s Friend magazine. It was set in 1869 and marked their 150th year of continuous publication. I enjoyed moving forward in time to the later years of the century and I enjoyed the wider canvas afforded by writing a story which, while it included two young married couples, was not essentially a romance. Walking around the New Town of Edinburgh, I do experience a shiver of recognition. There are many young ladies whose stories need to be told. I also had a fruitful discussion with an editor at this year’s Romantic Novelists’ Association conference and it was about a contemporary story. Writing is an ever-changing challenge.
Anne Stormont: Thank you so much Anne. That was a fascinating read – a great insight into what’s involved in producing a period novel. And all the best with the move into contemporary.
Below we have an extract from one of Anne’s novels. I’ll let her introduce it:
BELLA’S BETROTHAL was my second historical romance for MuseItUp and it is set in Edinburgh just post Regency. I wrote this book during the only NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) event I’ve taken part in and it is full of the energy NaNo demands to produce 50,000 words in a month. Bella and Charles are among my favourites of all the characters I’ve created over a lot of writing years and their story plays out in Edinburgh which is the city of my heart.
From the back cover:
While she is travelling north to find sanctuary from the malicious gossip of the Ton, Lady Isabella Wormsley’s room in a Dalkeith inn is invaded by handsome Scottish Laird, Charles Lindsay. Charles has uncovered a plot to kidnap her, but Bella wonders if he isn’t a more dangerous threat, at least to her heart, than the villainous Graham Direlton he wrests her from. Bella settles into the household of her Aunt Hatty Menzies in Edinburgh’s nineteenth century George Square where Charles is a regular visitor. She has been exiled to the north by her unfeeling mama, but feels more betrayed by her papa to whom she has been close. Bella hopes the delivery of her young cousin’s baby will eventually demonstrate her own innocence in the scandal that drove her from home. Bella’s presence disrupts the lives of everyone connected to her. Direlton makes another attempt to kidnap her and in rescuing her a second time, Charles is compromised. Only a betrothal will save his business and Bella’s reputation. Mayhem, murder and long suppressed family secrets raise confusion and seemingly endless difficulties. Will the growing but unacknowledged love between Bella and her Scottish architect survive the evil Direlton engineers?
“Lady Isabella, my name is Charles Lindsay. I am a neighbour of your uncle, Mack Menzies. Indeed he and I are distant cousins. My country property is in Strath Menzies.” He stood back from Bella’s chair and came around. She could see him in the flickering light of her candles and the few coals still burning in the grate.
He was a man of around thirty. He wore no jacket and his linen was smeared by muck from his climb across the roof. As he drew a hand over his chin, Bella watched the long fingers leave a trail of mud across the stubble there. His grey eyes, rather deep set, gleamed with intelligence and certainty. Yet how could she believe him? Hadn’t she been so sure Aubrey Daunton was genuine and hadn’t she been so very wrong?
“You doubt me, ma’am. Mrs. Menzies, the former Miss Hatty Lennox, has the same fiery mass of red curls that you…”
“Mr. Lindsay, if that is your name, these things you offer me as proof of your bona fides are all things anyone seeking to ingratiate himself with me could learn easily. If you are a friend of my uncle and aunt, then why not wait to be presented to me in their drawing room?” Bella snapped, although like him, she kept her voice low. She had no wish to be discovered with a man in her bedchamber, particularly one as personable as her visitor.
“Why not wait to be presented? Do I wish to know you, Lady Isabella? There are some who would say acquaintance with you must tarnish my name and reputation,” Lindsay said.
Bella rose up abruptly, and catching him by surprise, tipped him off balance. She grabbed the poker and swung it round hard against the back of his knee.
“You little hell-cat!” He groaned in pain, but caught Bella’s wrist with masterful ease as she drew the poker back for another swipe. “What did you think to achieve?”
“The removal of the self-satisfied affront that denies me any defence of my reputation.” Bella squirmed as his grip tightened around the fine bones of her wrist. She would have a ring of bruises showing through her pale skin on the morrow. How would she explain them to her aunt?
