Tag Archive | Shannon Donnelly

Regency Holiday Traditions

christmaspuddingWe tend to treat things such as Christmas trees and holiday gift giving as if they’ve been with us forever. While these are old traditions, they were once far more localized. In this world of media everywhere, we tend to forget that customs were once far more specific to the area.

In England, many areas held to older customs, dating back to Saxon days (and sometimes earlier). The word Yule meant mid-winter and came to use from the Saxons. It was converted to mean Jesus’ birthday, and Christmas (or Christ’s mass) was not used until the Eleventh century.

In England, Advent was the day that began the celebrations leading up to Christmas.

The Feast of St. Martin, or Martinmas, fell on November 11, and St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, had his day on November 30. St. Andrew’s day also marked the beginning of Advent to celebrate the four weeks before Christmas.

In late fall and November, the landed gentry still dined on wild foul as well as domestic poultry—which was now getting a bit old and aged (meaning tough and needing sauces to make the meat palatable). They also had beef, venison and pork with their meals. Fish could still be caught and served, and winter vegetables graced the dining room, including: carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, leeks, cabbage, celery and lettuces. With November, walnuts and chestnuts came into season.

Feasting over the holidays might include game—both wild and tame birds—seasonal fish such as flounder, plaice, smelts, whiting, prawns, oysters and crab. Broccoli made a welcome change from the other winter vegetables, as did cress, herbs, cucumbers, beets and spinach. Preserved fruits would be running low in all but houses with large orchards, and stored apples and pears would have to serve guests. Roasts were popular Christmas fare, usually of beef if it could be afforded, or possibly goose.

Many decorations came from ancient times: Druids, Celts, and even the Romans used evergreen branches made into wreaths in winter solstice celebrations. Holly and ivy were also pagan symbols which remained green (a promise of life to return in dead of winter) and were adopted by the Church. Holly–prized for its ability to bear fruit in winter and its healing uses–became a said to be the thorns Christ wore on the crucifix and the berries were stained red by his drops of blood.  From the Norse and the Druids, Mistletoe (which was often found growing on the sacred oaks and featured in several old myths) was held to be sacred and associated with fertility, which led to kissing boughs. There are several local variations on the kissing bough custom. One holds that a woman who refused the kiss would have bad luck, and another is that with each kiss a berry was to be plucked, and the kissing must stop after all the berries were gone.

Strict Methodists might scorn such customs as smacking not of the pagan, but of the Catholic Church. During Cromwell’s rule, Christmas was even banned. Charles II restored the holiday in England. However, the Parliament of Scotland officially abolished the observance of Christmas in 1640, to purge the church “of all superstitious observation of days”, and it was not restored as a public holiday in Scotland until 1958.

coachsnowOn Christmas Day, and Boxing Day on December 26, which was St. Stephen’s Day. Boxing Day did not get its name from gift boxes, for the exchange of gifts was a German custom still new to Regency England (and only practiced by a few families). Instead, Boxing Day got its name from the older tradition of it being a day in which pleadings could be placed in a box for a judge to privately review. (It’s also said that Boxing Day’s name comes from the boxes given to the poor, or from boxes of goods given to servants–so there are several stories about this day’s name.)

In December, besides beef and mutton to eat, pork and venison were served. Goose was cooked for more than just the Christmas meal, and there would be turkey, pigeons, chicken, snipes, woodcock, larks, guinea-foul, widgeons and grouse to eat. Cod, turbot, soul, sturgeon and eels joined the list of fish in season. Forced asparagus added a delicacy to the usual winter vegetables. Stored apples, pears and preserved summer fruit appeared on the better, richer tables. Mince pies made from mincemeat, which has no meat in it, were another traditional fare, with the tradition being that everyone in the household should stir, for luck, the mix of dried fruit and spices before it was baked.

But households also celebrated not just according to the season, but also to the customs of the area. In the Regency, while some traditions were widespread such as caroling and church bells ringing (or ringing the changes), local customs in the countryside might well hold to the old ways and be more individual.

In Cornish, Christmas is Nadelik, and the Cornish custom of mummers and the “lord of misrule” was very popular, as was caroling, Morris dancing, and the lighting of the Mock or Block. The Cornish tradition was to draw a chalk man on the Christmas or Yule log to symbolize the death of the old year and then set it on fire.

In Devonshire, instead of a Yule log, the tradition was to burn the ashton fago, a bundle of nine ash-sticks bound with bands of ash. Devonshire traditions also hold with eating hot cakes that are dipped into cider (hard cider).

Like most of England, Wales had the traditional caroling but y Nadolic (Christmas) would be celebrated with an early church service held between three and six in the morning known as plygain or daybreak.

Yorkshire held to many old Norse customs, including the lighting of the Christmas candle by the head of the house (which was also to be extinguished by him, but never fully bunt), and the frumety (a dish of soaked wheat, milk, sugar,  nutmeg or other spices). Along with this would be peberkage or pepper-cake or gingerbread or Yule cake and the wassail-cup. In a Yorkshire village, even today, the Morris men might be longsword dancing in celebration.

