Be Warned: These are the scribblings of a writer unruly, unsupervised, and largely unrepentant

Monday, March 5, 2018

Who's that girl?

            If you read The Peculiar Folly of Long Legged Meg, you will be acquainted with Lady Flora Hartnell already - or the side of her that she allows anybody to see. As the best friend of Persephone, the Dowager Marchioness of Holbrooke, she has so far played only a small role in that story and is quite happy to be a peripheral, merry player.

            Alas, it's finally time for her own tale to be told, pink toes and all.

            Flora has always known this moment was coming. But she's been putting it off - a bit like her scribe, who is a terrible procrastinator.

            But Flora's colorful life deserves a book of its own and her long-suffering hero deserves a confession.

            As she says, "It is possible, you know, to tell a lie so oft that you start to believe it yourself."

            So what has Flora been hiding and who is the man who will finally uncover her secrets?


* * * *

(Below is an excerpt from The Peculiar Folly of Long-Legged Meg)


            A frequent guest at the lodge ever since Persey moved there, Flora visited even more often that spring, taking advantage of the fine weather to travel the considerable distance of ten miles from her brother's manor, borrowing his carriage even when he had business elsewhere, or guests at home, and could not accompany her.

            "Did you not have to entertain your great-aunt from Hertfordshire too?" Persey asked when Flora arrived unexpectedly one morning.

            "Good gracious, no! The old dear thinks me a scandalous woman, a lost cause, but she adores Francis. Better he face her alone." She paused in the hallway of Persey's cottage only long enough to assess her reflection in the looking glass and adjust her hair, before she wanted to go out again. "Let's go for a ramble, shall we? While the rain holds off."

            Flora had never been a great walker before this. If there was a horse and carriage at hand she would rather use that to travel, even just a few hundred yards, and really a comfortable chair set down anywhere— indoors or out— was to her a siren's call, especially if there was the promise of champagne too. So a "ramble", during which she might perspire, ruin her shoes and spill the contents of her glass, was not something for which Flora generally volunteered herself. Nor had she previously shown much enthusiasm for mud, but she encountered a vast amount of it in her pursuit of Radcliffe sightings that spring. Lady Flora Hartnell also learned rather more than she ever wanted to know about horticulture, for Persey, determined to use her friend's new passion for good, enhanced their walks with plenty of worthwhile educational lectures on that subject.

            It was amusing to see her friend getting red-faced, mud-stained and out of breath for a young man who barely even seemed to notice her and was merely polite in reply to her attempts at flirting. It was less amusing however when Flora took to teasing Persey about the way he reacted to her presence.

            "Well," exclaimed the exhausted woman, as she fell backward into a parlor chair, collapsing like a stabbed sack of flour. "It's plain to see he has eyes for only you, Persey. What are you going to do about it?"

            "For me?"

            "It's obvious, darling. Poor Francis will be devastated, but I wouldn't blame you for taking the opportunity."

            "He's the gardener, Flora. Minty's gardener."

            Her friend leaned forward, chin in hand, elbow on the table. "I do believe he'd much rather be digging and planting his seed in your garden."

            Persey shook her head, trying not to laugh. "My priority is Honoria and her future. She needs me on her side, the voice of reason. I haven't time for anything else."

            "Well, I hope you get Lady Honoria settled soon, because your garden is overdue for tending."

            "I tend my own garden, thank you very much."

            "Don't we all? But it's not quite the same as having someone else do it for you, is it, darling?"

* * * *

            Find out all Lady Flora's secrets and the fate of an unfortunate duke who has no idea what he's in for - this spring in THE PECULIAR PINK TOES OF LADY FLORA.

Illustration - Portrait of "Aphrodite" by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Woman at Work

Folk I run into are often curious to know how a writer goes about their working routine. For myself, I always wondered whether I would find it a challenge to stick to my seat for several hours each day and write a certain number of words (I'm a bit of a fidget, a procrastinator and can get distracted quite easily by cake)-- Would I be able to turn a hobby into a job and do this for a living or would I run out of stories and find my imagination too stretched once I HAD to write every day?

I needn't have worried. I probably have too many ideas -- in fact there are always several brewing while I'm still at work on the current project. And they can come from anywhere and anything, at any time, so I never know when another character will pop into the waiting room that is my head and sit there with a flask of tea and a marmalade sandwich waiting for the next bus.

Once I made the decision to write full-time in 2015, I very quickly fell into a routine out of necessity. I realized that turning oneself into a "serious" (ha ha) writer is a bit like training a new puppy. Routine and reward. So every morning I'm up early and those first hours of a new day are my best, most productive hours. The house is quiet (apart from snores) and my mind has a limited number of potential distractions to worry about. I sit at my kitchen island and type away for about five hours, although not all those words will survive twenty four hours and many will be changed or cut the next day. Then I reward myself with lunch -- a tomato sandwich with toast, black pepper and mayonnaise. I'm drooling just thinking about it.

Evenings are for research and forward planning. I sit in bed and think about where my characters are going next and what information they'll need to get there. I fill in the details of the world around them so that it's believable for the time period. I take extensive notes so that I have them ready by the laptop in the morning.

I never listen to music when I'm writing. For me it's too distracting. But I do like to put on earphones when I'm at the editing stage, or when I'm researching and plotting. I've tried typing at a window to look out on a pleasant view, but that's too dangerous for me too. Birds? Trees? Clouds? All very nice, but it's a fine line between inspiring and distracting for somebody with my daft, wandering brain.

