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Dartmoor, the Mysterious National Park

Dartmoor Scene

Dartmoor, the first national park in Britain, was formed in 1951. It’s a large open area famed for its moor, the bogs and stone tors, and wild ponies. Around 33,000 people live within the park and many others visit to experience the wilderness.

Man has farmed, mined the stone, lived and visited the Dartmoor region for at least the last 12,000 years as evidenced by stone circles, ancient bridges and other monuments.

Since the area has been inhabited for so long there are hundreds of tales involving ghosts, both evil and benevolent. Piskies or pixies, fairies, witches and wizards also live in Dartmoor, so it’s not good to travel through the moors after dark—not if you value your life.

During more recent years, tales of the beast of Dartmoor—a big black cat—have become common. There have been numerous sightings of big cats, but so far no one has definitive proof of one residing in the park.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set his Hounds of the Baskervilles in Dartmoor, and it’s said he was inspired by ghostly tales of black dogs haunting the moors. Here’s one of the many ghostly tales of large black dogs.

A stagecoach with two female passengers was traveling from Tavistock, which is the largest town in the area. All of a sudden, the driver started whipping his horses, and when the passengers called up to him to slow, he pointed at the large black dog galloping alongside the coach. It was the ghostly black dog.

When I was deciding where to set Mistress of Merrivale, I wanted a place that was wild and potentially dangerous. The bogs and the isolated parts of the moor fit my story needs nicely. I added in a mention of ghosts and set a murderer loose. Understandably the locals become very nervous and start to glance over their shoulders and cast blame.

I chose Merrivale for my setting within Dartmoor, but my village is different from the real one since I took liberties and made it much larger. I added shops and made the church bigger. I also added to the population for the purposes of my story. In truth, the real Merrivale has an inn, a few houses, a chapel and a nearby mine, and thank goodness, they don’t harbor a murderer!

Would you be willing to walk alone at night in Dartmoor National Park? Why or why not?

Sources:

http://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/england/sevenwonders/southwest/dartmoor/

Dementia: Mistress of Merrivale

 

Mistress of MerrivaleIn my release, Mistress of Merrivale, the heroine’s mother has dementia. Since my story takes place in the 18th century she hasn’t been diagnosed, but as the writer I know she has Alzheimer’s. It’s a silent disease in which the family suffers just as much as the person who is experiencing the illness. I know because my father has dementia. It’s sad watching someone you love losing connection with reality.

Dementia happens when there are changes in the structure of the brain. These physical changes might affect memory, the way a person behaves, their personality, their emotions and the way they think. There is no cure, and the symptoms gradually become worse.

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia in our society. It was named after German Alois Alzheimer, a psychiatrist who first described the condition in 1906.

There is no single factor that has been identified as the cause of Alzheimer’s and it’s thought that the disease is a combination of factors such as age, genetics and environment.

Some facts:

1. 35.6 million people have dementia worldwide (2010)

2. In America there are more than 5 million people with Alzheimer’s.

3. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in America.

4. 1.1% of the population in New Zealand has dementia and 60% of these are female.

5. Most of the caregivers are largely unpaid. In fact according to stats in 2012 15.4 million family and friends provided 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care to sufferers.

In Mistress of Merrivale, Jocelyn is determined to find a protector who will accept her mother with her strange behavior and quirks. Jocelyn’s sisters want to send their mother to Bedlam, but she refuses to send her mother to a hospital. Instead, she hires a woman to tend to her mother and does her best to keep her parent happy and safe.

Of course everything is not as it seems, and there is murder afoot at Merrivale…

To read an excerpt check out the book page for Mistress of Merrivale

A Marriage of Convenience

I’ve always enjoyed reading a marriage of convenience romance. This type of book is familiar and comforting and popular with readers like me. Since I snap up books using this premise, a marriage of convenience plot was the obvious choice when I decided to write my own historical romances. I’ve written two so far—The Spurned Viscountess and Mistress of Merrivale, which both feature this trope.

So what is a marriage of convenience? What are the characteristics of this type of plot?

In times past, love didn’t come into the marriage equation. Parents arranged marriages for their offspring, searching for the links that would bring land, finance and added prestige into the family. Marriage was all about connections and improving your lot in life.

For the romance writer, this is conflict served up on a platter. The hero and heroine start their marriage knowing little about each other, yet since they’re married there is no barrier to those hot sex scenes. The layers of the characters are peeled away as they struggle to find their place in the relationship and, because this is a romance, love.

Modern day marriage of convenience stories are harder to pull off, mainly because times have changed and sex before marriage is common. The modern way is to marry for love, and we generally choose our partners, rather than letting our parents do it for us.

The modern-day couple might marry for more practical reasons such as sealing a contract, securing an inheritance or to perpetrate a pretense of some sort.

If a child is involved, two people might marry to provide that child with a home and safety. Sometimes money comes into the decision, but immigration to allow one half of a couple to enter the country is a modern twist. The need for protection or the insistent tick-tock of a biological clock might persuade a heroine into marriage or even the modern version of mail-order—meeting someone on the internet.

