Wishing everyone warm and magical midwinter holidays. It’s been a busy ten days. My daughter Mélanie Cordelia arrived at 11:34 pm on 13 December 2011. There we are above at her first restaurant dinner (more pictures on Facebook). We’ve been having a lot of fun settling in together, and the holiday season is the perfect time to introduce her to lots of friends and family. It still seems miraculous that she’s hear, and yet it’s already hard to imagine there was ever a time she wasn’t part of my life.

Just after Mélanie was born, another of my historical romantic suspense novels, Rightfully His, was released as an ebook on Nook, Kindle, and All Romance Books. Good timing, as Rightfully His begins during the holiday season in 1822.

As my holiday post, here’s another teaser from Imperial Scandal. In honor of Mélanie’s birth, it’s a scene in which Mélanie/Suzanne, Cordelia Davenport, and Aline talk about motherhood. It occurs the day after the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, when the Allied Army has marched off to meet the French. I’ll draw the name of a commenter to receive another ARC at the start of the new year. And I’ll try to post a holiday Fraser Correspondence letter next week.

Warmest wishes for 2012!


When the children were settled in the nursery with Livia’s and Robbie’s nurses, examining Colin’s toys, Mélanie took Cordelia down to the salon where she’d had coffee sent in.
“It’s good to see them playing.” Cordelia rubbed her arms. “I keep waiting for it to hit Robbie that Julia’s gone. Then I’m afraid it has, and he didn’t see her enough for it to matter as it should.”
“Your sister was–“
“Restless. She thought she knew what she wanted when we were girls. But once she had it, it didn’t make her happy. Then she wasn’t sure what to do with herself. Sometimes I’m afraid having Robbie was like ticking off one more item on a list of things she was supposed to do. Whereas for me–” Cordelia shook her head. “Motherhood was a distinct surprise.”
“It was for me as well,” Mélanie said and then bit her tongue, her instinct to confide warring with every dictate of a trained agent.
Cordelia looked at her for a moment, the supposedly perfect wife who presumably would have been eager to give her husband children. Mélanie couldn’t be sure what Cordelia saw, but she had a dismaying fear that her carefully constructed defenses had slipped.
But instead of asking questions, Cordelia glanced out the window into the garden. “Livia’s been talking about Harry ever since yesterday.”
“That’s good surely.”
“Yes, but I can’t help worrying she’s met him only to–“
“Cordelia.” Mélanie went to the other woman’s side, biting back the obvious platitudes. “Even if she never sees him again, it’s better for her to have the one good memory.”
Cordelia nodded. The gaze she lifted to Mélanie held unimagined horrors. “I can’t bear the thought that last night was the last time I’ll see him. So commonplace. I’m sure women all over the city are saying that this morning.”
“Which doesn’t make it any less real.”
“Lowering to realize I’m just like everyone else. I’ve always prided myself on being an original.”
“War provides a sad amount of commonality.”
The door opened to admit Aline who came into the room with a determined step. “Valentin took my bags up. I told him there was no need to bother you. The streets were so quiet on the way here. Now the bugles and fifes and marching have stopped I could almost imagine it was a hideous nightmare. If Brussels weren’t so eerily empty.” She dropped down on the sofa and reached for the coffee pot. “I don’t think I slept a wink.”
“Nor did I.” Cordelia moved to the sofa. “Do pour me out a cup as well.”
Aline filled three cups letting loose the rich aroma of the coffee. “The Comtesse de Ribaucourt is organizing ladies to prepare lint this afternoon. I thought it might be good to feel one was doing something useful.”
“I never saw myself as the lint-scraping sort,” Cordelia said, “but I quite agree.”
Aline gulped down a sip of coffee. “People keep saying one can’t admit the possibility of defeat. But whichever way the battle goes, there are going to be wounded.”
Mélanie reached for her own coffee and took a fortifying sip. That was what she had told herself for years. People died in war. Different people might die because of her actions, but people would die regardless.
“Mélanie?” Aline said. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, love. Just a bit-“
“Overwhelmed,” Cordelia concluded for her. “Commonplace or not it’s overwhelming.”
“I wish I’d paid more attention when Geoff was patching people up. At the moment those skills seem infinitely useful than solving quadratic equations.” Aline pushed herself to her feet. “Damn. I did so want to avoid this.”
“War?” Cordelia asked.
“Caring about people.” Aline strode to the window and stood staring out at the garden. “Oh, I’ve always cared about my family in the detached way our family does. But for years I thought I was above personal relationships. Or not worthy of them. Or something. Numbers always seemed so much safer. It wasn’t until last night I realized how very right I was.”
“Would you go back?” Cordelia asked. “Would you change any of it if you could?”
Aline turned round and shook her head at once. “Of course not.” Her hand went to her stomach. “I can’t imagine my life without Geoff. Or the baby, even though the baby still scarcely seems real half the time.”
Cordelia nodded and took a sip of coffee. “If you wouldn’t change anything, then you’re more fortunate than most. How soon can we start scraping lint?”

I received a wonderful present this week – an envelope filled with gorgeous coverflats for Imperial Scandal. To celebrate, I’ll be giving a signed coverflat to one of the commenters on this week’s post, a teaser from Imperial Scandal.

I blogged a while ago about the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, an iconic entertainment at which Wellington received confirmation that Napoleon was on the march. The ball was on 15 June, 1815. The battle of Waterloo followed on 18 June. This month’s teaser picks up on Mélanie/Suzanne at the ball with Aline Blackwell and the Duchess of Richmond’s daughter Georgiana Lennox.


