Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Christmas Day in Constantinople

For fifteen months, Lady Emilia Hornby lived in Constantinople. Her husband, Sir Edmund Hornby, was the British financial commissioner in the Ottoman Empire during the Crimean War. Her letters home are full of life and colour, giving a vivid description of the very different world she experienced during her stay. 

Here is what she says about Christmas day in 1855.

Ivan Aivozorsky: Dusk on the Golden Horn 1845

The Bosphorus on Christmas-day was particularly beautiful to us, unused now to see outward signs of a Christian people. The almost innumerable European ships were gaily dressed with flags and pennants, which fluttered in the brilliant sunshine...and far in the distance, the Asian mountains glittering with ice and snow. It was delightful to feel the warmth of spring in your caique, and to look upon shining avalanches above the clouds themselves.

Several English and French men-of-war on Christmas morning were taking in from caiques famous stocks of good things to make merry: oranges, dried fruits, grapes, and Turkish sweetmeats, whose name is Legion.
Lady Emilia Hornby:  In and around Stamboul
Published, 1858

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Wild Card - new edition

Large Print Edition, published by Ulverscroft.

Shortlisted for the RNA Romance Prize in 2009

"This is perhaps a quintessential Regency, with a look at London society, shopping for ball gowns and Horrid novels, rakish young men and romantic balls. Dive in and enjoy, the sort of book that reminds me why I like reading this sort of thing so much."  Rachel A Hyde

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Kristine and Victoria, the No.1 London Ladies

 Through their Blog, No.1 LONDON, [ ] I take a keen  interest in following the adventures of 
Kristine and Victoria 
[variously together, alone or sometimes with their spouses]

[Picture courtesy of Candice Hern at ]

Their passion for for Regency England is entrancing. Their observations are sparkling, their adventures hair-raising, worthy of a novel in themselves. Everywhere they visit they take photos - not snaps but real, attractive pictures, inside and out, of the many country houses, monuments and the countryside they visit. It creates a most attractive record of their travels. I speak from experience, because Kristine and Victoria came to Reading, where I live. One sunny afternoon last September, we met at the George Hotel, an old coaching inn, dating back to 1423 and probably before that. It was an appropriate lodging for them, as they were leading The Wellington Tour, with a group of enthusiastic Regency and Victorian era fans.

After several days of travelling to places connected with the Duke of Wellington, these kind ladies still had energy and time to come on a tour of historic Reading. I showed them the traces that still exist of the once great abbey, the market places where produce from the abbey was sold, the Holy Brook where the monks had windmills to grind the grain for bread, and the Forbury Gardens, a well-tended park in the centre of town. Kristine's photos of the flowers in there are stunning. I see my town through new eyes after reading her blog post on Reading [sorry for pun]. 

One member of the group was Diane Gaston, whose novels I enjoy very much. This is my photo of Diane, Kristine and Victoria in front of the Abbey Gateway. This structure has been restored several times and is undergoing more repairs at present, as the scaffolding testifies. In this building was Mrs Latournelle's school. Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra attended this school from 1785 -86.

After our walk and lots of talk, we returned to The George for dinner and more conversation. A golden memory, and thanks to Kristine's photos, still vivid. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

A Hoard of Treasures

In a previous life I was surely a squirrel and the hoarding instinct has stayed with me. I store up treats, savour the delight of having a treasure to enjoy and make the thrill even greater by waiting for The Right Time to take out a gem.
The latest stash was three historical novels. I list them in the order they came to me.

In September 2014, I met up with a group of Americans doing the Wellington Tour, when they stayed in Reading to visit Stratfield Saye and [as a sideline] Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey. Victoria and Kristine, who were leading the group, kindly invited me to join them for dinner. It was humbling to hear all their enthusiasm for the sights they had seen. One of the group was award winning author Diane Gaston, whose books I read avidly. What a thrill when she gave me a copy of her latest novel,   A Lady of Notoriety.

Diane tackles difficult subjects with such skill she turns potential tragedies into breathlessly interesting drama. It seemed that the hero was facing a horrific outcome, but after a white knuckle ride, things turned out well. Thankfully. You can see I was hooked on the story.

And soon after this I was a lucky winner in Joanna Bourne’s competition on the Word Wenches Blog. My prize was a copy of the latest novel in her award winning espionage series, Rogue Spy, set against the background of Napoleonic France.

