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Guest Post/Excerpt: What Was it Like to Be a Governess? by Regina Jeffers, author of Pemberley’s Christmas Governness (giveaway)

Today’s guest — just in time for holiday shopping — is Regina Jeffers with her latest book, Pemberley’s Christmas Governess. You’ll get to learn about the role of a governess and read an excerpt from the book.

There’s also a giveaway, so be sure to enter.

Book Synopsis:

Following his wife’s death in childbirth, Fitzwilliam Darcy hopes to ease his way back into society by hosting a house party during Christmastide. He is thrilled when his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam sends a message saying not only will the colonel attend, but he is bringing a young woman with him of whom he hopes both Darcy and the colonel’s mother, Lady Matlock, will approve. Unfortunately, for Darcy, upon first sight, he falls for the woman: He suspects beneath Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s conservative veneer lies a soul which will match his in every way; yet, she is soon to be the colonel’s wife.

Elizabeth Bennet lost her position as a governess when Lady Newland accused Elizabeth of leading her son on. It is Christmastide, and she has no place to go and little money to hold her over until after Twelfth Night; therefore, when Lieutenant Newland’s commanding officer offers her a place at his cousin’s household for the holy days, she accepts in hopes someone at the house party can provide her a lead on a new position. Having endured personal challenges which could easily have embittered a lesser woman, Elizabeth proves herself brave, intelligent, educated in the fine arts of society, and deeply honorable. Unfortunately, she is also vulnerable to the Master of Pemberley, who kindness renews her spirits and whose young daughter steals her heart. The problem is she must leave Pemberley after the holidays, and she does not know if a “memory” of Fitzwilliam Darcy will be enough to sustain her.

Without further ado, please welcome Regina Jeffers:

The life of a governess in the Regency period was certainly not a glamorous one. These young women were most likely from a gentile family. They would possess a thorough education. For a variety of reason, they became governesses, hired by an aristocratic family or even a well-to-do middle class family, who wished to provide their daughters a “leg up,” so to speak, in society.

Most of these young women were brought up with a certain degree of indulgence and refinement. They moved in the better circles of society until a sudden loss of fortune, a failed business, or a death reversed the “possibilities” of a fulfilling future.

A governess would possess no expectation of an offer or marriage. She was at the mercy of her employer, receiving room and board and, perhaps, a small salary (allowance). Generally, a governess was neither part of the upper echelon of household servants (meaning the housekeeper and butler) nor part of the lowest positions (meaning maids, etc.). Often, a governess’s life was lonely and isolated.

Mary Atkinson Maurice tells us in Mothers and Governesses [London: John W. Parker, Publisher; Harrison and Co., Printers, M.DCCC.XLVII], a governess is “not a member of the family; but she occupies a sort of dubious position. She is neither the companion of the parents, nor the friend of the children, and she is above the domestics; she stands therefore alone. She has too often to guard against the exactions of her employers—the impertinence, or coldness of her charge, and the neglect and rudeness of the servants, she must be forever on the defensive.”

Enjoy the excerpt from Chapter One when Elizabeth Bennet, working as a governess, is accosted by her employer’s son. Then comment to be in the drawing for one of two eBook copies of Pemberley’s Christmas Governess.

Thanks, Regina, for sharing this information about the role of the governess. Readers, please enjoy an Excerpt from Chapter One and then enter the giveaway below:

Mid-December 1818 – Gloucestershire

“I said to unhand me, sir,” Elizabeth Bennet ordered, as she shoved young Mr. Newland’s hands from her person. Ever since the man had returned home, he had dogged her every step. She had been serving as the governess for his two younger sisters for six months now, but this was the first time the lieutenant had been home since her arrival at his parents’ home.

“I just be luckin’ for a bit of fun,” Mr. Newland slurred as he attempted to kiss her ear, but all she received was a wet lash of his tongue across her cheek. He reeked of alcohol.

Elizabeth wished she had been more careful when she left her room a few minutes earlier, but she had briefly forgotten how the lieutenant seemed always to be around when she least expected it. She had thought him below stairs with his friends, both of whom had been excessively respectful to her. She shoved hard against his chest sending him tumbling backward to land soundly upon his backside. “If it is fun you require,” she hissed, “join your friends in the billiard room!” Elizabeth side-stepped the man as he reached for her.

Lieutenant Newland attempted to turn over so he might stand, but he was too inebriated to put his hands flat for balance and to rotate his hips. “I don’t be requirin’ their kind of fun,” he grumbled.

Elizabeth edged closer to the steps. She hoped to escape before Lady Newland discovered her with a torn sleeve and the woman’s rascal son doing a poor version of standing on his own. “You must find your ‘fun’ elsewhere, sir. I am not that type of woman.”

She had been a governess for nearly five years—five years since her dearest “Papa” had died suddenly from heart failure—five years since her mother, Kitty, and Lydia had taken refuge with Aunt Phillips in Meryton, and Jane and Mary had moved in with Uncle Gardiner. Elizabeth, too, had been sent to London with Jane and Mary, but it had been so crowded at her uncle’s town house, she immediately took a position as the governess to Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Sample’s daughters, Livia and Sylvia. She had remained with the Samples, who were a wealthy middle-class gentry family and friends of her Uncle Gardiner, for a little over two years before the Samples brought the girls out into society and married them off.

In Elizabeth’s estimation, Livia, barely sixteen, was too young for marriage, but the girl appeared happy with her choice of a husband. Sylvia, at seventeen, had been more reluctant to wed, but the girl had followed her parents’ wishes. Few women had the freedom to choose their husbands, even in the lower classes, and certainly not in the gentry.

Elizabeth had spent an additional two years with another wealthy, but untitled, family, preparing their daughter for an elite school for young women on the Continent. In mid-May, she had answered an advert with an agency to join the Newland household. Although she had often thought Lady Newland was too pretentious, Elizabeth had enjoyed the enthusiasm of her young charges: She had considered them to be very much of the nature of her sisters Mary and Lydia. Pamela wished desperately to please her parents, but to no avail, while Julia was as boisterous and as adventurous as had been Lydia.

Elizabeth sadly missed her family, but, essentially, she knew their current situation was her fault. Such was the reason she had sacrificed herself by going out on her own—removing the responsibility for her care from her family’s hands—one less mouth to feed and to clothe.

Jarred from her musings by Lieutenant Newland’s lunge for her legs, Elizabeth squealed and scampered down the steps before the man could catch her. However, the lieutenant’s momentum sent him tumbling after her and marked with a yelp of surprise—heels over head—to land spread-eagle on the floor, except one of his legs had been turned at an odd angle. A loud moan of pain escaped to echo through the hall.

The sound of running feet filled the open hallway. Instinctively, Elizabeth dropped to her knees to examine the lieutenant’s leg. “Permit me a look at your leg, sir,” she told the man as she swatted away his hands, still attempting to grope her. “Lay back!” she instructed.

Immediately one of the lieutenant’s fellow officers was beside her. “Lay back, Lieutenant,” he ordered in a strong voice of authority. “Permit the lady to examine your leg.” The colonel looked to her, and Elizabeth mouthed, “Bad break.”

After that, the colonel took charge. “Mr. Scott, send someone for a surgeon.” The butler rushed away. “You two, find some sturdy blankets and a board—a door, perhaps, so we might move Lieutenant Newland to his room.”

“Yes, sir,” the footmen scrambled to do the colonel’s bidding.

Before Elizabeth could extricate herself from the scene, she looked up to view Lady Newland’s worried countenance. It was all Elizabeth could do not to groan aloud. There was no hope her ladyship would take Elizabeth’s side in the matter. “Nigel! Nigel, darling!” Lady Newland screeched as she knelt beside her son. “What has happened?” She shoved Elizabeth from the way.

Colonel Fitzwilliam explained, “I have sent for a surgeon and a means to move Lieutenant Newland to his quarters.”

Lady Newland nodded her understanding as she caught her son’s hand to offer comfort. Unfortunately, for Elizabeth, the lieutenant rolled his eyes up to meet hers. “I’m thorry, Miss Bennet.”

Lady Newland cast a gimlet eye on Elizabeth. “Sorry for what, Miss Bennet?” she asked in accusing tones.

Even though she knew such would cost her the position she held in the household, Elizabeth refused to tell a lie. “For the lieutenant’s attempt to take liberties where they were not welcomed, your ladyship.”

Lady Newland stood to confront Elizabeth. “I see how it is. Evidently, you thought one day to take my place as viscountess.”

The colonel stood also. “I believe you are mistaken, ma’am. Both Captain Stewart and I have warned the lieutenant how it is inappropriate for a gentleman to take favors with the hired help. Your son’s ‘infatuation’ has been quite evident to all who chose not to turn a blind eye to his thoughts of privilege.”

Lady Newland pulled herself up royally. “I shall not listen to anyone defame Nigel’s character. I realize you are my son’s commanding officer, but I am the mistress of this house, and I say who is and is not welcome under my roof. I would appreciate it if you removed yourself from my home by tomorrow.”

Captain Stewart joined them then. “Your ladyship, surely you realize the colonel is the son of the Earl of Matlock,” he cautioned.

For the briefest of seconds, Lady Newland’s resolve faltered, but she looked again upon Elizabeth’s torn sleeve and stiffened in outrage. “You may stay, Colonel, if you wish to condemn the real culprit in this matter.”

