Contraband Hearts cover art

I’m really happy to show this one off. I feel that I have reached peak Romance with this cover!

This is the cover of Contraband Hearts, my second book set in the shared world of the small town of Porthkennack in Cornwall. (Pronounced ‘porth-ken-nack’, in case you were wondering.)

It’s also a return to the Age of Sail for me. Cover art wise, I’ve got quite used to the difficulty there is with finding pictures of good looking young men in 18th Century costume–especially young black men–and my expectations were not high, but that just meant that I was to be comprehensively proved wrong.

Because I know the difficulty of finding period-appropriate photos, I would have been happy with anything. I would have been delighted with a guy wearing one of those poet-shirts which do for anything from steampunk to vampire to historical. But in fact what I got was Perry in an outfit I had actually described in the book, crimson suit, ruined-wig-replaced-with-a-neckerchief and all.

I should let it speak for itself, shouldn’t I? Here it is:

It’s just perfect 🙂 Doesn’t that say Poldark crossed with Treasure Island to you? (Not that I’ve ever watched Poldark, mind, but it’s what comes to my mind when I think of Cornish romance.)

The Banyan has Landed

In the final exciting installment of the saga, I have finished the banyan, except for the small detail of adding fasteners.

I ended yesterday with the inside assembled and the outside assembled too, but both pieces still separate. So today I laid them front side to front side and sewed them together along the inner edge and around the shoulders and neck.

Then, as threatened, I put it on, and enlisted DH to figure out exactly how much needed to be taken off the bottom before I could hem it. I wanted it long enough to keep my legs warm, but short enough not to get in the way when I walked. So I was going to be happy with anywhere between mid calf and upper ankle length.

If you fancy making one yourself, I am 5’5″. I don’t know what that is in meters, but out of three meters of fabric bought, I only ended up cutting off about three inches.

I then sewed the bottom together, leaving about a meter gap in the middle, which I then reached into and pulled the whole garment through so that it was now right-side out. Then I hand-sewed the gap together.

Now only the sleeves were unfinished. If you remember, I had cut them all the way to the selvage on both lots of material, which meant that the fur sleeves were much longer than the silk. So I turned them back on themselves and made them into fur cuffs.

The pattern suggested adding additional length for the sleeves, but I liked the fact that they ended at my elbow. That’s going to make typing in them a lot easier, not to mention doing the washing up. So I have left them elbow length.

Having tried it on, I don’t think I need to do anything to the collar. I can overlap it and if I buy some frog fasteners, I can fasten it like this.

And in the mean time the louchely draped open look is very authentic. Apologies for my face and slippers:

I ended up not doing the pleat at the back because I like that I can get a big jumper under it and still double it over in the front. If I end up losing a couple of stone on the diet I am currently on, I’ll reconsider the back pleat then, but that will be next year at the earliest.

Now, I have three inches of both kinds of fabric left. This probably means it needs a matching hat.

Day two of the banyan

Not much progress was made yesterday, as both my children were visiting. So no post yesterday. I still managed to sew the silk outer layer together, though. I’d never sewn silk before and wasn’t prepared for it to be so inclined to fray. My goodness! I double sewed it, but I think I’m going to go around it with some fray-stopper liquid too before I assemble the whole thing.

Here is the silk layer sewn flat.

Then I carefully concertina’ed the square bits of the hips to give a whole bunch of folds at the hips:

Which you can’t honestly see very well. That gave me at least 8 layers of fabric bunched up in one place, which was fine for the silk – I could sew through that – but I could not imagine it going well when I tried to do the same thing with the fur fabric. I decided I would just cut the fur fabric off in a taper from the point of the hip to the full width, and not bother with the pleats. The fur’s going on the inside anyway, so you’re not going to be seeing it when worn.

Then I stitched up the fur. Again, I’ve never sewn fur fabric before. I was surprised that it was much easier than I’d been expecting. I only have an old Singer sewing machine – one of the first electric models with the cast iron body and gold decals. You know the ones. It’s ancient but it handled the fur fabric without difficulty.

So this is where I am now; I’m at the point where my impatience is telling me to bung one inside the other and start stitching them together. I still haven’t worked out what I’m going to do with the collar, but I can do that as the last step. It’s also still too long, but it will be better to cut the bottom hem when it’s assembled so that I can get a long suffering family member to pin it up while I’m wearing it.

As I say, I really want to sew it together now, but I think I ought to hold my horses long enough to put fray stopper around the silk and double sew the fur. The last thing I want is to assemble it only to have the seams fall apart.

So that’s it for today. I hear that there’s going to be arctic weather next week, so my aim is to finish it over the weekend. Wish me luck!

Also, I promised

Here is my shed, to which I flee with my laptop to write my books,

and for which I really ought to buy either more insulation or a better heater.

Gratuitous moment of advertising for my pride and joy. See my hummingbird blanket? That was a Christmas present all the way from the USA. A beautiful thing!


I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to make myself a banyan (18th Century gentleman’s house coat) to wear in the writing shed and around the house when the heating is not on and the depths of winter are very deep indeed.