So I sit at my boring kitchen island, by the knife block (maybe that's significant) and limit my distractions. There are only three things I must have before I start to write -- clean teeth, quiet house, good coffee. Then I'm off. Head down, specs on. Occasionally my poor husband gets up before I think he ought, and then he gets yelled at for rustling the cereal box. Really, does he need to make that much noise?

Today he has cruelly left a pan of fresh-baked brownies on the island, within my line of sight above the laptop screen. Sometimes I suspect him of deliberate  sabotage.

On a side note: I've always been amazed to hear about authors who use those voice command thingys (or talk of trying them out, at least). I cannot imagine how that works with the number of edits a writer makes in their manuscript as they work. And I love the commercial for one of those products, where the "writer" sits on a couch with her feet up and talks into the device- - big smile on her face-- no paper, pens, research books of any description nearby in her spotless living room. I'm afraid the scene is very different in my house, and no single sentence written ever survives without being changed a hundred times. In my last book I rewrote the first sentence so many times I lost count. I even went to sleep mulling over the order of those few words!

I wish I was that tidy blonde person sitting there in crisp khakis, unflustered and beaming benignly into the distance as I recite my book steadily and confidently into a microphone. I do aspire to be organized, but truthfully I'm all over the place. I have piles of books lurking in every corner of the house and frequently have to go searching for the one I need. Notebooks crammed full of timelines and character profiles spill across the floor by my bed and occasionally get chewed on by a dog, or commissioned as "scrap" paper by those who cannot understand the importance of my scrawl. I'm hopeless. Perhaps that's why it always feels like such an amazing accomplishment to get another book completed and safely off to the publisher. By now I should be used to it, perhaps, but that thrill never goes away -- and it's the sense of excitement that comes with each new release that keeps me pushing ahead to the next and the next. And the next. It's definitely addictive, this writing lark.

Thank you for reading!

(Images here: My own photos of 1.) a distraction sent to challenge the author daily and 2.) the scene of the crime.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Exclusive Excerpt

Today I'm sharing an excerpt from Slowly Fell. Enjoy!

* * * *

When Adam Wyatt came to the vicarage back door, hat in hand and shoulders hunched, she was in the midst of laundry. She had the door open to expel steam and although there was a narrow passage— utilized as a mud-room— between the kitchen arch and the back door, she could just see his shadow standing there. Or hovering, rather, like a humbled ogre emerging from the vapor.

            "Mr. Cleary is out, I'm afraid," she called to him through the billowing steam. "He'll be back in an hour or two."

            "Oh...well...I..." His shade across the flagged stone floor, paused and then half turned away, hesitating, head bowed. But then, with a resolved lift of his great shoulders, he came back, taking one long step through the door and into the narrow passage, as if he crossed a treacherous crevasse by entering the premises. "It were you I came to see."

            "Me?" She set down the scrubbing board and wiped both hands on her apron. "What can I do for you, Mr. Wyatt?"

            He came into the kitchen, no longer a shadow but a flesh and blood male, ducking his head under the low arch. "I see you're busy. Perhaps I should come back?"

            "Not at all, sir. Please do come in. I was about to rest a moment and renew my strength with a cup of tea." Sarah wiped a forearm across her damp brow and realized what a crumpled wet mess she must look. She quickly rolled down her sleeves, having caught his sly glance at the scarred skin on her arms. "Will you join me?"

            "If you're sure I'm not in the way, Miss."

            Moving a pile of petticoats and little boy’s shirts, she pulled up a chair for him at the table and smiled. "It is always pleasant to have a visitor to break up the day's toil." It must be something very important he wanted to see her about, she reasoned. Usually he avoided her — hiding away in his forge if he saw her coming along the lane on one of her errands.

            Now he stood there, looking around his feet, as if he might have lost something.

            "The eldest two are upstairs with their mama," she explained, thinking he looked for the Cleary children. "Mrs. Cleary likes to check on their schooling. The middle boy has gone out with his father and the two youngest are taking their naps. You have me to yourself at present."

            He looked a little dark in the face— was it a blush?

            "So we'd best make the most of it," she added rather naughtily.

            Oh, yes, definitely a blush. Sarah was charmed and amused by it. Such a rare sight in a man. Especially one of his bulk.

            Finally he sat, lowering his backside very cautiously to the seat, while she set the kettle on the stove and smoothed quick hands over her damp hair. She wished she had some herbal water at hand to make it fragrant. Even if she had no hope of looking pretty, she might at least smell pleasant.

            "How do you like Slowly Fell, now you've been here a while, Miss Wetherby?" he mumbled.

            "I like it very well. It's extraordinary, but...somehow I feel as if..." she stopped and shrugged. "No matter."

            "What is it?" he urged.

        Laughing softly, she walked to the table and sat across from him. "As if I have been here a long time. As if I have come home. As if I know the place and it knows me. That must sound very odd to you. It does to me, truth be told." Sarah was determined not to ramble again as she did on the day they met, but she did feel very strange of late and the quiet blacksmith had a steadying air about him— like that solid oak tree on the north road. It made her want to confide— or should she say confess? She had no idea why she thought of that word, but she was feeling a little tipsy for no reason she could fathom, and guilty of wicked thoughts.

