I have a rather delayed Friday Night Drinks tonight, as this should have appeared in April, until I was suddenly struck down by illness. However, better late than never, and it is a double whammy as, for the first time, I am having drinks with two authors tonight who are co-authors of a series of historical novels. You know what they say, two’s company, three is a party, so I am delighted to welcome to the blog…. Eleanor Harkstead and Catherine Curzon.
Thank you both for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?
EH: Give me gin or give me death. Or alternatively a nice white wine.
CC: Tea! I will happily order tea in a pub, because there’s no finer drink under the sun. If I must have something a little more dramatic, Mason’s do a stunning tea gin. They do a lot of stunning gins, but that one is particularly special.
You are ladies after my own heart, as I have been a gin devotee since long before it became trendy. I have never tried the tea gin, though, so I must track that down. If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?
EH: There’s a place in Birmingham called The Jekyll and Hyde. It has an amazing “gin palace” room where they sell nothing but gin!
CC: There’s no better way to start an evening out than a gorgeous meal and no better place to have a gorgeous meal than Salvo’s in Headingley. I’m not sponsored by them, but I wish I was — send me free food, Salvos! It’s the best Italian you’ll ever eat at, and has been family run for something like forty years. They won Best Neighbourhood Italian on Gordon Ramsey’s The F Word too, which isn’t to be sniffed (or sworn) at.
If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?
EH: Byron and his pet bear. I’m not sure if the bear was male or female, but I’m sure no one’ll mind. Byron would be a laugh on the gin (or a morality black hole, it’s hard to say which), and the bear would be an excellent conversation piece. Besides, you never know when a bear might come in handy on a night out. It could keep an eye on your drinks while you’re dancing or deal with any argy-bargy.
CC: In my other writing life, I write nonfiction about the 18th century and that means there can only be one correct answer to this question. Laurence Sterne on one side and Caroline of Brunswick on the other. Sterne was known for wit and fabulous conversation and could hold a room in the palm of his hand with his stories. It’d be a privilege to meet the great man.
Caroline of Brunswick, meanwhile, was the scandalous estranged wife of George IV. She famously danced in diaphanous gowns on the Italian coast, shared a bed with a soldier noted for his dramatic whiskers and didn’t always wear her stays in polite company. I’d love to discover if the stories about Prinny are true, as well as find out if Caroline’s own hygiene was as shocking as her husband claimed it was!
Sounds like this could turn into quite a raucous night out, even without the bear. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?
EH/CC: We’re celebrating the publication of The Ghost Garden. We’re also writing something in our sandbox just for fun, but as usually happens, I’m sure the grain of an idea will make itself known and we’ll be off to turn it into a novel.
Within the tangled vines of a forgotten garden, can a blossoming new love overcome an ancient evil that threatens both the living and the dead?
After losing her brother in the trenches of the Great War, Cecily James is a prisoner of Whitmore Hall, the respected but remote boys’ school where her brutish husband reigns as headmaster. With its forsaken walled garden, a hauntingly tragic past, and midnight footsteps heard from an unoccupied clocktower, Whitmore Hall is a place where the dead are rumored to walk.
Whitmore Hall is a place filled with mysteries and as a ghost garden emerges from the sun-bleached soil, long-buried secrets cry out to be told.
When new teacher Raf de Chastelaine blunders into an impromptu seance, Cecily finds an unlikely and eccentric ally. In a world of discipline and respectability, barefoot Raf is unlike any teacher Cecily has ever met. With his tales of the Carpathian mountains and a love of midnight gardening, he shakes Whitmore Hall to its foundations. Could there be more to Raf than meets the eye? And as he and Cecily realise that their feelings run deeper than friendship, dare they dream of a world beyond Whitmore Hall?
As Cecily and Raf team up to unite long-dead lovers and do battle with an ancient evil that has long haunted Whitmore Hall, Cecily finds her chance of happiness threatened by her tyrannical husband. But is the controlling headmaster acting of his own free will, or is he the puppet of a malevolent power from beyond the grave?
What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?
CC/EH: Definitely when Pride signed up our first Captivating Captains novel, The Captain and the Cavalry Trooper. Our first published work with Pride was a short story, An Actor’s Guide To Romance, and that was a really special moment for us as co-writers, but to see our first joint novel out there was fantastic. Even better was when Pride decided to launch the Captivating Captains series of novels, which cross genres and eras to tell stand alone stories featuring… some captivating captains!
