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eatingC.S. Lewis really nailed it. I’m someone who’s never thrown herself out of bed for eating crackers, and I’m a chronic eater/reader.

The idea for this post came when I was getting ready to watch Call The Midwife (brilliant series) and I was compelled to drink tea (nothing unusual about that) and eat a slice of bread and jam. Why? Because they’re the flavors of my childhood and that show evokes the time and place so brilliantly.

Chocolate and romance is something of a cliche, but check out this review I received for my book Improper Relations in which the reviewer says she:

… sat down in the snuggliest corner of my couch with a cup of earl grey and a piece of shortbread. Upon beginning the book, however, I realised that perhaps I should have started with a glass of claret and a plate of figs.

I consider that a terrific compliment to the book and I’m wondering if it’s possible to enhance your reading with the appropriately chosen food. Think about it: a very alcoholic hot punch, boiled ham, plum pudding for Dickens. Dickens was very keen on telling us what people were eating so you have many choices. For Austen, it’s not so easy. She rarely describes food: the nectarines and grapes and peaches served at Pemberly are there to remind us again that Darcy is super rich with an estate similar to Edward Knight‘s; and Lydia’s cucumber salad may be, as Freud famously said, only a salad.

hepburn I’ve just read a book with lots of ex-military alpha males with tats and I think a big rare hamburger with fries would have been excellent. Or else a huge all-American hot dog. Dripping with … condiments.

If you’re into food and books, and planning a trip to the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend, I’ll be at the Maryland Romance Writers’ tent at 7 pm on Saturday evening on a panel about Sex & Sensuality (condiments optional). It’s a great festival, books, beer, and naturally food, down at the Inner Harbor this year. And also check out the Maryland Romance Writers Online Auction. I’m offering a critique and tea-related goodness and there are all sorts of fantastic items. Check it out!

What have you been reading recently? What food would have gone with it? Or suggest an author-food match!

Hi, Djenet Mallani here.  I’m pleased to announce that my Little Black Dress titles have been published in Russian and I had lots of fun working out which was which–unsuccessfully, as it turns out. You can see all three of them here in their old school glory on amazon.

I can read the cyrillic alphabet but if you can’t, this is called Prekrasnaya vodova. What I can’t do is speak any Russian, other than hello, goodbye, thank you, cup of tea, please. All I need to know in any language, really. This, I believe, since one of the blurbs referred to ledi Elmherst and Nikolasa Kongrivansa has to be A Most Lamentable Comedy. The man and woman are pretty good other than floating in an odd almost heart-shaped bubble, but what is that item behind them? A rolltop desk? A primitive computer? A beehive? You tell me.

So that one was pretty straightforward. Now onto mystery book #1, Schastlivoe nedorazumenie. I believe this is Improper Relations since it has characters called Sharlotta Heiden and vikontom Shadderli. He looks like some sort of eurotrash lounge lizard, she looks like his aunty, and I can’t figure out where they are. They seem to be outside but they’re on the wrong side of what I assume to be a balcony railing. They’re teetering on the outer ledge. Possibly he’s threatening to push her off if she doesn’t tell him where the drugs are.

But it’s this one, Skandalnaia sviaz, which really confuses me. Since it stars the aforementioned Sharlotta Heiden and vikontom Shadderli it seems to be another version of Improper Relations. Why does he have a small woman emerging from his butt?–or is it a disembodied head impaled on the wrought iron thing he’s sitting on? It certainly seems to be floating her boat. Is that a lampshade to the left or are they in the fabled Amber Room of the Catharine Palace near St. Petersburg? Thoughts?

So naturally I did a search on the title and came up with this gem:

Eurovision Song Contest participant from Ukraine admitted to sexual relations with a soloist of the group VIA Gra.


Also a link to google books and Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading.

I’m confused. Can anyone out there speak Russian? Help?

And I’m guest blogging at Lady Scribes today, talking about the new Dedication and giving away a free download, so please come on over and chat!

