Simon Tanner


The Albany, where David and Simon have rooms

The Albany, where David and Simon have rooms

Above is The Albany, in Piccadilly, where David and Simon have lodgings, and where Malcolm lived before he went to the Peninsula. A number of famous gentlemen lodged in The Albany, including Lord Byron, Gladstone and the fictional Ernest/Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest. The Mayfair Affair includes scenes set in David and Simon’s rooms in The Albany. The Duke of Trenchard, who is murdered at the start of the book, is the husband of David’s eldest sister Mary, so David and Simon are caught up in the investigation. The involvement of the Mallinson family puts a lot of strain on Malcolm’s friendship with David.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tracy

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Happy Holidays! Hope everyone celebrating any of the midwinter holidays is having a wonderful holiday season. For all the chaos, I love this time of year. Decorations, treats, time with friends and family.

Because this is a family time of year, December’s teaser from The Paris Affair show Suzanne/Mel and Colin with his honorary uncle, Simon, visiting a family of new characters in Paris’s Left Bank.

I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter in which Aline writes to Gisele about the Fraser/Ramnoch Christmas in Paris in 1815.

“Thank you for coming with me,” Suzanne said to Simon, as their fiacre clattered through the cramped, twisting maze of the Left Bank. Colin bounced on her lap, face pressed to the grimy window.
Simon grinned. “I’m always pleased when you and Malcolm let civilians assist you.” He leaned back in his corner of the cracked leather seat and studied her across the fiacre. “How are you?” he asked softly.
Suzanne steadied Colin as he squirmed on her lap. “You mean besides investigating another mysterious death?”
“I haven’t asked you in a while. You look a bit less haggard than you did in Brussels.”
“Aren’t we all?” Her mind went back to their house in the Rue Ducale in Brussels, the black-and-white marble floor tiles lined with pallets on which wounded soldiers lay, the smells of laudanum and Waterloo had touched all of them, but in addition the investigation into Julia Ashton’s murder had been a strain, not just on Suzanne and Malcolm and Cordelia and Harry, but on Simon and David as well. The secrets uncovered had scarred all of them.
“Quite,” Simon said. “But I don’t think you’re finding Paris entirely easy, either.”
Simon understood her confoundedly well. Which meant he saw far too much. She often thought it was because like her he was an outsider in the beau monde, so the usual assumptions didn’t apply. “You have to admit the atmosphere in Paris is rather fraught.”
“And the politics not what one could call convivial.”
Simon was a Radical. He hadn’t supported war when Napoleon escaped from Elba. The politics in Paris now weren’t convivial to him or to Malcolm or to David. It didn’t mean he had any special knowledge about her and her past. She had to remember that. “Scarcely.”
Simon tilted his head back. “Just remember that I’m here to listen if ever needed.”
Colin bounced in her lap. “Dragons,” he said, his face pressed to the glass.
Three British dragoons had stopped before a bakery to flirt with a couple of Parisian girls. Colin had become good at spotting different types of soldiers in Brussels. Simon gave an ironic smile. “Even on the Left Bank.” He glanced out the window. “I grew up only a few streets over. One saw more tricolor in those days. And then Republican soldiers.”
They pulled up in a narrow winding street before a blue-shuttered house with a riot of violets spilling from the window boxes. Emile Sevigny himself opened the door to greet them, a wiry man in his early thirties with a bony face and a shock of disordered dark hair. His neckcloth was carelessly tied and a spot of blue paint showed on the shirt cuff peeping out from beneath his rumpled blue coat. “Simon, we got your note this morning. Splendid to see you.”
When Simon introduced Suzanne and Colin, Sevigny said, “Forgive the informality. Simon and I’ve known each other since we were boys. His father was my mentor.”
Emile Sevigny took them through a hall with walls hung with bright watercolors, charcoal sketches, and vivid oil portraits, and floorboards strewn with blocks and tops and a toy wagon, and out into the back garden. Louise Sevigny came towards them. She’d been fashionably dressed when Suzanne met her at the exhibition at the Louvre . Now she wore a simple muslin gown and her red-brown ringlets slipped from their pins beneath a gypsy straw hat. “Simon. It’s been too long since you’ve come to see us.” She lifted her face for his kiss and then held out her hand when he introduced Suzanne and Colin. “Of course. Madame Rannoch. Your husband is the dashing man who does all sorts of secret things for Wellington.”
“My husband would say not to listen to gross exaggerations. Colin, make a bow to Madame Sevigny. You saw some of her husband’s pictures when we went to the Louvre.”
Colin bowed and shook Madame Sevigny’s hand. Louise Sevigny called over her own children, two boys of about eight and two, and suggested they might like to show Colin their fort. The three boys at once darted across the garden to the fort, a paint-spattered tablecloth draped over two bushes. Louise and Emile Sevigny smiled. It was a good thing, Suzanne thought, that most spymasters didn’t realize how wonderful children were at creating diversions and putting suspects at their ease.