Under the Kissing Bough_200For one of my books, Under the Kissing Bough, I needed a Christmas wedding and customs that suited the countryside around London. In ancient days, a Christmas wedding would have been impossible for the English Church held a “closed season” on marriages from Advent in late November until St. Hilary’s Day in January. The Church of England gave up such a ban during Cromwell’s era, even though the Roman Catholic Church continued its enforcement. Oddly enough a custom I expected to be ancient—that of the bride having “something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in her shoe”—turned out to be a Victorian invention.

For Christmas customs, I relied on those that have carried down through the ages: the Yule log from Saxon winter solstice celebrations (which gives us Yule Tide celebrations), the ancient Saxon decorations of holy and ivy, and the Celtic use of mistletoe on holy days, which transformed itself into the kissing bough. Carolers might well travel from house to house, offering song in exchange for a wassail bowl—a hot, spiced or mulled drink, another tradition left over from the Norse Vikings.

The holidays were a time of games as well, and the game of Snapdragon is a very old one. It’s played by placing raisins in a broad, shallow bowl, pouring brandy over them and setting the brandy on fire. Players then must show their courage by reaching through the spirit-flames to snatch up raisins. And the game even comes with its own song:

Here comes the flaming bowl,

Don’t he mean to take his toll,

Snip! Snap! Dragon!

Take care you don’t take too much,

Be not greedy in your clutch,

Snip! Snap! Dragon!

Celebrations continued to mix tradition and religion when the Twelfth Night feast arrived on January 5, which mixed the Roman Saturnalia with the Feast of the Epiphany (a much bigger celebration in the Middle Ages than was Christmas), when the three wise men were said to have paid tribute to the Baby Jesus.

iceskatingBeside family gatherings, the Christmas hunt might well meet up for December is the height of fox hunting season. Large house parties would be held, and of course, attending church was almost required of everyone.  If local ponds or rivers froze, there would be ice skating and with snow on the ground, the sleigh could be taken out.

For those less fond of the cold, there would be indoor games as well as amusements, which was one reason why young ladies were meant to have accomplishments such as singing or playing a musical instrument, which might pass the time.

Settings & More

ballroomtuilarisIt’s always tough to figure out where to start a story–and I find a lot of this applies to the setting for the story. Some settings automatically suggest themselves. The opening of Lady Scandal seemed automatic–if an English lady is fleeing from Paris when the peace of 1803 breaks down, the story is going to open in Paris. For the follow up book, Lady Chance, the setting wasn’t so obvious.

Lady Chance takes up Diana’s story–she was a secondary character in Lady Scandal, and she met a French captain and they sparked. But in taking up Diana’s story, the question was when would she have a chance to meet up and have a happy ending with her captain?

With England and France at war from 1803 to 1814, that’s a long time. Would Diana meet her captain when he was a prisoner of war in England? Or what about meeting during the Peninsular war in Spain? Could there be any good outcome in either of those situations, and did I want to get into Spain and the problems there–particularly with things going badly for the French army.

I did have some scenes I wrote, with the idea of Diana and her captain meeting up after the battle of Vitoria–there was a thought of having some fun chasing after the Spanish treasure that went missing. However, those scene stalled out early on. The setting was fun…but it wasn’t really working. Which led me back to Paris.

paris_russiansParis in 1814 was a lot of excitement–and fun. It was a city overrun by armies, and by the English arriving, and the possibilities seemed vast for any story. There was also the glitter factor–let’s face it, slogging around the muddy Spanish countryside or being able to use the settings of Paris left me wanting to write about Paris.

Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of Paris, but then I visited–I won a trip there, which is another story–and fell in love. Paris isn’t just a city of light, it’s a city dense in history–it escaped the destruction of many wars, and you can turn a corner and see how a street looked exactly in 1814. Paris loves its museums–and the art, oh, the art! And since Paris only made a brief appearance in Lady Scandal, with Lady Chance I’d have time to dive into more of the city–the old gates, the houses, the cafes, the gaming salons and the shops. The setting proved to be as much fun as the story.

I’m thinking ahead to the next book in the series–Lady Lost–and I think Paris will again be part of the story. There’s even more to dive into with that setting. But we’ll see if we take up with Napoleon’s hundred days, or just after Waterloo, for both times are again rife with plots and schemes, and plenty of great dramatic material.


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“That is a deathtrap! An explosion waiting to go off!” Diana put her hands on her hips.

Taliaris turned with a startled glance. “What? Where is the girl who once traveled with Gypsies? Who rode a donkey cart? Who did not seem to mind anything that was a new experience?”

“She, thankfully, had her adventures and learned to set idiotic notions aside.” She let her hands fall. With a shiver, she pulled her cloak tighter. “I did not think you knew about the cart.”

“Oh, we followed you and your aunt most diligently—from Paris to the coast. A pretty girl is always remembered.”