            "You did say you don't need much to make yourself feel at home," he reminded her.

            "Yes, but this is different. Deeper. In the earth itself. Or from it. I cannot explain." The story Iris Cleary had told her was stuck in her mind, and she supposed that might account for her odd nerves. Stories of ghosts and witches didn't generally trouble her, but this one had seemed all too real. As if she knew it already and was a part of it herself.

            He looked at her with solemn brown eyes, still trying to puzzle her out. "Perhaps you never knew what home felt like before. You just thought you knew what it meant, miss."

            There was something new about him today, she realized. Had he shaved? Combed his hair? He seemed younger and his clothes looked clean. "Were you going somewhere special today, Mr. Wyatt? Back to Slowly Rising perhaps?"        

            He squinted. "Not today."

            "It's just that you're dressed as if it's a Sunday."

            "Well, came to see you, didn't I?"

            "Oh." Her heart skipped a few beats and fell into a very odd rhythm. "Me?" Nobody ever dressed up for her. Why would they?

            Adam Wyatt cleared his throat and set his hat on the table. "I have a favor to ask of you. Or rather Miss Marguerite Wilding does."

            "Of me?" What a pity it was not something he wanted, she thought with a heavy, heated pang that was most unlike her.

            "A letter that needs writing to her solicitor in Shrewsbury. She's got nobody else fit to write it, won't have another man in the house, and her own hands are bent up with rheumatism. I thought of you."

            Well, she was the "Coping Girl". Of course she could help. But when he said, I thought of you, Sarah had never felt quite so gratified by words from any man's lips.

            I thought of you. Had he really said that? Yes. The man was looking at her, was he not?

            Oh, she felt that quiver of wild excitement again, something she could barely contain or keep down. Like bubbles of air escaping her lungs.

            "I could take you to Slowly Rising," he added. "On your next day off. She'll pay you a shilling and—"

            "But I thought the Wildings didn't welcome strangers."

            "She's no choice, has she, if she wants that letter written?"

            "Can't you write it?"

            He paused, eyes narrowed. "I can't write that sort o' letter. Not like you can. I'm not...never had no schooling. Never read no books." With one finger he tugged on his collar and she saw the movement in his neck when he swallowed.

            She licked her lips and murmured, "Right then."

            " will come?"

            I thought of you.

            Did he have any idea of how often she thought of him? It was foolish, of course. A silly fancy. Lady Bramley would say it was inevitable that she suffer one of these eventually.

            It was just odd that it should be now, in this place that felt so strange and yet familiar.

            And he was not at all what she'd expected for her first fancy. Aunt Clothilde would be horrified that she lusted after an uneducated blacksmith with grimy fingernails. Such a waste of pink ribbons.

            Besides, clever minds were what usually attracted Sarah to other people, not well-hewn muscles or handsome faces.

            But then again, who said he wasn't clever?

