Good Afternoon everyone,
I’m currently reading Inspiration by Maria Grace, and I’m really enjoying Darcy’s point of view in this story as he has a more creative personality which allows him to see people in a different light. The book is a really sweet novella and I think most of you will like it. I will let you know all about it in my review, which will come out in the beginning of next week, and until then I hope you like reading the excerpt that Maria Grace brought us today 🙂
I would like t thank Maria for visiting once more, it is always a huge pleasure to receive her as my guest 🙂
His muse desires her; she detests him. How will his soul survive?
Gentleman artist Fitzwilliam Darcy had never been able to express himself in words, but with his brushes and paints, he expressed what few men ever could. When his flighty muse abandons him, though, he finds himself staring at blank canvases in a world that has turned bland and cold and grey.
Worried for his friend, Charles Bingley invites Darcy to join him in Hertfordshire, in hopes the picturesque countryside might tempt Darcy’s muse to return. The scheme works only too well. His muse returns, with a vengeance, fixated upon the one young woman in the county who utterly detests him.
Will his selfish distain for the feelings of others drive her and his muse away or can he find a way to please this woman with the power to bring color and feeling back into his world?
Thanks so much for having me Rita! It’s always great to visit with you!
I’m excited about this new release, Inspiration, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I never really planned to write it. How can one write a book without planning to write one? Well, apparently, it’s possible, at least for me who never seems to follow the rules about these things.
I’ve been writing short stories for my blog Random Bits of Fascination, since August and was kind of in that mode. Then we did an ‘inspiration’ themed month for our blog, Jane Austen Variations, in January—and naturally, my mind went blank. Not and idea in sight. And then I got thinking…cue the ominous music here.
It frustrates me like crazy when I don’t have an inspiration or idea to work from. I wonder if I can frustrate Mr. Darcy the same way.
And that was all it took for my muse to run away with me. What was supposed to be a tidy four-part short story wouldn’t quit and became a full novella. Want to take a peek and see Darcy tortured for lack of inspiration? Here you go!
Darcy set down his paintbrush and flexed his shoulders, his cravat constricting his throat as he did. The lingering, grain-like scent of linseed oil hung in the air at the edges of his awareness, almost unnoticeable for the hours he had been smelling it. How long had he been staring at the rough sketch on his canvas? Judging by the shadows the two easels cast on the scuffed wood floor and the vague chill that had crept into the air, it had been hours.
The light through the attic windows was waning. Might as well stop the exercise in futility now.
“Are you finished?” Charles Bingley peeked around his easel and waved a paintbrush at Darcy, flinging little gobbets of ocher paint onto the floor. Was that how he had managed to get paint in his hair as well?
That sort of mess was precisely why he did not bother to have this floor properly finished and the room was largely devoid of furnishings except the easels, stools and what was used to store his supplies.
“Hardly.” Darcy turned his back and fiddled with his paints. Ultimately a servant would come and clean up for him, but perhaps if he appeared occupied, Bingley would not continue to press for conversation.
“I cannot thank you enough for inviting me to use your studio space. You were right, the attics at Darcy House offer the most marvelous light in the whole of London I should say.” Bingley wiped his hands on this paint-stained apron and sauntered toward him. Even his confident steps sounded intrusive.
Darcy grumbled and muttered under his breath.
“Still blocked, are you?” Bingley inspected Darcy’s work from several angles. “Not a lick of paint on the canvas all morning?”
“As you can see.” No, it was not polite to snarl, but Bingley had earned it.
Bingley pulled Darcy’s high stool close and perched one hip on it. “I am hardly the artist you are, but even I can see you are in quite a muddle here. You have never been so stymied in all the time I have known you. Back in school, you were at the easel every spare moment you had, producing quite accomplished works regularly. You could have made quite a living as a painter had you not already been a gentleman.”
“How kind of you to remind me of the height from which I have fallen.” Darcy rolled his eyes and turned his back on Bingley.
“I am worried about you. Never have I seen anything drive you to distraction as this seems to have.”
“Should I thank you for stating the obvious?” Darcy dropped his brush. A large smear of burnt umber appeared on the floor where it fell.
“Let me help you.”
He whirled to face Bingley. “And exactly how do you propose to do that? Will you take my hand in yours and apply paint to the canvas for me?”