Diana gave a huff. “Flattery will not get me into that.” She gestured to the boat moored at the riverside quay. It was not a large ship, perhaps thirty feet from bow to stern, but steam puffed from the back where a boxed engine of some sort squatted. Metal gleamed in the moonlight, and a soft, chugging sound came from the boat . She gave a sniff and asked, “Why can you not have stout watermen to row us?”

Taliaris stepped from the quay and into the steam ship. It swayed but did not sink—not a point it its favor, Diana decided. He held out a hand for her. “I have already paid for our tour. And the Seine is the best way to see Paris. Besides, we are not stepping into an untested invention. In France, we have had steam in use for years. You English will soon be wanting nothing but its more reliable power.”

She grimaced. “Rely upon it to explode, you mean. I read about just such a contraption tried upon rails in London years ago which ended in disaster due to too much power trapped in too small a space.” She tried to stand her ground, but since he kept his hand out, his eyebrows arched and his expression expectant, Diana could see no options. Oh, she could abandon the evening with him, but that was not a choice. Jules wanted her close to Taliaris. She gave another sniff and she put her hand in his.

He didn’t wait for more. Putting his arm around her, he swept her into the steam ship. She gave a squeak and closed her eyes tight, clutching at him, her heart beating quick and expecting… Well, she had not expected him to be so strong. Taliaris set her down, but she was reluctant to let go. She like his scent, how it clung to her. She liked how she felt in his arms—sheltered, an unusual sensation for her. The boat rocked under her feet, and water lapped gently against the stone quay. The scent of water—and burning coal—gave a tart tang to the air, mixing with the spice from Taliaris. She opened her eyes and peered around Taliaris’ broad form to where the steam engine puffed and hissed.

“The devil’s own noise. How can this be the best of anything?” Still gripping his arm, she glanced up at him and asked with a small amount of hopeful pleading, “Are you quite certain you do not have watermen?”

A smile twisted up Taliaris’ mouth. He pulled away from her hands and left her. “Abandoned already,” she muttered, shivering a little under her cloak. She swayed again as the boat bobbed. Sitting down before she fell down seemed a wise idea, so she did. The wooden bench was only a little damp, and she had her cloak and gloves to save her gown from ruin and her skin from the worst of it. She turned to look back at the stern.

Taliaris stood talking to the three sailors who obviously managed the boat—rough fellows all of them, with dark hair and eager eyes once Taliaris produced a coin purse and coins coming out of it. One sailor scrambled to cast off the moorings, another headed to the belching engine, and the ship turned its bow into the river. Diana gripped the edge of the bench and bit down on another panicked squeak. She began to honestly think this was a devilish invention, and Taliaris a beast for bringing her onto it. Was he testing her? Trying to terrify her? Or simply inured to danger from too many years of battles?

Easily making his way to her, Taliaris took her hand and pulled her to her feet. A brazen thing to do, she thought. He ought to wait for her to offer her hand, but then she had already quite made up her mind he was utterly and refreshingly lacking in the qualities of a gentleman. He guided her to the bow and settled her on seats with cushions. That was an improvement. The boat chugged along with a not unpleasant, rhythmic sound. She lifted her face into the breeze. Spray from the water touched her cheeks, but she preferred that to the faint, oily smell that came off the engine.

Stretching out on the seat next to her, Taliaris began to talk about the steam power that was become so popular. “Andre Dufour—a man I know—it is his cousin who owns the Mirabelle. He built her two years ago and she has had no accidents.”

“Yet, you mean.” She threw out the words with a challenge and glanced over her shoulder to the white steam, winding its way up from a funnel. “At least it also provides warmth—a pleasant thing on a night, but what of a hot summer day?”

“You are determined to see nothing but bad in this.”

“And you are an optimist when it comes to new contraptions. I did not expect that of you.”

“You think a man who fights knows only how to fight? That was not the example set by the Emperor. Innovation. That is the key to win battles in these years. To build nations. The Emperor sought to make Paris—to make France—first among all.”

Diana locked her hands around one knee and leaned against the back of the bench. She tipped her head to the side. Might as well dig a little to see if she could pull out information that Jules would find useful. “You still admire Bonaparte even though he is now banished to a small island?” she asked.

“Politicians gave him up. He would have fought for France still, would have defended Paris. I know he wrote to the Convention to tell them so. I had friends on his staff, but the cowards in Paris…” Shaking his head, he let the words trail off. His mouth had pulled down, and she could sense the impatience flowing off him. He obviously did not care much for politicians.

“But what?” she prompted.

He glanced at her, his eyes dark and unreadable in this dim light. Shadows danced over his face, easing the lines the years had put on him, but showing the hard edges he had acquired. “This is not a night to speak of sad things. You wished to see Paris, did you not? Let us see what is good and right before us.” He swept out a hand, and Diana turned to stare at the city. Perhaps that was better—safer. For that old tug of attraction to him still pulled on her. She drew in a sharp breath and stared at Paris.