Swags of crimson, gold, and black, the Royal colors of the Netherlands, veiled the rose trellis wallpaper in the Duchess of Richmond’s ballroom. Ribbons and flowers garlanded the pillars. The younger Lennoxes had thrown open the windows that ran along one side of the room, letting in a welcome breeze to stir the hot, heavy air. Cool moonlight blended on the parquet floor with warmer light from the brilliant chandeliers. The flames of dozens of branches of candles shimmered in the dark glass of the French windows and the brightly polished gilt-edged mirrors. The strains of a waltz rose above the clink of glasses and buzz of brittle talk. But Mélanie had the oddest sense the delicate atmosphere could shatter as easily as one could break a champagne glass with a silver spoon.
“There are so many dignitaries present, from so many countries,” Georgiana Lennox said. “It’s quite a chore keeping precedence straight.”
“Just like Vienna,” Aline murmured.
Indeed the profusion of medals, braid, and gold and silver lace glittering in the candlelight called to mind scenes at the Congress, as did the perfume, beeswax, and sweat vying with the sweet of aroma from the banks of roses and lilies that decorated the room. But the two hundred some guests crowding Georgiana’s mother’s ballroom were a small crowd compared to the thousand and more Prince and Princess Metternich had entertained at their villa.
“It looks splendid,” Mélanie said.
Georgiana gave a smile slightly strained about the edges. “You’d never guess my sisters use this room as a schoolroom, would you? Or that we’ve been known to play battledore and shuttlecock in here.” She scanned the crowd. “I do wish Wellington would come.”
“He may have ordered the army ready to march,” Aline said, “but he obviously isn’t in a panic. Half his officers are here.”
“But there’s a distinct dearth of Dutch-Belgians.” Georgiana tugged at a loose thread in her sleeve. “None of General Perponcher’s officers has put in an appearance.”
“Lord Hill is saying everything that is reassuring.” Mélanie scanned the soldiers thronging the floor with ladies in gauzy, ribbon-trimmed gowns in a hothouse of colors—lilac, rose, Pomona green, jonquil, cerulean blue. Her gaze settled on a man in Belgian uniform. Good God. Surely that handsome face with the slanting cheekbones belonged to General de la Bédoyère, who had taken his regiment over to Napoleon and was now one of his aides-de-camp. La Bédoyère met her gaze for the briefest moment, a reckless glint in his eyes, then continued to glance round the room.
Aline pulled her lace shawl closer about her shoulders despite the heat in the room. “Georgy’s right, Perponcher’s officers not being here is worrying.”
Georgiana shot a surprised look at her. “You’re always so calm, Allie.”
“Calm?” Aline’s voice turned unwontedly sharp. “My insides are roiling about, and for once I don’t think it’s anything to do with the baby.”
“My husband’s military doctor, Georgy. That means he’ll be near the front. Which does rather strain one’s savoir-faire.”
Mélanie put an arm round Aline and squeezed her shoulders. With everything else going on these past days, she’d quite failed to think about what her young cousin was going through. “Geoff’s been through countless battles.”
“And he’ll be in much less danger than the soldiers. I know.” Aline’s shoulders were taut beneath Mélanie’s arm. “But somehow it doesn’t help.”
Georgiana flicked her fan open and then closed. “The Prince of Orange gave it to me,” she said, fingering the amber sticks. “So odd to think of him commanding troops. I can’t help–“
“If one ignores the smell of nervousness in the air and half the conversation, it could almost be a normal evening.” Cordelia emerged from the crowd to stand beside them. Though Mélanie knew just how little time her friend had had to tend to her toilette, she was as dramatic as always in jet-beaded gossamer net over cream-colored silk.
“Define normal,” Aline said.
“There’s the rub. If–” Cordelia broke off as a tall, sandy-haired man in a colonel’s uniform came toward them. Colonel Peregrine Waterford. Mélanie had met him in the Peninsula and seen him once or twice in Brussels.
Waterford greeted all the women, but his gaze lingered on Cordelia, warm with memories. “I was hoping I could persuade you to dance.” His voice was a bit slurred, as though he’d been dipping too deep into the Richmonds’ excellent champagne.
Cordelia’s answering smile was as distant as it was polite. “Thank you, Colonel, but I won’t dance tonight. My sister died only two days ago.”
Embarrassment shot through the colonel’s eyes. He murmured an apology and his condolences on her loss, then quickly took himself off.
“How ill-mannered,” Georgiana said. “I’m sorry, Cordelia.”
“I’m the one who should apologize, Georgy. Your mother wouldn’t thank me for letting you so close to one of my scandals.”
“Oh, stuff.” Georgiana gave a quick flick of her fan. A great deal had changed in her attitude toward Cordelia since Stuart’s ball two days ago. “Scandal seems quite irrelevant now.”
“Scandal is sadly never irrelevant. And the past seems to be always with us. Oh, good, here’s someone who should know something. Lord Uxbridge.” Cordelia held out her hand to the cavalry commander, who was walking toward them. “Do tell us you have news.”
“I’m afraid not.” Uxbridge bowed over her hand. “But surely you don’t think all the officers would have leave to be here were the situation really dire?”
“Yes,” Cordelia said, “if Wellington wanted people to believe the situation less dire than it is.”
Uxbridge threw back his head and laughed. “Touché. It’s a pity you couldn’t have joined the cavalry, Cordy. I could have made something of you.”
“It’s just so hard not knowing,” Georgiana said. “Three of my brothers are in the army, as is Mrs. Blackwell’s husband.”
“And my husband,” Cordelia said.
Georgiana cast a quick glance at her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think–”
“Quite understandable. But Harry is my husband and the father of my daughter, and as it happens his fate is a matter of some concern to me.”
Uxbridge looked at her, brows drawing together. “Cordelia-”
“Lord Uxbridge.” Cordelia put her hands on his shoulders with the familiarity of an old friend. “Tell us the truth.”
Uxbridge smiled down at her. “The truth, my dear Cordelia, is that I know little more than you.”
“But you rather think Wellington should have told you more as second in command you.”
“You never heard me say so, Cordy.”
Cordelia laughed.
Georgiana shivered. “How can you laugh at a time like this?”
Cordelia smiled at the younger woman and put an arm round her. “My dear Georgy. It’s difficult to see what else we can do.”
“Spoken like a soldier’s wife,” Uxbridge said. He smiled as he spoke, but Mélanie caught a flicker in his gaze. She suspected he was thinking of his own wife, home in England with their children, and the chances that she’d find herself a widow.
The waltz on the dance floor had come to an end. A wail cut the air that took Mélanie back to the previous summer. Dunmykel, Charles’s family estate in Perthshire. Granite cliffs, the tang of salt water, clean pine-scented air. and the unmistakable sound of bagpipes. Kilted sergeants and privates from the 92nd Foot and the 42nd Royal Highlanders marched into the room. The candlelight gleamed off their white sporrans and the brilliant tartans that trailed over their shoulders.
The crowd drew back and broke into applause. “Mama wanted to show off Highland dances,” Georgiana murmured. Her mother was a daughter of the Duke of Gordon. “She did so want the evening to be memorable.” Georgiana bit her lip, for the evening was almost bound to be memorable for reasons that had nothing to do with the entertainment.
Yet when crossed swords glinted on the parquet floor and the Highlanders danced over them to the wail of the pipes, it was almost enough to drive out thoughts of the coming battle. Except that those swords looked all too lethal.
Mélanie felt a light touch at her waist as the sword dance gave way to a strathspey. “I could almost imagine I’m home,” Charles murmured.
She twisted her head round to glimpse an ache of longing in her husband’s eyes. She’d seen last summer how much Dunmykel meant to him. Even after their visit she didn’t understand the reasons for his self-imposed exile from his home and family. A homesickness he would never admit to was sharp in his gaze now. With a chill, she realized he was wondering if he’d ever see Dunmykel again.
She caught his hand in her own and squeezed it hard. He smiled at her. “You’re missing the show.”
She turned back to the dancers. Their legs, clad in red-checkered stockings, seemed to move ever faster. The sound of the pipes swirled through the candle-warmed air and bounced off the ballroom ceiling. Incredible to think that these musicians and dancers would soon be marching off to battle. On her husband’s side. And against her own.