I found this pattern online and decided it looked easy enough to attempt by eye.

First step, I bought 2 meters of very cheap muslin to make a pattern. Two meters was not long enough, but I figured that as long as I knew where the right angle where it expands at the hip was, I could just cut longer from there. My first attempt at cutting made the waist too long and the dart was practically by my knee, so I marked that on the muslin in preparation for actually cutting the fabric.

I found the fabric on ebay; there was a lovely teal silk, and a fur fabric for the lining.

First I cut out the silk using the muslin as a pattern.

There are four layers of material folded up there. I’ve cut the front in two halves, but the back is in one single piece, as per the pattern. Whether I seam it to give a flare in the skirts at the back or not remains to be seen.

Here’s the fur turned back so you can see what it looks like on the outer side.

Then once I’d cut out the silk I used that as a pattern to cut out the fur

And I cut the arms all the way to the selvage, thinking that I could turn the fur back and give them fur cuffs that way. Again, I’m working on instinct here. I think it’ll work but I’ll only be sure once I come to try it 🙂

I’ve lost the light now and also it’s late and I’m tired, so that will do for today. I’ll start sewing it together tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Contraband Heart available for pre-order

After an extraordinarily long time, there is finally another Age of Sail novel from me! The trouble was that after writing a naval voyage to the Arctic (in False Colors,) and another to Australia (in Blessed Isle,) I’d got to the point where I felt there was nothing fresh left to do. I was wrong about that, obviously, since there were plenty of places around the world I hadn’t written naval adventures in. Still, something had to change in order for me to feel interested again.

What changed was that I was asked to write another Porthkennack book, and that meant the story had to centre around our shared-world Cornish town. I couldn’t go galavanting across the world this time. The sea was still there, though, and still vitally important to the Cornish setting.

You know what else was important to the Cornish economy in the 18th Century? Smuggling.

I was initially reluctant to write a novel about the cat and mouse romance of a smuggler and an Excise Man, because I thought “the Cornish smuggling novel has already been done. I don’t want to compete with Daphne du Maurier!” But then I re-read Jamaica Inn and was surprised by how sinister her smugglers were, when my research showed that the Cornish people tended to regard successful smugglers as Robin Hood types, who robbed from a rich and uncaring government to give to the poor and starving locals.

Add some Methodists and some miners, and the French Revolution giving an uncanny mirror to current politics, and I was happy that I could come up with something very different, but hopefully equally entertaining. I hope it’s worth the wait 🙂

I can’t show you the cover art yet, but I can assure you that it’s the most romantic cover I’ve ever seen. More on that later!

Contraband Heart is available for pre-order here

500 Word Reaction – to Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Oh yes. This was a much better film than The Force Awakens. It managed to retain themes from the OT while never quite going in a way you expected. I’m not going to give any spoilers (except maybe in a very vague way) but this was a much more satisfying film altogether. Although I enjoyed TFA, I felt that it was very much a re-tred of things that had already been done before. I also felt that it was so painfully black and white that I couldn’t really believe in any of the characters.

Finn and Rey, in particular, seemed too undamaged by the places in which they had grown up. It was hard for me to believe that a girl who grew up all but feral and a boy who grew up as a child soldier would turn out to be the impeccable moral paragons they seemed to be in that film.

TLJ corrected that, and we got to see some of the doubt and darkness in Rey, which made her good heart just stand out all the more. And Finn’s journey from ‘fugitive from the First Order’ to ‘actual Resistance hero’ was given space in this film to unfold a bit more naturally as he gets to see more of life outside the stormtrooper barracks.

I might be alone in this, but I loved what they did with Luke, allowing him to have humanity and doubts, and to have grown old and regretful. Why not? He might be a legend but he’s also a person. And then that ending, with its combination of badassery and peace? I think Obi-Wan would have been proud.

I loved Rose! I hope she gets to be a major player in the next movie too.

I thought the interaction between Kylo and Rey was very interesting, and there was even a point where I was willing to like Kylo more, about half way through. But it went away again later. I still hope they won’t go down the direction of having Kylo and Rey balance the light and dark sides of the force by ending up in some kind of literal marriage. That would be hokey. But I was glad to see less evidence of that in this film than I feared.

I had the impression from all the background material that we were going to see more of Phasma. She still hasn’t been given the airtime that she deserves. But it was nice to see more of Hux. That poor man! He is having a very bad day.

There is a scene with Leia that will haunt me for some time. If this is her last movie, I think it’s a great scene to go out on; powerful, beautiful and awe inspiring.

I think I only have one real complaint. That is that it’s disappointing that the movie canon’s first on screen LGBT character sacrifices herself to save them all. How many times have I seen that gambit used before? Too many.


MM Historical Fiction Christmas Bonanza

Get swept away to times long past.
Thirteen authors share their love of history through fiction.
Follow the website links after my post to read the authors’  articles
about their books and then go pick up a great read
for half-price or less from December 12 – 24!

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As part of the MM Historical Fiction Christmas celebrations, I’m offering The Reluctant Berserker at the reduced price of 99c

 The Reluctant Berserker by Alex Beecroft.