Music floated to the river from nearby great houses, and illuminations for the new king still flickered on some of the buildings. Taliaris gestured to the lights. “Candles or carbonic gas is lit within transparencies affixed to the windows. Would you call that a danger, too? Another unsafe invention?”

Diana slipped a sideways glance at Taliaris. She found him watching her, his arm slung across the back of the bench behind her. If she shifted an inch, his fingers would touch her shoulders. She stayed still. She was not quite certain she wanted to forget anything between them—not the bad, or the good. “Tell me more of what innovations you would have. Would you back them with your own investment?” And do you need funds from others for that—would that tempt you onto the wrong path?

He gave a snort that might have been a laugh. “My family will be lucky enough to keep our lands, I think. But others will come out of these times with titles to their names and money in their pockets.” She could not see his face, but he sounded tired and a little frustrated.

“Oh, do not be so surly.” She waved a gloved hand at him, brushing off his tone and his words. “Bonaparte restored titles and lands to those he favored and those who kept him in power. Do not chide your new king for planning to do the same.”

“Spoken like a true daughter of a monarchy.”

She stiffened. His words held a harsh bite, and she found she resented them being thrown at her—by him of all people, a…a mere soldier. “Your last king would have done better if he had acted with far harsher measures when his troubles first began. He might have kept his head, or at the very least saved his wife and son and prevented his daughter’s suffering!” She bit off the rest of it. She was saying more than she should—and she was here to pull words from him. Instead, she was flinging opinions at him. That would get her nowhere.

But it seemed it had.

Taliaris’ mouth curved in an inviting and warm smile—he looked honestly amused and some of the tension in him seemed to ease.

Overhead, stars glittered bright, splashed across the sky in lush abandon. The moon glimmered pale on the eastern horizon like a fat bowl tonight. It seemed a night for the romantic—for forgetting the past perhaps.

Taliaris’ voice dropped to a low murmur near her ear and his breath brushed her skin. “Meaning he should have sent those who talked revolution to prison, as does your king and your princely regent? I have heard you like to tout how free you are, you English. But I also read of how you treat those who print complaints—anyone who speaks or writes that kings are a thing of the past is soon locked away. Your England fears any real freedom.”

“And it worked so well to have a Committee for Public Safety instead—to behead anyone who dared speak against your glorious Revolution, to call everyone citizen even when more than a few were using that as an excuse to gain enormous power. When you killed your king and queen you invited a war upon France and paved the way for a dictator. What sort of freedom is that?” Skin hot and pulse quickening, Diana threw her hands wide. Taliaris gave a short laugh, and she glared at him. “You think it amusing for a woman to express her views? Of all the patronizing and—”

“Hush.” He put a finger to her lips. “I think you sound a woman who bottles what she thinks up far too much, so it comes all out in a burst. Tell me, do your Englishmen not want to listen to you speak of politics?”

Diana pressed her lips tight—they tingled slightly from his touch. Taliaris did not wear gloves and his skin had been warm, his finger slightly calloused. She sank back upon the bench. Just who was pulling words out of whom this evening? Her shoulders brushed against Taliaris’ hand, but she had her cloak between her skin and his touch. She did not move away. It was too chilly an evening, she told herself, and then danced away from that lie.

Settling back into a flippant tone, she told him, “First off, they are not all my Englishmen—well, one was, and yes, he did listen, but I do not think he particularly cared. Chauncey was not the least political.”

“And second?”

She gave a wave of her hand. Let us get back to trying to know what you think and plot—or if you plot anything, she told herself. “There is no second. Do Frenchwomen not speak their minds? I had heard your emperor did not much care for intellectual women, or so Madam de Stale has told the world.”

“I speak of the women of the Revolution. They fought for freedom. Or they tried. My mother was one of those who embraced the principals—liberty, equality, fraternity. She held those to be everyone’s rights, rich or poor, titled or not.”

Ah, now we get to someplace interesting. She tipped her head to the side. It seemed that he came from a family of revolutionaries. Her parents would have been horrified if she had ever brought him home—her father had been a staunch Tory from a family of even stauncher Tories. She only said, “I cannot think that gained her much. It is far easier to join one group by hating another.”

“That sounds as if you have experience of such a thing.”

She lifted one shoulder in a small shrug. Why not trade him something of her past in the hopes he would say more—so far he’d been maddeningly vague, meaning either he was very good at keeping his secrets or he had none to share. She glanced at him and said, her voice light with scorn, “Politics are everything when it comes to angling for a marriage during the London season. One learns the art of compromise, the ability to negotiate under pressure, and the value of hiding one’s true desires in order to advance one’s long-term goals. And, of course, family must be put first.”

“So the individual is sacrificed? What you want does not matter? And there is no such thing as equality.”

