Thursday, 22 March 2012


I enjoy creating Regency era villains. They can be handsome and fashionable and their vices and bad habits are often so similar to the faults displayed by the hero that it causes confusion and discussion. That was an essential part of my plot in The Wild Card. I like having my first opinion of a character reversed when an event or action shows how a totally different interpretation can be put on their earlier actions. But sometimes this leads to a big disappointment as the charm and seductive manner reveal a heartless villain - or, even worse, one with a weak character. Consider Willoughby in 'Sense and Sensibility' - handsome, well liked, full of charm and so adaptable that he is universally pleasing... He merely lacks wealth and we can pity him for the restrictions that puts on him..... until we see how he overcomes that.

The supposed villain may have an excellent reputation in society and be much admired for their style - or perhaps being rakish or wilful makes the person more attractive. Think of Lady Barbara Childe in Georgette Heyer's 'Infamous Army'. Of course, she only appears to be a villainess. Her wild spirit and wilfulness stand her in good stead as eventually she must cope with a handicapped husband.
I'd rather cope with Willoughby than face a sinister rogue like Carver Doone. He is from a previous age, a swashbuckling, ruthless villain without one redeeming feature. Perhaps Georgette Heyer drew on him a little for one or two of her characters; the unpleasant Duke of Andover in 'The Black Moth', for instance.

The villain who attracts me most is Jane Austen's Henry Crawford. Jane Austen captured so exquisitely the potential of the person to turn either way. Each time I read 'Mansfield Park' I so want him to reform that I hope this time he will..., then am always desolated that he wastes his many good qualities through weakness in his character which mean he always opts for self indulgence. Stricken by this waste, I'm then left to hope that perhaps one day I'll be clever enough to write a villain who comes somewhere close to him.
Ah, well, we still have the heroes.

                                                 Copyright by Beth Elliott 21/ 03/2012

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Romantic Novelists' Association Blog: Interview with Beth Elliott

Interview with Beth Elliott

Beth Elliott was already making up stories before she could read. Later, the only girl in a tiny Lancashire village, she read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and so began a lifelong love of Jane Austen. Beth says that writing her own tales set in the Regency era is much more fun than her previous career of teaching modern languages. So tell us, Beth, what is it about the regency period that so excites you, and how do you set about your research? 

I was twelve when I first read Pride and Prejudice. It opened the door into a world I found entrancing, perhaps because there is still so much evidence of that period all around us. For research I read biographies, visit stately homes and museums, study pictures - and enjoy all the Austen films. I’ve paced out my characters’ journeys in Bath, Brighton and London and even in Istanbul! I love travelling and where I go, so do my characters. Tourism is not just a modern phenomenon. After reading about Byron’s travels in the eastern Mediterranean, I set my latest story in Constantinople.

Are you ever inspired to write about real people in your historicals?

I love doing that. It’s an exciting challenge to put real people in my stories and blend them in, while respecting what we know about them. The Prince Regent appears in The Rake’s Challenge; in fact, the heroine nearly poisons him. And Lady Hester Stanhope plays a vital role in the story I’ve just finished.

Much as you may love writing, what do you do when the going gets tough?

It’s essential to keep writing through these sticky patches and not put it off. The characters won’t leave me alone, anyway. Mostly, writing seems like going away on holiday with my characters. But when they dig their heels in I get so frustrated. After a brisk walk and a bit of bad language I write what I hope is the next scene - and sleep on it. In the wee small hours I wake up, knowing that it’s all wrong. So I try a different viewpoint or an alternative place or reason. One hero was left with his elegantly booted foot on the fender for nearly three weeks until the way forward was suddenly obvious.

Tell us about your latest book, and what inspired you to write it.

THE RAKE’S CHALLENGE is set in Brighton in summer 1814. The idea for the story began when I saw a magazine advert for a costly leather jacket. The model’s pose was so arrogant, I knew at once who he was. And at an open day at Chawton House, someone demonstrated the language of the fan, which gave me a plot idea. I also wanted to have a poisoning in the story, so why not make the victim the Prince Regent? My arrogant rake, bored with London, is on his way to Brighton when he is obliged to rescue a damsel in distress. But she’s one hell of a determined damsel and so for once he has to exert himself for another person - and she takes a lot of keeping out of trouble. It’s obvious where it’s going, but it’s the journey that makes it an enjoyable story.

Have you ever won or been short-listed in any competitions or awards, and do you think they help with a writer’s success?

My first story, THE WILD CARD, (which went through the NWS and was bought at once by Robert Hale), was shortlisted that year for the RNA Romance Prize. And the second one, IN ALL HONOUR, got into the final for the RedRosesforAuthors Christmas Award. I think it helps a lot for an author to be nominated and especially to win an award. It’s a big recommendation to the public and to publishers, as well as a huge boost to the writer’s morale.

So who is your favourite hero? 
Am I only allowed one? Apart from Mr Darcy and John Ridd, it’s Rupert Carsington in Mr Impossible. Tall, strong, too handsome for anyone’s good, irresistibly attractive, practical and always fights fair.

What was your favourite book as a child? 
The Hills of Varna by Geoffrey Trease. It was set in about 1510, and had a marvellous there and back quest across Europe, with a bold, brave heroine. No wonder I love travel and languages.

I loved Geoffrey Trease too. He wrote such exciting stories. Apart from writing, of which accomplishment are you most proud? 
My metallic bead embroidery, because I love all the sparkle and the gold thread. Each piece takes months to do and I make it all up as I go along. Here’s one called ‘East-West’.

