Exclusive Excerpt 1: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Finding a Knight

32237

All’s Faire in love and war…

I’m all right,’ she tried to reassure him, wishing her voice would stop sounding so tremulous. ‘You saved my life.’

I think I might have done. Thank god I decided to take Cleopatra out before the tourney.’ With his free hand, he tried to unclasp the visor that covered his face. ‘Dammit, it’s stuck again,’ he muttered, sounding slightly muffled through the visor of his full-face helmet.

They both looked downhill—the empty horse float’s rapid descent had come to a stop at the bottom of the hill with an enormous crash, but with no one in the way. Faire officials were running from the far side of the jousting lists to look at the horse float. Another group had run down from the top of the hill. Several of them were shouting and pointing at Connie and her rescuer. The knight waved and flashed them a thumb-up sign to indicate they were all right.

I probably better go,’ he said, jerking his gauntleted fist towards the understandably panicked faire staff. ‘They’ll need some help sorting this out. Some rank amateur must have been trying to park in the wrong place.’

Thank you so much,’ Connie said, barely taking in what was going on around her. Her heart was still hammering from the fright. ‘I looked up, and that thing was falling, and I couldn’t even think. I tripped over this bloody dress—too many damn petticoats—my boots caught. I feel like a total twit.’

The knight shook his head, as much as he was able to in the restrictive enclosed helmet. ‘Don’t. You aren’t. I don’t think that dress was made for making quick escapes from runaway vehicles in, lovely though it is.’

Seeing as I made it, I can tell you for a fact ‘quick escapes’ weren’t anything I thought about having to do while wearing this dress.’

You made it? That’s awesome—I mean,’ he amended, ‘my lady is most talented. And I’ve gone and ripped it like an uncouth knave.’

You saved my life, sir. I can fix the dress. My pride, however, is pretty badly bruised. Us damsels are expected to be self-rescuing these days.’

A laugh echoed inside the knight’s helm. ‘Don’t feel bad, my lady, we have a yearly quota of damsel saving we must meet, else they revoke our right to ride in the joust, and also our right to say ‘forsooth’ and ‘verily’. In truth, it is you who have helped me.’

The Modern Woman’s Guide to Finding a Knight is available for pre-order now, and will release 20 October 2017. One-click now!

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Six Terribly Unromantic Fashion Trends

by Anna Klein

Wearing crinolines and corsets and enormous silk dresses just seems so much more romantic than jeans, a t-shirt, and a cardie. On the other hand, history also has a few peculiar historical trends that are distinctly unromantic and un-swoonworthy. I’ve put together a list of the worst offenders;

  • Forehead plucking

Roughly in the time of Shakespeare, high foreheads on ladies were considered terribly sexy, so noblewomen would pluck the front of their hair to raise their hairline for a few inches. That suddenly puts eyebrow tweezing into some harsh perspective.

Rogier_van_der_Weyden_-_Portrait_of_a_Lady_-_Google_Art_Project

Portrait of a Lady, Rogier van der Weyden

  • Dress Lacing

The front-lacing dress medieval dress that we all know as ‘the sexy wench look’ were actually for the many women not lucky enough to have a maid to dress them – and who needed to be able to unlace themselves in a hurry to nurse their baby. Rich women had back-lacing dresses, maids to lace them into it, and a dedicated ‘wet nurse’ to feed their babies.

  • No Knickers

It turns out the earliest ancestor of lady’s knickers didn’t become commonplace until the early 19th century. Before then, most women just went breezy under their skirts. In fact, it wasn’t even until the 1920s that knickers gained a centre seam – up until then, it was split up the middle! There are historical examples from around the world of things like knickers being worn by very rich women, or courtesans, but it was considered very unladylike and inappropriate…because they were thought to be trousers, and those were only for men!

1900s-edwardian-knickers-pantaloons-underwear-women

Edwardian undergarments. Image source.

  • Underpants Shirt

Men didn’t get off easy in the historical underpants arena either. They had very long shirts they tucked in between their legs before putting on their hose and that was underpants.

  • Padded Bellies

These days it feels like everything is about eating less and getting smaller, while historically, men showed off their wealth by wearing doublets with a built-in belly to make themselves look larger and therefore obviously capable of affording lots of food.

