Monday, August 27, 2012

Scandal and Steroetypes

My very first historical novel Scandal's Mistress came out two weeks ago and so far I've been too busy to shamelessly self-promote. That's what this post is for!

Here's a taste and then I'll get to the ideas and stereotypes that made the book possible.

London, 1805

Justin Trentham, third son of the Earl of Billington, is determined to get himself disowned from his cold and unloving family. Despite his numerous affairs with questionable women of the ton, his parents continue to be dismissive of his ploys, but Justin spots the perfect scandal in the form of a beautiful, exotic Italian opera singer...

Carmalina Belluccini refuses to become his mistress, despite being tempted by his charms. But after losing her singing voice, she finds herself destitute. She agrees to be Justin's mistress for one month, until she has enough money to return to her beloved Italy.
She intends to keep their arrangement strictly business, but after witnessing Justin's vulnerable side, she finds herself falling more in love than in lust with him. Carmalina is having second thoughts about leaving England...but is their love strong enough to survive the scandal of the season?

I often get asked where I came up with the idea for Scandal's Mistress and I have to tell them I honestly can't remember. I do know that for a long time I have abhorred stereotypes be it person, time or thing and I love to step up on my soapbox and pooh, pooh those who like to put things in the square and refuse to see anything outside it. That's probably where the idea came from. Just because Carmalina is an Opera Singer, it does not make her a prostitute. Just because most of the women who trod the boards were, doesn't mean they all were. Right? Are you getting cranky alongside me here?

But since there are certain factual guidelines we have to follow when writing Regency, I had to make my Opera Singer different from the rest. Just because I feel as though not all singers were sluts, doesn't mean I can crack the mold and say it wasn't so. So I made Carmalina an Italian Opera Singer. Things were different in Italy. Then I stranded her in England and made her voice scratchy from the cold and soot. That's when things got really hard for her and she had to figure out where her next meal was going to come from if she couldn't sing for her supper. Enter Justin Trentham. The season's bad boy and scandal king. You'll have to read the story to see what happens next. I can tell you it has a twist you (hopefully) won't see coming and you may or may not cry (just a little bit).

Enjoy and thanks for popping by!       

Buy from Carina Press, Amazon, B&N, All Romance Ebooks and most etailers.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Firstly an apology...I know I promised a post on the Laws of Divorce but a recent visit to the Melbourne Museum's current exhibition on The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia (which is on until 7 October) combined with the release on September 3 of my new book, GATHER THE BONES, which coincidentally involves the 1922 discoveries of Ur, has led me in a different direction.

The Royal Standard of Ur
I have always been a closet archaeologist. In fact I was so keen on the dream of becoming an archaeologist that I had obtained all the information on enrolling in the London School of Archaeology when I finished University. Not to be. I finished my legal qualification, met a man, got married...and spent my life as a lawyer.  Not surprisingly I ADORE programs like Time Team. I don’t care if I am watching repeats or new episodes, every time a tiny chunk of dried,  black mud is identified as a piece of Anglo Saxon Pottery from the kiln on the west side of the hill in Chipping Leghorn, I feel a frisson of excitement. On my trips to England my husband and I can now spot a piece of Roman Samian ware pottery at 50 metres.

At University I had studied Ancient History under an eccentric old professor who still wore his gown and whose name, sadly, I can no longer recall. He had a passion for Sumerian History which he inculcated in me. So it is not surprising that when I was casting around for a suitable profession for the hero of GATHER THE BONES, Paul Morrow, he became a frustrated archaeologist. I often wonder if authors tend to vent their own frustrations on their characters, a sort of Munchausen by Proxy!

Despite Paul’s classical education, he had been forced into the army, rather than take up a scholarship at Oxford. Now, in 1923 (when my story is set), he works on the archaeological digs as the expedition manager rather than an archaeologist. To be honest I invented Paul’s position with the expedition, reasoning that someone had to organise the logisitics of an Expedition of this size and who better than an impoverished former army officer? 
C.L. Wooley and his site foreman Hahmoud

The early 1920s were an extraordinary time in archaeology. In Egypt, Carter had just opened the tomb of Tutankhamun and elsewhere in the Middle East activity that had been suspended during the Great War was recommencing.  In Iraq (or Mesopotamia as it was still known) Charles Leonard Woolley had begun work on the excavations, near Basrah, of a site that was to become known as the Royal Tombs at Ur. Some excavation had already been done on the site in the early part of the century but it was not until 1922 when the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania launched a combined dig that serious excavation of the site began.

Woolley and team at the dig house

The digging season took place in the winter months to make the most of the cooler weather and Woolley commenced work in November 1922.   He commenced the dig with two large trenches near the ruins of a Ziggurat and within a week Trench A had already produced extraordinary evidence of high status burials with the discovery of gold items. Trench B produced more prosaic buildings and pottery. Feeling he lacked the experience to proceed with a full scale burials excavation, Woolley closed down Trench A and work continued on Trench B which revealed the important temple of E-Un-Mah and the beginnings of a massive wall. Time ran out and in Spring, the dig closed down and Woolley and his team returned to London (...and Paul to Holdston Hall).

Woolley supervising excavation
The excavations at Ur went on until 1934 and over that period the most extraordinary finds in the history of archaeology were unearthed. A total of about 1,850 burials were uncovered, including 16 that were described as “royal tombs” containing many valuable artefacts, including the Standard of Ur and the Lamb in the Thicket. Most of the royal tombs were dated to about 2600 BC. The finds included the unlooted tomb of a queen thought to be Queen Puabi (the name is known from a cylinder seal found in the tomb, although there were two other different and unnamed seals found in the tomb). Many other people had been buried with her, in a form of human sacrifice.

