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Friday, July 31, 2015

Pitching the Pitch with Belinda Williams.

As we edge closer to the Romance Writers of Australia Conference, writers across the country are polishing their 'pitches'. This is the one time of the year when a writer gets to front an editor or an agent and sell their book.

For some people it is a mind bogglingly terrifying experience, but for some it is a way of life - marketing professionals in particular ('The PITCH' was my favourite part of The Gruen Transfer,a humorous look at how the ad men sold an often unsaleable product).

My guest this week, Belinda Williams, is a marketing communications specialist and copywriter who allowed an addiction to romance and chick-lit to get the better of her. She was named a top ten finalist in the Romance Writers of Australia Emerald Award in both 2013 and 2014 and it is interesting to see how she took her real life experience into her latest book... called THE PITCH!

Over to Belinda to explain where the lines between fact and fiction blur...


My ‘Fun Fact’ isn’t something I stumbled on, nor is it a particular piece of research I found fascinating. My Fun Fact relates to my real world experience in marketing. In my other life I work in marketing and have done for fifteen years. I guess I wanted to write a book set in this world and I felt the time had come when I could accurately portray this to my readers.

In The Pitch, Maddy runs her own marketing agency. In real life, I’ve worked for both marketing and advertising agencies. In The Pitch, Maddy is pitching for a huge piece of business that could change the trajectory of her agency. In real life I’ve pitched for business. In The Pitch, Maddy’s big potential client is a major bank. In real life I’ve worked for financial services companies.

So yes, there are a lot of parallels but I should stress that The Pitch is completely fictitious (and I’m not saying that to cover myself, it’s true. Or do I mean fiction? You get my point . . .)

I think the major motivating factor and theme for The Pitch was the desire to write about the issues around juggling work or career aspirations with relationships because it’s a challenge so many women face.

In writing The Pitch, I feel like I’ve conducted the research over a lot of years and in many different jobs. So either it’s one of the lengthiest research projects for a contemporary romance novel, or one of the easiest! I’ll leave it to my readers to decide how effective my ‘research’ proved.

About The Pitch

She’s in a long-term, committed relationship. With her business.

In three years Madeline Spencer has single-handedly grown her marketing agency, Grounded Marketing, into one of the country’s fastest growing companies. But her success has been at the expense of her social life, and her girlfriends have had enough. They’ll do whatever it takes, from speed dating to blind dates, to show her there’s more to life than work.

Only Maddy is having a hard time forgetting about her business. She’s about to pitch for her biggest client ever and the mysterious media mogul, Paul Neilsen, has volunteered to mentor her. Maddy might just be in with a shot of landing the account—if she can keep her mind on the job.
Working with Paul is not at all what she’d imagined, and Maddy finds herself torn between her ever increasing workload and her feelings for Paul. She’s discovering playing in the big league means making sacrifices…and Maddy must decide what she can’t live without.

The Pitch is the second book in the City Love series released by Momentum.

More About the Author
Belinda's other addictions include music and cars.Her eclectic music taste forms the foundation of many of her writing ideas and her healthy appreciation for fast cars means she would not so secretly love a Lamborghini. For now she’ll have to settle with her son’s Hot Wheels collection and writing hot male leads with sports cars.
Belinda lives in Sydney and blogs regularly about writing and reading here:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Research from the Ground Up: Hannah Methwell (aka M.J. Logue)

I have been looking forward to this week's guest, Hannah Methwell. Hannah writes a historical fiction series (as M.J. Logue) set in the English Civil War - the Uncivil Wars series - which I blogged about HERE, having devoured the entire series while I was away on holiday.

What makes me particularly envious of Hannah is that she is a re-enactor. I am certain if I lived in England, I would be a re-enactor too, but alas, the Sealed Knot or English Civil War Society have not ventured downunder. I should add she is a one-eyed adherant to the Parliamentary cause and is trying to convert me...

