Visit my Website for all the blurbs, excerpts and news!!

Visit my Website for all the blurbs, excerpts and news!!
Visit my Website for all the blurbs, excerpts and news!!

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Victorian research - The Bustle Dress - with illustrations by Nicole Rubio

When I wrote A Muse to Live For, I spent more time doing historical research than actually writing. It is normal with historical fiction especially if it is your first! I became quite fascinated with Victorian clothes, and I am delighted to have discovered the beautiful art of Nicole Rubio, and to have her permission to use it on my blog as I ramble on a little about the Victorians and their apparel. I hope this post stirs your interest not just in my book, and Victorian fashion, but also in this artist's amazing talent and her deeply moving journey.

"When I could see my work I was too much of a perfectionist and severely blocked. It was only when it became real that it was now or never that I was willing to try. Somehow it felt like I had less to lose if I was starting with a handicap." 

Nicole Rubio

Bustle 8
"Delicate Presence"
Pastel Drawing on Paper
ⒸNicole Rubio 

"What bothers me most is losing color, which I can still see some, but not with the subtlety I could before. I am legally blind, due to a degenerative retinal disease." 

Nicole Rubio

One of the things I had to figure out for this story, where Gabriel/le, my main character does quite a lot of dress-making, dressing up and, ahem, undressing, is how on earth these cmplex outfit were put together, and worn. 
Man outfits of the time were not so very different from modern suits, but Victorian women clothes are… well, there was such a bloody lot of them, to begin with! There is no doubt that getting dressed was a bit of a hassle, although much less than one would think. It would take about fifteen minutes to get ready to go out, from drawers to hat-and-parasol, with a bustle dress of the kind worn by the middle-class woman (or the better dressed lower class, too) in the 1880s. I did choose this decade because bustle dresses are definitely more attractive (at least to me) than the cumbrous bell-shaped crinoline gowns that preceded them, and they seemed to fit my main character’s style much better.
So how would you wear one of these? They look so incredibly complex, that it’s difficult to understand how one can get in or out of them. So I ventured into a journey of discovery, and tried to understand each element of these complicated outfits.
First, a chemise, to go under the corset, and drawers, if you were so inclined. My MC does not believe in drawers, much, and it must be said that a knee-length ruffled, flouncy things lacks a certain sex-appeal to the modern eye. Victorian drawers were not completely boring though. They were crotchless, to begin with, for ease of uh… chamber pot use. That might explain why the can-can was considered such a scandalous dance. Try throwing your leg and skirts far up in the air with a pair of crotchless panties… well, you get the picture. But, if you thought that the love-slit was a modern kinky twist on lingerie, think again…
Then stockings and boots. What? They wore their boots before getting dressed? Why, yes. Before the invention of the zipper, boots were fiddly. Lots of laces and/or tiny buttons. Not easy to work those while wearing a stiff corset that makes it impossible to bend forward with any ease. But you can see that this opens quite some doors to the fetish-inclined mind. Because after the boots one would put on the corset (which contrary to common opinion, a moderately limber woman could well tie by herself, at least after the invention of the hook and eye fastening for the front), and there you have a very pretty image, of a stockinged, booted wo/man in a tight corset… well, mind out of the gutter, Wyvern.  

Bustle 1
Pastel and Ink on Paper
Ⓒ Nicole Rubio

"As I have gotten older and my eyesight worse, my work is less about seduction and increasingly about the fear and vulnerability, I feel in facing new situations." 