Do share your thoughts for a chance to win a coverflat (I’ll draw the name next Saturday). And be sure to check out the new Fraser Correspondence letter I just posted from Charles to Lady Frances about Aline and Geoffrey’s betrothal.

I’ve been loving all the thoughtful comments on my Love & Protectiveness post. I blogged about the topic on History Hoydens as well this week. Isobel Carr commented, “It’s a fine line issue. I think PEOPLE (male and female) have a natural impulse to try and protect those they love. If the “hero” is willing to accept this from the “heroine”, and his own protection doesn’t simply come down to sidelining the heroine as though she were a child, then I think it can work either way.”

I’ve been working on the copy edits for Imperial Scandal, and in light of Isobel’s comment a particular exchange between Charles/Malcolm and Mélanie/Suzanne, shortly before the battle of Waterloo, jumped out at me.

“How long?” she asked, keeping her voice level. After all, she had known for months that this day would come.
“A few days at most, I should think.” His fingers tightened over her own. “Sweetheart, if you want to go to Antwerp–“
She jerked her hands from his clasp. “Don’t you dare suggest I run away.”
“I’m not. But your hands are like ice.”
She hugged her arms over her chest. “War is about to break out. I’m worried about our friends. I’m worried about my husband.”
“I’m not going to be anywhere near the fighting.”
“Liar.” Screams echoed in her ears. Blood glistened on the cobblestones before her eyes. “I’ve already gone through one war with you, don’t forget.”
His gaze moved over her face. “I can’t, Mel.”
“Can’t what?”
“Promise to stay here in Brussels with you.”
She swallowed. She’d made her choices a long time ago. She would have to live with them. “I wouldn’t ask that of you. Any more than you’d ask it of me.”
“Well then.” He touched her arm. “This is nothing we haven’t been through before.”
For a moment she was sitting beside a camp bed where her wounded husband lay a few months into their oddly begun marriage, holding Malcolm’s hand and staring at his ashen face, wondering if she’d ever have the chance to speak to him again. But even then– “It was different,” she said, her voice rough. “We weren’t– We didn’t– We mean more to each other now. We have more to lose.”

Later, during the hell of the battle, Charles/Malcolm has this exchange with Geoffrey Blackwell in the midst of a British infantry square filled with wounded men:

Blackwell cast a glance round the square. “I’d give a lot to have Suzanne here.”
“So would I. ” Charles shook his head. “Odd. A man should want to protect his wife from this.”
“Not a man who knows his wife as well as you do.”