When not attempting to redeem the reputation of the Army of Parliament, Hannah lives in Cornwall with her husband and son, three cats, and a toad under the back doorstep. 
As she says:  "There is little more to divulge, other than - "I had rather have a plain, russet-coated Captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a Gentle-man and is nothing else. "

As this is a research post... it is only appropriate that Hannah talks to us about 'method research' - living the life of an English Civil War camp follower - which she does frequently.


I have the most unladylike wrists imaginable - broad and flat and solidly-muscled. 

Possibly, had I not learned to fight with a heavy backsword, I'd be a delicate little flower. But I did, and I'm thankful. (Not really. He's tall and fair and a bit scarred, and I'm red-haired. Probably Babbitt, then.) 

I decided when I was writing my first book set in the seventeenth century, that rather than writing randomly about stuff out of books, it might be an idea if I turned myself into one of Cromwell's plain russet-coated captains, who knew whereof she wrote and loved what she knew. 

Walking into the courtyard of a seventeenth-century inn in North Cornwall to meet half a hundred musketeers, pikemen and camp followers was one of the weirdest moments of my life. I was in a plain russet skirt and bodice, petticoats, stays, kerchief, coif, cap, latchet shoes, wool stockings. Some of them were in back and breast plate and buffcoat. Some were in officers' black, or soldiers' coats. There was nothing, at first glance, to anchor me into the present day, in that inn courtyard. Frightened the hell out of me, and in the same heartbeat, it was like coming home.

I have crawled out of a nest of blankets in a damp canvas tent in the first pearly light of a summer dawn, to bury bare feet in dew-wet grass and smell woodsmoke and frying bacon.
I have slept in a castle with the sound of the sea thirty yards below my head as the tide swept in.
I have cooked on an open fire in the rain.
I have faced a cavalry charge, and not broken.
I have fired a musket and fought hand-to-hand with a dragoon in a green field in Devon, and I didn't think the musket butt would ever be the same and I'm damn sure my knuckles haven't.
I have been preached at by a Ranter, married to a gentleman, and got drunk with cavalry officers. (Rowdy lot, they are, too.)
I've sat in an silent Elizabethan manor garden at dusk, with the bats flitting low in the air and the scent of hot grass and bruised rosemary rising from the earth as it cools.

I know Babbitt's world. I've lived in it.

For more information about the Babbit/Uncivil War books, visit M.J. Logues Website

RED HORSE - Babbit Book 1

September 1642, and the storm clouds of civil war are gathering over England. After the King raises his standard against his rebellious Parliament, idealistic young Luce Pettitt sees his duty clear - to defend the noble cause of freedom against the Royal tyrant. He doesn't expect that duty to lie with possibly the scruffiest, most disreputable troop of cavalry in the Army of Parliament, commanded by maverick ex-mercenary Hollie Babbitt. Events conspire to bring Hollie and Luce to a wary friendship, in spite of their differences. But in the aftermath of the first bloody battle of the war, will Luce keep faith with his ideals, or his friend?

Friday, July 17, 2015

MIddle Class Women in Georgian Times - Guest Elyse Huntington

And it's Friday! And another chilly week in Melbourne (Australia) - there has even been snow in Queensland (unheard of!).

To warm our hearts I have debut Australian author Elyse Huntington whose first book, MY DARK DUKE is the perfect antidote to a chilly night. Hailing from Borneo, Elyse joins the ranks of 'lawyers who write romance' (of which I am an alumni member!). The world seems to expect lawyers to write crime novels but romance is a wonderful escape from the cut and thrust of the legal world and I'm with her! Elyse has always had a fascination with Dukes and any book with Duke on the cover was an immediate draw card. Meet Elyse at her website, Facebook and Goodreads

MY DARK DUKE is set in Georgian rather than Regency times and Elyse's researches have taken her into some interesting areas. Today she focuses on the lives of middle class women of the 18th century. Welcome... Elyse!