Cuneiform tablet
I did give Paul something useful to do in translating cuneiform tablets. Cuneiform had been deciphered by the end of the nineteenth century and the clay tablets are eloquent in their insight into Sumerian life. In my research for the book I came across the story of the boy who didn’t want to go to school that Paul tells Alice.

Woolley with Max Mallowan and Agatha Christie 1931
Finally a literary of the archaeologists who worked on the later excavations with Woolley was Max Mallowan, husband of Agatha Christie. Christie would accompany her husband for the dig season and, of course, her book (possibly my favourite of her books) MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA is based on her experiences on the digs.

If you are interested in the excavations at Ur, visit and, of course, good old Wikipedia is abounding in articles. For my research I went back to the bookshelves and dug out my old text book from University days...The Sumerians by Samuel Noah Kramer, one of the definitive works on the subject.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Georgian Theatre Royal ~ by Cheryl Leigh

A visit to the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, North Yorkshire, is a delightful, wondrous experience and akin to stepping back in time. Theatres often burned down during the eighteenth century, but this Georgian gem of a playhouse survived with most of its original features intact.  
Stage from pit (c) Cloud 9 Allen Tod
In the eighteenth century, Richmond was an important market town with a thriving provincial social scene, consisting of balls, race meetings and Assemblies. But the town lacked a theatre as royal patents were given to only a few provincial theatres. An Act was passed in 1788, allowing licences for classical plays to be performed for sixty days at any one time, which enabled Samuel Butler to open the Theatre in Friars Wynd in September that year. Butler had married a twice-widowed, forty-six-year-old Richmond actress when he was twenty-three in 1773 and took over the running of her troupe of travelling players. The Butler Company continued to stage regular productions until the lease expired in 1830. The Theatre closed in 1848 and became an auction house, wine store, and later, a corn chandler. Extensive restorations over the years have ensured the Theatre retains its authenticity, so audiences today enjoy the same intimate atmosphere as in past times. 

The new front attached to original building (c) Cloud 9
In those days, patrons entered through the only entrance, the double doors in Friars Wynd, and handed their coins to Mrs. Butler in the pay box. The cheapest seats were in the gallery. For a shilling, the young and dissolute climbed the narrow, wooden stairs and sat on the benches. People in the front row would kick the board at the base of the panels to indicate their disapproval of an actor's performance. The original pay box and staircase are still there - the tight squeeze on the steep stairs would have made exiting difficult and dangerous if a fire had occurred.
The pit cost two shillings and benches ran from wall to wall. Today there are removable bench ends that extend over the aisles, and detachable cushions and backs make the theatre experience more comfortable. At three shillings per person, the boxes were the best seats. Or were they? While the crowd in the pit could be hit by flying oranges and such, my guide informed me people sat for four hours or more and had nowhere to relieve themselves, so the rich patrons in the boxes sometimes ended up with wet wigs or clothing from urine dripping through the floorboards overhead! 
view from stage (c) Cloud 9
The eleven boxes are named after playwrights. Only the inscription on the centre one, Shakespeare, spelled the old-fashioned way, is original. The two boxes on the edge of the stage allowed for intimate involvement between the audience and actors. Juliet boxes, used for balcony scenes, are on either side of the stage above the proscenium doors. The Royal Box is, of course, the best seat as it has a direct line to the actors on stage. I can confirm this is true after sitting on the same chair used by Prince Charles and other royals. That's the closest I'll ever get to royalty! As I drank in the atmosphere and admired the blue-green Georgian colour scheme, it was easy to imagine the laughter from the pit, the actors raising their voices over the unruly crowd in the gallery, the rustle of my silk gown as I turn to greet a friend in the next box...oops, back to the present. 

As there were no tickets in those days, wealthier patrons would send their servants to pay earlier in the evening and mind a seat for them. A peephole in the door to the boxes slid open so they could see where their servants were sitting. Mrs. Butler also used this to keep an eye on the performance and the audience's behaviour. The ceiling has been painted with a blue sky and white clouds,   imitating the open courtyard where plays were watched before theatres were built. The Theatre seats 214, but Samuel Butler could cram in 400 people.   
Playbill courtesy of The Georgian Theatre Royal
The floor of the stage was raised at the back to give audiences a better view. Candles on dishes, floating in a trough of water, lit the foot of the stage. On chilly evenings, the fireplace at the back of the stage was used to warm the actors. Both dressing rooms also have a fireplace. Actors often slept on the floor of the dressing rooms when accommodation was unavailable during the busy Season. The machine room under the stage contained the mechanism to winch the trough of footlights to the stage, and a counter-weighted platform to shoot an actor through a trapdoor, which often resulted in injury. Once there were three trapdoors, now there is one. The museum at the back of the Theatre houses many original objects, as well as the Woodland Scene, believed to be the oldest known scenery, painted between 1818 and 1836.

This video shows a detailed tour inside the Theatre.

Here is the link to the Georgian Theatre Royal. Museum Week, held every summer, gives visitors an even greater insight into the Theatre's early beginnings.

* Many thanks to Sarah at The Georgian Theatre Royal for the photos of the Theatre.


Curtis, Vaughn, and Waugh, Doug, eds. The Georgian Theatre Royal.
Richmond: Castle Print