Louise Sevigny waved the adults towards a wrought-iron table set in the shade of a lilac tree. A maid emerged from the house with a tray of chilled white wine and almond cakes.
Emile cast a glance at the children as he poured the wine. “Simon and I were like that once at his parents’ house.”
“Save that Emile always dragged me off to the studio.” Simon accepted a glass of wine. “He found the sight of my father at work much more entrancing than I did.”
“It meant a lot, having someone take my youthful paint smears seriously.” Emile returned the wine bottle to its cooler. “I’ve started a new painting. The conspirators in the capitol after the assassination of Julius Caesar.”
Simon stared at him. “Good God, you madman.”
Emile gave a grin that turned him into a mischievous schoolboy. “It’s a classical subject. Something of a tribute to your father’s style.”
“My father could be a madman, too, when it came to running risks with the authorities.”
“And you’re a model of sober caution? I read the reviews of your plays, Simon. You’ve had the government censor close you down more than once.”
“There’s a big difference between risking a theatre being closed and risking—”
Emile shot a glance at Louise. She was watching him with a steady concern that reminded Suzanne of the moments she watched Malcolm go into danger. Knowing that to give way to any impulse to stop him would be to deny who he was. Not to mention who she was. Emile settled back in his chair. “People can take from the painting what they will. The assassination of a general who aspired to be an emperor could easily be a commentary on Bonaparte. A way of atoning for having painted the Bonaparte family.”
“My father would be proud of you,” Simon said.
“I hope so.”
“The truth is Emile has to do something other than society portraits or he’d go mad,” Louise said.
Simon took a sip of wine. “You both seem more at ease than the last time we met.”
Emile exchanged a look with his wife again. “We’ve just learned to laugh in the face of adversity. Forgive me, Madame Rannoch,” he added quickly. “These aren’t easy times for someone who painted the Bonaparte family.”
“I quite understand, Monsieur Sevigny. My husband deplores what’s been happening in Paris. As do I.”
Emile inclined his head. “It’s worse for others. Men like St. Gilles, who were more outspoken.”
“Including against Bonaparte.” Simon glanced at Suzanne. “Paul St. Gilles is a committed Republican.”
“So he was equally disgusted with Bonaparte and Louis?” Suzanne recalled a striking seascape by Paul St. Gilles she’d seen at the Louvre.
“He thought Bonaparte was the lesser of two evils,” Emile said. “Which is enough to render him anathema to the Ultra Royalists.”
Louise shivered. “I keep thinking about Paul and Juliette and the children. Dreadful.” She cast a glance at her own children, whose shiny black shoes and white-stockinged ankles peeped out from beneath the tablecloth fort.
“But I’m far less important than St. Gilles,” Emile said.
Louise turned her gaze to him, frowning.
Emile touched her hand. “My wife has an inflated sense of my importance.” He leaned back in his chair. “It hasn’t stopped the commissions, thankfully.”
Simon brushed crumbs of almond cake from his fingers. “I’d like to see what you’re working on. Particularly this Julius Caesar piece.”
“Of course.” Emile turned to the ladies.
“I’d best stay out here.” Suzanne glanced at the tablecloth fort from whence high-pitched chatter now emitted. “You wouldn’t think it, but ever since Waterloo Colin gets a bit nervous when I’m out of sight.”
“It will give us a chance to talk,” Louise said with an easy smile.
Emile refilled the ladies’ wineglasses before he and Simon went into the house, already deep in a conversation about capturing the quality of light.
“Simon’s a dear friend,” Louise said, looking after them.
“One of the first of my husband’s friends I felt at ease with,” Suzanne said. “I often think it’s because he knows what it is to be an outsider.”
“Yes, that’s it precisely.” Louise gave her a quick smile. “And that makes him at home anywhere.”
“It’s quite a knack.” Suzanne settled back in her chair in the sort of pose that invited confidences. “I can’t say being an outsider has quite done that for me. I certainly didn’t feel at home when Malcolm took me to Britain last year.”
“I know precisely what you mean. Marriage is supposed to make one belong, but sometimes it just makes one feel hopelessly lost and lonely.” Louise glanced round the garden. “Though it doesn’t seem to have done that for me.” She took a sip of wine. “I was married before Emile.”
“To the Comte de Carnot.”
“Yes.” Louise stared into the pale gold wine, as though looking into a troubled past. She must be in her midtwenties, but her wide blue eyes and soft-featured face made her appear younger than her years. “A very different life. I’d say it seems like a dream now, save that it’s more like a nightmare.”
Sometimes honesty was the best way to discover information. Which was rather a relief. Suzanne took a fortifying sip of wine and set down her glass. “Madame Sevigny. I confess I’ve been hoping for a word with you.”

