Good Afternoon everyone,
We are reaching the end of the month and that means it is time for my author of the month post. In 2018 I created this new feature, which started with Joana Starnes as author of the month in January, and was very happy to see that you welcomed the initiative. Your incentive gave me the inducement to keep going, so today I’m bringing you the author of the month for February.
This month I would like to give a shout out to Nicole Clarkston!
Nicole Clarskton caught my attention back in 2015 because she was the only author I knew who wrote both P&P and N&S variations. Nowadays there are more authors who are venturing into N&S variations but Nicole Clarkston continues to be the one I consider a true expert in both genres. I must say that as a reader I’m very demanding when reading a North and South fan fiction book, and sometimes North and South variations disappoint me, either because they are unable to keep me interested in the story, or because the characters are too different from what Gaskell presented us with. I have often seen less experienced authors make Mr. Thornton too similar to Mr. Darcy and I know it may be hard to differentiate both heroes when writing a romance, but knowing both characters very well is essential to pull it off. Nicole Clarkston masters this art of differentiating.
Even though she writes both genres, her deep knowledge of the stories and the characters is visible in her books and I have never felt someone was out of character in her stories, it always feels I’m visiting old friends whom I know quite well. Her Mr. Thornton is indeed Mr. Thornton and Margaret Hale is not one bit like Elizabeth. I love that! I do love variations from both Pride and Prejudice and North and South, but I am expecting to find different characters (even if some traits may be similar) and that is what I find in Nicole Clarkston’s books. She shows a true understanding of each characters traits and past story, how they got where they are and what we expect from them in each new situation, this knowledge produces perfect books because she remains true to Austen and Gaskell’s characters and uses her creativity in her original new characters. This is a perfect as it gets in my opinion because it gives us the best of the two worlds: authenticity and creativity.
I cannot tell if I prefer her North and South or her Pride and Prejudice variations, in my opinion they are all equally good, and that is not something easy to achieve, particularly when one is writing the stories simultaneously as she usually does, so congrats Nicole!
Apart from being the only author who continues to consistently write both P&P and N&S variations, which by itself and considering the theme of my blog would be enough for me to give Nicole a shout, she writes stories with a perfect balance. In my perspective, she has the right quantity of everything, her books are perfectly balanced in terms of pacing and in terms of sweet romance vs. angst which always makes the reading experience very pleasant to me.
She has written variations, prequels, gone abroad to Spain and Portugal, created new characters, developed more than one love story in the same book… She keeps challenging herself and it is refreshing to see and read that, hence my shout out 🙂 Thank you for providing me with so many wonderful reading hours Nicole!
Below you can see the books that made me love Nicole Clarkston:
Rumours & Recklessness – A Pride & Prejudice Variation
My Review (coming soon) Amazon.com
These Dreams – A Pride & Prejudice Variation
The Courtship of Edward Gardiner – A Pride & Prejudice Prequel
No Such Thing as Luck – A North & South Variation
Northern Rain – A North & South Variation
But these books aren’t enough for me so I keep asking Nicole when will she release her next work, what is she working on etc. I affraid that she may get a little tired of all my insistence, but when I told her about this post she was happy to share some news with me and my readers, so if you’re curious about what she has been doing after the release of These Dreams, you can hear it directly from her 🙂
Below she explains what she has been working on and shares some exclusive excerpts 🙂
I have always had a pattern of working on more than one book at a time, so I’m currently writing two. True to my pattern, one is a North & South, and the other is a Pride and Prejudice. The North & South book, still tentatively named Nowhere But North, began back in July of 2016, on the heels of the blog tour for Northern Rain. It started as a prequel/sequel, kicking off the very first scene with an uncomfortable marriage ceremony. The story moves forward but is enhanced by a series of flashbacks which contrast and flow with the main story line. This book got put on hold so I could finish These Dreams, and it is proving to be just as much of a monster as that story was. I hoped to have it finished by this month and ready for final edits, but I am afraid I have a couple more months ahead of me (sniff!) This scene is relatively early in the book, just as Margaret and John have begun to reconcile their feelings toward one another.
