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

Be Warned: These are the scribblings of a writer unruly, unsupervised, and largely unrepentant
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Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Private Collection - Excerpt#3

The final excerpt I'm sharing with you this week is from Claudine's story about the third portrait in Randolph Blackwood's collection. Enjoy!


She sat on a Hepplewhite chair, her hands gathered in her lap, nodding occasionally, rarely smiling. The man with her did most of the talking, but she was evidently in charge of the fitting. The tailor fluttered around her with all the obsequiousness of the serpent around Eve.

Harry watched through the window for a few moments before he entered the shop. No one immediately came to serve him— too busy tending to the blonde and her young man at the back of the room. He’d meant to walk up to her, introduce himself and explain about the painting, but that idea fell by the wayside. His father’s solicitor had assured him Louisa Deveraux was dead. Was it possible some trick of the light had made this woman look like her?

“May I help you, sir?”

He turned, jumping slightly, scratching his unshaven chin. A short, bald fellow waited at his elbow, tape measure in hand, a haughty expression on his round face as he took in Harry’s crumpled traveling clothes and poor grooming.

“I— yes.” Harry realized the woman had looked over at him. “I need— an umbrella.”

“An umbrella, sir?”

“For this dreadful weather.”

“I’m afraid we don’t sell umbrellas, sir.”

She was still looking, something about him having caught her attention. Over the glass-fronted cabinets and through stiffly-posed wooden mannequins, their gazes caught and held. For a few seconds it seemed as if they were both entrapped by their own curiosity. She was more beautiful than her portrait. Her eyes were the same cool blue, but not so sad. They were alive, inquisitive, and intelligent.

“Perhaps a hat then,” he said, finally pulling his attention onward, his eyes skimming the shelves.

“Top hat, sir? Bowler, straw boater, tweed cap…?”

“Bring one of each and I’ll try them on.”

The bell attached to the shop door jingled again and a cool draft blew through the room. Almost at once, a high woman’s voice exclaimed, “Harry Blackwood, it is you! What are you doing in London?”

He cringed, lowering his chin into the collar of his coat. Rosamund Wakely had one of those unforgettable voices that could cut through a man’s head like a saw through butter. She also had an equally unforgettable, very large, flat pair of feet. It was almost twenty years since he was first obliged to partner her at a dance, but he still hadn’t fully recovered from the bruises. She and her tribe of equally unattractive, loud-voiced sisters grew up in a town not far from the village where he lived as a boy, and since there was a dire shortage of young girls whose families allowed them to run about after the Blackwood “spawn”, he’d had to take what he could get in those days. Thankfully, she’d quickly transferred her affections from him to his more handsome brother Luke, who barely noticed her existence. That unfulfilled passion kept her busy for a few years, until Luke went away to university and Rosamund went to live with relatives in London. The last he heard, she was married to a Lord something-or-other and had birthed a litter of four boys. All this he learned from his youngest brother, Adam, who lived and worked in London now, flourishing in his career as an architect and often coming into contact with faces from their past.

“I thought you lived up north somewhere,” Rosamund exclaimed, noisily clopping forward on her massive feet.

He finally turned to face her, feeling as if he had no more choice now than he did when he was seventeen and she first cornered him for a dance. “Roz. How nice to see you. Is the family well? Children…?” He rattled away, not even aware of what he said.

She began asking him about Luke. In the corner of his eye he saw the blonde woman stand and move slowly around a display of evening jackets on wooden forms, surreptitiously positioning herself closer.  

“I have a bone to pick with your brother,” Rosamund announced, poking him in the chest with one thuggish finger.

“Which one?” he muttered.

“Lucien, of course! The blighter promised to visit me the last time he was here, and then when he came, he shut himself up in some wretched museum and didn’t come out again.”

“That sounds like my brother.” Luke preferred books and dusty old antiquities to the company of people and usually avoided women entirely. And unlike Harry, he had no qualms about using the most monstrous lies to save himself from women like Roz.

“Claimed he caught some dreadful tropical disease while he was abroad, that all his hair and teeth had fallen out, his leg was gangrenous, and he couldn’t see anyone because he was virulently contagious. With worms.”

“Ah.”

“Is any of that true?”

He shrugged. “I— ”

The blonde moved closer, definitely listening, feigning interest in a stack of cloth samples, holding them up to the light of the window.

While most extremely fair-headed Englishwomen had ivory pale skin, hers was a soft shade of caramel, as if she belonged in a sunnier climate. She wasn’t a winter blonde like the woman in the portrait; she was all summer. When he looked at her, he could almost hear waves lapping alongside a swiftly moving vessel, hearty breezes puffing through thick canvas sails overhead. He smelled seaweed and salt, felt the sun on his face as if it was August, and he stood on the bow of a ship, staring out at the sapphire horizon, an endless expanse of heaven. For the second time that day he thought of his old pirate captain fantasy.

She was a treasure ship, a slender, flighty shape ahead of him, visible each time the sail billowed and arched.

“Well?” Roz prodded him again with her finger, bringing him back to this rainy day.

