What I’ve Been Up To, and a Cover Reveal

Lots to celebrate!

Where on earth has the time gone! The last few months have sped past in a swirl of manic activity. I feel like I’ve barely had time to breathe. Now that lockdown is starting to ease a bit and lots of us have become ‘double jabbers’, myself included, I’ve finally been re-united with friends and family, and though still very careful about what I’ve been doing, I feel like I’ve suddenly launched into a mad social whirl. And in between all this meeting up and hugging (hugging!!!!!) I’ve been gardening, sewing…

And writing, a LOT of writing. During my first visit to meet up with family on the Isle of Bute back in May, I finished the extensive revisions for my Christmas novella, having written a first draft that really didn’t have much Christmas spirit in it, and a very far from romantic ending. It just shows that even after fifty-odd books you can still get it horribly wrong. It was hard work, fitting in long hours early in the mornings to get the extensive revisions done so that I could protect as much of my precious family time as possible, but it paid off. I’m very pleased now with A MOST SCANDALOUS CHRISTMAS, which stays true to my unconventional couple, but which still (I hope) gives readers the hit of Christmas and romance they will be looking for – though of course the final say on that will be yours! My story is one of three in the REGENCY CHRISTMAS LIAISONS anthology, with other romances from Christine Merrill and Sophia James, out in November this year.

As Scotland began to open up, I ventured up to Glasgow to get my hair cut and buy some fabric. I have always been a huge fan of The Great British Sewing Bee, but this series seems to me the best ever. So many of the contestants got the sewing bug during lockdown and they have become impressive creators in a very short time, and the challenges have been much harder. But it’s the camaraderie that has really struck me, between the sewers and the presenters – it’s a competition, but it’s clear they all help each other out and they LIKE each other. I’ve been enjoying trying out some of the techniques that are new to me – a burrito facing, for example, which I put in the fleece I made – and every week I spot a new gadget that I covet. I’ve not had loads of time to sew, but in addition to the fleece, which also required me to put in my first ever open-ended zip, I made this pull-over dress in two different stretch jersey’s from a Vogue pattern. I’m not entirely pleased with the neckline which is still a bit puckered, but the dress itself is lovely – and it has pockets, an essential for me and Sewing Bee judge Esme. Talking of Esme…

IT STARTED AT A HOUSE PARTY is the prequel to my Victorian duet, REVELATIONS OF THE CARSTAIRS SISTERS, and I named my photographer heroine Esme as a tribute to the Great British Sewing Bee judge. This story is an on-line read which will be available free over on the Harlequin website in eight instalments from September (date still to be confirmed). My widowed heroine is at a summer party hosted by Lord and Lady Armstrong to take photographs of their illustrious guests. Guy, my hero, is one of them – a very reluctant one, until he meets Esme. Mercy, Lady Armstrong, is one of my two Carstairs sisters. Her name may be familiar to some of you from my Armstrong Sisters series. I simply can’t leave that family alone, and with Mercy’s husband, I have moved on to the next generation.

I was once again working on revisions for this story while visiting family on the Isle of Bute. At last, after a gap of nearly eighteen months, I got to meet up with my sister who lives furthest from me, and her twin made it for part of the visit too. Though we’ve not yet managed to have all four sisters and my mum together, we are hoping that day is not too far off. We had some lovely walks, a lot of laughs, and a few bottles of wine too.

Talking history with researcher Camilla Gordon-Lennox

Having not been aboard the Western Ferry which features most mornings on my Twitter feed for more than a year, I think I’ve gone through a whole book of tickets in the last six weeks. It was fabulous to meet up with my friend Mairibeth MacMillan – and we talked so much that once again we forgot to take a picture. And after re-arranging it several times, I finally got to have lunch with a more recent friend. Camilla Gordon-Lennox was one of two fabulous researchers I worked very closely with on HER HEART FOR A COMPASS. She shares my passion for all things historical, and has a genius knack for turning up obscure, eccentric characters that are so colourful you can’t quite believe they are real. We talked our way non-stop through a record-breaking four hour lunch, and I think we only just scratched the surface of what we wanted to say.