She gave a laugh at such an idea—equality within the London marriage mart, where wealth and beauty mattered most? Absurd! “Not much fraternity, either, not amongst too many ladies with too few eligible gentlemen. I hold France to blame for that.” She drew off one glove and tapped a finger on his arm where the gold braid and buttons of his uniform glinted in the light from the illuminations on the river’s shores. “How can any young man resist the lure of a dashing uniform? You should know about that. It left London’s ballrooms—and most of the bedrooms—frightfully empty.”

“Yours was not.” He threw out the words in a flat tone, and she could not tell if he was mocking her or not.

She turned away and folded her hands in her lap. This was not a direction she wanted to take in any conversation. “That is an assumption.”

His voice dropped so low that she barely heard it over the thump of the steam engine. “Do you say your husband did not love you? He did not want you?”

Lips pressed tight, she glanced back at the engine and the shallow wake arrowing out behind the ship. Traces left behind them—that all they had now, an imprint from the past that faded almost as soon as it had been made. She was done with this line of questing—Jules would have to wait to find out if Taliaris wanted his emperor back or not. Although she was starting to think he was as little a political animal as she.

“Do we turn around now?” she asked and forced a bright tone into her voice. “I think I have seen enough of Paris by night. I think it must be prettier during the day. At least now that spring is come perhaps some flowers may bloom. But it has grown chilly.”

“No.” He took her chin in his hand, his fingers gentle, but his touch still forced her to face him. “You do not get to evade my questions.”


Lady Chance 01Available on Amazon.com


Giles glanced down at his English girl. That pretty bow mouth of hers had taken on a mulish set. She arched one eyebrow. He thrust out his elbow for her to take his arm. “Is it possible you are called Lady Chance because there is such a high probability you will throw yourself into trouble?”

“Would you rather I throw you into trouble? If so, tell me how I may oblige in that manner.”

“You would oblige me more if you did not insist on this.”

“Oh, no, my dear Giles. Too much gratifying of such whims as those would lead to spoiling your glum countenance. You might actually smile and we cannot have that. You would cease to be the stern major and your mystery might unravel.”

Giles had no time to answer. They had crossed the room. His uncle watched their approach with speculation bright in his silver-gray eyes. Françoise stood still, his arms folded and his shoulders hunched, looking ridiculously young, more like a boy than a man. After his first glance at Diana, Françoise straightened and appreciation warmed his eyes.

Giles made the introductions in French and finished by saying, “This is my graceless brother who has no time for me now he has come to Paris.”

“No, no, Giles—that is too unkind. You paint me as a care-for-nobody when it is you who are always called off for some parade or duty.” Turning to Diana, Françoise put a hand over his heart. “I assure you, milady. I have left my card three times at my brother’s lodging. But he is a hero now and has no time for family.”

Eyes bright, Françoise grinned. He shared the same tea-brown eyes as his brother and the same deep-brown hair. However, Françoise wore his hair long. The light caught chestnut mixed with the darker shades in soft waves and the silky strands almost invited a touch. Diana’s heart tightened. Giles had once been just so open-faced.

She glanced at Giles and saw his frown had not softened to his brother’s teasing. She tapped Françoise’s arm with her fan. “You must not pull your brother’s tail, although it is nearly irresistible. I am certain he thought only of his family when he put on a uniform. But now you must tell me of the entertainment to be had in Paris, for I am newly arrived and have not seen the city in years.”

Nodding, Paul-Henri smiled. “Not since your aunt had to flee with you back to England, I understand.”

Françoise’s enthusiasm dimmed. He glanced once at his uncle and back to Diana. His expression dropped into a cool mask. “My mistake, milady. I took you…your French is very good. You have not the mangling of our words like most English.”

“That is flattery indeed. I had a French governess. But now, because I am English, I lose all my charm?”

Françoise’s cheeks pinked. He stammered out a denial, but Giles’ uncle interrupted again. “Oh, we all much admire you English, but we do so better when you are at a distance.”


“No, Giles,” Diana said, opening her fan to ply it. “Pray, do not rebuke your uncle for the truth. It is as refreshing as a winter’s breeze.”

Paul-Henri gave a shrug. “Paris can be chilling to those unaccustomed to its shifting winds.”

Diana put her head to the side to consider. She was not yet certain if she liked this man. She had the sense of being weighed by him and found a little wanting. In such a case, she had no difficulty living up to his very low expectations.

She put on a vapid smile. She had perfected it years ago to bore unwanted suitors into abandoning her. “Oh, la, sir! You make a jest. Chilling indeed.” She added an empty laugh. Paul-Henri frowned. She turned to Giles’ brother. “And you also wish us foreigners to blazes? What was your recent fuss about—a republic, was it not? But that cannot be right, for you had yourself an emperor in its stead.”

The color lifted high and bright in Françoise’s face. “The ideals of the Republic still live! And the rights we had under—”

“Françoise,” Paul-Henri said, his tone sharp. He lifted his cane to wave it between Françoise and Diana. “Do not bore the lady. Milady, forgive us. We have forgotten how to entertain. You asked about amusements. Françoise, did you not see a play just the other evening—a delightful diversion?”