            Clever didn't have to come from books.
"I suppose I can write her letter. On my day off. She needn't pay me a shilling."
            He frowned. "But she will. I'll see to it. Don't start letting folk take advantage."
            Sarah was very curious to meet Miss Marguerite Wilding and her pulse quickened at the thought of going to Slowly Rising. But then he added a warning.
            "Don't act as if you're curious when you're there. I know you shall be, Miss Wetherby, even though you'll say otherwise." She almost got a smile from him then. "But if you act as if you're not interested in her business, she'll be more content to have you there."
            "I get the sense this was your idea and she was reluctant."
            "It was. And she was."
            "But you got around her."
            "I did."
            She supposed he got around a lot of women. Few would deny him.
            Good thing she was too busy to spend much time thinking about him.
            I thought of you.
            Had she just popped into his mind? She longed to know how she'd ended up there. Did she creep in and hang about, sometimes in a state of partial undress, the way he did in her own devious mind?
            Really, anybody would think her a giggling girl of sixteen if they ever read her mind.
            Sarah got up to spoon tea-leaves into the pot, measuring it out carefully, knowing the cost and always aware of not taking too much for herself, even though the Clearys were generous folk.
            "Do you have much family here, Mr. Wyatt?" She hadn't wanted to ask the Clearys too much about him although Iris had assured her that Adam Wyatt was not married, had never been engaged and lived alone, but for a young apprentice. For fear of what people might think she had not pried too far into his life, but she was desperately curious.
            "My father died five years ago," he replied. "He taught me everything I know and left the forge to me. My mother died when I was born, so I never knew her."
            "Like mine," she exclaimed, always interested to find a fellow motherless child. "So you have no brothers or sisters?"
            His face darkened and his lips struggled to push out a pained reply. "My father did have another wife, but no more children...none that survived."
            "I'm sorry."
            Children too often died in infancy or soon after birth, of course. Sarah had seen enough tragedy in her travels to know that, and the sadness in his face urged her not to push the subject further. After a slight pause, while he watched her pour hot water from the kettle into the pot, he said awkwardly, "You? Brothers and sisters?" It was as if he thrust the words out under great duress and now his gaze spun around the kitchen, avoiding hers.
            "I have a half-brother, Samuel," she said. "He is almost nineteen now, a young man and away at university."
            "Must be a smart lad," he grumbled, looking at his sleeves.
            "We're hoping to make him into one." She smiled, but he missed it, still not looking at her.
            "My widowed Aunt Clothilde and I. Oh, and Lady Bramley who most kindly sponsored his education."
            Now he looked up. "Where's your aunt then?"
            "In Bath. A small apartment there. She takes the waters for her health."
            "And she approves of her niece traveling about the country, taking care of strangers, does she?"
            Sarah fetched cups from the dresser. "How else could her rent be afforded? Bath is not so fashionable as it once was, but it remains costly."
            "I've got four hundred pounds."
            It had exploded out of him under considerable tension and seemed to clear a space through the damp laundry mist.
            She didn't know what to say.
            "Saved," he added. "In a safe place."
            "That's good," she offered gently.
            He cleared his throat. "A relative I never met left it to my father and then it came to me. I don't know what to do with it."
            "Well, I think saving it is a very good idea until you know what you want."
            A small sound escaped his mouth— something like a groan but not quite. "I saved four hundred more than that too. Of my own earnings."
            Apparently she was not the only one who felt the need to confide. But why tell her?
            "Made a good place for myself here," he continued, looking at the table. "Always busy. Always got work."
            "Yes. I'm sure."
            "But I ... I'd like to go somewhere new one day. Once I've enough saved. Leave this nothing place and move on. See more of the world. Like you have."
            Sarah couldn't imagine anybody who had been born in Slowly Fell ever wanting to leave. Yes, there were some awful busybodies, but then it was the same in most small villages. Here there was also beauty, tranquility, something in the air that she'd never felt anywhere else in all her travels.    
            "But the village would need a new blacksmith," she muttered, one hand pressing on a sudden ache under her ribs. "What would they do without you? Surely you can't leave. They won't let you."
            "They?" He looked up in surprise and a good measure of scorn. "I'm sure they'd manage."
            "Are you not happy here?" Sarah fumbled for the strainer, set it over a cup and poured tea into it. "You said you've made a good place."
            "'Tis my father's place I took and he took his father's place before that. A man ought to know more of the world. Travel about."
            "I don't know why you wouldn't be satisfied here." She also didn't know why it angered her so much. Why it was so important to her that he want to stay there? It was none of her business, was it?
            Apparently he agreed. "You're just a chit of a girl and you've seen so much. I'm thirty and never been farther than Shrewsbury."
            She sighed. "I can tell you, Mr. Wyatt, that there isn't much better out there. You might be disappointed. You might wish you'd never left." Then she banged the tea cup down in front of him. "And I'm not a chit of a girl. Kindly stop referring to me as such!"
            His lip snaked up at one side and his eyes twinkled before he lowered his eyelashes to hide behind. "What are you then?"
            "A grown, capable woman of six and twenty."
            "Who sleeps in a cupboard." He jerked his head toward the almery by the wall behind him and looked smug.
            She stuck her hands on her waist and glowered down at him. "My sleeping habits are now the talk of the village, are they?"
            He shook his head and wagged a condescending finger at her across the table. "That's the bad thing about a village this size. Nobody has any secrets. See? You think this place so wonderful, but you wouldn't feel that way if you were stuck here forever and could not put one foot before t'other without the entire village knowing all about it."
            "I sleep in the almery because it is warm by the fire and I can keep an eye on the house in case of intruders."
            "And what would you do? Bite 'em in the ankle?"
            "Bite them somewhere painful, you may be sure."
            He was still shaking his head, his lips tight, eyes down.
            "I can look after myself, Mr. Wyatt. As I told you before. I know where to wound a man."
            "Well, thanks to the Cleary children, everybody knows where you spend your nights, so the criminals of Slowly Fell are warned already. If I were you I'd go to bed and get a proper sleep."
            "If you were me you wouldn't fit in the almery."
            He looked up at her then and there was almost a chuckle. "Aye. There's no room for me in there. I liked to spread out when I'm in bed."
            Sarah cleared her throat and turned away to set the kettle back on the range. The sudden, alarming vision that came into her mind was far too vivid and naughty. She feared it might show all over her face.

* * * *

Read more about Sarah and Adam here.

(Images: The Laundry Maid by William Henry Margetson and February Fill Dyke by Benjamin Williams)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Character Showcase - Sarah Wetherby

The heroine of Slowly Fell -- although she would never call herself that -- is Sarah Wetherby, who is employed by the Dowager Lady Bramley as a "Coping Girl", which means she is sent to look after families during their time of crisis. When an extra pair of efficient, no-nonsense hands are needed, Sarah is there to help.

She is twenty six-years old and has the sole care of her aunt, who despite being left a penniless widow feels that she must live in Bath (for the health benefit of the spa waters), and her half-brother who is at university completing an education sponsored by the  generous Lady Bramley. Sarah has no plans for her own life and simply goes wherever she is needed. She owes Lady Bramley a great debt of gratitude for all her help, but she is also glad to have work that keeps her from the danger of dwelling on her own sorrows.

In her own words -

"I am an inconspicuous stranger who fades into the background very well. I clean, cook, manage the laundry, occupy the children, mix medicine and tend to the sick. I cope when it is too much for others to manage alone and, just as importantly,I leave when no longer required. I am never too attached. I do not outstay my welcome or cause additional clutter and trouble. I am an uncomplicated pair of hands."

