Wednesday 23 August 2023

Olivia's adventures [ 'Scandalous Lady' excerpt ]

 Fired by a wish to travel and visit exotic lands, Olivia and her former governess reach Constantinople in April 1811   

                        Related image

Dusk on the Golden Horn, by Ivan Aivasovsky

Two days later Olivia stood at the ship’s rail, her excitement growing as Constantinople came into view. The greatest city of the ancient world, capital of the mighty Ottoman Empire, gateway between east and west, and she was actually here!

            ‘I feel awed,’ she told Miss Neston in a voice that was not quite steady, ‘it’s magnificent.’ She shook her head and breathed out a long sigh of wonder. ‘The pictures really are true. I recognise the skyline; all those towers and domes and the tall minarets everywhere – and how green it is, Nessie. The whole city is full of trees.’ She danced across the deck to peer at the Asian shore, but rushed back when Miss Neston called to say they were approaching the Golden Horn. At this point, where the Horn opened, there was a busy floating market along the edge of the shore, noisy with men calling their wares. A savoury smell of frying fish wafted up from some boats. Olivia laughed and waved. ‘I wish we could taste that. My mouth is watering.’

            They both stared at the many huge buildings lining the shores, and the picturesque wooden houses whose upper storeys jutted out over the water. It was all so different and fascinating. Olivia’s eyes misted. I did it. I’m really here


The sea was crowded with boats of all shapes and sizes. A forest of masts swayed where large merchant ships were moored at the docks. Boats out on the open water had sails that flapped wildly in the stiff wind blowing down from the Black Sea. Small fishing boats and gondola-like rowing boats full of passengers wove their way among the larger ships. It seemed everyone was on the move, crossing from Europe to Asia and between north to south of the city. The sound of men shouting mingled with the raucous screaming of the gulls wheeling overhead.

Image result for the bosphorus strait constantinople

Scandalous Lady

Thursday 17 August 2023

Fancy a Free armchair trip to feel-good Romance ?

 On Free Offer

thanks to @JoffeBooks

                                                              Scandalous Lady

An exciting tale of travel and adventure,

and - when Ice and Fire combine - romance - in spite of the danger to all concerned.

In the Harem by Osman Hamdi Bey

Lady Hester Stanhope

Friday 14 July 2023

Sometimes being strong is simply being kind....

 One of Aesop's Fables tells of the contest between the Wind and the Sun, 

as to which is the more powerful.

The Wind blew furiously to blow the traveller's cloak off, but the harder he blew, the tighter the traveller clutched his cloak round himself.   

Then the Sun began to shine. The traveller loosened his cloak. When the Sun beamed, the traveller took his cloak off, enjoying the warm weather.

 Two very different families feature in A Problem of Honourthe latest Montailhac family tale. One has a member driven by ambition for higher office; so the family must always appear elegant, well mannered and united - in public, that is. Home life is sadly lacking in affection and shared interests.  

The other family is ruled firmly but with genuine warmth and consideration for their needs and wishes. 

This is my version of the Aesop story, which includes adventures, pets, villains as well as wine and roses - to symbolise the French and English parts of the story

Rosa Mundi, a striped Gallica, believed to date from 12th century
 [photo by Libby Norman] courtesy of Wikipedia

Label of Grande Cuvée 1531 de Aimery, a Crémant de Limoux,
a sparkling wine from southwestern France, 
courtesy of Wikipedia

Saturday 3 June 2023

My mystery friend revealed at last

             Who ? Where?  Why ?

[ picture courtesy of ]

                    Where ?

                           The place --- 

Istanbul Naval Museum
[picture courtesy of Wikipedia]

            Why - ?

    -  to see the elegant gondola-like caiques used by the Ottoman sultans. These lavishly ornamented boats were the favoured means of transport for travelling into the main city. 

                                                             A few imperial caiques
[picure By CeeGee - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,]

When the Court went on a visit from one palace to another, the spectacle of a flotilla of these caiques gliding along in procession was breath-taking, according to a 17th Century French Ambassador. 

            Who ? 

                   He was impressive in his uniform, and his sash made me smile.

                        -  the Sultan's chief Boat Master

                   For more pictures see    Istanbul_Naval_Museum

Monday 1 May 2023

Author Interview with The Bookshelf Cafe News


is a splendid resource for readers and writers. 
It offers a Daily Dose of news via Twitter and Instagram

and also invites authors for an interview. Here is mine -


How long have you been writing or when did you start? 

