Saturday, October 03, 2015

Season of Mists

I love autumn, so much so that I have just republished one of my early Melinda Hammond books, Autumn Bride, with a fresh new cover!  This book is set on the tidal estuary of the Bristol Channel and a big part of the story is the high tides that accompany the turning of the year, which is why the cover features a turbulent sea.

However, I now live many miles from South West of England, high on the Pennines. Here we get such lovely autumn days that I wanted to share some of them with you. Clear skies bring the mist. Overnight it fills the valleys below us and leaves the  hills in glorious sunshine. However, some days we wake to a mysterious world where everything is shrouded in a thin, silvery mist and the sun glints through the trees.

This year there has been a good crop of blackberries in the hedgerows, and it reminded me of a scene from my latest Sarah Mallory novel – The Chaperon's Seduction. My heroine, Phyllida, goes blackberrying and finds herself paired up with the rakish Richard Arrandale, the man she is trying to avoid! I wrote this story last year, soon after I had made my own foray into the lanes to pick blackberries. I came back with fingers stained from the juice and with more than a few scratches. I was thankful for my strong waxed jacket to protect me from the sharp brambles – how much more careful would Phyllida and her friends have to be, dressed in their fine cottons and muslins.
Here is a short extract:-
A thorn had penetrated the soft kid of her glove and pierced her finger.
‘Keep still.’
Richard was at her side immediately and she found it impossible to remain silent.
‘I fear I have no choice but to obey,’ she told him. ‘The thorns have caught at my sleeve.’
He stepped closer and she was painfully aware of the hard wall of his chest against her back. Her mouth dried, he filled her senses. She breathed in the masculine smell of him, the mix of soap and leather and an indefinable hint of musky spices. Surely she was imagining the thud of his heart against her shoulders, but she could feel his breath on her cheek and she trembled.
‘Steady now.’
One hand rested on her shoulder while the other reached past her to lift away the offending thorny tentacle.
‘There, you are free.’
Free? How could she be free when her whole body was in thrall to him? When he was so close that she could feel the heat of him on her back? Phyllida shook off the thought and carefully withdrew her arm from the briars. When Richard removed his hand from her shoulder she felt it immediately, a yearning chill and an emptiness that was almost a physical pain. She stepped back and turned, only to find that he was close behind her, less than a hand’s width away, his broad chest and powerful shoulders filling her view, like a cliff face. She was distracted by detail, the fine stitching of his exquisitely tailored blue coat, the double row of buttons on his pale waistcoat, the snowy folds of linen at his neck. The hammering of her heartbeat thrummed in her ears. Surely he must hear it, see how shaken she was? She tried to speak lightly to divert his attention.
‘Thank you, sir. I fear I could not have extricated myself without ruining this gown.’
She stretched her cheeks into a smile and looked up, confident she could ask him calmly to let her pass, but her gaze locked on to his mouth and the words died in her throat as she studied the firm sculpted lips. She was distracted by imagining how they would feel on her skin. She swallowed, forced her gaze upwards but that proved even more dangerous, for his blue eyes held her transfixed. She was lost, unable to move. She could no longer hear the skylark’s distant trill, nor the laughing voices of those picking berries further along the hedgerow. The world had shrunk to just the two of them. Anticipation trembled through her when he ran his hands lightly up her arms and the skin beneath the thin sleeves burned with his touch. His fingers came to rest upon her shoulders, gently pulling her towards him as he lowered his head to kiss her. She made no effort to resist. Instead her chin tilted up and her lips parted instinctively as his mouth came closer.
It was the lightest contact, a slight, tantalising brush of the lips, but Phyllida felt as if a lightning bolt had struck her, shocking her, driving through her body and anchoring her to the spot. She kept her hands at her sides, clenched into fists to prevent them clinging to him like a desperate, drowning creature. She found herself straining upwards, trying to prolong the contact but it was over almost as soon as it had begun and as he raised his head Phyllida felt strangely bereft. The kiss had been the work of a moment, but it had shaken her to the core and she struggled to find a suitable response.
‘You, you should not have done that.’
There was a faint crease at one side of his mouth, the merest hint of a smile.
‘No one saw us.’
That was not what she meant at all, but it brought her back to reality. The thorny brambles were at her back so she sidestepped, breaking those invisible threads that had held her to him, even though it was like tearing her own flesh to move away from him. Distance gave her the strength to think properly again.
‘I did not mean that and you know it. Your behaviour was ungentlemanly, sir.’
‘You could have said no. You could have resisted.’
She scooped up the little basket and began to walk away.
‘I should not have had to do so.’
He laughed softly as he fell in beside her.
‘I believe I deserved some reward for rescuing a damsel in distress.’
She stopped, saying angrily, ‘What you deserve, sir—’
He was smiling down at her, sending her thoughts once more into disorder. Alarms clamoured in her head, it was as much as she could do not to throw herself at him and the glint in his blue eyes told her he knew it. With a hiss of exasperation she walked on.
‘You deserve to be shamed publicly for your behaviour.’
‘Ah, but the Arrandales have no shame, did you not know that?’
He spoke lightly, but there was something in his tone, a faint hint of bitterness that undermined her indignation. It could have been a ploy, a trick to gain her sympathy, but somehow she did not think so. With a sudden flash of insight she thought he was like a child, behaving badly because it was expected of him.
‘Oh, how despicable you are!’ she exclaimed. ‘I should be scolding you for your outrageous behaviour and instead—’ She broke off.
‘Yes?’ he prompted her gently.
I want to take you in my arms and kiss away your pain.
Phyllida was appalled. She had come very close to saying the words aloud. With a tiny shake of her head she almost ran the last few yards to where Mrs Desborough and Lady Wakefield were sitting under a large parasol.

