Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Battle of the Pyrenees, July-September 1813

The Battle of the Pyrenees was a large-scale offensive launched on 25th July 1813 by Marchal Soult, on orders from Napoleon, in the hope of relieving the French garrisons under siege at Pamplona and San Sebastian. After initial success the offensive ground to a halt in the face of increased allied resistance under the command of Wellington

                   Related image

The Battle of the Pyrenees involved several distinct actions. 

On 25th July, Soult and two French corps fought the reinforced British 4th division and a Spanish division at the Battle of Roncevalles. The Allied force successfully held off all attacks during the day, but retreated from Roncevalles Pass that night in the face of overwhelming French numerical superiority. 

Also on 25th, a third French corps severely tried the British 2nd division at the Battle of Maya. The British withdrew from the Maya Pass that evening.  

Wellington rallied his troops a short distance north of Pamplona and repelled the attacks of Soult's two corps at the Battle of Sorauren on 28th July. Instead of falling back northeast towards Roncevalles Pass, Soult made contact with his third corps on 29th July and began to move north. Soult abandoned the offensive on 30th July and headed towards France, having failed to relieve either garrison.

On 30th July, Wellington attacked Soult's rearguard at Sorauren, driving some French troops to the northeast, while most continued to the north. Soult led his army up the Bidassoa River valley and escaped the British after a final rearguard action at Etxalar on 2nd August.

                                 File:Wellington at Sorauren.jpg
Wellington at the Battle of Sorauren, 28th - 29th July 1813

[All necessary background for my current story about the Montailhac brothers.]

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Next Big Thing #thenextbigthing

The Next Big Thing:
 Scandalous Lady

The latest game for authors in the blogosphere is to tag each other for The Next Big Thing. Once tagged, an author answers a few questions, then tags other writers, with their permission.

This time I was tagged by Jane Risdon.
You can read a wide variety of items by Jane at

Jane loves books as magical things and of course I would agree with her that the smell and feel of them is the first part of the spell. Once inside a good book, you are in another world, one that is always there for you to go back to. Jane's WIP is about the sleuth Lavinia Birdsong, retired from MI5 to live in an Oxfordshire village. But when mystery and murder occur, she has to go back to solving the crimes. We are waiting eagerly for Lavinia to complete her first adventure, so we can read it….

Now for.......The Next Big Thing.

What is the working title of your book?

          Scandalous Lady

Where did the idea come from for the book?

For me, things start by looking at pictures. I have a large collection of faces and buildings, gathered from magazines, etc. One or two faces suddenly seem to have a story attached and a few scenes of their story are immediately clear to me, although I'm not sure where in the tale these events take place. It's as if the story is already complete, but I must work to uncover it, little by little.
This time, my hero looked gravely out at me and his character was evident: proud, subtle and determined, yet he also liked to tease. His dark colouring indicated an exotic setting, so Istanbul, a city I love, seemed to be part of his story. Lady Hester Stanhope spent some months in Istanbul in 1811, when things were settling down after a period of great turmoil. And setting the tale in that year allowed me to add in a few details about Sultan Selim III, whose life fascinates me. Another photo of a sultry young lady with a fearless look completed the basic mix. She was going to challenge my gorgeous but arrogant hero to the limit.

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical romance with a dash of adventure.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

The hero's looks are based on Santiago Cabrera. It was the actor's thoughtful pose that initially inspired me. I also think he has the right voice to play Selim / Henri, who is part French, part Turkish. Olivia is a redhead and very lively. Carey Mulligan would provide a wonderful, impish contrast to my rather serious Selim / Henri.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

