L.L. Diamond

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In my new book Unwrapping Mr. Darcy, Lizzy has a fluffy black cat named Grunt. I thought everyone might like to meet the inspiration behind Grunt, who is a little more mischievous than his real-life counterpart but was a lot of fun to write.

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It’s been over a year ago that my husband decided my oldest daughter needed her own cat. We already had a dog and my second daughter had a cat so I was reluctant to take the leap. Due to my husband’s work, we move a good bit and moving a dog overseas was expensive. I didn’t like the idea of having to do that with a dog and two cats this time. In the end, he won out and the search began. Normally, I go to rescues for pets, but because of my husband’s job and how much we move, rescues don’t see us as reliable candidates to adopt in England. So, even though it wasn’t really the time of year for kittens, we started searching online.

About a week later, my husband drove my daughter a ridiculous distance to bring home this little black fur ball with grey eyes and a crazy whining meow she named Shadow. My oldest played with him and pampered him and as he became a part of the family, he turned the house upside down.

Layla, our dog, was afraid of him. She’d walk around him, but she doesn’t try to play with the cats at all. Flora, our other cat, decided he was an interloper and growled whenever he came near. We never let them be alone together until we were certain she wouldn’t attack him. She still growls at him from time to time but has never tried to hurt him.

As Shadow grew up, we discovered his adorable personality. He is the most loyal of cats. He likes me and the rest of the family, but he follows his girl all over the house. If she’s in her room, he’s in her room—unless someone opens a can of tuna in the kitchen (Even a cat has certain priorities!). If she leaves and walks to the living room, he follows—and I mean follows!

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I have to smell!

He’s insanely curious and likes to sniff everything. When I’m in the kitchen, he’ll sit on the island and lean in for a sniff so I’ll hold out items for him to smell. He’ll sniff whatever you offer, too. What’s funny is when he doesn’t like it and he jerks back and crinkles his little nose. What smell has he hated the most? That’s easy! Mr. Etch black licorice markers.

So, what made me call him Grunt and add him into the book? Well, his quirks were so much fun, I couldn’t resist adding them into the story. I call him Grunt because sometimes when you pick him up, he groans. He’ll also make little grunting noises when you pet him, too.

Some of his quirks are a bit different than other cats, but in some ways the same. He is terrible about knocking over water glasses. We can’t leave any glass out or water will be everywhere. On several occasions, I’ve caught him trying to stick his head inside a glass, but he will also stick his paw in to lick the water off. He adores the kitty fountain we have. We also have a little fancy liquer glass my husband got in a gift set. That now sits on the kitchen counter, especially for Shadow. He’s the only one who drinks out of it and he will sit in front of it asking for a refill.

What other characteristics does he share with Grunt? He will definitely meet us at the door just like Grunt. I don’t know how Shadow does it, but when we come in at night from swimming, he’s on the stairs by the door, sticking his little head through the bannister. If he’s in a willing mood, he’ll give us a nose kiss before we put down our kit. He also knows what time my daughter gets home from school. About 40 minutes before, he will wake up from his nap (usually in the dog’s bed) come downstairs, and sit with me. He’ll ask for pets and snooze while he cuddles until his girl walks through the door, then he races to meet her.

Unlike Grunt, he showed very little interest in the Christmas tree this year. We put plastic and wooden ornaments around the bottom because Flora will bat them off but we didn’t have any more than usual this year. I admit to being frightened when the tree went up. Shadow was fascinated by the lights and made me wonder if he might try to bite the electrical wire.

As much as Flora pretends to hate him, we find them playing together a good bit these days. They sometimes take turns chasing each other around the house, making a rumbling along the floor when they are upstairs. I suppose no one can resist Shadow, which is why I created Grunt! I hope you love him as much as I do when you read Unwrapping Mr. Darcy!

Now on Preorder at Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes and Noble for $3.99!

 

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Release day comes closer all the time! If you haven’t seen my new book cover, please take a look! I’m so thrilled with how it came out and I hope everyone loves it as much as I do.

Speaking of the cover! I couldn’t resist featuring Grunt. I found some illustrations on a stock image site and altered them to fit the story. I love that I have those little elements in there to personalize it a bit. If you’ve read the story, you’ll see them off the bat. If you haven’t, you’ll recognize them once you do read it.

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Unfortunately, I can’t put the paperback up for preorder, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a cover! The blurb has changed a bit since I made this one, but I’ll post the latest version underneath for you to read.

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Now, for the important questions!

