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

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Character Showcase - Daisy and Ruby Mallard

Well, aren't we just having a very chilly and snowy January? Fortunately, my new release SLOWLY FELL is on its way to cheer you up next Wednesday the 24th.

The first character showcase for this book is being shared today by two sisters - Daisy and Ruby Mallard -  household servants with a dark secret.

Daisy, the elder sister, is the stillroom maid on the Bramley estate where the Mallard family have lived and worked for generations. She is a quiet, shy, hardworking, conscientious young woman who, amongst other duties, makes excellent jam and marmalade from the bounty of the estate. (For an image of Daisy I pictured the character of Dorothy, played by the lovely actress Sophie Thompson in Gosford Park -- a little nervous, devoted, never wanting to draw much attention to herself.) But lately Daisy's work has begun to suffer, because there is something preying on her mind, and Lady Bramley -- who has noted the lapsed quality of her preserves -- means to find out exactly what's going on. There must be more to Daisy's strange behavior than that pair of too-tight, expensive kidskin boots  she's suddenly taken to wearing.

Lady Bramley soon discovers that Daisy's anxiety stems from the antics of her younger sister Ruby - a much livelier and more restless girl, who left the Bramley estate some month ago to work at a very old, mysterious house in Slowly Fell. And who hasn't been seen or heard from since.

Daisy is certain that her sister has been carried off by witches. After all, everybody knows about the curse on Slowly Fell and the macabre history of the Wilding family for whom Ruby went to work. Could it be that Ruby's rebellious temperament has got her in trouble one time too many?

Lady Bramley must get to the bottom of Ruby's disappearance -- not only because she was responsible for writing a reference for the girl and finding her the new place, but also because she doesn't want her breakfast to suffer any worse depreciation in quality, and its clear Daisy can't concentrate on her work until she knows what happened to her sister. Lady Bramley might only be the dowager now and no longer mistress of the house, but she still considers the staff her responsibility and she won't let anything bad happen to a girl in her charge. Or to her strawberry jam.

The life of a household maid in England during the Regency period was one of constant toil. Of course, in the hierarchy of servants, there were different maids with different duties, some of them slightly more appealing, but --in a time before electricity--all of them back-breaking and endless. At the bottom of the rung came the scullery maids and laundry maids, while at the top sat the housekeeper, who may have, long before, started at the very bottom of the ladder and worked her way up. A stillroom maid was one of the most coveted positions in the house and not far beneath a housekeeper. They distilled perfumes and herbal waters, concocted medicines and soap, mixed spices, dried flowers and made candles. On many estates a housekeeper was the stillroom maid too. At the Bramley estate -- which is vast -- they employ a separate, dedicated stillroom maid in Daisy Mallard. She is, therefore, one of the topmost  servants on the staff. Perhaps this has rankled slightly with her younger sister, who is ambitious but sees that at the Bramley estate there are too  many talented, hard-working and loyal servants ahead of her to make much room for advancement. Out on her own, in another house, it's likely she hoped to escape her sister's shadow and make something better of herself. Perhaps.

Moving from a large, efficiently run, well-staffed estate to a smaller house with only three servants and a very demanding mistress, Ruby certainly finds herself noticed more often. But that's not quite such a good thing as she always imagined it to be.

So where is she now? Is Ruby Mallard at the bottom of the village pond, along with all the other lost souls that wandered in and were never found again? Has she been spirited away by the Wilding witches of Slowly Fell? Or has she -- as the cook suggests -- run off with a young man, who lured her with seductive promises of a better life?

Looks like you'll have to read Slowly Fell to find out!


(Images used above: Sweeping the Feathers, by Victor Gabriel Gilbert 1847-1933; Young Woman Ironing, by Louis Lepold Boilly 1761-1845; and a regency kitchen illustration  from Google images)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Coming January 24th!

Do you believe in witches?

 Adam Wyatt will tell you that he certainly doesn't believe. He's the solemn, sensible blacksmith of Slowly Fell and he keeps his distance from females entirely for his own tranquility of mind, not out of any fear of mischievous magic. In his opinion, the great number of souls lost forever to the village pond can be blamed on carelessness and unlucky accident; nothing to do with a witches curse.