“The last time I saw Luke he didn’t have all his hair, but perhaps it grew back.”

“Grew back indeed! The man’s a rotten liar and terribly unsociable. He’ll die alone and miserable if he doesn’t get out more. What about you? Why aren’t you married yet?” She bellowed rudely in his face, “Didn’t your father just die? He must have left you plenty of money.”

The blonde turned her head slightly and he caught a twitch, a slight dimple that might herald a smile.

Harry replied, “Yes, Randolph just passed away.”

“After the life he led it’s a surprise he lasted as long as he did.”

“Quite.” He smiled, pulling on every inch of his patience, wishing Rosamund Wakely would just go away. Much the same sensation she’d given him all those years ago when he had no choice but to dance with her.

“You ought to be married,” she declared. “I don’t know why you haven’t found someone by now. You’ll be a lonely old man too.”

“I’m sure I’ll manage.”

“Don’t be flippant, Harry. You always were too flippant. You never took anything seriously, never gave any woman a chance to take you in hand. As for Lucien, he has the most deplorable manners and seems intent on playing the role of an eccentric recluse. Only Adam was ever sensible and even he can be distinctly odd at times. His fiancée, Matilda Hawkesworth, certainly has an uphill task taming him.”

Harry smirked. Aware that Adam was currently staying in the country at their father’s house, far away from London and his wealthy fiancée, but only a few convenient miles from the older woman he’d lusted after quite blatantly for the last five years, he very much doubted Miss Hawkesworth would ever succeed in taming his little brother.

“You’re getting old, you know, Harry. Soon won’t be fit for any woman and I only say that for your own good. Poor man.” She paused, tossed him a quick up and down appraisal, and then added, “Remember my sister Emily? Widowed again now. She’d be perfect for you— wouldn’t put up with your nonsense and all that gallivanting about. She soon squared her last husband away.”

“Directly into a grave it seems.”

“You can’t be a Casanova forever, you know. Time you settled down and came to heel. Where are you staying? Emily’s with me for a few weeks. I ought to get the two of you together. Emily was always rather fond of you in her silly way.”

Alarm shot through him like a bolt of lightning and he was struck dumb at the thought of the insipid, giggling Emily Wakely thrust down his throat over weak tea and scones in some stifling little parlor. If only he could be like Luke, think of some outrageous excuse and not be ashamed to use it.

And suddenly, on that grey, forbidding day, the sun came out. The blonde by the window swung around and said, “Harry, darling, do come and help me choose a pattern.”

He exhaled at last, and Roz Wakely rotated on her great flippers to look at the woman she apparently hadn’t noticed before.

“Hello, I’m Claudine Deveraux.” The stranger advanced gracefully, gloveless hand extended at the end of a long, slender arm. “I can see Harry hasn’t told you a thing about me. He can be so secretive.”

“Yes,” Roz replied. “He can, can’t he?” She stabbed Harry with a fierce scowl before returning her gaze to the other woman. “Where did he find you?” she demanded with her usual politesse.

The woman he now knew as Claudine smiled at him and said, “In his dreams.”

 * * * *

She just couldn’t help herself. The poor old fellow looked so beleaguered. It wasn’t like her to be soft, but something about his troubled, weathered face and rumpled curly head made her want to wrap him in warm scarves and feed him. She also took a quick dislike to the grasping woman who threw herself at him without mercy. Claudine had seen condescending women like this one before, so busy criticizing other people they paid no attention to their own behavior. This sort of woman was always scanning the room for a better prospect, a more advantageous connection, and trampling others to get there while actually pretending to be a benign, benevolent friend.

Claudine walked up to the man she knew only as Harry and patted his cheek, an improperly familiar gesture. “He does so hate to shop for new clothes, but it simply must be done.” Between thumb and forefinger, she squeezed his unshaven chin playfully, while he looked down at her with eyes the color of hot coffee. “Please do excuse us,” she tossed another smile over her shoulder at the gaping women. “Harry needs a fitting.” Linking her arm under his, she swept him away toward the back of the shop.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “I think.”

“Don’t mention it.”

They heard the little bell on the door ring again shortly afterward and knew the woman had gone out. Then she removed her arm from his.

“Have I ruined your reputation?” she said.

He gave a short, puzzled laugh. “I don’t think that’s possible. I’m a Blackwood. Haven’t you heard about us?”

Under all that rough stubble, he might almost be handsome, she supposed. For an old man. His teeth were very good, white and strong and all in their proper place. “Should I have?”

“Perhaps it’s better that you haven’t.” His eyes were darker now, almost black, but they were warm, thoughtful, appreciative. “And why would an association with you ruin my reputation?”

She decided not to answer that. Instead, she looked over at the front of the shop and decreed it safe for his retreat. “I do hope she isn’t waiting for you outside.”

“Perhaps you’d care to walk out with me? In case I need your protection again.”

She laughed. It couldn’t be helped. His sorrowful, puppy-dog expression was beyond even her sterling resistance. “I can walk with you as far as the corner, but then I’m afraid we must part ways, sir.”