Whew! And in-between all of that there’s been my garden, which turns into a jungle overnight, it seems to me, if I turn my back on it. So far I’ve had bumper crops of salad, radish and spinach, and my tomatoes and cucumbers are looking good. The chillies are not so happy, because they want sun – don’t we all. The Scottish ‘summer’ weather is already getting me down, with endless driech, midgie-ridden rainy days, but the result is a very lush and green place. We have tons of birdies nesting, and this year I’ve put out lots more bird baths for them. Whenever I feel life is getting to me, I sit in my garden and watch them taking a drink or a bath, and remember the important things in life.

Which leads me to the final thing I want to share, and it’s the cover of THE EARL WHO SEES HER BEAUTY, the first in my REVELATIONS OF THE CARSTAIRS SISTERS duet. Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

Prudence Carstairs knows her scars leave her with no romantic prospects—instead, she’s content revolutionising her employer’s home with her technological marvels. Then he unexpectedly perishes, and his mysterious younger brother, dashing Dominic Thorburn, reluctantly takes over. In the new earl, Prudence finally finds someone who meets her gaze without flinching. Might he see the beautiful, intelligent woman beyond her scars?

The fabulous art department were keen to stay as close to my description of Prudence as possible. I think they’ve done an absolutely amazing job, but I’d love to know what you think?

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9 Comments

  1. Wow, you’ve been busy! I love The Sewing Bee too and how much camaraderie there is, as you say. Love them all, Esme, Patrick and Joe Lycett. He’s funny but he’s serious and respectful and sympathetic when the occasion demands. Love the new cover.

    1. Thanks Rosie, I’m really excited about this first Victorian series, which is set around the same time as Her Heart for a Compass, the book I’ve co-authored with the Duchess of York. There’s so much change – good and bad – in the mid-Victorian years, I’m so pleased that it is now becoming a bit more popular.

  2. I’m super-impressed with that zip-up fleece! Wow!

    I’m so envious of your family reunions and trips, but also so happy that you’ve been able to have them! There is no lockdown here, but I mistrust my fellow Americans enough to still be limiting myself to necessary trips and masking everywhere I go, even though I’ve been vaccinated. At this point, not wearing a mask is going to seem very strange, LOL!

    I love having long meetings with people who share my interests, especially the more esoteric ones, LOL. So much fun making new friends!

    I love the cover of your new book and am waiting rather (im)patiently for the release date. Obviously I need to read all of your Armstrong sisters series sooner rather than later, LOL. Its fun when there’s a familiar face in the background, sorta tying all your universes together but not so obvious as to make it overly cumbersome. There are some authors out there that I don’t even know where to start because all of their books are interconnected and there’s a zillion of them.

    Work’s been super-busy for me lately, but I’ve enjoyed a couple of thrift hunts (my vintage romance collection is starting to get out of control, LOL). The TBR Challenge has been lots of fun this year, and assuages my guilt for buying so many books. I’ve been watching the Euros. I love the group stages because I love cheering on the underdogs. I run an annual writing summer mini challenge, which started today, and that should be fun. I keep hoping that if I read enough, my writing muse will come out of hiding!! 😆

    1. Who to see, where to see them, and how often are things that I’ve been discussing tons with my family. Some of us are throwing themselves into a mad social whirl to make up for all the times they’ve missed. Though it feels like that’s what I’ve done, I’ve actually been a lot more cautious, sticking to small gatherings, and focusing on seeing the people that mean the most to me. I think I’ve said before that lockdown has made me think a lot about who matters and why, and that, combined with a fear of doing too much too soon, as you say, has made me cautious. It has also meant that the reunions I have had, have meant an enormous amount to me. The bond I have with my mum and sisters in particular has been strengthened by the ordeal of the last year or so. I know that this is something which will resonate with lots of people. I think as lockdown eases, we are all going to have to make our own decisions about how we want to manage it – whether to stick with our masks, whether we avoid large gatherings, crowded transport etc. I do feel that we now have an inbuilt fear whether we acknowledge it or not) that will be difficult to overcome, and we all have to go at our own pace. It’s trite but true, we need to be kind and not judgemental, now even more than ever.

