Friday, October 31, 2014

The Big Reveal!

Ladies, Gentlemen, and other Creatures of the Night, I give you:


Sally Green is about to die.

She sees Death in the streets. She can taste it in her gin. She can feel it in the very walls of the ramshackle brothel where she is kept to satisfy the perversions of the wealthy. She had come to London as a runaway in search of her Cavalier father. Instead, she found Wrath, a sadistic nobleman determined to use her to fulfill a sinister ambition. As the last of her friends are murdered one by one, survival hinges on escape.

Nick Virtue is a tutor with a secret. By night he operates as a highwayman, relieving nobles of their riches to further his brother’s criminal enterprise. It’s a difficult balance at the best of times, and any day that doesn’t end in a noose is a good one. Saving Sally means risking his reputation, and may end up costing him his life.

As a brutal attack throws them together, Sally finds she has been given a second chance. She is torn between the tutor and the highwayman, but she knows she can have neither. Love is an unwanted complication while Wrath haunts the streets. Nick holds the key to Wrath’s identity, and Sally will risk everything to bring him to justice.

Unless the gallows take her first.

Coming December 8th from Liquid Silver Books

Happy Halloween! 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Contraception in History Part I: Aristotle, Hippocrates, and a Whole Lotta Lead

There’s a common misconception (no pun intended) that contraception didn’t exist in any real capacity before the twentieth century. Previous generations were able to control themselves, were not as sex-mad as we are today, and only ever engaged in the act after (heterosexual!) marriage and for the sake of procreation.
I have always believed that people haven’t changed at all over the course of human history, and the more I study, the more I believe this to be true. Sure, the way people make sense of their world changes, as does the way they write about it, but people don’t change. This is particularly true when it comes to sex. Our very existence is proof that every generation since the dawn of man has been powerless against it. More than just a biological urge, it’s a desire and an obsession. As long as mankind has understood that sex can lead to pregnancy, we have sought ways to prevent conception.
This is nothing new. You want proof?
This twelve-thousand year old cave painting from the Grotte des Combarelles in France is believed to be the first depiction of condom use.
Take that, 1960s!
Being a life-long fan of historical romance, I have always been curious about contraception. Assuming the woman didn’t die having her first or second child, how did she avoid having twenty more? Do they all have syphilis? If not, why not? What does syphilis look like?
Assuming I’m not the only person who has ever wondered this (and I might be…), I’m going to write a series of posts of contraception throughout history. If there’s a particular time, place, or aspect that you’re interested in, please let me know.
For now we’ll start in the Ancient World.
Obviously women are all-powerful, but Hippocrates was among the first to believe that women could prevent conception by banishing sperm on command, as he explains in The Sperm, fifth century BCE: “When a woman has intercourse, if she is not going to conceive, then it is her practice to expel the sperm produced by both partners whenever she wishes to do so.”
You read that right, the sperm produced by both partners. While Aristotle and Plato argued that men’s sperm was responsible for producing embryos and that women were little more than a receptacle for it, Hippocrates understood that conception was a complex process involving both partners. Although he might not have been quite right about conception (or lack thereof) at will, he reasoned that both parties had to be involved because children could look like either parent. So far so logical.
Diseases of Women, a Hippocratic treatise, goes on to recommend a sure fire way of dealing with unintended pregnancies: “Shake her by the armpits and give her to drink...the roots of sweet earth almond.”
There is no evidence that the sweet earth almond, also known as the Cyperus esculenthus is anything other than a tasty, tasty nut. It’s a good source of protein, healthy fats, and Vitamins E and C, so it’ll make your skin look great, but it has no known contraceptive or abortive properties.
If that didn’t work (and all signs point to no), he also advised women to jump up and down repeatedly with her heels touching her butt. It’s worth a shot.
While Aristotle underestimated the woman’s contribution to conception, his contraceptive recommendations sound a little more effective. He advised women to: “anoint that part of the womb on which the seed falls with oil of cedar, or with ointment of lead or with frankincense, commingled with olive oil.”
Ah, yes. Lead.
Lead is one explanation for the shockingly low birthrates in Ancient Rome. The aqueducts were made of lead, and it is not unreasonable to suspect that most of the population was suffering from a degree of lead poisoning (more on that here). Lead poisoning causes infertility in men and women, yes, along with behavioral changes, irritability, convulsions, and permanent damage to the central nervous system.
Sound familiar?
Throughout history, lead has been used in a number of common products from paint to eyeliner and has been a well-documented cause of infertility and madness.
So there you have it. If you can’t find someone to vigorously shake you by the armpits, try lead.*
Tune in next Thursday for more on contraception in history. If you can’t wait, read Aine Collier’s The Humble Little Condom: A History for a fun introduction.
*Do not, for the LOVE OF GOD try lead.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Piece #3: Nick Virtue, an Unconventional Hero

For day 3 of the cover reveal, I submit for your approval:

Nick Virtue's ear.

