Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A REGENCY ROMP...

I first met Joanna Maitland -- as I have so many authors who've been my guests here this year -- via the internet as a newly published author. And then, delightfully, I discovered that she was sitting next to me at an author lunch.

Since then we've shared many memorable lunches and a lot of fun and I'm delighted that she's found time from her incredibly busy life to drop by and share in the cyber celebrations for my 50th book.

Joanna, whose work has been shortlisted for the RNA's Romance prize, writes delightful Regency romances and His Cavalry Lady promises to be another wonderful read. I'll leave Joanne to tell you all about it...

I’m delighted to be blogging here today. Thank you so much for inviting me, Liz, and congratulations on producing 50 of your wonderful stories. I don’t have quite all of them, but I do have a fair number on my keeper shelf. They’re exactly the kind of stories I return to, again and again, when I need a bit of escapist me-time. A pot of tea, a Liz Fielding story, and a lounger in the garden — what more could a woman want? Well, yes, I agree some sunshine would make it perfect, but we’d better not talk about that this summer, had we?

It’s a really exciting time in my writing life at the moment. I’m just about to finish the third in a trilogy of Regencies set in the period just before the battle of Waterloo. The stories roam all over Europe, and beyond, following the twists and turns in the lives and loves of the Aikenhead family of spies — Dominic Aikenhead, Duke of Calder, Lord Leo Aikenhead, and Lord Jack Aikenhead. The trilogy is called The Aikenhead Honours after the code-name of their spying band. The stories are set in some of my favourite locations, like St Petersburg in Russia, Venice in Italy, Vienna in Austria, and Lyons and Paris in France. I love the fabulous locations, and I loved the fact that I was able to fill these stories with lots of intrigue and danger, as well as romance and passion.

The first of the trilogy, His Cavalry Lady, is in the shops now in the UK (and will be published next spring in the USA). Books 2 and 3 will be published in late spring/early summer next year, in both markets.

Here’s an extract from His Cavalry Lady to whet your appetite.

Boulogne, June 1814

It was the smell that woke him.

For fully three seconds, Dominic lay quite still in the Lion d’Or’s best bed, trying to make sense of the strange messages tumbling into his brain. Dark. Silence. Smoke? Fire!

He flung himself out of bed. Light! He needed light! And where the devil were his breeches?

A terrified neighing ripped through the pre-dawn silence. Then a whoosh, as if a giant were sucking in a monstrous breath. Followed by red, hellish light.

The smoke had turned to flames. The Lion d’Or’s stables must be on fire!

Dominic threw wide the half-open window, stuck his head out and yelled at the top of his voice, ‘Au feu! Au feu!’ It was surely loud enough to wake even drunken grooms.

He dragged on his breeches and crammed his feet into boots. A voice rang out below. At last! Then more voices. A woman’s despairing wail. And the ominous crackle of the fire taking hold in dry straw and ancient timbers.

Dominic took the stairs three at a time. In the yard, the silence was turning into utter chaos. Yelling, cursing men milling around in the eerie light. No one fetching water. No one saving the horses.

He grabbed the nearest groom by the shoulder. ‘Get to the pump,’ he ordered in crisp French. ‘Start filling buckets. And you—’ he seized another by his flapping shirt ‘—rouse all the men from the house. Get them into a line to pass the buckets. You two. Don’t stand there gawping. Start getting the horses out.’

In the space of half a minute, Dominic had turned the commotion into the beginnings of order. The terrified horses were being led to safety. Water was being brought. But the flames had a head start. And they were winning.

The front part of the stables and one side of the doorway were ablaze. One panicked horse was refusing to be led through. It was fighting against the halter, rearing, eyes rolling, hooves flailing. With a cry of pain, the groom dropped to the ground. The horse fled back into the stables.