Diane here, with the absolute delight of interviewing Riskies own Janet Mullany about her Little Black Dress release, Improper Relations, released today! If you haven’t already, hurry over to Book Depository (with its free shipping) or any UK book vendor and order this book.

I read Improper Relations and I am absolutely in awe. I don’t think I’ve read anyone who reminded me more of Georgette Heyer, except Janet writes like Heyer after a few drinks.

But don’t just listen to me. Here’s a review of Improper Relations

What I continue to love about Janet Mullany’s books is how she manages to convincingly tell her story in first person from both her hero and her heroine’s perspective. The first person narrative gives an extremely refreshing take on the insanity which populates the plot; from the way her heroine observes the foibles of her own family, to the slowly beautiful dance it takes the hero to discover he’s in love. I can’t wait to see where she goes next–Stacey, Publisher’s Weekly, Beyond the Book.

Janet will give away a signed copy of Improper Relations to one lucky commenter chosen at random. Without further ado, here’s Janet!

Janet, what were you doing? Channeling a very naughty Georgette Heyer? Tell us about Improper Relations!I brought a conversation at a conference to a total embarrassed stop when I told a group of writers (who I’d never met before) that I really wasn’t very interested in men because relationships between women were so much more interesting and that’s what I was currently writing about! To clarify my out-of-the-closet confession, I wanted to write a romance where a friendship between two women is as central to the book as the romantic relationship itself, and loyalty, to the friend or the husband, cause the conflict that drive the plot. And I have to admit I really wanted to start a book with the sentence: My story begins with a marriage.

You did such a clever job of tying all the threads together. It made me very curious about your plotting process. Did you figure it all out ahead of time? Or did you fly by the seat of your pants?
A bit of both. I sold it on proposal, so I knew roughly what was going to happen, but I trusted to luck about how everything would tie in. There was a character, a rather horrible old lady, who appeared quite early on and she turned out be very significant later. I blogged about that at the Riskies after I’d written a scene with her in the middle of the night as an example of trusting your instincts when writing, which I really did with this book. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about fixing to get ready etc. to write and my first drafts are usually very clean, which is just as well.

Your voice is so distinct. Were there any writers in particular who inspired your style?
I’ve read a lot, but mostly outside romance. I write romance because I think what I write fits in with the genre (which is huge, there’s room for a lot of variants and niches!) so I don’t think I ever fell into the trap of writing as though I were writing a romance (does that make sense?). I don’t analyze what I do a lot, but I’ve always been able to make people laugh. Apparently John Cleese realized that his repressed anger was the inspiration for Monty Python sketches that involved people shut up together shouting at each other (The Argument Sketch here). I tend to like getting groups of people behaving badly together, and I don’t quite know what that says about me (it was at the core of my last book, A Most Lamentable Comedy, where they were all engaged in amateur theatricals in the country). The huge resolution scene in Improper Relations has about six to ten people coming in and out of a room at an inn.

I didn’t see any special research in Improper Relations. Was there any?
Uh. No. Originally Shad, the hero, started off as a military officer, but I was reading Nelson: A Personal History, by Christopher Hibbert (wonderful historian) while I was writing it and so he became a naval man.

What is risky about Improper Relations?
I don’t think it is a particularly risky book, to be honest, other than in style and structure. It’s all very conventional stuff, but I think the risk comes in the delivery. With all my books, either readers are going to get it or they’re going to be confused–I hope more of the former than the latter! If there is an element of risk, it’s in having a heroine who allows herself to be manipulated by someone she loves–and it’s not the hero or another man, it’s her best friend. Oh, and the hero and heroine end up in bed at the end of the book and go to sleep instead of having a boinkfest. I wanted them to fade into domestic tranquillity.