“Must we? It seems a terrible shame. Our relationship began with so much promise.” He rubbed a hand over the stubble of his chin where she’d squeezed it earlier, and his eyes took on a new gleam, thoughtful, wily. There was a twitch in his jaw, the beginnings of a dangerous, artful smile.

Blackwood. She tried to remember if she’d ever heard the name before. She felt certain she should have, even if it was only as a warning...

Want to read more about the Blackwood brothers and their father's muses? Check out A Private Collection from all online booksellers and here.

(Painting above by Thomas Francis Dicksee)

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Private Collection - excerpt #2

From Daisy, the second portrait...


“Good afternoon, Mr. Carbury,” the young woman said firmly, proud chin up, hands behind her back.

Face red, mouth spitting ugly curses, the man swept out, his shoulder nudging Luke’s chest as he passed. The young woman followed, as did Luke, watching to be sure he left the hotel. They walked under the counter flap together.

“A charming fellow,” he observed.

“He’s persistent. I’ll say that for him. And as much charm as a grass snake. Thank you, by the way, although I was quite capable of managing Mr. Carbury myself. I’m not afraid, and I’m no china doll. Just because I wear petticoats doesn’t mean I can’t fight just as dirty as the rest of them.”

“No. Quite.”

“I’m used to sticking up for myself. But anyway, thanks all the same. I don’t suppose it’s your fault that you didn’t know I was very independent. You’re entitled to make the same mistake as most men when they see me. I’ll forgive you this once. Don’t make a habit of it.”

He bowed his head in reply to this rushed announcement.

“And who are you anyway?”

Before he could answer, the mouthy boy leapt forward and tugged on her skirt, eager to declare at the top of his lungs, “He’s here on a very important business matter with you, Miss Wellfleet. It’s a secret.”

The young woman now stared at Luke, steadily taking it all in. Under her boldly challenging regard, he began to wish he’d spared the time to shave that morning before he left his father’s house. His hair, he knew, must be a rumpled mess after falling asleep in the carriage, and his clothes were wrinkled. It was rare for Luke Blackwood to acknowledge the possibility of anything lacking in his appearance. Other folk’s opinions were of little consequence to him. Usually.

But there was nothing usual about the small woman currently treating him to a quick, thorough inspection. One might think she was six foot tall and looking him straight in the eye. She didn’t even blink. There was no cowering, no simpering, no insincerity.

He felt oddly adrift. He wasn’t sure he liked this new sensation.

“Miss Daisy Wellfleet?” Of course, he already knew who she was, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say. He would have recognized her at once from his father’s painting. Even with her clothes on. But she was still young, hadn’t changed much since she posed for the old devil. Luke had no idea when the painting was done, but it couldn’t have been as long ago as he’d previously assumed.  He’d expected a much older woman, perhaps even a dead one, and instead found this disturbingly lively creature. And that changed quite a lot of things, tumbled his thoughts in a disorderly muddle.

Why would a young, seemingly respectable, strong-willed, single woman like this take all her clothes off for his father?

He’d spent many hours staring at the painting since it first came into his possession. He knew every curve, every angle, every freckle. Intimately. In fact, he was more familiar with her naked body than he was with that of any woman he’d ever slept with, because he didn’t usually hang around long enough to study them. And now, as she stood before him, in the flesh and fully clothed, he was choked into stupid silence, like a mute beast humbled in the presence of a goddess.

His earlier foul mood melted away to a puddle of foolishness he hadn’t felt since he was twelve and forced, during some abysmal dance lesson, to hold a girl’s hand for the first time. Luke was never much of a conversationalist and avoided talking to women if at all possible. He preferred his own company to anyone else’s and valued his peace and tranquility to cultivating friendships. Many called him unsociable, even a recluse. He called himself wise and incredibly sane.

Today he made an effort, purely because he wanted to keep her in his company for as long as possible while he examined this strange effect she caused.

Bellis Perennis,” he muttered.

“What?”

“Daisy, in Latin.”

She looked skeptical. “Oh.”

“The name Daisy is actually a modification of day’s eye. Did you know that?”

“I can’t say I did.”

He scratched his head, trying to remember why he was there. Meanwhile, her gaze lost interest with him and turned to his battered trunk, reading the initials painted on the lid. Her eyes widened. “Oh! It’s you.”

You?

“I began to think you’d changed your mind,” she added, cheeks flushed under the light pattern of freckles. “You’re three days late. Your cousin’s letter said you’d be here Tuesday. I’d almost given up on you. Oh well, I suppose Friday is better than never. Even if it is Friday the thirteenth. Seems ominous, don’t you think?”

Tuesday? He suddenly had no idea what a Tuesday was. He didn’t even know his own name anymore as he stared down into her eyes and felt his body leaning forward.

“I thought you’d be walking with a cane,” she said, “or even pushed in a bath-chair. Your leg must have healed quickly. That’s good because I was wondering how you’d manage the stairs, and I thought I’d have to make you a bed in the office somehow until you could get about. So that’s sorted. Shall I show you up? I’ve had a room prepared for you since Tuesday, in case you could manage the stairs. Lucky, wasn’t it?”