Do you think protectiveness cuts both ways for heroes and heroines?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Geoffrey Blackwell to Lady Frances asking for Aline’s hand in marriage. It was a challenge to get into Geoffrey’s head to write what could not but be a difficult letter. Let me know what you think.

Mist hung over the fields, mixed with smoke from the Allied cooking fires and those of the French on the opposite ridge. Steam rose from cheap tea brewed in iron kettles. The smell of clay pipes and officers’ cigars mingled with the stench of wool still sodden from the night’s rain. Shots split the air as soldiers fired their guns to clean them.
“Waste of ammunition,” Davenport said to Charles. “It’s going to be a long day.”
And it had yet to properly begin. A breeze gusted over what would be the battlefield, stirring the corn, cutting through the curtain of mist. Wellington had taken up a position before the small village of Mont-Saint-Jean. Fitzroy had said that the duke would have preferred the position across the field at the inn of La Belle Alliance, which Bonaparte occupied, but the Allied position had its advantages. Wellington had seen the ground when he was in Brussels the previous year. Charles remembered the duke mentioning the slope of the land to the north which would allow him to keep most of his troops out of sight of an enemy across the field.
To the left stood the fortified farm La Haye Sainte, with white-washed walls and a blue-tiled roof that gleamed where the sunlight broke the mist, and still farther to the left the twin farms of Papelotte and La Haye. To the right, in a small valley hidden by cornfields, was Hougoumont, a pretty, walled château surrounded by a wood and a hedged orchard. Both had been garrisoned with Allied soldiers.
The ground before them sloped down to a valley, through which the road to Charleroi ran, then rose to the ridge on which stood La Belle Alliance. On this ridge, the French army had begun to deploy. An elegant, masterful pageant. Charles lifted his spyglass. Lancers with white-plumed shapkas on their heads, Chasseurs with plumes of scarlet and green, Hussars, Dragoons, Cuirassiers, and Carabiniers, and the Imperial Guard in their scarlet-faced blue coats. Gunners adjusted the position of their weapons. Pennants snapped in the breeze and gold eagles caught the sun as it battled the mist.
“Sweet Jesus,” Davenport murmured.
“Bonaparte understands the value of theatre,” Charles said.
“Unless he’s also a master of illusion, there are a bloody lot of them. I hope to God the Prussians get here.”
Charles cast a glance along the Allied lines. “We happy few.”
“Shakespeare was a genius, but he’d never been on a battlefield. Do you know what you’re in for, Fraser?”
“I’ve seen battles before,” Charles said, scenes from the Peninsula fresh in his mind. “But I don’t think any of us has seen anything like what’s about to unfold.”

That’s an excerpt from Imperial Scandal (on which I’m finishing up revisions), which finds Charles/Malcom and Harry Davenport (estranged husband of Cordelia Davenport, whom you met in last month’s teaser) on the morning of the battle of Waterloo. Yesterday, 18 June, was the 196th anniversary of Waterloo. In June 1815 the British, the Dutch-Belgians, and the Prussians were spread out along the border between Belgium (part of the Netherlands after Napoleon’s downfall) and France, the British and their Dutch-Belgian allies to the west of the old Roman road from Bavay to Maastricht, the Prussians to the east. Eventually, when their Austrian allies were ready, they would advance into France to take on Napoleon, returned to power after his escape from Elba. But if Napoleon, as seemed likely, crossed the border first they would close in and trap him. Only of course it was a long border and there were any number of ways the master strategist Napoleon Bonaparte could move. Together, the Allies and the Prussians outnumbered the French. But if he could separate them, Napoleon would have the advantage.

Last Wednesday, 15 June, was the anniversary of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, at which rumors were already rife that the French had crossed the border. Earlier in the day, the Duke of Wellington, commander of the Allied British and Dutch-Belgian army, knew there had been attacks on Prussians outposts and the French had been seen to the south around Charleroi. But he suspected the attacks were a feint and the real attack would come from the west, to separate the Allies from the sea and their supply routes. He’d ordered the army ready to march, but he was waiting for confirmation of where the French attack was coming from. Wellington let the ball (given by his good friends the Duke and Duchess of Richmond) go forward because to have canceled it would have led to panic in the city and encouraged the many Bonapartists among the Dutch-Belgian citizens. Also, most of officers of rank would be there, and it was a good chance to speak with them.

At the ball, Wellington received confirmation that Napoleon had crossed into Belgium through Charleroi to the south to separate the British and Dutch-Belgians from their Prussian allies. He famously exclaimed “Napoleon has humbugged me by God!” He then went into the Duke of Richmond’s study to look at a map of Belgium and said he had ordered the army to concentrate at the crossroads of Quatre-Bras, but they wouldn’t stop him there. “In which case,” Wellington is reported to have said, “I must fight him here,” pressing his thumb down on the mao. In Imperial Scandal, Malcolm/Charles is present for the scene. He moves to the duke’s side to see that Wellington’s thumbnail rests on a small village called Waterloo.

The Allies fought the French, under Marshall Ney, at Quatre-Bras on 16 June. The results were inconclusive, but on 17 June the the Allies had to fall back north toward Brussels to keep close to the Prussians, who had been driven back by Marshall Grouchy. The retreat took place in torrential rain, thunder, and lightning. Wellington and the other senior commanders and their staffs spent the night of the 17th in quartered in the village of Waterloo. The battle took place the next day, 18 June, on a nearby stretch of ground between two ridges on which each army assembled.

