Virtual Book Festival: Event 20 – Historical Novelist Anne Stenhouse @anne_stenhouse #VirtBookFest #writing #historicalfiction #books

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.

 

WHERE NEXT?

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?

Extract:

“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?

You can buy Bella’s Betrothal here

About Anne:

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.

You can find Anne online at:

Novels Now blog https://goo.gl/h4DtKv

Facebook www.facebook.com/annestenhouseauthor

Twitter @anne_stenhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Mariah’s Marriage

Mariahs Marriage 2

Genre: Historical Fiction

Charming, beguiling, captivating – all words I most likely used when I reviewed author Anne Stenhouse’s previous book, Bella’s Betrothal. And they most certainly apply to Mariah’s Marriage – both the story and its heroine.

Mariah is a young woman living in nineteenth-century London. But the accepted and expected pursuits of a lady of her age and class are not for her. Mariah is independent and ahead of her time in her outlook. She teaches poor children who would otherwise have no education. Her commitment is wholehearted. The she meets and falls in love with Tobias Longreach (I just love Anne’s choice of character names). But pursuing this relationship brings her work into question and even endangers her life.

Great storytelling, conscientious attention to detail, credible and interesting characters all make for an absorbing read. And there’s plenty suspense, intrigue and romance too.

A warm and satisfying read.

Type of read: Romantic enchanting escapism. A curl up with your e-reader of choice and a glass of something red and full-bodied and prepare to indulge in some delightful escapism.

Mariah’s Marriage is published by MuseItUp and is available from Amazon and other e-book outlets.

A Brace of Braw Books

It’s the third Tuesday of the month so it’s book review time. This month I have two books from the same publisher – more in a minute.

Before the book crits however, I thought now might be a good time to state exactly what the Write Enough book review policy is.

Mostly I review books that I’ve bought because I wanted to read them for pleasure, enlightenment, or entertainment. But I also review books that I’ve been specifically asked to review by the author or publisher.

I’m keen to review other ‘indie’ authors (like myself) as well as traditionally published ones. I have eclectic tastes – ranging across the genres and including non-fiction, but literary fiction does tend to get my pretentiousness radar going into overdrive. Whatever the category, I always aim to be honest, constructive and never nasty. I will say if I disliked a book, but always with the proviso that in the end reviews come down to personal taste.

Sometimes I will also submit a review to Words with Jam, the bi-monthly writers’ magazine that I contribute to.

And so to this month’s brace of books. Both sent to me by the publishers – Polygon. The first one is Brighton Belle by Sara Sheridan – a writer I’ve reviewed here before. And the second is Time & Tide by Shirley McKay.

Brighton Belle

By Sara Sheridan

I have previously reviewed ‘The Secret Mandarin’ and ‘Secret of the Sands’ by bestselling author, Sara Sheridan. I very much enjoyed both novels so I was delighted to receive a review copy of Sheridan’s latest. ‘Brighton Belle’ is designated as The First Mirabelle Bevan Mystery and is published this month by Polygon in hardback and e-book. It will be available in paperback in July.

There’s always a slight worry when coming to read the latest book by an author you love. What if it doesn’t live up to expectations? There was no need to worry in this case. ‘Brighton Belle’ is another very engaging read from this talented author.

Sara Sheridan can be relied on to be original in character, setting and plot. Her books push at the genre boundaries. ‘Brighton Belle’ is part (recent) historical, part crime and part thriller. I was hooked from the start.

Set in post-war Brighton, the story’s heroine, Mirabelle Bevan, works as a secretary in a debt collection agency. She wants a quiet life after her role in the Secret Service during the war and following the death of her lover. However, she’s soon overtaken by scary and mysterious events. She and her sidekick, the marvellous Vesta, have to turn detective to solve various possibly linked crimes of fraud, murder and kidnap. They are involved in an illegal exhumation, breaking and entering, and helping a killer flee the country – all in ultimately good cause. There’s darkness, suspense and surprises throughout. It’s gripping.

I love the originality – Mirabelle, a 1950s independent white woman and Vesta, a 1950s independent black woman – ‘doing it for themselves’ long before it was fashionable – and feminism wasn’t even a gleam in her mother’s eye.  The descriptions of Brighton and of the post-war era are charming and hugely atmospheric and the pace is brisk.

And, at the end, the scene is well and truly set for further adventures for Mirabelle and Vesta.  I also hope there’s more to come of DS MacGregor. There was a definite frisson between him and Mirabelle. I can’t wait for this trios next outing.

Time & Tide

by

Shirley McKay

                       

As I don’t read much historical fiction, this probably isn’t a book I would have chosen for myself. But the nice people at Polygon sent me an unsolicited copy so the choice was made for me. I hadn’t heard of Shirley Mackay, the book’s author, before – but I saw from the book’s cover that ‘Time & Tide’ is – the third Hew Cullan mystery – so she’s obviously an established author. And speaking of the cover – it’s a Bruegelesque beauty. I judged by the cover and decided to give the tale a go.

As it turned out, the cover sets up the novel perfectly in its time and place.

It’s set in sixteenth century St Andrews. This further endeared it to me – as I got my MA at the university there – and I still love the place thirty-five years later –returning to visit whenever I can. So I was well set up for this ‘Morse of the sixteenth century’ crime-solving story

The hero is Hew Cullan, a lawyer, in the town who, somewhat reluctantly, teaches at the university. Following a shipwreck, the town’s bakers and millers are keen to get their hands on the windmill that was lashed to the deck of the stricken ship and survived the boat’s demise. The sole human survivor from the wreck dies before he can confirm who owns this technological innovation.

All sorts of intrigue, trickery and, even, murder ensue as vested interests seek to establish their right to the windmill. Hew is dispatched to Ghent, the survivors home town to try to sort out matters once and for all. This sort of mission is much more appealing to him than the life of an academic.

The resolution of the mystery is certainly surprising and that, along with the hint of a love interest for Hew at the close, all made for a thoroughly satisfying read.

Mackay’s period detail and her descriptions of the town of St Andrews are spot on. The plot is clever and the writing sharp. But it’s the characters that really stand out. All are vivid and credible. And for me it was the female characters that made the most impression. Hew’s sister, Meg, a healer, psychologist and therapist, despite not being eligible to study at her brother’s  college due to being female, is a wonderful creation. She causes her brother to wonder at ‘the secret art of women’ on more than one occasion with what she knows or works out. As well as Meg, Maude the landlady of the inn, Beatrix the widow of the shipwrecked sailor and the nuns at the closed community of women in Ghent are all impressive and rounded characters.

So if you like a historical novel, a crime thriller and a mystery and you’re looking for something original and rather different within those genres then I can highly recommend ‘Time & Tide’.

The book is available in paperback and e-book format.