The Chaperon's Seduction - Sarah Mallory. Harlequin June 2015


As a writer I often find myself writing "out of season" and I keep a list of the English sunrise and sunset times on hand, so that I can check up on the daylight hours. I also use pictures like the ones I have included here remind me of our changeable climate.  Sometimes writing about the heat of a summer's day can take quite a bit of imagination when the snow is falling outside!
The cool autumn weather makes it much nicer to stay indoors writing, and the longer nights are perfect for curling up in front of the fire with a good book.  So what do you like to read during the chilly winter evenings? Books about the summer, perhaps, or even hot, exotic locations.  Or maybe, like me, your thoughts are turning towards the winter, with holly berries, icicles and snow… do tell me!

Sarah Mallory/Melinda Hammond

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Class conflict?

Hi, I'm Jo and I write aristocratic historical romance.
Yes, at times it feels as if I should be trying to overcome a habit, and I'm wondering what you feel about this. Is there something wrong about using upper class protagonists in a romance?

A bit of background, because I think it's relevant. I was born and raised in England, then in my late twenties I emigrated with my husband to Canada.

I became a romance novelist in Canada, but sold my books to New York, as that's where the romance publishers were, and America is where the bulk of today's romance readers are. In literary terms, America is my heartland, with Canada second, as aristocratic historical romance is very popular there, too. England is my homeland, but for some reason historical romance in general, and aristocratic historical romance in particular, seems to be a tiny market here.

This puzzles me, as I developed my reading and writing tastes growing up in England, enthusiastically using the public library. The first romance I remember reading was The Scarlet Pimpernel, and then I moved on to the wonderful Georgette Heyer, whose books are full of the nobility, wealth and the "ton." I remember other authors, such as Paula Allardyce and Alice Chetwynd Ley , both almost contemporaries of Heyer. I know there were others back then. Any other names come to mind? 
My first Heyer. The original copy.

So where did this British enjoyment of dashing, high society historicals go? Over to the States, obviously, where they flourished,  but why did they dwindle here? Why did so few British authors follow in the footsteps of Heyer, Allardyce et al? The obvious answer would be that publishers stopped publishing those books because the readers stopped buying them. Did they? If you're old enough, did you?