Waterloo was a particularly bloody battle with some 47,000 soldiers killed or wounded. At the end of the day, the field, a relatively confined stretch of ground, was strewn with dead or dying or wounded men and horses. The 5th division was reduced from four thousand to little more than four hundred. General Cavalié Mercer of the Royal Horse Artillery reported that “of the 200 fine horses with which we had entered the battle, upwards of 140 lay dead, dying, or severely wounded.”

The Waterloo scenes in Imperial Scandal are some of the most challenging I’ve ever written, both in terms of trying to get all the details right and trying to capture the characters’ experience. As with any action scene involving multiple people, it’s hard to give a sense of the sweep of the whole scene while being true to a character’s POV and their visceral reality (an individual probably doesn’t have a sense of how the full battle is unfolding). In An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer uses an omniscient POV for much of her Waterloo description. Bernard Cornwell also moves into omniscient POV at times in his Sharpe novel Waterloo. Both use omniscient POV to great effect to convey the battle as a whole, while then moving back to their main characters to give immediaacy. I didn’t do that (my goal is less to describe the whole battle than to try to capture my characters’ experience of it), but I did use multiple POVs, both British and French, to try to capture different aspects of the battle and also different characters’ experience of it. I invented Harry Davenport initially because I knew I needed a major character who was a soldier (which Charles/Malcolm isn’t). And Harry is an aide-de-camp to Wellington so he moved about delivering messages. Malcolm/Charles also ends up delivering messages (apparently Wellington really did press civilians into service to carry messages, as so many of his aides-de-camp were killed). And then I also have Raoul to give a French perspective on the events (and he and Charles/Malcolm have an unexpected encounter on the battlefield).

Do you have a favorite fictional depiction of Waterloo or another battle? How do you feel about battle scenes in novels? What makes them work or not? Writers, what do you think are the particular challenges of writing battle scenes?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Mel/Suzanne to Raoul about the Carrousel and the plot Princess Tatiana uncovered.

Charles nodded and turned his horse. Men and horses littered the ground, wounded, dying, dead. Bullets sang through the air, shells exploded, cannons rumbled. Beneath his coat, his shirt was plastered to his skin. The smell of blood and powder, the screams of men and horses, the sight of gaping wounds and blown off limbs had become monotonous reality. He steered his horse round two dead dragoons sprawled over the body of a horse with the lower part of its face shot off.

That’s a quote from Imperial Scandal, which I’m currently in the midst of revising. Imperial Scandal begins in a world much like that of Vienna Waltz, at a ball given by the British ambassador (where you met Cordelia Davenport in last week’s excerpt). But that glittering world teeters in the brink of war as the Allied army waits in Brussels for Napoleon to march from Paris. The glamorous world of the British ex-patriates in Brussels is shattered at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball with the confirmation that the French have crossed the frontier. Soldiers march off to fight in ball dress. The last part of the book moves back and forth between the battlefield where Charles/Malcolm is pressed into delivering messages for Wellington and Brussels where Mélanie/Suzanne and Cordelia are nursing the wounded.

I’m currently in the midst of revising the battle scenes, which are some of the most challenging I’ve ever written. On my first draft I was preoccupied with getting down the logistics of the battle, weaving in the plot developments that needed to happen and getting my characters in the right place at the right time for the historical chronology. Not to mention making sure I had details of uniforms and weapons right. I was reasonably happy with how the battle sequence turned out in the preliminary version. But now I’m layering in more texture and emotion. And sheer horror. Waterloo was a particularly bloody battle with some 47,000 soldiers killed or wounded. At the end of the day, the field was strewn with dead or dying men and horses.

Earlier this week I heard a clip on NPR of Kurt Vonnegut talking about how he wanted to write about war in a way that didn’t glamorize it. That really resonated for me with the scenes I’m currently working on. It’s a challenge to capture the bravery and acts of courage and yet not lose sight of the horror and insanity. Which also means not pulling back in describing the violence and brutality.

It’s a grim world to live in as a writer. A couple of days ago I saw a fabulous final dress rehearsal of Götterdämmerung, the last opera in Wagner’s Ring at San Francisco Opera, which with its destruction and tragedy and wasted lives seemed very apropos of the scenes I’ve been writing. I drafted this post outdoors in the café at the California Shakespeare theater waiting for their production of Titus Andronicus to begin. A play rooted in war and definitely about violence, which also seems apropos. And having now seen, the production, which was brilliant and disturbing, these lines seems particularly to resonate with the scenes I’ve been writing, which moves back and forth between the Allies and the French:

But must my sons be slaughter’d in the streets,
For valiant doings in their country’s cause?
O, if to fight for king and commonweal
Were piety in thine, it is in these.

The battle of Waterloo has been dramatized brilliantly by a number of writers. Two of my favorite depictions, both brutal and heart-rending, are Georgette Heyer in An Infamous Army and Bernard Cornwell in Waterloo. I’m only hoping I manage to not disgrace myself in comparison.

Which battle scenes in fiction do you find particularly effective? Writers, if you’ve written battle scenes, what are the particular challenges you faced?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Melanie to Raoul, where, among other things, she talks about Frederick Radley. Which brings up another question. What did you think of the revelations about Mel/Suzette’s relationship with Radley in Vienna Waltz, and did you think she was telling the full truth to Charles/Malcolm?