Nicole Rubio

Add a bustle. The bustle is of course the crucial point of the bustle dress, and the signature element of the fashion of the time. The cheaper ones were basically horse-hair-stuffed pillows one tied over one’s butt to give the skirts a lift behind, and that typical high-rear profile, but the expensive ones were complicated bits of work, including hoops and tabs, and tapes, and complex cages with springs, and even musical boxes, sometimes. I kid you not. All these strange contraptions had to be fastened to one’s waist, and shaped the back of the skirts when one was walking, and folded like a concertina when one was sitting. I am not sure how easy it was to go about one’s business with such a complicated apparatus hanging from one’s ass. But it was certainly easier that the far more enormous gowns worn in former decades.
Over the bustle, a petticoat (underskirt), and a blouse. And then a skirt, and an apron overskirt (the ruffly, draped, upper part of those complex multi-layered skirts).  Over these a taille (basically a tight jacket, matching the skirt), and then all the necessary accessories (collar, gloves, shawl, or a coat, if one could afford it, muff, reticule, parasol/umbrella, bonnet/hat).
It was a lot, and new clothes were expensive. Those were the days when much work was still hand-made and time-consuming. Sewing machines did exist (since about 1846), but they were still slow and they could do little more than “plain work” (straight simple seams), and although the labor force (read: lower classes) were plentiful and paid barely enough to survive (if at all), the complex, highly embellished garments of Victorian fashion were expensive. The middle and upper classes could afford new clothes, but the poorer people most often bought second hand, adapting and fixing them as best they could. Darning is a lost art now, but very much an endless chore at the time. The interesting part of this is that a handy lower-class girl could very well wear very pretty clothes, if a bit faded. Even boots were sold and worn again until each owner found them too disreputable, and resold them to someone less picky or more desperate. 

 Bustle 15 
“Tuffet in the Rain”
Pastel and Graphite Pencil on Paper
Ⓒ Nicole Rubio 

“For an artist capturing the outer world, what matters most is the light. For an artist capturing the inner world, what matters most is honesty.”

Nicole Rubio

And when clothes became really unwearable? There was still a lot that could be done with them. Even the poorest rag was valued and could be bought and sold and put to use. Sometimes in fascinating ways. For example the front of a gentleman’s vest, with all those time-consuming button-holes (if you have ever hand-sewn a button-hole, you will know that those are represent real value) could be reused to fashion the top of buttoned boots. At the very least old fabric could always be taken apart for making new yarn, which in turn was used to make a new fabric called “shoddy”.

Please visit Nicole's website to see more of her magnificent bustle drawings, and find out much much more about her art and writings.

You can also follow Nicole on Instagram


Special thanks go also to my Instagram friend @mauveink, who generously shared her knowledge and expertise when I was researching obscure dressmaking details for my story.


Monday, 25 February 2019

Character portrait - Hugh

It took me a while to get round to post this because I have been awfully busy this last week, but I am so delighted by this unique birthday present I got on Valentine day! The ever-awesome Katerina Ross made a portrait of Hugh, one of the three MCs from Spice & Vanilla!!

This is especially lovely because Hugh is my favourite character in the book, but for various reasons I never got round to make a sketch of him. And now I don't need to because Katerina absolutely nailed it (nailed him would sound ahem, wrong?)

Hugh had started out (I am an absolute pantser) as a secondary character, and if not quite a villain, at least as a bit of a dick... but then he began rewriting himself from the inside out, and he became this incredibly deep, multifaceted, wonderful person... he's my true voice in the story.

So here's a post all for him, a complete character portrait.

Hugh is a Dom, and has a rough, grumpy hide... he's also a musician, and a music teacher... and his favourite musicians are the great Neo-Romantics... that should be a hint that there is more to him than meets the eye, right? 

"Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no 2 was on, as loud as was admissible in a city flat, or maybe a little louder, and Hugh was sprawled on the sofa like a large cat, soaking in the music. He had already taken off his shirt, which lay abandoned on the back of the sofa, but he must have gotten cold because he had snuggled under a plaid.

“Took your time,” he said, with a yawn, without opening his eyes.

That was his typical style.
“Rachmaninov, really?” she asked, tossing the shirt out of the way. “Bloody neo-romantic racket.”
He waved his hands like a cook wafting some elusive smell to his nose. “At least, as classical music goes, it’s got some hair on its chest.” And that was the highest compliment Hugh could pay to a musical composition.
The recording was terrible, crackly and tinny. Horrid. Hugh seemed to divine her thought.
“It is himself, on the piano. In 1929. Surprisingly fast, eh?”
Lucie shrugged, then bit her lower lip and bowed her head. She could taste lipstick on her teeth, which was sexy as hell. Oh well. Rachmaninov would cover the noises, at least. Mostly. Hopefully.
“Come here then,” said Hugh, throwing the plaid aside, sitting up and patting his knee invitingly.
Hugh was a man of average height, with short, fuzzy, dark hair thinning slightly around a widow’s peak and a semi-permanent stubble (greying now) on his chin and jaw. He was neither especially good looking nor in any way unpleasant, and dressed rather shabbily at almost all times. He was in fact an entirely unremarkable man, except for a limited set of small tics that betrayed a rather more active and nervous mind than most. Which was why people would have been flabbergasted by the impressive set of tattoos that adorned his chest, shoulders, and upper arms. They were somewhat faded and partly obscured by the luxuriant growth of dark hair on his torso, but even so, they gave him a distinctly wicked look, absolutely at odds with his sarcastic but otherwise pretty harmless everyday manner....."