  1. How many words?  74,141
  2.  How many chapters? 20
  3.  How many pages? 6×9 paperback with245 pages, including acknowledgments, author bio, etc.
  4.  What formats? Kindle, Nook, Kobo, paperback, Oyster, Scribd, and iBooks
  5. Who is it dedicated to?

    For Cindy Hinkle and Erika Hoemke,
    Thank you so much for your amazing donations
    for hurricane relief!
    It was a wonderful gift to those who needed it.

  6.  Is there adult content? Yes, there is some swearing and two love scenes when these two stubborn people finally get together.
  7.  What was your inspiration?  I wrote a short story inspired by the Advent Calendar theme we had last Christmas and even describe the banner Abigail Reynolds made for the theme in the story. See if you can find where I used it!
  8.  Who is more stubborn Elizabeth or Darcy? Definitely Elizabeth! Without a doubt!
  9.  Are all the usual characters in the story? Yes and no. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and Lydia live in another state and there’s no Mary or Kitty. I’ve also changed around a few characters since it’s a modern. The main suspects are all there. Darcy, Elizabeth, Bingley, Jane, Charlotte, Wickham, etc.
  10. Is it angsty? No, it’s a big ball of fluff 🙂
  11.  Where is it set? New York City! Fortunately, one of my fab betas is from New York and worked for a big company so she helped me with some of the smaller details. Thank you, Lisa!
  12. Are there any pets other than the little black furball? No, Grunt stole the limelight. He refused to share. It’s in his contract.
  13.  Are there really 25 days of gifts? Yes! On release day, I’ll give the URL for my Pinterest page for the story so you can look them up as you read. Nearly all of them are on there.
  14. Was it difficult lengthening a short story to a full length? Yes! I did have to make some changes and had to be really careful with some aspects of the story. Hopefully, I managed okay. You’ll have to let me know.
  15.  Is it a Happy Ever After Ending? Definitely! I always write a happy ending and I can’t write one that’s not and call the story fluff 😉
  16. Will you post chapters at Austen Variations leading up to the release? Yes, I will post once a week starting next week and ending on release day.
  17. When is release day? October 31st! Because everyone wants to read a Christmas story on Halloween, don’t they?
  18.  Will you have a blog tour? Yes! I’ve scheduled a number of reviews too (bites fingernails!). I hope you’ll join me for the fun. There will definitely be a giveaway!

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19.  Why all of the pink? Read the story and find out 🙂
20. Is Grunt as naughty in real life as he is in the story? Depends on the day 😉 

 

 

Latest version of the blurb on the back cover!

Elizabeth Bennet’s first day at Darcy Holdings was turning out to be everything she’d imagined—that is until she met her new boss William Darcy. True, he’s hotter than Hades but he’s also rude, abrupt, and stares at her as though she’s committed some grievous sin. If only she could avoid him, but her friends’ not so brilliant ideas keep throwing them together.

William Darcy put his foot in his mouth when he met Elizabeth Bennet! Now, he’s head over heels for her and needs to apologize, but how? The dreaded office Secret Santa draw is a possibility, but would that help or would it only make things worse?

Twenty-five days of gifts? It’s creepy and overzealous if you ask Elizabeth. And what’s with this weird reaction she has to Mr. Darcy? He’s an ogre, isn’t he? But what if her friends are correct and he isn’t? Could there be more to him than she assumes? What if she were to take a stab at unwrapping Mr. Darcy?

 

Don’t forget to preorder Unwrapping Mr. Darcy! It’s priced at $3.99 for now but will go up on release day!

Just click here to preorder your copy!

 

 

Audley_End_Morris_editedAudley End house is a Jacobean manor just outside Saffron Walden in Essex. Once an abbey, it was given to Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Audley in 1537 by Henry VIII and was renovated to a home. Over time, parts of it have been demolished until all that’s left is what remains, which is approximately 1/3 the original size. It’s now in the hands of  English Heritage.

After we left Hitchin Lavender, we had a devil of a time trying to eat lunch. England was playing in a World Cup game that day and let me tell you, it’s hard to find a pub serving food on those days! They all looked at us like we were growing a third head when we asked, too!

We were headed for Audley End anyway, so we stopped into the cafe and found food we could all eat or snack on before we looked at the house and continued on home for the evening. We arrived fairly close to closing time so we didn’t have a huge amount of time.

I wish I could say that they allowed interior photography but they don’t so the best I can do is suggest you do a search for the interior shots because English Heritage does have them online since I can’t legally post them here.

The inside is ornate, particularly the ceilings like most Jacobean homes, and several famous names can be found on the artwork (Canaletto for one). The nursery was great with the toys and the dollhouse still remaining for viewers to see. The gardens were dry, but with the lack of rain we’d had to that point, everything was dry.

