Monday, September 23, 2013

Elaine Dodge: Harcourt's Mountain

A treat for fans of historical romance today. Author Elaine Dodge visits the Plain to share her views on writing. She’s also sharing a wonderful excerpt from her debut release, Harcourt’s Mountain, set on the western frontier of nineteenth century British Columbia.

Welcome, Elaine. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?
I was born in Zambia, grew up in Zimbabwe and currently live in Johannesburg, South Africa.
What sparked your interest in writing?
My brother and I were brought up with books and both of us did drama at school. I also worked in advertising and the TV industry so writing was always a part of my life. I’d gone on a romance writing course and the facilitator encouraged me to write Harcourt’s Mountain after I tried out a few scenes on the course.
What components, in your opinion, make a great story?
Great plot and wonderful, fully rounded characters.
How would you generally categorize the books/stories you write?
Harcourt’s Mountain is an historical romance, whereas The Device Hunter, the book I’m working on now, is a steampunk adventure and the next one will be a family revenge saga. What I’m aiming for is being known for telling good stories as opposed to any specific genre.
Do you set your books/stories in your hometown, or do you prefer more exotic locations?
I don’t deliberately choose anything exotic just for the sake of it. I read to escape so it’s unlikely I’d set a book in Johannesburg, no matter how exotic that might be for other people. The location has to be right for the plot, which is why Harcourt’s Mountain is set in British Columbia and not South Africa.
What inspired you to write Harcourt’s Mountain?
I have always been intrigued by arranged marriages and even though this one isn’t arranged as such, it is about two people who have never met before suddenly finding themselves rather unwillingly yoked together.
How did you come up with the title?
Luke Harcourt is the hero of the book and the mountain is where he lives and what the antagonist wants. It’s also symbolic of the challenges both Luke Harcourt and Hope Booker are faced with once they are married.
Was there much research involved?
There was tons of research! And I must say thanks to Phil Whitfield who was so generous with his knowledge of local history, climate and animals.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Sometimes, and then I listen to movie soundtracks, I find it helps put me in the mood for the scenes I’m writing.
Which authors do you feel have influenced your writing most?
Georgette Heyer, Dudley Pope, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Frank Peretti, Francine Rivers
You’re marooned on a desert island. What’s the one book you’d want with you, and why?
The Bible. Apart from its truth which is profoundly important to me, it has every kind of story you can imagine.
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Stop thinking about it and do it.
Name a few of your favorite non-writing activities.
Walking, tennis, movies.
It’s been a pleasure getting to know you, Elaine. And now, let’s take a look at Harcourt’s Mountain.
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Book Blurb:
Spring, 1867
The western frontier of British Columbia hardly seems a likely place for romance. Filthy, terrified and confused, Hope Booker is waiting to be sold off the ‘bride’ ship. Luke Harcourt happens upon the sale. It’s not love at first sight, but he feels compelled to save her from a life of slavery and prostitution. To allay her fears of being raped by him, Luke promises never to touch her. Being a man of his word, this is a pledge he quickly finds almost impossible to keep.

Battling their growing attraction to each other, they must learn to live together in the forests of the wild and almost unexplored mountains. They face white water, Indians, wolves, as well as a dangerous man from Hope’s past.

No longer able to deny their feelings, their ‘happy-ever-after’ is shattered when a corrupt land baron forces Luke’s hand. Enraged at the man’s actions, Luke rides into town—and disappears.

Alone and pregnant, Hope faces the prospect of the worst winter in ten years. The trauma of fighting off a hungry grizzly brings on labor, but the baby is stuck. Luke meanwhile wakes up on a ship bound for South America, captained by a revengeful sadist who plans to murder him. Luke’s chances of survival are slim. Can he stay alive and make it back to Hope in time?

The mob had passed on, crowding their way to the harbour. Harcourt crossed the street and made his way down towards the feed depot. He’d already bought the flour, sugar, coffee and beans. He’d splashed out this time and bought some potatoes as well. As soon as he paid for the animal feed he could fetch the wagon from the livery stable, collect his purchases and get out of here. Unfortunately, the feed depot was on the wharf, beyond the bride ship. Because of the crowd, he couldn’t get near it. Even if he could, he’d never get the wagon through to collect his purchases. He realised he’d just have to wait. It had to end sometime.

To get out of the slightly drunken, malodorous press of men, Luke hoisted himself on to a large crate and made himself comfortable.

The mob was growing restless. The ship had docked a while ago and there was no sign of the women. Brogan, the brute from the whorehouse, appeared, roughly elbowing his way through the crowd, clearing a path. James Carter, the constable, followed behind him. The lawman didn’t look happy. He clearly found the matter distasteful, but it wasn’t illegal, as such, so he couldn’t stop it. His presence, theoretically, should instill in the buyers some sense of decency. He wasn’t hopeful.

A smile on his face and a small ledger in one hand, Butler sauntered along in his wake, a piratical swagger in every step. Cheering and applause broke out as he stepped up the gangplank. He turned at the top and took off his hat with a flourish. "Gentlemen! How good of you to come and welcome the new brides to our small town."

The mob cheered.