Middle-class Women in 18th century England

Despite having written my first novel My Dark Duke which is set in England in 1770, I find that I am still discovering new information about 18th century England. Of course, this is hardly surprising. There are so many aspects of this century that information about it would encompass many encyclopedic volumes. There’s the politics, fashion, living conditions, architecture, medicine and social conventions, to name just a few. Today, though, I have chosen to focus on women who are considered to belong to the middle class in the Georgian era.
Childbirth was dangerous and infant mortality was high. Infants who progressed to solid food were fortunate to survive diseases such as infantile diarrhoea , which was likely caused by the preparation of food in unhygenic kitchens, from dirty bread, or from water or milk infested with bacteria. Babies who had teething problems might have their gums lanced with a sharp instrument. And if you think this sounded terrible, there is even advice that strong children should be bled from the jugular to help with teething!
Once the girls were older, they would attend day schools or boarding schools where they learnt subjects such as English, French, arithmetic, geography, needlework and dancing. Girls in more affluent households had governesses and visiting tutors and may be given lessons in languages such as Latin or Italian, and be taught how to play different musical instruments. It’s likely that part of the motive for their education, at least at some schools, was to assist them in obtaining husbands.
When it came to marriage, women found husbands from either working with them (such as domestic servants) or answering lonely-heart ads, some of which were hilariously prescriptive. I was surprised to find out that the average age of marriage was around 26 or so. And here I had thought ‘young’ ladies of this age were very much on-the-shelf.
This leads to the next interesting fact that an average family was estimated to have 2.5 children, so really, no bigger than the families you meet today. This is partially explained by the fact that the women were no longer at their most fertile by the time they married in their mid-twenties. There was also the adherence to the church’s calendar, which meant couples abstained from intercourse during Lent, Sundays and fasting days. This, in addition to menstruation and long periods of breast-feeding which could inhibit ovulation, meant that babies were not conceived very often.
The women had to supervise their servants to ensure the smooth running of their household. They also did their own food shopping at the markets (or street vendors) if they didn’t have a cook or a housekeeper, or were between cooks. Cooking in those days was very labour intensive. The cook had to ensure that the coal-fuelled fire was the perfect temperature for a roast pig or a cake, she had to maintain her cooking utensils and she had to preserve as much as she could to prevent waste. Thankfully, there were also establishments where you could buy ready-made dishes to eat in or take away, if you were to be in one of those highly inconvenient between-cooks periods.
I do admit that my preference is to write about the wealthy men and women in the aristocracy. I did find reading about this particular class of women to be quite entertaining. Who knows, one day I might even write about a duke who, against his better judgment, falls in love with such a female. She will be around 25, well-educated, independent and of course, be very impudent!
I leave you with this humorous anecdote of a marriage ceremony taken from Dr. Johnson’s London by Liza Picard which includes quotes from the Gentleman’s Magazine, September 1964. I can easily picture a heroine of mine doing exactly this!

When asked whether she would ‘take this man to be her wedded husband’, one woman said, ‘No and I have often told him so’. The parson asked the obvious question – why was she there?  ‘Only to tell you, before him, that I would not marry him’, and she left the church, and her swain.


Since his notorious wife died in mysterious circumstances, rumours about James, the handsome Duke of Trent, have scandalized society. Now, he must marry again – but finding an eligible woman willing to overlook his past won't be easy.

Defiantly single, Lady Alethea Sinclair has already turned down six offers of marriage. She prefers living on her own terms and refuses to answer to any man. Yet when Alethea meets the seductive and enigmatic Duke she finds herself strangely drawn to him.

Intrigued by Alethea's defiance of society's expectations, James is instantly taken with the willful beauty and soon they are enjoying a playful flirtation. And when circumstances force them into a comprising situation, he does the honourable thing and marries her.

But adjusting to the constraints of marriage doesn't come easily to the rebellious Alethea and, despite their growing feelings for each other, the Duke's troubled past keeps getting in the way. Can they learn to trust each other and give love a chance before it's too late?

A steamy Georgian romance about desire, the importance of staying true to yourself and the power of the past to cast a shadow on the present.

There is a bonus epilogue for My Dark Duke at her website so please do visit. And if you sign up for her mailing list, you will have exclusive access to a free short story when it becomes available. Click HERE

MY DARK DUKE is available at all reputable ebook stores...