I know this wasn’t a very detailed blog post (and I apologise for that!!!), but without the interior pictures, it’s difficult to describe everything to you as a reader. Because of closing time, we didn’t walk many of the walks and it was a hot day. By the time we finished the tour of the house, we were ready to go home for the evening. I will say that if you’re in the area, I definitely recommend stopping by Audley End.

 

Next up . . .

One thing I’d heard about and hadn’t done was the Hitchin Lavender fields, so we packed up one Saturday in late June and headed out to Hertfordshire to pick some lavender. The farm is open 10-5 almost all summer and I thought the cost was pretty reasonable for a day of picking. Adults cost £6 and under 14 cost £3 and under 5’s are free. For that price, you get a small shopping bag and the loan of a pair of scissors to cut as much lavender as you can fit into the bag.

Armed with our scissors, we started into the rows. They ask you go a certain distance in before you start cutting, so we walked in and started filling. It takes longer than you might think to fill that little bag, but of course, that depends on how picky you are about which pieces of lavender you take.

My advice is to wear trousers/pants–even if it’s hot! One thing is that bees are everywhere! My husband and I both wore shorts and both of us ended up stung because we missed the bee hiding on the underside of a stalk as we made our way through the lavender.

Hitchin Lavender also has a gift shop, a place to buy lavender to grow, as well as a cafe where you can sit on a patio and eat lavender flavoured ice cream. It’s not a full day, but it’s definitely a fun couple of hours. We didn’t stay too long because it was a really hot day and we wanted to cool off and eat some lunch, which was easier said than done in England when England is playing on that day in the World Cup.

 

 

For more info on Hitchin Lavender

 

Next up… Audley End House

The last few days of Regency Week went fairly quickly! Caroline Jane Knight gave another talk–this time in the great hall of Chawton House, which was interesting. She spoke of her memories of the house and had fun stories to share of her family.

Tuesday, my daughter and I didn’t have much planned so we decided to drive out a little and check out some things around the area. Our first stop was The Vyne, which looks to be an amazing house. The Vyne is a 16th century manor home in Hampshire near Basingstoke and still has the original Tudor style chapel that was the cornerstone of the tour when we went as it’s said Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn used the chapel during their visit.

They were staggering people through the house so we wandered the gardens until we were supposed to be at the door for our turn inside the house. They have a formal garden and a Summerhouse that was meant for having tea with a scenic view. We went and took pictures of the duck by the river that flowed in front and by the time we’d done that, it was nearly time for us to go in the house.

Jane Austen is said to have gone to The Vyne. Could this painting have been inspiration?

Unfortunately, due to recent replacement of the roof, the tour is very abbreviated. Everything from upstairs had been boxed up and moved. Parts of the house that were likely a part of the tour were roped off with crates behind the ropes. We basically circled a portion of the downstairs before we ended up back outside in the gardens. Disappointed, we decided to walk back to the car a different way and let the sat nav/GPS take us this crazy roundabout way to Steventon.

Driving through Steventon was like walking back in time. There isn’t much in the way that looks new and you could almost imagine it looking the same when Jane Austen walked about as a young woman. The roads are all one lane carriageways so it’s not the fastest drive since you never know when someone will round a corner, but it’s a beautiful area!

Our first stop was the Church of St. Nicholas where George Austen was rector and later her brother James. We wandered through the inside and read the plaques and inscriptions all pertaining to the Austens and then wandered in the graveyard and looked for James’ grave. We weren’t looking for a flat marker and my daughter ended up finding it on the Find a Grave website, which helped us track it down.

Afterwards, we drove around Steventon a good bit in the hopes of finding where the original Steventon Rectory once stood. A friend had given me a map but another friend claimed it was in an entirely different place than the map. I think we found the field, but I won’t swear to it whatsoever. It was still a fun day!

That evening was the open house at Jane Austen House Museum. I do enjoy going to the museum whenever I can so we joined Cass Grafton and walked down and sat in the garden for a while. Eventually, we walked over to the Greyfriar for a glass of wine!

Wednesday was sad because it was our last morning and we had to pack our belongings and drive home. I always love going to Regency Week and this year was no different. I have to thank Joan and St. Mary’s Hall for the amazing room and breakfasts while we were there!

 

 

Next up . . . Hitchin Lavender farm and Audley End

I knew Jane Austen Regency Week would definitely be a different experience with Caroline Jane Knight, 5th great niece of JA, attending and I wasn’t wrong. Sunday morning she had planned the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation Walk for Literacy fundraiser.

