Ah, the country! I am delighted to be here at Lady B’s house party, breathing the fresh air and reveling in the open spaces. Not only did I recently turn in a manuscript, but I have just celebrated the release of A Lady by Midnight. After all that excitement, some rustication in the country is exactly what I need.
The lovely, talented, and RITA-winning Miss Linden!
Our plans for Pall Mall and badminton are thwarted today by light rain, so Lady B has offered us a tour of the Beaufetheringstone estate.
Lady B: So glad you could make it from Spindle Cove, Miss Dare. And where is it you’re visiting from, Miss Linden?
Caroline: I’ve just come from Frome, a rather rustic village south of Bath.
Lady B: Frome…Frome… why does that name make me think of bed warmers?
Caroline: There’s quite a lot of coal there to be mined, and of course that coal needs a canal to get to market, but canals are expensive and need investors–although you would be a fool to invest in any canal that doesn’t have an honest prospectus… Oh dear, I’m doing exactly what my heroine Tessa Neville would do, and getting swept away by financial details. But then, Mrs. Neville and I are both decidedly bluestockings, with a bent for numbers. Not very ladylike, I know, but I’ve been longing to write a heroine who loves math for so long now.
(the other) Tessa: I love a heroine who loves math! And your heroine has the best name. But I’m a little glad you left her in Frome, or this would have gotten very confusing…
Caroline: Suffice it to say, I have returned from the wilderness and couldn’t be happier to be here. Won’t you show me more of your lovely home, Lady B?
Lady B: This is the long gallery, featuring portraits of all the esteemed Beaufetheringstones of Ages Past. Ah! And here’s a portrait of my nephew Monty as a young boy.
Tessa: Oh! Be still my heart! Is that a Gainsborough?
No, not Monty, but close! Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy
Lady B: My Monty looks very fine, doesn’t he? Just as the heir to the Beaufetheringstone title should.
Caroline: Oh, yes. His eyes…why, they’re green as the grass of this country estate!
Lady B, proudly: So glad you noticed. Our Ballroom guests thought the same.
Tessa: And his hair… (tilts head) Why, how would you describe his hair?
Caroline: If you don’t mind my asking, Lady B…Just how is it that Montague is both your nephew AND Lord B’s heir?
Lady B: I don’t mind you asking, if you don’t mind my not answering. It’s…complicated.
Tessa: Ah. Another one of those situations. Miss Linden and I know them well. We’ve both just finished writing characters with complex inheritance issues and a great many family secrets.
Lady B: Is that so? Do tell. I love a good scandal.
The Way to a Duke’s Heart
Caroline: You must have heard about the Durham Dilemma. My poor hero, Charles de Lacey, recently learned he might not be the legitimate heir to his father, the Duke of Durham–because the duke was once married, secretly and scandalously, to an actress.
Lady B: An actress?
Caroline: An actress. (horrors!) And when he and this actress had a falling out, they simply went their separate ways and never saw each other again. This was almost sixty years ago; who knew that it would ever come to light? Surely not the duke; he married again and had three sons, only to get a terrible shock when some villain started blackmailing him about that long-ago marriage.
Unfortunately for Charlie, the duke was very used to keeping secrets. Durham didn’t tell anyone about the blackmail, so Charlie and his brothers only discovered it when the duke died. At first it seemed Charlie’s brothers would take care of the problem, but they both got tangled up with women, and then they got married, and now Charlie’s the only one left to sort out the mystery and prove he’s the rightful heir to the dukedom…if he can. Because the worst secret Charlie harbors is that he’s probably not up to the task. All his life he’s known his brothers are smarter and braver than he is. All his life he’s been found wanting, in every serious measurement, and now it’s up to him to save himself and his family from disgrace and disinheritance.
Tessa: It’s remarkable, really — because the heroine of my new book, Kate Taylor, is on the opposite side of that scenario! She’s the long-lost love child (perhaps) of a marquess. All she ever wanted was a family, and now that’s she’s found the Gramercys, the truth of her identity might ruin everything.
A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare
Lady B: Dear me. Well, at least I know we Beaufetheringstones are not alone. I suppose every family has a few skeletons in the closet.
Caroline: Of course they do! And rattling them about is ever so much fun for authors. I don’t feel my hero and heroine really know each other until they’ve opened the doors and peered right into the back of those dusty closets filled with secrets. I know I feel more connected to you, Lady B, by the little hints I’ve heard about wildness in your youth, reckless misadventures, and that one naughty evening you spent with the Prince of…. Tessa, quit pinching me! You didn’t tell me that was a SECRET secret! You said she was proud of her days as a hoyden–well, proud once one got a little ratafia into her…
Well…judging by the look Lady B is giving me, we will have to save that story for another day!