In the Mask of Night discussion a few weeks ago, there were quite a few comments about Isobel and Oliver. A number of readers found Isobel much more sympathetic than Oliver. Which intrigued me, because I confess while I was quite sympathetic to Isobel as I planned the book, when I actually wrote it, I had a hard time with her. I’m not sure what it was precisely. But though I felt sorry for her, it was though her coolness held me at a distance as well. I often found myself sympathizing more with Oliver. Perhaps because he’s an outsider? Mostly, though, I felt sorry for both Bel and Oliver and the way their marriage eroded. In any case, I was intrigued and quite relieved by the reaction of these readers to Bel, because it means that even if I had trouble sympathizing with her myself, she didn’t come across as unsympathetic the way I wrote her.

Princess Tatiana in Vienna Waltz was something of the opposite case. I didn’t particularly sympathize with her when I plotted the book, yet I found myself sympathizing with her more and more as I wrote it and saw sides of her beyond the schemer. I also found myself quite sympathetic to Talleyrand, despite the fact that he was a schemer par excellence, with questionable motives both in the novel and in the historical record..

I recently got revision notes from my editor on Imperial Scandal (“the Waterloo book”, the sequel to Vienna Waltz). There’s one action of Suzanne/Mélanie’s she suggested I take out, because she’s afraid it goes too far and could destroy reader sympathy for her. I confess I was worried myself that that scene pushed the envelope too far. I’m glad I got to write it the way I did (and that’s the way it happens in my mind), but I don’t mind changing it in the revisions.

All of which goes to the question of what makes a character sympathetic and what destroys reader sympathy for a character. What makes a character sympathetic to you? What makes a character lose your sympathy? What are some characters you’ve found particularly sympathetic? Are there seemingly admirable characters you’ve found yourself not sympathizing with? What actions have made characters lose your sympathy?

I’ve just posted another Fraser Correspondence letter containing reactions to Princess Tatiana’s murder, this one from Raoul to Lady Frances about Tatiana’s murder.

On her wonderful website, Lauren Willig has started Tuesday Teasers, which are so much fun. Since blogging and updating the Fraser Correspondence once a week is about all I can manage, I thought I would start monthly teasers. Here is April’s. It’s from the book I’ve been calling “the Waterloo book”, now provisionally titled Imperial Scandal. It will be published next year and it’s set in June 1815, about seven months after Vienna Waltz. Napoleon has escaped from Elba and the Allied Army is gathered in Brussels preparing to fight the French. This excerpt is from the first chapter and finds Suzanne/Mélanie at ball given by the British ambassador in Brussels.

Suzanne Rannoch stirred the heavy perfumed air with her silk-painted fan. The youth and beauty of the Allied army swirled on the dance floor before her. Hussars and Horse Guards in brilliant crimson and silver lace, staff officers in dark blue coats, riflemen in dark green, Dutch-Belgians in orange-faced blue. They circled round the floor with girls in gauzy frocks of white and pink, primrose and forget-me-knot, champagne and ivory. The candlelight glanced off gold braid, medals, pearl necklaces, diamond eardrops, silver thread embroidered on sleeves and hems.
It might have been any ball in any elegant house. Save for the profusion of military brilliance and the dearth of sober dark civilian coats. This waltz had been a favorite at the Congress of Vienna, where Suzanne and her husband had spent the fall and winter. But even in Vienna military uniforms had not so predominated. The threat of war had hung over the Congress, but as a consequence of council chamber quarrels, a constant ripple beneath the surface of balls and masquerades and champagne-filled salons. Then Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped his exile on the island of Elba and returned to power in France and everything had changed.
“Standing about?” Sir Charles Stuart, Britain’s ambassador to Belgium and the evening’s host, put a glass of champagne into her hand. “We can’t have that. Where’s your husband got to?”
Suzanne took a sip of champagne and gave Stuart her most dazzling smile. “Surely you don’t believe my husband and I spend the evening in each other’s pockets, sir? Have I learned nothing in two and a half years as a diplomatic wife?”
“Off on an errand, is he?” Stuart gave her a lazy grin. “Wonder who sent him.”
“It wasn’t you?”
“In the middle of my own ball? No, ten to one he’s been seconded by the military.”
Malcolm had met her gaze across the ballroom an hour since, raised his champagne glass to her, and then slipped between two stands of candles and melted away through one of the French windows. Even she didn’t know where he had gone. Malcolm had come to trust her a great deal in the two and a half years since they had entered into their oddly begun marriage of convenience, but not that much. There were some secrets a good intelligence agent didn’t even share with a spouse. She understood that better than anyone.
Stuart put a familiar arm round her and squeezed her shoulders, left fashionably bare by the satin and gauze of her gown. “You’re a damned fine hostess, Suzanne. Couldn’t have pulled the party off with out you.”
“Nonsense. You were an excellent host long before I met you.”
“Lisbon was different from Brussels.” Stuart kissed her cheek, managing at once to be flirtatious and brotherly. “He’ll be safely back before dawn, never fear. We’re weeks away from fighting.”
“Weeks?” Even were Napoleon really still in Paris, he was only five days’ march from Brussels.
“Well, days at any rate.”
“Mrs. Rannoch.” A tall man in an austere black evening coat, his fine-boned face distinguished by a distinctive hook nose and piercing blue eyes, materialized out of the crowd. “You look lovelier every time I see you.”
Suzanne held out her hand to the commander of the Allied army. “Is that the secret of your success, your grace? Always knowing precisely the right thing to say?”
Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, gave one of his brusque laughs. “Hardly. My brother’s the diplomat in the family. Like your husband. Where’s he disappeared to?”
“I fear I haven’t the least idea,” Suzanne said. “Though I thought perhaps your grace might.”
Wellington gave her a shrewd look. “Possibly, my dear. Possibly. Don’t let it get about that I said so, but diplomats can often prove remarkably useful.”
Despite the heat in the candle-warmed room, a chill coursed through her. She knew Wellington was fond of Malcolm. And she also knew he wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice her husband or anyone else if he thought it necessary to achieve victory.