The colonel’s features hardened. “Although it provides me no pleasure to say so, for the British Army holds a standard for its officers, even those of a junior rank, but I have named the culprit, ma’am.” He bowed stiffly. “I thank you for your prior hospitality. I, for one, will depart in the morning after I learn something of your son’s prospects for recovery so I might properly report the surgeon’s prognosis to my superiors. Captain Stewart may choose to stay or depart on his own.” With that, he extended an arm to Elizabeth. “Permit me to escort you to your quarters, Miss Bennet.”

Though in the eyes of Lady Newland, Elizabeth’s doing so was likely another mark against her character, she gladly accepted the gentleman’s arm, for she did not think her legs would support her without his assistance. She was without a position and had no place to go.

Wasn’t that thrilling and shocking?

GIVEAWAY:

If you’d like to be entered to win 1 of 2 ebook copies, please leave a comment below by Dec. 10, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Guest Post: Book Club Talk by Ann Marie Stewart, author of Out of the Water

Today’s guest is Ann Marie Stewart, author Out of the Water, and she’s here to give us a Book Club Talk.

This is another occasion in which I wish I had more time to read because I love generational stories, especially with family secrets and Irish immigrants.

Check out the book and the guest post, and consider buying this one for a loved one or yourself.

Book Synopsis:

Irish immigrant Siobhan Kildea’s impetuous flight from a Boston lover in 1919 leads her to a new family in an unfamiliar Montana prison town. After a horrific tragedy impacts her children, her land, and her livelihood, Siobhan makes a heart wrenching decision – with consequences that ripple for decades to come.

Mysteriously linked to Siobhan is Genevieve Marchard, a battlefront nurse in France who returns stateside to find the absence of a certain soldier is her greatest loss; Anna Hanson, a music teacher who tucks herself away in a small Washington town, assuming her secrets are safe; and Erin Ellis, who thinks she and her husband won the lottery when they adopted their daughter, Claire.

These interconnected stories, spanning three continents and five generations, begin to unravel in 1981 when Claire Ellis sets out to find her biological mother.

Doesn’t this sound good? Without further ado, please welcome Ann Marie Stewart:

Whether searching for your book club’s next read or writing the next NYT bestseller you hope book clubs love, it helps to know what makes a good book club selection. Not only does a successful choice encourage great discussion, but for the author it guarantees the book is purchased in multiples.

In September 17, 1996, Oprah launched her online book club, with The Deep End of the Ocean, a novel about what happens to an American family when the youngest boy disappears. Jacquelyn Mitchard was a first-time author whose book went on to best-selling fame in what is now termed, “The Oprah Effect.”

A shout out from Oprah would be all any author needs, but even my friend Jacquelyn remarked that a great book club book should have multiple countries. She also added, “It most definitely should include people and situations that readers can DISAGREE about … if everyone likes everything or hates everything, it’s not much fun!”

But what else should spark interest? Ironically, I discovered the greatest draw to my author website was a review for Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale which also included discussion questions, menus, and recipes. You can check it out here.

I grew to appreciate a comprehensive celebration of discussion over food during my years in That Leesburg Book Club later renamed The Pink Brains (long story and deserving of a separate column). The memoir The Devil in the White City covered a serial killer and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair which introduced Aunt Jemima pancake mix, brownies, Cracker Jack, chili, hot dogs, Wrigleys Chewing gum, Pabst Blue ribbon beer, and Shredded Wheat. And so, these were included in our evening treats! When we read Water for Elephants, which detailed a traveling circus, someone brought in a cotton candy and popcorn machine. The memoir In the Presence of My Enemies took place in the Philippines so we dined on a catered Filipino dinner of pancit and spring rolls. Another novel told the story of a wedding and so each book club guest wore an old bridesmaid dress from her closet. (Can you tell the Pink Brains had fun?)

But one of our best discussions resulted from a book we actually did not like. Its problems prompted us to Monday morning quarterback as we came up with more realistic solutions for a better ending. That book was great fodder for discussion.

I asked my readers some of their thoughts about what makes a book club selection great, and we came up with these qualities:

Fodder for Discussion
Massive Twists in Plot
Literary Allusions
Setting in Historical Event
Controversial Characters
Characters to Care About
Characters Making Difficult Choices
Author’s Choices prompt discussion
Intriguing Locations
Multiple Countries
Thought Provoking
Meaningful Theme
Central Moral Dilemma

Those qualities feature in the following successful book club reads. In case you’re looking for classic choices, here is a short list. How many have you read? Educated, Where the Crawdads Sing, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, All the Light we Cannot See, The Help, The Glass Castle, The Book Thief, Little Fires Everywhere, A Man Called Ove, Unbroken, The Nightingale, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Before We Were Yours, The Light Between Oceans, Orphan Train, The Fault in our Stars, The Girl on the Train, A Gentleman in Moscow, Water for Elephants, Cutting for Stone, When Breath Becomes Air, Being Mortal, The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Sarah’s Key, The Language of Flowers, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Devil in the White City, The Great Alone, The Secret Life of Bees, The Alice Network, Small Great Things, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Brain on Fire, Middlesex, The Poisonwood Bible, Lilac Girls.

These stories have complex relationships, a deep moral question, a setting that introduces you to a new world, characters you care about, or a fascinating event in history. Of course, after finishing the read, the reader is propelled into discussion.

My latest novel OUT OF THE WATER is set in Ireland, Italy, France, and both US coasts (I’m covered on all locations). Because two estranged characters remain connected over decades through sharing books, there are over sixty literary references. Set primarily in Boston and the quirky prison town of Deer Lodge, Montana 1919 to 1931, the novel covers the 1918 Pandemic as well as the Great Depression. Five mothers make difficult choices worthy of scrutiny by any book club. When one young woman seeks out her biological mother, it threatens to unravel generations of secrets. The novel asks, is it better to know the truth?

I considered the needs of book clubs when I created my online Book Club Kit featuring potential recipes, menus, invites, and templates for a variety of parties. In addition, I’ve included maps, discussion questions, a music playlist, information about the time periods: 1919, 1931, and 1981, and party ideas.

With that kind of information added to my website, I hope that my website will have as many hits for recipes from MY book, as it did for another author’s and that Out of the Water can be added to the list of classic book club reads.

I’m curious, what are some of YOUR favorite book club reads and what made them great? With the temperatures dropping, we’re curling up by the fire and looking for our next good read! Of course, followed by great discussion with a book club!

Thank you, Ann Marie, for sharing this look at book clubs.

About the Author:

Ann Marie Stewart grew up in Seattle, Washington and am a die-hard UW Husky (and Wolverine) after earning a Masters in Film/Television from University of Michigan. I originated AMG’s Preparing My Heart series, write the column “Ann’s Lovin’ Ewe” for The Country Register. With two recent UVA grads, I’m now a huge HOO basketball fan. When I’m not writing, I’m teaching voice or taking care of the many sheep of Skyemoor Farm.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Why Lady Susan by Alice McVeigh, author of Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel

Welcome everyone to today’s latest guest! Alice McVeigh has written a different kind of Jane Austen story, and I love that she chose to write about Lady Susan!

Here’s a little about the book:

Familiar characters abound – Frank Churchill, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy himself – but Susan – mischievous and manipulative – is the star. This is Austen that even Austen might have loved, with a touch of Georgette Heyer in the romantic sections. Fans of Bridgerton will also relish this classic regency romance, the first in a six-book series.

Sixteen-year-old Susan Smithson – pretty but poor, clever but capricious – has just been expelled from a school for young ladies in London.

At the mansion of the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she attracts a raffish young nobleman. But, at the first hint of scandal, her guardian dispatches her to her uncle Collins’ rectory in Kent, where her sensible cousin Alicia lives and “where nothing ever happens.”

Here Susan mischievously inspires the local squire to put on a play, with consequences no one could possibly have foreseen. What with the unexpected arrival of Frank Churchill, Alicia’s falling in love and a tumultuous elopement, rural Kent will surely never seem safe again…

Please welcome Alice:

Thanks so much, Serena, for inviting me to write about my new novel, Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel. In her note Serena wrote, “Lady Susan is so interesting! And I so rarely get offered anything to do with Austen’s other works.”

Some of you will probably read that last sentence twice. I did not – not because I’m hugely clever but because I too have Pride and Prejudice fatigue.

Now before I get brick-batted, I should say that, in common with every other writer I know, I love P&P. I simply object that it is actually more “searched for” on Google than Jane Austen is.

Yes, you read that right. P&P is more famous than Jane Austen, herself. It has also inspired more film adaptations, theatre productions, spinoffs, zombies and graphic novels than every other book she wrote – all put together – not only once, but several times over.

Of course, it isn’t as complex as Emma or as autumnal and elegant as Persuasion – it really is as light and liquid as Austen herself jokingly complained (“it is too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade…”) Also, unlike all her other books, it can be read as straight romance, despite Austen’s trademarked ironic social commentary. And yes, so outrageously rich is Mr Darcy that – in today’s terms – it even qualifies as “billionaire romance”!

Yet its sparkle is so rare, enviable, and skilful that I know of no serious academic who would wish her – were she still around – to alter a single word.