Hugh is a good cook (always a great asset in a man). He does quite a bit of cooking in the book, but since he's the Spice in the story, I will share his hot Puttanesca recipe.

““Fancy some dinner?” asked Hugh.
“Nah. Ate something on the way here.”
By the vagueness of the “something” and Raphael’s pale, pinched looks, Hugh doubted that very much, but sometimes he just didn’t have the energy to argue the point. He dished out his own meal and went to sit on the sofa close to Raphael, hoping that the smell of homemade puttanesca sauce would eventually entice him to take a bite or two. Sometimes, it was all that you could do for him.
Indeed, after a while Raphael relaxed enough to go poking around in the kitchen and pick at the pasta left in the pan with a wooden fork. He didn’t fill a dish, or sit down, mind, just ate a few mouthfuls standing by the hobs, like a long, thin, picky stork...”

Hugh’s Puttanesca (note that the word Puttanesca refers to a whore, or bitch. It’s a dish that should be *very* spicy )

-one large onion, chopped
-3 or four cloves of garlic, finely chopped
-one cup (approx.) of Greek black olives, destoned if you prefer
-one heaped table-spoon of salted capers
-one can of peeled tomatoes
-hot chili, fresh or dried, to taste (I like it *hot*! Hugh is the Spice!)
-a small bunch of fresh oregano, or a very generous pinch of dried one
-olive oil
-Parmesan cheese, grated
-300 g pasta (the tradional format would be spaghetti, but I like fusilli)
-Fresh basil (optional)

Feeds 4 city people, or 2 hard-working farmers  ;)

Gently sauté the onion and garlic in a large pan (with bit of olive oil). When softened but still pale, add the chili, olives, and capers. Sautè until the onion is slightly colored at the edges. Add the tomatoes and simmer for ten minutes or so, until most of the liquid has evaporated but the sauce is still pretty loose. Add the oregano and set aside.
Cook the pasta, drain it and bring the sauce back on the fire. Mix in the pasta, and a spoon of olive oil. Adjust seasoning, take to the table in the same pan, and after dishing it out, scatter generously with Parmesan cheese and some basil if you like (do not, for the love of all that is holy on this good green earth, cook the Parmesan cheese and the basil in the pan).

Want to see Hugh in action in his Dom persona? Here's a little excerpt from the famous "metronome scene". This scene got more comments from readers than any other in the book. :)