Everyone met in front of Jane Austen House Museum where we chatted and took pictures until it was time to walk a route Jane Austen walked often during her lifetime–from her cottage in Chawton to The Swan in Alton where she gathered the post.

Some dressed in their Regency finest for the occasion and some of us chose to wear our usual garb that probably would’ve shocked Jane while we walked, handed out flyers for the foundation, and gathered donations.

We weren’t a huge group but quite a number of familiar faces joined the walk with Caroline and her father Jeremy Knight. Cass Grafton, Joana Starnes, Julia Grantham, Mira (Obsessed With Mr. Darcy), and Sophie Andrews.

Once we made it to The Swan, we all chatted and had tea, coffee, or water until we made the walk back. We were a very merry party while we returned to Chawton and then all moved on to whatever plans we had for the rest of our day. I understand the walk raised more than £3000–a very successful day!

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That evening, we attended the talk Caroline gave about writing her book Jane and Me: My Austen Heritage. She spoke of her feelings of being part of the last generation of Knights to grow up in Chawton House and how she found herself embracing her heritage and writing a book of her memories.

Caroline speaks well and has a way of drawing you into her stories and the history of Chawton House. I really enjoyed her talk and if you have the opportunity to hear her speak about her experiences, I definitely recommend it!

 

 

Next up! Tying up Regency Week 2018!

I adore Regency Week! Alton and Chawton are two of my favourite places and it’s amazing getting to catch up with friends I only see this time of year. I had a bit more time this year as opposed to last, so I drove down on Friday so I could be there bright and early on Saturday for Regency Day. My oldest daughter accompanied me again because she missed the ball last year.

In the past, I’ve been committed to a stall for Regency Day, but this year, I had no commitments, so it left me free to wander about and honestly, I had no idea what to do with myself. Luckily, a friend staying at St. Mary’s Hall with me, asked if we wanted to go to Jane Austen House Museum and walk around with her, which was perfect.

We started in Alton and walked around the stalls and checked out everything before backtracking and walking to Chawton for Jane Austen House Museum. I never get tired of the museum. They always have some new theme or some new Jane Austen artefact to check out. This year, JAHM didn’t disappoint. We found a few new items to wonder over and just enjoyed a walk through before heading back to Alton.

We walked once more through the stalls for Regency Day and then headed back to St. Mary’s Hall to get ready for the ball. Joan, our host extraordinaire even had Prosecco and hors d’oeuvres for us before we were dropped by Cass Grafton’s lovely other half at the door of the Alton Assembly Rooms for the evening. Cass even joined us for a short while to chat and so she could see the gowns before she headed off to dinner and left us to our dancing.

It was awesome to catch up with a number of people I hadn’t seen in a year as well as meet some new Jane Austen acquaintances, including Caroline Jane Knight and her father Jeremy (JA’s 5th great-niece and her father). Caroline had a beautiful gown as she channelled Lady Catherine for the evening. I’m certain Jane would’ve had a giggle at the notion!

The ball, as usual, was definitely a wonderful time and went off without a hitch. My daughter danced a number of dances, and though I’m not a great Regency dancer, I stood up for one dance before the night was over.

The night may have come to a close, but the week was far from over! Next up . . . the Walk for Literacy with Caroline Jane Knight and her talk “Jane and Me.”

After the Cliffs of Moher, we kept heading north to Balleymoney where we stayed in a great farmhouse in the country. We really only had the end of the day of our arrival and the next to get a good look around. My husband first tried to take me to Church Island. Church Island is in the middle of Lough Beg and has the ruins of an old church as well as a spire built beside the ruins in the 18th century for Bishop Hervey (Who happened to be from Ickworth, the subject of a post early on in my blog.) According to my father, it was also the burial place for a lot of Diamonds and where his ashes were spread. I’d never been able to go so my husband was determined I was going to make it out there. Unfortunately, with the rain and the fact that the land bridge has been slowly sinking a little over the years, I started to sink not far into the walk out there since we forgot to bring rain boots. I called off the attempt to get out there but not before my favourite boots were sacrificed to the attempt.

The next day, we drove out to the coast and Giants Causeway, a formation along the coast comprised of interlocking Basalt columns that form along the water what could be large steps. A result of volcanic activity 50 to 60 million years ago, Giants Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a wildlife refuge. These basalt steps extend in places out in the water and you can walk along them–except you can’t go too far out. The National Trust has employees who ensure no one gets to close to the end of some of the extensions. Not only can you walk on these amazing formations, but you can continue to walk along the trail where there are more basalt columns that extend into the hills and cliffs around the beach.