She was short but beautifully made. He might even go so far as to call her exquisite. She had a heart-shaped, deceptively innocent face. Deceptive, he already knew, because she had at least one scandalous secret in her past. Hesitant, he glanced over at the package now resting by the counter. He’d come here to give her the painting inside the calico wrapper. It was one of his father’s last bequests, but Luke was already forgetting all that, forgetting his purpose there entirely.

He wanted to swim awhile longer in her eyes. They were large, summery pools of green gilded with a tint of copper. Her nose had a charming upward tilt and was speckled with a dusting of girlish freckles. How old was she? And what fool left this little bit of a thing in charge of a hotel?

“Are you all right?” she whispered. “Is it your head? Your cousin explained, of course.” She raised her small hand and touched his brow where he’d hit his head a few minutes earlier.  “I’m so sorry about what happened to you. It’s dreadful. They should have far better safety precautions in those mines. I’ve read about it. Only a little, but I try to find things in the newspaper to enlarge my knowledge. I think that’s important, don’t you? To learn about what’s going on in the world? Some people believe they’re all that matters, but the world is a much bigger place, isn’t it?”
Confused, more than a little distracted by her incredible eyes and those curling bronze lashes, not to mention the gentle touch of her cool fingers against his hot brow, Luke wasn’t sure what to say. The fact that she couldn’t possibly have expected him, evidently mistook him for someone else, was quickly dismissed in his mind as inconsequential.

Want to read more? A Private Collection by Jayne Fresina (three novellas in one) is available from all online bookstores and the publishers own site here.

Thank you for reading!

(Image above is from a painting by Victorian artist Frank Bernard Dicksee)

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Private Collection - excerpt #1

From the first portrait - Lina (Engraved)


April, 1888

It was a bright, dewy, spring day when she watched Randolph Blackwood die and saw Hell freeze over. Like any vision worth its salt, it took her by surprise.

Evangeline Phillips didn’t believe in fairy tales, pixies, witches, or ghosts. She was, in fact, a very level-headed woman, practical and never burdened by too many wistful ideas. It was, therefore, often a great irritation to her when she saw something that wasn’t there or hadn’t happened yet.

Whoever gave her this talent never bothered to leave instructions on what she should do with it, so most of the time she simply ignored the visions. Unless they told her which horse was about to win the three o’clock at Newmarket, of course. That was self-explanatory.

But the visions weren’t always convenient or useful. More often than not, they were trouble. This particular one pushing its way into her mind on an innocent Monday morning was surely a warning. In her garden flinging damp linens over the washing line, she was thinking about nothing in particular, generally minding her own business. And then she saw it happen.

Randolph was in a favorite old chair by his library fire, a book spread over his knee. Beside him a small table held a glass of port, a half-eaten slice of pork pie, a wedge of waxy cheese, and a dollop of his housekeeper’s pickle. The curtains were drawn and the gas lamps on as if he’d sat there since the night before. His head leaned against the scarred leather, his fine mane of pure white hair blowing very gently in a sly breeze through the open window. His lashes twitched, his lips cracked open to expel one last breath and then his long fingers, splayed over the arm of his chair, tightened into a claw, nails digging in as if they had one last task to fulfill. A task for his sons, no doubt. Everything he did was for them, he’d told her once. Intensely proud of all three sons, he never showed it, fearing it would make them weak.

Now it was too late. A new, deeper stillness settled over his face, only those snowy curls occasionally dancing against the leather chair back. The gas lamps puttered quietly and a coal fell in the hearth, tumbling with a soft crackle among the cinders of last night’s fire. Above it, a glass-domed skeleton clock with spinning brass balls whipped time onward, with no one to watch it, no one in the room to need it anymore. As she watched, a strange frost sparkled on the smooth glass dome. It sprouted sharp fingers that stretched across the face of the clock. The air in the room grew colder and thinner by the second.

The body of Randolph Blackwood wouldn’t be discovered for another few hours, but he was gone. Evangeline Phillips, with her eyes closed, felt the naughty little devil leave.

On his mantle, the glass dome cracked and ice spread through his walls.

The vision cleared and she was back in her garden, new grass rustling at her feet. Jade green shoots pierced the rich, dark earth; sprouting buds peppered every tree and bush, so pleased with themselves they couldn’t wait to burst open and show off. The air was fresh and vital, not yet too warm, but slightly heavy with damp and the sickly sweet perfume of blossom. It was a good day to learn of an old friend’s passing. Had it been rainy or overcast, it might have depressed her, but on this day, with rebirth all around, she didn’t mourn for Randolph.

In any case, residency in this world was temporary and she’d always suspected his spirit was an unwelcome squatter. That somehow he’d slipped into the world with one intention—to create havoc. He got away with as much as he could, before he was found out and sent back where he belonged.

Turning slowly, empty basket under one arm, she walked back across the lawn and then stopped, remembering.

The painting. What would happen to it now? A little spark of panic burned in her belly.

She was young and nervous when she posed for Randolph in nothing but her stockings and a hair wreath of orange blossoms, but she needed money and he had plenty of it. Mysterious wealth, gained, as many claimed, through illicit means. And Randolph could charm the bloomers off a nun.