No matter the obstacles, love will find a way through them.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I hope to find a publisher to take the story. Agents are not keen on Regency set stories, although the public like them.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About eight months writing time but before I could complete it, I needed to go to Istanbul and to the Pyrenees for research - so just over a year altogether. But eventually it took longer because my first draft is always very different from the final version of the story. And the chateau in the Pyrenees was so wonderful I went back for a second visit.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I feel very presumptuous even to mention myself in the same sentence as such a prestigious author but the closest would be Loretta Chase's Mr Impossible - because both stories are about an English person coping with life in a very different culture. It's also clear that both she and I like exotic settings.
Here is a view of Istanbul / Constantinople from Pera, where the European community lived, looking south across the Golden Horn.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I love to read about intrepid women travelers. For a long time I was looking for an opportunity to put Lady Hester Stanhope into a story. As she spent time in Istanbul, that settled both the time and place for me. Her independent lifestyle makes her a role-model for Olivia, my heroine. In addition, I have to confess to a special interest in the Ottoman Sultan, Selim III, the gentle musician monarch. He tried to reform his empire but he was murdered by reactionary soldiers in 1808.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It is an Ottoman Regency story and opens the door on an exotic world. As this is mainly seen through Olivia's eyes, the reader can share her experience of dipping in and out of a very different way of life and then return  to more familiar customs. Here is the kasir [pavilion, part of a royal palace] where Selim stayed while working for the Sultan. This little gem is situated on the north shore of the Golden Horn. It was the favourite palace of Sultan Selim III, and is now the National Music Museum.

Now I'm tagging Cindy Nord to tell us about her latest stories on The Next Big Thing. There is a lot of fascinating information about Cindy, her writings and her interest in the American Civil War Reenactment Society on her website at :

Cindy writes a luscious blend of history and romance with fast-paced action and emotionally driven characters. She has been a finalist or won many times in chapter competitions, including the Romance Writers of America National Golden Heart Contest. Her latest novel, "NO GREATER GLORY" is a love story set against the tapestry of the American Civil War.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Istanbul live

  The Galata Tower

                             Aynalikavak Kasri - the Pavilion of the Mirrored Poplars

Click on this link to view various parts of Istanbul. 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Where's the Bear?

When speaking of bears in the Pyrenees, people always say 'the bear' in the singular. Sadly, that is almost the truth.
The brown bear was once present in every region of France. Over the centuries, hunting, poisoning, deforestation and poaching led to a massive decline in the bear population. Their last refuge was in the Pyrenees. Here the bears were both loved and hated. They were hunted for their skins and, in a poor region where any meat was acceptable - badger stew and crow pie figured in local recipes - for their meat. The forests nearly disappeared as miners used the wood for charcoal, new roads crossed valleys where the bears had previously been able to live undisturbed. The local farmers were always hostile to the presence of bears who could kill as many as twenty sheep in a single attack. Bear cubs were taken from their mothers and trained to perform. This was a tradition in the Couserans region, where the living was particularly hard.

And there were always the hunters, eager to shoot a bear for sport. When a hunter shot Cannelle [Cinnamon] the last native Pyrenean female bear in 2004, the population was reduced to just five male bears. Brown bears from Slovenia have been brought in, and the bear population is currently about twenty. There is violent opposition from the farmers of the Ariege region, who want the bears to disappear permanently. During the summer months, their animals - cows, sheep, goats and horses - are taken up to roam freely in the lush upper valleys. This is called "Estive". As the bear is an opportunistic hunter, the farmers risk losses to their stock. The struggle over the bear is far from over.

Safety leaflets for walkers in the central Pyrenees offer the following advice:

-- If you come across a bear at less than 50 metres, help it to realise you are there by moving slowly and speaking softly. Never shout.

 -- Move away gradually, keeping away from any path the bear might use to escape.


They state that if the bear rears up on its hind legs, it is not being aggressive, only curious.

How brave would you feel at such a moment?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Saint-Lizier in Couserans, Ariège.

 Once this was an important bishopric but the town was gradually deserted for the town of Saint Girons further down the valley. The old town has been restored and is an absolute gem, gently slumbering on its hill. There are arcaded squares and quiet streets following the line of the massive medieval walls of the two cathedrals.

The cathedral of Saint-Lizier is an example of Pyrenean Romanesque style. It dates from the 12th Century and contains 12th century frescos, discovered behind plaster during restoration.

It also has a two storey cloister with marble columns, some of which have carved capitals. This is a wonderfully peaceful place to sit on a hot day.

Next door to the cathedral is a hospital and pharmacy, still equipped with its surgical tools and medicines as it was in the 18th century.  [see later post].

[Thanks to Lucie Rochelle for the photos]

Friday, 21 September 2012

The Lake of Bethmale, Ariège-Pyrénees

The Couserans region of Ariège is a wild tumble of mountains, high meadows, lakes, streams and waterfalls. The Lac de Bethmale is especially beautiful because of the incredible blue-green colour of the water.
According to legend, a wicked witch lived by the lake and she caused endless mischief and misery for the local peasants. One day, they took their pitchforks and surrounded her. Seeing there was no escape, the witch jumped into the lake, shouting that she would never really vanish. It is her cloak, on the lake bottom, that gives the water its unusual colour.