Paul-Henri forced the conversation onto safer topics, although Giles’ brother, Françoise, could not seem to recall the plot of what he had seen. Diana fixed a smile in place, nodded when it seemed necessary, and watched Giles from the corner of her eyes.

He seemed willing to allow his uncle to lead the conversation. However, Diana had the impression that Giles was only proving to her why she should take no interest in his relatives. Paul-Henri did not seem to think much of the English. Françoise obviously not only did not wish to be here but had nothing to say to an Englishwoman. The young man moved from reluctant to positively sullen. Diana would have laughed except that would have mortified the poor lad. The uncle seemed content to allow his nephews their moods, but he was quite skilled at orchestrating events.

He managed to pack off both gentlemen, taking Giles to task for not fetching Diana refreshments and sending Giles’ younger brother to call for their carriage so they might leave. Left alone with the older gentleman, Diana closed her fan and wondered why he wanted a word with her. She did not have long to wait for an answer.

Paul-Henri placed both hands on the carved head of his cane and gave a nod. “You need not bother with the smiles. You are very good at them, but as an old dissembler to a younger one, I urge you not to waste your talents.”

She stiffened for an instant, but let out a soft breath and kept her smile. “Oh, it is never a waste to practice one’s skills. I had not trotted out this particular expression in ages. It must be almost as rusty as my accent.”

“No, both are excellent. But if you were as vapid as you have just seemed, Giles would not have looked at you as he did earlier.”

“What look would that be?”

His smile widened. “You might be good for him, milady. Or you might be his death warrant.”

“Really, now—so dramatic!”

He lifted a hand. The gold ring on his little finger caught the light. Like his nephews he wore no gloves. Unlike his nephews, he had soft, white hands. “These are times of high drama. And your cousin, Lord Sandal, is it not? He is placed to decide such things? Or perhaps he is just another English come to visit. It is so difficult to tell who is who these days.”

Diana silently had to agree with him. And why were all these Taliaris men so interested in Jules? She folded her hands together in front of her, feeling more like a schoolgirl than she had in years. “Sir, we could fence with each other for hours and as entertaining as that might prove it would advance nothing. Perhaps you would care to come to a point about something?”

“Or perhaps not. You do know that my nephew plans to return to Bordeaux to the family vineyards. He seeks a life that is all too…quiet.” He made the word sound worse than exile.

Diana could not resist looking out over the crowd to find Taliaris. Would such pastoral peace be good for him? Or would the lack of action leave him bored and fat? Or would the countryside be just the respite he needed from the world? She glanced back at his uncle. “You mean he is not for the likes of me? He needs a quiet wife to go with such a life?”

“I did not say that. Perhaps he knows his own desires—or perhaps he only thinks of a change without knowing just what sort of difference he needs, eh? But Giles returns with a glass of something for you and his scowl for me. Lead him a merry dance, milady. I think that is what is best for him just now.”

“And you, sir? What is it you seek from this evening? This introduction, which you now have? I played to your lead, but I think your trump did not yet take the hand.” He looked at her, his stare sharpening. Diana smiled. “We should play cards someday, sir. I think you are not often well-matched, and I should like to empty your pockets.”

His mouth twitched. He took her hand and bowed over it. “I am never matched, well or otherwise. And I do not play at games. Enjoy this visit, milady, but keep your bags packed.”

She frowned at his words. But Giles returned to her side, and she had to turn to take the glass he held out to her. She sipped the wine, something white and dry, and gave a small shrug. “Very well, I shall say it.” He lifted one eyebrow in inquiry. She shook her head for an answer. “You had the right of it. I should not have forced an introduction. Your uncle now thinks I am a flighty woman—or at least the wrong sort of woman. And your brother has no love for anything—or anyone—English. And I thought my family difficult! But they are, for Jules has deserted me, or at least has taken himself off somewhere. Shall we scandalize everyone with a second dance? Or perhaps we could flee for a walk along the Seine and air that does not reek of perfume and too many schemes?”

He stared at her for a moment. His eyes seemed so dark as to be almost black and she could not read what expression lay in the depths. But he took her hand—a dreadfully forward habit of his—and started for the stairs.

The Art of Narrative

showandtellI’m about to do my Show & Tell Workshop online for OCC this May, and I always put in a pitch not just to show more, but to tell better.

Narrative seems to have gone out of fashion. It doesn’t seem to be taught, and no one seems to really get what it is. So let’s make it easy.

Merriam-Webster gives us the root for narrative/narrating as the “Latin narratus, past participle of narrare, from Latin gnarus knowing; akin to Latin gnoscere, noscere to know.”

This means it’s basically the author telling the reader the information the author knows, which the reader also needs to know. And now you ask, what does the reader need to know, and when does the reader need it, and how much does the reader need. This is where narrative becomes an art.

