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BOOK REVIEW: The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Meghan Masterson

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

It's Giselle Aubry's first time at court in Versailles. At sixteen, she is one of Marie Antoinette's newest undertirewomen, and in awe of the glamorous queen and her opulent palace life. A budding designer, it's a dream come true to work with the beautiful fabrics and jewels in the queen's wardrobe. But every few weeks she returns home to visit her family in the Parisian countryside where rumors of revolution are growing stronger.

From her position working in the royal household, Giselle is poised to see both sides of the revolutionary tensions erupting throughout Paris. When her uncle, a retired member of the secret du roi, a spy ring that worked for the old King, Louis XV, suggests that she casually report the Queen s actions back to him as a game, she leaps at the chance. Spying seems like an adventure and an exciting way to privately support the revolution taking the countryside by storm. She also enjoys using her insight from Versailles in lively debates with Leon Gauvain, the handsome and idealistic revolutionary who courts her.

But as the revolution continues to gain momentum, and Giselle grows closer to the Queen, becoming one of the few trusted servants, she finds herself dangerously torn. Violence is escalating; she must choose where her loyalty truly lies, or risk losing everything...maybe even her head.

The Wardrobe Mistress is Meghan Masterson's fascinating and visceral debut, not to be missed.


My Thoughts:

I am currently working on a novel set during the French Revolution, and so I am deeply immersed in books on the subject. As well as plowing through all the in-depth biographies and histories I can find, I am also reading novels set during the period. The Wardrobe Mistress is a new addition to the oeuvre, by debut author Meghan Masterton.

The book is told in first-person by Giselle Aubry, a young woman who is employed by Marie Antoinette to help look after her sumptuous wardrobe at the royal court in Versailles. Giselle is therefore perfectly placed to see the dramatic events of the French Revolution unfolding. Her uncle asks her to spy on the queen, so that the family may know how best to react to any news, and in a spirit of adventure, Giselle accepts the role. However, Giselle finds herself torn between sympathy for the heady new principles of liberty and equality, and empathy for the beleaguered queen and her children. This ambivalence is only complicated by her attraction to a young and handsome revolutionary, Leon. Somehow Giselle must navigate her way through these conflicting loyalties as the revolution escalates towards violence and bloodlust.

I love the idea of showing the Revolution through the eyes of an ordinary young woman. Giselle’s bedazzlement by the glamour of the queen and her desire to please her family ring so true for the time, as does her confusion and anxiety over the right thing to do. I loved all the descriptions of court life and the queen’s gorgeous clothes, and also how the fashions of the time became a political statement. Meghan Masterson does a brilliant job of bringing to life many of the cataclysmic events of those years, without weighing down the narrative with too many characters or too much historical explanation. The Wardrobe Mistress is perfect for anyone who is intrigued by the French Revolution and wants a fast-paced and romantic tale set during its tumultuous era.

For another great read set during the French Revolution, check out my review of The Chateau on the Lake by Charlotte Betts.

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. 

THE BLUE ROSE: Reaching the Halfway Point

Sunday, April 22, 2018


For almost a year I have been working on a novel called The Blue Rose.

It tells the story of Viviane de Ravoisier, the daughter of a French marquis, and David Stronach, a Welsh gardener who travels to her chateau in Brittany to design and plant an English-style garden. The two fall in love, but their passion is forbidden. David is driven away  and Viviane is married against her will to a duc. She is taken to the palace of Versailles where she witnesses the early days of the French Revolution. Through her eyes, I tell the story of the fall of the Bastille, the abolition of the nobility, and the beginning of the Terror.

I imagine the Chateau de Belisima-sur-le-lac looking a little like this chateau in Brittany, the Château de Trécesson:




I first discovered this chateau when someone posted a picture of it on Facebook, wondering what the chateau was called. It was so like what I imagined Viviane's home looking like, I went and searched on the internet until I located it and it has been my desktop picture ever since.   

I have a very visual imagination and so I am always printing out pictures and sticking them in my notebooks, or pinning them on Pinterest (you can check out all the pictures on my Pinterest page if you like.) 

I also like to collect small artefacts that help inspire my imagination. 

The first is a small miniature of a 18th century French noblewoman that I bought on Etsy. It's the most exquisite little painting, and it has work dits way into the story as a miniature of Viviane's mother, who died the day she was born.  



My other treasure, I found in an old antique shop in France when I was there two years ago researching this book. 

It is a huge old key. The man in the antique shop told me that it was the key to a chateau that had been burned during the french revolution. The key was found in the chateau well 270 years later. No-one knows who threw it in the well, or why. This story really intrigued me and so I bought the key, and it now hangs on my wall. 



This anecdote too has worked its way into the story.

This week, I finished Part II of The Blue Rose and reached the halfway point at 60,000 words in total.  

