Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nice Reviews are Always Welcome

With only two months to go until launch day, I can expect to see a few early reviews of THE DANGEROUS VISCOUNT popping up via Google Alerts. It's nerve-wracking, waiting to see if everyone is going to hate the book. (That hasn't happened yet but there's always a first time and writers are neurotic lunatics). Months later the thrill of a good notice hasn't diminished. After all, we hope our books will continue to find new readers for years to come.

Since it's been almost a year and a half since the book came out, I was pleasantly surprised to get a nice review for NEVER RESIST TEMPTATION from Susan May on the Petits Fours & Hot Tamales blog. She calls it "a hot historical where food is a turn on. A hunky hero and spunky heroine, and a fun time. Well worth a read." Thank you, Susan!

Then today a review site I'd never encountered before reviewed THE WILD MARQUIS.
The setting and the use of the rare book auctions during that era, and tales of the folks who went to great lengths to own them was original and extremely interesting. I always enjoy a story where I not only am entertained but learn something of historical significance as well. Ms. Neville did an admirable job of creating lively and interesting protagonists, including a fine cast of secondary characters, a surprising villain and original plot. Those looking for new authors who can spin a good sensual story without a lot of graphic intimate detail should find THE WILD MARQUIS to be a perfect story and one I can seriously recommend.
Thank you, Marilyn, of CK's Kwips & Kritiques. You appear to be a lady of unusual intelligence and perspicacity.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Day With the Brit Romance Writers

I was already booked up for two weeks in England this July when Janet Mullany mentioned she was going at the same time and planned to attend the Romantic Novelists’ Association (Brit version of the RWA) conference. It happened to work with my other commitments so I signed up for the first day of the conference, which took place in Greenwich, on the outskirts of London.

I know people are excited about Disney World but when it comes to locating a conference, the RNA knows how to pick’em. The Royal Naval College is a huge seventeenth century spread built by Sir Christopher Wren in a stunning location on the River Thames. I traveled to Greenwich the traditional way – by boat from Westminster Pier.

It was a gorgeous sunny morning and the river was pristine. Too pristine. Since the last time I took this journey by boat, probably twenty years ago, a lot had changed. New buildings crowded every inch of the water front on both sides. And the river was empty. The port of London no longer operates in the old center and the docks, so rich in history, have been developed into blocks of flats and offices for financial service companies. Yes it used to be dirty and smelly and noisy but now it’s so quiet. There’s nothing going on at all on that beautiful expanse of water. I find myself nostalgic for the days when the London docks were the hub of a bustling commercial empire. I would have liked to see it when it looked like the 1806 Rhinebeck Panorama at the end of this post, rather than this, as it appeared last week.

The approach to Greenwich never disappoints. I disembarked, walked along the river front and into the central courtyard flanked by the wings of the Naval College and leading up to the Queen’s House, built for James I’s wife Anne. The conference took place in the left hand wing, now part of the University of Greenwich campus. For the buffet lunch we were able to take our plates out and sit in the sun in the Wren courtyard. I shared the experience with Mills & Boon luminaries Louise Allen, Joanne Maitland, and Sophie Weston.

The conference was much smaller and more intimate than the RWA – only 200 or so attendees as compared to the 2000 who will be at the US bash in Florida later this month. But like romance writers everywhere, everyone was friendly. I enjoyed putting faces to a few familiar names: Lynne Connolly (familiar from a number of loops and blogs), Nicola Cornick, and Anna Sugden (one of the dear Romance Banditas).

Because I was only attending one day out of the three, I missed most of the workshops, including a speech by the venerable Joanna Trollope and a presentation by Lucy Inglis, whose Georgian London blog I adore.

For me, the stand out workshop was a presentation on the state of UK publishing by David Shelley of Little, Brown. Some of his concerns are the same as those of US publishers – the decline of indie book stores, the significance of the growing electronic market, the power of Amazon and Apple – and some a little different, such as the role of the big supermarket chains in the book business. Shelley says romantic fiction is booming, citing Nicholas Sparks (!), Stephanie Meyer, J.R. Ward, Christine Feehan, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Tess Gerritsen, and Erica Spindler as top names. He did mention that UK readers prefer their romance to be packaged as something else. Books about “aspirational lifestyles” are particularly popular. (I interpreted this as aspiring to be, say, a successful businesswoman rather than a vampire).

Literary agent Erin Niumata and writers Janet Mullany, Nicola Cornick and Rosemary Laurey gave a panel to the Brits about writing for the US market.

After tea (of course) a panel celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the RNA with some excellent reminiscences. I was most impressed that Sophia Weston had been taken to a champagne lunch at the Ritz by the original Mr. Boon of Mills & Boon. Sadly, such occasions are not offered to writers nearly as often as one would wish.

When everyone retired to their rooms to tart up for the gala dinner, I left for the Underground to return to a family party in central London. Being an old church fan, I popped inside St. Alfege, Greenwich (designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, one of my favorite architects). A wind and piano quintet was rehearsing Mozart for a concert. I sat and listened for fifteen minutes, a lovely ending to the day.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

An Aristocratic Roman Catholic Chapel

Roman Catholics in England labored under severe disadvantages. Before the passage of relief acts culminating in Catholic Emancipation in 1829, a Catholic couldn't attend a university, enter the armed services or professions, or sit in Parliament, without paying lip service to the Church of England. Nevertheless, there were a number of noble families that remained catholic and some of them were rich. The Arundells of Wardour, in Wiltshire, are an interesting example. By cleverly marrying a succession of Catholic heiresses, Lord Arundell held one of England's most prosperous estates in the second half of the eighteenth century.

In the 1770s he commissioned the architect James Paine to build New Wardour Castle, a huge Palladian mansion that included an elaborate chapel. While not quite secret, the chapel was discreetly incorporated into the house so it couldn't be seen from the outside. Inside was another matter: the decor is ornately Roman in style. The 8th Baron Arundell brought a socking great marble altar from Rome and the chapel had to be enlarged. John Soane designed the expansion in 1788 (an early work by the architect who went on to great distinction).

The Arundell family no longer live at Wardour Castle but Chapel has remained in continuous use as the local Catholic parish church.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Salisbury, acting as London

Mompesson House in Salisbury is a beautiful early 18th century house. If it looks familiar, it may be because it appeared in the movie of Sense and Sensibility, playing the part of Mrs. Jennings' London house. It certainly isn't hard to imagine Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, dressed in their Jane Austen garb, staying here. Unlike many of the huge British country houses that are open to the public, Mompesson is a nice manageable size that one can imagine living in without an army of servants.

The feature I liked best is the hall and stairway. The plasterwork on the walls and ceiling is simple and elegant -- plain white with no gilt in sight. The walled garden at the back is delightful. A chalkboard was marked up with the names of the roses in bloom.

The house is located in the Close, the area around Salisbury's famous cathedral. I set part of The Wild Marquis in Salisbury (which happens to be the city where I was born). Juliana Merton, the heroine of the book, takes a nostalgic walk thorough the city. The scene was quite easy for me to write because so many buildings remain that existed in 1819. Shown below (left to right): seventeenth century alms houses; the medieval High Street Gate leading into the Close; the spire of the cathedral, seen across the Close.