Saturday, April 19, 2008

Weekend Wind-Down: Places That Inspire Stories

This week three Harlequin Mills and Boon authors, Margaret McDonagh, Annie West and Annie Burrows, join forces to tell us about the inspiration for their stories that appear in the April anthology ‘Mills and Boon Presents...’.
Margaret says:
It was such an honour to take part in some of the special projects being organised to celebrate the centenary of Harlequin Mills & Boon – 100 years of reading pleasure. A fantastic feat from the home of romance who have delivered so much pleasure to readers all over the world. It is also a joy and a privilege to be able to write for them and I have been blessed to live that dream for two years now, writing for the Medical Romance line. I still have to pinch myself to believe it is true!

I was thrilled to be involved with the exciting Brides of Penhally Bay series running in Medical Romance until November 2008. (My contributions are out in July and November.) But I was also delighted to be asked to write a special story for a Presents anthology along with Annie West [Modern/Presents] and Annie Burrows [Historical].

My story, An Italian Affair, links to my fictional world of Strathlochan through the heroine, nurse Gina McNaught, but the majority of the story is played out on the beautiful and magical island of Elba off Italy's Tuscan coast. Gina grew up with the romantic fairytale of how her grandparents met and fell in love on Elba. Now Gina has the chance to visit this island for the first time, escorting her beloved grandmother on what will be an emotional pilgrimage for them both. Their quest leads Gina to meet gorgeous and mysterious Sebastiano Adriani, a man who captivates and enthralls her. As their attraction flares out of control, Seb reawakens needs and desires Gina has long buried, bringing out the sensual woman she has locked away. She cannot resist Seb or the way he makes her feel, but Seb has secrets and Gina is unprepared when she discovers the truth. Will Elba weave its magic a second time or will Gina's Italian affair leave her with a broken heart?

I thoroughly enjoyed learning all about Elba and setting much of the story on this fascinating and beautiful island. It's a place that has always held a part of Gina's heart and somewhere Seb feels safe and at peace. Bringing these two caring, passionate people together in such a place was exciting and I loved writing this story, hoping that Seb and Gina's love would endure and overcome their pasts, mistrust and the secrets that unfold. The story ends back in Scotland, in fictional Strathlochan where many of my stories are set, the rugged and stunning scenery as inspiring and memorable as the people who live, work and love there. To find out more about my books, please visit my website at http://www.margaretmcdonagh.com/

I hope you will enjoy all three stories in this anthology and thank you for being part of this special year for Harlequin Mills & Boon.

Annie W says:
Being asked to write a story for a special centenary anthology to showcase new writers was a huge thrill. I’ve been reading these romances since my teens and would never have believed I’d write a story specifically as part of this major celebration. To tell the truth, I’m still a little stunned!

It’s also been a lovely way to meet new authors. Annie and Margaret and I have been talking together for some months since we realised we’d be published together and a friendship has grown from there. I’ve read some of Margaret’s work, which I loved, and I have plans to delve into Annie’s very soon as her books sound like just the sort of historical romance I love to snuggle up with. What a treat!

My story The Billionaire’s Bought Mistress is about the importance of family and the redemptive power of love. It poses the question: how far will someone go to protect what they care about most? Antonia gets caught up in a scheme for retribution (or as Rafe sees it ‘justice’) that turns her world upside down. The opening scene for this story came to me in a burst of energy. From the first I had a vivid picture in my mind of Antonia, huddled into a long coat as the alpine wind whips past her cheeks. One of my favourite places is the Alps, especially in Austria and Switzerland. I adore the mountain villages, the picturesque churches and the sound of cow bells from the meadows. Unfortunately Antonia’s alpine experience isn’t so pleasant, but I was inspired by the beauty of the area and by the fact that it holds some of the resorts frequented by wealthy leisure-seekers who form the background to this story.

As the story moves on so do the characters. Most of the book is set in the busy city of London. Antonia and Rafe live a glamorous lifestyle that most of us don’t, attending premieres, formal receptions, balls and expensive restaurants. One of the scenes I most enjoyed writing (and you’ll find out why if you read the story) takes place in the Banqueting House. You can see from the picture that it’s quite a place. Built in the 17th century it’s where King Charles I was executed. But for my purposes, it’s a perfect venue, complete with artwork by Rubens, which is still used for banquets. I could so easily picture Rafe and Antonia there, in the midst of a well-dressed crowd. For me one of the joys of writing this book was the contrast between the public fa├žade Antonia and Rafe assume at such gatherings, and the intensely emotional undercurrents that run beneath.

I hope you pick up our anthology and find hours of reading enjoyment, sampling three different styles of romance. If you want to find out more about my contribution visit http://www.annie-west.com/

Annie B says:
It is a bit different researching a setting for a historical novel. Until I manage to get hold of a time machine, I will never be able to physically visit the places I want to set my stories! I have to make do with spending hours poring over library books. Luckily, I love doing exactly this, and frequently find little snippets of information that really spark my imagination.