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Brokering a Marriage - 17th Century Style - Guest Diane M. Denton

My Friday guest today is Diane Denton, one of the seventeenth century passionistas, with whom the magic of the 'interwebs' has allowed me to connect. Say what you like about Facebook and social media, I remain eternally grateful for the contacts it has given me and the friendships I have developed with people like Diane!

What to say about Diane? She is a true creative who finds expression through poetry and music and this is reflected in her wonderful novels, set partly in Italy and partly in Restoration England - A HOUSE NEAR LUCCOLI  and its sequel TO A STRANGE SOMEWHERE FLED (more on those later). The stories are interwoven with the beautiful baroque music of the period and the real lives of musicians such as Alessandro Stradella. I have learned so much about women and music in the 17th century (see Diane's post on HOYDENS AND FIREBRANDS... click HERE.  You can connect with Diane through her website... click HERE.

Continuing her thoughts on the life of women in the 17th century, Diane is bringing us a fabulous post on Marriage brokering and the part it plays in her book A HOUSE NEAR LUCCOLI. 

Over to Diane.... 

Marriage broker - someone who arranges (or tries to arrange) marriages for others, usually between strangers and for a fee.

Why would a talented up-and-coming composer, patronized by a Queen and other highly placed individuals, engage in marriage brokering? As with most of the self-injurious choices made by the flamboyant 17th century composer Alessandro Stradella (1639 – 1682), who is at the heart of my historical fiction A House Near Luccoli, there isn’t any definitive answer as to what he was thinking. 

Marriage... from Hogarth's A Rake's Progress
Although born to minor nobility and receiving many commissions, his extant letters reveal he was often in financial difficulty, which may have been due to his ‘employers’ not always paying him and his own mismanagement of money. In any case, in 1667 he was involved in a dubious marriage brokering scheme, and then again in 1671, an incident he referred to as “a certain misfortune” that happened to him in Rome.

With a well-known castrato as an accomplice, Stradella contrived to receive a substantial payment from an ugly old woman “of low birth, not respectable” by marrying her off to Cardinal who was a member of the powerful Roman Cibo family. It’s reported that Stradella and the singer got the Cardinal drunk and a priest performed the marriage before he sobered up. The Cardinal put the woman in a nunnery, had the marriage annulled, and demanded that Stradella and the castrato be imprisoned, one account claiming the latter was tried and found guilty, while Stradella avoided the same consequence by taking refuge in a convent and eventually fleeing Rome altogether.

This happened ten years before the timeline of A House Near Luccoli, which finds Stradella in Genoa involved in yet another scandal; but, as with most of his reckless adventures, it could not be left out of any part of his story entirely.

     There were woundings all the time. In words or actions, owned or anonymous, answered or ignored. Sometimes they were as obvious as Pier Francesco Guano attacked on the second of December, needing twelve stitched on his face. Lonati must have known it was old news, pounding the front door and rushing upstairs.
     “Only the beginning.” He didn’t acknowledge Donatella dropping music sheets, just Alessandro picking them up. “Beware. If you don’t turn around you’re a dead man.”
     Alessandro’s irritation came down on the keyboard, but then he played the piece as pleasantly as it was written, “I’m a prisoner of cortesia now.”
     Lonati snatched the pages out of Donatella’s hands. “Well, this is from the good old days. Rome, mid-sixties? All carnivals and palaces, especially for Monesio and Stradella.”
     “What’s behind us may be all there is.” Alessandro continued to accompany his aggravation with music that might soothe it.
     “Your singing was magnificent.”
     “What part?” Donatella approached the conversation.
     Alessandro winked. “Rigore, of course.”

     “The talk of the town,” Lonati began to pet her arm but thought better of it, “before he received more attention for his lack of discipline.”


