8.12.15TracyMel

Happy Friday! The Merola summer is winding down. This week we had  our last public Master Class of the summer (the picture above if Mélanie and me when I got back) afterwards) with Antony Walker, who will conduct our Merola Grand Finale concert next weekend on August 22 (the culmination of the program and a wonderful chance to hear all the Merola vocalists sing on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House for anyone in the Bay Area).

I’ve taken a mini-break from my WIP to get started on novella that will be out this fall. I wanted to have a good start on the novel before I focused on the novella. Once I had the plot idea for  the novella it’s been falling into place with surprising ease (at least so far :-). It takes place during a ball Suzanne and Malcolm are giving in Berkeley Square. I realized I’ve never written a scene of them entertaining in a big way. Lots of great possibilities and fun to do the novella all on one night, with all the pressure of hosting a large event..It takes place about a month and a half after the end of The Mayfair Affair.

Here’s a teaser excerpt that takes place while Malcolm and Suzanne waltz. Early draft, so my apologies in advance for errors.

Have a great weekend!

Tracy

Suzanne stepped into her husband’s arms and smiled up at him. “How bad is it?” she asked as the first strains sounded.
He swept her in front of him, their hands interlaced. “Nothing we can’t handle. Child’s play compared to six weeks ago or three months before that or—“
Suzanne spun beneath his arm  “It must be serious indeed if it’s driven you to seek refuge on the dance floor.”
“On the contrary. I’m well aware the dance floor provides good cover.” He pulled her back to him, chest to chest. At a distance Emily Cowper and the other patronesses of Almack’s would not approve, but there were advantages in being a married couple. “Bertrand de Lisles and O’Roarke are in the study. With a young woman they smuggled out of France. Not sure if she’s an agent or just a Bonapartist, but they had a run in with excisemen who were after the smuggler who got them into Britain.”
Suzanne drew a sharp breath. The movement of the dance had her spun out to the side so she couldn’t look into Malcolm’s eyes. “Is anyone injured?”
“The young Frenchwoman. It’s not dire, but you should take a look at her. Bertrand’s all right. So’s O’Roarke, and it doesn’t look as though he’s met with anything serious in Spain.”
Suzanne spun back towards her husband and saw a relief in his gaze that mirrored her own. Last winter she’d never have believed they could get to this point.  Where Charles knew the truth about her and about Raoul, and Raoul was a frequent guest in their house. But perhaps oddest of all was that these days their feelings about Raoul seemed remarkably similar. Largely involving worry about what he might be getting into in Spain. She gave her husband a bright smile, part distraction for anyone watching them, part defiance in the face of challenge. “Life never gets dull, does it?”
“Not for long.”
“Darling, you’re enjoying this.”
He twirled her again. “Of course not.”
“Really, Malcolm, I know you better than that. The distraction of a mission and an excuse to escape into the study during a ball. It’s the answer to your prayers.”
He gave an bashed grin and pulled her back into his arms. “Put that like that— I’m not glad anyone’s injured. But I can’t deny it’s livened up the evening.”
“And you accuse me of living dangerously.” She looked into her husband’s gray eyes, so familiar, but often so unreadable. There was a time, not so very long ago, when she’d never thought to again see trust or tenderness in them again. She was beyond fortunate to have both back, even if the shadows of the past still hung between them. Now that he had communicated the most urgent facts, it occurred to her that her husband, a former British agent (assuming one could ever be a former agent) was hiding a French agent in his study. She drew a breath. “Darling—”
“Remarkable how far we’ve come, isn’t it?” He smiled. A sweet smile intended to reassure but also to deflect further probing into whatever he was thinking. There were some things Malcolm still wasn’t prepared to share with her. “I’ll cover so you can go in and tend to the woman. And we should send some food in. The Frenchwoman’s name is  Lisette d’Armagnac. At least that’s what they told me. Do you know her?”
He paused slightly before that last question, and Suzanne realized he wasn’t entirely certain she’d tell him the truth. “No,” she said. “Truly. At least not by that name. Did she say she knows me?”
“Not precisely. But she says she has a message for you.”
A chill shot through Suzanne. Along with the dangerous thrill that a return to game could still bring. “About what?”
“I didn’t ask.” Malcolm spun her under his arm and pulled her against him, her back to his chest. “Once you’ve found out what it is you can decide whether you want to tell me.”
She couldn’t see into his eyes, but she could feel the trust in the steadiness of his voice and the strength of his arm round her. Trust was such a precious thing and a fragile burden. That could upend a marriage if it tipped the wrong way. “Darling—“
He spun her to the side, their arms crisscrossed overhead, then forwards to face him. “All things considered, it’s probably best I know the truth. Makes evenings like these much easier to navigate.”
How often in the past four and a half months had humor saved them? It was, as Malcolm said, sometimes the only possible response. And yet Suzanne suspected that for her husband it was also a defensive shield. A shield over feelings still too raw to share with her. Over feelings he perhaps feared to let himself express. A shield she had no right to breech, even assuming she could do so.
“Of course I’ll—“
Malcolm’s fingers tightened on her own. “Best not to make promises.”
She nodded. “Carfax—“
“I know.” His mouth tightened. “No reason to think he has a whiff of what’s going on, but we’d best tread warily. I’ll keep an eye on him.” He turned round, holding her against him. “As you say, life certainly stays interesting.”