Sarah seems to have acquired her coping skills soon after birth. At the age of seven she survived the deadly fire that killed her father, Admiral Wetherby. She also carried her baby half-brother to safety, despite severe burns to her own arms. And, oddly enough, she's always had the distinct impression that this was not the first time she cheated death. It may not be the last.

So Sarah is a cautious young lady and sleeps with one eye open, always on the alert.

Since the fire when she was seven, she hasn't had a permanent residence anywhere, but when she arrives in Slowly Fell, the place seems strangely familiar. It feels like  home. But perhaps its merely her growing fondness for the village blacksmith that makes it feel that way.

The following excerpt from Slowly Fell is from her first meeting with Adam Wyatt and told from his point of view.

* * * *

            The pink ribbons that had earlier caught his eye secured her bonnet in a bow under her chin where they appeared to be frozen solid. Two stiff tentacles of silk clawed at the air on one side, caught and stuck mid-flight. Despite that determined lift of her chin, he saw her shiver and took note of frost on her eyelashes. That scarf tied around her carpet bag must have been requisitioned from around her own throat which was now— apart from the inadequate services of a flimsy coat collar— bared to the elements.

            Who would send a woman out alone in this weather, and not suitably attired? Didn't seem right to him at all. Like leaving a pup outside to fend for itself on a cold night.

            With a cross sigh, he leapt down into the slush and reached for her carpet bag.

            "Wait," she exclaimed. "How do I know who you are, sir?"

            He paused, frowning, both arms still reaching for her luggage.

            "You might be a villain looking to accost untended women on the road," she added.

            For the first time in a long while, Adam was tempted to laugh. It took him by such surprise that a little snort escaped before he could rein it in. "I might be a lot o' things."

            She scowled.

            "But I've got trouble enough without seeking a greater measure of it. Especially when it's trussed up in pink ribbons."

            Her lips formed a tight line and her gaze darted briefly sideways— with considerable exasperation— to that girlish decoration, before returning to meet his eye. Either she was still reluctant to entrust her carpet bag into his hands, or her grip was frozen around it, for she made no relinquishing movement.

            "Have it your way then," he mumbled into his scarf. "You can walk behind the cart, if you prefer. Since you like a brisk stroll so much. It's only another... two or three miles. Uphill. And up to you."

            Finally, her shoulders sagging, she conceded, "I suppose I must trust you." But after he had deposited the carpet bag into his cart and turned the horse with one gentle hand on its bridle, she warned him, "I know all the places to wound a man."

            "Why am I not surprised at that?" he murmured to his horse, giving its neck a reassuring pat.

            "Pardon me?"

            Adam turned back to her and sniffed, wiping the back of his hand across his nose. "I daresay that comes in handy."           

            She replied proudly, "It does."

            "Well, you ought to be safe with me then, eh?" He put out his hand to help her up. "Even if the same can't be said for me. With you."
            After another wary perusal of his face— or the parts of it she could see— the woman took his hand, muttered a soft, "Right then," and stepped up onto the cart.

* * * *

Slowly Fell is out today! Get your copy!
* * * *


(image used here is from the painting "Girl with a Cape" by William Adolphe Bouguereau)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Character Showcase - Marguerite Wilding

In my new release Slowly Fell, Marguerite Wilding is the mysterious, reclusive old woman who lives in a grand, ancient house on the edge of the village, overlooking a large pond. She is the last in a long, long line of Wilding women, who have all scandalously elected to remain without the encumbrance of marriage and to bear their children -- all daughters-- out of wedlock.

They get away with it in this small, rural village because nobody wants to question the Wildings for fear of what might happen. They are, after all, supposedly witches and their ancestor, more than two hundred years ago, is said to have put a curse on the village of Slowly Fell. Nobody knows who will end up drowned in that pond next, or whose body will never be found. Odd things have happened in the past two hundred years and many folk have disappeared without trace. Superstition is rife in Slowly Fell and folk there don't like to make waves. As long as Marguerite stays in her house and is left alone, they all feel safer.

Marguerite is now in her seventies ( it is believed, for nobody knows for sure how old she is) and she confines her life to the upper floor of the house, from where she can look down on her property, spy upon any intruders and keep watch over the deadly pond, which has claimed members of her own family, as well as people from the village.  She keeps a cook, a maid and a very old gardener, but refuses to let anybody else into her house. She never comes out of her room on the upper floor and her meals are served by way of a pulley device that moves trays up and down through a cupboard (an early version of what would later be called a "Dumb Waiter").

She has lived this solitary existence for a number of years, while the rest of the house rots around her.
But now, quite suddenly, she has decided to hire a handyman. Her gardener is not able to get about very well any longer and she requires a younger, stronger man. For this service she calls upon the village blacksmith, Adam Wyatt. And he is the only one who will do. When he's summoned to her house, "Slowly Rising," to mend the broken pulley system, Adam realizes he ought to try and keep her as a customer, since she has plenty of coin and seems willing to pay promptly. But why has she chosen him? And why is she opening her house to a man again for the first time in many years?

The cook laughingly suggests that Marguerite has her eye on Adam for services beyond fixing the house.

"She's the last of 'em left now, after the last tragedy with her daughter and the little grandkiddy. Mark my words, that's why she wants you around now. Hope you're up to it after all these years of never putting that to good use. Make a sport out of avoiding any woman who flashes her ankles, don't you, Wyatt? Though I don't know why they bother. You won't avoid the mistress, lad, not if she wants you badly enough. She'll be brewing a potion to make your parts stand to attention. For all you know she could have put some in your cup already."
But Adam knows that would be impossible. Marguerite is much too old for that sort of thing. Even if her gaze does follow him about the room through that thick veil she wears.