Bingley laughed, that easy, warm chuckle he had always had. His good nature could be maddening at times like these. “Hardly. It is no secret that I will never be the sort of artist you are—and that I do not resent you for your talent, which is quite big of me I would say. I dabble for my own amusement, but you—you paint as though your very life and soul were poured into the efforts, as though it was a matter of life and breath that you create your works. And it is tearing you to pieces that you have produced nothing in—how long is it now?”
“Six months.” The words sounded like a death sentence.
“So then, allow me to help you.”
“What do you propose?” Why did he even ask? There was nothing anyone could do until this awful bleakness passed of its own accord.
“You have been holed up in this studio for months, with nothing but the confines of London to inspire you. You need to get away. The countryside is always inspiring. Come with me to Hertfordshire. I mean to rent a house there, get the feel of having an estate you know. I could use your advice. And if Netherfield Park is suitable, you can stay with me there. Perhaps the change in venue will present you with some heretofore elusive inspiration.”
The idea was dreadful and intriguing all at the same time. Leaving London meant travel, and that was inconvenient. And it meant dealing with people, meeting with them, interacting with them, probably hating them. All of which were also inconvenient, and uncomfortable.
But staying in town was doing him no good, either. “I suppose I can accompany you before I return to Pemberley.”
The journey to Hertfordshire had not been unpleasant—a few hours on horseback in fine September weather were good for the soul. And what was good for the soul was also good for one’s muse. Certainly, it—she—had not been ressurected, not yet, but there were vague stirrings within, the kind related to creative energies, not the revenge of last night’s supper.
Perhaps Bingley was right. There was something about the countryside, or perhaps it was about being in an unfamiliar place with so much potential for discovery. Whatever it was, artistic surges bubbled and teased, tickled and prodded his heart and mind as they had not in months. For that reason alone, he would have recommended that Bingley take Netherfield, no matter how dreadful the establishment.
Luckily the house and grounds were good, so he could make his endorsements with a clear conscience.
After just over a fortnight in the country, it was difficult to pronounce Bingley right or wrong. Darcy had produced two landscapes—one of the Netherfield house itself—and a still life of some random bric-a-brac scavenged from various rooms of the house. They were journeyman’s efforts at best, hardly anything to be proud of and certainly not satisfying to behold. But they were the first completed works he had produced since Easter and the dreaded visit to Rosings Park.
It was difficult not to curse Aunt Catherine for that.
Perhaps that was the source of his troubles now. Ever since she started pushing him to fix a date for his wedding to Anne, all creative compulsions had ceased. But how could they not? Contemplating life fixed to that dry, wizened shell of a woman who scarcely had an original idea of her own. By Jove, she barely said a word of her own volition! His soul withered in his chest every time he shared space with her. How could he possibly be expected to live like that?
Chest tightening, aching at the very thought, he paced his spacious guest quarters. Perhaps he could outrun the sensation before he resorted to canceling his plans.
Bingley pounded on his door. “Are you nearly ready, Darce? The ladies are in the parlor waiting for us.”
Darcy glanced in the mirror and straightened his cravat, the sense of suffocation fading. His valet had done a good job tonight. Not that he had anyone to impress in this quaint market town, but being properly attired was a comfort of its own. “I am coming directly.”
Bingley’s distinct footfalls strode away.
A simple country assembly should not be such a trial; surely none would agree it was something to be dreaded. And yet it was so. Dancing with unfamiliar partners was abhorrent, and truth be told, embarrassing. Inevitably he would find himself staring at his partner, analyzing the shape of her eyes, the lines of her nose, the usually imperfect symmetry of her face, how it might be subtly and skillfully improved when rendered in charcoal or crayon or paint.
Such attentions, when noticed, were bad enough, but heaven help him if his eyes drifted lower, to necklines that were far too intriguing in the ways they played with light and shadow. No young lady had ever been able to accept that such attentions were artistic not—ah, more personal in nature. They expected he meant far more than he ever did, and it never ended well.
Perhaps tonight though, with his muse not quite fully awakened, he could avoid such uncomfortable encounters. If not, there was always the card room.
Bingley’s coach trundled down Traffic filled the street on the approach to the assembly rooms. Ordinary and unassuming was the best that could be said of the building. Absolutely the best. The rest was not appropriate to dwell upon and could very well poison him for the rest of the evening.
Afterall, how was one to enjoy themselves in an environment so drab, dreary, and awkward? Was not beauty an essential quality of any such event?