My current WIP, the book after The Paris Affair, is set in London in October 1817. This is the point where the Malcolm & Suzanne chronology takes a parallel track to the Charles & Mélanie chronology, with Malcolm and Suzanne experiencing a lot of the same revelations and events as Charles and Mel, though under different circumstances. By the end of this book, Malcolm and Suzette won’t quite be where Charles and Mel are after The Mask of Night (they’ll be rather more raw), but I should be able to write the book I planned to write after The Mask of Night.

The book I’m writing now is a book I’ve been both excited and nervous to write. It’s challenging to revisit key moments in Malcolm/Charles and Suzette/Mel’s relationship and try to make them fresh. But I’m also finding it fun and fascinating to explore those revelations from different angles. The book is set in 1817 and parallels some events from both Beneath a Silent Moon and Secrets of a Lady. The plot that surrounds those revelations is very different – Colin isn’t kidnapped, Kenneth has already died, Malcolm and Suzanne are investigating a very different mystery from either of the other books (centered around Simon’s theatre and a mysterious manuscript that may be by Shakespeare), and Malcolm learns about Suzanne’s past in a very different way. Today I decided that the revelations would unfold in a different order, with Malcolm learning about his parentage before his learns Suzanne’s secret, which shifts the emotional response and reaction for both him and Suzette.

But part of the change is the characters themselves. I know them better now. I’ve explored more of their history. Malcolm is more aware of his own role as a spy, the compromises he’s made and the moral dilemmas he’s faced. I’m still working out what this will mean for his reaction, but it means it will be more complex than Charles’s torrent of anger and hurt. I know the texture of Malcolm and Suzanne’s relationship and just how strong a partnership they had, which, I think, will also shift Suzanne’s reaction as well and how they work through their problems.

I jumped ahead and wrote the first draft of their big confrontation yesterday (with Scrivener, I find I write more out of chronological order). I have a lot more thinking and exploring to do, but I hope the result will be satisfying and illuminating both to readers who’ve taken this journey with Charles and Mélanie and readers who are experiencing it for the first time with Malcolm and Suzanne.

I’ve just posted a new letter to the Fraser Correspondence from Aline to Gisèle again, this one written after Waterloo.