Adam isn't the sort of man to believe in curses and witchcraft, so he will answer her summons, do the work for her and collect his fee, minding his own business as usual. What can the frail old woman do to him in any case?

* * * *

(Excerpt below from Slowy Fell)

            Standing in the center of the room, she was a figure colored in two halves—on one side dipped in the cool blue shades of a crisp winter's afternoon, and on the other dusty with grey shadow. As usual she wore a heavy robe of turquoise and gold taffeta brocade with a dark fur trim on the inside— very lavish with big sleeves and hooks that ran the length of the front. The cook referred to it as a Muscovy gown, although since none of them had ever been to such a place he supposed the mistress had told her it was called that.
  Finishing her dress, she wore the familiar black lace veil that hung over her face and curved around her shoulders with a beaded, scalloped edge. It reminded Adam of the thick cobwebs strung about the beams below, and in a rare moment of fancy he wondered if those same spiders had spun the veil for her, repairing it over the years. She was never seen without it.
            "Vanity," the cook had sneered about that veil. "She doesn't like anybody to see how wrinkled she is, I daresay. She was once a beauty, you know. It's always hardest on those with the good looks in youth— to be old, I mean. The rest of us just get on with it."
            Nobody knew for sure how old the mistress was, but everything about Marguerite Wilding belonged to another century. Sometimes it seemed to Adam as if she was acting a part, keeping up appearances and maintaining the Wilding mystique that was meant to keep folk at bay. To keep them all in fear of reactivating a centuries-old curse.
            "Oh, Wyatt, I almost forgot. The sash window here won't stay up when I open it."
            Adam set his hat on the console table and reluctantly stepped further into the parlor. Marguerite moved aside and watched from behind as he reached up to investigate the troublesome window. Again he felt her demanding gaze, this time traveling across his back and shoulders, tickling up along his arms. Then all the way down again.
            A slab of meat on a butcher's cart could not have been assessed more thoroughly and greedily. Adam began to fear that saucy-tongued cook might be right about her mistress. But that would be ridiculous. Marguerite Wilding had to be seventy at least, for she was a young woman when his own father was a babe in swaddling.
            "Still no wife in your thoughts, Wyatt?" she inquired abruptly.
            "No, madam. Too set in my ways now. Happy just as I am." He stepped back, tripping over the edge of a frayed carpet. "Needs new weights, madam."
            "Hmm? What does?"
            "Window." He pointed at it. "To hold it open. I'll bring tools to fix it when next I come." He backed toward the door, looking for his hat.
            "I must wait then," she snapped, as if she never waited for anything.
            "The weather is cold, madam, you surely won't need to open this window for now."
            "Fresh air," she grumbled wistfully. "Sometimes... I long to feel it again. Now I am a prisoner of this place, I miss the smallest of pleasures I once took for granted."
            "You could go outside once in a while, madam. Walk about the grounds and—"
             "I have not been outside this house in a great many years, Wyatt."
            "Precisely, madam. 'Tis no wonder you want fresh air, cooped up in these few stale rooms."
            "Stale? In these rooms I am safe." She waved her stick. "I have all these comforts around me. I am exceeding fortunate. Just because I sometimes miss a fresh breeze across my face, does not mean I intend to go out there where dangers await." She shook her head and the veil trembled. "The pond awaits."
* * * *
And the "pond" awaits you too...
So pick up your copy of Slowly Fell HERE before Marguerite sees you creeping around her house!

(Photo included is of The Yeoman's House in the little hamlet of Bignor, West Sussex, England. You can actually rent it to stay in. The building is a well preserved medieval "hall" house and serves here as an example of what Marguerite's house could have looked like. Painting is The Lady in the Veil by Alexander Roslin 1768)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Character Showcase - Sir Melchior Bramley

Known in his wife's memory simply as "Bram", Sir Melchior was the much beloved husband of Elizabeth, Lady Bramley -- a character readers will remember from my "Ladies Most Unlikely" series (And she is honored with TWO character showcases here on my blog already.) Bram is, in fact, dead for most of the story, but you will get to meet him through her memories and musings, and I find him to be a very strong character, so I think he deserves a showcase of his own.

In my new release, Slowly Fell, Elizabeth Bramley (nee Thrasher) spends some time reminiscing about her youth, courtship and marriage. We get to see a little insight into how the adult Lady Bramley was formed (but no, she is NOT getting a third showcase, even if she feels she should have another!) and through her we get to learn about Bram.

Now, a widow for twelve years, Elizabeth finds herself having conversations with her husband as if he never went anywhere, although, at the same time, she is feeling his loss greatly. He is the one and only person she would ever listen to, of course, and she knows exactly what he would say to her on every occasion and every subject, so its easy to imagine he's at her side, even when she knows he really isn't.

If only he was.

* * * *
(Excerpt below from Slowly Fell)

            "I do wish you were here, my darling."

            I am, Betsy. I'll always be here. I never left.

            She realized now that by going there— to the place he most loved— she'd hoped to find him closer, a more substantial spirit. She was chasing her husband's ghost.