These stories bring inherent conflict because the characters aren’t in love and they don’t have to pretend they’re head over heels for each other. The getting-to-know each other stage of the relationship becomes the conflict. Sexual relations are sometimes part of the deal and sometimes not, and the greater intimacy comes with time.

Mistress of MerrivaleIn Mistress of Merrivale, Jocelyn Townsend is a mistress to a titled man. When her protector no longer requires her services, she is desperate to find a replacement in order to keep her mother safe. Leo Sherbourne requires a wife to warm his bed, keep his house in order and to look after his young daughter. They agree that a marriage of convenience will work well between and that—in the spirit of a good romance—is when all their problems begin.

Here’s the blurb:

A marriage of convenience…full of inconvenient secrets.

Jocelyn Townsend’s life as a courtesan bears no resemblance to the life she envisioned in girlish dreams. But it allows her and her eccentric mother to live in relative security—until her protector marries and no longer requires her services.

Desperate to find a new benefactor, one kind enough to accept her mother’s increasingly mad flights of fancy, Jocelyn is nearly overwhelmed with uncertainty when a lifeline comes from an unexpected source.

Leo Sherbourne’s requirements for a wife are few. She must mother his young daughter, run his household, and warm his bed. All in a calm, dignified manner with a full measure of common sense. After his late wife’s histrionics and infidelity, he craves a simpler, quieter life.

As they embark on their arrangement, Leo and Jocelyn discover an attraction that heats their bedroom and a mutual admiration that warms their days. But it isn’t long before gossip regarding the fate of Leo’s first wife, and his frequent, unexplained absences, make Jocelyn wonder if the secrets of Merrivale Manor are rooted in murder…

Warning: Contains mysterious incidents, a mad mother who screeches without provocation, scheming relatives, and a captivating husband who blows scorching hot and suspiciously cold. All is not as it seems…and isn’t that delicious?

What do you think of the marriage of convenience trope?

It’s Bedlam!

Bedlam!

According to www.dictionary.reference.com bedlam is a scene or state of wild uproar and confusion. Synonyms for bedlam include disorder, tumult, chaos, clamor, turmoil, commotion, and pandemonium. If someone says, “The place was bedlam!” we know there was trouble and a lot of confusion.

But there’s more to the word.

Bedlam originated as a common and popular name for the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem in London. The hospital was a lunatic asylum and many families left relatives there in order to hide them. It was also a place where husbands could leave wives who had become inconvenient, since it was widely known that women of the time were mentally unstable. Thank goodness times have changed!

The patients were chained to walls and posts and conditions were terrible. During the 18th century, in an effort to raise funds for the hospital, anyone with the price of admission could enter the hospital and visit the patients. Originally it was expected that the visitors would help the hospital raise money and bring food for the patients. That didn’t happen as the visitors treated the patients like a sideshow. They laughed and jeered, poked and teased the patients and threw things at them, inciting them to acts of madness. Bedlam was part of the tourist trail and these visits continued from 1720 – 1770.

Mistress of MerrivaleIn Mistress of Merrivale, Jocelyn, the heroine resists her sisters’ attempts to place their mother in Bedlam. She hates to think of her mother in a place like this and makes a point of looking after her parent. As one of the conditions of her arranged marriage with Leo Sherbourne, she insists he give her mother a home with them.

Elizabeth Townsend is spared from residing at Bedlam.

Bedlam was a tourist site during the 18th century. If you were to visit London either during the 18th century or now, which tourist site would be on your to-do list?

Fun at the Frost Fair

Let’s travel back in time…

Imagine yourself in England—London, to be precise. It’s almost Christmas or Yule, and it’s cold. There’s an air of excitement because the Thames has frozen over. Traders are rubbing their hands together. Local residents are anxiously watching proceedings. Children are gleeful because if the cold snap continues, the ice will be thick enough for a Frost Fair.

So what is a Frost Fair? Here’s the scoop. The old London Bridge caused the water to run slowly and during cold conditions the water froze, sometimes for months. When the ice was thick enough to support weight, the frozen Thames became a playground. Locals played games and skated on the ice. Local traders set up booths and the crowds flocked to the Thames to join in the festivities.

I write historical romances set during the 18th century, a little before the official Regency period. If the characters from The Spurned Viscountess and Mistress of Merrivale were to travel to London for the Yule season they might go shopping for trinkets and gifts to give their loved ones.

The Thames froze over during these years in the 18th century: 1709, 1716, 1740, 1768 (a little frozen), 1776, 1785 (a little frozen), 1788, 1795. Source~Wikipedia.

So let’s get back to the fun.

Jocelyn and Leo Townsend from Mistress of Merrivale are strolling on the ice. Leo has his daughter’s hand firmly in his grasp. Cassie’s eyes are wide as she gazes at a juggler. Then a puppet show grabs her attention. Jocelyn laughs and together, she and Cassie drag Leo over to join the crowd.