Despite this, I think that P&P worship has got out of hand.

The first time I noticed was when I received a disgruntled review of my new novel from an Amazon reader whose only beef was that – to her limitless grief – Mr Darcy did not appear.

My retort – which of course I never penned – would have been, “That’s because Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel is, um, a prequel to Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, and not a sequel to P&P. Mr Darcy never appears in Austen’s Lady Susan.”

Once I stopped grinding my teeth, I made cracks about how I should have included Darcy, within my own book club… At least, I did until Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel received its first Kirkus review.

I had perhaps got my hopes up a little, as Susan had already won First Place in the Global Book Awards, a gold medal in the PenCrest Book Awards, an IndieReader gold medallion, and – most amazingly – been rated 10/10 in Publishers Weekly.

The Kirkus reviewer, however, described it as “spirited but ultimately unsatisfactory”. And why? – you’ve already guessed. Because Mr Darcy and Eliza Bennet never appear. How could it be called a prequel, she or he argued, when only Lady Catherine, of all the P&P characters, really feature in my book at all?

Yes, even Kirkus, the premier source of reviews, possesses at least one reviewer who assumes that every Austenesque prequel has to be a prequel to P&P, the only book she ever wrote.

To be fair to Kirkus – once I’d stopped kicking the furniture long enough to complain – they seemed mortified. They instantly offered me a second review, free of charge, and the second reviewer really liked it. (“An intelligent prequel packed with enjoyable Austen references… McVeigh displays a brilliant, spot-on command of Austen’s diction and tone.” Thank you, Kirkus Reviews!)

But my point still stands. P&P first… the rest nowhere! ☹

And this is a terrible thing for all of Austen’s other works of utter genius. It can even be a pretty terrible thing for the stars of its numerous adaptations, with actor Colin Firth being Example A. He has publicly complained that – grateful as he was for having been cast as Mr Darcy – it had so identified him to most filmgoers that he had missed out on interesting roles afterwards. The curse of P&P!

Anyway, on to Lady Susan!

So, why did I choose to write a prequel to Lady Susan? Why didn’t I simply join other Austen-struck writers doing spinoffs of P&P?

First, because Lady Susan represents Austen’s only attempt at showcasing serious villainy. Austen’s Lady Susan makes Mrs Norris of Mansfield Park look almost civilized – and even the wickedly passionate Maria Bertram like some kind of a Girl Scout. When not amusing herself by seducing married men – or by wrecking the peace of her family by attempting to seduce their rich young heir – Austen’s Lady Susan is trying to force her gentle daughter into marrying a man she loathes. Why would anyone wish to write a book about Lady Susan?

Well, partly because I became fascinated in how she became so villainous, at 35 – her age in Austen’s Lady Susan. In my own novel she’s still just sixteen and – though certainly self-interested and notably manipulative – is also witty, engaging and affectionate. There are hints as to her ultimate character – if anyone’s character is set by their mid-thirties – but the reader is certainly hoping that her machinations will triumph with regard to her cousin Alicia’s love match – in fact, the reader’s pulling for young Susan all the way.

Yes, I give clues – she remarks at one point, “It was a very pretty letter. It was almost too pretty to burn” – but it would take an alert reader to spot them.

Why isn’t “my” Susan closer in character to Austen’s Lady Susan? – It isn’t just because I’m saving most of the character development for the sequel. It’s really because I simply find it impossible to imagine that any sixteen-year-old could be truly villainous – I don’t see how they could manage it in the time. I was also too charmed with the idea of her engaging with Frank Churchill, and with her taking the fancy of Lady Catherine de Bourgh… In fact, the whole idea of the prequel had been percolating in my brain for ages. It just took me about fifteen years to get up enough nerve to write it! (My agent was also against it, as being too close to genre fiction.)

But now I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, I’ve done Jane Austen a tiny favor. I know many people who have gone back to Lady Susan and read it, mostly for the first time, having read Susan, A Jane Austen Prequel.

Of course, Susan would be selling still better had I only been smart enough to instead scribble Darcy as the Bloodthirsty Vampire Headmaster of Hogwarts or Eliza Bennet: Buttered Scones with Strawberry Jam (A Cosy Mystery).

Hmm. Now there’s a thought…

Thank you, Alice, for sharing why you wrote about Susan!

About the Author:

Alice McVeigh’s Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel is the first in a series of six Austenesque books published by Warleigh Hall Press (it is now available in audiobook). The second in the series (Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation) will be published in January. Alice has previously been published in contemporary fiction by Orion/Hachette and in speculative thrillers (using a pen name) by UK’s Unbound Publishing. You can contact Alice here.

Enter the Giveaway: (1 ebook and 1 audiobook – 2 winners)

Leave a comment and let us know if you prefer an ebook or audiobook by Nov. 5 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Helen Williams, author of In Essentials

Welcome to today’s guest Helen Williams, author of In Essentials: A Pride & Prejudice Variation. She’s going to share some of her favorite fall recipes with us, but let’s check out the book.

Synopsis:

Five months after Darcy’s disastrous proposal to Elizabeth Bennet, he discovers that the woman he ardently loves is suffering from a grave illness. Despite an affliction that has left her altered, Elizabeth Bennet is still the same person in essentials: witty, sanguine, and obstinate. However, her future is uncertain, and she struggles to maintain her equanimity—especially when Fitzwilliam Darcy returns to Netherfield and seems determined to improve her opinion of him. Now she must decide whether she is brave enough to trust him and embrace happiness, however fleeting it might prove to be.

Please welcome, Helen:

Thank you for hosting me at Savvy Verse and Wit, Serena. I’ve really enjoyed my blog book tour for In Essentials, but particularly writing this post, as books and food (and rugby!) are my great loves in life.

Anyone who has read any of my previous stories will know that I have Welsh roots. My Dad’s family are from Wales – a little village outside Cardiff called Tongwynlais – and I always include some sort of Welsh reference in my stories. In Essentials was no different. Dydd gwyl dewi hapus (Happy St David’s Day) was the first thing I learnt to say in Welsh, so it seemed fitting that Darcy would do the same. I can also sing the National Anthem quite well, but couldn’t think of a plausible excuse for Darcy to learn it…

Anyway, I digress. Serena asked for me to write a post including my favourite fall recipes that also tied in, if possible, with the era and story. Immediately I knew what I had to write about – Bara Brith!

Google tells me that the origins of Bara Brith may trace all the way back to the 600s but that “modern” Bara Brith comes from the 1800s. Bara Brith means “speckled bread” as it is spotted with fruit, and it is a true Welsh classic. Made with dried fruit, sugar, spices and tea, it is utterly delicious and a real, warming treat on a cold day. I love it with melted butter but my Dad likes his plain and dunked in a mug of tea!

The recipe below is my grandmother’s and has been passed down our family tree for generations; I’m very happy to share this slice of Welshness with you.

Ingredients

  • 300ml hot tea (make it strong, probably at least three teabags)
  • 400g mixed fruit (e.g. sultanas, raisins, currants)
  • 250g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 100g dark brown muscovado sugar
  • 1 egg

Method

1. Mix the tea and fruit together and soak overnight, or at least six hours.
2. Mix in the sugar until dissolved, then the egg, spices and the flour (you’ll probably want to sift in
the flour). The mix will resemble a thick cake batter.
3. Pour into a prepared standard loaf tin and cook for an hour and fifteen minutes at 150C.
4. Enjoy!

If Bara Brith isn’t quite your thing, I’m sure everyone loves a bit of cheese on toast and Welsh Rarebit is the undisputed king of cheeses on toasts.

According to legend, the name is a sort of pun – everyday Welsh folk could not afford rabbit, and so used cheese as a substitute. No-one knows exactly when Welsh Rabbit became Welsh Rarebit, but the name has stuck. Rarebit has been around since the 1500s and if you’re from the United Kingdom or have visited, you may have seen Rarebit on the menu of a couple of traditional pubs. It’s comfort food at its best and perfect on a cold day.

Ingredients

  • 250g cheddar cheese – you want it strong enough to stand up to the beer and mustard
  • 70ml ale or beer
  • 1.5tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 20g unsalted butter melted
  • 1tbsp English mustard (or Dijon or wholegrain – up to you!)
  • 4 thick slices of bread, toasted

Method

1. Mix together the grated cheese, beer or ale, butter, Worcestershire sauce and mustard.
2. Spread over each slice of toast, ensuring it covers the crusts too.
3. Transfer each slice onto a baking tray and place directly underneath the grill for five minutes or so, until golden brown and bubbling.
4. Carefully remove from the oven, cut each slice in half and serve hot.

So there you have it, Bara Brith and Welsh Rarebit – two Welsh classics that were both around at the time of Jane Austen and are still loved today. Can you imagine Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy tucking into a slice of Bara Brith and practising their Welsh pronunciation? I can!

Thank you, Helen, for sharing these recipes with us, and what a treat to know a bit of the history. My husband loves cheese on toast, so we’ll be trying Welsh Rarebit!

About the Author:

Helen lives in Cambridge, United Kingdom, where she works for the University of Cambridge. She has been writing as a hobby for around 15 years and has written several novel length stories based on the work of Jane Austen. Helen has Welsh roots so her stories will often include a couple of references to the land of her fathers, in addition to her two other loves – dogs and rugby. In addition to writing, Helen’s hobbies include cooking, hiking, cycling and campaigning for green initiatives. Having been diagnosed with pituitary growths in 2015 and 2020, Helen is also an active member of the Pituitary Foundation and her experiences with chronic illness inspired her latest story. Visit her Facebook page.