I can think of some other possible factors.
Alongside the historical romances of the mid 20th century ran the gothic romances. From excellent beginnings such as Rebecca and the novels of Victoria Holt, they became rather formulaic. They were popular, however, in Britain and North America, to the detriment of historical romance. In North America readers tired of them and embraced historical romance, with its much more varied settings, characters and storylines. Did the stranglehold work too well in Britain, leaving readers with a feeling that "historical romance" meant either the sweet Barbara Cartland style, or the gothic, with menacing men, and women with a tendency to go down into blood-soaked basements in their nighties?

Or did something happen in British society to mean that readers simply weren't interested in "toffs" anymore. Why then the popularity of Downton Abbey? It seems to me that most people enjoy some stately home and lords and ladies fantasy fun now and then, but perhaps I'm wrong.

No toffs, please. We're British?

Talking of stately homes, I'm part of a group anthology based on a glittering ball at a stately home in 1815. The characters range from a thief masquerading as a maid to the heir to an earldom, so there's something for everyone.

I'll give a copy of The Last Chance Christmas Ball to one of the commenters on this blog, randomly picked. So, British, American, Canadian or wherever, have your say.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Jane Austen's Emma, Governesses, and a New Book.

Jane Austen’s life was cut tragically short at the age of 41. If you’re a huge fan of her work, like me, then the six completed novels she finished, whilst perfectly demonstrating her genius, will never be enough. I’m always torn when it comes to deciding which is my favourite, and I love them all for different reasons. Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion vie for the top spot, but I also love Emma. This December will mark 200 years of its publication, and it was with this book in mind that I started to think about the present novel I’m working on.
Emma was written as Jane was beginning to be recognised as a talented writer, and whilst she was still not making much money from her writing she knew her work was being well received by critics and the public alike. Emma was her first heroine to be wealthy and privileged; perhaps living not far from her brother Edward’s house at Chawton and seeing first-hand the lives of his daughters, which were in great contrast to her own, gave her some of the inspiration for her writing.
Emma is portrayed as a match-maker and someone who thinks she understands human nature, including her own, and the joy of the book is discovering not only how far the truth is from her real understanding of the people around her, but also seeing her growth and the changes she makes as a character. Before she started writing Jane Austen wrote, ‘I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like …’ But, although there are traits of Emma’s personality that we may not like to start with, in the end we can forgive her mistakes, and it’s her faults that even help to make her likeable.
Chawton House where Jane's brother Edward lived
It's not possible in a short blog post to write everything that could be included about this wonderful book, but essentially Emma is a book about courtship and marriage, and we see how very different the prospects of the main female characters are dependent on their status in life. Emma is rich and she protests at the start of the novel that she doesn’t see the necessity of marriage, though she’s happy to meddle in other people’s relationships imagining that she’s helping to bring them along. She thinks she will be able to elevate the status of her young friend Harriet who is an illegitimate girl living in a nearby school. As the novel progresses we see her view of marriage gradually change. Austen uses charades very cleverly to show Emma’s misguided efforts to bring the wrong people together. When her friend Harriet declares an interest in a poor farmer, Emma can only persuade her to consider the vicar who has better prospects. Mr Elton presents a ‘courtship’ charade when Harriet is visiting which leads Emma to think he is serious in his regard for her friend. When Emma realises she’s been blind to the fact that Mr Elton is actually in love with her we understand that the charade was never meant for Harriet. The many misunderstandings concealed in charades and riddles keep us from guessing what is going to happen. It’s a book that hides its secrets with tremendous skill, and on first reading the revelations come one by one with wonderful surprises in store. A second reading cements all that was first discovered, and is just as revelatory as on the first. Every time I read it I discover something new. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you don’t know the book I promise you won’t be disappointed with all the twists and turns of the plot.
Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax
Jane Fairfax is another character I want to mention. She is the only young woman that Emma envies, yet she is poor and is set to become a governess. Emma doesn’t like Jane Fairfax, but Jane Austen writes of her in glowing terms. Jane has all the traits and accomplishments that Emma feels she is lacking in herself. She is clever, beautiful, and is a talented singer and pianist. Jane Austen writes her character sympathetically, and I can’t help wondering if she ever worried that the fate of becoming a governess might befall her. As she comes to her own self-realisation, Emma thinks about the inequalities between women of independent means and those who are poor. The contrast between Mrs. Churchill’s importance in the world, and Jane Fairfax’s, struck her; one was every thing, the other nothing. 
Austen compares the lot of the governess to a form of slavery and we know she witnessed the life at first-hand. Her dear friend, Anne Sharp served as governess to Fanny Knight, Jane’s niece at Edward’s other house, Godmersham Park, Kent, from 1804-6. Jane sent a presentation copy of the three volume edition of Emma inscribed to her friend when they were published, and I can't help thinking that in some ways Emma is partly a tribute to the woman whom Jane revered. They remained good friends until Jane died.