“The Earl’s Untouched Bride” which is my contribution to the anthology, opens in Paris in February 1815. France had been out of bounds for English tourists for years, because of the war between the two countries. But with Napoleon banished to the island of Elba (spookily enough, the setting for part of Margaret’s novel too!), people flocked there.

My hero, the Earl of the title, finds that by February, the goodwill of the French populace towards the foreigners who have invaded their city has worn thin. Tensions are running high, and by the time he leaves with his French bride, it is not a place where it is always safe to walk. Two ex officers of Napoleon’s army, for instance, were beaten to death by a group of women wielding umbrellas in the Tuileries Gardens, just for shouting “Vive L’Empereur!” (I wish I had been able to include that scene in my novel, but it sounded too far-fetched!) It was almost as though those women knew what would happen should Napoleon return to power. Not just France, but much of Europe was plunged back into a war which culminated in the infamously bloody battle of Waterloo.

Of course, I can, and do, visit the places where I set my stories, and try to imagine them as they
were, as well as trawling through history books. I have been to Paris and walked through the Tuileries gardens, (without an umbrella) and taken coffee in the Palais Royale, too, where I staged a confrontation between my hero, and his French fiancee’s spurned suitor. It still looks very similar to this print I discovered. When my story takes place, the upper floors were occupied by casinos and brothels. I never ventured up any stairs, so I cannot say if the same is true today!

Living in England, it is really easy to visit any number of fabulous properties owned and maintained by the National Trust. Whatever period I want to research, there is always something to be learned by going round one of these “stately homes”. I have even taken a holiday in one such house, converted to what is known as a “country house hotel”, which gave me additional insight into what it must have been like for the upper classes to live on such a grand scale.

In addition to celebrating this month's release of 'Mills and Boon Presents...', Margaret, Annie and Annie are also smiling about the fact that all three of them have won 2007 CataRomance Reviewers' Choice Awards. We would like to share our delight in being able to describe ourselves as “award-winning authors”, by offering one free copy to a reader who drops us a comment about our joint blog. How about telling us where or when you would go, if you had your own time machine? (With David Tennant at the controls, naturally).
But if you are not our lucky winner, you can get hold of our anthology, from http://www.millsandboon.co.uk/ or http://www.amazon.co.uk/ or from any UK stockists of Mills and Boon romance, from April. There is also a direct link from my website: http://www.annie-burrows.co.uk/





21 comments:

  1. Annie B, I love the sound of your story. Although being a Scotophile from way back, my favourite bit was where you were talking about Strathlochan.

    Margaret, what an interesting post! It's lovely to have France featured so strongly as a setting for a Regency story. And goodness, I'll have to remember to take my umbrella when I go to the Tuileries.

    Annie W, what fun we had when you first started telling me about Rafe and Antonia's passionate story. I still remember shivering with imagined cold and getting all emotionally involved as you told me about that first scene. It was so atmospheric, even in embryo form as you described it while sitting on my sofa in Sydney!

    Congratulations, girls, on being involved in such an important anthology! And happy birthday, Mills & Boon.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, Anna,
    thanks for being the first to post a comment,
    luv,
    Annie B

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks, Anna. It's a great way to celebrate the centenary - being in an anniversary anthology! 100 years is an amazing achievement.

    Yes, I remember that conversation too, about the opening scene (and more) of The Billionaire's Bought Mistress. Strange how that location was so utterly vivid in my head so very quickly. I have no doubt that helped me write it as it seemed so completely real.

    Why am I not surprised that you liked the Scottish references in the post? I know you have a special affinity with the place - enough to set most of your first book there. I have very clear memories of that Scottish glen... in Claiming the Courtesan.

    Annie

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Annie B, Annie W. and Margaret,
    I would love to travel back to Ancient Rome so I could be a spectator at the gladiator games. Maybe I'll also get to observe an orgy.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ooh, Jane, ancient Rome!
    Funnily enough, in this week's episode of Dr Who (new series, starring David Tennant) they travelled back to ancient Rome...or at least meant to. Ended up in Pompeii, the day before the volcano...

    Annie B

    ReplyDelete
  6. Ladies, I have fallen in love with all of your settings. They all sound so wonderful and perfect for the stories you are telling. Do your settings always play such a pivotal role in your stories?

    I've set my current wip in The Blue Mountains, Australia, and I have a postcard of the view from Echo Point (Annie W will know this view). The postcard folds out to about three feet long and it reminds me exactly what it felt like to stand there - as if I could take off and soar. And the smell of the Eucalypts comes back to me... and the cold! (It's helping keep everything vivid in my mind)

    But, while the Blue Mts are lovely... If I had a time machine I should love to wander through London during the swinging 60's.