What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!
EH/CC: I suppose every writer hopes this, and it’s not very realistic, but we’d love it if one of our stories was dramatised. But (again unrealistically!) we’d like to oversee the casting.
What are you currently working on that you are really excited about?
CC/EH: We’ve just put the final finishing touches to the first draft of the sequel to The Ghost Garden and we’re ready to shout it from the rooftops, but we can’t just yet!
We’re really excited to introduce readers to the village where Raf’s family have lived for generations and to the people who live there. Although it’s the second book in our series, The de Chastelaine Chronicles, it can be read as a stand alone too, so readers who aren’t familiar with Raf and Cecily will still be able to jump right in and uncover their latest supernatural investigation!
I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?
EH: I have two favourite places, which are in fact weirdly similar — Edinburgh and Granada. They’re both modern cities but ancient too with lovely old towns and castles. Granada is a magical place — I went in December once in the snow and it was beautiful. The Alhambra Palace is an amazing place to visit, but also to see peering over the buildings of the city as you wander about. And the view from the Albayzin (the Old Town) of the Alhambra with mountains behind it is breathtaking. I love Edinburgh — the Georgian New Town is gorgeous, and the higgledy-piggledy Old Town around The Royal Mile is fascinating. And Edinburgh’s old cemeteries are fantastic to visit.
Top of my bucket list is Japan — I studied Japanese for two years but have never had the chance to go. One day, maybe!
CC: I’m going to choose two places for this question, one at home and one abroad.
My first choice is the breathtaking Niagara Falls. It’s a place everyone should experience if they can for its wildness and the sheer scale and strength of the falls. I’m a bit of a waterfall fan!
A little closer to home, there’s nowhere better than the rugged North Yorkshire coast. Not only can one have the best fish and chips, there’s miles of wonderful walking, gorgeous views and friendly Yorkshire folk – like me (though I’m only honorary Yorkshire!).
At the top of my bucket list is only one thing: I am utterly obsessed with seeing the Northern Lights. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing and something I hope will happen one day!
Well, we are honoured to have you in Yorkshire and I agree that the North Yorkshire coast is as beautiful as any you will find anywhere. Lots of places there that are also on my bucket list! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself that people might not know about you.
EH: I was once, by accident, in a documentary about students from the Middle East. I’m actually from East Anglia, which isn’t quite the same thing. I still don’t know how that happened.
CC: I spent many years working in the House of Commons. At some point during this occasionally surreal decade, a Home Secretary stole my shoe whilst he was drunk. I won’t name him!
Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?
EH: Chingiz Aytmatov’s Jamila (also known as Jamilia). It’s a beautiful, quietly rebellious love story set in Soviet Kyrgyzstan — so exquisitely moving and will stay with you long after you’ve read it. James Riordan’s translation is nothing short of lyrical.
The Second World War is raging, and Jamilia’s husband is off fighting at the front. Accompanied by Daniyar, a sullen newcomer who was wounded on the battlefield, Jamilia spends her days hauling sacks of grain from the threshing floor to the train station in their village in the Central Asia.
Spurning men’s advances and wincing at the dispassionate letters she receives from her husband, Jamilia falls helplessly in love with the mysterious Daniyar in this heartbreakingly beautiful tale.
CC: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. I guarantee you’ve never read anything like it before, and you never will again. My interest in history and writing was awakened by my grandad, who was a born storyteller. Tristram Shandy is just like sitting beside grandad’s hearth and listening to him tell tales. It wanders, stops and starts, and leaves you hanging. Perfect storytelling!
Sterne’s great comic novel is the fictional autobiography of Tristram Shandy, a hero who fails even to get born in the first two volumes. It contains some of the best-known and best-loved characters in English literature, including Uncle Toby, Corporal Trim, Parson Yorick, Dr Slop and the Widow Wadman. Beginning with Tristram’s conception, the novel recounts his progress in ‘this scurvy and disasterous world of ours’, including his misnaming during baptism and his accidental circumcision by a falling sash-window at the age of five; unsurprisingly, Tristram declares that he has been ‘the continual sport of what the world calls Fortune’. Tristram Shandy also offers the narrator’s ‘opinions’, at once facetious and highly serious, on books and learning in an age of rapidly expanding print culture, and on the changing understanding of the roles of writers and readers alike.