GIVEAWAY:

Meryton Press is giving away 6 eBooks of In Essentials.

Enter through Rafflecopter.

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Guest Post: Why Self-Publishing Works for Me by Catherine Gentile

There are so many great books to read that bring history to life, and Catherine Gentile’s Sunday’s Orphan is another to add to your lists.

Book Synopsis:

In Catherine Gentile’s powerful and beautifully written novel, SUNDAY’S ORPHAN, twenty-year-old Promise Mears Crawford struggles to manage the fifty-acre farm she recently inherited from her guardian and uncle, Taylor Crawford.

It’s 1930’s Jim Crow Georgia, and Taylor’s utopian vision, of the races living and working side by side, is being tested upon his death, most recently with the arrival of Daffron Mears, who believes he has a claim to the land. How can Promise preserve what Uncle Taylor had once held together by sheer will and the force of his personality?

Promise just met Daffron, but he is, by all accounts, simmering with anger, frightening, even evil. It’s rumored he has orchestrated lynchings. Promise knows that if she can’t offer Daffron a temporary job, if he sees black people working alongside her and no place for himself, he will take revenge. At greatest risk are Mother, the black midwife to the entire town, who lives on the farm with her grown son, Fletch, the farm’s foreman. To protect those she loves, Promise hires Daffron on for one week.

But over the next few days, the farm and even the town begin to unravel, as do secrets that have held together for decades. In this gripping, unforgettable tale, Promise fights to save her land, to save the people she loves as family, and to protect Uncle Taylor’s vision of unity and equality. In doing so, she fulfills the very hope of her name.

What people are saying:

Sunday’s Orphan is just plain excellent.  Through its acuity of expression,  emotional and psychological insights, and the unfolding of characters, it allows us to enter an historical period–the Jim Crow South–that  is critical to understanding racism today.

–Jeremiah Conway, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Philosophy Department, University of Southern Maine, author of The Alchemy of Teaching; The Transformation of Lives

“The book lays bare the cruelty and hypocrisy of Jim Crow throughout the novel, and its greatest strength is in how it sets up mysteries and gut-punch reveals. Readers will sometimes need a moment to catch their breath, even as they keep turning pages.”

—Kirkus Reviews

Welcome today’s guest, Catherine Gentile.

There have been times in my life when the sun, moon, and stars have lined up to address my needs; the burgeoning of alternative publishing options over the past two decades has been just such a time. These options have been my writing life savers. It wasn’t until I hit the tender age of 50 over twenty years ago, that I was able to give my full attention to my writing.

Since then, I’ve become acutely aware of time’s fleeting nature. Making the most of my writing time concerns me, in a good way. With this millennium comes choices, and fortunately, at this junction in the world of publishing, self-publishing is a viable option.

Prior to writing full time, my professional life graced me with opportunities to master a host of administrative skills, which transferred readily to the world of organization and management of the writing life. Accustomed to multi-tasking, I find the autonomous world of self-publishing with its various demands, stimulating, exciting, challenging, and yes, sometimes exhausting.

Bottom line, I thrive on reaching beyond functioning as a ‘resource’ capable of producing the prerequisite word count, to donning a fashionable yet practical ‘creative director’ cap for my projects.

This feeds the joy I experience when I interact with the team I’ve assembled to help propel my writing projects forward. The opportunity to interview and select the members of this all- important group drew me to explore self-publishing. Early on, I’d slogged through the two to three year lag from manuscript review, revision, to publishing contract, if one is lucky. Folded into a complex equation of unappealing royalty rates, book marketing that fell completely to the author, and the expectation that I would turn the rights to my intellectual property, i.e., my manuscript, over to the publishing agency, the imbalance of these inequities weighed heavily on me. There had to be another way.

Venturing outside time-honored publication protocols has proven to be exhilarating.

Once I was firmly ensconced in a writing group whose skills I could rely on, I contracted with impartial editors, identified my modus operandi as print-on-demand technology, and interviewed talented individuals in the realms of publicity, marketing, and direct sales. For sure, there were the inevitable bumps and bruises common to the duly uninformed, but over time my skin grew a tad less penetrable, my discerning abilities more focused, and most importantly, the sum total of my experiences taught me to trust myself, my inner creative process, my push toward producing the best writing product possible.

A major motivator in embracing alternative publishing is the ability to retain the rights to my work. All of it. I own the files of my finished, printable manuscript along with the cover art. It’s mine. I have not signed over the rights to a company that most likely will, should my work not meet their bottom line expectations, dump me and keep my work. And, as a side benefit, with the availability of print on demand technology for the files I own, my basement is free of boxes of books, awaiting the next book fair sales event.

Should a traditional publishing offer come my way, would I consider it? Flexibility is part of self-publishing, so sure, if the contractual offer looked as if it would provide the book in question a reasonable boost. Before I would sign a contract, I would ask loads of questions based on lessons learned, compliments of my self-publishing experiences.

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

Photo Credit: Lesley McVane

About the Author:

CATHERINE GENTILE’S fiction received the Dana Award for Short Fiction. Her debut novel, The Quiet Roar of a Hummingbird, was a Finalist in the Eric Hoffer Novel Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing. Small Lies, a collection of short stories, was released in October 2020. Her nonfiction covers a variety of topics and has appeared in Writers’ Market, North Dakota Quarterly, Down East, and Maine Magazine. She currently edits and publishes a monthly ezine entitled Together With Alzheimer’s, which has subscribers throughout the United States. A native of Hartford, Connecticut, Catherine lives with her husband and muse on a small island off the coast of Maine. Her latest novel, Sunday’s Orphan, is scheduled for release in September 2021. Learn more at www.catherinegentile.com.

Check out the book trailer:

Guest Post: Poetess of the Upcoming Collection, “Scarlet Secrets: Poems,” Talks About How She Became a Writer, Her Process, and Her Second Full Length Collection by Christie Leigh Babirad

Scarlet Secrets: Poems by Christie Leigh Babirad drops on Nov. 3.

Today, she’s going to hang out with us and talk about her writing process, share some photos of her writing space, and about her new poetry collection.

Book Synopsis:

Scarlet Secrets is Christie Leigh’s second collection of poems. This is a book about desire, heartbreak and times of metaphorical wilderness in our lives, and those dreams kept private in the deepest part of the soul. This collection echoes the longing to continually live your life passionately in a bright red: Scarlet to be exact!

Scarlet
In a rose
A body-hugging dress
Lips
Desire
And the secrets in those most authentic wishes.

With lines that carry the musicality of a city jazz club at night and soulful love songs playing on your stereo, Scarlet Secrets is also about the greatest aspects of this life we live and what gets many of us up for that bright sunrise each morning.

Please welcome Christie:

When I was younger, I struggled with the perception of a writer and poet. I believed that to be a serious writer, you basically needed to appear “deep,” and “above this place and time.” I saw writers as these people who chased the moonlight and skulked around in dark clothing or eccentrically bright outfits. True poets were much into technique and had a list of names of poets and writers who they could rattle off immediately and impress the academics of the world. I didn’t see me.

I didn’t see a young girl, now a woman who likes to wear dresses, smiles at strangers, and almost always tries to stay on the bright side of life and unfollows the darkness with great deliberateness. I didn’t see someone who has writers she likes but follows her own style and feelings above anything else.

Now, I understand that a writer is not a look or attitude, no matter the publicity that those stereotypes receive. A writer and poet is someone who feels their life deeply and has a great desire to express their view of the world out to others, whether through fiction, fantasy, poetry, music, or I guess for some writers who I cannot relate to still, horror. This is not to say that I don’t write about difficult subjects. In fact, I am known to delve fearlessly into emotions. I write about relationships, heartbreak, finding your place in this world and the struggle that comes along with that if you’re not once again following the popular benchmarks of what is perceived as a successful life. I also write about understanding, and overcoming grief. I write about societal subjects that may contradict the opinion of the masses. Writing is my release and my way of capturing key moments in a life. Poetry is what has always come naturally to me as soon as I pushed away the perception of poets and what was reinforced in early schooling.

Poetry for me is music, emotion, and bringing the reader as close to you as possible and saying here is what I went through, this is what I struggle with, have you ever felt this way? Isn’t this the best part of life?

Poetry to me is a conversation that comes out in lines of sensory details with the desire to bring the reader right into where the poet is at that moment in time, in hope of a connection. I write initially to express what I’m feeling or thinking to basically create a picture, a memory that I can hold onto, but then it is my wish that these words reach others and also encourage my readers to express themselves and know that they are not alone in their feelings. I hope that my writing comforts, encourages, and inspires.

 

What I absolutely love about poetry in particular is that it has me personally looking at my life with more significance. Every experience, whether it be filled with heart-racing love and serendipity or heartbreak and scars that will never truly go away, writing these moments into a poem shows life and is a series of albums or photo books that represent every facet of the human experience, mine, and once again, in writing as personally as I do, hopefully connecting with my readers.