As a very small child I was fascinated by the little black marks on pages and how my parents could read me stories from those signs. How I longed to understand those marks for myself. I would hold a book open, look at a picture on the page and ‘read’ aloud the story that it inspired. Once I could read, I devoured any and every book I could lay my hands on. When the story finished too soon for my satisfaction, I added more to it. That’s where my writing began, and my motivation is still to create a story that is complete and satisfying. 

What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why? 

Inspiration usually starts from a picture of a person, or maybe from an interesting looking fellow passenger on a train or plane journey. For example, in an Airline magazine I spotted an advert for a black leather jacket. The model had such a moody expression, such an arrogant pose, that he sprang to life and I could see several episodes of his adventures. As I wiggled my way into his mind, his aims, abilities and of course, his faults and weaknesses become clear. Then his family, friends, enemies, and so on develop. These other people also tend to come from pictures, and their expressions and attitudes tell me their characters. By now they are all real people to me and the plot tends to develop as they dictate, rather than what I want them to do. 

Where do you get your information or ideas for your books? 

All my life I’ve been a voracious reader, mainly of any story or textbook about past ages and long ago travel and events. My grandparents had plenty of tales about their young lives, which gave me information about customs and activities from the past. Studying French and Italian meant reading books from medieval to modern times in both languages, and then life in Turkey added another dimension to my experiences, as my husband was a great traveller, and both the history and geography of that land is vast and diverse. Along the way I observed people, places, climate, customs and food. It’s a rather large reservoir to help with thinking up a story.   

How do you develop your plot and characters? 

Once the main characters come forward and I can see scenes from their story, I work out what their urgent problems are and how they can try to solve them. This brings in antagonists, difficulties of character, family situation, ambition and the growing number and type of obstacles they must battle. Also the time they are living in, the events of that period, the general rules of behaviour, costume, transport and so on, all need noting carefully and adding to the complications of the plot.  

As an example, The Rake and His Honour involved checking information about the Huguenots in London, silversmithing, smallpox, coaching routes and their stages for changing horses, the life of the French King and his Court in exile at Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire, to name a few items on my list. 

Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they? 

A most important rule is to ‘cut, cut, cut.’ It takes a writer time and practice to learn how to express ideas clearly but concisely, by choosing an effective noun or verb, rather than through a longer description or by adding an adverb to a weak verb. Journalists who have to produce an article in a set total of words, quickly learn to convey ideas and information in an economical manner. Sometimes a story really improves after the writer removes passages they took great pains over, but which merely drag a scene out. It’s the rule of ‘kill your darlings.’ It hurts but usually by trimming the text, the story gains tension and becomes more vivid. 

How do you come up with character names for your stories? 

For my Regency Tales, I use the names of Georgian era writers and poets. Also, Jane Austen’s family is a good source of suitable names for that period. My main characters have fairly classic names, I keep a few outrageous ones for the people I don’t like. It’s also necessary to consider religion, to have suitable names for Catholic or Huguenot characters. All titled names need to be checked via Google to be sure there is no living peer of that name. As for my Turkish characters, I search Google for the names of Sultans of the period and choose from the list of their children’s names. And for the French characters, as my de Montailhac family is based in the very south-west, I went round several graveyards in the region to find local names from that period. 

 Have you ever traveled as research for your book? 

Travel is essential for accuracy, whether it’s knowing how long it takes to walk from Sydney Place to the Pump Room in Bath, from Grosvenor Square to the St Giles Rookery in London, or to make an accurate description of the layout of the rooms in the Sultan’s little summer palace on the Golden Horn in Constantinople [Istanbul]. In fact, I enjoy travelling, and bring it into my stories a lot, together with a range of different nationalities, appropriate to the time in which I set my novels.  

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite? 

I’ve written ten books, of which six have been published, and two are out seeking a publisher. Two more are still getting some adjustments.  

My published novels are all set in the wider Regency period, but three stories take place at least partly outside England. I draw on my years living in France and Turkey to add a slight exotic flavour. In Scandalous LadyOlivia craves travel and adventure, like her role model, Lady Hester Stanhope, who she meets in Constantinople [Istanbul]. Writing a real life person into a novel means doing careful research to be faithful to her real character. 

