Monday, 23 May 2011

Welcome Lynne Connolly!

Opening our party today, I'm delighted to welcome historical novelist Lynne Connolly, justly famed for her fascinating mixture of hot romance and authentic historical detail. Here's a glimpse into some of her inspiration.

Lynne Connolly – Stealing Houses

Britain is filled with stunningly beautiful stately homes, and some not so beautiful. When I was little, my parents dragged my sister and I to all the places we could reach. Well, it started with dragging, but I soon started to look forward to them hugely. And I fell in love with some houses, hated others, and it was partly the atmosphere, that indefinable something you can’t get from just reading about them.

At the age of nine, I fell in love with the eighteenth century. We were doing a project on coffee and tea at school, and the teacher showed us a picture of a coffee house from an old print. Love at first sight, and for those of you who don’t believe in it, it’s a love affair that has lasted all my life.
So of course I use the houses in my books, historical and sometimes the contemporaries. I fictionalize them, give them a new name and invent a room or two, but I always have a great house firmly in mind when I write a book. I fictionalize because then I can make the house mine, and it won’t be confused with the families who actually live there.

The first house I used was in “Yorkshire.” Yes, the run-down, dilapidated Hareton Hall of “Yorkshire,” actually exists. In reality it’s called Calke Abbey, and it’s a few miles south of the fictional version, in Derbyshire. It’s an incredible place. The family who built and owned the house until the National Trust took over were the Harper-Crews, and their fortunes declined considerably over the centuries. At the end of their occupation, the sole survivor was living in a lean-to shed off the kitchen. The family just left things in place, treasures and rubbish. When the Trust took it, it was for the rare wildlife in the park, but they discovered amazing things inside. Previous to Calke, the Trust had chosen to restore the houses in their care to the days of the heyday, whenever that was. Everything was restored meticulously, and shone forth in glory. Not so Calke. The Trust preserved rather than restored, and the results are fascinating. They discovered a complete court bed, never taken out of its cedarwood boxes. Stuffed animal heads were discovered slung on to old beds. Like a latter-day Tutankhamen’s Tomb, Calke lies preserved as a monument to the rise and fall of the great country house.

How could I not use it? So when my heroine Rose arrives at Calke expecting a great country house party, she finds a ruin, and few other guests. Fortunately for her, they include the roué and exquisite Richard Kerre, Viscount Strang, who falls in love with her on sight (see a theme here?)

There are other great houses in the Richard and Rose books. Richard’s family home, Eyton, is based on the great Chatsworth in Derbyshire. I lived for some time close to Chatsworth, so I got quite familiar with it. They have a house in Oxfordshire that never appears in the books, deliberately so, because I wanted them to have somewhere they can be private. Rose’s brother James rebuilds his house in Devonshire, and I chose the exquisite Saltram, in reality built for the Parkers by Robert Adam, as my example.

I cried earlier this year when I wrote the last book. Not because it doesn’t have a happy ever after (they are romances, after all) but because I so didn’t want to end them. But the time had come, and I didn’t want the series to drag on, like a few I could think of. Time to say goodbye, or at least, farewell.

I’ve used other houses, too. In “Alluring Secrets,” Sev, the hero, has a house remarkably similar to Longleat. These days lions roam the grounds, but in those days it was a beautiful country house of Elizabethan origins. Castle Howard in Yorkshire was the home of Charles, in “Noblesse Oblige.” Charles is my only duke so far. Dukes were a rare breed in Georgian Britain, so I save them for when I really need them! In “Tantalizing Secrets,” Peter’s father’s house is Belvoir Castle, not my favorite country house of all time. I found it interesting, but cold. However the heroine, Arabella, lives in Belgrave Hall in Leicester, a beautifully preserved  small manor house.

It really helps me to see my characters in their natural settings. Sometimes the house will start me off, sometimes a character needs somewhere to live. But it’s lovely to bring my love of the British country house to readers.

 Excerpt from Tantalizing Secrets:

Emulating Peter, Arabella took a swig of the spirit. She had forgotten just how fiery brandy was and choked on it.

He laughed, but he leant forward and bent her over a little, so she could recover more easily. Arabella nearly choked again when she felt his arm around her chest, just below her breasts. She felt his warmth through the layers of silk, whalebone and linen as if he touched her bare skin. It was extraordinary. When she leant back, she found herself leaning against his arm with her head on his shoulder. It seemed natural. Arabella hadn’t felt so cared for in years. Arthur had shown her kindness, but rarely spontaneous affection. She discovered that she liked it very much.

While admiring his expertise and willing to go along with him for the moment, inside Arabella kept on her guard. She had drunk more than usual at dinner, and that, combined with the brandy gave her a recklessness unusual to her. After all, why not? Who would repine if they didn’t know? She no longer denied the strong attraction she felt for him, to do so would have been hypocritical. It was beyond denying now.