The traditional costume of the people in the Vallée de Bethmale is completely different from anything else in the region. The wooden sabots with their enormous upturned toes have a special significance. The young man has to have the strength to pull two branches from a beech tree from which to make a pair of clogs. So - the longer the toes, the stronger the man and the better chance he has of getting a bride.

                               Image result for lac de bethmale dances

Friday, 7 September 2012

La Ferme de Méras - a farm with a difference

Research for my current WIP takes me to strange places. And the byways of that research often yield much more than was expected. In August, I needed to make a second trip into the Ariège region of France in order to investigate the type of horses that could be bred and managed in that mountainous area.

                      Mérens horse
                 Castillon horses

Lucie consulted the Routard guidebook for the region near Foix. 'Horses,' she exclaimed, 'Just listen to this: "The Mérens horse is considered to be descended from the race represented in cave paintings from the Magdalenian period, 13,000 years ago. Short legged and sturdy, they are perfectly adapted to the Pyreneen region." ' Then she gave a shout of triumph. 'We can stay at the Ferme de Méras, where the owner farms only with oxen or mules. He gives courses in training farm animals and is an associate of the Mérens horse society.'

That is how we came to spend four days at Olivier Courthiade's farm. It was an experience of life in the countryside as it used to be. The farm is reached via a road with several hairpin bends. Our arrival was observed by a crowd of dogs and several mules, as well as a Mérens horse. Within half an hour of arriving, we were embarked in Olivier's car, together with as many dogs as could fit in around us, to drive up the hill to take grain for his sheep and goats. These wander freely during the summer season, so they all wear bells. The tinkling came faster and faster as they all rushed to their barn for a share of the grain.             


Olivier simply sweeps all visitors into the family. Dinner is eaten - late - on the balcony, with a view of the sunset behind the hills. Then as darkness falls, we continue our meal by candlelight. The food is a delight - all cooked by Olivier from the produce of his garden and local meat. His soups and sauces are mouthwatering. The relaxed atmosphere adds to the charm of the evening. In this photo, everything is ready for a first course of 'soupe à l'oeuf'.

The farmhouse
                                          Below : The stables and some of the carts in use 

             Below : Inside the stables. The mules are very happy if you bring them apple peel.
For more pictures and information about courses or simply staying on the farm, follow the link below.

          Ferme de Méras - Ariège Pyrénées

      La Ferme de Méras

09240 La Bastide de Serou, Ariège Pyrénées, France,
Tel : (33) 05 61 64 50 66 ( Daily before 9am or after 9pm) English spoken - Habla español + catalan ...

[C] words - Beth Elliott, photos Lucie Rochelle 07/09/2012

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Feria in Beziers, France

Beziers is a historic town in Languedoc in southern France, in the Hérault department. The town is chiefly known for wine and for bullfighting. There is a large community of inhabitants of Spanish origin, so the annual Feria, held over five days in August each year, attracts the very best bullfighters and the flamenco dancers.
L'Orb, le Pont Vieux et la cathédrale Saint-Nazaire.A million visitors are attracted to the town at this time.

In unexpected corners of the town, Bodegas appear. These are little cafes, each with its own theme, selling local wine and providing live music from about 10pm until 5am the next morning. Along the Allee Paul Riquet and in all the main squares, crowds wander in happy mood, stopping to sample the food and drink on offer or to watch the numerous displays of folk dancing, acrobatics or to listen to the live music - everything from classical guitar to jazz, via African drums and Eastern European or Asian instruments.

In the cloister of the Cathédrale Saint-Nazaire, every seat is taken to watch the superb Flamenco performance by the Jose Manuel Alvarez Company from Barcelona.


The dances are very stylised and sweep the audience along in their intensity. As in the picture above, the dancer represents movements from the bullfight.

It is a tradition that the bullfighters at the Feria are the best Spanish bullfighters of the year; those who have won all their competitions.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Carpets are like books

Turkey has always been renowned for its carpets and kilims. Seen in many paintings from Renaissance times on, they represent a touch of luxury. They are made in a range of materials and styles with varying patterns and motifs, depending on the different regions of Anatolia where they originate.

