Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What We're Writing: Rhys and Queen Victoria

RHYS BOWEN: I seem to be going back in time with my writing. After writing two stand-alone novels set in WWII, my next book, coming out this February, is called THE VICTORY GARDEN and is about the Women's Land Army in WWI.

However, my work in progress, actually only just started, is going to be about Queen Victoria and the time she spent in Nice. When I was staying in Nice a few years ago, actually writing Naughty in Nice, I was surprised to learn that Queen Victoria spent the winter there, during her latter years. I hadn't known this. An enormous hotel had been built for her--the Hotel Regina Excelsior. It stands on a hillside above the city with fabulous views. She took over a whole wing with a retinue of 100. She brought her own bedroom furniture and chefs on a private train from England.... however, she didn't want anyone to know she was the queen. (I think they might have guessed with a regiment of Highland pipers accompanying her). She told everyone to call her Lady Balmoral.

So the working title of my book is LADY BALMORAL'S CHEF. And it's about a young woman who cooks for the queen and there's a murder and a lot of intrigue.

This is how it begins:

Lady Balmoral’s Chef

Chapter 1



London, September 1897
If Helen Barton hadn’t stepped under an omnibus, I might well still be sweeping floors and lighting fires in that dreadful house in St. John’s Wood. But for once I had followed my father’s advice.
“Carpe diem,” was one of my father’s favorite sayings. Seize the day. Take your chances. He usually added ‘because that might be the only chance you get.”

He spoke from experience. He was an educated man, came from a good family, and had known better times. As a second son of the junior branch he could expect no title or property that went with it, and was sent out to India to make something of himself.  He had married my mother, a sweet and delicate creature he met on one of his visits home. It was soon clear that she couldn’t endure the harsh conditions of Bengal, so Daddy had been forced to bring her home to England.

Daddy had received no help from the family but at last had fallen on his feet in a way and had held what was considered a prestigious position: he was a receptionist and greeter at the Savoy, London’s new luxury hotel.  His ability to speak good French and know how to mingle with crowned heads had made him popular at the hotel. He had patted the hands of elderly Russian countesses and arranged roulette parties for dashing European princes, for which he received generous tips. We had lived quite happily in the small town of Hampstead, on the northern fringes of London. My sister and I attended a private school. We had a woman who came to clean and cook for us. It was not an extravagant life, but a pleasant one.

            Until it all came crashing down when the demon drink overcame my father. He worked at an establishment where the alcohol flowed freely among the guests. He was invited to take a glass and it would be rude to refuse. So who would notice if he finished off a bottle?  His visits to the public house became more frequent. And one day he was found drunk on the job. That meant instant dismissal. He tried in vain to find another position but with no reference no respectable establishment would want him. We watched him sink lower and lower into depression and drunkenness. My mother died around that time. She was a genteel and sweet person who adored my father. They said she died of pneumonia but I think it was of a broken heart.
            We moved to a squalid two room flat above a butcher’s shop, with only cold water and an outside lavatory. Father occasionally picked up work writing letters for the illiterate, tutoring in French, but nothing that kept the wolf far from the door. And so it was, just before my fifteenth birthday, that he announced he had found a position for me. I was to leave the school that I adored and to become a servant, so that I’d earn money to feed father and Louisa and someone else would have to feed and clothe me. I was more than shocked. I was mortified. We might not be rich but I was from a good family. And the house to which I was sent was that of a nouveau-riche man who had made money in the garment business. His factories turned out cheap blouses for working girls. He and his wife were loud-mouthed and common.
            I pleaded with my father not to do this.
            “It’s only for a short while, Bella,” he said, patting my hand. “I promise you as soon as I’m on my feet again I’ll bring you home. Until then you are helping to make sure that your little sister does not starve.”
            What could I say to that? He always was a great manipulator.

I'm dying to get on with it, but holiday shopping, decorating and parties keep intervening. However I shall enjoy spending time with Bella Waverly, Queen Victoria and a cast of naughty and nice characters. 