But while we’re on the topic of family secrets and scandals, anyone else want to open those closet doors? Do you have a strange or quirky family story that gets told around the Thanksgiving table?
Oh, and don’t forget to lobby for your choice as to Monty’s hair color! We’re going to have a proper image of this man eventually.
Many thanks to Caroline for joining us today! One lucky commenter will win copies of both The Way to a Duke’s Heart and A Lady by Midnight!
Through the open Ballroom windows, I can hear the chirp of birds, the slap of mallets against projectiles, and the soothing crackle of rifle fire.
Yes, it’s another glorious late August day in the English countryside.
Some of the authoresses have made up a party to go shopping in the village (the village shop has just got in a new supply of ribbons and plot devices, all in the very latest style), while others have organized a picnic down by the lake. I, sadly, cannot make one of either party. On this gorgeous day, I’m stuck indoors, trying to—
Lady B: Miss Willig! Whatever are you doing under that settee?
I don’t think she’ll believe me if I tell her I’m fighting off a phalanx of killer dustbunnies, so I go for the truth.
Lauren: It’s the heroine of my latest novel. I’m supposed to be writing her grand denouement today but she’s crawled under there and she won’t come out.
From under the settee comes a loud harrumph that makes the crystal lustres in the chandelier shake.
Lady B: Well! That will never do. You must simply get your heroine in hand at once. We have a ball planned here later today and I refuse to have rogue characters lurking under my settees. [Leaning down under the settee.] Have I made myself clear, Miss—”
A loud, clear voice emerges from under the settee: Meadows! Miss Gwendolyn Meadows.
Lady B:Miss Meadows, I demand that you emerge!
There’s a loud cracking noise and a sulpherous whiff of smoke. One of the mirrors on the far wall shatters.
Albert, no fool, flaps away, squawking about his tail feathers.
Lady B [in shock and slightly singed about the lorgnette]: Was that—
Lauren [resignedly]: Yes. That was her parasol pistol.
Lady B [looking just a little too intrigued by this]: Her what?
Lauren [sighing]: Her parasol pistol. She got an upgrade on her sword parasol after the last book. It’s the new iParasol 4 with flintlock and bayonet.
Miss Gwendolyn Meadows [from under the settee]: And I know how to use it!
Lady B rounds on me. Miss Willig, what did you do to that poor, beleaguered woman?
Wait, what? Miss Gwen is more likely to beleaguer than be beleaguered. The sympathy is decidedly on the wrong foot here.
Lauren: Nothing! Nothing! That is… all I did was put her book off by six months while I was writing my first stand alone novel, which is coming out in April and is—well, you can’t really know what it’s about since it’s set around World War I, which hasn’t happened yet here. But it’s not like Miss Gwen has had to wait that long—her book is coming out in August of next year. [I lean down, angling my head down under the edge of the settee.] Or it would if she’d come out from under the bloody settee and let me finish writing it!
Lady B looks at me with intense disapproval. Language, Miss Willig! No wonder that poor, dear woman refuses to come out. And then, to my shock and horror, she hunkers down on the floor next to the settee, saying, My dear Miss Meadows, do tell me more about this parasol pistol of yours…. Is there a stun feature for use on importunate gentlemen?
Oh dear. I probably should have just gone to the village with the other authoresses. Goodness only knows what I’ve started here. The idea of Miss Gwen and Lady B teaming up, both armed with parasol pistols, is not one I wish to contemplate.
While I’m trying to wrangle Miss Gwen out for her September 1 deadline, how will you be spending the last days of August?
Now that Lady B is out in the countryside, recovering (ahem) from a rather arduous Season of staring debutantes out of countenance, how exactly is she entertaining herself while the good weather lasts?
For me, the long hot days of summer bring back memories of barbecues, badminton, croquet (invariably someone will have squashed the wickets, leaving them to be put back up in strange, ageometrical shapes through which the ball can only, with great difficulty, pass), and lots of lying around on the grass with a book.
Not all of these would be strangers to our Regency friends. Barbecues, certainly, aren’t Regency fare, but eating al fresco was. You can find many illustrations of elaborate picnics, from the blanket on the grass variety all the way to “let’s get the footmen to put the dining room on the lawn!” (Okay, maybe not quite the whole dining room, but you get the idea.) Lady B, however, might well engage in a spirited game of badminton. This picture, from 1804, shows the ladies going at it with battledore and shuttlecock:
As someone who once lettered in high school badminton (stop snickering!), I think Lady B would have a mean smash.