My children had a great time hunting for shells in the tide pools around the causeway and we took a bunch of photos until we reached the end of the walking trail where a landslide demolished the walkway and prevents anyone from going any further these days.

The visitors’ centre has a great educational area that teaches how the formations were created and is wonderful for kids. Even if all you have planned in Northern Ireland is Giants Causeway, I would definitely recommend going. It was one of my favourite sites while we were in Ireland and a great morning out.

 

After we left Giants Causeway, we drove out to the Dark Hedges, a row of Beech trees planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century and is near where we stayed in Balleymoney. Today, it’s known more as the King’s Road from Game of Thrones. We enjoyed a nice walk through the trees and then back to our cars for the ride back and dinner. It’s really not a time-consuming thing to see but was very pretty with the pastures around it.

 

Next up: Jane Austen Regency Week again!

 

 

 

Sources:
https://discovernorthernireland.com/Church-Island-on-Lough-Beg-Bellaghy-Magherafelt-P22819/
http://bellaghyhistoricalsociety.com/tag/church-island/
https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant%27s_Causeway
https://discovernorthernireland.com/The-Dark-Hedges-Stranocum-Ballymoney-P27502/

From Kerry, we travelled north, taking the ferry between Tarbert and Killimer on our way to the Cliffs of Moher. Located on the western coast, you might recognise these famous cliffs as the Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride or as the cliffs with the cave in the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. However, these cliffs are far from a new tourist attraction. Irish travel journals from as far back as 1780 even document the scenic nature of the cliffs.

Now, a tourist centre and education centre marks the site at the bottom of the hill. The admission is not unreasonable. Adult admission is 8 euros, but children under 16 are free, which helped a lot!

My son was fascinated by the geology of the site. 320 million years ago, the cliffs began to form when heavy rainfalls and floods caused dirt and sand to be washed into a river and collected in the delta where it ran into the sea. Those sediments were compressed, forming what we see today. The education centre focusses on this and has some wonderful interactive pieces for children. The weather was windy and cold when we visited, so the education and visitors centre were great for a break from the chill.

A portion of the cliffs have walkways and barriers to help prevent accidents, but trails do extend beyond the limits of the site. Due to the proximity to the edge and the wind, we decided not to take the trails. Frankly, it made me uneasy with the children. The wind threw us off-balance a little while we looked around, I didn’t want it to happen on a trail so close to the drop. Many tourists did opt to take the trails, and I’m certain the views were incredible.

We spent a good bit of time exploring the cliffs and ate lunch in the cafe before we loaded back up into the cars and continued our journey to Galway. The drive up the coast was beautiful. I wish I could say that we explored Galway more, but by the time we checked into our lodgings and ate dinner, it was raining and late. We opted to sleep rather than explore before we left early the next morning for the north.

 

Next . . . Northern Ireland, Giant’s Causeway, and the Dark Hedges.

 

Source:
https://www.cliffsofmoher.ie/about-the-cliffs/geology/

While in Killarney National Park, one common tourist attraction is Muckross House. Finished in 1843, Muckross House was built by Henry Arthur Herbert next to the picturesque Muckross Lake. The house is now furnished in the style of the 19th century and has several furniture pieces crafted locally back in the day. There are also renovations from when Queen Victoria visited the house in 1861.

Muckross House is by tour only, so when you arrive, you pay and sign up for a guided tour. The tour takes you through nearly all of the house and is extensive. Unfortunately, they do not allow photos inside the house, so I cannot share any from inside the house with you. I can, however, share a few from the gardens.

After our tour of Muckross House, we walked to Torc waterfall, which is not far from Muckross Lake. It is a popular tourist attraction and lots of the bus tours of the area stop to see the falls. They are lovely and it was nice to simply sit and watch them. There are additional stairs to climb Torc Mountain and view the lakes below, but my daughter and I opted to sit near the base of the waterfall and enjoy it since our legs were rather tired from all of the walking.

While I loved Killarney National Park, I found myself disappointed with Muckross House. Maybe I’ve been spoiled a bit by National Trust Homes in England, but I felt let down after the tour. I also don’t care much for guided tours since I enjoy taking my time and studying the artwork and not being hurried along to keep up.

I did enjoy the grounds and Torc Waterfall is definitely worth the stop. However, there is a car park just off the main road that is much closer than parking and walking from Muckross House.

 

Next up … Galway and Cliffs of Moher!

 

Sources:
http://www.muckross-house.ie/house-garden.html
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