Dominic lunged forward, hefted the unconscious groom over his shoulder and raced across the yard to the inn. By the door, a maidservant stood motionless, wide-eyed with fear. ‘You, girl.’ He laid the boy ungently at her feet. ‘Make yourself useful. Look to his hurts.’ He did not wait to see whether she obeyed. He had to help save the horses. Only one other man left to do that. Not enough. Not nearly enough.

The smoke was now so thick that it was difficult to see. And to breathe. Dominic looked around for something to use as a mask over his face. If only he had thrown on a shirt. But he had nothing. He would have to continue as he was. Taking a deep breath of the cooler air in the yard, he plunged into the hell of the burning stables.

Still at least half a dozen terrified horses to save. Possibly more. He could barely make out the back of the stable. It was full of smoke, though not yet ablaze. But he could hear the sounds of hooves thundering against stall boards. At least some of the horses must still be tethered. He raced to the back of the building, keeping as low as he could, to avoid the choking smoke. Let the groom deal with the horses nearer the door.

Like a ghostly apparition, a slim shape in grubby white emerged from the swirling smoke, leading a horse. No more than a boy, from the little Dominic could see, and dressed only in a bedgown and boots. But a boy who knew horses, for he had covered the animal’s eyes to quiet it. ‘Well done, lad,’ Dominic gasped as they passed. No reply. The boy had his mind on his task. Just as Dominic must.

It was taking too many precious minutes to rescue the horses. All the time, the fire was engulfing more of the building. Yet the boy in the bedgown was fearless, always going back into the most dangerous area of the stable. He had a way with the terrified beasts, too. More than once, Dominic fancied he heard the lad’s voice, murmuring strong and low, urging the animal towards the flaming doorway. He had even started to cover the horses’ nostrils against the acrid smoke. Part of Dominic’s brain registered that he would find the lad after this was all over, and reward him for his bravery. He would have been proud to have such a boy in his own service.

Out in the yard again, Dominic caught a dripping cloth tossed to him by one of the inn servants. Gratefully, he covered his head, hoping that the boy had done the same. With this, there ought to be a chance of rescuing the remaining animals. Only a few more to bring out now. He ran back into the thickening smoke.

He found himself struggling with the tether of one of the last horses. The straining beast had pulled it tight in the iron ring. Its thrashing hooves were threatening to crack Dominic’s head open. If only he had a knife. Damnation! The rope refused come free. At this rate, they would both burn!

A strong, lean hand appeared out of the smoke holding a knife. Bless the boy! A single slash cut the rope. Then the hand disappeared again. No time to say a word of thanks. The horse, suddenly freed, reared up to its full height with a loud and terrified whinny. Dominic ducked under the deadly hooves and grabbed the trailing rope, forcing the animal down. He had to get this horse out. The fire was really taking hold now. Soon the stable roof would be aflame. There would be no more rescues then.

At last, Dominic managed to coax the horse through the stable doorway. Someone had taken an axe to the blazing wood so that the gap was wider and the flames were less fierce. The broken, smouldering timbers lay on the ground. Dominic thrust the rope into a waiting hand and raced back inside, ignoring the prick of sparks on the bare skin of his back and chest. He had tiny burns all over his body now. No doubt he would look as though he had a dose of smallpox when this was over. But he had to be sure that there were no more horses hidden by the smoke.

It seemed the lad in the bedgown had had the same thought. His eerie figure was just visible through the swirling darkness, searching among the stalls. Dominic ran towards the boy. ‘Is that all of them?’ he yelled, trying to make himself heard above the noise of the fire.

Before the boy could say a word, there was an ominous crack above their heads. Dominic caught a glimpse of a huge, flaming beam dropping towards them. Towards the boy! Dominic bridged the space between them with a single stride, grabbed the boy and thrust him aside. The beam hit the stable floor just inches from where they stood, showering them both with sparks. In seconds, the boy’s bedgown had caught alight.

Dominic made to tear it off him.

‘Non!’ It was a scream of anguish.