Hugh watched him stroking away with great contentment. He was totally worn out after a crazy day at work, and it was not always easy to find the energy to satisfy such an enthusiastic masochist. There were days when he wished Raphael were a bit less fond of being spanked and whipped, but he always did his best to oblige him. The thought of his Raphael going out there looking for release from God-only-knows-whom, and getting hurt for real by some less scrupulous or talented Dom was just unbearable. Still, tonight he would lie back and relax. Mostly. I will have to help him eventually, he thought with a slightly evil grin, but I can take a breather first.
Raphael stroked in perfect tempo. He was one of the most technically exact musicians Hugh had ever played with, after all. Too exact, in fact.
It would do him so much good to let go a bit, to just go with the flow, be wild and imprecise and purely passionate. Then he would not need so much of this.
Tick—tock—tick—tock—tick—tock, went the metronome, and Raphael stroked and stroked. It was a good while before Hugh could tell, from a small furrow between those blond eyebrows, that the unchanging, slow rhythm was beginning to frustrate him. He smiled a bit wider and said nothing, devouring his beautiful quarry with his eyes. He watched, entranced the fluid play of flesh and skin as Raphael’s long pale cock, a nice ruddy purple by now, sank and reemerged into and from his fist, the velvet-like foreskin lapping beautifully over the shinier, silky glans, the testicles bouncing softly to the rhythm as the scrotum was pulled up and released. It was hard to resist the temptation to throw the whole scene to the devil and just take that cock in his mouth and suck it empty.
This is without exception the best use a metronome was ever put to.
Raphael’s body was developing a number of small, charming tics and twitches. He briefly lifted his left knee from the mattress then relaxed again. His right wrist was pulling on the strap from time to time, and his breath was coming in slightly ragged bursts.
Still it took a long time. Too much control, thought Hugh, smiling. Tsk-tsk.
He slowly unfolded his hands and moved to sit between Raphael’s legs. He spit on his middle finger and watched Raphael’s face, half hopeful, half anxious, as he slowly approached his anus. He didn’t hurry. He let Raphael wait for it. He would beg, in time, Hugh knew, but there was no need for that, not yet. He finally pressed his fingertip to the twitching, tight, live rose of flesh and felt it jolt and spasm. He massaged it in circles, with relish, and didn’t even try to penetrate it. Raphael was shaking all over, trying to press down on his finger, but there was just so far he could stretch, tied as he was. His belly muscles went taut. They were contracting in random, jerky convulsions. Hugh had never seen anything so beautiful.
Then Raphael missed a beat. His hand had picked up pace, ignoring all orders. Raphael whimpered, trying to compensate to get back in the right tempo. The double change of pace made him squirm all over. He swallowed twice and missed the beat again. This time Hugh slapped the inside of his thigh, very hard. Raphael could take a long regular series of well-spaced blows with relative ease, but a single hard slap coming down out of the blue like that drew a ragged cry from him.
“You do know what tempo means, I asked?” Hugh said, in a plain chatty voice. He had never had any taste whatsoever for histrionics. He was not, he had never been, a theatrical Dom. He wasn’t in it for setting up a show. He just got the job done.
“Yes. Yes!” said Raphael, a bit frantic. He managed to stick to the rhythm for a minute longer, until Hugh gently stuck his finger just within the ring of his anus. All of Raphael’s body twisted, and he lost all track of the cold, mechanical rhythm of the metronome.
And that is exactly what you need, my love . Too much playing by the rules, too much fucking control. You need to find your own tempo, and just let go.
Five or six fast hard strokes followed. Hugh slapped him twice, on his thigh, and, when he turned suddenly, on his butt. And then Raphael came, on the third slap, as he flopped flat on his back again, crying out in pleasure or pain, or both. It was hard to tell. Semen spurted out in beautiful, long, arched white streamers, splattering over Raphael’s belly, chest, and even his face.
It is difficult to aim while being spanked hard.
Hugh watched him coming, avidly.
He was so naked. So vulnerable, so unguarded. Hugh, who felt, every day, that he might shatter like glass, on Raphael’s unearthly, impossibly graceful, self-possessed beauty, lived for these moments, to watch him released of all self-consciousness and all bonds. Strange, how it took a bunch of leather straps to get him to do that.
“Ah, oh, shit. That hurt,” Raphael whispered after a minute. “Not complaining, mind,” he added, with a small edgy laugh, wiping some drops of sperm from his lips and eyebrow.
“Good,” said Hugh, quite composed, despite the erection straining in his pants. Watching Raphael twitching and jolting while covered in glistening semen was not a sight to leave him unmoved. He reached out for the metronome, stopped it and lowered the weight a tad, then started it again.
This was a faster, business-like tempo.
“There you go, hot lips,” he said to Raphael, who was still breathing hard from his orgasm.
“What? Wh—but…”
Hugh gave him a small devilish smile. Raphael was perfectly capable of coming two or three times in one night, but, like most men, he needed a while to recuperate in between. Well, tonight, he wasn’t getting it.
“You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?”

But there is more to Hugh that just being "capable". There is a whole world of passion and emotion under that rough and gruff mask...