The amazing thing for me is Joanna Bourne’s ability to draw you into the scene, wherever it is set, throughout the novel. She has a very economical way with words but each place was so vivid, I felt I was really there; whether in the church, the London alleyways, the dusty old bookshop or the Spy headquarters. And aside from unravelling the complexities of plot, and ever-deepening layers of Pax’s character, there is the wonderful portrait of Violet and Lily, the two dames, who dominate every scene in which they appear.  
By some chance I’d missed the publication of Nicola Cornick’s third Highland Lairds story, Claimed by the Laird, until earlier this year.  
Nicola is a USA Today Bestselling Author and I always enjoy her historical novels. So I was delighted to add another gem to my hoard. Nicola does wonderful descriptions of Highland Scotland and its way of life. The story transported me to the Highlands with a cast of characters and a wild setting on the western coast, all of which was absolutely real for me.

As someone said: When you read a good story, you want to get to the end and you don’t want to get to the end.

And during the summer it was at last The Right Time to enjoy my hoard.

Now you know why I’ve been quiet for a while. 

Friday, 4 September 2015

Summer break

Sometimes it's essential to take a total break from the job in hand. But when you're a writer, how do you stop the spring of ideas from flowing?
My solution this time was to travel to places where talking the language would occupy my mind, and where the heat of summer means you live at a different pace.

The charms of a small village on the southern coast of Turkey, followed by a spell in a charming village in the Languedoc, where even the cats understand the art of a leisurely life,  works the necessary magic .....

so getting back to writing, researching and editing is no longer daunting. En avant!!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Smugglers' Road

The Pyrenees are  three lines of high mountains running east to west from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. They form a natural barrier between France and Spain, one that is difficult to cross. However, as well as being a border they are also a bridge. 

From the earliest times, people always have found ways through. There are a number of different routes, all carefully guarded by the local community. Each crossing needs a skilled guide to lead the travellers, who might be pilgrims, refugees, or traders. Many times through the centuries, refugees have crossed the Pyrenees to escape persecution. And in more recent times, during the Second World War, a significant number of people escaped the Nazis by crossing from France into Spain

From one side to the other, the trail can take up to eight days, descending sheer slopes into deep valleys and climbing to a pass [known as a "port"] over 2,000 metres high. 

In certain remote villages, where the living was very hard, banditry and smuggling were common and the authorities often turned a blind eye to the trade.

  In the summer of 1813, the British, Spanish and Portuguese Allied Army under the command of Lord Wellington, pushed the French troops into the southern Pyrenees.

On 28th July, at Sorauren, Wellington pushed the French troops back to the north.

Wellington's local guides were Basques on this occasion.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Le Patou, the Great Pyrenees Sheepdog

The "patou" is a large white dog used as a guard dog for the flocks of sheep and goats in the Pyrenees. It's role is not to herd the sheep but rather to guard them from predators, such as bears and wolves.

 The word patou derives from pastre, meaning shepherd in old French.

The patou walks at the head of the flock, checking out the land before the flock starts to spread out and graze. Then he establishes his zone of protection and watches out for the approach of any intruder. If any threat [bear, wolf or human stranger] comes close to the flock, the patou will bark to alert the sheep and shepherd. He will not attack unless the sheep are physically threatened.

These dogs have been used in the Pyrenees for many centuries. They are handsome, have a pleasant temperament and are tall and sturdy. In the 17th Century they were in fashion at the court of Louis XIV at Versailles.

Photo by Jérome Bon

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Author interview with Creative Frontiers

Author Interview at Creative Frontiers

‘Yes! Yes! Oh Yes!’