The ancient city of Konya is a centre for weaving as well as repairing all types of oriental carpets. You don't spend many minutes gazing in a shop window before someone comes out to invite you to: 'Please, step inside.'
Once inside, you are waved to a seat and offered tea or coffee. Even if you are just looking, the merchant is pleased to show off his wares and hand you a catalogue.
In our case, Mehmet bey made us welcome, saying he was happy just to talk about his business.
He speaks half a dozen languages and travels the world to sell his goods in cities like Paris, Frankfurt and New York. As well as old carpets, he sells rugs made locally, to his orders. His carpets are made using natural dyes and the best wools. These modern carpets and kilims are woven in the villages around the city, using traditional motifs and patterns. To see and admire some of the wonderful carpets in his stock, try


His shop was a veritable Aladdin's cave of treasures, antique and modern carpets, kilims, woven nomad tent decorations, cicims, battered tools from long ago, as well as furniture and ornaments from the Ottoman period.

Looking at the neat and not so neat piles of carpets, it seemed to me that they were like books and the shop like some sort of library. You need to read a carpet. Its colours and motifs tell you about the way of life and the tribal origins of the area where it was made [the Turkic peoples were originally nomads travelling westwards from Central Asia] ; the number of knots per square inch, the quality of the weaving; the materials used: wool, cotton or silk. And then the carpet has to appeal to you aesthetically and emotionally as an item you will live with and treasure - just like a good book.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

THE RAKE'S CHALLENGE - Large Print edition

The Large Print edition of The Rake's Challenge is published on 1st July by Ulverscroft.

Anna visits Brighton for the summer season. It is her first visit to the seaside, so naturally she wishes to experience sea bathing.  She goes for a dip - but ends up in hot water with Giles!
  It is not long before she catches the Prince Regent's eye ...  and after that it takes all of Giles's ingenuity to rescue her from any number of dangerous situations


Monday, 25 June 2012

Blog interview for Writer's Checklist

Friday, 22 June 2012

Interview with Beth Elliott


Writers’ Checklist welcomes Regency romance author Beth Elliott whose pleasure of stories set in that era has stayed with her throughout a career teaching foreign languages in several countries. No wonder she now writes her own Regency tales about adventure and intrigue but mostly with a light touch and a happy ending. 

Beth's website
Beth's blog

What was the first thing you had published?
Apart from non-fiction reports my first published piece was 'Hidden' - a travel article about Prague. It grew out of a writing exercise on being outside, looking in. I wrote that I was standing by a dingy shop window but was enticed by the spicy smell to go inside. I discovered it was a delicatessen; a treasure trove of mouth-watering hams, cheeses, crusty rolls and bright coloured salads. A magazine took it and I had taken a big step forward with my writing.

What are your writing strengths and weaknesses?
The usual comment is that my writing is very visual and that my chapter endings make the reader want to find out what happens next. I can write a villain well, especially the sort you love to hate. Two of my heroes have become popular with readers, which is most encouraging. I'm now trying to outdo myself in that respect with my current novel. I've been fortunate enough to travel a lot and like to take my characters to places I've seen. So far I don't seem to have overdone the exotic locations.

As for weaknesses, I worry about varying the pace enough and I know I need to pile on the agony more. My writing buddy constantly urges me to add in more emotion. I'm all for the stiff upper lip, so it's hard to have my hero and heroine embarrassing me like that - but we get there in the end.

Is there a special place you like to write?
'Measure the piano' we told the builder, years ago when our son wanted to learn to play. The instrument was too large for the living room and so we had an extension built. The piano is long gone but the cosy study is my ideal writing room. I can shut the door on the knee-high welter of papers if visitors come. The bookshelves are above the computer so I can glance up to refresh my ideas by looking at a well loved story, or maybe a photo or ornament. A rambling rose [pink] nods outside the window and behind me is an exercise bike that I use while reading what I've just printed off or checking facts in a book. 
How important is it to you to plot your novels?
I would find it impossible to plot a full story and then follow that plan to the letter. My characters simply would not agree. They often surprise me by what they insist on doing. To start a novel I spread out a bunch of faces [collected from magazines] on the table. One of them will immediately assume a character and be involved in a set of events that develops into a story. Next, I pick out their family and friends. Immediately they become real people to me, my "other family".