"...He had never been able to talk about Raphael. Raphael was too much like a sharp blade sitting dangerously close to a vital organ.
He sat in front of the glowing screen, clasping his hands and stared and stared.
How do you say, please forgive me, don’t go away from me, don’t leave me, without sounding like a complete and utter pillock?
How do you say, I am nothing, and nothing, and nothing, if I think that I could lose you. If I think that I may have lost you already. How do you say, in an email, I am but darkness, and you—the light?
Hugh sat, clasping his hands, and rocked and fought back tears.
“Raf, please, pick up the phone.”
He knew, he had always known, with cold, sickening certainty, that he had failed to love Raphael the way he wanted to be loved. Oh, he had given him all the kinky and twisted things he liked, but he had never let him get too close. He had always held himself apart, at a distance, too terrified to fully engage all of himself. He had used his sarcastic humor and lofty Dom aura in a desperate attempt to keep some sort of balance in their relationship, because in truth he had always suspected—no, he had always known, in the darkest, least acknowledged corner of his mind—that he was not worthy of licking Raphael’s boots.
Raphael was everything he could only possibly dream to be, beautiful, smart, naturally impressive, socially easy.
He was art made flesh, and a talented artist. He had it all, and he was even nice, on top of it. Hugh had always been so much in awe of him, so sure that Raphael was bound to bolt with some other stunning creature more like him, soon or late, that he had had to armor himself in sarcasm and stay aloof, against the inevitable fact that he was going to lose him. It was that, or falling at Raphael’s feet and surrendering to him his heart, blood and life, like a bloke in a play. Pathetic.
I am but darkness, he thought again and again, sick with this desperate, terrified heartache he had had for seventeen years, and you are light and flame. You would burn me to cinders. If you could have me whole, you would go through me like a lightning strike and leave me nothing.
I can’t love you in a civilized way. I must keep you separate or devour you and be devoured. And there is so little of me to devour. And then, if I lost you, there would be nothing left at all.
How the fuck do you put this in an email? It would be easier to say it in music. If only I were good enough I would. I’d write a whole fucking symphony, for you, my love. Oh, my love, my love, don’t leave me.
He clapped the laptop shut and tried his hand at a letter, the old way. Pen and paper. The pen lay on the sheet untouched while Hugh clasped his hands.
How do you write the absolute certainty that you will break yourself upon someone’s beauty? Shatter, like glass, like water, scatter to nothing, like stardust. Hugh could see it clear as day in his mind, but there are no words for it. He could almost physically feel his heart scattering, like a dandelion clock, one seed and then another and then another, until nothing was left but something bald and naked, something finished.  He clasped his hands tighter and tighter under the table. To keep himself whole.
I would be obliterated. I would be nothing, and nothing, and nothing, if I let myself get that close to you. I would fall in you and be swallowed whole, like a poor burning comet in a white flaming star. And you wouldn’t even notice. You wouldn’t even notice.
You have no—fucking—idea what it’s like to be someone like me, looking at someone like you...."

And that kids, it's why an ancient poet wrote, 
"Even coals can glow like stars, when they are burning."

You can find Hugh in Spice & Vanilla 

With a million thanks to Katerina Ross for the wonderful art. 

Thursday, 21 February 2019

#evernighties Thursday Blog challenge - the worst writing advice I ever got

Oh dear, oh dear.

I fear my radically autarchic streak will come out strong on this one.

I could be wise, and polite and pick one or two examples of harmless dimwitted advice that I have encountered, but no, I have to open my heart and say it.

All writing advice is bad. All art advice is bad.

What? What? How can you say such things, Wyvern, have you become a rank anarchist in your middle age?

Well, perhaps I have.

I strongly believe art (and writing, which is just an other art) requires technique and diligence as well as inspiration and all artists must necessarily go through a thorough apprenticeship before their work becomes good enough to be shown.
This is normal. A writer must learn their language inside and out, like an artist must learn their brushes and paints, or whatever tools they wish to use. And one must exercise all of this, become adept at using one's tools, so that when the time comes to express something, one's technique is an extension of the mind, and not an obstacle to be conquered. I think one must write a lot, often and well, long before beginning to write that book, the same way a child must make a lot of messy, botched up sketches before making a drawing that is of any interest to anybody except their besotted mom and grandma.

This is all in the natural order of things, I think.

