Sunday, 19 February 2012

Interview with The Wild Rose Press

Growing up in a tiny Lancashire village where the only other children were two boys, I relied on books for companionship. Once I discovered Jane Austen's stories, I always had somewhere to go. It was fun to pretend I was one of the Bennet sisters in 'Pride and Prejudice'. I enjoy many different periods of history but find it easiest to visualize the Regency era and there are so many reminders of that time still in existence to help with accuracy. I visit the places I put in my novels, check on the time it takes to walk the distances, look at the fashions and the objects of daily life.
1 -When and why did you decide you wanted to be a published author?

Books were such a large part of my life as a child that I simply thought writing and reading were the things you did. I told stories to my little brother, and to my friends. At school I wrote long essays and edited the school magazine. A teaching career meant that life was always hectic. It seemed there would never be time to write novels. Then my husband became too ill to work, so to keep him busy I set him to write a quest story that we had been discussing for several years. Each evening I would read his efforts and edit. We laughed a lot over our characters and their adventures. Sadly, my husband died but over that year I had found time for writing in my day and I just kept going. I wrote 'The Wild Card' and sent it to the Romantic Novelists' Association for a critique. Following their advice I edited it, then sent it to Robert Hale, who took it at once. It was shortlisted for the RNA Romance Prize. Robert Hale has just published my fourth Regency tale, 'The Rake's Challenge'.

2 - What is the best and worst thing you have learned from an editor/agent?

When I sent out the quest story, one agent took the trouble to write a helpful rejection letter. She advised me to use more emotion so that my characters would sweep the reader along. It sounds so obvious but I needed that push not to be so buttoned up. Later, another agent warned me that stories must not be just publishable but marketable. She also advised me that Regencies don't sell well in the UK. I have a couple of ideas for stories in different time periods but they are on the back burner for now. I still have plenty of Regency adventures to write. My editors at Robert Hale are very helpful, but I had to learn 'house style'. I only ever argue over historical accuracy.

3 - Favourite authors?

I have been reading and rereading Jane Austen's novels since I was twelve. I always find something new in them. Wilkie Collins and George Eliot are also favourites. Georgette Heyer gave me the idea that the Regency period was elegant and full of adventure, so she has been a big inspiration. Then there's Loretta Chase and Nicola Cornick. And I must mention R D Blackmore and 'Lorna Doone'. Was there ever such a love story? *sigh*

4 - What is your typical day?

It starts when the cat pulls on the back door handle to call me because he's hungry. When Sir is fed I make a cup of tea and go back to bed to read what I wrote the night before. I add and alter and often get carried away by new ideas and rush down to the study to rewrite or develop something.
During the day I deal with general tasks, otherwise I'd disappear under a sea of papers and the hedge would reach the moon. I settle down to write in the evenings. What with background reading and checking details on the internet, it often gets to the wee small hours before I realise that the time has gone. Writing is like going away on holiday - and I don't want to come back.
I also travel a lot, which disrupts my writing, even though there is usually a research element to my journeys. For example, in July I visited a marvellous little palace in Istanbul; and in October I'll be hunting in the Pyrenees for a suitable castle for my hero's family home. They are both for the hero of my wip, an Ottoman Regency. It takes place in 1811 as that is when Lady Hester Stanhope was in Constantinople [Istanbul] and she plays a vital role in the story.

5 - Do you plan your books? Or write it as the dialogue/action comes to you?

Each story starts when I've collected enough faces and places. They come from all over, maybe an inflight magazine, a newspaper or a postcard from a museum. I spread the pictures out on the table and pair them off, adding friends, families and villains. Then I select homes for them all. The story sparks from something in one of those faces. Within an hour or so I'll have an outline plot. Over a few days it develops into a story and some episodes are vivid in my mind. I write this outline down as a guide - but it will only become a detailed plan when I know my characters better. It always seems to happen when I reach chapter 9. So the characters lead me along, really.

6 - What surprised you the most when you became published?

The thrill of holding my first book will remain with me always. Perhaps the greatest surprise was the amount of time and effort that is needed to publicise your books.