My writing process for poetry is fluid and natural. I will sometimes sit down to write a poem and reflect on moments in my life or something I’ve witnessed or seen, or a song that made me feel a certain way. Often poems will come to me when I’m doing something else, like exercising on the treadmill, taking a walk with my Jack Russell Terrier, or doing laundry. A poem can come in a single word or phrase and then is later developed. I will begin writing in my main notebook, or if the poem comes unexpectedly, on whatever I can find. Sometimes I will need to record the thought into my phone.

Once the poem is sketched out, I will write it over a number of times in my main notebook until I have it to where the lines “sing” to me, there’s a rhythm or flow to the lines. Then, I will rewrite the poem in the notebook I’ve designated for the newest collection. I might make some alternations as I’m writing it into this notebook. Finally, the poem will be typed up onto the computer where further edits are often made. Music definitely inspires me and if I’m consistently working on a specific poem, I will play a song that reflects the mood of what I’m writing over and over again as I keep myself in that place, time, or feeling.

Scarlet Secrets: Poems, coming out Nov. 3, is my second full-length collection. With each poem, I have included a personal photograph that reflects the emotion or sentiment within the poem. I titled this collection “Scarlet Secrets,” because I wanted this collection to delve even more into personal feelings than the last and really tap into the raw and electric emotions of love, romance, heartbreak, and personal views.

I saw these poems as being “scarlet” in color. This collection is lyrical, soulful, and filled with passion, and as the opening poem says in the first line, “Welcome to my diary.”

I hope that this post has inspired any of you who want to become writers or poets out there. Actually, here’s another thing, I don’t like the term “aspiring writer.” You were born a creative being and you have so many stories, art, music, and poems within you. Release the perceptions that hold you back, get started now with whatever comes naturally to you, and grow from there. I can’t wait to see what you create.

Thank you, Christie, for sharing your writing process with us. Love the inside look at your writing space.

About the Poet:

Christie Leigh Babirad is an author and poetess. Her work has been featured in Tiny Buddha, The Mindful Word, and Dan’s Papers. Continually looking skyward, she believes in the light that exists even in the darkest of times and is a seeker of love, passion, and festively spirited moments. Follow her on Facebook, GoodReads, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Excerpt & Giveaway: Blinded by Prejudice by KaraLynne Mackrory

Book Synopsis:

Into what kind of hell had I emerged from under those ruins?

Elizabeth Bennet anticipated nothing more than a pleasant day among friends and relations when the pleasure trip to the ruins of Bodden chapel commenced. But what began as mere diversion turns frightening when the walls of the ancient church tumble down around them, endangering lives, demolishing pride and propriety, and bringing a hero into focus.

As the earth begins to tremble, Fitzwilliam Darcy sees Elizabeth Bennet is in mortal danger and acts on instinct to save her. But when the dust settles, there are unforeseen consequences to his actions, including a serious injury to his eyesight.

I could not be married to a man who could need me the rest of his life, but never love me. Bound together under the most strained circumstances, Darcy and Elizabeth embark on a future neither one of them saw coming. Time can heal all wounds but will time allow them to see through hearts made clear and eyes no longer blinded by prejudice?

Oh, fate has played a major role here, and what will bring these two together in our Happily Ever After?

Please give KaraLynne a warm welcome and stay to the end to enter the giveaway:

Thank you, Serena, for hosting me today at Savvy Verse & Wit. Bloggers provide an essential element to a book’s successful launch, and I am thankful to SVAW for participating in the release of Blinded By Prejudice. Written in the first-person point of view from Elizabeth, this excerpt is from early on when Elizabeth first realizes she is trapped under the rubble of Bodden Chapel with the last man in the world she would have wanted: Mr Darcy. Any one of us might have rejoiced, but Elizabeth has nurtured her dislike and prejudice against him for some time. Read along as we see her struggle with the fact that he saved her life, and with a budding attraction she does not wish to acknowledge either.

Excerpt from chapter 2:

“Help.”

The word was barely a prayer on my lips. I repeated it, trying to draw breath to give it some power. Still, it was but a whisper, and not entirely due to Mr Darcy’s body upon my chest. My panic prevented me from uttering with more conviction. I began a fevered repetition of the word, still a nearly silent plea on my lips, over and over again. “Help, help, help!”

I pushed against Mr Darcy’s shoulder—all solid muscle and inert mass—and to my relief, he shifted the slightest bit. This small movement caused soil and debris to fall upon me, choking any satisfaction I might have gained by being able to draw in deeper and just a fraction easier. A large stone rolled off the back of the gentleman’s neck onto my hand and then landed with a dull thud upon the ground beside me. I wondered briefly whether this was the stone that dealt the killing blow. Shivers ran through me.

With hope surging through me from my nominal success, I mustered all my strength and pressed again on Mr Darcy’s shoulder while I tried to extract myself from under his body. My entire frame screamed with the effort, bruised muscles protesting the exertion. The space was too limited for me to take much triumph from my efforts, but eventually, I was able to push Mr Darcy onto his side; my battered lungs cried at the release of the weight upon them. My eyes filled with tears as a roaring agony gripped my chest. The restriction of the gentleman’s weight being removed was no blessing at first. I still felt as though I could not truly breathe, for every movement wracked my body with shards of pain. I nearly lost consciousness from it all despite the freedom from Mr Darcy’s weight.

For several minutes, I lay there trying to regulate my heart and slow my breathing, for while I could now breathe deeply, the irony was that it hurt too much to do so. In the quiet, I heard a sound I had not expected that both terrified and thrilled me. A low moan escaped Mr Darcy’s lips, and I froze, wondering whether it had been imagined.

Oh mercy!

Could he be alive?

“Mr Darcy, sir?” My voice cracked due to my parched throat; it was barely audible even to my own ears.

Tentatively, I reached out a hand to that same shoulder. I could not see it, yet I knew about where it ought to be. There was only so much space, and I was still virtually pressed against his side. Trembles danced down my body, for despite the circumstances, I was not accustomed to touching a gentleman outside the social graces in dances.

I made contact with Mr Darcy, but it was his chest I encountered. I drew my hand back immediately—the feel of it put me to blush—and raised it sufficiently to reach his shoulders. With effort, I gently shook his shoulder while calling his name again. Mr Darcy groaned in response, and I was relieved as I felt him begin to shift on his own. His efforts were clumsy, and each movement caused him to brush against me, for we were in almost a coffin of sorts. There was no space for one comfortably, let alone two. His accidental contact was too much for me, and I knew I must still his movements.

“Mr Darcy, sir, please…,” I began to plead, trying to put some distance between us.

I could hear him collapse into stillness once again, but this time I could tell he was drifting into unconsciousness. I knew I must say something, but before I could compose the words, I heard his hoarse voice.

“Miss Elizabeth…are you…have you…hurt?”

Mr Darcy, speaking into the abyss, wrapped around me like a too-warm blanket, and I could tell my cheeks heated. It was startling how intimate it felt to see nothing but hear his voice near my ear. His mumbling indicated he was not entirely lucid.

He would have taken the brunt of the collapse.

“I am well, sir. And you? Are you very injured?’

Mr Darcy once again moved such that I felt his arm brush past mine as he inspected his person. The protest clawed up my throat and died there; our position robbed me of coherent thought and permeated me with maidenly awareness.

“My head. I believe I have sustained…a blow.”

“Is it bleeding, sir?”

No enticing voice returned my query, though my companion groaned in the affirmative, the vibrations penetrating my bones. Mr Darcy was battling the same seductive call for sleep that I had earlier.

I retrieved my handkerchief from my pocket. I knew from experience that head wounds could bleed dreadfully. I had had my share of falls from trees when I was younger. Tentatively, my hand ventured between us, “Here, sir. You must press this against the wound to stop the bleeding.”

I felt his hand clumsily connect with mine to receive the cloth, but then our hands were pressed into the ground between us, his a dead weight upon mine as Mr Darcy lost his fight with consciousness. I pulled my hand out from under his and quaveringly tried to wake him once again.

Oh, for goodness’ sake! Feeling ill-humoured yet unequal to the impropriety of the situation, I knew I must endeavour to discover Mr Darcy’s wound myself and press on it. With careful movements, I tried to sit up and was pleased to find that I could just barely fit in the space if I tightly tucked my knees against my chest, my head against them.

Still, the top of our tomb was low and the space notably tight. My faltering hands reached towards where Mr Darcy was, and I cursed the blackness that prevented my movements from being sure and precise. I wished to touch very little of him, but I knew that without being able to see him, I would have to fumble until I could discern where on his person I was touching.

“I apologise, sir, for I must touch you,” I whispered aloud even though I knew he could not hear me. “I am going to try to…I do not mean to…”

My throat closed on me as my hands encountered the warmth of his neck. They stilled upon the skin there, shocked at the feeling. My mind was blanketed with sensation. I could think only about the fact that I had never once touched a gentleman’s neck and the skin there felt impossibly soft. My hands lingered there long enough that it was the detection of his slow pulse that woke me to my task, and with careful movement, my hands journeyed blindly up Mr Darcy’s head.

Rough stubble tickled my fingertips, then the rigid strength of his jaw. I withdrew slightly, swallowing thickly. The dryness in my throat felt unbearable. I was forced to lean closer to reach his injury, but before I did, I tried to draw breath again. Feathery hair caressed my fingers, thick and curling around them. It was velvety despite the grit I felt on his scalp from the soil that had fallen on us both. Tentatively, I allowed my hands to explore upward, the hair parting for my fingers as they brushed through it.