Imperial Scandal has been out for over a week, and I know some people have read it, so I thought this would be a good time to start a discussion thread. All comments and questions welcome (even if you haven’t read the book). To get the discussion going, I thought I’d pose one of the questions from the Reading Group Guide, which I think goes to the heart of the

1. Suzanne, Cordelia, Julia, Jane, and Simon all betray (or in Simon’s case withhold information from) the men in their lives in different ways. How do the betrayals compare? Which do you think is the most devastating?

Speaking of betrayals, I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Mel/Suzanne to Raoul just after her arrival in Brussels.

Plotting Suzanne and Malcolm's next adventure with Audrey and Nancy

Today, 27 March, was Imperial Scandal’s official release day. I’m so excited it’s finally out in the world. Excited and a bit nervous. One lives alone with one’s book for so long before publication – it’s wonderful and a bit nerve-wracking to finally get readers’ reactions. With the battle of Waterloo at the heart of the story and some major developments in the character arcs for Suzanne/Mélanie and Malcolm/Charles, Imperial Scandal was a challenging and exciting book to write. The writing of the book is intertwined with the developments in my own life in the past year. When i started working on it I wasn’t even pregnant. I turned it in to my editor just before I learned I had a baby on the way. I finished the revisions as I started the second trimester of my pregnancy. And now the book is being published just after my daughter turned three months old.

Speaking of which, Mélanie and I just got back from a trip to New York. I had a wonderful time taking Mélanie around the Kensington offices, where everyone was so nice to her. Mélanie was awake and smiling and then obligingly slept through a long lunch with my editor Audrey LaFehr and my agent Nancy Yost. Audrey, Nancy, and I had a great time as we always do. We did some great talking about the next books in the series and we discussed the possibility of an enovella, between Imperial Scandal and the next book, that would fill in some of the backstory. I’m thinking of doing it around Suzanne/Mel and Malcolm/Charles’s meeting and marriage. What do you think? Is that something you’d like to read about? What would you like me to touch on in the story in terms of events and POV? Are there other episodes from their past you’d like to see dramatized?

I’m finally back to updating the Fraser Correspondence. I’ve just posted a letter from Mel/Suzette to Simon about their arrival in Brussels.

If you read Imperial Scandal, do let me know what you think!

Last week I did a post-Valentine’s blog on History Hoydens that I thought I’d repeat here for those who missed it. I like to do a romantic moments blog around Valentine’s Day. This year I thought I’d focus on moments where a happy ending for the couple in question seems an impossibility. Sometimes they are the ending to a story. Sometimes they are the bleak moment before a triumphant ending. Either way, they can be intensely romantic, despite or perhaps because of the edge of sorrow.

My examples are mostly historical and come from novels, films, and a Broadway musical.

Venetia by Georgette Heyer. Damerel sending Venetia away for her own good. I feel a heart tug every time I read about him throwing her up into the saddle for the last time. Much as I want to shake Damerel, there’s something that always gets me about a guy trying to be noble.

Atonement by Ian McEwan. Cecilia running after Robbie and embracing him before the police take him away. The fact that she stands by him against the seeming evidence, against her family, against the pressures of class prejudice stunned me the first time I read the book and stunned me the film version as well.

The Silicon Mage by Barbara Hambly. Antryg saying farewell to Joanna before sending her off to her own world, both of them fully expecting him to die. There’s a lovely restraint to the scene which makes the words all the more powerful.

The Empire Strikes Back by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas. Princess Leia saying farewell to Han Solo before he’s frozen in carbonite (“I love you.”/”I know.”). I was talking about this scene to a friend over dinner on Valentine’s Day. The moment my thirteen-year-old self fell in love with Han Solo/Harrison Ford. I still remember sitting with my parents in a restaurant afterwards and saying “It’s so unfair we have to wait so long to find out what happens next.”

“Send in the Clowns”, A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler. Desirée’s song captures the poignancy of the moment when love seems lost, wry irony with a wealth of pain underneath.