Beth Elliott
Beth Elliott
The other day, CF powdered its wig and attended an eighteenth century salon (as you do).
Whom did we find there?
None other than Beth Elliott who writes Regency Tales, full of adventure, intrigue and romance: The Wild Card, set in London; In All Honour, set in Bath; April and May, set in Constantinople and London;The Rake’s Challenge, set in Brighton; all published by Robert Hale and available from Amazon, etc. From behind our fan, we whispered the following questions to her.
CF: Tell us a bit about yourself
BE: When not writing, travelling or attending to Wellington, the cat, I do bead embroidery pictures, where everything must gleam, shine, sparkle or glow. It helps me indulge my love of bling. In addition, I spend hours in museums like the Topkapi or the Louvre, gazing at the huge jewels and sighing with adoration at their beauty.
CF: What subjects or genres do you like to read?  
BE: Because I always love to hear about other places and other times, my favourite reading matter involves travel mixed with adventure. I’ll try any historical period, set anywhere in the world. Perhaps I can include Arthurian and Celtic legends in that. I incline towards romance, mixed in with the adventures. Military tales are ok but I’m not keen on murder mysteries. Any story with a quest or about righting a wrong appeals to me.
CF: Who are your favourite writers?
BE: Jane Austen has to be the first on this list. I reread her books and always discover something else to enjoy in there. Voltaire for style, Loretta Chase for witty adventure romance, Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe stories to while away plane journeys, Wilkie Collins is the most suspense I can take. For travel, books by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Jason Goodwin and William Dalrymple enthrall me. I’m also a closet Tolkien fan, for the pleasure of his rich language.
And I do love all Arthurian legends written by whoever and whenever. I’m developing a story about Lancelot, inspired by my particular bit of mid-Wales.
CF: What subjects or genres do you like to write?  
BE: It seems like my other home to slip into the wider Regency era. So mainly I write tales of intrigue and romance set against a background of the Napoleonic wars. But I come at this from a different point of the compass, setting my stories in Constantinople, France or Portugal, for example. Earlier this year I visited Albania and found there was a lot of contact between Ali Pasha Tepelena and the British officers on Corfu, which has inspired another plotline. Travelling is one of my hobbies and as well as using the places I discover as settings, I write travel articles.
CF: How did you know you wanted to write? 
BE: I always told stories, from before I could read and write. Maybe it’s the Welsh in me – I’m the only member of the family who can’t sing but I love listening to the spoken word, with its infinite range. I hear my characters speaking before I write their tale down.
CF: How did you get the confidence to start?  
BE: It was more a matter of knowing when to stop. Even aged 8 or 9 I wrote long letters to relatives and huge stories for English homework. In my teen years I contributed to the school magazine and was editor in my last school year, as well as winning regional Essay prizes. My English teacher put me in for those competitions. Writing was always a big part of my life.
CF: If you can remember the day you went from non-writer to writer, how did that feel? 
BE: If by this you mean learning that my first novel was accepted by a publisher, I jumped up and down for most of the day, exclaiming ‘Yes! Yes! Oh Yes!’ And it’s still a thrill to remember that moment.
CF: Do you find novels or short stories easier to write? 
BE: I can write short travel articles but find short stories very difficult to construct. A novel is much easier, because it allows time to develop characters and create scenes, whether dramatic, pastoral or romantic. And to lay a few red herrings.
CF: How (and where) do writing ideas come to you? 
BE: Inspiration strikes any old time. It’s like a curtain being drawn back to reveal another place. That’s why a notebook and pencil are as essential as clothes. But to start a novel, I set out a range of pictures of people and houses [collected from any and everywhere]. In a little while, one face will dominate and from the expression on that face, the person’s name and character come to me. Then other pictures will attach themselves, as family, friends, enemies, homes. And episodes of a story start to appear out of a mist, although at this stage, I have no idea where in the novel they go.
CF: What writing methods and discipline do you practise?
BE: Research about the places, the events of the period and an accurate timeline for my characters are the essential first items. Research often involves travel. For instance I walked the walk round Bath, London and Brighton to be sure of realistic times for characters to get from A to B. I visited the little palace in Istanbul where my hero stays while in that city, and so on. I have a few books on writing that help me with technique.
For me the best time to write is in the evening and I aim for a minimum of a thousand words a day. It may be rubbish but that’s easier to revise than a blank page.
CF: How much do you edit and polish? 
BE: My first draft is more telling than showing, as I want to set down the details of who was where with whom, when, why, and what they did. Then when I reread it, or go back to adjust events in the light of any subsequent change in the plot, I convert it to dialogue and add in as much emotion as I dare. I do like to polish, and would do so even after the story is published, if I could.
CF: Which do you find easier: constructing characters or building a plot? 
BE: The characters seem to appear fully formed, but revealing their development as the story unfolds is as much pain as pleasure. The plot seems simple at first but soon the characters take on a life of their own and hold me up by refusing to act as I wish. So, on this question, for me, both get harder as we go along. But we always get there in the end.
CF: What’s the hardest thing about writing for you? 
BE: Maintaining self-belief. Some days what I’ve written seems total rubbish. But I’ve learned not to erase anything – a week later it will seem better and it can always be revised in some way.
CF: What do you most enjoy about writing?
BE: Writing is an escape into the world of my story, which is a place I want to be in. My characters are totally real for me. And another pleasure is the actual words, using language to craft scenes that my readers can see. I love it when I read a bit out at my writers’ group and get the comment, ‘I saw that as clearly as if it was a film’.
CF: Do you fall into writing ‘dumps’ and, if so, how do you get out of them? 
BE: Sometimes nothing can awaken the muse. The frustration is enormous but that’s the time to stop exhausting myself. I read a gripping novel or watch a DVD to forget my woes. This can last days at a time. If I can’t get on from the point where it all stalled, I go back to the beginning of the story, rereading and editing slightly, to get back on track. By the time I come to that dreaded blank page, there’ll be a thread that needs more development or some fresh ideas to try.
CF: If you’ve suffered rejection, what works for you in dealing with it?
BE: It’s very crushing to be rejected but it helps to keep on writing the current WIP. After a few checks on stated requirements at an agency, I’ll send out the story again. I know it’s fierce competition among editors to get any story accepted for publication, so the only motto is: Never give up.
CF: What are you working on at the moment? 
BE: A quest set in 1813. The hero is the second Montailhac brother, the charmer, who longs to have a role where he could excel, like his older brother [in Scandalous Lady]. Through a fast paced chase battling Napoleon’s secret police, he develops into a more mature person – helped of course by a young woman of courage and determination.
CF: What further ambitions do you have for your writing?  
BE: To do better, in terms of depth of plot and more complex characters, so as to write a totally compelling story. I’ll get there by the time I hit 100.