Mr Darcy moaned faintly and my hands retracted sharply.

My heart bolted in my chest, and I felt all the shame of a naughty child caught by nanny. I shook my head slightly, dispelling the silliness of the notion with vigour when I heard no more from Mr Darcy. He was injured, and I was merely attempting to help. Nothing of which to be ashamed. Anticipation coiled in a spring under my breast. It demanded my breath to still. I was further disgruntled to find that contact with the luxurious curls brought a pleasure I did not want to acknowledge.

Phew, that was awkward and steamy! Who’s ready to read this one?

GIVEAWAY:

Commenters at each blog stop will be eligible for an ebook copy of Blinded by Prejudice. International. Winners will be announced at the Quills and Quartos Facebook and Instagram pages a week after the blog tour is over.

About the Author:

KaraLynne began writing horrible poetry as an angst filled youth. It was a means to express the exhilaration and devastation she felt every time her adolescent heart was newly in love with “the one” and then broken every other week. As her frontal lobe developed, she grew more discerning of both men and writing. She has been married to her own dreamboat of a best friend, Andrew, almost 20 years. Together they have the migraine inducing responsibility of raising five children to not be dirt bags (fingers crossed), pick of up their socks (still a work in progress), not fight with each other (impossible task) and become generally good people (there’s hope). She loves escaping into a book, her feather babies (the regal hens of Cluckingham Palace), and laughter.

She has written five books, a novella and participated in many anthologies. Her works include: Falling For Mr. Darcy; Bluebells in the Mourning; Haunting Mr. Darcy: A Spirited Courtship; Yours Forevermore, Darcy; BeSwitched; The Darcy Monologues; Rational Creatures; & Sun-Kissed: Effusions of Summer.

Guest Post: Poet Megan Denese Mealor, author of Blatherskite

Today’s guest is poet Megan Denese Mealor, whose new book Blatherskite will be published by Clare Songbirds Publishing House and available for pre-order.

About the Book:

Blatherskite refers to “a person who talks at great length without making much sense.” Each of the 50 poems in this loose-lipped, violently verbose collection are filled with impossibly impossible imagery, juxtapositions, chaos, romance, frenzies, tornados, villains, frilly maidens, ravenous flowers, silk birds, and decaying schoolboy cars. In other words, it is an odyssey through the faceted hallways of language that you must read for yourself to absorb, deduce, and receive.

Please give Megan a warm welcome:

My passion for the written word was born shortly after I was; by age three, I was scribbling stories with crayons on colored paper.

As the years went by, my love affair with writing became more passionate. One of the greatest stepping stones I was offered was the chance to attend the prestigious Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, where I majored in–what else?–Creative Writing. While a student there, I learned to self-critique, edit my own emotions, to create unique but universal images and characters.

I graduated with the National Penwomen’s Association Literature Award under my belt, as well as a growing hunger to carve out a place for myself in today’s world of words. By twenty, I was well on my way to accomplishing that goal in college, earning a first-place award for a school-wide short story competition.

But then the bottom dropped out of everything: first, the fleeting twinges of bipolar disorder I had experienced since middle school became raging tunnels of wild, withering darkness, a psychotic torture device from which I could not escape. And then my father, my kind, supportive, endlessly loving father, suffered a blood clot to the brain and passed away overnight; I am still haunted by the good-byes and the gratitude I never got to show him.

For years, I pushed my writing, my family and friends, and even my own safety aside in order to hurt myself as deeply as I could. I wanted to bask in the wounds I felt I deserved; nothing could break my twisted spell–until I learned that I was pregnant with the child I never thought I wanted.

A fire began to work its way into my veins as my love and humanity returned to me, and for the first time in years the words came and came in waves of repressed sadness, rage, and love. I developed my own unique poetic style, which I like to describe as eclectic, wounded, intangible, abstract, heartbroken, even avante garde. I don’t try to make my ultimate messages clear for the reader; perhaps I don’t even know them myself, and that’s fine with me. I want my readers to find their own reflections in my words.

As more and more of my poems and short stories began to appear in amazing publications and magazines worldwide, I began to do something I hadn’t done in a very, very long time: believe in myself, and in my work. My first full-length poetry book, Bipolar Lexicon, was published by Unsolicited Press in 2018, and my second book, Blatherskite, followed in 2019, published by Clare Songbirds Publishing House. Two of my poems were even nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize by two separate publications in 2018, which still amazes and heartens me.

I have been asked by many editors and even readers why I don’t feature my work on social media, and I have no answer to give them other than the fact that I despise social media–no more, no less. I always have; social media, to me, is toxic and insidious. I personally felt like it would cheapen or dilute my work, and besides, I have always been the most private person I know.

My writing process is unusual in that I don’t have a designated time to sit down and let the words spill out; that only happens on its own–in Aisle 3 of Walmart while shopping for dinner, driving past a smashed-up cemetery, talking to the cashier at the pizza place. When this occurs, I must always rush home to unleash whatever whispers are screaming the loudest. Sometimes, you know, the poetry has to claw its way out.

Thank you, Megan, for sharing your writing with us today. She was also kind enough to share a sample poem with us:

Before the Beginning

God without Eve:
watercolor wanderlust
a blizzard stoked with stones

She smoothed in
vicious strokes of sea
lit reclusive hillsides
with bellflowers and begonias
etched herself at awestruck angles
tangled Adam's warring bones
slept forgotten in the mosses
climbed and climbed forbidden skies
slept forgotten in the mosses

Serpents sweetened and riddled
deafening star-stunned sparrows
left unfeathered, undefined

About the Poet:

Megan Denese Mealor is the author of three full-length poetry collections: Blatherskite (Clare Songbirds House Publishing, 2019), Bipolar Lexicon (Unsolicited Press, 2018), and A Mourning Dove’s Wishbone (still in the works). She was nominated twice for the 2018 Pushcart Prize by both Neologism Poetry Journal and Liquid Imagination, and was selected as the November 2018 Featured Poet for Neologism Poetry Journal. Her poetry and short stories have been featured in numerous publications since 2012, most notably Literally Stories, A Long Story Short, Digital Americana, Gone Lawn, The Furious Gazelle, Maudlin House, The Ministry of Poetic Affairs, and The Ekphrastic Review.

A quintessential Pisces daydream believer, Megan works as a full-time writer and mother in her hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. She employs writing, language, spirituality, yoga, photography, painting, and meditation to battle lifelong bipolar disorder and depression. Her son Jesse was diagnosed with autism at age three, and Megan has dedicated her life to enriching and understanding his locked, elusive world. She recently married Jesse’s father and her longtime love Tony, and together they populate a cavernous townhouse along with their sovereign cats Trigger and LuLu.

Guest Post: Words and Music By… by Brett Marie

Today’s guest is Brett Marie, author of The Upsetter Blog, which will debut on Sept. 15. You can find the book on Amazon, through Owl Canyon Press, and elsewhere.

Check out the synopsis:

To write the Upsetter Blog, washed‐up author Henry Barclay will have to leave behind his adult son Patrick, who has Down syndrome, and follow the Flak Jackets, a rock band of no renown, on a grueling, months‐long nightclub tour for the obscure magazine startup, Upsetter. He’s reluctant to take on the assignment, but when Patrick catches the band’s act and immediately declares himself their “Number One Fan”; Henry sees a chance to redeem himself for decades of clumsy parenting. Setting out from Los Angeles, blasting through the deserts of Southern California and up the West Coast, Henry quickly learns how tough this job will be. He did not expect he would become obsessed with the mystery behind lead singer Jack Hackett’s tortured wailing and violent onstage antics. He did not expect he would fall in love with Jack’s new girlfriend, Wendy, who’s along for the ride. Faced with Jack’s hostile stonewalling, struggling to hold back his own feelings for Jack’s girl, Henry can only hang on tight and keep writing, filling in the blanks Jack leaves with musings about his own troubled past—and watching in horror as life on the road takes its toll, and Jack’s fragile world begins to fall apart.

Please welcome Brett Marie:

After a childhood spent dreaming of being a novelist, I hung a sharp left into rock ‘n’ roll at age thirteen. Perhaps it was the influx of hormones into my system, but the driving drums and trashy guitars of AC/DC and George Thorogood hit me with the intensity of a first crush. These sounds consumed me, and throughout a lovelorn adolescence, music sustained me in ways that literature failed to do. If I felt humiliated or alone in the way only teenagers can, I always had that good-time rock ‘n’ roll rhythm waiting in my cassette deck back home. All I had to do was hit Play, and it would do the beating for my weary heart, giving me the momentum I needed to carry me into the next morning.

That beat ended up carrying me a lot farther – first, into a guitar shop, for a Samick electric on which I began bashing out my first original songs; and later, on my nineteenth birthday, to a spare bedroom in my uncle’s New York office-apartment, from which I attended dozens of auditions, wrote more songs, and scored a day-job at Manny’s Musical Instruments.