At the end of Jane Austen’s life she wrote a poem called Winchester Races. Jane knew she was dying and though the poem is a reference to St. Swithin I’ve always been intrigued by these lines:

When once we are buried you think we are gone
But behold me immortal!

I can’t help wishing that even though she achieved immortality in her writing, that she could have found a way to be cured so she could write all the books she wished. And that’s what set me thinking about Emma, governesses, and a new book which will be published in November, Jane Austen Lives Again. Although Emma started as the inspiration for this book, I soon found other nods to Jane's novels creeping in - you'll find Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice all making their influence known.

© Jane Austen Lives Again
When Jane Austen’s doctor discovers the secret to immortal life in 1817 she thinks her wishes have come true. But when Jane wakes up from the dead, she hasn’t reckoned on her doctor being a descendant of the original Dr Lyford or that it’s taken over a 100 years to perfect the process. Finding herself in 1925, a penniless Miss Austen must adjust to the Jazz Age, get herself a job, and discover the only one suitable is in the most dreaded of all occupations. Becoming a governess to five girls of an eccentric bohemian family at the neglected and crumbling Manberley Castle is not exactly her dream job, and Jane soon finds she’s caught up in the dramas of every family member. The children are not quite what she’s expected, and her employer, Lady Milton is at her wit’s end.  But Jane loves nothing more than a challenge, and now living in a new body half her real age, but with all the wisdom gained from a lifetime in the past, she resolves on putting the family in order. If only she can stop herself from falling for the charms of the heir, Will Milton, and concentrate on keeping in good health, her common sense and resolve will win the day and change the lives of them all!

Jane Odiwe 

Friday, September 18, 2015

How to Make Sense of Sensibility

by Monica Fairview

Funny how some terms become so slippery you can’t really grab hold of them. For us, sensibility immediately brings to mind the word “sensible,” which in fact doesn’t make any sense in the context of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, where the two obviously mean different things.

Have I got everybody sufficiently muddled? Just wait and see.

Here’s an explanation of what the word sensibility actually meant in Austen’s time taken from Wikipedia (what would we do without it?).

Sensibility refers to an acute perception of or responsiveness toward something, such as the emotions of another. This concept emerged in eighteenth-century Britain, and was closely associated with studies of sense perception as the means through which knowledge is gathered. It also became associated with sentimental moral philosophy… George Cheyne and other medical writers wrote of "The English Malady," also called "hysteria" in women or "hypochondria" in men, a condition with symptoms that closely resemble the modern diagnosis of clinical depression. Cheyne considered this malady to be the result of over-taxed nerves. At the same time, theorists asserted that individuals who had ultra-sensitive nerves would have keener senses, and thus be more aware of beauty and moral truth. Thus, while it was considered a physical and/or emotional fragility, sensibility was also widely perceived as a virtue.

Now, what do you make of that? Nothing like our own idea of being “sensible”, though perhaps the word “sensitive” might convey some of the meaning.

Why would I go into such detail about a single word? Because I think Jane Austen spent a lot of time trying to work out which quality is more desirable in her heroines – sense or sensibility? Clearly in the book of that title, she comes down heavily on the side of sense, with Elinor representing that quality and criticizing quite harshly the excessive sensibility of Marianne. Though ultimately, as readers we do tend to sympathize with Marianne. In other words, logically, we side with Sense, but emotionally we side with sensitivity.