The boy must be a idiot. Surely he knew that it was better to be naked than to burn?

‘Non!’ the boy cried again, ripping the tail of his bedgown out of Dominic’s hands.

There was no time to argue. And only one solution. Dominic pushed the boy to the ground and covered him with his own body, rolling them both in the dirt to stop the sparks from taking hold.

And then he understood.

This was no boy. The lithe body straining against his own belonged to a fearless, and extraordinary, girl!

******************************

And for the competition? Well, Liz is one of those amazing writers who can find new avenues and new ways of writing while still giving us readers the buzz and the glow we expect from her stories. As far as I know, she was the first to write an HMB romance in the first person. I reckon it was a triumph, and it’s one of my all-time favourites. To win the competition, email the title of that mould-breaking book to liz@lizfielding.com The winner, drawn at random, will receive a signed copy of His Cavalry Lady.

With very best wishes from Joanna

19 comments:

Snookie said...

Wow this book sounds really interesting Joanna.

Sorry to say I have no clue which book was written in first person. I love all the Liz Fielding books I've read, but I don't remember all the titles :)

Jan Jones said...

It's a great book, Snookie, I already have it.

Oh. So I don't need to enter the comp.

Damn, another excuse for happy procrastination amongst Liz's back-list gone west.

Kate Hardy said...

Great opening, Joanna! (Note to self: time to go shopping... because when my book is done this week, I will be having a reading-fest.)

Good choice re Liz's book, too :o)

Joanna Maitland said...

Sorry, Snookie. I didn't mean to make the comp question too hard. Sadly it's too late to change it.

If you really want an excuse to dip into Liz's backlist, Jan, I could always offer you a different book. IF you were to be Liz's lucky winner of course. Oh. I fancy you may already have all my published books? Sounds like someone somewhere wants you to stop procrastinating...

Hi, Kate. Lovely to see you here. Enjoy your reading-fest and I'd be delighted if it included His Cavalry Lady. I'm sure you deserve some me-time, considering how many books you produce in a year. Waves of envy coming to you from Hereford, I fear.

Joanna

Kate Walker said...

I am so glad that His Cavalry Lady is finally out in the shops so that the readers can enjoy it. I've been longing to read this ever since Joanna told me about it at an RNA conference - and that opening just grabs you- doesn;t it? Now I have it in my hot little hands and I want to read the rest . . .but there's a small matter of a dreadline and an editor waiting impatiently for my book. But when tta's done- just like T'other Kate I will be indulging. And I can't wait!

So that's me too with no need to enter the contest - unless I could win a bit of time to read ???

(I have that first person book of LIz's too but I've read that)

Snookie said...

Oh don't be sorry, Joanna, it's a good question :) I just don't have a good memory for titles of books, songs, poems :) when I look at a book and read the description, I can usually remember the story :) though I have been known to buy a book I've already read, if it's been awhile :)

I've won books from contests on this site before so don't mind not participating in this one :)

I will bite the bullet and try my patience and probably buy His Calvary Lady in the spring when it comes out here, or if I get too impatient and my tbr pile goes down a little, I may just order it from the Book Depository :)

Jan Jones said...

Guilty as charged, Joanna. I do indeed have your whole back-list.

I'm still working on Liz's :) :)

Annie West said...

Joanna,

Wow. What an opening. Your story has so many factors that hooked me straight away. Will look out for it in Australia. Thanks so much for sharing with us. It's a terrifically gripping scene and I just want to read on.

As for Liz's book - will have to go and investigate!

Liz Fielding said...

Snookie, since the book was published a while ago and I have, I hope, gained a few readers since then, I'll give you all a hintette. The book was nominated for a Rita in 2003. It's not quite a dead giveaway since I had two books nominated that year!

Biddy said...

Ooo that was a great opener! I think I will be visiting the shops at lunchtime to grab that one. Of course it will have to go on the TBR until I finish the revisions.