Several of our other outdoor entertainments would also be familiar to Lady B and her cronies. When I drag out the battered old family croquet set, I don’t know about you, but I certainly think about Bridgerton Pall Mall and the Mallet of Death.
A few years ago, when I was writing The Mischief of the Mistletoe, I wrote in a plot-essential game of Blind Man’s Buff (and we can have the usual debate about whether it’s Blind Man’s Buff or Blind Man’s Bluff later). As I was writing the scene, I had one of those panic attacks impossible to explain to anyone but another writer of historical fiction: the horrible fear that Blind Man’s Buff might be one of those insidious Victorian additions that we blindly believe has been around longer. There are lots of those. They’re sneaky little devils, those Victorian additions. My book was set in 1803. That would not have been good.
I hastily looked up Blind Man’s Buff (I confess, such was the extent of my deadline-driven anxiety that I did exactly what I always told my history students not to do and googled it, instead of hauling myself out of my desk chair to walk the big ten feet to the research books on my shelf), prepared, if necessary, to grit my teeth and find another party game. The first thing to come up? This picture, from 1803:
Pretty neat, no? Not 1802 shall you count, or 1804, but exactly the year I needed. Although my book was set in winter, so my heroine wasn’t quite so diaphanously garbed– but as Lady B is out there with her cronies in August, this might not be so far off the mark for them, depending on which year in the Ballroom Time Space Continuum she happens to be inhabiting at this particular moment. If she’s currently on the 1816-ish side of Regency-land, her garments would be a great deal less diaphanous. And I imagine Albert would be there with her, squawking his own unique commentary.
I enter the ballroom today, and already, I can tell something is amiss.
Maybe it’s all the china and crystal in boxes.
Maybe it’s the fact that all the chairs and settees are not only covered in drop cloths, but secured in place with straps.
Or maybe it’s the fact that Lady B is currently trying to stuff – erm, coax a recalcitrant Albert into a cage.
Lady B: “Come now, Albert. I know you don’t like it, but it is necessary!”
Albert: <squawk> “Free bird! Free bird!”
Lady B catches sight of me.
Lady B: “Thank goodness, Miss Noble, perhaps you can talk some sense into Albert. We have to get underway.”
Miss Noble: “Underway?”
Lady B: “Yes of course. For the trip to the country. You should find a chair, or something to hold onto.”
Suffice to say, I am bewildered.
Miss Noble: “Since when are we going to the country?”
just a cozy little country manor…
Lady B: (looking at me as if I’ve grown a third head) “Since the Season came to a close, Miss Noble. It ends when Parliament ends its session – and that was a week ago now. Lord B is beyond anxious to get to the Beaufeatheringstone estate and begin shooting his grouse.”
Albert: <squawk> “Not shooting!”
Lady B: “Yes Albert, shooting. And last time, you refused to get into your cage and flew off god only knows where, and nearly had your tail feathers shot off by Lord B! Now do as I say!”
Amazingly, this is enough for Albert to throw back his head and march proudly into his cage.
Lady B: “Finally. Now we can get going.”
Miss Noble: “Oh, but I… I haven’t had time to pack anything. Is there room on the carriages for another trunk or two?”
Lady B shoots me another one of her third-head looks.
Lady B: “Carriages? What on earth would we need carriages for?”
Miss Noble: “… to travel? To the country?”
Lady B: (with a decided smirk) “Miss Noble, when I say we are going to the country, I don’t mean us.”
Miss Noble: “But — ”
Lady B: “I mean the entire ballroom. Now — hold onto something.”
And then Lady B snaps her fingers. And then…
The crystal chandelier overhead begins to make a tinkling noise. I barely have time to grab hold of a banister when the entire room begins to shake, not unlike a mild earthquake. But before I can ask what on earth is going on, it stops.
Lady B: “At last. It is so pleasant to be in the country again, don’t you find, Miss Noble?”
As Lady B rushes to let Albert out of his cage, I peel my fingers loose from the banister and look about me. The ballroom is unchanged, its angles and architecture. The servants begin uncovering and unstrapping the furniture. But beyond the ballroom…
Everything is different. I step out onto the balcony, which normally overlooks Lady’s B small city garden, but now, there is a vast expanse of green – trees, fields, even a few sheep! I hear rifle shots in the distance. Had Lord B already gotten up to grousing? And there are some of the other authoresses, playing bowls on the lawn! They wave to me. All of our guests – how had the guests gotten here? — are milling about, in and out of the grand country estate, in fall walking costumes or hunting garb. Lady B has transported and transformed the ballroom – lock, stock, and barrel – to a country house party!
Miss Noble: “I think I might pass out.”
Lady B appears beside me. Completely unruffled.