I got married and moved to Los Angeles three years later. I was living there, working an office day-job and fronting my own group, when my childhood itch to write a novel returned. Inevitably, the first story that came to me was of a rock band on tour. But I wanted more. I wanted my book to act as a love letter to the songs that meant so much to me. And I wanted to take the feelings I’d drawn from those songs – excitement, comfort, catharsis – and pass them on to my readers.

The way to do this came in an early epiphany: I would lace key passages of my manuscript with lyrics to these classic tunes. The themes I was exploring – life, death, love, loss – were the bread and butter of the songwriters populating my record collection. Their words might echo mine, amplifying my subtext. Furthermore, perhaps the breaks they made between my paragraphs would give the text a unique rhythm, more akin to songwriting than story structure, with my words always giving way to those familiar choruses.

To my delight, my trick worked. Reading the completed manuscript, with every lyric I came across, I felt the very shivers I’d sought to evoke in the surrounding prose. The effect was like watching a big scene in a movie and hearing a favorite song swell up in the soundtrack.

But my self-satisfaction lasted only as long as it took for one of my readers to bring up the issue of copyrights. Their advice – essentially, “You’re gonna get sued,” – shook me out of my delusions, bringing me face-to-face with the sad reality that I would have to kill these lyrical darlings.

Months passed before I worked up the gumption to start culling. When I finally broke out my red pen, I continued to dither, plucking lines here and there, scribbling question marks alongside others, before finally building up the nerve and crossing them all out.

I nearly abandoned my manuscript after that, convinced I’d disfigured it beyond repair. But when I finally reread it, I discovered something fascinating. Where I expected gaping holes in place of the pilfered lyrics, my words simply flowed over the line breaks, from one paragraph into the next.

In fact these passages, which I’d crafted to match the pitch and urgency of their borrowed accompaniment, had taken on more of that urgency than I’d ever felt capable of capturing. Without Elvis Presley’s words blaring from the car stereo between tour dates, my band’s dialogue still crackled with Elvis’s electricity. The quiet melancholy that the story’s female lead exudes still permeated every scene she graced, even after I’d scrubbed every line of Françoise Hardy from between paragraphs. And when my lead singer, inconsolable following a heart-crushing loss, takes the microphone and grieves in song, the scene which originally had him crushing the Rolling Stones’ ‘I Got the Blues’ retained every ounce of its bereft yearning even after I’d swapped in a self-penned verse and chorus.

In my early days as a musician, making my first forays into the studio, I heard more than one tall tale about the excesses of various recording greats. One story involved an unnamed producer dubbing a full orchestra onto some rock track, only to wipe the results away, saying, “I just want the feel of an orchestra on there.” Reading my work after excising a double album’s worth of lyrics, I was reminded of that urban legend, and had to smile.

It’s funny: I would have saved myself hours of work if I’d thought about the hassles of copyrights. But considering the novel I have now, I can’t argue with the path I took. The music I started with acted as a mold for my prose. Now, with the mold tossed aside, my words stand on their own, but they retain much of the shape that the music provided.

No, it’s more than that. In emotional times, the right song has always been able to pry my heart that smidgen further open, to shake it that little bit harder, to squeeze out those few more drops of cathartic feeling. Writing a poignant scene alongside Françoise Hardy’s ‘Voilà’, or trying to match Elvis Presley’s euphoria throughout the exhilarating ‘Guitar Man’, re-energized those songs in my heart, and stepped up my writing as I scrambled to bottle this newfound energy into language.

And so, though I couldn’t redirect the lyric lightning bolts of Chuck Berry, Leiber and Stoller, or Jagger and Richards into my own work, their influence turned out to be as great – no, greater than – that of the novelists I’d thought I was aping: Steinbeck, McCullers, Robert Penn Warren. And for that influence, my novel sings where otherwise it might only have spoken. Take a bow, hubristic producer of myth. You knew exactly what you were doing.

Thank you, Brett, for sharing your writing process and musical inspiration with us.

About the Author:

The literary alter ego of American rock ‘n’ roll musician Mat Treiber, Brett Marie is a contributing editor for the online journal Bookanista, and a sometime staff writer for the website PopMatters. His short fiction has appeared in various magazines, including New Plains Review, Words + Images Press, and The Impressment Gang. His story, “If It Had Happened to You,” was shortlisted for LoveReading UK’s first Very Short Story Award in 2019. He currently lives in England with his wife and daughter. Visit Brett at his website, on Goodreads, or on Twitter.

Guest Post: Nancy Kilgore, author of Bitter Magic: The Otherworld in a Historical Novel

Today, I’d like to welcome Nancy Kilgore, author of Bitter Magic, to the blog to talk about writing historical fiction.

First, let’s check out the book:

Bitter Magic is told from Isobel’s perspective and also by Margaret Hay, a fictionalized seventeen-year-old noble woman who becomes interested in Isobel’s magic. Margaret only knows Isobel’s healing charms, and when Isobel confesses to dark magic, Margaret is shocked, all the more so when she hears Isobel name her as a witch during the trial. In this gripping and beautifully written tale, Kilgore’s characters debate whether Gowdie is fantasizing or a real witch, and whether young Margaret and the others are complicit. But their debate soon expands to consider the effects of Isobel’s poverty, being powerless, and ultimately the very nature of faith and forgiveness.

Please give Nancy a warm welcome:

The Other World in a Historical Novel

When I started writing Bitter Magic, an historical novel set in 1660 Scotland, I found myself stepping into a new world, a world where religious beliefs were a matter of life or death, with English fighting Scots, Catholics fighting Protestants, and leaders and kings changing sides unpredictably.

This was also a time when almost everyone, including the religious and educated gentry, believed in the existence of an Otherworld, a world between heaven and earth that was populated by supernatural beings – elves, fauns, and fairies – and that only those with second sight, what we’d call psychic, could see.

Isobel Gowdie, whose true story inspired Bitter Magic, was a peasant eking out a subsistence living on the estate of her laird. She was also a “cunning woman,” a psychic and powerful community leader, and she regularly visited this Otherworld.

In Bitter Magic, as in her documented confession, Isobel’s Otherworld is a place of singing and dancing, of bountiful feasts and beautiful clothing, and never being cold. She communes with the fairies and brings back their secrets to use in her healing and magic practice.

But in Isobel’s lifetime, the western world was undergoing upheavals and big change. The Catholic church had tolerated traditional earth-based spirituality, even allowing Christian prayers and invocations to be integrated into the charms and rituals of the common folk, the wise women, and healers. But the Protestant Reformation aspired to a new era of rationality and enlightenment. The church would no longer be mired in the mud of Catholic corruption or “pagan” superstition. All that had to go. Women, who were connected to the earth through menstruation and childbirth, could not be “enlightened” and therefore could not be leaders in the new era. The “wise women” had to go.

And so began the witch craze of the 17 th century. Fueled by King James I, who had converted from Catholicism to Protestantism, and his treatise, Daemonolgie, the churches decided that not only were cunning women “witches,” but witches were demons in human form, who had to be destroyed.

I used to hold a stereotypical image of that era that is echoed in many witch novels: the good wise woman is suspected of witchcraft because she heals with herbs and rituals; she is hunted, tortured, forced to confess evil deeds she is innocent of, and burned at the stake by the bad Christians.

But in my research, I found a more complex picture. Yes, the church and the government did decree that witchcraft was punishable by death. But not all Christians believed this absolute, and not all accused “witches” were innocent. The moral and ethical standards that our contemporary world ascribes to the “wise women” are not necessarily factual.

The wise women like Isobel who practiced magic and visited the fairies were not thinking in terms of “good” or “bad”. Magic was not about ethics. Isobel’s magic existed in a dimension without morality. It could heal or harm and often did not distinguish between the two.

On the other hand, the Christian reformers were highly ethical as well as idealistic. They believed they were working to bring a new era of love into the world, the Kingdom of God. But with these high standards, that most people couldn’t meet, there was also a reaction against it, whether internal or external. These “others,” the “witches” were evil and to be feared as much if not more than one’s own internal sinful nature. But there were also many who did not cave into this culture of fear, and I was as intrigued by them as by the strange life of Isobel Gowdie.

In Bitter Magic, I have sought to bring alive the world of Isobel, a world of mystics, shamans, and magic, with all of its nuanced characters and complex belief systems, in an extraordinary time in history.

Photo Credit: Kathy Tarantola Photography

About the Author:

Nancy Hayes Kilgore, winner of the Vermont Writers Prize, is the author of two other novels, Wild Mountain (Green Writers Press, 2017,) and Sea Level (RCWMS, 2011,) a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year. She has published in a She Writes Press anthology, in Bloodroot Literary MagazineVermont Magazine, The Bottle Imp, and on Vermont Public Radio. Nancy is a graduate of the Radcliffe Writing Seminars and holds a Master of Divinity degree and a Doctorate in Pastoral Counseling. She is a former parish pastor, a psychotherapist, a writing coach, and leads workshops on creative writing and spirituality.

Excerpt & Giveaway: A Learned Romance by Elizabeth Rasche

Welcome to another great Jane-Austen inspired novel guest post, excerpt, and giveaway.

Elizabeth Rasche’s latest novel, A Learned Romance, focuses on Mary Bennet, the most practical and religious sister. Read about the book:

“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning”–Jane Austen, Persuasion, chapter 4

MARY BENNET HAD NEVER WISHED for anything more than to be known as the meek and pious Bennet sister, the one who sweetly brought peace to her family.