So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?
EH: Drink lots of water, keep paracetamol by the bed and get lots of sleep! To be honest, I’d also say that in order to avoid hangovers never pass the age of thirty. And don’t have more than one or two drinks, definitely never on an empty stomach. (Thus speaks the voice of bitter experience. And the least said about that the better, I think!)
CC: I’ve never been drunk, so I’ve never had a hangover. My failsafe plan is, therefore, don’t get drunk! Easier said than done sometimes, I know, but it works for me!
After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?
EH: Almost inevitably, there will be writing and maybe podcasting. Other than that, I might be in the garden. I’ve just planted a clematis, a honeysuckle and a passion flower to climb my boring fences, and I now have a red bottlebrush — it’s a magnificent Australian plant which reminds me of my auntie’s garden in Perth.
CC: There’d definitely be some writing in there somewhere! I’d also catch a football match (and hopefully, unlike this season, we might even win!) then pack my airband radio and binoculars and head off to the airport. I’m not a plane spotter so much as a plane watcher. We sit at the end of the runway, eat fish and chips, drink tea and watch the planes come and go whilst listening to pilots and tower. It’s more fun than it sounds, believe me, you see some really unexpected sights!
Some diverse weekend plans there! Thank you very much for joining me on the blog tonight, it has been a great evening.
As well as their book, The Ghost Garden, which is described above and which you can buy here,, Eleanor and Catherine have a new book coming out on 3 September. The Captain and the Theatrical is the third book in the Captivating Captains series and you can buy a copy here.
When Captain Pendleton needs an emergency fiancée, who better to turn to than his male best friend? After all, for Amadeo Orsini, life’s one long, happy drag!
Captain Ambrose “Pen” Pendleton might have distinguished himself on the battlefield at Waterloo but since he’s come home to civvy street, he’s struggled to make his mark.
Pen dreams of becoming a playwright but his ambitious father has other ideas, including a trophy wife and a new job in America. If he’s to stand a hope of staying in England and pursuing his dream, Pen needs to find a fiancée fast.
Amadeo Orsini never made it as a leading man, but as a leading lady he’s the toast of the continental stage. Now Cosima is about to face her most challenging role yet, that of Captain Pendleton’s secret amour.
With the help of a talking theatrical parrot who never forgets his lines, Orsini throws on his best frock, slaps on the rouge and sets out to save Pen from the clutches of Miss Harriet Tarbottom and her scheming parents.
As friendship turns into love, will the captain be able to write a happy ending for himself and Orsini before the curtain falls?
Catherine Curzon and Eleanor Harkstead began writing together in the spring of 2017 and swiftly discovered a shared love of sauce, well-dressed gents and a uniquely British sort of romance. They drink gallons of tea, spend hours discussing the importance of good tailoring and are never at a loss for a double entendre.
Their short stories and the Captivating Captains series are published by Pride. Don’t miss the de Chastelaine Chronicles, coming in 2019 from Totally Bound.
You can find more information on their writing partnership on their website.
Catherine Curzon is an author and royal historian of the 18th century.
In addition to her four non-fiction books on Georgian royalty, available from Pen & Sword, she written extensively for a number of internationally-published publications, and has spoken at venues and events across the United Kingdom.
Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine can often be found cheering for the mighty Huddersfield Town. She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill with a rakish colonial gentleman, a long-suffering cat and a lively dog.
Eleanor Harkstead likes to dash about in nineteenth-century costume, in bonnet or cravat as the mood takes her. She knows rather a lot about poisons, and can occasionally be found wandering old graveyards. Eleanor is very fond of chocolate, wine, tweed waistcoats and nice pens, and has a huge collection of vintage hats. She is the winner of the Best Dressed Sixth Former award and came third in the under-11s race at the Colchester Fire Swim.
Originally from the south-east of England, Eleanor now lives somewhere in the Midlands with a large ginger cat who resembles a Viking.
Next week, I will be joined by the fabulous Cressida Mclaughlin to celebrate the publication of her latest paperback, so make sure you join us.