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How I came to write each book

His Captive Lady

The Stolen Princess

The Perfect Rake

The Perfect Waltz

The Perfect Stranger

The Perfect Kiss

My books for Harlequin:

Gallant Waif

Tallie's Knight

How the Sheriff Was Won

An Honorable Thief

A Virtuous Widow

One of the things I love about writing is the way that characters can simply leap into being. Sometimes I wake up with a scene in my head and I have to go and write it down immediately, or I forget it. It doesn't matter what time it is - middle of the night or crack of dawn - if I don't get it down, it's gone. So I blearily grope for the light and scrawl it down, or crawl to the computer and type it in. Usually that's how I begin a new book -- a really strong scene pops into my head and that's either the start of the story or a really pivotal scene.

* * * * *

The Stolen Princess came about from an editor suggestion. I'd proposed a series with four horse-mad friends, former soldiers home from the war. She suggested I make them younger sons (instead of the ubiquitous titled heroes.) She wasn't too keen on the idea I'd proposed for the first book and suggested I needed a little more glamour, so I came up with a princess heroine. After the Napoleonic wars had steamrollered over Europe, it started reforming its boundaries and many of the small European principalities and duchies were being absorbed (annexed?) by one country or another. I thought my Princess could be from one of these. The gothic novels of the day were always dealing with lost heirs and evil guardians, so I thought I'd have a bit of fun with that idea, too.

However the glamour my editor wanted never came to pass, despite my good intentions. I'm always more interested in the "lost, stolen or strayed" sort of characters, rather than those born into comfortable, stable circumstances. So the mother of my princess was from one of those poorer principalities. Callie was raised mostly in England, and at the age of 18 her father had arranged a marriage of convenience to the Prince of Zindaria. The story starts when she's a young widow, and realizes there's a plot afoot to murder her small son... and flees to the only person she knows she can trust — her former governess in England. Instead she meets a hero in need of a heroine... Gabriel Renfrew.

You might be intersted in the story collage Idid as a pre-writing activity.

* * * * * *

inch Perfect Rake, the scene where Gideon and Prudence first meet was one of those scenes that just "happened" in my head. I was in bed at the time (early morning I think) and I turned on the light and grabbed the notebook beside the bed and wrote it down. It went on for pages. It was odd -- I felt as if I knew these characters, but I didn't know their names, nor, at first, why Prudence was in the Duke's house.

So I looked back through my notebooks, looking for characters or other stories that might be part of this story and I came across a plain Jane heroine. She had four brothers who were all more beautiful that she was, but that idea hadn't worked, so I changed the brothers to girls and lo! a story started spinning slowly.

One of the things I like to do in my books is to explore the darker side of the Regency era. We all love the glittering balls and elegant fashions and witty conversation we think of as "Regency-style" but there were also some very grim aspects to this society and one of them was the treatment of women and children. Times were harsh. Children were routinely beaten and if discipline from a legal guardian spilled over into violent abuse, no-one would interfere. And girls were property - to be disposed of in marriage to benefit the family - if not the girl.

My heroine might be plain, but she was gutsy and spirited and protective of her little sisters. Like many an older sister who has been violently abused, she was not going to stand by and watch it happen to the younger ones. So my Prudence ups and rescues herself and her sisters in a daring move and flees to London, to take a gamble on happiness.

Enter her hero. I wanted him to be dark and dangerous, but Gideon had just strolled onto the page in the scene above and he simply refused to leave. I wrestled with him for ages, trying to make him dark and dangerous but he insisted on being flippant and funny and charming. And then I realized that he was exactly the sort of man serious Prudence needed, a man who would make her laugh and lavish her with love, a rake who absolutely could not see her as anything but a beauty... And so a story was born.
And by the way, the scene I wrote that early morning so long ago is almost word for word, the scene in the extract.