Arabella kept her head turned away from him while he talked. “I’ve never let anyone else see what you saw this afternoon, Arabella. I owe you a great deal for that. I don’t know why I broke then, but I couldn’t stop.”
She turned her head then, to stare at him in wonder. He smiled down at her and brushed his lips over her forehead. “I’ve lost a great deal, my dear. I’ve lost the freedom to act as I choose, to live as I choose. The bars of my cage are closing in around me.” He sighed. “I’m sure I’ll cope, but it happened so suddenly the shock came as a severe one.”

She nodded. “I felt a bit like that when I married. I was leaving a life of poverty for prosperity, going to a man who cared for me, but the day I left I felt a great sense of loss.”

“Going into the unknown. Your husband—was he good to you? Tell me true, Arabella.”

She nodded, feeling her cheek move against the ribbed silk of his dark red coat. It felt good. “He was always kind, and he left me well provided for. I was his third wife, and since the first two hadn’t presented him with offspring, he didn’t even expect an heir from me.”

“But he did expect normal marital relations?”

“Oh yes.” Only then did Arabella color up, realizing what he had asked.

Before she could pull away, his arms tightened around her. He laughed. “I didn’t want to press my attentions on a virgin bride.” The smile faded. “I won’t go any further than you want me to, Arabella, but I can’t deny I’m deeply attracted to you. Perhaps for now we should just settle for kisses. We’ve both been under a great deal of strain, and we don’t want to add to it. Besides, I’d like you as a friend. I don’t want to jeopardize that.”

She looked up at him and smiled. “Are you this honest with everyone?”

He trailed a finger along her chin. “No. Only a few other people.” He bent and touched his lips to the tip of her nose, drawing back with a smile. “I want you to trust me, and I don’t think there’s any other way apart from honesty. Not with you.”

“No.” She still kept up her guard, though. Peter was a subtle, complicated person. She knew she couldn’t be sure that everything he let her see was all there was to see. “Are you sure all this isn’t a ploy designed to get me into bed?”

He laughed, and she saw nothing but amusement there. “Such perspicacity! There are other ways that don’t include opening my heart. I find a simple request works well. I have to deal with so much subterfuge in my public life that I prefer my private life to be straightforward.” He frowned. “As straightforward as I can make it.”

Arabella sighed. “I wish I’d seen more. You must know how little I’ve been about the world. I’ve lived here and in Loughborough all my life.”

“What, never been anywhere else?” He sounded surprised.


“I think we should get you to London. You’re enchanting, Arabella, you’ll do well there.”

She gave him a cynical grimace. “My portion is too modest for London and I’m not on the look-out for a husband. Those grand people would look down their noses at me.”

“I don’t, and I can introduce you to other people who won’t. You can come for a visit. I could arrange it. Would you like that?”

Arabella had to admit that she would.

His answering smile was more intimate. “I think that deserves a kiss, don’t you?”

He tightened his hold on her, but slowly, so she could draw back if she wanted to. She didn’t want to. She lifted her arm up to touch his shoulder, firm under the fine coat and watched his face come closer to hers.
His free hand went behind her head. His fingers threaded into the loose bun and pins fell with dull thuds on to the sofa behind her. He kissed her.

A soft joining of mouths, a natural coming together. Arabella decided she liked it. It wasn’t too challenging, or too invasive. Before she had a chance to accustom herself to the sensation, his tongue flicked against her closed lips. She obeyed the unspoken request and opened her mouth under his. He entered, sweeping his tongue around her lips, and then surging further in.

Arabella had never felt so thoroughly invaded in her life. He melded them into one being with his kiss. Even when her husband made love to her, Arabella had never felt this close to him.

She let her eyes drift shut. It increased her sensitivity, made her concentrate on his tongue inside her mouth, his hand caressing her back. His caresses were slow and sensual, easing her into accepting their intimacy, soothing her apprehension. She relaxed, let him support her and explore her.

He must have felt her surrender, because his kiss became more demanding. His hands firmed on her back and he pulled her closer. His tongue tickled hers, inviting a response and shyly, she gave it, slipping hers into his mouth while he supported and encouraged her. He made a sound at the back of his throat; it sounded like pleasure to Arabella. She explored him as he had explored her, but her hands were still, one on his shoulder and another around his waist.

He finished the kiss only to begin again but this time decreasing the intensity, until once more only their lips and hands touched. When he drew back, he was smiling. “Everything I’d hoped.”

She smiled back, unsure of what to say. He swooped down on her again and claimed another kiss, hard and brief. “Thank you.”

She wet her lips. “That was…that was…surprising.”