At this stage I only have an outline plot. Yet already, some scenes are vivid in my mind although I have no idea where or why they must be part of the story - but they always fit in. It's as if the story reveals itself to me once the main outline takes shape. When the structure is set down, my chief concern is to have an accurate timeline.

Why do you think we’re attracted to villains in romantic stories?
The answer has to be in the word 'romantic'. We need a counter-balance to the hero, preferably someone who, with a few tweaks, could himself be a hero. Some writers keep us guessing for a while, which means the villain often has attractive traits. Most girls like to think they could reform the bad boy, so the villain can often appear to be a fascinating character - at least to start with. Whether we regret his refusal to reform or we eventually turn from him in disgust, he's a vital part of a romantic story. 

Who is your favourite heroine?
Elizabeth Bennet. I've known her since I was twelve and for a long time she seemed like the kind and admirable elder sister I wanted. All these years later, I still find her romantic journey credible and satisfying. I never tire of reading her story.

What are you working on at the moment?
I'm doing a final edit on Scandalous Lady. This is set in Constantinople in 1811, when Lady Hester Stanhope is living there. I enjoy blending real people into my stories, although they are never the main character. Like Lady Hester, Olivia is in search of a new, independent life. However, when she encounters a half-French, half-Turkish diplomat with the most beautiful eyes she has ever seen, her resolution is severely tested. The hero is trying to negotiate an end to the war between the Sultan and the Russian Czar but he is beset by villains determined to prevent a peace treaty being signed.

Olivia finds herself struggling to cope with a very different way of life, and this is further complicated when a shadow from her scandalous London past arrives in pursuit of her. This story features oriental palaces and some old Ottoman traditions. Perhaps I should add that my Turkish husband and I lived in Turkey for some years. He had worked as a tourist guide when he was a student and he used to take me round historical sites telling me anecdotes to make the visit more colourful.
What advice would you give to an aspiring historical novelist?
The first essential is to know the period you're writing about. It really jars if you slip up on details that are not correct for that time. I still gulp when I remember reading a story in which Good Queen Bess and her ladies sat down for buttered scones and tea at 5pm every day!  So research and more research is fundamental. Then, the second important thing is not to swamp the reader with pages of research details - but to write a novel about your characters who live within the framework of the period that you are confident you know and can enhance by a detail as appropriate.

Beth Elliott has been in love with the long Regency period since she first opened Pride and Prejudice, aged 12. Beth's first novel,The Wild Card, was shortlisted for the RNA Romance Prize in 2009. Since then she continues to write more Regency tales, set in London, Bath, Brighton or perhaps a more exotic location such as Lisbon or Constantinople. 
When not writing, Beth reads, does flamboyant bead embroidery and travels. All the places she visits get into her stories, which is a good enough excuse for going.

Beth Elliott was talking to Maureen Vincent-Northam, co-author of The Writer's ABC Checklist (Secrets to Success - Writing)


pauline holyoak said...
Nice post - nice interview Beth. I like to know what makes other writers tick.
Beth Elliott said...
Thank you, Pauline. I enjoyed answering Maureen's questions - but I have to admit they made me think hard first!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Tall, muscled, elegant, athletic and suave...

 ....or, for the heroine, accomplished, athletic, gracious, spirited and pretty....

Fictional heroes and heroines are usually an amalgamation of physical and character traits observed in several people.In addition, they are set up to endure as much agony as the author can pile on right through the novel. The reader must feel satisfied at the end of the story that both hero and heroine have learned something and are better people because of it.
All well and good. However, many writers need a real life person to focus on as they create and develop their hero and heroine. Regency set stories require a dashing gentleman, tall, muscled, elegant, sporty and suave. Other qualities as per story requirement - possibly a tortured soul...certainly a crack shot or a skilled swordsman...
It helps to have a visual stimulus - very often several models are used to achieve a complete hero. Hence, writers work extra hard; spending many hours poring over pictures to fuel their imagination. They seem to prefer black hair, so the following possible beaux are all dark [personally I think David Wenham and Sean Bean could also feature as Regency characters.]

This is a small selection ... but tempting.

All these heroes need their heroines.
We have a list of the necessary requirements for a well brought-up Regency damsel, thanks to Caroline Bingley and Mr Darcy. In a novel, this damsel also needs sufficient character to stand out from the crowd and to cope with the adventures - and agonies - her author is going to pile on her. Red hair is a definite sign of strong character.


These are just a sample of faces that may inspire writers.