7 - Do you have a dedicated writing space? What does it look like?
We have a small study [my husband and I were modern languages teachers] with lots of bookshelves and a big desk that is crowded with papers and pots of pens. I work on a desktop computer. If inspiration fails I look up at the books, photos and pictures to get ideas moving again. To my right is the window, and just outside is a rambling rose bush - with thimble-sized pink flowers, which adds a romantic note. There is also an exercise bike that I use while reading bits of research or the pages I've just printed off.

8 - What’s next for you?

My wip is another Ottoman Regency, with more focus on the oriental way of life this time. My husband was Turkish [and a poet] and we lived in eastern Turkey for some years, so I have plenty of material for the background for my Ottoman stories. Robert Hale has just brought out a Kindle edition of my second story 'In All Honour'. It's exciting to join the ebook world. Then I want to write the next of my Byron books. My heroine in 'The Rake's Challenge' is a devoted Byron fan, like her three schoolfriends. I think they deserve a story as well.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Seductive Supper

In Scandalous Lady, the hero tries by many ways to persuade the heroine into agreeing with his plan. His first method is to woo her with an exotic feast. Chief among the tempting dishes is Circassian chicken.

Would it tempt you? [ but go easy on the red pepper to start with !]

                                       Circassian Chicken /  Cerkez Tavugu

[Chicken with walnut sauce]

Chicken                            1 medium size [1 - 1 1/2 kg ]
Walnuts (halves)                3 cups
Bread (stale)                     5 thin slices
Garlic                                4 cloves
Salt                                   2 teaspoons
Black pepper                    1 teaspoon
Chicken broth                   2 ½ cups
Olive oil                            2 teaspoons
Red pepper                       ½ teaspoon

Instructions for 6 servings

Simmer chicken in water for 35 minutes or until tender; drain. Reserve broth. Bone chicken. Remove skin.
Cut or tear into 5-6 cm (2-2 ½ inch) long and 1-1 ½ cm (1/2-3/4 inch) thick strips.
Arrange in a serving dish. Set aside.

Combine walnuts, bread slices (soaked and squeezed dry) and garlic; mix well.
Place into blender or a food processor. Process until well blended. Add salt, black pepper and chicken broth gradually blending thoroughly until it gets medium white sauce consistency.
Pour over chicken. Heat the oil and stir in red pepper. Remove from heat and sprinkle over walnut sauce.

Serve at room temperature.

Monday, 6 February 2012

The Magnificent Century

A Turkish soap, showing the main events of the reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent and his red-haired wife, Hurrem.

It was traditional for all the sons of the Ottoman royal family to learn a practical trade. Suleyman was a goldsmith. In the soap he designs beautiful jewellery for the ladies of his family. Hurrem's emerald and diamond ring has become a best selling item all over Turkey, from genuine jewels in an expensive jewellery boutique to a cheaper version on a market stall.

Hurrem's emerald ring

Prince Mustafa - also with splendid jewels on his turban.

Friday, 3 February 2012

An Eighteenth Century Turkish coffeehouse

 The first coffeehouse ever was opened in 1554 during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent in the Tahtakale district of Istanbul, a vibrant commercial centre even today. The first people to attend this first coffeehouse were people pursuing the mundane pleasures of idly enjoying the moment (there is a specific word for this in Turkish called ‘keyif'), as well as the educated class of society. Some would come to read in the coffeehouse, others would play backgammon or chess, some would engage in conversations on art and culture.
There were also a number of coffeehouses with decorative pools or fountains during the Ottoman period, as the Ottomans believed in the soothing power of watching water. The coffeehouses were subsidized by the local rich people.

The introduction of tobacco increased these places' popularity tremendously. The powdered tobacco [called 'shisha' ] is smoked through a hookah [narghile]. 
[Picture of narghile courtesy of Ozledim.NET]

Canaries were considered ‘good luck' for Janissary coffeehouses. In big coffeehouses, there would be as many as thirty to forty birdcages.

[All part of my research for 'Scandalous Lady', set in 1811 ]