"Unfortunately, we cannot supply everyone here today with a new wife. Good women seem to be in short supply everywhere." The men laughed. "Now, just to be clear, I’m not selling the women. That would be illegal." There was a roar of delight from the mob. "But the expense of bringing them to you fine gentlemen needs to be repaid. However, as I said, there aren’t enough women to go around. So, this will be an auction. Each woman will go to the man who bids the highest for her. For her expenses I mean."

There was some cheering, some groans and a few angry shouts. Clearly the gold hadn’t been good to some of the men this year.

"Shall we bring out the women?" Butler shouted.

The roar was deafening. Even the sight of a new woman was enough for men who hadn’t seen one in months and couldn’t always afford the prices charged by Babette, the madam of the Bright Star brothel.

The women were brought out of the hold into the bright sunlight till the deck was crowded with so-called brides blinking in the glare. What it must have been like below deck during the journey Harcourt shuddered to think. He’d captured a few slave ships during his time in the United States Navy and this one had the same lines. He wouldn’t be surprised to learn it had been built as one. It would be perfect for this cargo. What were they after all, but another type of slave? It would also explain the faint smell that emanated from it. The stench soaked its way into the very fiber of the ship. You could never get rid of it completely, unless you burnt it. A fitting end for a foul vessel, as far as he was concerned.

With nothing else to do, he studied the women on deck. He couldn’t believe any right-minded female would willingly put herself into this kind of situation. Their clothing was in various stages of disrepair, their hair bedraggled. They looked dirty, coarse and unkempt—even less attractive than the girls at the Bright Star, if that were possible. It was obvious more than half were already whores by profession. In response to the catcalling and the whistles they pulled down their tops and shaking their shoulders let their breasts wobble and bounce around. The men cheered and pushed to get to the front. The bidding was fast and aggressive.

The first woman off the ship disappeared into the mob. Harcourt doubted very much she’d make it through the day without being raped by at least a dozen men. The whole enterprise sickened him.

The auction took on a predictable rhythm. Harcourt leaned back against the wall, tipped his hat over his eyes, and dozed off. After a few hours, the crowd had thinned somewhat. Most of the women had been sold. There were only a dozen or so left. Harcourt stretched. He was just about to jump from his perch when a tall woman in a predictably dirty, once light grey dress, was brought forward. Perhaps it was the dress that caught his eye. It was silk, well cut and modest. It looked expensive.

Harcourt’s eyes narrowed. This woman was no prostitute. She’d made some attempt to clean herself up and although her hair needed a wash and good brush, she had at least tried to bring some order to it. She looked intelligent and, despite the scared look in her eyes, calm. Her hands were folded in front of her. She was clearly a lady. She made no attempt to catch the eye of any man in the crowd. Instead, she looked over their heads towards the mountains. Perhaps she liked what she saw for she took a deep breath, lifted her chin and squared her shoulders.

Instinctively, Harcourt knew she would be no man’s whore. And, like the doctor had said, with the wrong man that would probably mean a killing. There was laughter from the men. A few coarse jokes.

Harcourt glanced over at Butler. He was talking emphatically to the constable. He called over the big man from the whorehouse, indicated the woman and nodded at something the brute said. Harcourt realised no one had bid for her.

He stood up on his crate. "I’ll take her."

Everyone turned to look at him, including the woman.

Butler stroked his thin moustache with his finger and thumb. He smiled. "Mr. Harcourt, you know the rules. You must bid for her. How much do you offer?"

"One hundred dollars, in gold."

There was a gasp from the men on the wharf. Even Harcourt was shocked. He’d spoken without thinking. It was the highest bid of the day, made more spectacular by the fact that it was totally uncontested.

"Sold to Mr. Harcourt!" shouted the constable before Butler, or anyone else could respond.

A flash of annoyance crossed Butler’s face. The lawman waved a hand, calling Harcourt on board.

Standing beside the woman on the greasy deck, Harcourt realised she was almost the same height as him. Slender with dark brown hair. He’d been right, she did have intelligent eyes. Apart from that, it was hard to tell what she’d look like cleaned up. One thing was obvious—she stank.

"Do you agree to this transaction in the full understanding of what it means and entails, and that it’s legally binding as a marriage?" Constable Carter asked Harcourt.

"Yes," he replied.

Carter asked the woman the same question. She took a deep breath, "Absolutely not. I didn’t ask to be brought here. I don’t wish to marry any man. I do wish to be taken home."
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About Elaine Dodge:
Elaine was born in Zambia, grew up in Zimbabwe and currently lives in South Africa. Books have filled her life from the very beginning. She trained as a designer, worked in that industry for years, even running her own company for a while. A long stint in advertising followed. In the last few years, she's been toiling away in the TV industry, winning an odd international award. But that wasn’t enough. She wanted to "tell stories". She is passionate about it. She feels most alive when she's writing, and delights in letting her imagination run riot. In November 2011, she finally took the plunge and decided to "wrestle the Rottweiler" and started putting all those stories on paper.

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Harcourt’s Mountain / eBook Available from


  1. Thanks Pat for hosting me on Across the Plain of Shining Books. What a treat!

    1. My pleasure, Elaine. All the best to you and your writing!