  • 7cc814abd2d047cf879230b4a5665d76

    Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Image Source

    The Codpiece

Men’s hose was originally just the two legs tied at the waist, with no centre bit. This was fine when tunics were down to the knee but as the hemlines for the tunic rose higher and higher, pretty quickly the crotch area was left covered with nothing but a flimsy piece of linen from the underpants shirt. That’s when they invented the codpiece, originally a triangle of fabric they laced in between the two legs of hose, before it turned into elaborate fabric representations of the goods underneath. Fun fact: They also used to keep their coin purse inside the codpiece to try and put off pickpockets!

So here’s to zippers, knickers, and non-crotch based cash storage. Maybe that t-shirt and jeans lacks a certain romance, but I’m glad for clothes I can dress myself in! Well, most days – I can’t be the only woman that’s been excited about a smart new office dress only to spend twenty minutes doing contortions trying to do the zip up in the back. No? Just me?


32237All’s Faire in love and war…

Connie leads a double life. During the week, she is an up-and-coming designer and dressmaker, creating sleek, elegant gowns for the wealthy elite. But come the weekend, Connie becomes Lady Constance, a member of the House Felicitous at the local Renaissance Faire, creating beautiful historical garments for herself and her friends and teaching dancing to fair attendees. Fearing loss of business should her stylish clientèle discover her extracurricular activities, Connie keeps her professional life and her faire life carefully separate. However, everything changes when she’s saved from certain death by Sir Justin: a rising star in the joust and an actual knight in shining armour.

Behind his mask as Sir Justin, Dominic is confident and charismatic, but out of his armour, his courage fails him, and to his own horror he finds himself accidentally pretending to be his own best friend. Suddenly, he is in Connie’s life as two different men: the elusive Sir Justin who courts her over the internet and from behind a suit of armour and Justin’s ‘best friend’ Dominic who hangs out at her apartment and helps her move. The lie only grows bigger and Sir Justin finds himself faced with the most frightening challenge he can imagine: extricating himself from his lie and winning Connie’s heart as his true self.

But there’s something rotten afoot at the Faire, something that threatens its future, the community that has grown there, and even Sir Justin’s life. Will Lady Constance find the courage to step up and risk everything to defend her friends, save the Faire, and rescue her knight?

The Modern Woman’s Guide to Finding a Knight is available for pre-order now!

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The Secret to Happiness

by Anna Clifton

How’s your flow?

Don’t worry. You haven’t stumbled into a post about men’s prostate health. Nor am I referring to ice hockey hairstyles or rap rhythms. I’m talking about the other kind of flow—the flow you experience when you’re so completely absorbed in an activity you love that you not only lose track of time, you lose the ability to get up and walk away.

You may not have heard of flow. I hadn’t heard of it myself until recently. But the moment I did, I recognised where flow could be found in my life—within my passion for romance fiction. I wonder whether it’s the same for you too.

The champion of flow theory is an American Professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (if you ever want to say his name out loud try ‘me-high/cheeks-sent-me-highly’). This surname-challenged psychologist is known for his pioneering work around human happiness, fulfilment and creativity. He says that central to human happiness is flow, when the emotions are ‘not just contained and channelled but positive, energised, and aligned’, when spontaneous feelings of joy and even rapture can overwhelm us.

The best thing of all? No drugs are necessary!

Apparently flow can arise from all sorts of activities: golf, decoupage, mechanics, amateur theatre, reading, writing, music, swimming. Almost any task where the challenge is perfectly balanced against the positive feedback it’s giving you and your rock-solid conviction that what you’re doing is worth doing for its own sake.

I’m pretty sure that most of you will have at least one flow thing happening in your lives because let’s face it, the human psyche has quite a lot to put up with. Even on a good day juggling a demanding to-do list can be challenging. Pile on some work hassles, money worries or family upsets and the stress levels can skyrocket. No wonder we humans are instinctively drawn to our flow, not just to switch off but so that we’re happier, more together and more resilient across all facets of our lives.

As I said, romance fiction is where I find my flow. Whether reading or writing it I’m in a state of blissful suspension where nothing else matters. The house could be burning down and I’d still be reading or tapping away at my computer, muttering ‘Yes, yes, I’ll call the fire brigade—just as soon as I finish this chapter.’

In my stories I generally try and give each of my characters some flow space too. I figure they need all the help they can get as I push and shove them through the emotional wringer. In my third novel, New Year’s Promise, Justin Murphy’s flow space is the beach. But for his surfing he might never have made it through the trauma he endured over his brother, Sam, during their childhood years. More important still, without his flow he might not be able to get his act together for the love of his life, Ellie Halligan.