They picked their way across the muddy, rutted street and waited their turn to enter the assembly rooms. An yneven, tired blue covered the walls. It might have been as appealing as a robin’s egg when newly painted, but now it just whimpered to leave it alone, and let it rest. Scuffed, even gouged in places, the floors cried out for mercy. And the paintings littering the walls—enough! Such thoughts were absolutely not helpful.
Presently, a round faced, red cheeked, potbellied man wearing a Master of Ceremonies sash greeted them. He seemed a bit pompous, full of himself, as though he were at an assembly in Bath, offering to make introductions for them. Bingley readily agreed as Darcy stifled a sigh. But then, Bingley enjoyed meeting new people.
The whole experience of being paraded around and introduced was to be expected—and dreaded. It was simply what happened at such events. Still though, from the looks the party garnered—and the glances fixed on Darcy alone—it was clear that their servants had already taken care of circulating word of the general level of wealth and connection their party brought with them.
It should not bother him that the entire room seemed ready to approve of him and gladly admit him into their acquaintance on so little a recommendation. Aunt Catherine would have declared it was the right and proper reaction, and it was in fact their due being part of the best society in England. Many would agree with her, but Darcy did not.
Beauty, in all its forms, and the admirable qualities that went with it were often found quite outside such trivial circles. Many times, it lurked in unexpected arenas. But Aunt Catherine would hardly admit such uncouth ideas.
Now was definitely neither the time nor the place to chance discovering intriguing sorts of beauty. Acquainted with no one in the room, he could not risk it. So, he danced once with Mrs. Hurst, whose beauty was unremarkable to be sure, and once with Miss Bingley, who was attractive enough, but in the ordinary sort of way of the upper class.
What would her reaction be if she knew he found her beauty common enough to be of little note? How angry she would be—then she might be of more interest. Women could be fascinating when they were angry—the subtle expressions of their eyes, the tension in their throats…but Miss Bingley would hardly appreciate such things.
Once he had danced those two sets, he spent the rest of the evening walking about the room, speaking only to those of his own party, much to the obvious disapproval of the denizens of Meryton. The way they looked at him and whispered among themselves! No doubt they had decided he was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world.
It was not the first time he had seen those looks, and doubtless would not be the last. At least at home in Derbyshire, he was better regarded, having had the opportunity to demonstrate his true character there. Perhaps, his muse willing of course, he would return there in a few weeks, able to pursue his art in the sanctuary of his own home surroundings.
He paused in his circuit around the room. Bingley had found a lovely partner, probably the prettiest girl in the room. He and she danced together particularly well. So well in fact, Bingley wore a decidedly puppyish smile as he gazed at her.
Lovely, he had found yet another ‘angel’ for his attentions. What was her name? Miss Bennet? Whatever it was, they twirled their way in grace and elegance to the end of the line and paused, their turn to wait out a set of the music.
Bingley looked over his shoulder and sauntered toward Darcy. “Come, Darcy, I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
Darcy pinched the bridge of his nose and turned aside. Why did Bingley have to make a public spectacle? “I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment for me to stand up with.’”
Bingley offered a sound that seemed half-chuckle, half-snort. “I would not be so fastidious as you are for a kingdom! Upon my honor, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty.’”
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room.” That was not entirely true. There were any number of handsome women, but all of them ordinary—the kind one might encounter anywhere. Entirely uninspiring.
“Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” He looked over his shoulder.
Air rush from his lungs and his eyes lost focus. He blinked furiously. Heavens above! A nymph sat against the wall regarding the dancers. Her features favored Bingley’s partner, but there was something different about her. Something remarkable. Something entirely unique that he had never seen before.
Something he had to paint. His fingers tingled and his hands twitched.
She looked up at him and caught his eye. Bollocks! He had been caught staring. But her reaction was so peculiar. She did not blush or stammer or otherwise try to garner his notice or call attention to the fact he had been staring. She merely smiled with a tiny nod. What ever could she mean?
He looked away and spoke just a little louder. “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me. I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.” Of course, he did not mean a word of that, but what else could he have possibly said when Bingley was ready to be far more helpful than Darcy could tolerate?
Bingley rolled his eyes and drew breath for what would surely be one of his lengthy diatribes, but the first notes of the next repetition of the music drew him back to his partner and delivered Darcy from an unpleasant conversation—at least for the moment.