Lady B: “Nothing that some good country air cannot cure, I am sure.”
Well, it seems we have quit London for the country! Who should we invite to Lady B’s country house party? And what activities should we have planned? Oh, what sort of trouble can we get up to here…
It’s just a little over a week until the release of my new Spindle Cove book, A Lady by Midnight! I’m so excited, and I’ve brought with me to the Ballroom today the book’s hero–Corporal Samuel Thorne, now acting lieutenant of the Spindle Cove militia.
But as I bring him into the Ballroom, two things are immediately clear. First, Thorne’s not happy to be here. Second, Lady B’s not happy to see him.
I draw our hostess aside for a quiet conversation.
Tessa: Why do you look so wary, Lady B? I know he’s a bit fearsome-looking, but believe me–
Lady B waves a hand. I am accustomed to fearsome-looking men. It’s just that your heroes tend to be so unmanageable, Miss Dare. Remember the time that Lord Payne flirted with every young lady in the ballroom?
Tessa: Oh, yes. I remember it well. But never fear, Lady B. Thorne is a very different sort of hero from Colin. He’s a military man with a dark past, a strong sense of loyalty…
Lady B’s ears perk. Do go on.
Tessa: And he’s known for being exceptionally taciturn. He hardly ever says a word.
Lady B: Even in ballrooms?
Tessa:Especially in ballrooms. I tell you, Albert is more talkative.
Lady B: Perhaps Corporal Thorne just hasn’t met the right hostess yet. I shall see about this.
Lady B approaches Thorne. Thorne, being a well-trained officer, bows deeply and mutters something that is probably “my lady.” He’s clearly uneasy in this environment, and for a moment I feel a bit guilty. But then I remind himself that he’s seen battle and destruction and worse. Surely he can handle a few hours in a ballroom.
Lady B: It’s my pleasure to make your acquaintance, Corporal Thorne. I trust you’re enjoying yourself thus far?
Thorne turns a testy glance around the ball. To use modern parlance, this isn’t his scene. I can sense that he doesn’t want to be honest and offend his hostess with a “no”, so he’s trying to find something, anything, that he can genuinely claim to be enjoying. His gaze drops to his cup of ratafia–which I, of course, have liberally spiked.
At last, he speaks.
Thorne: Yes, my lady.
Lady B: Do you come often to Town?
Thorne: No, my lady.
Lady B: Well. Then I’m gratified that you’ve made the journey just for us. Do you have the opportunity to attend many balls in Spindle Cove ?
Thorne, after a prolonged pause: Rarely.
Lady B: Well. ” Rarely” is something more than “never”, isn’t it? I do hope we can coax you into dancing this evening.
That question doesn’t even receive a syllable of response. Merely a cold, impassive glare.
Lady B, whispering: My goodness, Miss Dare. You weren’t joking. Can the man ever be coaxed to utter more than one word at a time?
Tessa: I don’t know, Lady B. I think he might…but the lady would have to just ask the right questions.
Lady B: That sounds like a marvelous challenge for the right heroine.
Tessa, smiling: I think Miss Kate Taylor would agree.
But today, it’s a challenge to you, dear guests! Thorne will come by in comments later. See if you can ask him a question that he’ll be forced to answer with more than one word.
Additionally, feel free to make note of your own favorite strong, silent heroes. Or do you prefer the chatty rakes?
Side Note: Are you on Goodreads? Just today, I’ve opened a Q&A group to chat with readers as we get ready for the release of A Lady by Midnight. If you’d like to join us, please do!
The career of being an author was romanticized for me from a young age when I read Harriet the Spy and started keeping a detailed journal.
Then there was (of course) Romancing the Stone, which I saw after I’d started reading romance books. How fun to see the stories I’d just recently discovered discussed on screen (although as a child, I didn’t understand many of the stereotypes). One of the early scenes that features romance writer Joan Wilder crying over her manuscript is a classic. However, I still haven’t cried while writing any of my stories.
Two of my favorite films featuring somewhat humorous looks at both published and aspiring authors are Room with a View and Cold Comfort Farm. As mocking as E.M. Forster is in his portrayal of writer Eleanor Lavish, I love her over the top aesthetic and unapologetic use of other people’s lives for her fiction.
If you haven’t seen Cold Comfort Farm, I highly recommend it. Protagonist Flora intends to write a novel when she’s fifty and has gathered life experience. You can see her early attempt at literary greatness at 1 minute and 25 seconds.
Romance books aren’t strangers to the use of authors as protagonists. In Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester, the heroine is an author, in Julia Quinn’s Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, the heroine is revealed to be a gossip columnist. Do you have a favorite book or movie featuring a writer?