Once the show finishes, they visit a ribbon seller. Jocelyn buys several ribbons to give as gifts and lets Cassie choose one for herself. Cassie picks a scarlet ribbon and insists that Jocelyn tie it in her hair immediately.

Leo buys cups of hot cider and slices of spicy gingerbread. They meander through the crowds and pause to watch some acrobats. A roar comes from across the way, an animalistic growl and a louder shriek. Jocelyn takes on quick look in that direction and urges Cassie to move on to see the sailing ship, stuck firmly in the middle of the ice. There’s no need for Cassie to catch a glimpse of the bear baiting.

The scent of cooking meat fills the air while men and women shout of their wares. “Hot beef here!”

“Oranges! Oranges!”

“Buy Frost Fair prints here!”

Occasionally, the ice creaks. A group of children jeer at a hunchback while three young maids giggle and clap at the antics of a strolling minstrel.

The hour grows late, and Leo, Jocelyn and Cassie make their way to their carriage. Cassie goes to sleep on the way home while Jocelyn cuddles against her husband’s side. His hand rests on her rounded stomach, and they both laugh softly when their baby kicks. A family outing to the Frost Fair ends with love and a snatched kiss just before the footmen opens the carriage door, and Leo hustles them inside out of the cold.

Note: The last Frost Fair took place during the winter of 1813-1814 when the ice was thick enough to lead an elephant across the river near Blackfriars Bridge. New innovation during the Victorian era increased the flow of the river and ended the entertainment known as the Frost Fair.

Sources: London by Peter Ackroyd, Georgian London, Into the Streets by Lucy Inglis and Daily Life in 18th Century England by Kirstin Olsen.

Mistress of MerrivaleMeet Jocelyn and Leo in Mistress of Merrivale – order at Amazon http://amzn.to/1eW93rW

Jocelyn Townsend’s life as a courtesan bears no resemblance to the life she envisioned in girlish dreams. But it allows her and her eccentric mother to live in relative security—until her protector marries and no longer requires her services.

Desperate to find a new benefactor, one kind enough to accept her mother’s increasingly mad flights of fancy, Jocelyn is nearly overwhelmed with uncertainty when a lifeline comes from an unexpected source.

Leo Sherbourne’s requirements for a wife are few. She must mother his young daughter, run his household, and warm his bed. All in a calm, dignified manner with a full measure of common sense. After his late wife’s histrionics and infidelity, he craves a simpler, quieter life.

As they embark on their arrangement, Leo and Jocelyn discover an attraction that heats their bedroom and a mutual admiration that warms their days. But it isn’t long before gossip regarding the fate of Leo’s first wife, and his frequent, unexplained absences, make Jocelyn wonder if the secrets of Merrivale Manor are rooted in murder…

Warning: Contains mysterious incidents, a mad mother who screeches without provocation, scheming relatives, and a captivating husband who blows scorching hot and suspiciously cold. All is not as it seems…and isn’t that delicious?

Bedlam!

This post first appeared on Ally’s Miscellany

According to www.dictionary.reference.com bedlam is a scene or state of wild uproar and confusion. Synonyms for bedlam include disorder, tumult, chaos, clamor, turmoil, commotion, and pandemonium. If someone says, “The place was bedlam!” we know there was trouble and a lot of confusion.

But there’s more to the word.

Bedlam originated as a common name for the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem in London. The hospital was a lunatic asylum and many families left relatives there in order to hide them from becoming public knowledge. It was also a place where husbands could leave wives who had become inconvenient, since it was widely known that women of the time were mentally unstable. Thank goodness times have changed!

Mistress of MerrivaleThe patients were chained to walls and posts and conditions were terrible. During the 18th century, in an effort to raise funds for the hospital, anyone with the price of admission could enter the hospital and visit the patients. Originally it was expected that the visitors would help the hospital raise money and bring food for the patients. That didn’t happen as the visitors treated the patients like a sideshow. They laughed and jeered, poked and teased the patients and threw things at them, inciting them to acts of madness. Bedlam was part of the tourist trail and these visits continued from 1720 – 1770.

In Mistress of Merrivale, Jocelyn, the heroine resists her sisters’ attempts to place their mother in Bedlam. She hates to think of her mother in a place like this and makes a point of looking after her parent. As one of the conditions of her arranged marriage with Leo Sherbourne, she insists he give her mother a home with them, and Elizabeth Townsend is spared from the horror of Bedlam.

Bedlam was a tourist site during the 18th century. If you were to visit London either during the 18th century or now, which tourist site would be on your to-do list?

The First Meeting: Leo and Jocelyn

MistressOfMerrivale72sm

I’m visiting Jill Hughey today where Mistress of Merrivale is featured. Read about the first meeting between my hero and heroine, Leo and Jocelyn.

My post at Jill Hughey’s blog