Casablanca by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, based on a play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. Rick putting Ilsa on the plane. I can’t think of another scene that is at once so poignant and so satisfyingly right.

Shakespeare in Love by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman. Will and Viola saying goodbye. I find this scene much more painful than the end of Casablanca. And yet there’s the power of the fact that you can already see Will beginning to think about writing again and you see Viola’s will to go on.

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig. Robert sending Charlotte away for her own good. Like the scene in Venetia, this one brings a lump to my throat. But unlike Damerel, who simply thinks he’s too tainted to make Venetia happy, Robert is caught in a dangerous web he really can’t tell Charlotte about. Fortunately for both of them, the intrepid Charlotte unravels things on her own.

Any examples of your own to add? What makes this type of scene work or not work for you? Writers, do you find these scenes harder or easier to write than happy love scenes?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is David’s reply to Simon’s letter of a couple of weeks ago about his visit to his family in the north of England.

Following up on the playlist for Secrets of a Lady I posted a while ago, here’s a playlist for Beneath a Silent Moon:

Moonight Sonata, Ludwig von Beethoven

I spent a lot of time listening to Beethoven sonatas, trying to pick Mélanie’s favorite. I resisted this piece because I was afraid it was too obvious, but I kept coming back to it. This hauntingly beautiful music somehow seems right for Mélanie. She is playing it in the drawing room during Charles and Honoria’s scene on the terrace. It was only after Beneath a Silent Moon was published that I learned, to my profound embarrassment, that this sonata wasn’t called the Moonlight Sonata until after 1817 when the book is set. I was very happy to be able to correct this in the trade reissue. After consulting with a pianist friend, I reworded the lines to have Charles thinks of it as “Mélanie’s favorite Beethoven sonata, the one that always put him in mind of moonlight shimmering against water.”

Il catalogo è questo, Don Giovanni, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart & Lorenzo da Ponte

Leporello’s aria about Don Giovanni’s legion of conquests sums up Honoria’s and Val’s attitudes toward their love affairs. Mel refers to the aria, adding that Val’s appeal was “The eternal lure of Don Juan. Women like to think he’s looking for his one true love and that they’ll be the one to tame him. And all the time all he wants is another name to add to his infernal list.” That line came out of a talk I had with my friend Penny Williamson after a performance of Don Giovanni.

A Weekend in the Country, A Little Night Music, Stephen Sondheim

I love stories where characters with tangle lives and tangled love affairs converge at country house parties, as they do in both Beneath and in A Little Night Music. This song captures the delights and plot complications of a country house party story perfectly.

Per pietà, ben mio, perdona, Così fan tutte, Mozart & da Ponte

As the puzzle pieces are swirling in his head, Charles unconsciously finds himself picking out this aria on his mother’s Broadwood grand pianoforte. In this aria, Fiordiligi resists (with increasing difficulty) the impassioned pleas of her would-be lover Ferrando, not understanding that she is caught up in a romantic game that hinges on a bet. As Mel says, Charles’s choice of music is “Perhaps more apt than you know.”

No Place Like London, Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim

I’ve always loved Sweeney Todd, but it wasn’t until I was watching the recent movie, not long before the reissue of Beneath, that I realized how much this opening song where Sweeney returns to London by boat, reflects Tommy’s attitude in the prologue to Beneath.

ll core vi dono, Così fan tutte, Mozart & da Ponte

Mel recalls joining Charles at the piano in a rendition of this duet, where Dorabella succumbs to Guglielmo’s romantic games. The Merola Opera Program did Così fan tutte the summer I was working on Beneath, and the opera, with its tension between a vision of love as a game and what treating love as a game does to the emotional reality, was definitely an influence on the book.

Being Alive, Company, Stephen Sondheim

As I’ve said before, my idea for Beneath began with the scene between Charles and Mélanie at the end of the book. The inspiration was that scene was the concluding scene in Dorothy Sayers’s Busman’s Honeyroom and this concluding song from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. A song that brilliantly and poignantly sums up why people need other people. And also, I think, sums up Charles’s opening up to Mel at the end of the book.