      I don’t take part in the TBR challenge because I simply don’t have time, but I do follow it. And you don’t ever need an excuse to buy more books, surely! They are like shoes and bags even more so – you can never have enough. My first trip to a real bookshop a few weeks ago has added to my TBR pile, and not a single one of them count as research either, just bought for the pure pleasure of owning them and vicarious travel – one on Paris walks in particular.

      I do hope you can coax your writing muse back out of hiding. Oh, I know that feeling so well. They are timid and very stubborn creatures, but if you persist, they do eventually appear. Loads of luck.

      1. I have a lot of trepidation about emerging from lockdown, mostly because (1) there wasn’t much of a lockdown here, and (2) there aren’t many people here who take the pandemic seriously at all. I have very little faith in humanity in general (and I don’t even follow the news that closely, haha!), and the response to this craziness has done little to bolster it. Mercifully, I don’t have these differences of opinion within my family or friend circle, but alas, we’re a small group vs humanity in general.

        I never need an excuse to buy books, but unlike shoes or handbags, they can be rather more of a fire hazard LOL. I love the aspect of treasure hunting at secondhand shops – you just never know what you’re going to find! Sometimes nothing, but sometimes you can hit the jackpot. And when you can buy a physical copy of a book for $1, that’s a pretty magical feeling, too.

        The TBR challenge has been a lot of fun for me because my memory is like a sieve. I collect a lot of my favorite writers’ backlists, but also just random books I pick up because they sound interesting, which I tend to forget about in the shuffle. Thanks to the TBR challenge, I’ve found a gem or two and some real stinkers, and its nice to add the former to my favorite lists and get the latter off my pile!

        1. I laughed when you said your memory is like a sieve! Mine has got much more so this last year. I have been re-reading some old favourites, but buying digital what I already have as a book. I too love books, and always buy my non-fiction and cookbooks as ‘real’. I almost never throw any out either, and have shelves and shelves of paperbacks, some of them almost antiques going way back, that are falling apart and I know I wouldn’t read again but they have such memories imbued in them I can’t part with them. Because I read fiction in my bed it has to be digital these days – I will admit here, I need my glasses. And lying down reading and glasses is a cocktail for disaster, so digital it is. Back to my memory – a couple of times of late I’ve actually tried to buy something I’ve already read, but had no recollection of it. Luckily it gets flagged up. I then have to go to Goodreads and check out what I thought. Usually the reason I don’t remember is because it wasn’t memorable. Which is one of the many reasons for writing reviews!

          Back to my own writing now, but before I go, one more thing I have to thank you for – Lord Peter Wimsey! I totally love that man, and it was thanks to you I’ve rediscovered him.

  3. Coming out of lockdown has been strange. We spent a week in Bamburgh with my brother- and sister-in-law in May. We’d postponed the trip from May last year because of Covid.

    We hadn’t seen them for 15 months. They’d been unable to get up for Mum’s funeral because of lockdown, so watched it on television – streamed from the crematorium in Perth. Only my husband and I were present in person – everyone else watched it at home. It was the most surreal experience.

    We’d taken down Mum and Dad’s ashes, and we scattered them late one evening, in the sea at Bamburgh’s gorgeous and windswept beach. It was a place they both loved, so it seemed very fitting and it was great that my brother and his wife could finally share that loss and celebrate their lives with us.

    I have not been sewing but am very impressed by what you’ve achieved. Here’s to life and creativity continuing to flourish.

    Back to editing my book after the NWS reader’s report. Feeling encouraged and energised – just have to do the work now!

    1. Your postponed memorial for your mum and dad touched my heart. I’m so glad that you finally got to remember and commemorate. It has been one of the most moving things about lockdown, seeing people standing on the roadsides when a hearse passes to pay their respects, or going along to the funeral parlour to see them off, or clustering around a speaker outside a church Several times I’ve been moved to tears by the sight, and they’ve all been complete strangers. What struck me was not only how sad it is, but how strong is the human spirit to survive and to evolve . Deep water here, but it’s that strength and determination to move on and to prosper, to cherish what we’ve discovered is most precious to us, that I find incredibly uplifting.

      Loads of luck with your editing. You are going into it with the write (!) spirit – rather than wailing and moaning about how wrong they are, which some people do! Go you.

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