* * * * *

The Perfect Waltz

When I started writing The Perfect Waltz I found my dark and dangerous hero in Sebastian. As I said above, I am fascinated by the darker aspects of the Regency -era. In those days the sons of gentlemen were not raised to work; they were leaders, born to rule -- or at least that's what many of them believed.

But what happened to those whose family riches had run out, who had no estate, no income? History is full of them -- people who did everything possible to keep up the appearance of wealth, to continue living as "gentlemen" getting further and further into debt, or living off the charity of their family. Some went abroad to hide their shame and maintain the lie. They did everything possible to survive -- except take a job. Why? Because to take a paying job was to give up their place as a gentleman, to dash their pride in the dust, to betray everything their upbringing had taught them.
So what happened to the wives and children of such men?

This was what I wanted to explore in The Perfect Waltz. Sebastian was one of those people who had fallen through the cracks - the eldest son of a "gentleman gambler, who led his wife and four children into dire poverty, and then shot himself, leaving twelve year old Sebastian to care for the others as best he could.

How he survived and strove to rebuild his family is part of the story of The Perfect Waltz; the other part is how Hope Merridew teaches this grim man about love, joy and the true meaning of family. Oh - and about waltzing, for Sebastian has a lot to learn. Read the extract.

PS. There is a minor character in this story, a little orphan girl called May. Her story was inspired by a wonderful lady I know called June. June grew up in an orphanage. She told me how all through her childhood she dreamed of getting a doll for Christmas. Every year instead she got darning needles and darning wool — you thought I made that bit up, didn't you? Horrifying to realize it was true, and not so long ago, either, and it still makes me angry. If you've read the story, you'll know how little May ends up (and why I needed to give May that ending, too), but I thought I'd tell you here how June ended up.

When she turned 18 she left the orphanage. She got a job. And what was the very first thing she bought with her very first pay-packet? You guessed it — a doll, which she still treasures. June married a lovely man and is now a doting grandmother. She never lost her passion for dolls and, in her retirement, she became an expert doll-maker. She lives in a happy house full of dolls and people. She gave me my first dolls house, too. June created her own happy ending. They don't just happen in books, you know.

* * * * *

The Perfect Stranger

I do like a romance when two emotionally wounded people come together and heal each other, and this is what I wanted to explore in The Perfect Stranger.

In the Perfect Waltz, Hope's twin sister, Faith, was so anxious to fall in love that she fell for a visiting "Hungarian" violinist. I had lots of mail about that from people who were hoping he wasn't her hero in this book. He wasn't. There were clues in the Waltz book which a number of readers picked up on -- yes, Felix was a fraud and a rotter. So by the opening of Faith's story, (which you can read in the extract) she's by herself and in dire straits. And in need of a True Hero (of course.) However, Faith doesn't believe that. All her life she's been looked after by her two older sisters and her protective, gutsy twin sister and now she resolves to learn to stand on her own two feet.

That's how this story starts -- with Faith's dreams of love shattered. The opening scene is the one that came to me first. I had an image of a woman being pursued through the sandhills, and a man rising up out of the shadows, his silhouette limned by fire, to fight on her behalf. So since I knew Faith, I had to explore who Nicholas was and what he was doing there, on a northern French beach...

Faith needs Nicholas's help, but she's not about to take something without giving something in return. So though she vowed to love, honor and obey this tall, dark and intimidating stranger, she cannot bring herself to obey him on all matters.

And tough Waterloo veteran Nicholas, used to his orders being obeyed without question, is at a loss when it comes to forcing a woman to his will. (To be honest, it was fun watching him give orders then seeing how he copes with masculine bafflement and lust as his inconvenient convenient wife sweetly turns the tables on him.)

Some of the places in the story are places I've visited and loved. In fact I wrote this story with this small collection of rocks on my desk -- I picked them up years ago from a French beach not far from the one where Faith and Nicholas first met.

The Perfect Kiss

When I started writing Perfect Kiss, all I knew was that it was Grace’s story. So I started from her character. The last time we met her she was only 11 or 12 -- but she already had a definite personality. I knew that having grown up under her vile Grandfather's control, there was bound to be some emotional damage, even though it was well hidden.