But... advice... especially unrequested advice... advice is tricky. First of all all advice implies the presumption of a superior knowledge. This is always a slippery slope because there's lots of people who imagine they know a lot more than they actually do.
And when it comes to the arts... well, so much "advice" boils down to a dogmatic, myopic, schoolish and mulish crystallization of somebody else's original technique, probably someone who had a good run of sales. But that is often a matter of luck and elevating a single author to a model to be copied is generally a mistake.

I remember a distinctly grim period of my life when I joined a writer's forum (that I shall not name). At the time it seemed that J.K. Rowling was THE writer. We were all advised to write like her. Mind, nobody mentioned the staggering imagination and creativity she put in her world building, the delightful, witty inventiveness with which she names people and things. These things are hard to imitate after all. It's hard to cultivate guru status if you give people impracticable advice. No. These "experts" were nitpicking on things like adverbs, and punctuation and fancy speech tags, and advising to use nothing but say and tell, because that's what J.K. did. (Which isn't true, by the way. The Potter books are littered with people crying, shouting, yelling, moaning and bellowing. And a good thing too). This is the sort of thing that give "advice" a bad name. So much of the advice that is thrown around is BS that people spout to sound important.

I stopped listening,  on principle.

I take feedback on my work very seriously. I don't think I ever outright refused an editor's suggestion, but always at the very least tried to meet them half-way, and if I disagree, I try to understand where the correction came from, and why an editor thought it was necessary to make it, and whether anything in the story should be improved, clarified, expanded to make that correction unneccessary.

But in general, as an artist, I don't listen much to advice.

Don't take my advice on this. It's probably bad advice.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Daphne (Metamorphosis) - a pencil drawing

I have been slack lately in posting my drawings on the blog. I will pick up again, starting from my freshly finished, slightly gender-bending Daphne.

"Daphne (Metamorphosis)" 
Pencil on paper
© Katherine Wyvern 2019

"...a heavy numbness seized her limbs, thin bark closed over her breast, her hair turned into leaves, her arms into branches, her feet so swift a moment ago stuck fast in slow-growing roots, her face was lost in the canopy. Only her shining beauty was left."

When people read the myth of Daphne's Metamorphosis (narrated by Ovid, quoted above, and others), They usually take away two moral lessons. First, that Apollo was an abusive brute who could not take no for an answer.  Second, that in however much trouble one may be, asking help from the gods is a mistake because their idea of 'help' can be a tad bizarre. 
Both these things are probably true, but many readers miss the most poetic bit of this story. 
Which is, that even after she ran from him, and morphed into a tree, Apollo still loved her. That is why the bay tree became sacred to him.
"My bride," he said, "since you can never be, at least, sweet laurel, you shall be my tree. My lure, my locks, my quiver you shall wreathe."
He may have been the first tree-hugger in history. But there is a terrible beauty in this. 
This was supposed to be my Valentine post, but I could not finish the drawing in time. Perhaps a little grim as a Valentine story, but love is a complicated business, and red roses don't begin to cover it. 

Model, the ever-wondrous Danila Kovalev. 
Pencils, Faber Castell Graphite Pure, mostly 6B, 8B and 9B.
The "laurel" is not an accurate botanical representation. 

Thursday, 14 February 2019

It's live!!! A Muse to Live For - now available!

Ok, I am really emotional about this one, so I don't know if I am excited or panicking, but Nathaniel and Gabriel/le are out there in the world!

And it's an Editor's Pick!

Come take a plunge in the 1880s and deep into the souls of my favourite characters ever!

Find A Muse to Live For at Evernight

London, 1884
An artist lives to create. When Nathaniel’s urge to paint died, so did his will to live.
Until the night he meets Gabrielle.
Gabrielle may be just a poor prostitute, but she has the beauty of a Pre-Raphaelite stunner and the otherworldly aura of a fallen angel. She also has a secret. Gabrielle is Gabriel, and when Gabriel’s dark past comes knocking and Gabrielle must abandon her new career as an artist’s model, Nathaniel’s whole world comes crashing down again.
Better to die than living without her love, and the breathtaking creative drive she brought him. But it’s dead easy to die for a woman. Any fool can die for love. To live for it, that takes altogether more courage, doggedness, and imagination.

Be Warned: transgender romance, queer romance, cross-dressing, m/m sex, anal sex, rape