Let me know you think. Also, feel free to post more thoughts and questions about Vienna Waltz and The Mask of Night here. Love the discussion that’s been going on.

I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Mélanie to Raoul, shortly after she and Charles discover Princess Tatiana’s body.

Last night I re-watched the Andrews/Seymour Scarlet Pimpernel. I was hoping Percy’s league would help me make sure the band of aides-de-camp in my Waterloo book are properly differentiated (which it did). I love the banter among Percy, Tony, Andrew, and Timothy Hastings. It has a tone I’d love to capture in some scenes in my book. Even though I practically know the dialogue to the film by heart (I actually had a tape recording of it before I saw it, because when it first aired I was at a rehearsal, and my family didn’t have a VCR yet, so my mom tape recorded it), the magic still works.

This seemed a good time again post one of my favorite scenes from Vienna Waltz which I’m sure many of you will recognize it as an homage to the scene in El Dorado where Marguerite visits Percy in prison and to the wonderful depiction of that scene in the Andrews/Seymour Scarlet Pimpernel. I originally posted this excerpt a year ago, but it’s changed a bit since in the revision process. It occurs fairly late in the book, but other than the fact that Charles is in prison, it contains no real spoilers. It’s one of those moments where dire circumstance break down their barriers and force them to reveal their feelings (it takes a lot for Charles and Mel to reveal their feelings, even–perhaps especially–to each other).

Also, be sure to check out this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition. It’s a letter Raoul leaves for Charles, a corollary to his letter last week. This one is meant for him to receive only if he’s learned the truth about Mélanie. Let me know what you think of the letter and the excerpt.
Charles stared at the cloudy light trickling through the barred window set high in the wall of his cell. Mildew clung to the rough stone walls and clogged the air. A single tallow candle burned on a three-legged table beside a narrow bed covered with a gray blanket.
He’d known worse. Mud huts in Spain. Field tents that leaked like a sieve. Patches of snow-covered ground with only his greatcoat for a blanket. On more than one occasion he’d known his odds of death were more than even. Several times he’d not been sure he cared very much. But he’d never been deprived of his liberty by his supposed allies. And he’d never had so much leisure to dwell on the sins of his past and their implications for his future.
A key rattled in the iron lock. Hinges groaned.
He turned toward the familiar voice. His wife stood just inside the open door. She wore a dark hat and spencer, but the meager light clung to the white stuff of her gown. The jailer pulled the door to behind her and slammed the bolt home.
Charles stood frozen. Less than twenty-four hours and he was parched with longing for the sight of her. And for all the reasons that had been echoing through his head since he’d been brought to the prison, she had never seemed more out of his reach.
She hesitated a moment. He could feel her gaze moving over his face. Then she rushed forward. His arms closed about her with a need stronger than any qualms. He slid his fingers into her hair, pushing her hat and half her hairpins to the floor, and sought her mouth with the hunger of one who’d feared he might never touch her again.
When he lifted his head, she took his face between her hands. Her fingers trembled against his skin. “Darling. Are you–“
“I’m treated much better than the poor bastards in Newgate.”
“I was afraid–“
He covered one of her hands with his own. “Odd the tricks one’s mind can play.”
“Frightful.” She gave a quick defensive smile, and he knew she felt as awkward as he did at their unwonted display of emotion.

I blogged this week on History Hoydens about the Duchess of Richmond’s ball. The ball, in the midst of which British and Dutch-Belgian soldiers got the news that the French were on the march, is a key set piece in my Waterloo book (which I am currently buried in finishing). It occurs just as the mystery/spy plot and the various emotional dilemmas of the characters are coming to a head. I thought I’d repeat the post here, because I find the topic so interesting (and because I need to get back to revising my book :-).

I love parties. The picture above is from New Years Eve this year, when I spent a lovely evening drinking champagne and watching fireworks with some of my closest friends. But in my writing lately, I’ve been consumed with a much more more lavish party nearly two hundred years in the past. On 15 June 1815 the Duchess of Richmond gave a ball at the house in the Rue de Blanchisserie that she had her husband had taken in Brussels. Among the guests were many officers in the Allied Army, gathered in Belgium preparing for battle against Napoleon Bonaparte, recently escaped from exile on Elba and restored to power in France. A number of the aristocratic British ex-patriates who had taken up residence in Brussels that spring were present as well. So were a gilded assortment of diplomats, along with Belgian royals and dignitaries. Of course the Duke of Wellington, commander of the Allied Army, was on the guest list for the ball. He was an old friend of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond, looked on as a sort of indulgent uncle by their large family of children. Three of the Richmonds’ sons were in the army.

The ballroom was a converted carriage house, where the Lennox children played battledore-and-shuttlecock and the youngest members of the family did their lessons. The duchess draped the rose trellis wallpaper with swags of crimson, gold, and black, the Royal colors of the Netherlands. Ribbons, wreaths, and flowers garlanded the pillars. It was a warm evening ,but the younger Lennoxes threw open the French windows that ran along one side of the room, letting in a welcome breeze. The duchess, a daughter of the Duke of Gordon, had engaged kilted sergeants and privates from the 92nd Foot and the 42nd Royal Highlanders to entertain the company with sword dances.