Beth Elliott on Facebook and @BethElliott on Twitter

  4 comments for “‘Yes! Yes! Oh Yes!’

  1. susanjones
    January 14, 2015 at 2:47 pm
    Yes yes yes I must read your stories, Beth. Keep on jumping up and down.
    • January 14, 2015 at 10:23 pm
      I keep on writing, Susan and hope to have more ‘Yes, yes,’ moments. I hope you enjoy my stories. The pleasure is in the journey through the adventures, with the expectation of a happy ending.
  2. January 23, 2015 at 2:15 pm
    Beth, you know I am a huge fan and love anything you write, especially with all that research. I love your blog and all the photos and I can see how much hard work you’ve put into your books. Most impressive. I love adventures and you seem to be on one all the time. Long may the lust to have an adventure last. I shall be there. :)Thanks for finding me too. Have a wonderful and successful 2015 and beyond.
  3. January 28, 2015 at 9:25 pm
    Thank you for your kind words, Jane. your own fizzing energy gives me a boost. Soon another hero will complete his quest and be out in the world, looking for readers. He’s taken a long road and a lot of research but he’s worth it.
    Lovely to see your post up here. You have so many stories in your head and thankfully, some of them are now available to read. Good luck to you also.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

A taste of the Pyrenees

 The Montailhac family who feature in my current stories, live in the Pyrenees. For them, the rugged scenery and the harsh climate are their normal setting. But some of the other characters in the story are amazed at the new world they discover within the tumbled mass of this mountain range.

The plunging mountains mean any journey is long and arduous. The local breed of short legged horse, the Mérens, are the best for travelling in this terrain. [My story takes place in 1813].

Villages are small and situated by one of the many fast flowing streams.

The weather changes suddenly. Sunshine gives way to violent thunderstorms with plenty of snow in winter.

  One of the towns along the river  Garbet, [whisper it low] is Seix. The picture above is the castle, now a museum of local life. A range of recipes for such things as badger stew and crow pie, suggest a degree of poverty in the area in days gone by.

The magical Lake of Béthmale, with water of a striking blue-green. 

A local house with the typical 'stepped' roof, which is a defence against heavy snow.

Water is everywhere, adding movement and sound. This is a backstreet in Seix.