            But he had always been such a vibrant man that there was nothing wispy or ethereal about the presence she felt here. Oh, it was a mischievous spirit, of course, but sturdy, touching all the senses as she let her memories play out around the room.

            There he was— as a young man, full of hopes and expectations. Fearless. Shining. Indefatigable.

            Melchior Bramley was the fifth son of a baronet and so nobody had expected him to inherit. He had run wild for much of his youth and would, despite his father's opposition to the idea, have been content as a blacksmith, a carpenter or a farmer— anything to work with his hands. But then he and his elder brothers went away to war and, much to his father's "unpleasant surprise" — as Bram described it cheerfully— he was the only one of the five to return alive. He was thus left with the baronetcy, the family estate to manage and all the attached responsibilities.

            A clever man, shrewd and quick-witted, he had been born with a certain ability to see through nonsense, and although a part of the titled class, he did not think much of airs and graces. Expelled from Eton when he was twelve, he had begged his father to let him attend a local grammar school instead, from where he studied his way to a university education.

            Sometimes Elizabeth thought her husband simply liked to do things the hard way, to satisfy himself that he could. He certainly did not approve of undeserved, unearned advantages being given out. Despising laziness and being a hard-worker himself, he also enjoyed his chance to play when the occasion arose. Indeed, he enjoyed his life to the fullest. With his last gasp he had made her vow to, "Live every day, Betsy my love. Live it with all your heart."

* * * *

Lately, Elizabeth has been haunted by a confession that "Bram" once shared with her, just prior to their engagement. It is a secret she has kept to herself all these years and although, for much of that time, she has struggled internally with it, Elizabeth knows that the moment he shared this confession with her, is when she realized how deeply she had fallen in love with him. Because it was too late for her to back away. She loved him, sins and all.

But Bram mentioned his secret to her only that once and never spoke of it again. Not to her. In subsequent years had he been waiting for her to raise the subject, or had he hoped to bury it forever?

There were items he kept in his library  -- items about which Elizabeth never dared ask. One was an amateur painting of Slowly Fell, a village ten miles from the Bramley country estate. The other was a pair of thumbscrews. Both these curiosities always made her shudder and she was glad when her eldest son inherited the house and moved them elsewhere, out of sight.

But they were never out of mind. Like Bram himself.

Now, the Dowager Lady Bramley has a feeling that her husband wants her to put that painting and the thumbscrews back where they belong. To do this Elizabeth must venture to the village of Slowly Fell, where that certain secret about her husband's past is lying in wait. His ghost has very subtly been leading her in that direction and Melchior Bramley is a persistent fellow.

He won't rest and she can't set either of them free of the past until she's done what he wants. But he won't make it easy for her. He loves his riddles, his practical jokes and his mysteries!

* * * *

(Excerpt below from Slowly Fell)

            Christmas used to be Bram's favorite time of year, when he enjoyed lively society with an intimate group of very good, very dear friends. And he loved to tell mysteries, gathering them all around him to hear a tale of which he would later say, "What do you think of that then?"

            His recipe for a good party was simple: "A cozy gathering with a few merry souls, and plenty of beef and ale, is the best sort of company," he would exclaim. "One in which I need not mind what I say, and if I want to put my boot heels up, I bloody well can."

            Actually, she had never known him worry about what other people thought of him in any case. Marriage to Elizabeth had somewhat tempered his bad habits and necessitated a little extra polish on his boots, but he still put those heels up, without qualm, wherever and whenever he wanted.

            She pictured him, now, sitting in his chair at the far end of the table, telling one of his infamously ribald tales, laughing loudly and with such gusto along the way that he could barely finish. His laughter was so infectious that he would start everybody at the table rocking with helpless chuckles, even though they could no longer understand a word he tried to say and had long since lost the thread of his story.

            Suddenly she heard his voice in her ear. "What's all this then? No good sitting around here all alone and feeling sorry for yourself, Betsy."

            She closed her eyes and felt the dampness under her lashes.

            Nobody had called her "Betsy" since Bram died. She was "my lady", "your ladyship" or "Dowager Lady Bramley." She was an aunt and a mother and a rather fearsome grandmama. But she was nobody's wife anymore, nobody's lover, nobody's passion. There were many rooms inside the life of a woman, but several doors inside her mansion had now closed, shutting down entire wings of the building. In truth, she suspected there was not a soul left wandering her metaphorical corridors who even remembered her name was Elizabeth. They would certainly never think of her as "Betsy".
            When Bram died he took that name and that young girl with him.

* * * *

But no, Lady Bramley is NOT getting another showcase, so she can stop right there with this excerpt. If you want to read more, you can find Slowly Fell here.

Thanks for reading!

(Image used here: Gentleman on a Bay Horse, by Charles Towne 1815)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Character Showcase: Adam Wyatt

Adam is the blacksmith of Slowly Fell -- the most recent in a long line of Wyatt men to hold that post. His father died five years ago, so now he runs the village forge with the help of an apprentice.
Adam is a busy man, somber and hard-working. He keeps his head down, minds his own business, and prefers other people to do the same. He's not a man of many words, so when Sarah Wetherby arrives in Slowly Fell and starts chatting to him, as if she's known him forever, he finds it all most perturbing. Even worse -- she has an inquiring mind and she's clever. When Adam finds himself wanting to impress her, he realizes he's in trouble.