BEING THE LAST UNMARRIED BENNET SISTER, the pressure to partake of a London Season with the nouveau riche Wickhams was considerable, no matter how little she desired it; but, her young sister Lydia would not hear a refusal. Mary hoped she could pass her days as quietly as a mouse and maybe encourage her still-wild sister to become a more demure wife and stop quarrelling so much with her husband.

BUT WHEN LYDIA’S FLIRTATION with scientist begins stirring gossip, Mary discovers it is not enough to stay meek and quiet. She must protect Lydia’s reputation by drawing the man’s attentions her way, and convincing the world it is Mary, not Lydia, who attracts Mr Cole. If she fails, Lydia’s disgrace will taint every family member connected with her—Bennet, Bingley, and Darcy alike—and Mary will have no hope for her own future. But alluring a gentleman is hardly the sort of practice Mary has a knack for. Though it goes against every fibre of her being, Mary must turn aside from the peace she craves and uncover the belle within—all while finding her heart awakening in the illusion of romance she has created.

Don’t you just want to know what happens? I love to see wallflowers come into their own.

Now, for today’s excerpt! Enjoy and give Elizabeth a warm welcome:

Hi Serena!

I am so honored to be share this excerpt of A Learned Romance with you and your readers and to connect with readers who also love Jane Austen’s characters. I hope you’ll enjoy A Learned Romance, especially if you’ve been speculating what Mary Bennet’s life might have been like once Jane, Lizzy, and Lydia were married.

Mary accepted her sister’s invitation, sensing Lizzy wanted more than a discussion of what books to purchase. Sure enough, as the Darcy carriage launched into the flood of coaches and carts swelling the road, Lizzy’s brow furrowed with worry.

“I want to talk with you about Lydia. She is as heedless as usual with this Mr Cole. If she goes any further, her respectability as a married woman will be at serious risk.”

Mary twisted the strings of her reticule on her lap. It was nice to feel her sister deemed her worthy as an ally, and Mary felt a small satisfaction that her predictions of grave results might yet prove true, but in her heart of hearts she dreaded interfering. She liked the idea of being the patient consoler in the aftermath of a great scandal, but she had no desire to be an active participant, not even in preventing it. “I fear the same, although I do not see what I can do about it. Lydia does not listen to me.”

Lizzy’s tone was sympathetic, but firm. “You are living in their household. Should Lydia be deemed less than respectable, you will share in that judgment more than the rest of us. That is a great disadvantage—but being in their household also means that you are uniquely placed to help avert a catastrophe.”

Mary slouched a little in her seat. “I cannot do anything. Lydia always goes her own way. She will not do anything just because I tell her.”

Lizzy took her hand. “I have thought of that. You cannot disassemble this flirtation of Lydia’s from her side. Anything we do to try to persuade her will only spur her on more recklessly.”

“Then what?”

“You must work on Mr Cole instead.”

Mary blinked in surprise. “But I do not know him. Why would he listen to me?”

Lizzy leaned back a little. Her increased ease made Mary wary; it meant Lizzy thought she could bring Mary round to her way of thinking. And Lizzy is usually right. Mary squared her shoulders and tried to look imperturbable as Lizzy said, “He may be a sensible man; perhaps all you will need to do is drop him a hint, or tell him outright it would be better for him to stop flirting with Lydia.”

“And if he is not so sensible?” Experience had taught Mary that Lydia’s friends usually were not sensible people.

“Then you must draw his attention away—split it between you and Lydia. There will still be gossip, but it will mean less if the world is not sure who Mr Cole favours. Indeed, if they think she was only paying him attention for your sake, it will be very respectable indeed.”

Mary’s dry laugh hurt her chest, as though it scraped against an old wound. “Attract a gentleman myself? And worse, one who likes Lydia first? Lizzy, this is a poor joke.”

“You can do it. We are a handsome family, every one of us. You think you are not pretty because you wear old clothes and compare yourself to Jane. None of us are anything compared to Jane.” Lizzy’s eyes crinkled in a rueful expression, showing she had had similar feelings.

“You think that because you have made a brilliant match, we are all capable of it. I assure you, I am not.”

“You are pretty and intelligent, and you have a good heart. You can turn this Mr Cole about your finger if you so choose,” Lizzy insisted.

“Nonsense! I could not, and I would not if I could.” Mary’s chin jerked down. “It is wrong to engage in idle flirtation.”

“Is it idle when it saves Lydia’s reputation?”

“The ends do not justify the means.” Mary knew she sounded sententious, but she clung to her idea of virtue to avoid being swept away by Lizzy’s intensity—and a secret gleam of interest of her own. Was it true? Could Mary be the sort of person Lizzy imagined, a wily, charming belle who snatched men from the grasp of her sister? It seemed a ridiculous dream, but one with a glamour that intrigued her despite herself.

“Are there not examples in the Bible of women laying out to attract men for the greater good?” Lizzy said.

Mary could not resist the opportunity to display her scriptural knowledge. “I am no Esther, nor am I Ruth.”

“I am only saying that your morals need not cavil at such a project.” When Mary hesitated, Lizzy made the most of it, bearing down with an entreaty Mary found hard to resist. “Please, Mary. It is for the good of the whole family, and Lydia’s as well. Surely you do not wish to see her scorned and shunned?”

A sliver of guilt slid into Mary’s gut. She had entertained thoughts of some disaster befalling the Wickhams, and readied herself to deal with it—was that not wishing ill on them? Of course I do not really wish to see Lydia hurt. But the thought meant little when she compared it to her self-righteous imaginings of the last few weeks, and she felt she had no real evidence of sisterly kindness to prove her heart pure. Doing what Lizzy asked of her would be proof, though.

“I will speak to Mr Cole, then. I cannot promise more.”

“Thank you, Mary. You have relieved Mr Darcy and me of a weighty burden of worry.”

Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing this excerpt.

About the Author:

After acquiring a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Arkansas, Elizabeth taught philosophy in the U.S. and co-taught English in Japan. Now she and her husband live in northwest Arkansas, which is over 4,000 miles from Derbyshire. (Doesn’t everyone measure distance from the center of the world, Pemberley?)

She dreams of visiting Surrey (if only to look for Mrs. Elton’s Maple Grove), London, Bath, and of course, Derbyshire. When she has a Jane Austen novel in one hand, a cup of tea in the other, and a cat on her lap, her day is pretty much perfect.

Elizabeth Rasche is the author of Flirtation and Folly, as well as The Birthday Parties of Dragons. Her poetry has appeared in Scifaikuest.

GIVEAWAY:

The giveaway is international and for an ebook copy of A Learned Romance. One winner per blog stop, and winners will be announced a week after the blog tour ends on the Quills & Quartos Facebook page. Good Luck!

Guest Post from Brittany Benko, author of Poetic Poetry

Today’s guest article is with Brittany Benko, a poet, freelance writer, and blogger. She’ll be talking about her new book, Poetic Poetry.

First, a little bit about the book:

Poetic Poetry is a poetry collection that speaks to the soul about everyday life. In this collection, you’ll find rhyming and contemporary pieces. Painting a picture with words, readers will enter the world of beaches in the Carolinas, the Blue Ridge Mountains, seasons, love, faith, flowers, the pandemic, the passion of motherhood, experiences with an autistic child, and much more.

Please welcome, Brittany:

When I was thirteen years old, my mom and I moved from a big city to a small beach town in South Carolina. My mother at the time was going through a divorce and wanted to live near her sisters so she could start a new life. The year we moved was 2000, and to this day I still reside in the Palmetto State.

As a poet, I tend to write with passion and life experience. I’ve spent many years enjoying the beach and soaking in its beauty. As a beach local, I’ve become accustomed to the environment. Sights and smells can be easily recognized, and the water has always called out to my soul. This makes it extremely simple to write about a beach environment.

In my book I have a few poems written about the area I live in. My goal was to explain what living in a beach town is like including both pros and cons. It’s effortless to close my eyes and picture the colors in the sky over the ocean, smell the saltwater, and feel the waves hitting my feet in the shallow end of the ocean. I think readers yearn to capture a connection when they read any type of book, and writing about an area they live in can do just that. Plus, it makes it effortless for me to capture imagery and emotions on paper.

As a writer, I like to create stories from a mixture of emotion, experience, knowledge, and passion. I think it’s important to write about what you’re passionate about and what you enjoy. Poetry is something I relish. I like the creative freedom poetry gives the writer, and also the challenge of explaining a topic through rhyming poetry. My goal is to bring back rhyming poetry to the world of poets and poetry readers with as much heart felt moments as I can muster.

Thank you, Brittany, for stopping by the blog today.

Learn more about Brittany in her interview at Laura’s Books & Blogs.

About the Author:

Brittany Benko is a special needs mother, law enforcement wife, self-published author, poetry blogger, and freelance writer. She has been featured as a poet in the Autism Parenting Magazine and the Open Door Poetry Magazine. Brittany is currently working on a children’s picture book about autism spectrum disorder and a poetry collection about law enforcement lifestyle. When Brittany is not writing she enjoys spending time with her family, walks on the beach, reading, and listening to instrumental music. You can connect with Brittany by visiting her two websites: author website and poetry. She’s also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.