Which authors do you choose to read for pleasure?
Loretta Chase, she’s so witty; Mary Balogh; Roisin McAuley; Wilkie Collins; Jane Austen, I can always find something new in there.

Lastly, if you could escape somewhere, to write, where would it be?
Ax-les-Thermes in the foothills of the Pyrenees would be a good place. Beautiful scenery, walking through history, local cuisine - plus the spa when needed. And the chateau which features in my new novel is close by. Thank you so much for sharing your pleasures in writing with us today, Beth. I’ve so enjoyed talking with you, and wish you every success for the future.
The Rake’s Challenge
Robert Hale

Giles Maltravers, the rakish Earl of Longwood, is weary of society life, duels and even his mistress. Anna Lawrence, nineteen and inspired by Lord Byron's poems is determined to seek a life of travel and adventure. Both decide to flee society. They meet when Giles rescues Anna from her first escapade. Anna is resolute in demonstrating her independence, but, somehow, she always ends up in trouble. His own pleasures forgotten, Giles rescues her from one potential disaster after another. He knows he cannot live without her, but he meets an unexpected obstacle, for Anna has a secret that means she can never be more than a friend to the man she has come to love with all her heart. Is there any way for their love to prevail? 

To hear more about Beth’s books, you can find her here:

Monday, 19 March 2012

Jane Austen's House at Chawton

Today I paid another visit to Jane Austen's home in Chawton. The village is situated well away from the main road and still has a peaceful old world atmosphere. The road leading to Jane's cottage has not changed much since her time. This row of thatched cottages define the length and curve of the road.

It was sunny and in all the gardens plants are stretching out green shoots at a miraculous rate. In Jane's garden daffodils and violets are in flower and there is the promise of a fine display of bluebells in another month. New since my last visit is the flowerbed of dye plants. It has ten sections, so ten different plants from which to make dyes for brightening up clothes and ribbons.     

Close to the outbuildings at the back of the house, is a bed of medicinal plants. Looking at these, I respect their virtues but feel a slight shiver at a world without modern medicine. There are also herbs such as rosemary and lavender with their many uses and a very old fig tree.

The various outbuildings served in essential jobs and for storage. The open door leads to the Bakehouse, with its wide chimney and brick oven. It also contains a large copper where clothes and household linen could be washed. The well is right by the door. There is an underground storage room, which would be cool and so provisions like salted pork could be kept there through the winter. [Pork was only eaten when there was an 'r' in the month.]

Coming round the side of the house, there is the main kitchen, a large and airy room, although perhaps when meat was roasting on a turning spit over the open fire the air in there was smoky and little sputters of hot fat made working difficult. This photo was taken on a previous visit, hence the roses.

     In the main kitchen

Inside the main house the rooms are large and the furniture is elegant, although there is only one padded seat - the sofa. The pianoforte is smaller than a modern piano but how essential it was for entertainment. It is easy to imagine the daily life of the family with its household duties. During the evenings as they sat in the drawing room, one of them would read and the others would sew.
The little table on which Jane is supposed to have written her novels, stands by the window in the dining room. It is battered and shabby, yet it is the most respected item in the house, everyone marvelling at it and then at Jane herself, whose existence was constantly bound up in her large family and the daily duties of domestic life, yet her perception of human nature is so profound that the stories she created are loved and admired across the world. That is evident from a glance through the Visitors' Book at Chawton Cottage.

And now, to round off my day, I shall select one of her novels to reread....

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Antoine-Ignace Melling

Antoine Ignace (Anton Ignaz) Melling was born in Karlsruhe in 1763. He studied Architecture and Mathematics at Klagenfurt. At the age of 19, he went to Italy, Egypt, and finally Constantinople as a member of the Russian Ambassador's retinue with the aim of drawing pictures for various dignitaries. He was introduced to princess Hatice Sultan, sister and confidant of the Ottoman Sultan Selim III.
At Hatice Sultan's suggestion, Melling was employed as Imperial Architect by Selim III. In 1795 the princess commissioned Melling to design a labyrinth for her palace at Ortaköy in the style of the Danish ambassador Baron Hübsch's garden. Delighted with the result, she asked Melling to redecorate the palace interior, and subsequently, a completely new neoclassical palace at Defterdarburnu. He also designed clothes and jewellery for her.

Melling Pasha's eighteen years as Imperial Architect gave him a privileged opportunity to observe the Ottoman Court. He became more familiar with the Ottoman palace than any Western artist since Gentile Bellini. He made many detailed drawings of the Sultan's palaces, Ottoman society, and vedute of Constantinople and its environs.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Versatile Blogger Award


My thanks to Suzie Tullett, who nominated my Blog for this Award. But the first condition is to reveal seven random facts about myself.   *gasp*  Can I admit to all this?

1 As a small child I used to fill my pockets with butterflies, grasshoppers, any insect I came across.

2 I love slipping out for a walk in the dark - it feels more private.

3 Once I walked into a restaurant and an unknown length of time later realised I was still standing in the doorway, open mouthed, feasting my eyes on the most attractive profile I had seen in was Alan Rickman. [have used that experience in a novel]

4 I adore Freddie Mercury's songs. To me they're like silk and velvet.

5 My hobby is metallic embroidery. That means stitching down lots and lots of gold thread, pearls, beads and sequins to make a picture. I like it to shimmer, gleam, shine and sparkle.

6 When I'm writing a novel, I get to feel quite ill when the characters revolt against what I want them to do. And then it's so hard to say goodbye to them when there is no more to tell, that I have to arrange some outings to break away from their company.

7 I love flowers of all kinds but prefer to keep them growing in the garden, not cut them and bring them inside.

Now to nominate Blogs that I recommend for this Award.