She laughed. Slapping a hand over her mouth, she worried one of her neighbors might hear her amusing herself like a fool on a Monday morning washday. Giddy merriment certainly wasn’t something to which she often succumbed. Her first husband used to complain her American manners were too casual, too unguarded, and she laughed too much. Well, he soon broke her of the habit. In two years she went from her father’s pampered daughter and society belle to a penniless ghost, an unhappy wife, abandoned in a foreign country, all her youthful illusions shattered. She supposed, in some ways, he did her a favor, shook her out of her silly, romantic imaginings and made her grow up.

Her second husband, Dr. Eustace Phillips, was a somber fellow who married her, she suspected, because his mother had died and he couldn’t find a good housekeeper. Once again, laughter, if it ever came accidentally to her lips, was out of place, not wanted. As he would say in his grave, dreary tone, seeing so many sick and dying in his lifetime took the urge to jest out of him. Then she felt guilty for finding any amusement when he couldn’t partake of it. Her second husband could make her wilt with one disapproving glance until she no longer wanted to experience the smallest uplift of joy, in case it might prove her to be, in his eyes, a selfish wanton.

Today when she laughed her first instinct was to swallow it down, deny it. Then she remembered neither husband was there to chide her. She was alone and could do as she pleased.

Almost.

A woman living alone, an American no less, with two dead husbands to her credit and a talent for palm-reading was an easy target for gossip and speculation.  

Now Randolph, her one remaining true friend, was gone. His sons would descend like vultures to pick over their father’s belongings for anything of value.

Oh! She touched her warm cheek with a cold hand.

Adam.

He would see the painting, inevitably, and draw his own bitter conclusions. This was not good for her, not at all.

Randolph promised her that the portrait was for his private collection only, but what would happen now? His sons would have the house cleaned out in a matter of days. And if she went there to ask for one of their father’s paintings, they would want to know why. She couldn’t afford to buy it from them, which meant she must rely on their charity.

Charity? From one of Randolph’s self-centered, hard-hearted sons? She was kidding herself. Might as well stand in the way of a wild herd of stallions with the scent of blood in their nostrils.

And she couldn’t go there because then she would see Adam, the last man she ever wanted to see again.

Boy, she corrected herself hastily, not man, boy. After all she’d been through, she knew the difference. Once, she was young and merry and thought the world was her oyster. But that all ended the day she married a man she thought was in love with her, a man who wooed her with roses and lies, because he wanted her father’s money. Then reality slapped her hard in the face and knocked the mist out of her eyes.

If reality had not yet slapped Adam Blackwood, he was lucky. He’d been spoiled, but sooner or later he’d learn a person couldn’t have everything that caught his eye, every pretty thing he wanted. In any case, pretty things were deceptive.

Perhaps he wouldn’t recognize her in the portrait. After all, it was painted more than ten years ago and she hadn’t seen Adam in more than five.

She studied her lily-pale face in the window and watched a lock of her dark hair slyly unwinding from its respectable, braided knot.

Again, when she closed her eyes, she saw the threads of gleaming frost take possession of the glass clock dome on Randolph’s mantle, spread a glistening claw and shatter it.

Oh yes, it was a warning.

Lips set firm, she walked quickly into the cottage, her heartbeat so uneven she was almost dizzy. Inside it was cooler, the light dim. She set her basket down and made her way along the flagged stone passage to the parlor where a pack of Tarot cards waited face-down on the embroidered tablecloth. Somewhere a clock was ticking, but it couldn’t have been in her house for she hated the sound and never kept one near.

She stole a calming breath and spread the fingers of one hand.

Fate was irreversible. No one knew that better than she did. There was nothing she could do to stop it. She simply wasn’t sure she wanted to know what was coming.

Finally she picked up the cards and dealt them carefully.

It’ll be a cold day in Hell, Adam Blackwood, when I let you into my bed.”

And the conceited young cub had looked at her over one shoulder, his eyes very dark. “I daresay we’ll soon warm it up again.

Read more about the Blackwood Brothers and their father's muses in A PRIVATE COLLECTION, available here.

Jayne

(painting by Angelo Asti 1847-1903)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Faces from the Past

I've been thinking a lot lately about what inspires me and I realize that much of my story inspiration comes from art. I love to find my characters in portraits. There is something about a face staring solemnly out of the canvas that always gives me a bit of a shiver down the spine. I don't even need to know who the person is -- in fact it's probably better that I don't, as that takes away some of the lovely mystery.

I've always enjoyed art. I think my interest probably began when, as a child, I watched my eldest sister sketch faces with pencil on a large sheet of paper and I thought it was magic. How could somebody create something like that, just with their fingers and a bit of lead pencil? How did she make it look so real? I was thrilled and awestruck by her talent. And I still am.