The Dowager Lady Bramley, widow of the local squire, also denies a belief in witchcraft. Or ghosts. Although she's lately enjoyed long discussions with her dear departed husband, who is intent on luring her to Slowly Fell, a place that haunts her dreams— a village with a macabre history, and a connection to her family that she would rather not remember.

Admiral Wetherby did not believe in witches either, until madness caused him to burn down his house and all his possessions, sending himself up in smoke with it. And now his daughter, practical, level-headed survivor, Sarah Wetherby, arriving in Slowly Fell to look after the vicar's sick wife, doesn't know what to think about witches. She is not a young woman prone to fanciful ideas, but she loves a good mystery, and there is certainly something going on in Slowly Fell. Sarah has begun to suspect that she's lived here before. Certain sights around the village are familiar— the house where a reclusive old woman resides in grand, but lonely splendor; the pond where a family of accused witches once met their deaths in the ducking-stool, and even the gruff manners of that handsome, bachelor blacksmith seem to her familiar as old friends. Or something more.

But in Slowly Fell, nothing and nobody is quite what they seem.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a sparkly New Year!

As the end of another year rolls around, I just wanted to stop a moment and thank all my lovely readers for taking the time to get to know my work over the past few years, and supporting my efforts with reviews, sweet emails and even cards. I never thought, when I first set out to be a published writer, that I would have this much success -- or have this many books under my belt. Back then I only wanted to write one story, and for a long time it seemed as if I would never manage to get it published. The distance I've come as a writer since then is truly incredible and I have your encouragement to thank for it.

Writing is something I love very much. Since 2015 it has gone from being a pleasurable pastime squeezed -- with difficulty -- in between office hours, to a wonderful full-time job that I wake up, every day, feeling excited about. To know that my work brings amusement and joy to strangers is really the icing on the cake. But everybody knows that cake without icing really isn't cake at all!

So please keep reading and reviewing. I'm a shy sort, but you can contact me on this blog or on my Facebook page. I am also on Goodreads now. Questions and comments are always welcome.

This year I released four full-length books: Damon Undone; The Peculiar Folly of Long-Legged MegThe Bounce in the Captain's Boots, and The Mutinous Contemplations of Gemma Groot. At least two of those publications weren't planned, or part of any series, but just popped out of my head and insisted on being told. So that put my schedule a bit off kilter and, consequently, a couple of books I had planned to write this year got set aside to make room for the bossy intruders. Next year I hope to make it up to those characters who had their debuts delayed -- including the next story in The Deverells saga.

But first off the noggin this year will be Slowly Fell - A Tale of Love and Thumbscrews. It is not part of any series yet written, but there is a character you will recognize and, hopefully, be pleased to see again. (I have a habit of not quite being able to let go of my characters, so they tend to re-emerge just where you and I least expect them.) Slowly Fell contains several different love stories, so there should be plenty of romance for those who look for it, but you will also find mystery, family shenanigans, widdershins and more than the usual mayhem. Throw in a few rides on a ducking stool, a two-hundred year old woman who may or may not be dead; a still-room maid with a guilty secret and some suspiciously shiny, new boots; an unsociable blacksmith with an unexpected inheritance; a baronet's widow who cannot resist meddling, and a young woman who sleeps in the almery every night, just in case there is anybody looking to murder her again -- and you have some idea of what to expect. Suffice to say, nobody and nothing in Slowly Fell, is quite what they seem.

You have been warned.

So, I'll see you in the new year with an excerpt or two, and some character showcases -- and any other news that I have to share. In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday season with your family and friends -- relax, unwind with a glass of wine (or two) and, when you have a quiet moment among the festivities, sit back, put your feet up and enjoy a good book. It doesn't even have to be one of mine!

Happy Holidays!


Saturday, November 25, 2017

It's all fun and games until somebody gets chopped up and put in the pies

In "The Mutinous Contemplations of Gemma Groot" the strong bond of sisterhood plays an important role. At the root of the story - and the mystery entailed within it - there are two sisters, Alonza and Venetia. One is destined to become a gruesome legend and the other will spend fourteen years trying live it down, before finally realizing that there is no such thing in life as "ordinary", that everybody has dark secrets, and that forcing a square peg into a round hole will only result in pieces being broken off.