“In London I have been used to sticking a hat pin into the idlers and Beaus who trap me among Hatchard’s book shelves.” The memory of several unpleasant encounters nonetheless cheered her. There were one or two men who would now think again before acting on assumptions.
“But as you do not wear a hat to bed, you attack me with a poker,” Lindsay said, and she saw him suppress the smile it almost brought to his strong boned face. “I did not say I agreed with those who have condemned you, ma’am.”
“You do not have to say it, Mr. Lindsay. Your presence in my bedchamber tells me exactly what you think of me,” Bella retorted, and desolation flooded her. Would life never return to anything like the normality she had once known?
Anne Stenhouse has always been a story-teller. Her favourite form is the written word crafted to be spoken and Anne enjoyed the Debating Society at school. She much enjoyed writing one-act stage plays and loves the opportunity to write dialogue presented by writing prose fiction. Anne has been a civil servant, addictions’ worker, full-time wife and mum and hands on granny. She lives in Edinburgh where she is a member of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club and of Capital Writers. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
Regular readers of my book reviews will know that crime and contemporary fiction along with the occasional work of non-fiction are my main areas of choice when it comes to reading. But historical fiction by this particular author will always get my intention. I’ve read, enjoyed and reviewed all her previous books and all are full of romance, wit and great period detail.
So I knew the chances were I’d also enjoy her latest novel and I certainly did.
But even if I’d not read this author’s previous books, the chances are I’d have been sufficiently intrigued by the premise behind this Regency romance to give it a go. In an interview on Rosemary Gemmell’s blog which you can read here, Anne Stenhouse explains that the idea for Courting the Countess arose out of a writing competition entry she did. The competition brief was to come up with the first 2,000 words of a story which gave a new slant on a fairy tale. The author chose to base her story on the tale of Beauty and the Beast.
But in this new version of the old story, it is the main female character, Countess Melissa Pateley, who is disfigured having been badly burned in a house fire. And it’s the main male character, Colonel Harry Gunn, who is the physically beautiful one.
There is the usual attention historical detail and as before this brings the story fully to life. It’s easy to visualise the murky streets of Edinburgh’s old town and the wide streets and large houses and shared green spaces of the city’s Georgian New Town. I also learned two new words/ phrases – namely – reticule which is a woman’s small decorated handbag, and haut ton which means anything pertaining to the elite, the fashionable and wealthy, and those of good-breeding.
This is a darker tale than Anne Stenhouse’s previous books, but there are still nice touches of wit and humour. The dialogue is, as always, to the fore and fairly crackles and zings. And, as in the earlier books the women are never helpless or witless and give as good as they get. The romance is high, as are the stakes, and the plot turns and twists right up to satisfying conclusion.
Yes, dear reader, I loved it.
Back Cover Blurb:
England, 1819 Lady Melissa Pateley is not having an easy time of it. Her beloved husband Neville has died, and a fire at her London home has left her covered in scars. If it wasn’t for a band of loyal servants, she’s not sure how she would survive. Things take a turn for the worse when one day, Colonel Harry Gunn and his fellow soldier Zed break into her home, bundle her into a coach and kidnap her. She is at a loss until she learns that Harry Gunn is the cousin of George Gunn, a man who has been stalking her for years, and that Harry’s Uncle John had warned him that as long as George is out there, Melissa is not safe. Uncle John insists that Harry finds Melissa and keeps her safe. But that very night George shows up at Harry’s home with Harry’s sister Lottie, who thinks Melissa and George would make a good match. Perhaps Melissa would have been safer at home after all. Yet even with her scars, she is certain that the handsome Colonel Gunn is attracted to her. But of course, nothing is ever simple. Startling revelations rip the family apart, causing everyone to question what they once held dear. As Colonel Gunn goes in search of George and the truth, he has to wonder – had the keeping of secrets not marred more lives than the secrets would have destroyed?
Type of read: In an Edinburgh New Town hotel or residence, but failing that, in your own living-room, curtains drawn, on your chaise longue by a roaring log fire and a do-not-disturb sign on the door.