Instead of taking it in his stride, as she expected him to do, he agreed. “It was, wasn’t it? I expected a proper kiss with you to be enjoyable, but that was a little more.” His smile grew more intimate. “Perhaps we ought to practice for a while and see what happens.” Arabella swallowed, and he chuckled. “Not too fast, my sweet, not with you. I want you with me every step of the way.”

“And if I call a stop?”

He caressed her, his hand moving up to where a light fichu covered her back. “Then we stop. I meant it when I said I wanted your friendship. I want your trust too.” He must have seen the skepticism light her eyes. “I’m being as honest as I know how. There are other sides to me, you must know that. Politicians are rarely straightforward. Many of them have lost touch with the simple pleasures, but I’ve always made an effort to keep them. What can I say?” He watched her in comfortable silence, his hands moving gently over her. “I can tell you that most of the women I have taken some pleasure with remain friends afterwards.”

“Have you a mistress at the moment?”

He smiled. “No. Though I’d like to say yes.” His meaning was unmistakable. He wanted her.

Arabella didn’t know what to think. The last man who had wanted her for herself was her late husband, and he had wanted her companionship as much as her company in bed. To be desired, that was a new thing for her. His desire and his frank admission of it gave her access to a part of herself she’d been unaware of before. She became aware of her body beneath the whalebone. As a healthy young woman, she’d taken it for granted, but now she realized that someone desired her, really desired her.

He bent and took possession of her lips once more, but this time she knew what to expect, or at least she thought she did. She should have known better. He played with her, tickled and tantalized, made her move, a sensuous curve of her hips into his hand, and heard his low sound of appreciation.

Arabella would have liked it to go on longer but he drew back. She smiled, totally relaxed in his arms except for the tingle he evoked deep inside her. “It must be the brandy.”


“I don’t do this. I don’t know how.”

“Time you learned.”

Today, Lynne is offering to one lucky winner either a print copy of Seductive Secrets, the first in the Secrets series, or a download of all three Secrets books - winner's choice. To enter the drawing, just tell us about your favourite old house, or make some other comment on Lynne's post. This contest will end at midnight tonight and the winner will be announced tomorrow on this thread,


  1. Hi Lynne!

    Great to have you at the party today! I was wondering - do you live in an old house yourself? And do you find the atmosphere of where you are influences your writing?


  2. Hi Lynne - great post!

    My favorite old house is Montecello in Charlottesville, VA - Thomas Jefferon's house. It's the oldest house that I've been in and I found it to be fascinating, plus all of the historical inforamtion was really interesting.
    I've enjoyed the Richard and Rose series and was sorry to see it end:)

  3. Hi Lynne - lovely post. My favourite Georgian house at the moment is Pollok House in Glasgow - wonderful grounds too.

  4. Hi Lynne,

    I loved your post! I also have a fascination with old houses and love to visit some when I can. They have such atmosphere, I like to imagine the people who lived in them and how their lifstyle was.

    Now I get to visit here in Germany. I once visited Newschwanstein, that famous fairytale looking castle in is stunning!!!

    When I am back in England I try to visit some house or other. The last time I was there, I visited the inside of Buckingham Palace which was very nice.


    in Germany

  5. Thanks everyone! Got a bit distracted this morning by my son coming home from university. And it's his birthday! (happy birthday, baby!)

    Valerie, I'd love to visit Newschwanstein. It's the one the Disney castle is based on, isn't it?

    This year I visited the creepiest, scariest place I've ever been to in my life. I've visited ancient, haunted castles, old churches, and before this I'd have said that the scariest place was the White Tower in the Tower of London. There's a terribly scary atmosphere there. But another place has beaten it.
    The atmosphere is like taut wire. Not a place for murderers and child molesters per se, but a place for prisoners who misbehaved in prison. Al Capone went there. The Birdman lived there, although he wasn't allowed any birds and his health was very bad.
    I couldn't get a clear photo of the kitchens, and I wondered why. Funny mist obscures all three photos, although the view was clear and unblocked.
    I was glad to leave, but I was glad I visited.

  6. Good Morning Lynne!

    I really enjoyed your post, and am loving the name Arabella.

    My grandparents use to live on top of a hill in this big old house and I loved it. There was this little door on the bottom floor that would take you outside, but it was so small (a child would have trouble squeezing through). I never could figure out its purpose.

    Alcatraz is pretty amazing. I've been a few times, and it never loses that creepy vibe.

  7. Good morning Lynne! The Chalke Abbey sounds utterly fabulous. Thanks for the great post and the exceprt. My grandmother lived in a historical home in Oklahoma until her death a year ago. The gentleman that bought the house from the estate is going to restore it back to its early glory. We've been invited back to see it when its fully restored later this year.