I love Nick. Having spent eight years developing him, I ought to. One advantage to spending so long on Tyburn is that I had tons of time to work on the characters. I got to create the perfect man

I created two of them. Nick is the first one. 

Nick is an unconventional hero. He's not a duke, he's not wealthy, and he's not really an alpha-anything. He's not a beta-anything, either; he's not a letter, he's a real man! 

When Tyburn begins, Nick is employed as a private tutor to the Earl of Hereford's children. He had gone to Cambridge for a couple of years to train to be a physician, but had been forced to drop out when his wealthy patron passed away. He's extremely educated by the standard of the time, but being of uncertain birth with no connections and no living family apart from his brother (...the other perfect man. We'll get to Mark later...), his options are limited. He's lucky to have the job he's got, and he's underpaid when he's paid at all. So what does he do? He moonlights as a highwayman.  

I'm sure a lot of my underpaid teacher friends wish that was still an option. Can I get a hell yeah? 

Nick Virtue can patch a bullet wound in five minutes. He reads epic poetry, speaks decent French, and he knows how to treat a woman (with kindness and consideration, thankyouverymuch). He's smart, he's a little bit dangerous, and he looks damn good in a tricorn. 

And even better out of one. 

He's so sexy, in fact, that even the sexy cover doesn't do him any sexy justice. So close you eyes, picture someone tall, dark, and unbelievably gorgeous, and get ready to get to know Nick Virtue in Tyburn in December. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Piece #2: A Very Particular Shade of Green. Absinthe in Seventeenth Century England (Sort Of)

Welcome back!

For Day 2 of the countdown to Halloween, I give you:

A Very Particular Shade of Green.

Here it is, Sally's signature color. I think it's gorgeous, but she hates it. You'd hate it, too, if it was your only dress. Nevertheless, every undesirable in Covent Garden and beyond agrees she looks smashing in it.

On the subject of green, let's talk about another shade I'm particularly fond of: absinthe.

Do you doubt my affection? 

Let's see... oh yes, here it is:

My most recent batch of macarons was flavored with a healthy dash of the Green Fairy. What does all this have to do with Tyburn?

One of the best things about writing historical fiction is the research. Writing the kind of stories that I like, I get to read about all the best stuff. Sex, contraception, venereal diseases, crime, punishment, madness, poisons and other dodgy substances, exciting underwear, and alcohol. I came across an interesting fact this week that ties my favorite heroine with my favorite shade of green.

Tyburn takes place in 1671. Gin was barely sneaking over from Holland, and would not be produced in England on any scale until 1720. Tea had only been in England for eleven years or so and consumption was still limited. (For more on this, visit the UK Tea & Infusions Association)

Beer and wine were the beverages of choice, and coffee was extremely popular and widely available. Coffee shops were almost as ubiquitous as they are today, and many even sold early condoms under the counter. (Get with the program, Starbucks! I want some Trojans with my chai!)

By the end of the sixteenth century, England was importing significant quantities of brandy from France, and Scotland was producing so much whiskey that production had to be suspended in 1555 and 1579 to prevent grain shortage.

People were also drinking strong waters or aqua vitae. This might sound a bit like Evian, but drinking a bottle of this is more likely to leave you insensible than refreshed. By the end of the seventeenth century, demand for distilled spirits had only increased. The first recorded strongwater houses appear in an act of Parliament in 1657, with several more opening toward the end of the century when relations with the Netherlands improved. These shops sold flavored “waters” or spirits, and one of the most popular of these was aniseed.

What else is flavored with aniseed? That's right, absinthe.

Wormwood has been used medicinally as far back as ancient Egypt and was used to treat digestive problems in seventeenth century England. In large quantities, this could actually exacerbate digestive problems, as well as causing thirst, restlessness, vertigo, trembling of the limbs, numbness of the extremities, loss of intellect, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, delirium, paralysis, kidney failure, and death.