    ReplyDelete
  7. hello and what a treat to have
    the 3 of you blog together.
    all 3 books sounds great.
    i enjoyed all the pic. thank you for shareing them.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Annie W, Annie B and Margaret, all three stories sound magical! What a perfect way to celebrate the centenary.

    If I had a time machine, I'd go back to the '50s to learn how to dance the jive with a Danny Zuko-esque partner. Plus, I'd go to a bookstore and check out the Mills & Boons.

    Vanessa

    ReplyDelete
  9. Jane, I love the idea of visiting ancient Rome. Not sure I have the stomach though for the gladiatorial games!

    Annie

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Michelle,

    Aren't those panoramic postcards fantastic? I have one from Austria showing the alps and it's great. You can open your card and put it on your desk to give you inspiration! The Blue Mtns area is one of my favourite places. I hope you have fun revisiting it as you write.

    I think setting is often important for me, even if much of it doesn't appear in the final story. I like to have a 'feel' for a place (even if it's an imaginary one!) and that helps enormously as I write. A lot of my locations have been based in some way on a place I know. Strangely, when I visited the Banqueting House in London I wasn't thinking of setting a story there, I was too busy thinking about poor old Charles II getting the chop. But later I saw a program about it being used for large receptions and thought it would be perfect for Rafe and Antonia's story.

    So, you'd make David Tennant take you to 60s London, eh? Now that would be interesting - so similar to today but so different!

    Annie

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Peggy,

    Lovely to have you here. Glad you enjoyed the pictures.

    Annie

    ReplyDelete
  12. Vanessa, now that's really cool - 1950s Mills and Boon books and the jive! I wonder if you'd get 1050s style hair too.

    Annie

    ReplyDelete
  13. Lovely to see you all here and I so hope people will enjoy the anthology and the three very different stories from Annie B, Annie W and myself.

    Michelle, you asked about the importance of settings and mentioned the Blue Mountains. I've never been to Australia but have always been fascinated with the country and the very mention of the Blue Mountains always stirs my imagination and I love reading books set there.

    From a reading point of view, most important is the connection and chemistry between hero & heroine wherever they may be. As a country girl, I prefer those kinds of settings to city ones, but it all depends on the story.

    From a writing point of view I feel very blessed to be able to set most of my Medicals in my fictional world of Strathlochan and surrounding villages. I find the setting inspiring and I love the wider community feel, keeping in touch with past characters and meeting new ones.

    Love,
    Mags

    ReplyDelete
  14. Keep those comments coming!

    Will pick one of you to send a copy of our anthology to later on, probably around Sunday tea time (I'm in the UK, so if you're anywhere else in the world, please apply relevant time zone difference)

    I love all the choices so far...swords and sandals in ancient Rome, swinging sixties, swirly skirts in the '50s - but then, I don't think there is a historical period I don't like!

    Annie B

    ReplyDelete
  15. Congratulations to all three of you! I would like to go back to the Old West here in the US. It would be so interesting to see the cowboys, Indians, saloons and all the things that I've only read about or seen in the movies.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Maureen...yes, that would be fun! Shades of "Back to the Future part 3"
    luv
    Annie

    ReplyDelete
  17. Thank you ladies for a wonderfully interesting post. I enjoyed readign about all your stories.
    To answer the question of where nad when I would travel I have to say if David Tennant was at the helm I wouldn't really care - he is hawt. But if I had to pick an era I would have it be the future, but only if we truly end up with space travel. I would love to meet some genuine aliens (hopefully more friendly than the ones Dr. Who usually encounters.)

    ReplyDelete
  18. Ilona - that is truly adventurous. Travelling back in time, at least you have a vague idea of what to expect, but going into the future you would have no idea what might happen.

    Annie Burrows

    ReplyDelete
  19. And as Sunday has just about finished, I'd like to award a copy of Annie, Margaret, and my anthology to Ilona...
    contact me via the link in the post with your address, and I'll get it in the post.
    Congratulations Ilona, and I hope you enjoy all 3 stories...(sorry, no sci-fi included!)
    luv,
    Annie Burrows

    ReplyDelete
  20. What a wonderfully intriguing anthology you ladies have taken part in. The stories all sound fantastic! I hope this book will be available in the US? If so, when?

    Thanks for an inspiring and entertaining blog.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Hi Lynne,

    I'm glad you enjoyed our blog. It was fun putting it together!

    At this stage I'm not sure if the anthology will be released in the US. I hope so, but I haven't heard of it being included on the North American schedule. Of course (wink) you can order it online, either from UK Amazon or from Mills and Boon UK. It's wonderful having a story that's part of such a collection. Makes me feel very special!

    Annie

    ReplyDelete