Exclusive Nowhere But North Excerpt
“Love, are you well?” John tugged at her hand as they moved to abandon the dining room. Hannah had already left them behind, and they had lingered for a few stolen moments in privacy before John returned to the mill for the afternoon.
Margaret hesitated, then turned back to him. The empty quality her eyes had taken on in the few seconds she had looked away fully terrified him. Grief was a fickle tormentor – raising its hideous aspect whenever it pleased, crushing any budding hopes of happiness beneath waves of guilt and remorse for aspiring to such. Well did he know the conflict which bound her within its grasp. Her entire future – their future – hung on what measure of courage and faith she possessed to face her sorrows. She had begun to confide in him, but it was not yet with the strong force of habit which could break through the darkest melancholy.
“Margaret?” he touched soft fingers to her cheek. “What is it?”
She lifted her shoulders and her mouth worked helplessly. “It is nothing of any consequence, John. You mustn’t be troubled… Dixon is to arrive this afternoon – I will be grateful to have her company. I shall be well.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Am I to understand, then, that you have not found my mother’s company very satisfying?”
She swallowed, and her gaze dropped to his waistcoat again.
“Margaret,” he touched her chin, and those clear eyes braved his once more. “I know how she can be. You frighten her, you know,” he murmured softly.
Astonishment swept over her face. “I, frighten her? How is that possible?”
“Because you are yourself – my strong Margaret,” he smiled, a little teasingly.
She shook her head, brushing off his words with a dismissive little laugh. “I feel that I am neither myself, nor strong of late, John.”
He pulled her close to press a loving kiss to her forehead. Had he perceived the unbearable frissons his breath sent through her hair and down her back, it is likely that he would not have returned to the mill at all that day. From him, at least, the gesture was one of innocent comfort. “You will grow strong again, Margaret,” he whispered. “It is your nature, and she knows it as well as I.”
She sniffed a little and turned her face into his shoulder. “I do not understand why that should trouble your mother. She could not respect me otherwise, could she?”
“No, but neither would she be threatened by you. She likes her own ways, and has been left untroubled by contradiction for too long. I never questioned her domestic arrangements, and in late years she has had every resource and influence her heart could desire. All of that has changed, for everything that was hers is now yours.”
“And I am undeserving! You need not say it, for I know that is how she feels. I never meant to displace her,” her mouth tugged ruefully, “either in her home or in your affections.”
“And you have not done so,” he insisted, tugging a little on her hips. “You have only brought to this home what has long been missing. It will take time for her to learn to trust in you as I do, Margaret.”
She drew a long breath and shone a grateful smile. “Perhaps I will sit with her this afternoon, instead of….” She halted.
“Instead of going to the kitchen to visit Bessie Higgins?” he guessed.
She blinked a few times, then her old boldness made a little gasp of reappearance. She lifted her chin. “I had intended to do so, yes. I regret if you are displeased.”
“Not in the least. I was about to offer to escort you, but of course if you desire to remain here with my mother….”
She studied him for a moment in puzzlement. “You would not feel it immodest of me, or a defiance of your authority, if I desire to pay social calls on one of the workers?”
“You would not be my Margaret if you did not defy me whenever the fancy strikes you!” he laughed. “I think I can withstand the shock – to be quite truthful, I have lately missed locking horns with you.”
“John!” she protested. “I beg you would not speak of me in such a vulgar way.”
“Vulgar! I suppose it was, but apt, nonetheless. What amusement would there be in a wife who did not keep me on my toes?”
She frowned, but it was more playful than chagrined. With a little hitch of her chin and a flash of her old hauteur, she surveyed him through lowered lids. “I ought to have expected you, of all people, to thrill in such a challenge. You have ever carried your way against those who wish to come against you.”
“Not always. I suspect you will have the better of me yet, but I plan to enjoy the battle. And, since we are speaking of differing opinions, there is one contrary old fellow who has been asking after you for days. What would you say to a brief tour of the mill before I walk you to the kitchen?”