I’m relieved to say, not much gets between my flow and me. Annoyingly though, as a romance author my faith in my craft is occasionally rocked by expressions of eye-popping disapproval when I tell people what I do. Even more undermining is the slow-drip contempt of some web and media commentators as they try and elbow the entire romance genre down the literary rubbish shoot.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that every novel written within the romance genre is perfect. Nor would I claim that gender messages within the genre shouldn’t continue to evolve even further than they already have over recent decades. But unless and until those commentators mount a halfway convincing argument for their relentless derision of the entire genre, I ask just one thing: please don’t get between my flow and me. In fact, while they’re at it, I’d rather they didn’t get between the approximately twenty-nine million avid romance readers out there and their flow either!

So what is your flow? What is the one activity that you love with a passion and turn to when daily life absolutely must be transcended for a while? If it’s reading or writing romance fiction (as I’m guessing it is for many of you) then no matter what happens—no matter what anyone says—don’t ever let it go.

This post originally appeared on the Australian Romance Readers Association blog.


22580They’ve been colleagues, allies and best friends forever, but he wants more — and he’s not above using the magic of the Christmas season to get it.

When Business Development Executive Ellie Halligan is offered the job of a lifetime in Paris, it seems her chance to live a fairytale adventure has finally arrived. Her only hurdle is convincing legal eagle Justin Murphy — her boss and friend since childhood — to wave his boss’s wand and waive her four-week resignation period so that she can start her adventure by Christmas.

But Justin proves to be a demanding fairy godmother. He’ll let her go early, but not unless she spends time with him over the festive season up until New Year.

Ellie doesn’t know what to do. Is Justin finally looking at her romantically after all these years, or are far more threatening dynamics at play? Justin has a secret, and he seems to want to pull her back into a past she’d rather forget. But delving into that old pain might be the only way to move forward — and for Justin to finally be free.