Over three years since the charismatic composer, violinist, and singer Alessandro Stradella sought refuge in the palaces and twisted alleys of Genoa, royally welcomed despite the alleged scandals and even crimes that forced him to flee from Rome, Venice, and Turin, his professional and personal life have begun to unravel again. He is offered, by the very man he is rumored to have wronged, a respectable if slightly shabby apartment and yet another chance to redeem his character and career. 
He moves in to the curiosity and consternation of his caretakers, also tenants, three women whose reputations are of concern only to themselves. 
Donatella, still unmarried in her mid-thirties, is plainly irrelevant. Yet, like the city she lives in, there are hidden longings in her, propriety the rule, not cure, for what ails her. She cares more for her bedridden grandmother and cats than overbearing aunt, keeping house and tending to a small terraced garden, painting flowers and waxing poetic in her journal. At first, she is in awe of and certain she will have little to do with Stradella. Slowly, his ego, playfulness, need of a copyist and camouflage involve her in an inspired and insidious world, exciting and heartbreaking as she is enlarged by his magnanimity and reduced by his missteps, forging a friendship that challenges how far she will go.

Available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble

To A Strange Somewhere Fled

Sequel to A House Near Luccoli. 
After the sudden end to her collaboration with composer Alessandro Stradella, Donatella moves from Genoa to join her parents in a small village in Oxfordshire, England. 
The gift of a sonnet, 'stolen' music, inexpressible secrets, and an irrepressible spirit have stowed away on her journey. Haunted by whispers and visions, angels and demons, will she rise out of grief and aimlessness? 
Her father's friendship with the residents of Wroxton Abbey, who are important figures in the court of Charles II, offers new possibilities, especially as music and its masters—including the 'divine' Henry Purcell—have not finished with her yet.

Also available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Meeting my Waterloo: A sale, a contest and a new story...

The pathetic piece of muslin did little to conceal the stench of unwashed bodies, blood, corrupted wounds and worse that pervaded the makeshift hospital. The price Wellington had paid for the victory lay crowded on filthy straw mattresses on the makeshift hospital floor of an old warehouse in Battersea.
Everywhere she turned the wounded had been crowded together, so many of them that only a curtain separated the officers from the other ranks. Pushing aside the curtain, the conditions for the officers was little better. At least they had cots, not straw-filled bags, but those who had survived the rapid evacuation to England were in a poor state. Most still wore the tattered remnants of the uniform they had worn in battle over ten days ago and it looked to Isabel as if the rough bandages over their wounds had not been changed in days. 
(Opening lines from LORD SOMERTON'S HEIR ... by Alison Stuart)

Waterloo June 2015:  It is hard to imagine these peaceful fields were once the scene of so much carnage... (20,000 casualties)

The battle site of Waterloo today

Ten years ago, my military husband and I made a flying visit to the battle site at Waterloo, en route to returning a rental car. (Needless to say in the days before GPS we then got hopelessly lost trying to get back into Brussels and nearly missed our train... but that's another story).  That brief visit was the inspiration behind my Waterloo story LORD SOMERTON'S HEIR which starts in the days immediately following the battle.

On our recent travels, booked in complete ignorance that June 18 2015 was in fact the bicentennial of Waterloo, we found ourselves accidentally on a Waterloo trail that began in London with a visit to the Guards Museum and ended at Waterloo - the week before the Bicentennial weekend of re-enactments. A little bit of better planning and we could have been AT the bicentennial! However as it turned out, we had the place pretty much to ourselves, apart from hordes of workmen frantically trying to finish the paving and put up signs and bleachers etc. 

Alison labours up the 200 steps of the Butte de Lion

The new Visitors' Centre had been open a week and it is a marvel of 21st century technology including animated paintings, detailed and lifelike wax mannequins and a 3D movie about the battle that has you ducking for cover while facing the charge of 8000 French Curaissiers! 

Napoleon's staff on the eve of Waterloo - Visitors' Centre

Needless to say I have returned with a Waterloo buzz and a suitcase full of Waterloo memorabilia so in conjunction with my wonderful publishers from the 4th to the 13th of July I have a very special offer... several very special offers.