Rumors that the French were on the move swirled throughout the ballroom. Wellington was late, adding to the talk. By the time he arrived with a group of his aides-de-camp, as skilled at waltzing as they were at war, the duke had known for some hours that Napoleon has crossed the frontier from France. But he believed the reported attacks to the east were a feint. He thought the real attack would come from the west, to separate them from the sea and their supply lines. He needed confirmation before he could order the army to march. Meanwhile, he needed to forestall panic and also to confer with a number of his officers, who were conveniently gathered together at the ball.

Wellington confessed to the duchess’s daughter, Georgiana Lennox, that the army was off tomorrow, but he gave every appearance of sang-froid. As the company moved into the hall on the way to supper, a mud-spattered officer, Harry Webster, pushed his way through the crowd. He had a message for the Prince of Orange. The twenty-three-year-old prince, commander of the Dutch-Belgian army based on his birth not his experience, tucked the message away unread, but Wellington asked to see it. Wellington read the message and at once ordered Webster to summon four horses for the Prince of Orange’s carriage. The message, from Constant de Rebecque, whom the prince had left in charge at his headquarters, revealed that Bonaparte had crossed the Sambre river at Charleroi. He was attacking not from the west but on the Allies’ eastern flank, trying to separate them from their Prussian allies.

Wellington maintained a cheerful demeanor through supper, laughing with young Georgiana Lennox and his Brussels flirt, Lady Frances Webster. But after supper, he asked the Duke of Richmond if he had a map of Belgium in the house. In the duke’s study, Wellington stared down at the map spread on the desk and declared that Bonaparte had humbugged him. He had ordered the army to concentrate at the crossroads of Quatre Bras, but he feared he would not be able to hold the French there. He pressed his thumb against the small village near which he would then have to fight Napoleon. Waterloo.

Meanwhile in the hall and ballroom, the illusion that they were at an ordinary ball had well and truly broken. The front door banged open and shut. Soldiers called for their horses, girls darted across the floor shouting the names of their beloveds, parents scanned the crowd for sons. The musicians had begun to play again in the ballroom, but the strains of the waltz vied with the call of bugles from outside. Georgiana Lennox slipped off to help her eldest brother, Lord March, pack up his things. She thought the young ladies still waltzing were “heartless,” but for many of them it would be the last chance to dance with husbands, sweethearts, and brothers.

The Duchess of Richmond’s ball has been dramatized by many novelists, including Thackeray in Vanity Fair, Georgette Heyer in An Infamous Army, and Bernard Cornwell, in Waterloo, part of the Richard Sharpe series. I wrote about the ball myself in one of my historical romances, Shores of Desire, and as I said above, it’s a key event in my current WIP. Even though this is the second time I’ve approached the ball, I was a bit intimidated by such an iconic historical event. I’m currently on my third draft, and I’m starting to be fairly happy with how the scenes are shaping up. I had to write them in layers. The historical details, the physical setting–from the glitter of the ball to the chaos it dissolved into–the more intimate emotional landscape of my characters, real and fictional, saying farewell to loved ones. It was particularly interesting to have both Mélanie and Raoul there, with the complex emotions both are feeling. Charles surprised me by turning into something more of an action hero in this book that he’s been before. He ended up being at the battlefield much of the time.

Have you read fictional accounts of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball or seen it dramatized on film? What party scenes stand out in your memory from historical fiction? Writers, is there an historical entertainment you both want to dramatize and find yourself intimidated by?

I’ve just posted a new letter from Raoul to Lady Frances in the Fraser Correspondence, inspired by JMM’s suggestion that Raoul would entrust to Frances any letters he left for Charles.

Two fascinating blogs this week, one by Jean on All About Romance and one by Lauren Willig on History Hoydens examined the tendency in historical fiction to write from the English perspective when it comes to British/French conflicts, particularly in regards to the Napoleonic Wars. Both post were very timely for me as this past week I finished the first draft of my Waterloo book (just making my self-imposed December 1 deadline :-)).

While most of the major characters in the book are British (whether real people like the Duke of Wellington, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, and Lady Caroline Lamb, or fictional characters such as Charles/Malcolm, Aline, David, and Simon), Mélanie/Suzanne is of course a French agent. The last third or so of the book takes place during the Battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo and moves between the battlefield and Brussels. Charles goes back and forth between the two. Mel is in Brussels, helping tend the wounded (their house resembles a makeshift hospital). David, Simon, Aline, and the other British characters are as on tenterhooks for news of the battle. So is Mélanie, but in a very different way. And then when everyone round her is celebrating victory, she’s dealing with the final end of a tarnished dream. Raoul is practically the only character she can talk to openly (it was interesting writing scenes between them when she’s still spying).

Waterloo is so iconic, but most of the fiction I’ve read about it is written from the British perspective. Though one of my historical romances, “Shores of Desire”, deals with Waterloo and had a French hero and a Scottish heroine. I thinking writing about Waterloo from a slightly different perspective is what gives me the guts to take on something that’s been written about so much and so well.

What do you think about the way English/French conflicts, particularly the Napoleonic Wars, are handled in historical fiction? What novels have you read that offer perspectives you find particularly interesting?

From now through the end of the year, I’ll be drawing the name of one commenting each week and giving away a copy of the gorgeous Advance Reading Copies of Vienna Waltz. I’ll post the winner next Saturday, December 11, so be sure to check back and then look for a new contest next week.

I’ve also just posted a new letter to the Fraser Correspondence from Raoul to Mélanie.

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