Anise and wormwood were first distilled together in the 1790s by a French doctor living in Switzerland as an all-purpose remedy. The first absinthe distillery was opened in Couvet, Switzerland in 1797, with the second in Pontarlier, France in 1805 under the name Maison Pernod Fils. (Sound familiar?) Absinthe was given to French troops in the 1840s to prevent malaria, and they brought the taste home with them. The rest, as they say, is history.

But that’s another book.

I was pretty excited when I found this because I always envisioned Sally’s public persona to be the embodiment of the Green Fairy. It was too early for absinthe by about a hundred and thirty years, but it’s possible she was drinking something similar.

For the rest of the similarities, you can read Sally’s story in Tyburn on December 8th.

In the meantime, you can read Jessica Warner’s Craze: Gin and Debauchery in the Age of Reason for more on the history of gin in Britain. I’m reading it myself right now, and it’s absolutely brilliant.

Stop back tomorrow for another piece.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Halloween Cover Reveal Piece by Piece

Minions! Tyburn has a cover!

I have just received the final cover back from the Art Department and it is GLORIOUS! 

It is so gorgeous, in fact, that I don't want to waste it on just any old Monday. Oh no! This cover deserves to be saved for a day truly worthy of its wonder. 

Fortunately, Halloween is only four days away!

Having said that, I am not a very patient woman, and I know that some of you might like to see it sooner. That's why I'm going to give a piece of it to you each day leading up until Halloween, with the whole cover being posted on Friday night. 

In the meantime, a lesson on delayed gratification courtesy of Tom Hiddleston and Cookie Monster.

Thanks, guys. Now I just want a cookie.

For your first piece of the glorious new cover, I give you:

A ghostly white hand, a bit of shoulder, and what looks like some spooky ruins in the background.

But what does it all mean?

Tune in tomorrow for another piece and don't forget to stop back on Halloween for a special treat.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Self-Editing: Learn to Love the Red Pen

After a couple of weeks of final edits, Tyburn is almost ready for you. It's been awesome going through it again, particularly with the help of my amazing editor, and I was surprised by how many things I just spotted myself that needed to be fixed. It just goes to show you that even if you read your own MS two hundred times, you're always going to miss something!

Whether you are lucky enough to have an editor or not, self-editing is a great skill to have, and crucial if you're a writer (of anything!). It's not as hard as you'd think. I was an editor for several years, and although magazines are very different from long fiction, a lot of the same rules apply. Here are a few of mine:

1. Learn to love the red pen. 
The first thing you need to do is to get past the fear of editing, or the idea that the piece couldn't be improved in any way. Even Hemingway had to write the last page of Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times before he was satisfied with it. With any luck, you won't have to rewrite your piece so extensively, but even if it's phenomenal, you can always make it a little bit spiffier. 

2. Get some distance.
If you've been working on the same pages day in and day out, you're not going to see them clearly. Put them down for a week (or more) and go back to them with fresh eyes. During my early edits, the one thing that made the biggest difference was looking at it in a different format. I uploaded the MS onto my Nook and started reading it like it was someone else's book. It's funny how much of a difference looking at something in another font can make. Some people swear by printing it out, and this might work for you, but the key is to try to find new ways of looking at your work. Read it slowly. If you're stumped, try reading it out loud to yourself. This is a great way to pick up on any grammatical errors, missed words, awkward phrasing, and unnatural dialogue. Sure, it takes awhile, but it's worth it!

3. Ask a friend
No matter how many times you look at it, you're going to miss something. That's what friends are for! This is especially helpful for larger issues such as working out the plot, consistency, character development, pacing, etc. It's incredibly helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off of, especially if they actually know what you're talking about. Your friends and beta readers are worth their weight in gold. Cherish them! 