Her eyes lit expressively, and it was the only answer he required. He leaned down to kiss her once more – a soft brush, a secret pledge of later delights. “I will wait for you to make yourself ready,” he whispered against her lips.
As she turned away, her steps once more sparkling with energy, he gazed after her with the admiration of one who has found his greatest treasure. She disappeared, and he tapped his finger pensively against the leg of his trousers. It was an opportune moment to visit with his mother, to salve her fears that he was lost to her, and to explain to her in detail that cryptic conversation with Henry Lennox.
He found her not in her sitting room as he had expected, but in a small little alcove of the stairwell, the window of which looked out to the mill beyond. “Mother?” he greeted her softly, when she did not seem to hear his approach.
She did not turn immediately, but when she did, he detected a redness about her eyes. Her thinned lips quivered, and her arms were crossed defensively. “How long have you known about Margaret’s brother?” she demanded in a fragile voice.
“She told me yesterday,” he confessed, tugging his fingers through his unruly hair in that way he had when he was troubled. “You may well have guessed that it was he who was walking out with Margaret at the station after Mrs Hale’s death.”
She turned her face back to the window, verifying his words with only a slight lift of her chin. “And what are these heinous charges she spoke of?”
“The Navy considers him a mutineer. Margaret tells me that his captain, a man named Reid, had gone mad – had antagonised and persecuted his men to the point of exhaustion and the limits of physical impossibility. The mutiny itself was instigated by the senseless death of a crew mate falling from the yard arm when he feared punishment by the captain. Frederick Hale is said to have restrained the men from hanging Reid there next. The captain and his officers were instead set on a boat, which was found some days later. They all survived, but the mutineers took the ship to South America, where most of them scattered in fear of their lives. Some of the poor devils were caught and hung regardless, and mad Captain Reid given his old command back.” He sighed in sympathetic exasperation. “I cannot condone the mutiny, but there seems little justice in the matter.”
Hannah had tilted her head back over her shoulder as he spoke, the infamy of it all registering as shock over her stark features. She did not answer when he had finished – instead, her eyes drifted slowly to the floor. Margaret had borne more than she, in her unawareness, had accounted for, and the harshness of her own assumptions chastened her most uncomfortably.
“Mr Lennox spoke of a cousin,” she at last ventured in a subdued voice.
“Yes. Margaret grew up with her in London. She married Lennox’s brother, a captain in the Army, just before the Hales moved to Milton. She has gone with her husband to Greece. They have a child by now, I understand, and are expected to return to London sometime later this year. When they do, Mrs Hale’s sister – a Mrs Shaw – will likely return as well. The last word Margaret had placed her in Paris.”
She rounded fully on him at last, the full weight of these tidings sinking in to her astonished thoughts. Margaret’s revealed family, the previously unknown opportunities she had forsworn, and the sudden devotion she had glimpsed in the young woman’s eyes for John – it all began to make sense to her. “She loves you,” she whispered.
The Pride and Prejudice book is still under pretty tight wraps. I’m not even publicly sharing the title yet because it would be too much of a spoiler. I will say that this plot idea had been jingling around in my head for almost 2 years, but I had other books lined up first and I wouldn’t let myself touch it. I had intended to be truly mean to my muse and make myself finish the North & South book first, but the Muse threw a crying temper tantrum over that edict. After the heavy, angsty These Dreams and the dark, personally challenging scenes I was coming back to when I picked up Nowhere But North again, it was a breath of fresh air to play with something that was just for fun. All I will share so far is that the book is unrepentantly lighthearted and irreverent, and will be chock full of page time for ODC. I’m hoping to have it finished by late spring, possibly even scheduling a simultaneous release with NBN.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was, indeed, at his flat. He was in the habit of rising early from his long days in the army, and even when off duty, he could scarcely remain abed after seven of the clock. He was already up and enjoying a cup of coffee—no tea for him in the mornings—when his batman informed him that he had a visitor.
“So early! Perhaps a friend ran aground at the gambling tables last night, eh? Well, show him in, Jenkins, show him in.”
“Colonel, it is Lady Catherine de Bourgh who wishes to speak with you.”