My action now moves from France to a ship sailing around the world to China. 

I plan to go to China with my son in mid-May. Maybe I will find some fascinating artefact there that will inspire me anew. I hope so!


THE BLUE ROSE: my work-in-progress

Monday, February 12, 2018

In recent months I have been slowly but steadfastly working away on on my novel-in-progress, The Blue Rose.

So far, I have written 44,000 words.

My star-crossed lovers, Viviane and David, have met and fallen in love, but been torn apart by cruel circumstance.  

Those early scenes are all set in a chateau in Brittany, which I imagine being like the beautiful medieval fortress, the Château de Trécesson


My heroine Viviane has lived there all her life, not even travelling far enough away to see the sea, which is never far away in Brittany. 

My hero, David, is a Welshman and the grandson of a poor pastor. He has come to the chateau to build a garden for Viviane's father, the Marquis.

But, of course, a lowly gardener must not fall in love with a Marquis's daughter. 

Viviane is now at Versailles and desperately unhappy. Her own inner turmoil is reflected in the escalating violence in the streets. For, in the world of my book, it is July 1789, and the Bastille is about to fall.



I'm aiming for a total word count of around 120,000-125,000 words, and so at 44,000 words I am more than one-third of the way through the book. However, I've only written about a quarter of my planned story.  

I'm not worried about this.

I always write much more than I need as I discover my story, and so the first section will need to be cut back strongly. I will do that when I finished a rough first draft (what I like to call my 'discovery draft') as I will then have a stronger idea what must stay and what can go.)

The title of the book is inspired by an old fairytale set in China called 'The Blue Rose'.



You will just need to wait to find out what this has anything to do with a novel set during the Terror of the French revolution ...

Desperate to know more?

Read my earlier blogs about the inspiration of The Blue Rose.





   

Best Research Books for the French Revolution, chosen by Charlotte Betts

Friday, August 28, 2015



Today, British author Charlotte Betts joins us to talk about the research books which were of the most help for her in researching the french revolution, the setting for her wonderful historical novel, The Chateau on the Lake:


When I began to write The Chateau on the Lake I had a great deal of groundwork to do. It was the first book I’d written about the eighteenth century and I’d never studied either this era or the French Revolution before. It was necessary to immerse myself in the period and I decided to begin with a general overview.


The English – A Social History 1066 – 1945 by Christopher Hibbert was helpful here to put the eighteenth century into context for me. Then I thoroughly enjoyed The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman. Richard Hall was a Baptist haberdasher and his diary and papers were collated by his descendent, Mike Rendell. Mr Hall owned a shop on London Bridge and the journal is crammed with details of his life and times. It’s marvellous book to dip into for those little snippets of information that can add colour to a novel. 


Similarly, Ladies of the Grand Tour by Brian Dolan was a treasure trove of knowledge when my heroine was attending a salon to meet the intellectual and artistic glitterati of the day and then when deciding what to pack to travel to France. Apparently indispensible items were a pair of leather sheets and a rhubarb grater!


Behind Closed Doors – At Home in Georgian England by Amanda Vickery gave me an insight as to how people from servants to duchesses lived at home. Amanda Vickery uses many quotations from Jane Austen’s writing and this one made me laugh, which she adapted to suit the book: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Georgian house with a drawing room, French windows and lawns must be in want of a mistress …’




My next step was to read as many of Jane Austen’s novels as I had time for. I’d loved them in the dim and distant past while studying English literature but it was very interesting to read them with fresh eyes. Perhaps I’ve seen too many Jane Austen-adapted films in the intervening years but I was astonished at how little description there was. A large part of her novels are dialogue and none the worse for that. Her perspicacious comments and sharp sense of humour most definitely stand up to the test of time. It was useful to place myself in, say, Lizzie Bennett’s shoes, for a young woman’s view of life at that time.


Jerry White’s London in the Eighteenth Century was important for explaining how London, a city of huge contrasts, was expanding and how this affected citizens from all walks of life.


Then I moved onto History of the French Revolution from 1789 – 1814 by Francois Mignet, War and Society in Revolutionary Europe 1770 - 1870 by Geoffrey Best and Fatal Purity - Robespierre and the French Revolution by Ruth Scurr. These were invaluable and densely packed with facts.


For light relief I looked at A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel and The Glass Blowers by Daphne du Maurier. I found the latter very interesting because it was about Daphne du Maurier’s own family during the French Revolution. It didn’t cover quite the same period as in The Chateau on the Lake but gave a useful flavour of the time.


It’s impossible in a short post to mention all the books I studied and one of the things, as a non-historian, that I love most about writing historical fiction is the self-education aspect. Learning history because you are truly interested, rather than being force-fed dates and events at school, is a wonderful experience. I can’t imagine my enthusiasm for this will ever wane.