Although I like landscapes too, I definitely gravitate the most toward portraits. Primarily, it's faces that draw me in. I could stand for hours looking at the paintings in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Indeed, two friends and I missed our train home once on a school trip because we spent so long wandering around the gallery, absorbed in all the faces. (Yes, we got home safely eventually, despite getting on the wrong tube train too at one point! - ah, the adventures of a misspent youth.) I tend to find photographic portraits less interesting than sketches or paintings - not sure why, but somehow a painting comes alive for me in ways that a photograph never does. An oil painting of a face - anonymous or famous  - seems to hold secrets, whisper ideas, and suggest a deeper emotion, a story begging to be told.

It's hard to choose a favourite artist, but two that come to mind immediately are Johannes Vermeer and Tamara De Lempicka - two very different styles, but both I find very calming and intriguing at the same time. (I loved the movie "Girl with a Pearl Earring", despite Colin Firth in that hideous, long, curly wig. In my humble opinion it's Scarlett Johansson's best film to date, apart from Lost in Translation -- but I digress)
 
I suppose it must be this fascination with portraits (and faces) that inspired, in part, my Victorian trilogy "A Private Collection"-- the story of an eccentric amateur painter and the three muses who pose for him. There are three romances (Engraved, Entangled and Enraptured) woven together through the story, with three heroes and three heroines, so at its heart it is a romance, of course.

But there is also a hint of mystery and a touch a magical mischief, which is, to me, what I see every time I look at a portrait.  Especially those that portray somebody working quietly, absorbed in the job at hand, as if they don't even know the artist is there -- sort of like a character in a novel, who is completely unaware that some unseen hand is the author of her fate.


By the way, if you haven't read "A Private Collection" yet, you can find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all the usual sites, as well as here, on Twisted E-Publishing's own site. Over the next three days, I'll be posting excerpts from this book, which is one of the very first I had published and still one of my favourites. Below is the blurb to whet your interest.

When the estranged sons of wealthy eccentric Randolph Blackwood return home for his funeral and discover he has left them a private collection of three amateur oil paintings, they have no idea how this simple bequest will change their lives. The notorious Blackwood brothers are not known for their appreciation of fine art, but they are familiar with their father's love of elaborate pranks. Yes, the old man is still laughing at them from beyond the grave. For in order to collect their share of Randolph's fortune, they must return— in person— the three scandalous, nude portraits to the women who once posed for him. And that turns out to be a little more complicated than a simple delivery.

Once they were Randolph Blackwood's muses; now they've moved on with their lives. Lina is widowed and trying to lead a quiet, harmless life, while hiding a dark secret about her true desires; Daisy struggles to manage a respectable hotel against family opposition and overwhelming debt, and Claudine runs the 'Whitechapel Improvement Committee', a mysteriously busy charity home for handsome young men, funded by some of the most elegant and unhappily married ladies of Victorian London.

As the three Blackwood brothers set out to complete their task, they only have business on their minds and no intention of being distracted. But their father knew them better than anybody and he chose these three ladies for a very special reason. The true inheritance this mischief-maker leaves to his sons is neither the paintings nor his fortune. It is something far more valuable.

As always, I'd love to hear from you. Contact me via my FACEBOOK Author page.

Jayne

(Paintings here are by Tamara De Lempicka and Johannes Vermeer, of course)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why nobody should ever "Dumb Down"

In the past, I've had editors tell me to change words in books because "our readers won't understand it". I think about that statement in its little red box quite often.
 
"You can't use that word. Change it. Our readers won't know what it means."
 
"Really? (I wanted to say at the time)? Well, MY readers WILL understand. If they don't know what it means, it's something new to learn - if they WANT to. It's their choice - not anybody else's. I'm not going to take that choice away from them. I'm not going to substitute some other word, because I think they are too stupid to figure it out. I know MY readers are far from stupid."
 
But of course, I couldn't say that then. I was only the author - a newly signed one too. And readers, you have no idea how low on the totem pole an actual "author" is in a fairly large publishing house. We have no say over the cover, the characters, some of the words/phrases used, even the title of the book.I've even been told to change the hair color of a hero because they had the "perfect" cover. It's all in their hands.
 
So, if  "their" readers don't know The Word that needed to be changed, how did I learn it? I'm not an alien from another plant - believe it, or not; I'm only from England. And I learned (shocker) from an education that my father does not want to know about, and (even further shocker) anybody can now learn from looking it up. The Webternet is a fabulous place, not to be feared, and it can be put to far more than checking on the latest "trending" exploits of a large-bottomed, or bony-bottomed, person having sexual intercourse with anybody who'll have them.
 
Of course, I knew The Word because I WANTED to know it. I'm assuming my readers, who I know are all lovely, intelligent, lively, lusty people, will want to use it too. Why wouldn't they? Why would they not want to expand their world? Don't we all? Isn't that why we are here?
 
The Word - I can tell you now - was "Scrumpy".
 
See - if you don't know it, you can look it up. Although, if you drank it, you might actually forget what it means! If you read it in one of my books for the first time, you can thank me  -- with a small donation to yourself.
 