In her other novels, the verdict isn’t quite so clear. The concepts are still at war, but JA presents things differently. In Pride and Prejudice Jane’s relationship with Bingley seems to represent sensibility more (particularly in the way she pines away), as does Elizabeth’s tossing aside a practical marriage with Collins because, as she claims, she’ll only marry for love. The one who uses the most sense is Charlotte, but the novel never quite accepts that common-sense approach. Mrs. Bennet, on the other hand, is a perfect example of “ultra-sensitive nerves,” but far from presenting this as a virtue, JA makes it the target of her satire. 

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Moorland clearly manifests some aspects of sensibility, again parodied by JA, yet her intuitive feeling of something wrong at the Abbey does make sense, given the behavior of General Tilney.  

Persuasion is a tricky one. The extreme side of sensibility is represented by Mary, and it almost seems that the practical Anne is the opposite. But Anne is also the most sensitive of her family, the abler to understand nuances of behavior and the most emotional of them all. Since the novel is largely about choosing love over the “persuasions” of others, JA here clearly gives love the upper hand over rationality and social considerations.

As for Mansfield Park, it swings back in the direction of reason. Fanny is the reasonable one while everyone around her seems to be guided by their instincts. Even Edward succumbs to the irrational when temptation is thrown his way.

Emma, in some way, is a search for order and the rational in a world where everything seems chaotic. Emma sees herself as the sensible one capable of organizing everyone else’s happiness, but, like the trip to Box Hill, everything quickly becomes chaotic. I love the way riddles and puzzles play with this idea all the way through.

I’m the first to admit that I’m quickly developing a headache as I try to work myself through this. By the end, I’m not sure where I started. Is Jane Austen an advocate of sense or of sensibility? 

What do you think?

Monica Fairview is the bestselling author of Austen Sequels: The Other Mr. Darcy, The Darcy Cousins, and Austen Variations: Mr. Darcy’s Pledge, Mr. Darcy’s Challenge and The Darcy Brothers and the Neo-Victorian futuristic Steampunk Darcy as well as a Regency romance An Improper Suitor now in Regency Quintet: Summer Edition. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Cutty Sark Figureheads Collection: could this be Mr Darcy?

Recently, I visited the famous Cutty Sark tea clipper – something I’d been longing to do for years – where I came across the fascinating Sydney Cumbers Collection of ships’ figureheads. Mr Cumbers, born in 1870, was an avid collector of maritime artefacts dating from the 19th century which he donated to the Cutty Sark in the 1930s. Most of the figureheads (from merchant ships) bear their ship’s names but there are a few where the provenance is unknown, including the first one which caught my eye.

Could this be Mr Darcy?

My first thought was: it’s Mr Darcy! The hair, with the long sideburns, dates from about 1813, as does the cravat. It’s the right date, and, of course, he just looks right.


The selection of figureheads is interesting, and indicates a as a wide general knowledge on the part of those who named the ships. Some of the figureheads are from literature, like Hiawatha, dating it to around 1855 when Longfellow’s narrative poem on the American Indian hero was published and became a hit.


This is an unnamed classical female figure, who I think must be the Roman goddess Diana – she has a crescent moon in her hair which is one of Diana’s attributes.


There is also a figurehead labelled Zenobia, a powerful and ambitious woman who became Queen of Palmyra in 267 AD. Whoever named his ship after her was obviously a lover of the Classics.

Sir Lancelot (left) and Omar Pasha (right)

There are figureheads of literary heroes closer to home, too. Sir Lancelot, in his silver armour, somehow manages to look simultaneously both Medieval and Victorian. He, too, has a literary provenance: Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, a series of narrative poems telling the story of King Arthur, was immensely popular in the 1850s. Lancelot, who had sworn fealty to King Arthur, had an adulterous affair with Guinevere, King Arthur’s wife. Tennyson sums him up, unforgettably:

His honour rooted in dishonour stood,
And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.

Next to Sir Lancelot is the dashing Omar Pasha (1806-71). He was born a Serbian Christian but converted to Islam and became famous as an Ottoman general, winning several spectacular victories over the Russians during the Crimean War. The Turks were British allies during the war and Omar Pasha was much admired.

Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882)

Other foreign heroes are represented, too, for example the politician and fighter for Italian Unification, Giuseppe Garibaldi – another fine figure of a man.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Female contemporary heroines are not forgotten with Florence Nightingale, ‘the lady with the lamp’; a figurehead which, in my opinion, doesn’t do her justice.


The beautiful Duchesse is one of my favourites. Who was she? French, obviously, but who? I thought that she might represent a French royal mistresses, Madame de Pompadour, for example. But Madame de Pompadour was a marquise, not a duchesse; the figure doesn’t look like her, and her hair isn’t powdered, as la Pompadour’s hair would have been.

But, back to Mr Darcy. Alas, I doubt whether it is him; the figureheads of literary heroes are men of action, like Hiawatha. Could it be Lord Byron? He was certainly well-known (or notorious) enough and famous for his good looks as well as his poetry.

Any suggestions?

Elizabeth Hawksley

Photos by Elizabeth Hawksley

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Visit a castle!

We can't all easily visit historic buildings, but the modern world is making it easier to explore in a virtual way. Check out this recreation in 3-D of ruined Holt Castle. It gave me a new feeling of what it would be like to visit it. Click here.

There's information here about a medieval castle in the building that you can actually visit.

Do you enjoy medieval fiction?

You can check out my medieval romances here. 

You can share this post by clicking on one of the buttons below.

Best wishes,


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kentwell Hall - a quintessentially English historical house.

I visited Kentwell Hall recently and it was more than forty years since I'd been – but the place hasn't changed at all. It isn't slick and touristy like some stately homes, but accessible and intimate. We were able to wander about peeping into cupboards and touching things in a way that couldn't possibly happen anywhere else. In the moat house you could go upstairs into an Elizabethan bedroom – everything was there, down to the combs and other items one might find on the dressing table. There was also the brewery in which there were ancient barrels and kegs.

However, the kitchen and dining rooms were the most exciting. The kitchen had a fireplace you could roast a whole ox in and everywhere were pots and pans, kitchen implements and other things of interest. What was fascinating was that at one end there was a stone bench under which were two arches in which fires could be lit. On the top were iron grills – just like a modern cooker. I'm not sure what era these were as the house is obviously been in continuous use since it was built in the sixteenth century. They hold events here and they had cupboards full of pewter plates and goblets.

The bedrooms are furnished in various styles and there was a Georgian one complete with harpsichord as well as an Edwardian one in the Oriental style.The gardens are still laid out as they were when the house was built although there is now a storybook trail for the children which was great fun. The big carp pool is still there and when we stood at one end a row of mini tidal waves approached as the fish were expecting to be fed.

We also went into the ice house – I've never actually been inside one before and it was an experience I'm not eager to repeat. Astonishing to think that ice could be stored in there throughout the summer so frozen desserts could be served at banquets.

I would highly recommend that you go and visit Kentwell Hall if you're ever in the vicinity of Long Melford.
Fenella J Miller

Fenella's latest release is not one of her usual Regencies, but a second world war saga. The box-set trilogy is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


The fascinating new summer exhibition A Royal Welcome at Buckingham Palace, open until September 27th, shows the visitor exactly what goes on behind the scenes to make a state banquet a success. The palace has recreated the banquet setting for the State Visit from Singapore in 2014.

The tables for the State Banquet are set

The moment I entered the palace, I thought: as a writer of novels set in the Regency period, this is the nearest I’m going to get to one of the Prince Regent’s state banquets at Carlton House. This is more than just a wild leap of imagination on my part; it was George IV who invited the architect John Nash to transform Buckingham House into a palace with nineteen appropriately splendid State Rooms; and much of the furniture, ornaments, chandeliers etc. came from Carlton House.

Nash’s Grand Staircase

Nash had a flair for the theatrical and the Grand Staircase, which welcomes important guests into the palace is in itself a sort of coup de théâtre, leading you into the unknown. You can’t see what’s at the top but you sense that it will be something special – as, indeed it is. Almost the first thing I spotted was Canova’s delicious white Carrara marble statue, Venus reclining, (1816, from Carlton House) a very Prinny touch!