For a long time the surly blacksmith has avoided the company of women. He has no close female relatives (his mother died soon after he was born) and he sees most other women as busy-bodies who want to invade his life, spoil his routine and cause him endless headaches. For him, women are strange creatures, dangerous to a man's peace of mind and best kept at arm's length. He's had enough tragedy in his thirty years and he's not looking for more grief.

"Women saw things differently and his father had warned him that females were often competitive with each other, especially when they felt threatened in some way. That was another reason why Adam kept to himself and showed no particular interest in any woman. He did not want to be the cause of anybody getting scratched in the face and having their hair pulled out. Or being accused of witchcraft.

            There was less of that about these days, but it could return. Old habits die hard and folk don't change that much."

However, Adam is soon drawn to the new woman in Slowly Fell and can't seem to stop himself from caring about her, seeking out her company, and speaking up for her against the village gossips. There's definitely something about Miss Wetherby that has captured his attention. But he knows little of courtship and fears he's too clumsy and rusty. Beside her he feels enormous and awkward, a great foolish oaf, uneducated and uncouth.

But Sarah Wetherby keeps following him about, smiling and being friendly. Of all the ghastly things! What can she possibly see in him? Apparently she can't be put off, so he's just going to have to deal with her. Somehow.

* * * *
(Excerpt below from Slowly Fell: A Tale of Love and Thumbscrews)
Cold air nipped at the flesh of his face visible above his collar and below his hat, but if not for that bitter pinch keeping him awake he would have nodded off long since.
            Again his stomach growled.
            All this trouble for a bloody woman who couldn't arrive when she was supposed to. He was still confused as to who she was, what she was, and why she was coming there. The vicar had asked him to fetch her— said that she had been sent by the Dowager Lady Bramley, widowed mother of Sir Mandrake Bramley, the local squire— but apart from that he had imparted no further information and seemed almost shy and sorry to mention it.
            Adam Wyatt, however, asked for no explanation. He was a discreet, private fellow, never poked his nose into the business of other folk. Perhaps that was why he'd been chosen to fetch the woman. So now, here he was, with no breakfast warming his innards, making this trip to the old oak for the third time and in hope of the mail coach finally arriving. It was well past due now, but that was not unusual in bad weather.
            He opened his eyes and, this time, there she was. At last. He blinked thrice, to be sure. Yes, with each renewed squint the figure grew from a speck to a blob to a human shape. Apparently formed out of the snowy slush and that marbled expanse of awakening winter sky, she stumbled along, clutching a carpet bag and looking exceedingly windblown. It had to be the woman he was sent to find. Who else would be out in this cold, on foot and alone? The relief of finally seeing her there lifted his cloud a little. But not far. Adam was a cautious man with most people, especially those of the puzzling female gender. Preferred animals in general.
            She looked cold and weary. Just about all in. But as she stopped on the verge and awaited his approach, the woman made an evident attempt to appear less crumpled, straightening her shoulders, blowing out several foggy breaths, and slyly scraping her boot heels on the stile behind her. He wondered why she bothered. Adam would never worry about his appearance for anybody. They could take him as they found him. Or not. Up to them.
            That thing on her head was not very practical for winter, he mused grimly. The last time he saw a colorful contraption like that was at the May Day parade on the common. If this one was a dainty lass she'd come to the wrong place.
            As his horse drew alongside the woman, he called out to her, "Mrs. Wetherby, is it?"
            Her cheeks were tinged purple with cold, and her breath a brittle spider's web, spun through the frigid air as she exhaled a sigh. "Miss," she corrected with her nose in the air. "Miss Wetherby."
            The mystery deepened. An unmarried woman traveling alone, and proud of it? What would the vicar want with an unwed, young lass, who was not, apparently, a relative?
            "Should have stayed at the oak, where the coach left you, as was arranged," he muttered. "What if I came along this road and missed you? Could have frozen out here if nobody else came by." It was not like him to speak so much in one turn, especially to a strange female, but his temper was unsettled and he really had no time for folk who strayed from where they were put or couldn't follow a simple command for their own good.
            "Well, I could have frozen just the same if I stayed there waiting." She managed something like a smile, although it must have taken great effort to curve her cold lips upward at the corners. "If I must meet my end I should rather do so fighting. Besides, after being cramped up so long it was good to move my legs again. I don't mind the exercise of a brisk stroll."
            Brisk stroll? It was nearly two miles to that spot from the oak where the mail coach stopped.
            As if she read his expression, the woman shrugged. "If I've somewhere to be and something to do, I don't like to hang about."
            Was that a poke at him? Did the blasted creature dare accuse him of being late?
            "Came along here twice last evening to fetch you," he growled, in a voice that would send most women scurrying in another direction, head bowed and hands clasped around their skirts.
            "Yes, the mail coach was late, unfortunately," she replied evenly. "I'm sorry you were inconvenienced too." Apparently she was not "most" women. There was nothing bowed about her and no trepidation in her expression.
            He took another look at her, beyond the first doubting, hasty glance.
* * * *

If you want to find out more about Adam and Sarah, don't forget to grab your copy of Slowly Fell this Wednesday the 24th. Available now for pre-order here !

Thanks for reading!

(Images used here: "Blacksmith" by Edward Henry Potthast, and a photo of the blacksmith's forge where my own father -- a teenager at the time(before that word was invented) -- worked as an apprentice.)