Before The Storm, 40,000 words…

4 April 2011

I made a decision last week that I need to cut back the hours that I work (I’m self employed and work from home so this isn’t a problem, luckily for me) so that I have more time to work on my writing and as a result have spent a very happy weekend researching and getting two more chapters writtten. Okay, I will be a bit poor from now on but I think being happy and er artistically fulfilled is a lot more important than having lots of THINGS. Possibly.

The story is coming along nicely now. The main characters are all in France and have just been introduced to Marie Antoinette, which is always a bit of a thrill. As usual, I have been re-reading Madame de la Tour du Pin’s memoirs to refresh my memory about the pageantry of Versailles at this time.

‘The heavy doors at the end of the Hall of Mirrors swung open and the hundreds of people crammed into the exquisite crystal and gold gallery stopped talking and yawning behind their fans and turned as one, desperate to catch a glimpse of the king and queen and their dozens of splendidly dressed attendants and ladies in waiting as they went past on their way back from morning mass.

On their way to the chapel, the royal party swept past at a brisk pace, the ladies feet barely seeming to touch the floor as they glided along with quick little steps but their return was far more leisurely, as King Louis and Marie Antoinette took the opportunity to exchange pleasantries with favoured courtiers and visitors.

‘Oh, here she comes!’ Anastasia whispered to Clementine, clutching her arm in her excitement. ‘Just look at her dress! Do you think they are real diamonds? Oh won’t Phoebe just die when I write to tell her about this!’

Clementine rolled her eyes. ‘Do you only write to her when you have something to crow about?’ she whispered back, laughing.

Anastasia looked confused. ‘Of course I do. Poor thing, she is stuck in Bath at the moment with her awful mother and sister. Imagine being there instead of lovely Paris!’

‘Sssh, you two,’ Mrs Garland hissed, fanning herself furiously as she took in every detail of the French queen’s gorgeous blue and silver silk dress, her tall thickly powdered coiffure  which was topped with a cluster of silver and pearl spangled white and blue ostrich feathers and the red circles of crimson rouge that she wore high on her cheekbones. ‘What a crush there is in here. I declare that I will faint if we can’t leave soon.’

‘Do not, under any circumstances, faint, Mrs Garland!’ Venetia ordered with a stern look. ‘If you faint in front of the queen at Versailles, you might as well just pack up and go back to London because you will be laughed at by all the court.’ She turned to Clementine with a wink. ‘Women do it all the time, you know. Her Majesty made the mistake of being very kind to the first fainter and rushing to their assistance, which of course encouraged hundreds more to give it a try.’ She smiled. ‘She just steps over them nowadays.’

‘Oh my goodness, she is coming over,’ Anastasia breathed, as they all sank into low curtseys. She could hear her mother becoming flustered and prayed that she didn’t faint or do anything to embarrass them all. They’d come so far – it would be terrible to ruin things now when the eyes of all Versailles were fixed upon them.

‘Madame la Comtesse, how pleasant to see you at court again,’ Marie Antoinette addressed Venetia with a gracious smile. Her accent was a peculiar but not unpleasing mixture of German and French. ‘You have been much missed.’

‘Your Majesty is too kind,’ Venetia replied with another curtsey. Her prowess at the card tables had made her a favourite guest at the queen’s card parties. In the past, Marie Antoinette had been ruinously fond of gambling but her parties nowadays were far more sedate affairs.

‘I see that you have brought some friends today?’ The queen turned to Anastasia and Clementine, who both hastily curtsied again as Venetia introduced them and their mother, who mutely dropped a low reverence but mercifully failed to faint although she went very pale and trembled alarmingly. ‘It is always a great delight to me to welcome our English neighbours to Versailles.’

‘Thank you,’ Anastasia murmured, flushing with nervousness as Marie Antoinette gave them both an approving look then moved on to the next person, leaving a trail of delicious tea rose and violet scent in her wake.

‘Well, my dears, your social success is now assured,’ Venetia murmured to her friends, slipping her arms around their waists and hugging them. ‘I could not have contrived it better had I deliberately set out to do so.’

‘How very gracious her Majesty is,’ Mrs Garland was murmuring, gazing after the French queen in awe. ‘My word, if only Mrs Knowles had been here to see it. How she would have stared.’ — Before The Storm, M Clegg, 2011.

I’m currently having a lovely time describing a pretty little pleasure house on the outskirts of Versailles and which has clearly been modeled on the Petit Trianon. I am retracing my own footsteps through that beautiful house as my characters explore their new home for the first time. Here’s some of my photographs of the Petit Trianon so you can see what I mean.

Over one of the fireplaces in my not so imaginary house, there is a Vigée Lebrun portrait of the owner posed as Hebe. I based it on this portrait of Miss Pitt:

Hebe was a very popular motif for portraits of young ladies during this period, with even the young Marie Antoinette joining in!

I think this will be my last book set during the eighteenth century, at least for a little while. I think three is enough really – don’t you agree? I have five books that I want to write when I’ve finished this one and then maybe I will come back to it, but a change is definitely in order right now. I’ll be sad to leave the eighteenth century behind though!

My next book will be set either in Victorian London or sixteenth century Florence though so that gives me plenty of scope for some really fabulous researching! I’m hoping to finish Before The Storm in June (we’re off to Penrith near the Lake District for a week so that I can devote myself to some really quality writing time in between stomping around pretending to be Withnail) and then watch this space for further announcements! It looks like my next book, Blood Sisters (which is set during the French Revolution) will be coming out in June too, which is a bit exciting!

Many thanks, by the way, to everyone who has bought a copy of The Secret Diary of a Princess! I’ve had some really lovely feedback from readers, which has done a lot to boost my rather battered and dismally low confidence as a writer. It’s £2.30 on Kindle from Amazon UK and $3 from Amazon US if you fancy having a read! It’s currently being outsold by The Greek Seaman, which is a bit annoying but I draw the line at telling reviewers to ‘eff off’ just to boost sales.

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