We’re all going a little bit Regency …

Book Review: A Libertine’s Christmas Miracle by Emily Royal.

Last year I made a vow to widen my reading experience. I wanted to try new genres and new authors, and as such I was introduced to the wide and varied delights of Terry Pratchett (I know – how could I never have read any Pratchett?) Robert Harris and Barbara Cartland.

This year I’m moving forward with my reading education, and I’m taking a leap … no, perhaps a genteel spring … into the world of Regency romance. Which is huge, varied and not just Jane Austen. With the amazing popularity of Bridgerton on Netflix, isn’t everybody going a little bit Regency this year?

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

I chose a novella by Emily Royal “A libertine’s Christmas miracle” which is part of O Night Divine, a collection of novellas published by Dragonblade publishing. I’ll be honest that I chose it because Emily is a friend, and I therefore knew before I started that I was in for a dramatic plot, a dark hero and some scenes of an adult nature. I didn’t expect a cute puppy called Twinkle, but that’s another story …

Unlike Bridgerton, A Libertine’s Christmas Miracle is not set in the world of the “Ton”, but in a Cornish country house, at Christmas, in the snow. It’s a atmospheric setting for a Christmas romance, and I loved the little details that brought home the feeling of the period. The scents, the sounds, the feel of a country house at Christmas are beautifully evoked:

“The quiet, soft sounds of Pengannon – the longcase clock ticking in the hall, the crackling of the fire and the distant footsteps as the servants rushed to and fro, preparing warming pans.”

Image by Couleur from Pixabay 

Although the story is told largely from the point of view of Alice, the spirited mistress of the house, my favourite character was Susan, her somewhat crotchety spinster visitor. Susan doesn’t hold back from saying what she thinks, and declares that she doesn’t need men to fight her battles. I’d love to have known how her story continued!

An atmospheric opening, reminiscent of Wuthering Heights or A Christmas Carol, a satisfying ending and plenty of mulled wine and a roast goose in between. What more could you ask of a Christmas novella?

I thoroughly enjoyed my foray into Regency romance, and it reminds me that I still have Georgette Heyer on my to-be-read list, and several other novellas in the collection yet to investigate!

Fifty.

This week I have my fiftieth birthday, which feels like a significant turning point.

Image by Else Siegel from Pixabay

I’m not entirely sure how it happened; last week there I was, an optimistic adolescent, dreaming of what the future might hold, and now here I am with the productive years of my life behind me. My own children are adolescents and I hand over the future to them. I’m starting to look backwards at my life; what I have done, and what I haven’t done.

Let’s face it, I think I’ve left it too late to join the Royal Ballet, my first dream as a child, and it’s not looking good for acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company either! I did spend many happy years messing about with amateur dramatics, but I think it’s time to admit that I need to take a step back from that too – I’m too old for the parts I once wanted to play, and sitting in the wings filling out paperwork and trying to keep on top of child protection procedures was too stressful.

Image by Christos Giakkas from Pixabay

I went to University because I loved English Literature, and I took my studies as far as I could before I had to face the fact that I couldn’t take it any further because I didn’t want to move into the teaching side of academia, so I sidestepped into the world of libraries. I loved my work with rare books, I don’t think I was ever happier in a job than cataloguing early printed books in an academic library, but I’ve been out of that work for nearly twenty years, and my qualifications and experience are out of date now.

I did actually achieve my third childhood dream – I am an author – but my dislike of selling myself online means that I’m unlikely to become a proper author; one who makes money from her books. These days it feels like you have to work at becoming a celebrity first and THEN write books, and to the “list of things that I’m not going to be” I can confidently add “a celebrity”! I just want to write, and I’m not going to give that up in the near future, but as for self-promotion … well, I never know what to promote!

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

So, what next? Fifty feels like an end, but it also feels like a new beginning. There’s a blank page in front of me, and for the first time in a long, long while, I don’t know what I’m going to write on it. Perhaps its time to start dreaming about what the future might hold just like I did when I was an adolescent!

Picturing women

I’ve just been writing a piece about one of the characters in my Elsa Simonetti Disneyland Paris novella, “Mistletoe and the Mouse”. The character is a lady in her early sixties. She’s tall, grey, stern and forbidding. Think of Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca and you won’t go far wrong. She was a fascinating character to write, she sprang to life without much input from me at all. However, my problems started when I tried to find some pictures from Pixabay to illustrate her story.

I found that searching for an image of someone like Mrs. Buchan was … difficult. It says a lot about how we picture women over the age of, say, thirty. This is what I found.

Search 1: “Woman”

Inevitably, a very general search returns thousands and thousands of picures of women. However, most of them are also tagged “girl” and they all seem to look like this:

Image by Rondell Melling from Pixabay 

This one had the tags “woman pretty girl hair” which says it all, doesn’t it? Most “women” are well under the age of thirty, it seems.

This wouldn’t do for Mrs. Buchan. I got more specific.