36 comments:

  1. This is so interesting, Rhys . . . I am looking forward to spending some time with Bella. I have a feeling she’s going to be more than capable of managing things . . . .

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  2. I remember you talking about the Queen in Nice before, so this tiny taste of your new adventure is delicious. Deb has been raving about "The Victory Garden," and I still have "The Tuscan Child" on my TBR pile, so I have quite a lot of enjoyable reading in store. Thank you for this sneak peek!

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    1. you're lucky to have both of those books in your future Gigi!

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  3. Yes, hooked for sure. I'll be anxiously waiting.

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  4. What a fantastic beginning! I do hope the family is not cruel to her. I could never have a true servant. I could never be mean or treat them rudely.
    I am hoping to read The Victory Garden. I do find the Women's Land Army fascinating!

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  5. Delightful! Love the first line, Rhys - and the rest of it.

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  6. Eagerly looking forward to this!

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  7. What a wonderful opening. Looking forward to the rest!

    Mary/Liz

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  8. While I read and enjoy your books, Julie absolutely drools over them. Her delight is roman a clef, and you excel in that. I think we own everything you've ever written, so please keep them coming. It's going to be a long cold odd winter here, her first winter of retirement, and we need to keep her occupied! Thank you Rhys!

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  9. Omnibus! So perfect. You are a one woman master class, Rhys!

    Xxx

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  10. Oh Rhys, what a wonderful beginning! Now I can hardly wait for the rest of it!!

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  11. And don’t you love this week? It is so fascinating how different we all are ...

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  12. Bella will be a welcome addition to the Sara Crewe and Maisie Dobbs tradition!

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  13. Another appealing young woman to take into messy and wonderful situations! Can't wait to read more, Rhys!

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  14. Oh Goody! More Rhys on the horizon! This is delightful and I'm left eager for more. Will there be an against-all-odds romance too? Ple-e-e-e-z-e.

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  15. Looks like Bella is in for a wild ride--this sort of reminds me of one of my favorite ever books, Caravan, by Dorothy Gilman, in which there is definitely a romance, but the character is so much more than that! Can't wait, Rhys, especially because of the intriguing setting--Queen Victoria incognito :-)

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  16. I am just blown away by Hallie and Hank's sneak peeks. August will be a hot month next year!

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  17. Rhys, I was really into this story, forgetting at once that it was only a snippet. Bella has already won me over, and I'm rooting for her. It's so interesting about Queen Victoria taking all that staff and her own bedroom furniture to Nice. What an undertaking that was. I know I'm going to love this story!

    And, I have The Victory Garden waiting for me. I'm so anxious to get to it, but I have to finish up a couple of 2018 reads, then some January releases. Oh how sweet it is, having too much to read.

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  18. What a fabulous set up, Rhys. I am eager to read more about Bella and your setting is divine, but you know that!

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  19. I like Bella! She has a streak of sarcasm in her that was no doubt well earned! Another winner, Rhys!

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  20. The only problem with your stand-alones is that I don’t want to say goodbye to the characters! Looking forward eagerly to all of your future books!

    DebRo

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  21. Oooh, can't wait, Rhys!! Love the opening!! And what fun to use Queen Victoria in Nice!

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  22. Fabulous! Can't wait to read the rest!

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  23. I can't wait to read more of this!

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  24. Agreed with everyone - I just wanted to keep going on and on!

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  25. Getting to my computer late today... OH I LOVE THIS! IT has all the ingredients of a Rhys Bowen novel. Tongue in cheek, clash of the classes, fabulous period detail... me, too, I want more!

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  26. I love all your series and the stand alones that I read. This sounds wonderful. Have you seen the PBS Victoria series? I enjoy that.

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  27. Oh, forget the shopping, decorating, partying, eating, and sleeping, Rhys, and just get on with the book. Another one that will be difficult to wait for.

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  28. Sounds good. Write faster so I can read it! :)

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  29. Rhys, is the Lady Balmoral's Chef novel going to be a stand alone novel?

    Diana

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