INTERVIEW: Charlotte Betts, author of The Chateau on the Lake

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Please welcome Charlotte Betts, the author of The Chateau on the Lake, a brilliant historical romance set during the French Revolution. I had previously read Charlotte's book, The Apothecary's Daughter, which I really enjoyed too, and so I'm looking forward to more of her books.


 

Are you a daydreamer too?


I am definitely a daydreamer and I’m not sure it would be possible for me to write novels if I wasn’t. My writing doesn’t flow until I’ve daydreamed a scene. I need to ‘see’ it in my mind and then it’s like watching a film and I simply record what happens in front of me. This sounds easy but it’s taken a while to learn how to do this. The best time for me to daydream is when walking the dog or last thing at night just before I fall asleep.

 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?


It seems extraordinary to me now that I didn’t start to write until fifteen years ago. I loved to read and always had to be creating something or other: painting, drawing, decorating, sewing, making puppets or a garden. Most of my working life has been as a designer, first fashion but then interior design for hotels and private residences. Colour and texture are important to me and I use these a great deal in my writing. The skills used for architectural drawings and detailed specification lists aren’t so very different from those required when planning a novel. I don’t have time to paint now but like to think that I paint with words.

 

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?


I was born in London, though I only have a few memories of that time as my family moved to Berkshire when I was seven. I’ve lived in the Thames Valley most of my life but eleven years ago moved to a seventeenth century cottage on the Berkshire/Hampshire border, close to a market town.


This year I gave up the day job to write full time and I am so happy discovering the wildlife and the flowers in the woods that surround the cottage. There’s something new to see everyday. I’ve been busy finishing my next novel and a short story for Christmas but I’m looking forward to having a little more time to travel, read, make jam, meet friends and generally potter about at the end of my writing day. What luxury!



Tell me about your book, The Chateau on the Lake. 

The Chateau on the Lake opens in 1792. After her English mother and French father are brutally murdered, bluestocking Madeleine Moreau travels to France in search of relatives she hadn’t known existed. When France declares war on England it becomes unsafe to return and Comte Etienne d’Aubery offers her shelter in his chateau. Impulsive and sometimes self-opinionated, Madeleine favours the people’s revolution in France but her views are shaken after she witnesses Louis XVI’s death by the guillotine. The revolution gathers momentum and as passions of the populace are inflamed, Madeleine sets off on a dangerous race against time to save the man she loves.





How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?


My first three published novels were all set in the mid-seventeenth century and I decided I’d take a jump ahead in time. As usual when beginning a new novel, I researched the period, looking for a suitable historical event to use as a backdrop to my story. When I read about the French Revolution it struck me as the perfect framework for a novel because it was a dramatic, life-changing event for so many, crammed with intrigue and adventure.


 

What was the greatest challenge in the writing of it? 


I had two major challenges when writing The Chateau on the Lake. Firstly, I’d never studied the French Revolution but everyone knows that the starving poor rebelled against the greedy aristocrats and beheaded Louis XVI, don’t they? Except that, once I started my research, I quickly discovered that it was nothing like as straightforward as that.


It’s often perceived that most of the victims trundling their way to the guillotine in a tumbril were powdered and patched aristocrats but this wasn’t the case. The great majority were of working class background and had taken up arms against the Revolution, most notably in the Vendée. Those nobles who had chosen to emigrate and then returned to France were also executed as they were assumed to be spies. Priests who had refused to take an oath of loyalty to the constitution were also seen as enemies of the Revolution and guillotined. Many ordinary people were denounced for very little reason and a terrible atmosphere suspicion and fear prevailed. 


My second challenge was that whilst writing the novel I was still working long hours in a demanding day job. I place high importance on the accuracy of the historical events I portray and it was extra hard to find the time to do all the research required to enable me to meet the deadline. Everything else in my life had to go on hold!



How extensively do you plan your novels?


I do plan my novels in immense detail all fitted around the historical facts as, for me, this is the best way to avoid writer’s block. Of course, the best-laid plans always go awry! My characters develop a personality I hadn’t expected and secondary characters try to muscle in for a bigger role in the story. I find that an historical fact actually occurred two months after I wanted it to so it’s back to the drawing board for the plot. All this is normal and I don’t upset myself about it. A novel plan is like a road map but there is often another way, maybe a better way, to reach your destination.

 

 

Where do you write, and when?


Now that I’m not working in an office I tend to start writing at 9am after household chores with a break in the middle of the day to walk Hattie, my Border Collie, mid morning. Sometimes I’ll start at 5am, as ideas are usually fresh then. I generally keep ‘office hours’ but if I’m nearing a deadline I’ll work very late. Now, I’m able to take time off at weekends to spend time with family. I have my trusty Mac Air on all the time, though, and will write whenever inspiration strikes.