Search 2: “Old woman”

I thought I’d try and remove the “girls” from my search. So I tried “Old Woman” next. Pixabay tells me that old women are either figures of fun:

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Or else they’re ancient and tragic:

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay 

And they’re inevitably in their eighties at the least. Mrs. Buchan is none of these. I’ll be honest, there were the odd pictures of ordinary women who hadn’t quite reached the age of eighty amongst the “old woman” category, but they tended to be smiling and happy which isn’t the picture I wanted to paint of Mrs. Buchan.

Search 3: “Middle-aged woman”

I should have known better! Mrs. Buchan is too young for “old woman”, so I tried “middle aged”. It’s obviously not an American term, because this is what I overwhelmingly found:

Image by press 👍 and ⭐ from Pixabay 

Yes, it’s a woman from the “Middle Ages.”

Search 4: “Older woman”

Okay, so she’s not “old” and she’s not from the Middle Ages. What term might an American use to describe a woman who isn’t in her twenties, but isn’t in her eighties either? How about “older woman”? Well, there was one page of results. Two of them were women who were older than thirty but younger than eighty. I rather liked this image:

Image by kalhh from Pixabay 

She’s serious-looking, and between the ages of thirty and eighty, but sadly she’s way too glamorous to represent my character. But at least I found one image that wasn’t entirely unacceptable to me as a representation of an older woman. There was also one smiling woman with a dog who might have been in a similar age group, but my character doesn’t have a dog.

Search 5: “Mother and son”

However, the woman-and-dog image gave me another idea. Perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree … Perhaps rather than a single image of a woman, I should be trying to picture my character in her role as a mother and picture her with her adult son. Well, I think you know how that search ended.

Image by Victoria Al-Taie from Pixabay

Search 6: “Grey woman”

Now I tried thinking laterally. I started by searching for adjectives that described my character. “Stern” provided many pictures of ships, “Forbidding” of roadsigns. I tried something less specific – grey. I describe her clothes, her hair and her house as grey at various points, so what about “grey woman”? That might provide something that provided the right kind of mood and atmosphere, even if the woman is too young. Perhaps if I could find a “grey woman” with her back to the camera, or in silhouette, that might do?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Well, it’s a great image, but it doesn’t sum up my character. It did nicely sum up how I felt about the search by this point.

Search 7: Doors

So, this is where I gave up. I realised that I wasn’t going to find a suitable picture easily and I didnt have time to spend hours on a blog post that I should have finished last week. So, I decided that as Mrs. Buchan greets James and Belle for the first time at her front door, that I’d look for images of doors instead. And so, Mrs. Buchan came to be represented by this image:

Image by Momentmal from Pixabay

Apparently it’s the best you can hope for if you’re a female aged between thirty and eighty.

Introducing Elsa Simonetti.

I know, this is Disney World, not Disneyland Paris. But it’s my favourite Disney picture!

I’ve been quiet for a while, largely due to the uncertainties of lockdown, and the problems of having a house full of teenagers most of the time! Now they are back to school and college I’m working hard again.

I’ve got a new Disneyland Paris-set novella entitled Mistletoe and the Mouse coming out soon (date t.b.c. – Coronovirus has held up publication) and a new persona! My pen name is “Elsa Simonetti”, as I wanted to keep these new, shorter and sweeter romances distinct from my other novels. “Simonetti” was my grandmother’s maiden name – I think it’s so pretty – and I chose Elsa as it’s another possible variant of Elizabeth.

Here is a sneak preview of “Mistletoe and the Mouse”:

Can a magical Christmas melt a frozen heart?

Join Belle and James as they visit Mickey Mouse for a sparkling holiday season at Disneyland Paris.

Belle has been numb since her mother died, and she can’t face Christmas at home without her. Instead she books a surprise holiday to her “happy place” – the Magic Kingdom. But her boyfriend James has problems of his own. He doesn’t “do Disney” and what will his mother think of him missing their family Christmas to go to Disneyland with Belle?

A festive romance with a sprinkling of pixie dust.

This IS Paris.

Coronavirus

I hadn’t anticipated a global pandemic. Who did?

Well, actually, I keep reminding myself that at the end of last summer, in a moment of idleness, probably lazing in a deckchair with a glass of Pimms or something like that, I said to my husband, “It’s been such a beautiful summer. This must have been what that last hot summer before the First World War felt like.” However, I didn’t add “I hope that we’re not heading for a major catastrophe like a global pandemic virus”, shortly afterwards, so I didn’t actually predict it – you can’t blame me for Coronavirus. Not this time, anyway.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

This week has been busy, and when I haven’t been “doomsurfing” (it’s a great term, but a horrible thing to find yourself doing, and I’ve been doing it far too much) I’ve been running around trying to work out what to do if X happens or when Y occurs. So I haven’t got anything interesting and uplifting to share, only a growing sense of dread. In particular, the dread of two teenage children cooped up at home for weeks and having to make them do schoolwork!

But on a positive note, our local councillor is collecting books to distribute to the self-isolating. I’ve included one of mine. It also features the end of a long, hot summer, and a subsequent disaster, followed closely by a happy ending. I wonder where it will end up?

Knowing my luck, probably back with me when I have to start self-isolating myself!