The hero of Scandalous Lady, surprised me by revealing [in Chapter 7] that he had two brothers and two sisters. Once I got over the shock, I brought in his next brother in a minor role, and then gave him his own story in The Rake and his Honour. He is Arnaut, the middle son, desperate to find a worthwhile role in life and not altogether pleased that girls are helplessly attracted to him. Arnaut is my favourite character, he’s an ardent soul, all action and sensation and with devastating charm. I’ve obviously succumbed to that charm because I brought him into his younger brother’s story as well. So three stories are linked because they are about the Montailhac brothers. One is a diplomat, one finds a role as an anti-Napoleonic agent and one is a farmer.     

What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing? 

Good plain writing is what I prefer, simple sentences that flow so smoothly you barely notice the words, only the effect they have on you. If you are immersed in the story, then the writing is doing its job.  

How do you celebrate when you finish your book? 

Oh, it’s never a celebration when I finish writing a book. It means parting from one of my other families, as sad an event as at the end of my annual visit to family and friends in Turkey. Goodbyes are hard. At least the book is there so I can spend a little time with these people again. In any case, I revise a lot, which delays the parting. To be honest, someone really needs to show me how to let go.  


Tuesday 21 March 2023

My girls and where they go

 When the author likes travelling, she takes her girls along

Kitty travels from Cheshire down to London most unwillingly. Who wants to stay with a great-aunt they've never met? But London turns out to be exciting and dangerous. And the great-aunt has a trick or two up her sleeve. And Grosvenor Square is an impressive place to stay in.

Sarah stays in Bath with her friend Lizzie, whose uncle has gout. In fact most of the people in this story are invalids of various sorts, but all miraculously cured by the end of it [except for the evil villain, of course.]

Anna ends up in Brighton, finds a group of friends and enjoys all the pleasures of a seaside holiday. There are some rather unsavoury undercurrents but in the end all turns out splendidly. 

           The Rake's Challenge


Constantinople [now Istanbul]
Olivia, too scandalous to remain in polite society, joins her brother in Constantinople. She falls in love with the place and the way of life there, but, as always, where Olivia goes, trouble soon follows.


[There are similarities between Prinny's Brighton Pavilion and the Sultan's summer palace...]
   Ax-les-Thermes - London - Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire
Louise gets drawn into a quest that takes her from London to the Pyrenees, back home then to the French King in exile at Hartwell House, and back to France, pursued all the way by Napoleon's ruthless agents.

                                     Thermal Baths, Ax-les-Thermes

   London - Constantinople [now Istanbul]
Rose is NOT really keen on travel and adventure, but she makes the best of matters. Getting drawn into a highly dangerous plot is hard enough, but when the Sultan's powerful chief minister falls for her, however will she extricate herself from this oh so delicate situation....?
April and May         
                                            Toilette in the harem by Osman Hamdi Bey

Sunday 12 February 2023

My girls

 Another writer complained recently that 'Regency heroines only have music and embroidery as hobbies'. 

So of course, my girls want to speak up in their own defence.

Kitty from Cheshire. 'Mama insisted I learn to play the pianoforte and to sing. I enjoy sewing, and I ride but my main interest is helping in the local hospital. Poor folk deserve help when they are ill.'

Sarah from Wiltshire. 'I was taught to play and I can sing reasonably well. It takes most of my time to run the estate for my brother, but he gambles all the money away. Whenever possible, I enjoy reading novels.'
Kitty                                     Sarah

Rose from Berkshire. 'I went to the Abbey School in Reading. My main talent is drawing, and it helps me earn enough to be independent. Unfortunately, it also drew me into a highly dangerous plot.'

Anna from Hampshire. 'When dearest papa died, mama remarried. Then I was sent to school in Bath until I was past 19 years of age. I can play the pianoforte and I have a good reading voice. My friends and I have sworn to live a life of adventure like Lord Byron's Childe Harold. So I am setting off to fulfill my first quest NOW.'

Olivia from Gloucestershire. 'Well, I can play the pianoforte if I have to. I prefer to listen to other people's playing. I draw well enough for my brother to want my sketches of the ancient buildings he loves to explore, and I can run an estate. I adore riding and I am a crack shot. Most of all I want to travel to exotic lands.'

Louise from London. 'My family are Huguenots. We work as silversmiths and I design jewellery. I used to enjoy riding before we moved into town. Of course I can sew, mending garments and making new ones is an essential skill, like it or not.'

Olivia                                    Louise

And then there's Nell, but her father has locked her in her room so she can't run away....

and what about Sonya, desperate to lead a raid against the Turkish scouts invading Hungary?

Yet they can sew and play an instrument, among other skills and interests.

I don't know about Lucinda yet, she hasn't told me so far.