Putting Heart Into Romance Writing

by Anna Clifton and reblogged with permission from Book Muster Down Under

I’m reading a crime novel at the moment. It’s well written, it’s racy and I’m enjoying it. But am I ‘feeling’ it? Not one bit.
I can’t relate to the main protagonist as though he’s a living, breathing life force. I don’t care if he’s happy or sad from one page to the next. But does this ‘not caring’ thing matter in the crime genre? Probably not. I’m enjoying the mystery and the intrigue. Would it matter if this protagonist was starring in a romance novel? Absolutely it would.
It’s not by accident that readers read romance novels. They’ve got their noses in those pages for a reason. They’re looking for that special something that they know the romance genre will offer them. But what is that magic ingredient that’s won the hearts of around twenty-nine million readers worldwide?
In a recent post in The New Yorker Joshua Rothman wrote, ‘We connect with books in an intellectual way, but the most valuable relationships we have with them are emotional’*. For me as a reader, that’s where romance fiction packs that emotional punch. I care about the characters I meet there. In fact, give me an emotional love story that has touch points for my heart and it will stay with me forever. I’m guessing that most romance readers feel just as I do.
So. Note-to-self: when writing my next romance novel, inject lots of emotion.
Easy. Right?
Well, not exactly.
It sounds easy. Unfortunately, it’s not easy at all. In fact, it’s damn hard – one of the hardest things a romance novelist faces. But why is it so hard to get readers to care about your characters and feel what’s happening on the page? And why is it so important that they do?
As I prepared this post I tried to remember a scene in a book I’d read where I’d sweated and fretted over a character and the predicament they’d found themselves in. One scene in particular kept flooding back into my mind. And one line in particular:
‘In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.’
For those of you who’ve read Pride and Prejudice you might recognize Mr Darcy’s explosively unexpected declaration of love to Lizzy Bennet. Being both ‘handsome’ and ‘rich’ you might also think that in the rough and tumble of the eighteenth century marriage game Lizzy would have jumped at the proposal of marriage that follows? Alas, no. Her response to Mr Darcy’s proposal is scathing given that she and her entire village decided he was ‘proud and disagreeable’ the moment he arrived at the Meryton ball.
                                ** See below for copyright licensing information and
                                              attribution
So how do readers feel about the proud and disagreeable Darcy in this proposal scene? I know how I felt but do other readers share Lizzy’s intense dislike of him? Do they believe that he deserves to be rejected as brutally as she rejects him?
You might think so, given that Austen has handed out painfully few cues about Darcy’s motives towards Lizzy up to this point. Yet strangely, I’m pretty sure most readers are unwilling to hate-on Darcy with the same enthusiasm as Lizzy does.
Jane Austen had a fierce faith in her readers’ emotional intelligence. She had faith that by the time they reached the proposal scene – with the help of just a smattering of cues – readers would already be feeling Darcy’s powerful attachment to Lizzy. She had faith that they were feeling that beyond the village gossip Darcy might be far from all-bad. She even had faith that they were feeling that he and Lizzy might actually be made for each other.
The genius of Austen is that she never ‘tells’ her readers what they should think or feel. What she does is give her readers the freedom to take ownership of the relationships they’re forming with her characters. Because of the fledgling bonds readers have already begun to build with Darcy – all on their own – this proposal scene is harrowing, even if we’re not yet quite sure why.
The temptation for romance writers to regularly ‘newsflash’ to readers how they should feel about their characters is powerfully compelling. Why? Because we’re utterly petrified that readers and reviewers will hate our characters if we don’t.
The problem with newsflashing is that readers of romance fiction want to experience the thrill of life-like relationships within the relaxation of their reading world. And in real life, relationships are not born out of newsflash moments, they’re forged within step-by-step journeys of discovery, connection, understanding and growth. To feel what’s going on a reader must experience this same slow thrill around a character’s journey too, just as I experienced Darcy’s. And although mapping out a cracking itinerary for the journey is essential, it’s not a writer’s job to frog-march readers to their ultimate destinations.
So, once a writer has mustered up the courage to let their readers run free within the world of their characters, is that it? Will that be enough to entangle their characters with the hearts and minds of their readers in a way that will endure beyond the last pages of the story?
Once again I’m reminded of another creative genius. Not an eighteenth century English novelist but a cultural icon of the twentieth century American film industry.
Walt Disney was a trailblazer. No doubt about it. He discovered that if human qualities and everyday predicaments were kept front and centre of his movies then his creative choices were limitless. Not only could he animate his films, his main characters could be talking animals!
The film, Bambi, is a great example. Can anyone relate to being an animated baby deer?
Not likely. Does it matter? Clearly not. I cried buckets when Bambi’s mother was shot and he was left to fend for himself in the wilds of the forest. But I wasn’t crying about a deer. I was crying about the gift of motherhood and the grief and vulnerability of a child who had lost that gift forever.
Romance fiction is no different to cinema. No matter who or what the main characters are, whether eighteenth century aristocrats or modern day captains of industry, their predicaments and motives must actually touch a reader’s life in some way. If they don’t, the reader won’t feel what’s happening to the characters. Whether it’s grief, joy, loneliness, jubilation, or any of the other emotional roller coasters we ride, readers must feel these being played out in a gripping and inspirational way on the pages before them.
Not every book will touch a reader’s life. No writer has discovered a one-size-fits-all recipe for that yet. But for writers who care about forging a dynamic and emotional relationship between their readers and their characters, committing to a unique journey of discovery within their story and then putting their heart and soul into its resolution is vital.
After the release of my third book, New Year’s Promise, a reader wrote to let me know how much she’d enjoyed and appreciated Justin and Ellie’s story. But what she also said was that she’d cried her way through the scene when Justin’s brother, Sam, makes his final goodbye to Ellie. The reason it had moved her, she said, was because she’d experienced something similar to that despair-hope moment that Ellie experiences on that snowy Paris street.
Did all of my readers relate to this scene in that way? I know they didn’t. The reason I know is because I was never going to reach every reader with Ellie and Justin’s story. But what I did want to do was reach my readers, with a story that was emotional and meaningful for them as individuals, as though each one of them was the only reader I had written it for.
So what is the magic ingredient within the romance genre that’s won the hearts of around twenty-nine million readers worldwide?
I’d be willing to put money on the fact that it’s the exhilarating and emotional journeys it offers its readers. But what the genre also offers, like no other, is a chance for readers to ride-up-front on those emotional journeys. They may not be in the driver’s seat, but they’re indisputably a vital and dynamic part of the journey as they enjoy the wind in their hair, the company of exciting if challenging new friends in the backseat, and the building anticipation of the destination that awaits them all.
(*Joshua Rothman (February 2, 2015) ‘The History of “Loving” to Read’. The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/history-loving-read
**’Pride and Prejudice’ by Apostolos Letov available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/21596348@N05/2093445334 under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. See https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode)

22580They’ve been colleagues, allies and best friends forever, but he wants more — and he’s not above using the magic of the Christmas season to get it.

When Business Development Executive Ellie Halligan is offered the job of a lifetime in Paris, it seems her chance to live a fairytale adventure has finally arrived. Her only hurdle is convincing legal eagle Justin Murphy — her boss and friend since childhood — to wave his boss’s wand and waive her four-week resignation period so that she can start her adventure by Christmas.