The sisters' relationship and the love that ties them together, even when they would both occasionally like to be free of each other, is at the heart of events that soon become tangled as thickly and treacherously as the brambles overtaking the shrubbery that lies between their houses.

Children of Italian immigrants, but born in England, they grew up struggling to maintain their family's traditions and sense of pride, whilst also melding with the staid British way of life in a small market town (Withering Gibbet) where all their neighbors know -- or think they know-- each other's business. They are taught by their parents not to stand out, to be proper at all times, yet they are two girls with passionate tempers and very different ways of looking at life. While one sister would never think to disobey their parents, the other cannot seem to obey anybody at all.
Alonza, as the capable eldest daughter, is expected by her parents to always look after Venetia, who they consider "flighty". But neither girl really wants the roles into which they were put.

For Alonza, keeping up appearances is often the driving force that steers her through life. She likes to say that she is not romantic, but practical -- and that somebody has to be. As the first-born daughter, that burden fell to her. The need to seem "ordinary" is important to her peace of mind, but the harder she fights to achieve this, the further events often disintegrate into chaos. A tireless optimist with a terrifyingly strong will-- and called "The Queen of Desperate Measures" by her daughter -- Alonza tries to do her duty, but keeping Venetia safe and out of trouble proves to be something that even she, the parentally-appointed caretaker and fixer of  problems, cannot guarantee. She finds that the harder she tries to hold on, the more chance there is of everything melting away through her fingers. It doesn't stop her fighting, though, to get things done. Bruised and scratched by the tribulations of life, with her hair pins often adrift, she forges onward in her quest to assure everybody else that the Groots are just as normal as they are, even if they did have an axe murderess in the family.

As a child, and as a woman, Alonza has done everything that was expected of her -- even married the man her mother selected as suitable. Now if only other folk in her family would behave the same way...

Venetia, the younger sister, refuses to conform with those expectations. She does not fight out loud against them, however. Instead, leaving her noisier elder sister, gesticulating and screaming in frustration, Venetia calmly and simply goes her own way with a pleasant smile on her face. Much to Alonza's irritation, her sister appears to drift selfishly through life without any of the concerns and responsibilities that she has been forced to undertake. For many years Venetia, who talks to fairies in her garden, wears impractically pretty gowns and expensive face powder imported from Paris, and calls cauliflower "ogre's brains", gets away with being an independent spirit. Until she takes her rebellion just a step too far.

Oh yes, it's all fun and games until somebody gets chopped up and baked into the meat pies.

Both sisters, in the end, make great sacrifices for each other and for those they love. And, after a certain dramatic and bloody event in October of 1882, they finally begin to understand each other -- not only to be sisters, but friends too.

For much of their life together, Venetia pulls determinedly away from her sister's attempts to look after her. She pulls away just as ferociously as Alonza tries to hold her back. In her eyes this is her elder sister trying to manage her. Perhaps, only as the axe swings, does she realize that it was really all about love.

You can read more about Alonza Groot and Venetia Warboys in THE MUTINOUS CONTEMPLATIONS OF GEMMA GROOT. Find it HERE.

Thank you for reading!

(Images used here: photo of unknown Victorian sisters, and two paintings by Julius Cyrille Cave - Day Dreams (Alonza) and Plasirs des Champs (Venetia).)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Exclusive Excerpt

Today I'm sharing an excerpt from my next release THE MUTINOUS CONTEMPLATIONS OF GEMMA GROOT. Enjoy!