Look at this passage from Delta of Venus by Anais Nin:

They fell on this, the three bodies in accord, moving against each other to feel breast against breast and belly against belly. They ceased to be three bodies. They became all mouths and fingers and tongues and senses. Their mouths sought another mouth, a nipple, a clitoris. They lay entangled, moving very slowly. They kissed until the kissing became a torture and the body grew restless. Their hands always found yielding flesh, an opening. The fur they lay on gave off an animal odor, which mingled with the odors of sex…

That’s beautiful, evocative writing–and it’s all narrative telling. But it works!

Or from the Dubliners by James Joyce:

Then late one night as he was undressing for bed she had tapped at his door, timidly. She wanted to relight her candle at his for hers had been blown out by gust. It was her bath night. She wore a loose open combing-jacket of printed flannel. Her white instep shone in the opening of her furry slippers and the blood glowed warmly behind her perfumed skin. From her hands and wrists too as she lit and steadied her candle a faint perfume arose.

Now, I’m not saying you have to strive for great art–although that’s not a bad goal. But narrative can be some of the most beautiful writing you’ll ever do. The trick here is when do you use narrative, and do you make it wonderful? Or do you slap down descriptions to hurry forward in the story, terrified that your pace is flagging?

I read too many manuscripts these days from young writers (and I mean by writing age, not their real age) which seem rushed. They  hurry into scenes without setting up the world and the time and the true pace of the story.

Showing can be a great too–but so can  narrative. Don’t neglect this invaluable tool! And to learn more about how to do this, check out the workshop. We’ll be doing a lot of hands-on work.

Best Advice from RWA National: The Promise To Your Readers

It was an upbeat conference this year. Editors didn’t look so hunted. Those writers not yet published didn’t look so desperate—probably because the decision to be published is now in their own hands. And the self publishing panels weren’t just about how to format an ebook, but actually had a lot of great info.

My favorite workshop was held by Barbara Freethy, Bella Andre, and Tina Folsom—three ladies who’ve done very well for themselves and who have shown that self published does not mean bad books or terrible sales. The best advice I heard came from Bella Andre who talked about the contract a writer has with a reader—a contract to deliver not just a good read but a certain level of sensuality in the books. She’s established as a secondary identity for a different type of book (and no, I’m not going to tell you the name—you’ll have to hunt it up yourself). But she did the new name because the books offer a different level of sex in the books—it’s a different “type” of book.

Now, I’d been looking at genre for “different”—and thinking that of course that’s why you needed a pen name. But this hit home—of course it’s not genre. It’s more about the feel of the book—what type of book is it. And that got me looking at my own bookshelves again.

I read sexy books—love the good ones. But it’s not my primary read. And that got me thinking.

Paths of Desire is a book I did to break out to a larger book and a more sweeping historical. I amped up the sex in the book—probably too much so. It’s a good book—or I think so. But I got to thinking about my readers. I’d had one reader post a one star review—and I think she’s right. It’s not the book for her, but she’s my reader. And it’s a brave new world.

This lead me to do an edit and I’m bringing out Paths of Desire: The Sweet Regency Edition. It’s more like my other Regencies—not exactly the door shutting on the sex (it’s a romance, and these folks become lovers, and that’s a vital part of the plot), but making it more about the emotion and less about the body parts. A new cover and a new ISBN denotes the new version of the book. And now readers can choose which version they like better.

I’m also going to be looking closer at my urban fantasy books, too—maybe I’ll bring out the hot version and the plot version and let readers pick which they prefer. Or maybe I’ll just bring them into the “Shannon Donnelly” version so that no pen name is needed—it’ll be a change of genre, but not a change of tone.

Either way should be interesting.

So what do you think—hot or not? Or is it best to have a choice that you the reader can make in which edition you like best?

Writers Come out of the Closet

Hi, my Name is Shannon, and I’m a Writer

It’s taken a long time for me to get comfortable with saying, “I a writer.” Part of this is due to the fact that I’ve always written—it’s just something you do…well, something I do. Part of this is due to the looks you get when you say this. Eager anticipation mixes—yes, they really do want to say they’ve met a real author—with half-hidden skepticism, and then you get The Question.

The Question comes phrased one of two ways. It’s either, “Oh, what do you write?” This comes with an implication that maybe you write technical manuals, or non-fiction, or something that means of course you don’t write anything meaningful—as if somehow none of that other stuff counts. (Is this because we’re taught in school that only “literary fiction” is of real value?) Or you get, “What have you written lately?”

Now, no one asks an accountant, “What taxes have you filed lately.” Or asks any other profession to somehow provide credentials to prove your claim. Lawyers do not have to whip out briefs; doctors do not need to show their latest prescription and case file. But a writer…you have to name your books, your stories, and I’ve thought sometimes that I should just carry a resume to show folks who ask. And here’s the thing—you tell them you write romances (or whatever genre, if you’re so lucky as to have a single genre), and you mention your story titles, and you get a blank look back. You’ve kicked their puppy, burst their balloon, salted their punch. Somehow you’ve disappointed. You’re not quite “a name” (or at least not the name they were looking for), yet you’re a writer. You’re not writing what they read, or what they want to tell people they read. The person doing the pop quiz has nothing to take home—no bragging rights for having met “a real author” (of real books, the definition of which changes depending on who is doing the reading).