I also thought about how she might have lived since the Perfect Stranger ended. All of Grace's sisters were married by the time she was 12, and although she could live with Prudence or any of her sisters, or with Aunt Gussie and Great-uncle Oswald I thought about what Grace herself might have wanted. I remembered that by the time I was 10, my older brother and sisters had all left home -- and I developed a burning desire to go to boarding school. I thought Grace might have felt the same way.

So she went to boarding school. I knew that Grace being who she was, would despise a bully, and that there are always bullies in schools. I knew she'd soon rescue a girl who was being bullied and that girl would become her friend for life. That girl was Melly Pettifer -- poor and plump and shy, but sweet-natured. So things went from there. They were both nearly 21 and still unmarried, though for very different reasons and Melly was being constrained to marry someone she didn’t want, didn’t know... and who didn’t want her. And it was all for the sake of property.

So what sort of a man would marry a stranger he didn’t want for the sake of property? And could such a man ever be a hero? Maybe, but not for reasons we might expect... and then Dominic started to take shape.

I knew he’d grown up abroad -- I really enjoy bringing in the greater world to my books. In some ways the Regency upper class world was fairly insular, but they were also great travelers in those days, even though travel was much more difficult than it is today. And I knew why and how he'd lived abroad. It was intrinsic to his reason for marriage.

I planned quite a different hero, but as soon as Dominic met Grace on the page, he started doing and saying things I hadn’t planned him to say and do.. and soon I realized he was a baaad boy, a terrible flirt -- well actually a really excellent flirt... You can see that from the extract.

Then there was the place -- I’m quite a visual writer -- location is important to me, so I usually search until I find a place/setting that feels right. As soon as I came across Stokesay Castle, I instantly knew this was the place. You can see some of the places that influenced the book here and at the bottom of that page is the story collage I made. I’ve recently got right into collage as a preparatory aid to writing.

* * * * *

My Books for Harlequin:

When I started writing Gallant Waif, the first scene that came to me was the ballroom scene - it was absolutely vivid. If you've read the book, you'll know that that scene comes right near the end of the book. Up to that point, all I knew was that I was going to write about a man and a woman who had been caught up in a war -- The Peninsular War. It seemed to me that men and women suffered war very differently and I wanted to explore that a little. Then suddenly I had this ballroom scene... so I had to work backwards, to discover the man and woman involved and what had brought them to this point. Right up until I was halfway through writing the first draft, I had no idea how I was going to get to that ballroom at the end. It seemed so unlikely, so I just kept writing and hoping. I remember the day when I finally realized how I could make it all work -- I was so excited.

* * * * *

Tallie's Knight was inspired by something quite different. I'm a bit of a history book junkie and one day I came across an old drawing of English aristocrats on the Grand Tour of Europe, being carried across the Alps in baskets slung between two hefty locals. Up to that point, I'd never considered how people doing the Grand Tour crossed the Alps. (I'd done it from a very comfortable train.) So from that point, I became fascinated and determined to write a book about people on the Grand Tour. I was also tremendously lucky in that I came across references to letters from a young woman who not only traveled through Europe at the time I wanted (1802-3 The short-lived Peace of Amiens). My wonderful local Reference Librarian, Vivian, tracked down a book of this woman's letters from my State Library and I was able to use many details from the letters in Tallie's Knight. In fact, I had to exercise great restraint and restrict myself in order to keep the book as a romance and not a travelogue! (more about this in Mail Box)
That book also owed a great deal to a number of wonderful reference books on underwear. It seems inconceivable to us now that for most of history, women didn't wear underpants, and that in fact, the introduction of these items of clothing was regarded as scandalous, indecent and a French Plot to undermine English morals. So it was fun to explore how people might react to this innovation.