There is a certain tension in the air when I enter the ballroom tonight. Albert and Harold both are present, and neither the beloved parrot nor the black toucan are squawking at each other, which suggests something dire indeed has occurred.
I search the already crowded ballroom for Lady B, and find her looking quite put out. She meets my gaze and is positively glowering. I think quickly through everything I have done in the last few weeks. No…I can’t think of why she might be upset with me. I take a deep breath and (bravely) approach.
As I do, I see that she is standing next to a youngish-appearing gentleman. A light has cast him in silhouette but from the cut of his hair and his coat (and yes, I can tell a man by the cut of his hair), I recognize her nephew, Montague. (In fact, all I really have to go on is the cut of his clothing and hair because every time I’ve seen him before tonight, he’s been a bruised disaster. Only a fortnight ago, he was brawling with one of Miss Darcy Burke’s heroes. Although Katharine has been nursing him back to health and perfect male beauty.)
Lady B: Miss Darby, perhaps you can convince my wayward nephew that as noble as the cause may be, he cannot help every damsel in distress. He must be presentable if he will attend events in London.
I look at Monty and wince. After Katharine did such a wonderful job tending to Monty’s wounds, he now looks slightly worse for wear.
Monty: I assure you, Miss Darby, that the lady’s assailant looks far worse than I.
And then, he winks.
Have you ever seen a man with two bruised eyes attempt to wink? It is a bit frightening. And arresting. For between the slightly swollen lids of his right eye, I can almost make out the color. It looks…black. Or maybe it’s a very dark brown. Or maybe that’s just the shadow and in reality his eyes are hazel. Or a rather light blue?
Fine, I admit it, I don’t actually know.
Maybe you can take a look and help me?
What do you think? Should Montague stop his impulsive and well-intentioned brawls? Or does he simply need to engage an excellent teacher of pugilism?
It’s unbearably hot and The Ballroom is almost empty. Our heroes are either enjoying blissful country honeymoons or off behaving badly in anticipation of being reformed. (Except the Duke of Castleton, who never behaved badly in his life until he wandered into the pages of my forthcoming book, The Importance of Being Wicked. I’m showing you the cover because it’s gorgeous and I smile every time I see it.)
Since we are in the dogs days of August, Sarah and Gaelen have smuggled in their dogs. Baxter and Bingley are sacked out under an Egyptian-style settee with crocodile feet. Katharine and Sabrina sit on top, exchanging animal-related furniture tips. The other authoresses chat languidly about nothing very much. I sneak over to the refreshment table, hoping Tessa spiked the ratafia with some twenty-first century American ice cubes.
Uh, Oh. Busted.
Lady B (for it is she): Miss Neville. I cannot understand a word anyone is saying this evening. Miss Noble keeps talking about rehearsing dinner. I’ve never required practice before sitting down to dine.
Miranda: Rehearsal dinner. It’s the tradition on the eve of a wedding.
Lady B: In America, I suppose. How quaint. Listen to Miss MacLean. She’s talking nonsense.
Sarah: I texted my husband and asked him to pick up take-out.
Miranda: Let me try and put it in terms you can understand. She sent a footman around to White’s with a note for Mr. MacLean that the cook is indisposed and he should dine at the club.
Lady B: That seems quite normal. Why can’t you gels speak English? And there’s no need to look smug, Miss Neville. You may sound like me, but I distinctly heard you saying that you missed a connection and the airline lost your bag. What did you mean?
Miranda: Hm. The mail coach had already departed and I had to hire a post chaise. Then [and I take great pleasure in saying this] I was held up by highwaymen who stole my valise.
Before Lady B can react, Lauren, who is not given to panic, raises her voice in near hysteria.
Lauren: My hard drive crashed and I thought I’d lost the back up.
Gasps of horror arise from the assembly.
Lady B: Now that sounds quite exciting. Tell me what happened, Miss Willig?
Lauren: Not exciting but potentially disastrous. My amanuensis passed out drunk and I couldn’t find the only copy of my manuscript. But it was all right because I’d also backed up in the cloud.
Lady B: I’m not even going to ask what that means. Any other exciting news?
Tessa: The Darelings went on strike and refused to load the dishwasher. Does that count?
Lady B: Only if I understand it.
Tessa: It’s as though you had a problem in your scullery.
Lady B: I am happy to say I have never seen my scullery.
I’m beginning to feel like a character in one of those Monty Python sketches that wander on too long without a punchline. So I offer an everyday scene from modern life.
Your task, dear Ballroomies, is turn it into a story that Lady B would understand. What other modern phrases can you translate into Regency terms? Google? Twitter? Lactose Intolerant?