The young woman had turned her shoulder toward him, probably thinking she was delivering some sort of subtle cut. But he could hardly have asked for more. From this angle, he could study the intriguing line of her neck and back, the graceful craft of her ear and the barest suggestion of the silhouette of her face. His heart beat a little faster. How much longer before they could be away from this place and back to his paints?
The next morning Darcy woke at dawn. The rest of the household would sleep until noon or even later after such a late night. But how could he sleep when his muse called? All night he had dreamt of laying brush to canvas; he could not wait a moment more. His heart would surely burst if he did.
He rushed through his morning toilette without his valet who would only distract him and further complicate the muddle of his thoughts. He forced himself to think of each step lest he missed something significant as his mind struggled to leap ahead to the project he had completed in his dreams. If only he had brought his oils, but or now watercolor must do. Perhaps her was a decent colorman’s shop in Meryton.
At last, his canvas perched on his easel in a beam of morning sun. Trembling fingers tightened around a pencil as he sucked in a deep breath. There was something almost sacred about a pristine canvas. The act of marking it could be almost profane, especially when inspiration eluded him. But now, now was different. The pencil glided down, around, over, through curves, with a hint of shadow. It seemed only moments later that the rough blocked forms of a nymph admiring her reflection in a reflecting pool took shape.
Yes! Yes, exactly as he had seen it in his mind’s eye. His fingers tingled as power surged through eyes, arms and hands, colors and images taking shape before him.
Darcy jumped, nearly dropping his brush. “What are you doing here? I understand I am in your house, but since when has that negated the need to knock on a closed door?”
“Since I have been knocking for a full five minutes with no answer from you.” Bingley stood just behind him.
“Not at all. I would wager you have been at your easel since dawn by the look of you.” Bingley’s right eye twitched with something of a wink.
“What of it?”
“Have a look outside, what do you notice about the sun?”
Darcy blinked and peered out the window. No, that was not possible. Surely only an hour, maybe two had passed.
“It is nearly sundown, and you have no idea. It has been quite some time since I have seen you this way.” Bingley peered over Darcy’s shoulder. “I can see why. Very impressive. I have never seen this sort of work from you—it is inspired, truly inspired. You almost expect the nymph to rise up off the painting daring you to give her chase. I only wish I could see her face.”
“Her face?” Something crushed his chest, leaving him dizzy and weak.
“Yes, you have painted her from a distance, behind and to the side. Did you not even realize that?”
Darcy stared at the painting as if for the first time. Bingley was right, her face was hidden, just barely silhouetted against the trees. It was not meant to be seen, it was part of the mystery of the scene. But what if she turned? What would that be like?
“Wait, wait, I know that look in your eye. You are already sketching the next work in this series. Do not deny it, I can tell. Before you get any farther in the process, I insist you come down to dinner. You have eaten nothing today and knowing you, you will eat nothing if not forced until this inspiration is complete. So, consider yourself forced, and come down right now. The light is gone in any case. You can do no more today.”
Darcy grumbled under his breath. But Bingley was right, there was not enough light for real work tonight. He might as well eat. He would bring his sketch book down to the parlor, though—firelight was sufficient to that endeavor. At least that way he could make the time he would have to sit with his host and his sisters at least somewhat productive.
I hope you enjoyed this peek. If you’d like more, you can find Inspiration at all major e-book sellers. If you’d like to catch up on the short stories I mentioned, you can find them at RandomBitsofFascination.com.
Maria Grace has her PhD in Educational Psychology and is a 16-year veteran of the university classroom where she taught courses in human growth and development, learning, test development and counseling. None of which have anything to do with her undergraduate studies in economics/sociology/managerial studies/behavior sciences.
She has one husband and one grandson, earned two graduate degrees and two black belts, raised three sons, danced English Country dance for four years, is aunt to five nieces, is designing a sixth Regency costume, blogged seven years on Random Bits of Fascination, has outlines for eight novels waiting to be written, attended nine English country dance balls, and shared her life with ten cats.
Her books, fiction and nonfiction, are available at all major online booksellers.
Maria Grace would like to offer to my readers one ebook copy of Inspiration. To enter the giveaway all you have to do is comment here and let us know what are your expectations towards this book. If you would like to double your chances to win, please stop by to read and comment the review I will post in the beginning of next week. Comments on both posts will be considered in the for the giveaway.
The giveaway is international and is open until the 9th of March.
Good Luck everyone!