A CONTEST...  The prize is a collection of Waterloo memorabilia including a full reproduction of The Times with Wellington's Waterloo despatch. To enter, you only have to participate in the RAFFLECOPTER at the end of this post or click HERE

A SALE Lord Somerton's Heir , my own 'Waterloo' story will be on sale on Amazon and iBooks for only .99c for this week only.

A NEW STORY And finally, in honour of Waterloo I have written a short story... a prequel to LORD SOMERTON'S HEIR, which I have titled SEBASTIAN'S WATERLOO, in which we share the events of the 18th June 1815 with the hero of LORD SOMERTON'S HEIR, Captain Sebastian Alder.  

This available is FREE to subscribers of my Readers' Group Newsletter... so you can subscribe here to either read the story on line or download it to your ereader.



Friday, July 3, 2015

The sweetest notes of all - Stradivarius violins and my guest Lee Christine

My guest on this cold, grey Melbourne winter day is fellow Escape author, Lee Christine.

Music has always played a part in Lee's life and as a teenager she loved playing the guitar and writing songs. Those lyrics were all about love so when she turned her hand to writing novels later in life romance was the obvious choice. Lee’s novels are sexy, fast-paced and contemporary. She lives on Australia’s eastern seaboard and loves snow skiing and playing the alto saxophone.

Lee writes wonderful romantic suspense and her three part 'Safe' series has received fantastic reviews.  A Dangerous Arrangement (Dangerous Arrangements Book 1) , book one in Lee’s next romantic suspense series has just been released.

In keeping with her interest in music,  she is bringing us some little known facts about the wonderful Stradivarius violins. 


Thank you Alison for having me of your blog today!

In my latest romantic suspense novel, ‘A Dangerous Arrangement’ released by Escape Publishing, my heroine plays a Stradivarius violin, an instrument constructed of a dense Croatian maple and made by Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) an Italian luthier.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Stradivarius, primarily the violin, though Stradivari also made violas, harps, guitars and cellos. And for a long while now, I’ve wanted to write stories about classical musicians, performers at the top of their game who’ve been given access to instruments worth millions of dollars, such as the Stradivarius, though tenures with certain orchestras.

Experts don’t really know what gives the Stradivarius its superior sound though it is believed to have something to do with the density of the wood.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra own a Stradivarius violin valued at around three million dollars. It is Australia’s only Stradivarius and is played by Satu Vanska, the assistant leader of the orchestra. I partly used Satu as inspiration for my character of Marina Wentworth as well as Kirsten Williams, associate concertmaster with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

There are only 650 Stradivarius instruments left in the world and each has a unique nickname. The following is a list of famous people who have owned and/or played a Stradivarius instrument:-
·         Andre Rieu: plays a violin called ex-Captain Saville, made in 1667
·         Queen Elizabeth: owned a violin called Oistrakh, made in 1671
·         Napoleon Bonaparte: owned a violin called Molitor, made in 1697
·         The Mendelssohn Family: owned a violin called the Red Mendelssohn, made in 1721
·         Da Vinci Family: owed a violin called the Leonardo Da Vinci, made in 1725
·         Julian Lloyd-Webber: played a cello called Barjansky, made in 1690
·         Yo-Yo Ma: plays a cello called Davidov, made in 1712

Other owners include the King of Spain, US Library of Congress and some US and UK universities.  Many also owned by different musical foundations and museums.

Visit Lee Christine at her website:  Click HERE


When violinist Marina Wentworth arrives in Venice en-route to a cruise ship for a short working holiday, the last thing she expects is to be confronted by a handsome stranger demanding answers. After going to great lengths to keep her real reasons for the trip a secret, Marina refuses to let her immediate attraction to Dean Logan derail her plans.

Desperate to recover his latest super yacht designs, Dean doesn’t want to believe the lovely violinist is involved in the devastating cyber-attack that threatens to destroy his yacht building empire. However his growing feelings for Marina fail to extinguish the nagging suspicion that she is hiding something.

Set against the backdrop of Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Dean and Marina must navigate the dangerous waters of secrecy, attraction, and the fusion of two very different worlds. Will their lives remain discordant, or will they take the chance at true harmony?