Silver Pantry

For this exhibition, the palace has created a series of special ‘behind the scenes’ showcases. This is where we see what goes on behind the scenes. The Silver Pantry, for example, has the silver-gilt plates and the cutlery, much of it collected by the Prince Regent. He had eclectic tastes; he liked rococo and baroque, as well as classical; and he seems to have collected it piecemeal. There isn’t enough gold plate for a complete banquet set – so the guests’ plates and cutlery comprise several different sets.

Gold centrepiece, bought by the Prince Regent

The gold centrepiece, shown here in the process of being cleaned and put back together, was another of his purchases.

The porcelain for the State Visit from Singapore, 2014

The Prince Regent was equally interested in porcelain. The photograph shows two different sets used for the banquet. One set of plates is a very pretty turquoise and gold Minton bearing Queen Victoria’s VR monogram; the other set, decorated with birds was made by François Tournier for the Duc d’Orléans, and bought by the Prince Regent after the French Revolution.  

The Wine Cellar

The wine cellar showcase shows an array of glasses, decanters and wine etc. The decanters date from the Prince Regent’s time and are still in use today. Note the butler’s uniform hanging up. Each guest has six glasses: for water, white wine, red wine, champagne, sweet wine and port.

Banquet table detail

There are four servants: page, footman, under butler and wine butler, to look after every nine guests. They each have their specific jobs and it is all meticulously synchronized.

Making chocolate buttons

So, what’s going on in the kitchen? We are given a fascinating glimpse into the making of chocolate buttons (based on the buttons on the footman’s uniform). Note the copper moulds for the famous chocolate bombes – sure to have been a hit at a Carlton House banquet, too. The numerous copper utensils are all originals and some date from our period. They are regularly used and re-tinned when necessary.

Sugar orchid flowers

I also loved the beautiful orchid sugar flowers, as made for the Singapore State banquet, whose national flower it is. Nothing is too much trouble to make the guests feel welcome. Each guest is given a small booklet with the guest list, the menu, the wine, and the live music being played. The banquet ends with the Queen’s pipers circling the room twice, after which, the Queen, and then her guests, leave the room. The palace wants every guest to feel comfortable and to know what happens when.

Banquet: the head of the table. Note the organ – originally in the Brighton Pavilion

The room is candlelit for the banquet and the candlelight makes everything shimmer – especially the ladies’ jewellery and the gold centrepieces.

I just loved this piano

Afterwards, there is a formal exchange of gifts; followed by coffee and, in Prinny’s day, perhaps some music. The grand piano from Carlton House is also now in Buckingham Palace.

Looking back towards Buckingham Palace from the gardens.

So, dear readers, if you would like to experience how it might feel being invited by the Prince Regent to Carlton House for a formal occasion, I suggest that you visit A Royal Welcome at Buckingham Palace. You will not be disappointed.

Elizabeth Hawksley

All photographs by Elizabeth Hawksley

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Writing tips #10 - to plan or not to plan.