* * * *

            Gemma took the tray of shaving things and hurried out. Her face felt unusually warm, and she could not get Raffendon's words out of her mind.
            We have something in common then after all, Miss G. Groot. It seems we're both in need of a little excitement.
            He wasn't in the least horrified to hear that the murderous Vengeful Venetia was her relative. The man didn't even blink, but let her continue running that sharp blade around his face.
            She took the tray through the kitchen and into the scullery. A little speck of Raffendon's blood remained on the razor's gleaming blade, and she lifted it to the lamp light.
            What would the gossips of Withering Gibbet— the vicar's wife included— have to say about Gemma Groot being asked to shave the face of a bachelor in her father's library? They would be shocked, of course, not only by the degree of questionable propriety, but by his bravery in letting her near him with a sharp blade.
            What a strange creature he was. But people thought that of her too, of course.
            There was a surreal air to the house this evening, she mused, and he'd brought it in with his laughter.
            Gemma placed the blade against her palm, took a deep breath, shut her eyes, and closed her hand around it. Oh, that she felt. She gasped, opened her hand and her eyes, and looked down at her own blood now mingled with his.
            Why had she done that? Who knew. Why did anybody ever do anything? Perhaps so that they could be sure they were alive. Sometimes pain was important. A reminder.
            Pain. She heard the scream of wood on stone, a long drawn out, shuddering howl. She saw flour flying through the air like snow. Blood, a bright red petal blossoming on a soft, gasping lip. Fat, red fingers squeezing around a slender wrist.
            Gemma dropped the razor and stared out through the small scullery window. The stars were out now, just visible, winking through the dusk. On this night, fourteen years ago, Venetia Warboys, a woman who could never bear the butchering of a pig, had calmly slaughtered her husband.
            Why did she think of the word "calmly"? She had no evidence of that. Must be thinking of the way her aunt had acted when she was arrested three days later— almost nonchalant, resigned to her fate. Even relieved. As if she were already dead, or dying, but she couldn't feel any pain.
            Of course, thought Gemma, they were all dying. From the moment they were born it was all downhill, heading inexorably for the grave. Well, that's a cheerful thought, she could hear her mother exclaim. But the daughter of an undertaker had more opportunity and cause to consider the brevity of life and certainty of death.
            Today new life had invaded their world, and for once it seemed to outweigh the other side of the scale. The balance had shifted.
            "I hear we've got a guest for dinner." It was Mrs. Cuttle, the cook, banging her pots around grumpily as usual. She came to the scullery door with a ladle in one hand, her face mottled pink from the heat of the fire, bristles of grey hair poking out of her white cap. "Another mouth to feed."
            "Yes, Mrs. Cuttle. Unless, of course, we eat him. He's nicely tenderized after his fall and should go well with some boiled potatoes." She couldn't help herself. These opportunities fell into her lap and it felt remiss of her not to make use of them. It was all the fault of that mischievous, dark sense of humor.
            Mrs. Cuttle, having eyed Gemma's bloody hand, went hastily back to her work.  The woman was, quite probably, the worst cook in Cambridgeshire, but they hired her because they had no other applicants for the post and Mrs. Groot liked to say, "We keep a cook". It made her feel slightly better than middle class, even if she could have cooked a more appealing meal herself.
            Gemma held the damp cloth to her cut palm and looked out at the evening's sky again.
            If she closed her eyes, she could hear Aunt Venetia whispering in her ear, as she did when they arrested her, "For these three, my most beloved."
            The words made no sense to her fourteen years ago. Even now she was at a loss, other than to realize that her aunt thought she deserved an explanation when nobody else did. Gemma had studied poetry, wondering if it was a quote that might lead her to a clue, but it was not. At least none from any book she'd yet read.
            For these three, my most beloved.      
            She remembered the flour on her aunt's gown. It stuck in Gemma's memory because it was unusual to see Venetia with any sort of mark or dirt about her person. She was always well dressed, not a hair out of place, and one never saw her without powder and rouge to cheer her complexion, despite her elder sister's disapproval of cosmetic artifice. But the first thought that came to young Gemma's mind, as she watched the police constable lead her aunt through the crowd at the county fair, was that Venetia must have made those pies in such a distracted hurry that she hadn't thought to put on the pinafore she usually wore when baking. Nor had she changed her frock before she carried her wares to the common on unsuspecting Bill Downing's cart.
            Later Gemma gleaned the full story from overheard snippets of gossip, and realized why her aunt had made that pastry in haste.
            The patches of flour clung to her blue skirt like frost, shimmering in the autumn sunlight as she passed.
            And then, seeing Gemma at the edge of the crowd, she had bent and whispered those words, "For these three, my most beloved."
             There was no sadness in her voice. It was breathlessly triumphant, as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. As if she'd done a good deed.