    When I was a toddler, we live in Virginia (where my brother was born) and my parents would take me to the historical houses on the weekends but for the life of me, I don't know which ones. I do have pictures of me standing outside of them. LOL!

  8. Happy Birthday to your son, Lynne!

    Waving to everyone because I'm glad to be back. It's blowing a gale here and the power cut out for a couple of hours, but it's back now,so I don't have to miss any of the party :).

    Enjoying hearing about the historical houses! Rosemary, you're making me home sick! I was brought up fairly near Pollock House and visited it several times in my youth! Do you live in Glasgow?


  9. Hi Marie - I live in a village on the coast just down the M8 from Glasgow!

    I blogged about Pollok House the other week here (with a few photos):

  10. My favorite old house was my grandmother's house which her father had built in the late 1800's. I used to love all the high ceilings, carved lintels, wrap-around veranda and all those features that don't appear in houses now. My brother used to have fun chasing around the upstairs and using the back (servants?) stairs. No heat though upstairs except for a large pipe coming up from the furnace.

    a dot charol at yahoo dot ca

  11. Hi again Lynne,

    Ooooooh, creepy and I agree with the White Tower, I've visited that too.

    And yes, Neuschwanstein is the model for the Disney castle. It's fabulous.

    in Germany

  12. My favorite old house was my Great Aunt Mary's house in Garland, Kansas. It was an old victorian with gigantic trees in the front yard. All of the doors still used skeleton keys. There were lots of nooks and hiding places for a small child. It was at times a creepy old house but at other times it was very romantic. You could see the history in that old place.

    user1123 AT comcast DOT net

  13. Rosemary, thanks for the link! Nice to meet a fellow Scot!


  14. Lynne, I have a couple of questions for you from Monica, aka Emma, who can't get at a computer this week, but wanted to join the party!

    1) If you could go back in time which century would you pick and why?

    2) Who is your favourite historical figure and why?

  15. I love looking at old houses and would love to be able to travel to Great Britian and see some of the old buildings and especially some of the historic castles.

    manning_j2004 at yahoo dot com

  16. Hi Lynne,

    Some wonderful houses on your list there, and now I really do have to get a move on and read the rest of the Richard and Rose books. I absolutely adore Chatsworth -- the house and the estate -- and will be going on a 'Behind the Scenes' day next month as a birthday present to myself.

    Random fact: I tried to get Dad to go and bid on the Humber that used to live under the stairs at Chatsworth when it came up for auction in the recent attic sale, but Mum would never have let us get away with that one.

  17. hello lynn, I don't live in an old house but would love to.

  18. I love old houses. I have two that come to mind right away. I love the Vanderbilt Estate in North Carolina. I was just a kid when I visited but it left an impression. It is so elegant even though it's huge! The other is the Hurst Castle in California. It's not really old but the rooms in it are. The architect was genius. The rooms are amazing. The end result is a hot mess but boy is it fun to visit!
    Thanks for the awesome giveaway!

  19. I love old houses too. When I was a child, each summer my parents would put my sisters and I on a train to go visit my grandparents. They would meet us at the train station and we would spend a couple of weeks with them. My aunt and her family lived in a house close by. The house sat on a hilltop and looked huge to us. The really neat thing about the house was a beautiful winding staircase that we loved to run up and down. :)


  20. Great hearing about all the old houses, especially the American ones which I knew nothing about before! And Alcatraz, of course...

    Thanks, everyone! And of course, thanks to Lynne for her wonderful post! I'll be back in a moment with Lynne's winner.


  21. And Lynne's winner is... ROSEMARY GEMMELL!

    Congratulations, Rosemary, you lucky thing! Could you please email me - Marie AT MarieTreanor DOT com - and let me know whether you'd prefer Lynne's print book, Seductive Secrets, or a download of all three of her Secrets books. Thanks!


  22. Congrats Rosemary!!!

    in Germany

  23. Wow! I've just seen this! Thank you Lynne and Marie. Wiil get in touch, Marie.

  24. 1) If you could go back in time which century would you pick and why?

    the eighteenth. Because I'm totally in love with it. Which is more than odd, because my "academic" period is the sixteenth, but I've never been able to write fiction set there.
    The clothes, the men, the swords, the excitement, the lack of hypocrisy, the art, the men, sigh!

    2) Who is your favourite historical figure and why?

    One? Just One? I can't, I just can't. Elizabeth I is fascinating, but so is Lord Augustus Hervey and Lady Mary Wortley Montague, though I'm sure they'd scare me silly. How about Horace Walpole, who knew anybody who was anybody and was an incorrigible gossip? I know I'm supposed to be high minded and all that, but a good gossip in a lovely house (Strawberry Hill) over tea and cakes? Difficult to beat that.