* * * * *

How The Sheriff Was Won was an exercise in straight romantic comedy. I started it before I was published, while I was waiting to hear whether Gallant Waif had sold. I just wanted to see if I could write comedy. At the time I was writing a local community newsletter and a school one as well and there were times when I'd write something, very aware that some of my friends would be reading it, and being tempted to put in a reference or two that only they would recognize. I didn't, but it gave me the idea, and so I started thinking about a story of a journalist wooing the man of her dreams with headlines. Not subtle ones, either.

I set it in Montana, because at that time I knew very little about the romance market and had been told most emphatically by some "expert" but unpublished writers that the American market wouldn't buy Australian settings.(This turned out to be quite wrong, by the way.) I'd been to Montana, which reminded me a lot of the area I first lived in, which I still regard as my emotional home (the North-east of Victoria, in the foothills of the mountains. Think "The Man From Snowy River" movie.) So I set the book in Montana, basing it extremely loosely on a small town I'd been to, where a friend of mine lives.

It was a classic fish out of water story -- city girl in small town. But by the time I'd written the first chapter, I heard that Harlequin Mills and Boon wanted Gallant Waif and so I abandoned my Sheriff to return to writing historicals. A few years later, I found that manuscript again, read it, found myself enjoying it and decided to finish it. So I did, and sent it off to Duets and it was published in September 2001.

I've included some photos of Montana on the site that influenced the story a little.

I've also included an article on this site that analyses the synopsis I wrote for How the Sheriff Was Won. Warning: if you haven't actually read How the Sheriff Was Won, this article contains blatant spoilers.

* * * * *

My third historical was An Honorable Thief. Years ago, I had a job reading old issues of newspapers, searching for particular information for a university professor. I loved that job. I used to sit in the still hush of the magnificent domed reading room of the State Library, carefully turning the delicate pages of the Fiji Times of the 1870's, for instance. (They don't let you touch the paper these days -- it's all on screen.) This is what the library looks like:

The papers were fascinating, because news was rare and slow to arrive, so when a ship came into port, bearing newspapers from other places, the editor would scan them and put in bits and pieces from all over the world.

One story I never forgot was of a man who was discovered to be a card -cheat or con-man of some sort. If he'd been an ordinary cheat he probably would have been strung up by the irate members of the New South Wales Corps, who'd caught him cheating — it was rough justice in those days. But this fellow was a "gentleman" and so instead of being flogged or hanged, he was merely bundled down to the port and tossed on the first boat leaving Sydney Harbour. Where to? It didn't matter. His wife and daughter were left to follow him as best they could.

I wondered what it would be like to be the daughter of that man, and what sort of life she must have lived. (As a matter of fact, he ended up in Fiji and from all accounts did quite well for himself. Don't know what happened to her.)

That was the genesis of An Honorable Thief -- not ending up in Fiji, however, but Batavia (Indonesia), though most of the story takes place in London. I suppose, being an Australian and a keen traveler, I like to reflect the wider world in my regency settings.

* * * * *

I also wrote a novella for a Christmas collection. It's a story called The Virtuous Widow and it started with the thought that at Christmas in the UK, it's very dark by mid-afternoon. I had the image of a little girl carefully placing a candle -- a red Christmas candle -- in the window of their cottage, so that her daddy would see the light shining in the darkness and it would bring him home for Christmas.
Only this little girl's daddy is dead...

Most of the story takes place in a small rural cottage and I found I was trying to envisage exactly what was where and how many steps did it have and how the cottage was organized. Well, it's not exactly easy to pop over to England to check out a cottage or tow's what did I do to research my heroine's cottage?

I went to visit "Captain Cook's Cottage" which is in a nearby park in Melbourne. It was the real home of Captain Cook's parents, dismantled and brought to Australia many years ago. It was the perfect age and size and it was from the right part of England for my story, so I dropped in there, and measured and paced and scribbled notes and sketched -- much to the bemusement of a group of Japanese tourists who were visiting at the time. But the cottage was perfect. Here's a picture. The door on the left was where Ellie found Daniel. And upstairs is her bedroom window.

 

 

 


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