Do you have any pieces of music to add to the Beneath playlist? I’d love to hear some suggestions. Any pieces of music that call to mind other favorite books? Writers, do you come up with playlists for your own books?

I was watching North & South last night (for the umpteenth time), so in honor of it, this week’s addition to the Fraser Correspondence is a letter Simon writes to David while visiting his family in the industrial north.

My friend Penny Williamson and I spent Friday afternoon at a matinée of the new Star Trek movie. We both loved it. It manages to simultaneously be fresh and innovative and yet true to the original. The actors do a fabulous job of capturing the characters we know so well, in mannerism and vocal patterns (and the way the writers wrote their dialogue). You can really believe these characters will grow into the characters from the original tv series. And yet the new actors never seem to be mimicking, they make the characters their own. Since I love to move back and forth in time in my own writing and examine my characters at different points in their history, I particularly enjoyed the prequel aspect.

As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, Penny and I both love to talk about favorite series. When we first became friends, we spent endless lunches analyzing and speculating over Dorothy Dunnett’s books (this was in the years when the House of Niccolò series was still being written and published). More recently, we could be found picking apart Alias over lattes in our favorite café. Waiting for the movie to start Friday, we were discussing the season finale of Lost. Penny and I’ve been discussing Lost a lot lately. In fact, we talked about it for the entire five hour plus drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to Ashland, Oregon, on our recent trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Lost fascinates and baffles both of us. Usually we can come up with a theory about where we think a story arc is headed (wrong perhaps to varying degrees but at least a theory that works with the information at hand). With Lost, every time we think we have something figured out, the next episode pulls the rug out from under us.

I blogged a while back about the delights of speculating over a series. Part of it of course is trying to unravel the plot. When I was a teenager, my mom and I had numerous discussions about Star Wars in the years between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I still remember the moment when, thinking about Arthurian mythology, I said “oh, I know, Luke and Leia are brother and sister.” Of course, I was thrilled to be proved right when we saw Return of the Jedi (the day it opened). But mostly, I was relieved to see the characters I cared about get the happy ending I so wanted them to have. Thinking about Star Trek and Lost, I realized how much of the allure of an ongoing series is the characters. Characters you care about and root for. Characters who seem to have a rich inner life off the screen/page. Characters you want to learn more about. Characters whose fates seem very real and a matter of great concern (I confess to having tears in my eyes at one point in the new Star Trek movie, and the recent Lost season finale definitely left me choked up).

I returned to the world of another favorite series recently when I read Laurie King’s The Language of Bees. It was a delight to step back into Russell & Holmes’s world. When I finished the book, I didn’t want to leave that world (partly because of the questions left to be answered in the next installment, but mostly because I wanted to spend more time with these characters). I’ve been rereading earlier books in the series since, unable to move on to something new.

What makes you bond with the characters in a particular series? Have you seen the new Star Trek movie? Do you watch Lost? If so, do you have the faintest idea of where the show is headed? :-).

Returning to my own series, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is Cecily Summers’s reply to Mélanie’s letter from last week about their children and the Edinburgh premiere of Simon’s play.

lunch-with-cc-0021

Hope everyone is enjoying the mid-winter holiday season. I had a wonderful holiday lunch this week with some of my writer friends. Left to right: Bella Andre, Catherine Coulter, Penelope Williamson, Jami Alden, Monica McCarty, me.

We had a great time, talking books and writing. Which is one of my favorite things to do, whether over lunch with friends on or this blog. This week’s video clip is a few more words about writing, in this case about one of my favorite characters, Simon Tanner.

Do you have a favorite character in the Charles & Mélanie books? What makes the character a favorite? And if you’re favorite is Charles or Mel, do you have a favorite secondary character? Favorite characters to mention from other books or from your own writing?

Evening update: I’ve just added this week’s addition to the Fraser Correspondence, a letter from Lady Frances to Raoul about Gisèle’s forthcoming marriage.