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Louisa Cornell, congratulations, you’re the winner of Tessa McDermid’s book. Please contact the Riskies at

They may be the best thing since sliced bread but I can’t do them.

Really, I’ve tried. Let’s take the problem of Dukes first. They seem to outnumber the regular population about 5:1 so you’d think I could come up with one pretty easily. Somehow they just don’t exist in my particular corner of Romancelandia. Or if they do, they don’t behave in an appropriate ducal fashion.

In the Rules of Gentility, my heroine meets a member of the royal family, a Duke, misbehaving in a house of ill repute in the company of a bishop and several lightly clad females. He is neither hot, young, nor anything other than atmospheric wallpaper.

In my August, 2009 release A Most Lamentable Comedy (warning: shameless self-promotion, and new release date), I have a Duke who spends most of his time indulging his passions for sheep (no, not in that way) and antiquities. He is happily married. Without undue spoilers, he takes on the heroine as a mistress (sort of). He sets her up in a house and thoughtfully provides entertainment for her, a pianoforte (which she plays very badly) and

...there is an easel and a set of paints and brushes, tablets of paper and so on. A small bookcase holds some rather serious-looking literature bound in opulent gilded leather. Good God, it is like an expensive academy for young ladies, and I thought I was descending into the very pit of impropriety. It is bad enough to have become a whore, but to be expected to practice the accomplishments of polite society as well seems to be remarkably unfair.

The Duke reports: she stared at the books in the house as though they were vermin.

And this is the crux of my problem with mistresses and the aristocracy: other than the obvious, what do they do the rest of the time? Call me a lefty if you will (oh, please!) but I like my characters to have some sort of social conscience, to do something other than frivol away their time.

I don’t want to see his grace become a spy unless I’m absolutely sure his land steward can be trusted to look after the tenants properly while he’s out performing deeds of derring-do and sleeping with unsuitable women.

And if a woman does become a courtesan, I want her to be at the top of the Harriet Wilson scale of cheekiness and good humor.

How about you? What do you think of the current overload of dukes and courtesans? Can you suspend disbelief?

I’m blessed with ample reading opportunities on my commute and in the bathtub, and like Diane I also like to read before I go to sleep. So it’s quite common for me to have a book on the metro and a book (or two) at home. You’d think I would have a lot more books to talk about than I actually do. I had to go and look at my account on Goodreads to see what I’ve read this year as well as the ones knocking around in my head.

I don’t read a lot of romance for various reasons, but I have to mention a couple: Pam Rosenthal’s wonderful, inventive, subtle, sexy The Edge of Impropriety, a book for and about grown-ups, and not just because of the sex. Honest. Also Julie Ann Long’s terrific The Perils of Pleasure, with its elegant prose and complex characters, though to be honest I’m not sure what it was about, but heck, I had a good time with it.

I also have been re-reading Heyer after an absence of, uh, several decades. I talked about Regency Buck a couple of weeks ago. I also read Cousin Kate–meh, zzzz, Gothically silly; Frederica–this must be the book which began the tradition in romance of adorable children and rumbunctious cute dogs, or the other way round if you prefer; The Nonesuch–sorry, all I could think of was Where’s Waldo, but it had a terrific spoiled bimbo anti-heroine; Devil’s Cub–loved it up to where Mary shot him and then was appalled that she turned into his mom (but obviously, with a cross-dressing loony as his real mother, what else would we expect?); A Woman of Quality–interesting because it was one of her later books with a heroine who was bored and grumpy, but no discernible plot; and Bath Tangle, which I gave up on after finding the hundreds of characters Heyer tends to throw at you in the first few chapters interchangeable, although I’m sure I would have noticed Mr. Spock, as the cover suggests.

I read the newest release by one of my very favorite authors, Jude Morgan (he’s a guy!), Symphony, about the love affair between actress Harriet Smithson and Hector Berlioz, with whom he fell in love when he saw her in her signature role as Ophelia (in English) in Paris. She inspired him–I guess that’s the right word, maybe it should be tormented him–to write the Symphonie Fantastique.

I discovered a new Irish writer called Tana French who writes modern Irish police procedurals; gorgeous, stylish, thought-provoking stuff. I lay on the sofa the day after Christmas and read her first book, In The Woods, and did nothing else all day. Blissful. I’d read her second, The Likeness, a few weeks before (I tend to read things out of sequence).

Early last year I had the interesting experience of reading, one after the other, two books on the same theme, modern retellings of the Orpheus legend–Gods Behaving Badly, the first novel by a smart, funny young English writer, Marie Phillips; and the beautiful, painful, eloquent Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital.

One book that was a major disappointment, but that translated into a wonderful movie, was The Jane Austen Bookclub (how about this one, Cara?). The writer(s) of the screenplay wisely took the author’s copious telling and translated it into dialogue between the characters. A pity–this was a book I wanted to love.

As for nonfiction, I enjoyed Sultry Climes, a book about the Grand Tour, or the STD Tour, as it should really be known. Those enthusiastic young men often brought back more than a few pieces of statuary from their educational travels. I also found a new book about servants, Master and Servant by Caroline Steedman, a thought-provoking interpretation of master-servant relationships in the late 18th-century, based on the case of an elderly clergyman whose female servant became pregnant (it wasn’t his child), and instead of righteously dismissing her, he kept her and the child in the house, doted on them, and provided for them both in his will.

I also discovered A Picture History of the Grenville Family of Rosedale House, a collection of watercolors by a young girl named Mary Yelloly, painted in the 1820s when she was between eight and twelve years of age. She only lived to be twenty-one, which gives a sweet poignancy to her pictures. The paintings were discovered and published only recently. You can read about the book here, and this is one of the paintings.

And here’s something I hope you’ll read and enjoy–I’m doing revisions for it at the moment–coming in May, my next book, A Most Lamentable Comedy, available from, and although it’s not listed there yet, this UK site, The Book Depository, offers free shipping worldwide.

What are you reading? Plan to read? What books did you enjoy recently?

Who doesn’t love a bad girl, or in romance-speak, a flawed heroine?

There was quite a lively discussion yesterday at Smart Bitches on favorite flawed heroines, following an article in The Guardian where Toni Jordan listed her top ten–a very odd list including Miss Haversham from Great Expectations. Not that many from romance, though, and I’m wondering if it’s because one of the conventions of romance is that we want our heroes and heroines to change, transformed by love and self-knowledge.

Trouble is that quite often it’s the badness of the heroine that keeps us reading, the My God what will she say or do next syndrome.

So how does your character undergo the necessary transformation without losing the vitality?

And here’s my very own bad girl, Caroline Elmhurst, from the book I’m struggling to finish, A Most Lamentable Comedy (Little Black Dress, 2009), leaving London (having just escaped her creditors). She’s promised her maid Mary an inside seat on the coach, but unfortunately only one is available…

“We’ll cut for the inside seat.” I pull my pack of cards from the capacious reticule with which I travel. “High I go inside, low you go outside.”

She cuts a king, and cackles with glee as I pull a four. “High I go inside, low you go outside,” I repeat, and push her toward the coach as she opens her mouth to howl protest. “And if you don’t keep quiet, I’ll tell everyone you stole my petticoats–why else would you wear four?”

I help her onto the roof of the coach with a vigorous shove to the arse, hand her the umbrella (I am not totally without feelings), and settle myself inside, opening the book of sermons I carry to repel male attention.

What bad girls in romance do you love, and do you love them more at the beginning or the end? How do their wild, wicked, impulsive etc. ways transform them or become transformed into something else?

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