4.25.15TracyMel

Last night at the Merola benefit gala. Longer post to come soon.

Happy Sunday!!

Tracy

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Last night was the Merola Grand Finale, a concert at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco that marks the end of this summer’s Merola training program. A bittersweet night, as it is exciting to see the Merola participants showcase their bountiful talents and the wonderful way they’ve stretched their artistic wings over the summer and sad to be saying goodbye to them. It is also the day of the year I spend the longest time away from Mélanie (eight plus hours). I am inestimably grateful to my wonderful friend Bonnie who watched her. And the evening made me think back to a post I put up recently on History Hoydens and thought I would repeat here. I tend to think of my posts as about my books, about my life as a writer, or about my life as a mom. Often they touch on two of the three, but this one definitely touches on all three.

Summer is a challenging time for me in terms of childcare. I’m very fortunate that I can write at home (or in cafés, at the play park, even on occasion at places like Children’s Fairyland) and I can also do most of my work for the Merola Opera Program (for which I work part time as Director of Foundation, Corporate & Government Relations) remotely. But Merola is a summer training program, so our summer is full of master classes, performances, and other events I need to attend. This summer, in the midst of the Merola Summer Festival Season, we also had the Opera America Conference in San Francisco. I had a hard time getting childcare sorted out for the weekend of the conference, but at last I had it organized. I walked into the first day of the conference on a Friday afternoon wearing a tailored dress and pumps, my beloved Longchamp tote bag for once more like a briefcase than a changing bag, only to get a text from my nanny for Saturday and Sunday saying she’d come down with stomach flu.

I sat in the first session of the conference listening to some fascinating insights into opera marketing while drafting an email on my cell phone to everyone I could think of with children or grandchildren to see if anyone had a babysitter they trusted to whom they could refer me. Incredibly, while still at that first session, I found someone (through a wonderful friend who emailed me while on vacation in New York). Mélanie had a great time, I got to attend the rest of the conference, and we made wonderful new friends. But the nerve-wracking incident made me think about the challenges of finding childcare and the trust involved in leaving your children with someone. A dilemma that my historical characters share as well.

A children’s nurse has been part of middle and upperclass British households for centuries. In the late 18th century many aristocratic women (such as Lady Bessobrough, Lady Caroline Lamb’s mother) breastfed their children. Rousseau was a great advocate of breast feeding, which was part of the romantic idealization of childhood. Fashionable gowns were even made with nursing bodices “designed to allow mothers to nourish their infants in the most genteel manner.” But a number of mothers employed wet nurses. Some wet nurses were part of the household. In Romeo & Juliet, a couple of centuries earlier, Juliet’s nurse was her wet nurse and has obviously spent far more time with Juliet in her almost fourteen years than either Lady or Lord Capulet. Others sent their children away to a wet nurse. Jane Austen’s mother sent all her children to a wet nurse in the nearby village of Deane. Their mother visited them every day, but the young Austens didn’t come home to live until they were eighteen months old. (Mélanie, who is still nursing, maxes out at about five hours away from me; I think the longest we’ve done is eight).

Even those who breastfed would have a “dry nurse” to manage things in the nursery. Later if the family could afford it, governesses would take over not just education, but a great deal of the day to day care of the children in the family. Often the would remain close to their charges long after they grew up. Harriet Cavendish, who I blogged about a few weeks ago, wrote to her former governess Selena Trimmer about her hopes and qualms when she accepted Granville Leveson-Gower’s proposal.

Hiring someone to look after one’s children is a great leap of trust. There’s a level of intimacy in a child bonding with someone else that I don’t think really hit home of me until I faced the conundrum of childcare myself. Whatever one may say about changes in parenting and attitudes toward the parent-child relationship, the love of parents like the Austens for their children is plain from their letters. I can’t believe they didn’t feel some of the same concerns I’ve experienced myself. I’ve been fortunate to find a number of wonderful people to help take care of Mélanie. But it’s still a bit nerve-wracking whenever I leave her with a new person. Perhaps it’s not surprising that my WIP concerns Laura Dudley, the governess/nurse to the two young children of my central couple, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, being accused of murder. Malcolm and Suzanne are convinced Laura is innocent. They care about her, but both have faced the fact that one can never really know even those closed to one. And yet—

“I know it sounds absurd for me to be so certain. But for all Laura’s reserve, I can’t believe she’s a cold-blooded killer,” Suzanne said.

“Why such certainty?” Malcolm asked.

Suzanne’s fingers froze on the jet buttons on her waistcoat bodice. “Because I trusted her with our children.”

It’s an intimate bond, paying someone to watch one’s children. One of Mélanie’s nannies recently moved away. It felt like saying goodbye to a family member. We gave her a necklace with two hearts, one for her and one for Mélanie. Trust is priceless.

What are some of your favorite nurse and governess characters in fiction? Parents, how do you manage childcare? Writers, if you have children, do your thoughts about them and their care taking creep into your writing?