I’m in awe about how you included just about every Regency cliché there is. How did you do that?
I had a sort of shopping list of things I wanted to include, as well as the first sentence! I wanted to do a marriage of convenience because I thought the sex would be interesting to write about; I also wanted a duel, a Vauxhall Garden scene, the heroine to be transformed by a makeover into a ravishing beauty, a John Thorpe, a Wickham … I make absolutely no secret of the fact that I’m writing for my own pleasure and entertainment. And, yes, there’s sex in this, but sex as practiced by uptight Georgian people in an era where men married good girls and had sex for procreation, and paid bad girls for anything else. So great sex in marriage is a delightful, if worrying, surprise.

What amazingly clever, wickedly irreverent, riotously funny book is next for you?
My next Little Black Dress book, for spring 2011, is going to be called Mr. Bishop and the Actress–it’s funny that with all three of the books for Little Black Dress the title has come first or very early in the process. And I hope it’s all of the above! I don’t know if this is generally known outside England, but if you tack on “…as the actress said to the bishop” to an innocent statement, it immediately makes it obscene. For instance, “Do you think it will snow today?” “Yes, we’re supposed to get six inches … as the actress said to the bishop.” (The same thing works with fortune cookies, if you add “in bed.”) Possibly Shad and Charlotte (hero and heroine of Improper Relations) will appear as secondary characters.

In April, I have a Loose-Id e-novella, Reader, I Married Him, a dirty version of Jane Eyre, and then in October I have Jane & the Damned from HarperCollins and my novella which may or may not be called Little to Hex Her, based on Emma, in the anthology Bespelling Jane with Mary Balogh, Susan Krinard, and Colleen Gleason.

I can’t wait!

Remember, everyone, comment for a chance to win a copy of Improper Relations. Ask Janet a question or see how many Regency conventions we can list. What are your favorites?

OK, I admit it. I’m still in my odd nightwear and wearing a wonderful shawl which I affectionately call the horse blanket because it is so very large. The heat isn’t on yet because my office is sunny but my feet are cold…

We have another big storm in the forecast for the Washington DC area this weekend. Here I am digging out the last one, wearing the most unflattering pants in the world and my Attila the Hun hat. Pic courtesy of my husband who was safely inside. I quite enjoy digging out because I get to chat with the neighbors but I didn’t expect to do it again.

So how did Regency ladies, in their flimsy muslins, fare in the winter? Those elegant Georgian fireplaces look great but might not throw out a whole lot of heat; or more likely, they’d be hot enough to necessitate the use of a firescreen (to protect the complexion, not to prevent wax makeup melting–that’s a myth) while your back froze.

I’m pretty sure women could resort to woollen petticoats, although I haven’t been able to find a whole lot of evidence of any existing. In the eighteenth century, and later in the nineteenth century as skirts became full again, quilted petticoats, like this gorgeous example from Williamsburg, were worn.

In the Regency, of course, shawls were in fashion, like this amazing red wool twill with embroidered panels. I found it at, a site well worth looking at (and for breeding covetousness).

At the same site I discovered this gown from 1800, made of silk faille, that looks warm even if it isn’t. Wouldn’t this be a great dress to make a heroine stand out in society…

Outside (the thought of wind whistling up however many petticoats, whatever they were made of, makes me shiver) the well dressed woman would wear a muff and/or tippet. You’ll be glad to hear that muffs became smaller than this monstrosity. She isn’t carrying a hedgehog.

And she’d probably wear pattens, still around since medieval times, to protect her feet from the mud and muck of the street, although walking on ice in these must have been hazardous.

How’s your winter weather and what do you like to wear when it’s cold, indoors or out?

SSP: Title and release date–October 2010, Jane & the Damned (HarperCollins); and Improper Relations is still on sale, with free shipping worldwide, at

I recently went on an online shopping spree with a gift certificate that included buying things I had not received for Christmas and, as is the way, things I didn’t know I wanted until I found them. Last night, while I was wondering what I’d blog about, I listened for the first time to this CD of soprano Julianne Baird and other artists singing music from Austen’s collection. Because sheet music was so expensive (we know she paid six shillings for a book of piano music), many of the pieces were copied by hand from music Austen borrowed from friends or circulating libraries. Her music books include instructions for playing or singing, and in one song, replaced the word soldier with that of sailor, reflecting her loyalty to the Royal Navy.