But Justin proves to be a demanding fairy godmother. He’ll let her go early, but not unless she spends time with him over the festive season up until New Year.

Ellie doesn’t know what to do. Is Justin finally looking at her romantically after all these years, or are far more threatening dynamics at play? Justin has a secret, and he seems to want to pull her back into a past she’d rather forget. But delving into that old pain might be the only way to move forward — and for Justin to finally be free.

Will doing this for Justin become Ellie’s final gift of love as she loses him forever?

‘Tis the Season – for Christmas titles!

Red_Christmas_ball_christmas_bauble_608600Every Wednesday, in the lead-up to Christmas, we’ll be chatting with one of our authors about their holiday-themed story. Follow us in merry measure, as we meet Fiona Greene!

1.    Give us a Twitter-length description of your Christmas title, Home For Christmas.
A cheerful holiday gift for an overseas soldier becomes so much more. Share Christmas with Layla and Tate.

2.    Why did you set your story at Christmas?
A few years ago we were considering sending a Christmas care package for one of the Australian Service Dogs in Afghanistan and we went online to get details and discovered that every dog receives four packages, while there are not enough packages sent for the soldiers – some soldiers miss out. I began thinking about that and I decided to write the story of a soldier and his Christmas care package. Then I decided he should come home the following Christmas and Layla and Tate’s story was born.

3.    What is your favourite thing about Christmas time?
Giving to family and friends and watching the joy that gifts bring.  Giving to strangers you will never meet, and hoping they have a better Christmas because of your gift.

4.    What do you hope Santa will leave you under the tree this year?
I was going to ask Santa for a rescue doggie who found herself fallen on hard times at Christmas, but my husband surprised me with a gorgeous puppy last week. Now I’m wishing for a toilet trained puppy so Santa doesn’t step in a puddle 🙂

Dreaming of a white Christmas??

Dreaming of a white Christmas??

5.    Finally, are your characters naughty or nice?
90% nice, 10% naughty. How else did they end up on a mattress in the back of a ute under a blanket of stars ?


 

22581What began as an impersonal-but-cheerful holiday gift for a soldier far from home becomes so much more…

Sergeant Tate McAuliffe, stationed in Afghanistan, opens his Christmas care package from Australia and is stunned by both its contents and the sender.

Fun-loving Christmas tree designer Layla Preston is a breath of fresh air for loner Tate. Although they’ve never met, their email friendship quickly develops and their feelings for each other deepen.

But Layla knows the heartache that loving a soldier can bring and when Tate is injured, her deep-seated fear drives them apart. With their relationship in tatters, can Layla and Tate work through their differences, so Layla can welcome Tate home for Christmas?

Inspiration Behind the Story – Elisabeth Rose

9088Years ago I read an item in the newspaper about a married couple who’d been together for a long time —thirty years or so. Somehow, and I’ve forgotten exactly how, it was discovered they were actually brother and sister.

Can you imagine? They’d innocently met, fallen in love, married, and had children – the way most of us do. What a bombshell that knowledge must have been. How would you deal with the fact the man you loved, your husband, was your brother? Apparently they’d been separately adopted out as babies and grown up quite apart. I can’t remember if they even knew whether they had brothers or sisters somewhere. They certainly didn’t know they’d married a sibling.

I always wonder how their children felt about it. In ancient times, incest wasn’t such a taboo as nowadays and had to do with retaining wealth and property within the family. Most of the European royal families are now closely related to each other as an effect of marrying selected cousins through the ages. I think they drew the line at sibling marriages though.

For us, incest is a big no-no. This painful dilemma intrigued me and made me think there could be hundreds of such couples who never find out, especially after wars or natural disasters rip families apart and destroy records.

My problem was making the lack of early knowledge feasible and, of course, not wanting to write a book about incest, working out how two adult people might come to think they’re related, but fall in love regardless. I needed to avoid the ‘ick factor’ as one editor put it. And then once my couple figure out the truth amongst a morass of well-intentioned lies, they have to set about finding their real parents and what happened all those years ago — thus the ripple effect.

20834Multi-published in romance, author Elisabeth Rose lives in Australia’s capital, Canberra. She completed a performance degree in clarinet, travelled Europe with her musician husband and returned to Canberra to raise two children. In 1987, she began practising tai chi and now teaches tai chi classes. She also plays and teaches clarinet. Reading has been a lifelong love, writing romance a more recent delight. 
Elisabeth branches into Romantic Suspense in May with her new title, Evidence of Love.