Michelle Douglas said...

Ooh, what an excerpt Joanna. Any idea when it's due for release in Australia?

Donna Alward said...

I know I know!!!!!!!!!!!

LOL

And I LOVE the sound of this book - it sounds like something I'd really pick up, read the back blurb, and say, EXCELLENT! :-)

Joanna Maitland said...

Wow! I look away for a few hours -- well a day, actually, since I'm up against a deadline, just like Kate -- and there are oodles of comments. Thank you all.

Kate, I do hope you enjoy the book when you finally have a little space to read it. I can't tell you how much I value the support I get from my author friends, of whom I'm proud to say you are one.

Annie and Michelle, I'm afraid I don't have any idea when it might appear in Australia. But I'll get on to my editor and ask if she knows.

Thank you all for saying such nice things about that opening scene. Must say that I quite like it myself!! It was one of those scenes that sort of wrote itself. I could see it, like a movie, in my mind and I just wrote down what I saw and heard.

Best of luck, and no procrastination (my besetting sin) to all those working on their books. That includes revisions as well, Biddy.

Can't resist picking up Donna's comment about the blurb. The extract is all Joanna Maitland, whereas blurbs are written by editors. When I'm choosing books, I tend to glance at the first couple of pages rather than the back cover. Sad, or what?

Thanks for adding the hintette to my comp question, Liz. And I hope that Snookie and others have now discovered the answer.

Best wishes
Joanna

mulberry said...

I entered the contest- hope I'm not too late as I've been away for work and no chance to read my fun emails, only the serious work ones. That except has made me desperate to read the whole book and I will definitely buy it if I don't win! Thanks Joanna!

Well, I have to confess I haven't read Liz's book in question, I cheated by Googling, but I'm going to search out a copy now! I know a lot of M&B readers don't like first person, think it's too chick litty, but I reckon Liz would carry it off superbly. The Secret Life of Lady Gabriella is one of my all time favourite books, because it does have that light Chick Lit feel but with an emotional depth most Chick Lit lacks.

Joanna Maitland said...

Hi Mulberry. Glad you enjoyed the excerpt and even gladder you're going to buy the book!!

You're absolutely right about Liz's ability to carry off a first person story. The book in question was definitely a ground-breaker but it is also a terrific romance as well. One of my keepers.

Best of luck to everyone who has entered the competition, whether they found the answer on Google or not.

Joanna

Kate Hardy said...

Happy wiggles from here - my copy of His Cavalry Lady arrived today.

Now I need to FTDB so I can read it :o)

I have some SERIOUSLY good books in my TBR bookcase.

Donna Alward said...

LOL Joanna on the blurb thing. I am a multi-faceted buyer and it's changed since I became an author myself. I look for authors I KNOW first of all...which somehow gets to be a longer list with each passing week! Then I look at the cover...then I read the blurb. And then...I open it and if the first few paragraphs are bang on - in the cart it goes.

And then there are some that I KNOW are coming out because I've read snippets and I wait for them to be released and just snap them up!

And as Holly Jacobs said today...I think my tbr is breeding! LOL

Snookie said...

Liz, I just watched the video for your daughter's wedding. What a beautiful tribute!

Joanna Maitland said...

Yes, Kate, I'm in FTDB mode, too, I'm afraid, which is why I haven't posted here this week. Panicking, moi???

My TBR pile is breeding too, I think, Donna. Yesterday, I received a gorgeous Australian edition of my 2007 book Bride of the Solway (the one set in Scotland) in an anthology edition with Margaret Moore's The Notorious Knight which I hadn't read. So of course I just dipped into it for a moment or two...

Which reminds me. I did check with my editor about when His Cavalry Lady might be published in Australia. Sadly, she couldn't give me any firm information. However, I'm hopeful it may be soon since Bride of the Solway has been published within 12 months of the UK edition.

And now back to finishing the **** book!

Best wishes
Joanna