Can we talk about that cover for a moment? It’s probably my favourite cover out of all my books and is by the inestimable Kanaxa

We worked hard on getting this cover right – by which I mean that Kanaxa worked hard, and I kept saying things like “can you make that helmet look more like a spangenhelm,” and “can we make it a round shield please?” But as a result of that unflinching back and forth we ended up with a cover that is not only beautiful but is also a kind of microcosm of the book itself.

Say “Early Medieval England” or “Viking Age England” and most people will think “Dark Ages.” It conjures up visions of grim horsemen, battleaxes, snake-prowed Viking ships running up the beaches, disgorging angry armoured men. Burning villages, looting, rapine, war. A bit like the Vikings TV series where everything that isn’t bloody is brown.

That would naturally make you think of dark colours, maybe some battlements, flames against a lowering sky and an atmosphere of oppression and threat.

And that was exactly what I didn’t want for the cover of this book.

I understand why so many people who write books set in this period focus on the battles between Saxon and Viking, the war and terror that that implies. After all, they tell you as a writer to focus on conflict and what more obvious conflict is there than two bunches of people trying to kill each other with swords?

But I wanted to do something that was a bit less obvious.

You see I love the Anglo-Saxons. I have done ever since I discovered that they were the closest thing to the Rohirrim you could get in the real world. I studied Anglo-Saxon art and archaeology at university and did a Masters degree focussing on the Saxons’ pre-Christian beliefs in magic, medicine and the gods. As a result of which I read most of their extant literature (in translation.) I even learned to read Old English, although I have thoroughly forgotten it by now, so that I could begin to appreciate the way they used their beautiful language.

For the last twenty years, I’ve been a member of the Saxon, Viking and Norman reenactment society Regia Anglorum, which has certainly helped me when it came to getting the small details of this book right. For example, here I am by the fire playing the same kind of bone whistle that Leofgar carries up his sleeve in the book:

And yes, I know exactly what it’s like to sit in a longhall on a cold winter’s night with your eyes streaming from the smoke, smelling like you’ve been kippered, and hearing the wolves howl outside. Even the wolf part is true – Regia has a longhall in Kent, just outside a nature reserve on which there are wolves. Close enough to hear it when they sing.

I love the Saxons’ art, the amazing colours and brightness of their illuminated manuscripts, the gold and glitter and garnet of their jewellery. I wanted some of that sense of light and colour in my cover and by Jove I think I got it.

I love the thoughtfulness and romantic melancholy of their poetry. They felt that they lived in a diminished age, that great things had happened in the past and nothing now lived up to it. They built their wooden halls in the shadows of Roman walls and made songs about “the ancient works of giants.”

They had a cooperative and really quite egalitarian society – much better for women’s rights, social mobility and the treatment of peasants and slaves than the Norman culture that replaced them.

So what I wanted in this book was to show that society working, in the last years before the Viking raids began to turn into a Viking invasion. I wanted to show that society at peace, so that I could look a bit closer at the kinds of things that war doesn’t leave time for: music, magic, gender and the social construction of masculinity.

We know very little about how the Anglo-Saxons treated gay men, so I’ve had to borrow from what we know of the Vikings’ attitude. I feel OK about this, as the Angles were essentially the same stock as the Vikings, they shared the same gods and many of the same words. They shared a past. It’s not a stretch to think that their beliefs about sex were similar.

It’s both good news and bad news. On the one hand no one is thinking same sex relationships are unnatural, illegal or damned. On the other, it’s a proof of your masculinity to be the top, but woe betide the bottom. He is the object of ridicule and the same kind of contempt that Victorian society dealt out to fallen women.

So there’s a conflict. How the hell do you negotiate a relationship of equals in a culture that’s preoccupied with the assumption that one of you must be the bitch? If you’re a well respected, high born, dangerous warrior, can you ever dare to be some man’s boy? And if you’re poor and beautiful and dependant on charity from your local warlord – like an itinerant bard – how do you get him to accept that you will never submit to him because you’re just as much of a man as he is?

These questions and many more are answered in the story, which does in fact contain numerous sword-fights, fist-fights and other types of conflict both magical and mundane. War, after all, isn’t the be all and end all of everything. Even a society at peace is not necessarily free of bandits, backstabbers, supernatural horrors and men with lethal levels of entitlement.

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Visit all the authors participating in this
MM Historical Fiction Blowout.
Discover a new author. Find a new book to read.
Click on the “website” links to read the authors’ posts.

Or go direct via this list :)

Dec. 12 Alex Beecroft
Dec. 13 JP Kenwood
Dec. 14 Summer Devon & Bonnie Dee
Dec. 15 Christina E. Pilz
Dec. 16 Anne Barwell
Dec. 17 Brita Addams
Dec. 18 Silvia Violet
Dec. 19 Deanna Wadsworth
Dec. 20 Joanna Chambers
Dec. 21 Michael Jensen
Dec. 22 Wendy Rathbone
Dec. 23 Charlene Newcomb
Dec. 24 Ruby Moone