I'm not trying to compare anything I scribble down to the works of William Shakespeare - LOL. (I've been accused of comparing myself to Jane Austen - which I wouldn't do if you gave me a million and Travis Fimmel, mute, in a basket). But let me just finish (and I hear you shout "YES, please do finish so I can get back to my scrumpy") with this thought:
 
Shakespeare wrote his plays primarily to please the "groundlings" that populated the standing space (cheapest, non-seats) in the theatre where his works were performed. These were his friends, the people he lived amongst. He wasn't worried about what they "got". And yet, EVERYBODY  loved it - if they hadn't loved it, his works would not have survived five hundred years. The funny thing is, now, people say "Shakespeare's too hard for me" and "I don't understand it". Hmm - could that be due to the dumbing down that is taking place, and has taken place, over the many, many years since then?
 
Don't let it happen any further. If you, like me, enjoy words and are thirsty for a real story, support those writers who are trying to put them - without vocabulary censorship -  out there. 
 
Otherwise, I fear that only twenty years from now, we'll not only have books all with the same plot line and slight variations, but books about the English Regency, or any other historical period,  filled with "she was all like" and " he'd gotten" and "that's lame" and "Whatevs".
 
Listen, there is nothing wrong with a take-out, fast food burger. I should know. But you can't live on that. It's actually been proven. Don't rely on ingredients that are being heavily marketed to you, as if you can't choose for yourself, as if that's you're only choice.
 
You might actually like something different once in a while.
 
Crikey! Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs and drink a pint of scrumpy. 
 
Dude.
 
Jayne

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Deverells - A Dynasty of Scandal


My historical romance series The Deverells follows the exploits, fortunes and misfortunes of a family dynasty founded by a self-made man who names himself True Deverell. If you've read TRUE STORY, you'll know why he gives himself the name "True", so I won't spoil it here for those who have not yet read the first book in the series.

True's story begins with his birth and abandonment on a Cornish beach in 1798, and continues on through the adventures of his many sons and his daughter. Beyond that, the Deverells saga will reach into future centuries with other branches of the family tree, stretching in all directions.
In my mind I see True's children and grandchildren running rather wild - taking over the story and smashing furniture with as much aplomb as a rock band in a fancy hotel.
If you are a follower of the series you will also know that I promised the story would sometimes move sideways, as well as backward and forward. In fact, in the latest portion of the story it does a little of both!
 
You may wonder how and where PUMPYMUCKLES fits into the saga. Well, I gave this book the subtitle of "A Deverell's Story" rather than a number in the series (you may have noticed), because I wanted readers to know that it is separate, but also connected to the family. In other words, although it's not necessary to read this one to enjoy the full series, you will find your enjoyment of the entire saga enhanced by this unique story.

In later books you will find out where and how Gabe Hart's extraordinary tale fits in, so if you've read PUMPYMUCKLES you'll have an "ah ha" moment later on, I promise you!

I love to give my readers those little moments when they find how the parts fit. The Deverells saga is built like a jigsaw puzzle. Some of the pieces will fit smoothly. Some parts will leave you puzzled and intrigued, which, I hope, makes the read all the  more pleasurable once you figure it out. In other words, I plan to make the Deverells series an experience that's quite different to the usual historical romance series I've penned in the past. A story you can really sink your teeth into.

After all, I think we'd all prefer a gooey slice of layer cake to a dry, predictable scone!

I hope you're finding this series memorable and exciting. I want my readers to feel as if they live alongside the Deverells, as part of the family - laughing, crying and loving along with them. I'm certainly having a lot of fun writing it!

So stay tuned for more. Who knows where the story will go next? Which branch will it follow? Perhaps it will go back to those adventurous roots and explain a little more about the enigmatic man who created a fortune, a world and a name for himself.

Which leaf of the family tree will sprout next spring and which will fall? Which Deverell is the grandfather of Gabriel Hart and what, exactly, happened to him?

More of True's sons have yet to make their mark (coming up next year DAMON UNDONE, JUSTIFY'S BRIDE and MY BROTHER'S KEEPER) and True himself is not yet done telling his own story.

Indeed, you might find yourself popping up in one of their tales now that you're part of the family too. Keep reading!

 
Jayne x
 
 
 
 
Images - paintings by Eastman Johnson and in this order: Christmas Time (1864); The Old Stagecoach (no date); The Boyhood of Abraham Lincoln (1868) and Barn Swallows (1878)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Pumpymuckles

The following is an excerpt from PUMPYMUCKLES. Enjoy!


            Where was the harm in one little peep? Everybody was out and the staff must have gone below stairs again. And she'd been told to explore while he was out. Nobody said anything about staying out of the master's study.

            Taking a deep breath, she walked into the room and let the door stand ajar behind her. To close it would definitely make it seem as if she was up to no good in there, but it was all perfectly innocent, wasn't it? She was simply looking around, making herself familiar with the house.

            Hands behind her back, she strolled to the fire and felt the caress of warmth gently touch her face. If it was not tended, the fire could soon go out. Surely Mr. Hart would welcome a good fire when he came back to the house. But having reached for the poker, Ever paused, shook her head. Not hers to worry about. She put her hands behind her back again. If a maid came in and found her interfering with the fire they might not appreciate it. Not her place. Not her concern. Perhaps it had been left to go out deliberately.