It’s worse before you publish. It doesn’t get much better after you publish. So you start holding back. You duck the question. You keep it under wraps or wave it off, and you only answer if your significant other brags about you thus forcing you into The Question.

And when it comes time to file taxes, you hover over the words and put either a slash (as in I’m a web producer/writer), or you just put down the day job. Never mind that you’re working at a job that pays way less than minimum wage and doing it for love—those folks used to be admired, and now if you’re not a “professional” somehow you’re not legitimate. And never mind that you’re incurring all the cost of a business (equipment, supplies, training, sales letters, proposals to solicit work). Nope—somehow none of that really counts.

It’s worse before you publish. It doesn’t get much better after you publish. There’s still that edge of guilt—oh, yeah, well a real writer would have _______. Fill in the blank. A real writer would have won awards, been on best seller lists, sold fifty books…it’s like being an alcoholic in reverse. Instead of saying, “Well, I’m not an alcoholic because I don’t drink in bars.” (Or whatever excuse works.) It’s, “Well, I’m not a writer because I don’t write serious fiction.” (Or whatever excuse works.)  The excuse is all about excusing yourself from being a real writer. Meaning you can play around with the craft. Make it a hobby. You don’t have to think of yourself as a craftsman and artist and act that way—you don’t have to own the job.

I did this for a long time—longer than I should have. I had a day job. It paid well. I had a social life. I had family. I had lots of stuff going on. But I wrote at night and sent off manuscripts and took vacations from the writing when it wasn’t going so well. I quit a dozen times and started back at it even more times when the stories wouldn’t leave me alone (and when I got so grumpy from not writing that I couldn’t stand myself). And then I figured out I had to take it—and myself—seriously. If I wanted to be a writer, I needed to write.

I got comfortable with thinking of myself as a writer—still hated to say anything. I hung around with “real writers” who’d sold books. I kept at it. And I sold some books. I won awards. And I still didn’t feel comfortable with the title of “writer.” Author wasn’t so bad—I could do that at book signings because I had the dammed books in front of me so if someone asked The Question (and, yes, they did, even with the books sitting there), I could just gesture like Vanna. Here’s the goods—go ahead and give me that look, I dare you! But the rest of the time…

Well, still struggling. After all a real writer makes her living from books. Well, that’s what I do now, and guess what…I’m almost comfortable with the word. And I’m thinking it’s about time I do more than get comfortable with it. I need to own it. Looks from folks be dammed, it’s what I do.

Nowadays, I can talk about what I write a bit better. The looks still come, particularly when I cannot whip out a book to show someone—eBooks are great for a lot of things, but not so much for ego validation. The comfort zone is widening. I still aspire to more…to best seller lists, and to that ever elusive deal that someone will bring the validation I’ve wanted.

But I’ve figured out there’s never going to be enough of that from the outside. No deal will bring reassurance—I’ll always wonder afterwards if I can live up to it, or if they just got the wrong person by accident. No award will be enough, and no lists will make me into what I want to be. If it’s coming from the outside that means it goes away, too—the outside stuff always does.

It’s got to be an inside job, this idea that you’re a writer. That I’m a writer. It’s got to be grabbed and believed and fought for and defended. It’s got to take root so deep that it’s part of saying your name. It’s what you do—it’s who you are. You’re a writer because you write. Good stuff. Stuff to be excited about and want to tell folks about and grin like a loon when you talk—and make it into more than just a hobby, because it’s part of your soul, your heart, your being.

So…time to jump out of the closet and off the cliff. I’m Shannon, and I’m a writer. Now, what do you call yourself?

Paths of Desire – A Regency Historical Romance

Paths of DesirePATHS OF DESIRE

On Amazon Kindle

ISBN: 978-0-9831423-9-3

With too many secrets in her past, and too little future as an actress, Theodosia Newell wants one thing more than all else—security. She’s seen her mother abandoned, her younger brother die, and she’s vowed never to be poor. But then her path crosses that of a man who tempts her to abandon caution and all thought for the future for a passionate affair. Can she find the courage to break from her deepest fears? And will her love prove enough to save them both?

Born with a soul for adventure, David Llewellyn cannot resist a challenge—and his enthusiasm for life is as magnetic as his personality. But two women share his life, and only one can be his. Will his stubborn refusal to make a choice between them lead him to lose everything? Or will he find, in the journey to the lost city he dreams of discovering, a path to a deeper love than he thought possible?

For ten years, the affair between David and Thea goes from passion to love. Lives are changed.  Secrets come out. Marriages end. And new ones begin. Through it all, the desire of two strong-willed people lead them to clash, and to eventually find their own path–to each other and to facing the need and love they share.  From London to Italy to Syria, the Paths of Desire lead them on a journey they must make together.


My first step into a self-published novel — I’ll be posting updates each month to let you know how it’s going.