I have a lovely garden studio where I can watch the birds while I write but if it’s very cold outside I set up camp in our orangerie or in my little study, which has a woodburning stove for the depths of winter.

 

What is your favourite part of writing?


I love all of it, the planning, the research, the certainty that this book will be the best ever! I suppose the middle part of the book is my least favourite because, when the initial excitement has worn off, you begin to wonder if you’ve made a terrible mistake and everyone will hate it. It’s wonderful when it all comes together at the end.

 

What do you do when you get blocked?


Nearly always this happens because I know in my heart of hearts that something isn’t working. It’s usually in the middle section of the novel. In this case I question my characters’ motivation and have ‘conversations’ with them. Or I’ll do a little more research to see if I can find a new and interesting fact to add a twist to the story. Sometimes I’ll even kill a character – that usually livens things up!

 

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?


If I’m not inspired it’s generally because I’m trying too hard. I am fairly obsessive about my writing and sometimes it’s better to stop and take a walk, bake a cake or meet some friends. I think reading more or watching a film can also be very helpful. 

 

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?


Tea. Chocolate. Both dark and strong like my heroes. Need I say more?

 

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Tracy Chevalier, Philippa Gregory, Nicci French, Sarah Dunant, Daphne du Maurier, Mary Stewart, Clare Francis, Dick Francis, Jane Austen and Deborah Swift.



 

What do you consider to be good writing? 


Good writing immediately lifts me into the world of that book, the minds of the characters and into the locations so that I feel I’m really there. I also like writing to be clear and concise. Good writing shines, whatever the genre.  

 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?


  • Write every day
  • Read all you can
  • Keep a notebook
  • Never give up

 


What are you working on now? 


I’m currently checking the proofs of The House in Quill Court, which will be published on 7th January 2016. The novel is set in 1814 and the plot is perhaps best summed up as Jane Austen meets Whitechapel!

  

After Venetia Lovell’s father is murdered, she’s shocked to discover that he had another family. Since both families have been left without means of support they must combine forces to take over his interior decorating business.


Venetia discovers that her neighbouring shopkeepers have been paying protection money to a vicious gangland boss and, after he threatens their livelihood too, she is determined to end his terrifying tyranny. However, when a street war breaks out Venetia soon begins to regret interfering.


BOOK REVIEW: The Chateau on the Lake by Charlotte Betts

Monday, August 24, 2015




The Chateau on the Lake

by Charlotte Betts

Age Group & Genre: Historical Romance for Adults

Reviewer: Kate Forsyth

Source of Book: I bought it

The Blurb:

1792. As a teacher at her parents' Academy for Young Ladies in the heart of London, Madeleine Moreau has lived her life sheltered from the outside world. But on the night of a dazzling Masquerade, tragedy strikes and she is left alone in the world. Desperate to find the family she never knew, Madeleine impulsively travels to France in search of them. But with war around the corner, and fearing for Madeleine's safety, the enigmatic Comte Etienne d'Aubery offers her shelter at his home, Chateau Mirabelle.

Chateau Mirabelle enchants Madeleine with its startling beauty, but it is a place of dark and haunting secrets. As the Revolution gathers momentum and the passions of the populace are enflamed, Madeleine must take control of her own destiny and unravel events of the past in order to secure a chance at future happiness.

The Chateau on the Lake is a breath-taking historical novel set during the time of the French Revolution; rich, evocative and immersive. If you love Philippa Gregory and Joanne Harris, you will adore Charlotte Betts.

What I Thought: 

I love books set in France, and have had a particular fascination with the French Revolution since reading my grandmother’s ancient copies of The Scarlet Pimpernel by the Baroness d’Orczy when I was a teenager. I settled down with a cup of tea, hoping for a great swashbuckling romantic adventure. I was not at all disappointed. The voice of the heroine Madeleine is pitch-perfect – intelligent, highly educated and argumentative, she is the daughter of a French nobleman and an English lady. Fallen on hard times, they have opened a school for rich and well-bred young ladies, where Madeleine teaches. There are secrets in her parents’ life, however, and when they die tragically, Madeleine sets out to discover her hidden heritage. Her search takes her to France, and she witnesses the execution of the French king, Louis XVI, which shakes her understanding of the world to the core. Trapped in a France gone mad with bloodlust, Madeleine finds herself falling in love … 

The Chateau on the Lake is one of the best historical romances I have read for a while, and I was pleased to realise that I had previously read and enjoyed one of Charlotte’s earlier books, The Apothecary’s Daughter … and she has a few other books in her back list. I’ll be hunting them down forthwith!

Writer’s website:  http://www.charlottebetts.com


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