            If she stirred it up, they would know she'd been in here.

            Besides, Mr. Hart hadn't even thought about a decent room for her and had entirely forgotten she was coming until the last minute. He didn't care if she was cold and uncomfortable.

            Ever sensed she wasn't going to like her employer very much. What sort of man would hire a woman without references and then forget to inform his housekeeper until the morning of her arrival?

            Scattered, inconsiderate, arrogant. Forgets promises and leaves havoc in his wake, but thinks it all very amusing to keep other folk "on their toes".

            Poor Mrs. Palgrave looked up to him because she was the old-fashioned, loyal servant, abiding by her master's wishes, whatever they might be. Forgiving his eccentricities. Making excuses for his behavior. Protecting him from "trollops". As if he couldn't manage that himself, if he wanted to. If being the operative word.

            Her roving gaze now alighted on a brown-top riding boot discarded by the fire. The twin had been abandoned likewise on the other side of the hearth, where it lay half under a chair, kicked off with evident impatience. Both boots bore the shiny, polished patina of "brand new", and the box sat upon the chair cushion, the lid proudly proclaiming the bespoke makers 'Peal & Co.' and boasting of their royal patronage. Expensive. Yet the boots had been rejected by their new owner.

            Restless. Aspires to be...well...doesn't really know what he wants. Hard to please.

            Something whispered through her, like a subtle draft through her body. Again she looked over her shoulder to confirm that she was quite alone.

            Her pulse had picked up its pace as if to warn her and yet there was nobody in the room.

            Turning to the fire again, she impulsively reached for the coal scuttle and tossed another shovel of coal onto the fire. There, she would take the high road and see to his comfort, even if he did not do the same for her.

            Smiling to herself, she replaced the fire screen and then continued her tour of his study, absorbing all that she could about her employer while she had this chance to explore unobserved. She ran a fingertip across the ornately painted globe inside its brass and wood frame, assessed the cut glass decanters in the Tantalus, and then admired the untidy, bulging library of books, stacked and queued behind leaded-glass doors. There seemed to be neither rhyme nor reason to the way the books were placed— travel guides beside poetry, and astrology beside wine-making. Subjects on anything a person could possibly think up.

            Yes, that further substantiated her idea of him not knowing yet what he wanted.

            Ever would have loved such a collection of books at her disposal when she was a child, for she always had so many questions running around her brain. Her father used to say he'd never seen such an insatiable thirst for learning.

            A row of trophies and tall cups decorated the mantle, gleaming in the soft, wavering light, like Aladdin's treasure trove. All of these won with the power of a man's fists and the shedding of blood. Appalling, really, when one thought about it. Of course, there was nothing new about blood-sport for the spectator. The Romans had their gladiators at which to cheer and gape. Human sacrifice for entertainment.

            Fearless. But was it bravery or bravado? Or the sense of having nothing to lose?

            The walls of his study were covered in tournament posters and framed sepia photographs, showing various circus performers and fairground acts with a backdrop of striped canvas tents. She studied them closer, but among the costumed figures could pick out none that matched the vision she nurtured of the mysterious Mr. Hart.

            The largest piece of furniture in the room, and the most ornate, was his desk. With thick legs intricately carved, it was medieval in style— something at which an Archbishop, or another ecclesiastical dignitary, would once have sat to cast fear and awe into the hearts of the humble peasantry. A wide leather chair crouched in readiness behind it, two plump, well-worn arms poised in wait. And there, on the blotter, beneath the oil lamp, she spied a pewter paperweight in the shape of a seahorse. Three small words were inscribed upon its body: Death, Love and Dreams. Tempted to pick it up, she satisfied herself instead by trailing her fingers over the curling shape, from the elegant head to the spiraled tail.

            She'd read somewhere that seahorses cling with their tail for stability in the same way that babies cling to offered fingers. It was also true, apparently, that when they found their mate, seahorses entwined tails and danced together at least once every day, to maintain their attachment. And they mated for life. Somewhere in the vaults of her mind there lived the image of painted wooden seahorses spinning around and around in the breeze through an open window. But the memories from her very early childhood were nothing more than dashes of light that came and went through a lace curtain. Of late those memories had become even more faded.

            Suddenly feeling an inexplicable hollow of sadness in her heart, she moved away from the desk and the seahorse.

            Now there was no further avoiding the black cloth, and whatever secrets it held custody. The thing that had lured her into the room was before her, filling the corner like a dark altar. Saved till last.

            Ever scratched the side of her neck with anxious fingers, feeling constricted by the tight lace collar that suddenly chafed her skin. Glancing over her shoulder, she checked the room again to be sure she was alone. The door was still ajar, the coals in the fireplace wheezing softly.

            It was only a peep and if a man was vain enough to have himself sculpted in the nude, he surely ought to be prepared for unladylike curiosity. So she gripped the soft velvet between thumb and forefinger. Another breath. Another beat skipped within her heart.

            And slowly she lifted the cloth.

            "It's not a patch on the genuine article, you know."

 
copyright Jayne Fresina 2016