When I started writing full-time, before I sold any books or knew much about the process of writing I bought several "how to" books and devoured the contents. Every book I read said that detailed planning was essential. I'm not including research in this post – that's something I shall do next time. Here is a list of suggestions for those just starting out on their writing careers. Sometimes, when writing a saga or series, it's essential to do a family tree as well in order to make sure your characters will fit in and there are no anomalies with their ages and birth dates.
1. Write a biography for each of the main characters. In this you put details of appearance, characteristics, age, aspirations and back story.
2. Make a list of all minor characters such as friends/family members/servants (if you write historical as I do) and give them a mini biography and make sure the names you use don't begin with the same letter as the names of the main characters.
3. Create a timeline and put any major events that actually took place so these can be slotted into your story if necessary. (This only applies to historical, obviously.)
4. Write a brief outline of what takes place in each scene/chapter and indicate from whose viewpoint it is so that you keep a balance of hero/heroine/villain.
When this is done you are ready to start writing your book. The characters should now be vivid in your mind and you will have a good idea of the direction your book will take. However, remember that this is only a guide and it doesn't have to be followed exactly. I found having this written down extremely helpful in the beginning because when you get to the "sagging middle" you can refer to your original plans to tighten things up.
Jean Fullerton, a very successful author of Victorian and East End nursing sagas for Orion, has an even more meticulous planning method. Even after eight books she still does this before she starts. On her screen she will have the equivalent of a double page spread divided into sections, in each section is a scene of about 1000 words. When I speak to her on the telephone she will often tell me she still has X number of scenes to complete – this means she always knows where the book is going and how much longer it will take her to write.
Now that I'm writing my forty-third book (seven mainstream historical and the rest Regency) I no longer need to plan for a 'single' title at all. I get an idea, think of the title, sort out the names of the main characters and I'm ready to go. I keep a notebook in which I write the names/ages/places as they occur in the book because by the time I get to the end I've often forgotten whether the butler is called Foster or Jenkins. However, I've just started writing a series which will have six books in it; although I've done no story planning I spent a couple of hours working out names/pages/partners and a title for each book. This is essential if you're writing a series as you must keep the chronology correct.
I expect that your are now wondering whether you should be planning or not before you start your book. My advice is to plan meticulously for your first couple of books but after that do whatever suits your writing style. I do recommend that you always keep a notebook with essential details of your characters. I hope these suggestions will be helpful to those still unsure which method to use. I know dozens of successful writers and I think it's probably a 50-50 split as to whether we plan or not before we start.

Fenella J Miller
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Friday, August 21, 2015

Getting to Know You - Jane Odiwe

Early scribbles
I was very lucky to grow up in a family where everyone loved reading, and my favourite memories are all associated with going to the library or having the wonderful treat of going to choose a book of my very own. I had many favourite childhood books, I’ve written about some of the later ones here, but I think of the early stories nothing captured my imagination like Milly-Molly-Mandy, not least because of the illustrations.
I used to write my own stories, most of which were heavily inspired by those written by Joyce Lankester Brisley, and I dreamed one day of becoming a children’s author - a dream, which has never gone away - I hope one day I’ll finish the children's book I started writing in 1995!
I wrote an homage to Milly-Molly-Mandy when I was nine, consisting of six chapters of The Smiles Family (complete with a map) written and illustrated into little books that I made up with paper pieces and a stapler. I can’t tell you the excitement I still have when I buy paper or a new exercise book - so many of my first attempts at writing started in these little books - I kept a lot of them, because they gave me so much pleasure writing them.
Taking a look through the titles and their accompanying drawings I can see I loved historical figures even then. A story about The China Gentleman, a magical tale where a figurine in a cabinet comes to life, is illustrated with a gentleman in Victorian costume with the title, ‘Would you like some snuff?’ This is in an exercise book grandly labelled, Stories for Children, and features The Ballerina, A Visit to the Fair, and The Theatre. Another story features a Victorian aunt, who is young, pretty, and smells of lavender water - in the drawing I’ve given her a reticule.
By the time I reached the age of ten or eleven one of my great loves was ballet, and I loved Noel Streatfeild’s book, Ballet Shoes. I wrote my first attempt at a novel with a friend at school, and we called it Orphan Dancer. Our heroine was named Rosanna Estelle who dreamed of becoming a dancer from her earliest days at the orphanage. I think you might be able to guess what happened! We were often given permission to stay in and write it at playtime, which we loved, as no one else enjoyed the same privilege, and we thought we were very special.
Dancing on the beach
Apart from some pieces published in a school magazine, and English composition at school, which I loved, I didn’t write for a long time. I went on to art school, and became a teacher, always thinking that I’d love to write a novel, but never being brave enough to attempt it. When Jane Austen sequels started appearing I really felt inspired, I loved Pride and Prejudice, and it was wonderful to start writing again.

Lydia Bennet’s Story, Willoughby’s Return, and Mr Darcy’s Secret were my first novels, and I’ve since gone on to write timeslip/dual story novels, Searching for Captain Wentworth, Project Darcy, and Mr Darcy’s Christmas Calendar. I’m writing another Jane Austen inspired novel, but I’m determined to go back to the historical children’s book I started all those years ago. Perhaps I’ll get it finished in another twenty years time!
Jane Odiwe