Things to look out for:
  • Spelling, punctuation, and syntax
  • Repetition: Everyone has certain words they tend to fall back on, and everyone has a weird word or two that keeps popping up. It's never what you expect. Mine used to be "raucous," but I caught myself using it so many times that I deleted them all out of spite. Now you find it once, unless the bastard managed to sneak back in there...
  • Sentence length: It might not come naturally, but check that the sentence lengths are varied. The piece reads more naturally and consistently when they are varied throughout. 
  • Tone: This is the mood of the whole piece. Is it bubbly, conversational, serious, dark? The tone should be consistent, and whether the characters are buying groceries or escaping death, you can maintain the tone through imagery and word choice, taking into consideration:
    • Connotation: How words make you feel. Words meaning more or less the same thing can make you feel differently or picture different things when you read them. Consider slender vs scrawny - one can be a compliment, the other sounds like you're describing a chicken. Think about the words your using and the image they're creating.
  • Consistency: It sounds obvious, but check that all of your information is consistent throughout. Check the names, titles, ages, locations, everything. In my last round of edits, I found a scene where I described the same dress as "lilac" and "lavender" on two different pages. Some people might not notice, but this is the kind of thing that drives me nuts. They're two different shades! 

Is there anything you do to help you to edit your own work?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Behind the Scene: Beaumont's Epic Hangover

In this scene, Beaumont, a young Libertine, is waking up with the world's worst hangover. Rochester has returned to town and he and his friends have embarked on a two-week bender to celebrate. Beaumont wakes up at the crack of noon, unusually early for him, to find his university buddy passed out naked behind his bed. He has very little memory of the previous weeks, and tries to use his physical symptoms and bedraggled appearance to figure out what he got up to.

I think there's a tendency of every generation to imagine that they have invented partying. In my years living in Britain, I went to University and worked in a series of bars -- a sleepy pub in seventeenth-century coach house, a pole dancing club where I was hired to be the curvy red-haired bartender (the owner was working on a set of girls to suit every preference. Not weird at all), and an all-night hipster bar with multiple floors, a "chill out" room, and kindly Rastafarians on the decks. Between these jobs and the kind of things that happen during Uni in the UK (airguns, streaking, a friend snorting Pork Scratchings to find everything he eats for the next two weeks tastes of bacon... I could go on) I can vouch for the integrity of this generation's debauchery. 

Thing is, we're not the first people to do it. For the period I'm writing in, Barnabee's Journal by Richard Braithwaite is an excellent source detailing what can be summarized as an epic, meandering pub crawl much like the ones British students embark on today, only a lot longer, and it was written four hundred odd years ago. I think there's a common idea that the kind of manners so key to the Victorian period went right the way back -- after all, they had to come from somewhere, right? -- but this couldn't be further from the truth. One of the reasons why I chose to set Tyburn in the seventeenth century is because you get a lot more freedom in terms of manners and class at this period, particularly under Charles II. After all, Nell Gwyn went from being a common prostitute to the much beloved mistress of the king, and their first son became the Duke of St Albans. 

Another source I drew inspiration from for this scene was Anais Nin's Delta of Venus. They're nothing like each other, to be fair, but her descriptions of opium-fueled orgies always stuck with me, and I wanted to bring something of the hallucinogenic quality to Derby's foggy recollections of the evening.

It hasn't been all smooth sailing, of course. Thinking of the Hellfire Clubs of later years, I threw some nuns into it without thinking, but took them out once I caught my mistake. Catholicism was a dirty secret at this point, which is important to remember, as it's a pretty crucial part of the story. Glad I caught that -- I should know better!

I hope you enjoy reading this when it's out, and you can expect lots more hangovers in the second book of the Southwark Saga, which will be Mark and Jane's story.

Have you ever done anything really crazy when drinking?


Hello everybody, and welcome to my website!
I am a writer of historical romantic fiction for Liquid Silver Books. My first book, Tyburn, is due to be released in early December. It is the first book in my new series, The Southwark Saga.
Tyburn is set in the London of 1671, eleven years after the Restoration of King Charles II brought the austere Parliamentarian regime and years of Civil War to an end.  The capital has survived plague and fire under Charles and is still in the throes of the gleeful debauchery which accompanied the Merry Monarch’s return.
The roads are rife with highwaymen, desperate bandits who rob passing carriages as a means of survival. Foremost among them is Claude Duval, the infamous gentleman highwayman who distinguished himself by his impeccable manners and eschewing of violence, charming the ladies of London in the process.
Our story begins at Duval’s execution in January of 1670. Here we meet Claude’s friend, Sally, a young harlot fallen on hard times after fleeing France for the murder of a man who may not be dead. Tyburn is Sally’s story.
There’s a lot going on at the moment and this site is still being built, so please check back for updates, teasers, and research. If you’d like to, you can reach me through the contact form for blog/media requests, review copies, or if you just feel like talking. I would love to hear from you.
Thank you for stopping by!