Baird has a wonderful intimacy to her delivery and the collection of music is extraordinary, including opera arias by Handel and Gluck, songs by Stephen Storace the London theater impresario, and a song arranged by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire to words by Sheridan. This isn’t the only collection from Austen’s music books–I was tempted by one recorded in Chawton Cottage, but according to one review, the sound quality is poor.

As we all know, music was an important part of a Regency lady’s life. Here are some instructions on drawing room performance from an 1813 fashion and how-to book for gentlewomen, Mirror of the Graces:

What has been said in behalf of simple and appropriate dancing, may also be whispered in the ear of the fair practitioner in music; and, by analogy, she may not unbeneficially, apply the suggestions to her own case.

There are many young women, who, when they sit down to the piano or the harp, or to sing, twist themselves into so many contort lions, and writhe their bodies and faces about into such actions and grimaces, as would almost incline one to believe that they are suffering under the torture of the toothach or the gout. Their bosoms heave, their shoulders sill-up, their heads swing to the right and left, their lips quiver, their eyes roll; they sigh, they pant, they seem ready to expire ! And what is all this about? They are merely playing a favourite concerto, or singing a new Italian song.

If it were possible for these conceit-intoxicated warblers, these languishing dolls, to guesa what rational spectators say of their follies they would be ready to break their instruments and be dumb forever. What they call expression in singing, at the rate they would show it, is only fit to be exhibited on the stage, when the character of the song intends to portray the utmost ecstacy of passion to a sighing swain. In short, such an echo to the words and music of a love ditty is very improper in any young woman who would wish to be thought as pure in heart as in person. If amatory addresses are to be sung, let the expression be in the voice and the composition of the air, not in the; looks and gestures of the lady singer. The utmost that she ought to allow herself to do, when thus breathing out the accents of love, is to wear a serious, tender countenance. More than this is bad, and may produce reflections in the minds of the hearers very inimical to the reputation of the fair warbler.

This is the piano in Chawton Cottage which probably wasn’t Austen’s. We do know that it’s a Clementi (the composer, in residence in London, had a piano and print music business) from the first decade of the nineteenth century. Occasionally musician visitors are allowed to play it. It’s a square piano, the instrument that became affordable to the middle classes and invited a whole slew of women to simulate orgasms in public. Which brings me to my next self-inflicted gift, Mr. Langshaw’s Square Piano: The Story of the First Pianos and how they caused a Cultural Revolution by Madeline Goold. I started reading this last night, and it’s a wonderful account of how Ms. Goold bought a square piano, had it restored, and researched the history of the instrument. It was made by the Broadwood Company, which made pianos well into the 20th century, and whose records are still in existence. You can read more about the book, the restoration process and hear soundbites at

What Broadwood did was to produce a piano that was compact and affordable, with a base price of 24 guineas, that were shipped all over England and worldwide. When Lady Catherine de Bourgh invites Elizabeth to practice at Rosings, she refers her to the square piano in the housekeeper’s room, not the grand piano in the drawing room. Jane Fairfax’s piano is a square piano, according to Ms. Goold (aha! yet another excuse to re-read Emma) a dead giveaway that it was a gift from someone who knew the dimensions of the Bates’ parlor and not Colonel Campbell. Knightley still complains that it’s too big, though, which gives us a good impression of how low the Bates family had sunk.

Do you play the piano or would you like to learn? What sort of music do you like to listen to, if any, while you read or write?

And in other news, Improper Relations (February 2010) has its first review at Beyond Her Book:

What I continue to love about Janet Mullany’s books is how she manages to convincingly tell her story in first person from both her hero and her heroine’s perspective. The first person narrative gives an extremely refreshing take on the insanity which populates the plot; from the way her heroine observes the foibles of her own family, to the slowly beautiful dance it takes the hero to discover he’s in love. I can’t wait to see where she goes next.

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