Fitzwilliam nearly spit his coffee. He managed to salvage his dignity in that regard, but could not avoid spilling a few drops as he set it on the saucer. “My aunt! What in blazes could she want? Nevermind, Jenkins, of course, you could not formulate the answer to that. That would imply reason on my aunt’s part, and I suffer under no illusions that she has submitted to such an authority. Well, show her in, and I shall make myself presentable.”
He stood, inspecting his coat to be certain that no crumbs besmirched it. Lady Catherine descended upon the apartment like a thunderstorm, cracking and pouring down the force of her displeasure. What he had done to merit this personal call at his humble abode, he could not say, but like enough, it had something to do with Darcy.
He was right.
“Fitzwilliam, where are you keeping him?” she demanded at once.
“Him… forgive me, Aunt, but I have not the pleasure of understanding you. Good morning to you as well, by the by. There is no one here, save Jenkins and myself. And my housekeeper, of course, but….”
“Fitzwilliam Darcy! He has come here, has he not?”
“Darcy? I beg your pardon, Aunt, but I last saw Darcy a fortnight ago. I have only just gone on a short leave, do you see, but I intended to call upon him this morning.”
She stalked nearer. “Do not play coy with me, Richard Fitzwilliam. What has he arranged? I must know all his plans.”
“I would certainly reveal what I knew, Aunt, but Darcy is not here, nor have I had word from him. Perhaps he is paying a call on some friend or other.”
“You and I both know that Darcy never pays social calls at such an hour, and apart from yourself, there is only that tradesman whom he might have gone to for an informal visitation.”
“Bingley? He is not in Town at present. Have you truly not seen Darcy since last night?”
She drew herself up. “Of course I have, and that is the subject of my desired conversation with him.” Lady Catherine seemed to pause. “You will swear that he did not come here… perhaps this morning?”
“Unless I was still abed, Aunt, which is unlikely. May I ask, why the urgency? If I am not mistaken, you are his guest at present, and he will only naturally return to the house when his errands are complete. Has something happened?”
She pursed her lips. “Indeed, something has happened. He has ruined my daughter. Compromised her, beyond hope of recovery, and practically before my very eyes!”
“No! I cannot believe this, Aunt. Darcy would never… and Anne! I find it difficult to credit, Aunt.”
“She was in his bed this morning,” asserted the lady. “I would have him found at once so that the settlement can be drawn up and the wedding might be arranged. As you cannot testify to his whereabouts,” here, she smiled faintly, “I shall speak with him once he has returned to the house. I shall depend upon your support to ensure he behaves the gentleman toward his cousin hereafter. I shall call next upon the earl to discuss the matter with him. Good day, Fitzwilliam.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam stood aghast as his aunt departed in a sweep of black and an irregular tapping of her cane—a means of expression, rather than a necessity for mobility.
Darcy and Anne! If his aunt had not sworn to it, he could never have believed it. Darcy could have any woman he wanted, as a wife or even a mistress, but Anne? Apart from a sickly, unappealing person, there was the matter of her mother. No man in his senses would touch her, least of all Darcy! The man must have been desperate… or intoxicated. After seven and twenty years of celibacy—as far as he knew—perhaps it was a little of both. Besides, any man would be driven to drink with their Aunt Catherine as a guest.
Fitzwilliam shook his head and sighed. Well, Darcy could step into the hornet’s nest if he wished. He wanted no part of it for himself.
What did you think about Nicole’s news and excerpts? After reading these I’m really eager to get her new novels on my hands. I confess I’m more excited about Nowhere But North but that is only because I’ve known about the plot for quite some time and I find it fascinating! Also, there aren’t as many North and South books out there, so I’m craving for a new one 🙂
Until Nowhere but North comes out, I would like to offer to one of my readers the opportunity to read one of the best North and South variations I have ever read: No Such Thing as Luck.
I’m offering an ebook copy to an international reader and all you have to do to participate is to leave a comment on his post. If you share this post on any social media you’ll get another entry to the giveaway, but please let me know in the comments that you have done so.
The giveaway is open until the 9th of March and the winners will be announced shortly after.
Good Luck everyone!