            The police constable marched her onward and as she turned her face away, her feet tripping over a tussock of grass, her straw hat fell. A stray curl of dark hair escaped its knot, possibly for the first time ever, and caught on the end of her smile.
            An inappropriate smile that made her guilt unquestionable in the eyes of most, even before she confessed.
            But Gemma wondered who decided exactly how somebody should act when they had just been accused of chopping up the pieces of their husband.  
            That was the last memory she had of Venetia: the dusting of flour on her smart, pale blue gown, and then, as she bent to whisper, the sunlight basting the side of her face to reveal a slight discoloration— a bruise— on her cheekbone, under her eye and not quite hidden by the 'Poudre de Riz' she always wore. Of course, there was nowhere in Withering Gibbet that sold fancy cosmetics, so she sent away for hers by post. A needless extravagance, according to her sister. The box said it came from Paris, by way of Marshall and Snelgrove on Oxford Street in London.
            And as the constable led her away and she bent to whisper, Venetia's aniseed breath blew soft against her niece's cheek, mingling with the remnants of cider and Cold Cream of Roses.
            Fourteen years had passed since then. Sometimes it felt longer; other times it could have been yesterday.
            Now, here came this man. Raffendon. Another puzzle. It seemed significant that he should fall out of the sky on the anniversary of Venetia's rampage.
            She glanced back over her shoulder, almost expecting to find him standing there, watching her. His eyes had a peculiar ability to make her feel as if they left her marked, the progress of their steady gaze caressing her with the strength and solidity of a warm, bold hand.
            But no, he was in the library still— a room he had requisitioned as his own domain this evening. Wretched, interfering, inconvenient man. Her father must be annoyed too, but he would say nothing about it, of course. After a good squeeze upon the ends of his moustache, Casper Groot would go on as if nothing different had happened and there was no handsome stranger billeted in his library.
            But something had happened. Something terrible and yet wonderful. The air was charged,
stirred and sizzling. As if a storm was on its way and he, Raffendon, brought it with him.
            "These apples are all maggoty," Mrs. Cuttle shouted suddenly from the kitchen. "How am I supposed to make a pie with these sorry things?"
            Gemma smiled at her reflection in the scullery window. "Find something else to put in it then. As my aunt used to say, the good thing about a pie is that anything can be put in it. Anything at all. She would know, I suppose."
            After a sharp intake of breath, the cook resumed grumbling under her breath about having to stretch the budget for another dinner guest without due notice, but she didn't dare complain out loud again.
            Gemma's mother would tell her to watch her tongue. "You're a wretched, gruesome young lady. It's no surprise you cannot get a husband."
            But really what was the point of having an infamous murderess in the family if she couldn't make the most of it?
            Just then her mother appeared in the kitchen, hands wringing, head twitching. "Do get upstairs and change your frock, Gemma."
            "What for? I didn't get any blood on it."
            Her mother's eyes widened as she sucked on her lips, before exclaiming impatiently, "Change into something livelier for dinner, for pity's sake."
            "For the nine hundredth time, I like black."
            "It's ghoulish! And that's another thing, young lady! Why would you tell our guest that she was your aunt? Had to blurt that out, didn't you?" 
            "Mother," she replied wearily, "he would find out sooner or later anyway." Gemma was certain that old nag, the vicar's wife, must be restless and whinnying in her stall waiting to be let out.
            Her mother took her by the arm and pulled her out of Mrs. Cuttle's hearing. "You always do this!" she hissed. "That's why none of Mrs. Fletchley's bachelors have stayed long."
            "It is only fair to them. Don't you think they have a right to know the truth?"
            "No, I do not. The truth never did anybody any good." Her mother looked flustered and felt for her cameo brooch. "Not that sort of truth. Not about that. And the less a man knows about anything the better. Venetia would agree with me on that score."
            "She never cared what anybody thought of her."
            "Of course she cared. Why do you think she kept that cottage so tidy? And dressed herself up with powder and rouge every time she went out, even if it was only to post a letter? Why do you think she had to win every competition with her jam and marmalade?"
            "But she always did what she wanted, no matter what other folk thought. Yes, she liked things to be pretty and in their place, and I suppose she liked to win, but that was for her own satisfaction, not the approval of others."
            "It seems you forget that she was my sister and I know how she really thought. Oh yes, I know...we knew each other better than anybody. Better than ourselves at times. Furthermore, she would want you well married and settled. She would never want that incident to spoil your future. It is the very last thing she wanted, you foolish girl. You think you know it all, but you don't. You don't understand why."
            The sentence ended, yet not in a natural way. The "why" was left hanging there as if something should come after...
            * * * *
Would you like to read more? Get your copy on Amazon US , Amazon UK , Twisted E-Publishing or any other online store!
Happy Reading!
Images: Top - "Girl with Straw Hat" by Renoir 1884. Middle - detail from "Autumn Leaves" by Millais 1855. Bottom - photo of two unknown Victorian sisters.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Coming November 15th!

The Mutinous Contemplations of Gemma Groot.

            Venetia Warboys, by most accounts, a mild-mannered, generous, church-going woman, had reached her thirty-fifth year with little out of the ordinary happening in her life. Until she decided, one evening, to rise from her neatly-laid dinner table, fetch an axe from the woodshed, chop her husband into pieces and bake his gristle into some pies.

            "That's the last time he'll criticize my pastry," she said calmly when apprehended in the act of selling her grisly wares.

            Although her husband had been an infamous philanderer— or as much of one as an oily, simpering blob of a man could be in a small, rural market town—nobody knew what had really happened, on that last day, to cause a deadly fissure in his wife's sanity. I was the only soul to whom she gave any clue, but the six words she once whispered into my ear left me, a girl of twelve at the time, with more questions than answers.

            Suffice to say, after Venetia's axe swinging rampage in the autumn of 1882, the men of Withering Gibbet took greater care of what they said and did to their wives. We had all learned some important lessons: everybody harbors dark truths; there is no such  thing as "ordinary", and never buy a savory pie at the county fair, especially when the contents are described as "revelation meat".

            For many years Venetia was our town's sole claim to infamy.

            And then there was me.

 * * * *

            So begins a story of silence and noise, secrets and lies, sisters and lovers, murder and redemption. Gemma Groot grows up in the long shadow cast by an old sin, but she is about to step out of the dark and shine the light on a few startling truths about her family. With the help of a man who falls out of the sky, she will finally discover the strength she needs to revisit the past and unleash the spirit of a wronged woman. 

            But will she find that some skeletons are better off left buried?
Find out on November 15th!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Halloween Sale!

From today, Friday October 13th to Halloween, you can pick up the e-book of PUMPYMUCKLES for only 99cents at all online retailers!

* * * *

Ever Greene was just six years-old when she vanished into thin air from the end of Cromer Pier.

Four months later, she reappeared, safe and sound, on the doorstep of her parents' house, more than eighty miles away. The child had no recollection of where she had been or with whom she had spent the time, but in her hand she clasped a silver and enamel brooch intricately fashioned in the image of a seahorse...

* * * *

Ever Greene's childhood was haunted by nightmares and plagued by mysterious events. Now, as a grown woman, she hopes to put all that behind her and lead a purposeful life. She answers an advertisement for the post of governess— a perfectly respectable position for the dignified Edwardian lady.

This attempt to lead an ordinary life seems destined for chaos, however, when she finds herself working for an extraordinary bachelor. Gabriel Hart wants her, not to teach those sweet-faced children she'd envisioned as her pupils, but to transform him into a proper gentleman. A task of no little undertaking and far from what she'd anticipated.

And then Ever’s troubled life takes an infinitely more disturbing turn when the monster she called Pumpymuckles, who once chased her through those childhood nightmares, now stalks her waking hours instead.

But Ever Greene isn't that little girl afraid of the dark anymore.

Indeed, the darkness should be afraid of her.


Happy Halloween!

(photo image above of Edwardian actress and singer Lily Elsie)