Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wedding Dresses



We all love a wedding and the first thing most people want to see and comment on is the bride’s dress.  Who can resist having an opinion on what she’s wearing?

1931
Everyone has different tastes, and there are some mind-boggling creations that make their appearances in churches across the country – you do wonder sometimes what the poor grooms think when they see some of them come sailing down the aisle towards them!  (Provided, of course, they have followed the tradition of not being allowed to see it before the wedding, which I’ve always been told is very bad luck).  Most brides do look beautiful though, and who wouldn’t want to be at their best on such an important day?

At the moment, there is a wonderful exhibition on at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London showing wedding dresses and accessories from the late 1700’s onwards (Wedding Dresses 1775-2014).  A veritable feast for anyone who loves weddings, it is fascinating to see the progression of such gowns through the centuries.  Naturally they followed general fashion trends, but it is clear brides have always made an effort to wear the very best they could, spending as lavishly as their fathers permitted.  (There’s a selection of photos of some of the various gowns on the V & A’s Pinterest board here.)

1850's
To begin with, wedding dresses were just very nice gowns that could later be used again as ball gowns or for Sunday best.  Being white was not a prerequisite until Queen Victoria set a trend by wearing white at her own wedding in 1840, although young ladies often did wear white in any case.  The important thing seems to have been using a luxurious material and lots of special embellishments, such as exquisite embroidery and fine lace.  I loved seeing the various outfits on display and only wished I could have tried some of them on!

During World War II brides had to be extra inventive as dress materials were rationed.  Apparently upholstery/curtain material wasn’t though, so there were some lovely wedding dresses made out of what could also have passed for very pretty curtains!

1957
The exhibition doesn’t just show traditional gowns, however.  There were some very different ones, such as a glorious purple creation worn by Dita Von Teese when she married singer Marilyn Manson.  I would have worn that to a ball myself, but as she is an unusual lady, it suited her to perfection.

Afterwards, I found myself looking through the family albums to see what the generations before me chose to wear and they all appear to have dresses in keeping with the fashions of their time.  My great-great-great-grandmother in her Sunday best in the 1850's, my grandmother in a 1930’s style gown and my mother in late 1950’s elegance.  As for me, I chose a Victorian style, having always loved the bustles and ‘leg-of-mutton’ sleeves so prevalent then.  Would I still choose that if I were to be married now?  Probably – I’m an old-fashioned kind of girl.

I was pleased to discover that myrtle has been included in royal wedding bouquets for quite some time as I wore a crown made of myrtle leaves, a tradition in my own family.  I'd love to hear from anyone else who followed an unusual family tradition for their wedding!

Christina x

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Henry Tilney's Diary

At last, the ebook version of Henry Tilney's Diary is out! Even better, it's in a special Amazon promotion for 99p, so if you don't have it yet, here's the link

Henry is such a brilliant character. Mr Darcy wins hands down in proud, arrogant stakes but Henry is a lot more fun. I started his diary before the start of Northanger Abbey because I wanted to see him with his family, particularly his adorable sister, Eleanor. I  included some extracts from an actual Horrid Novel, which Henry and Eleanor read to each other. So if you've ever wondered what those novels were like, here's your chance to find out (without having to read a whole one! But if this gives you a taste for them, there are plenty to choose from.)

Henry's diary also provides more details about Eleanor's romance and fleshes out the character of his ne'er do well brother, Frederick.  And then Henry meets Catherine, and that's where the diary catches up with the original novel.

I loved looking at the events of Northanger Abbey through Henry's eyes and I hope you do, too!


Amanda Grange
www.amandagrange.com




Saturday, July 12, 2014

The difficulties in starting a new series


At the beginning of the year I had the opportunity to write a series I’ve been working on for some time. A new series of historical romances. I haven’t written anything quite this all-encompassing since Richard and Rose, but unlike that series, this has a different hero and heroine in each book.
But the premise is important for the whole series. That means it has to be consistent and rigorous. There’s a lot of hard work goes into doing that and in a historical, it’s important to keep it believable—getting the historical details believable and right.
In the Emperors of London, this included a Jacobite theme. I’ve done a lot of research on the Old Pretender and his children, mainly because I was interested. The plethora of romantic stories about Bonnie Prince Charlie, the songs and lore, led to looking at the real stories, the accounts of the disillusioned, wife-beating drunk that the Young Pretender turned into so quickly after Culloden, and the character defects that were there from the start.
Which led to the all-important “what if?” idea that triggered the writing of a series instead of one book or a trilogy. And when the idea came, the other elements fell into place.
But I had to work out what happened to the other characters in the stories and what their specific, particular stories were. Because a one-note series can be awfully tedious. Each character has to have his or her specific issue and problem, and they come from a variety of backgrounds.
All these needed working out, so they  could blend in together and make a coherent whole. But since there could be more stories to come there has to be an open-ended element too. The first seven books don’t encompass every Emperor’s story!
The publisher, Kensington, wanted an outline for the whole series. They wanted to contract them all, so I had to provide an outline and a premise. I usually work to a plot, but the plot doesn’t always work out by the time I’ve done, so doing this was very challenging.
I found it easiest to work from the backbone of the series, and work out  what each hero and heroine have to do with it. They must have different motivations, or the series would be in danger of becoming one-note. I did find it useful to do that. However, the theme had to be consistent.
Luckily, they didn’t want titles all at once, because my angsting over titles is famous among editors! But now I’m writing the third book, it’s all falling into place so beautifully it’s like it’s pre-ordained!
ROGUE IN RED VELVET, the first Emperors of London series will be available in ebook from 4th August and in print in the autumn.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

What happened to the rubbish?

In London there were street sweepers employed to remove household waste and horse dung. However only the roads of the wealthy were immaculate and the poorer areas were filthy as no one could afford to pay.
In the 1750s the parishes were responsible for hiring roadsweepers, so again places like Whitechapel with almost 1500 houses and only four roadsweepers must have been appallingly unpleasant.

These people would come by every day, except Sunday and holidays, ringing their bells. Occupants could bring out their rubbish and throw it in the carts – anything could be in these carts from human and animal dung to dead cats and dogs.
At night the night soil collectors cleaned out the privies and cesspits – I don't suppose the rich areas had a problem with this.
There were in fact people called Dustman who just collected dust. They had a high sided cart and took it to a dust yard. A dustyard was a big operation and could have as many as 150 people working there. A dust heap at Gray's Inn Lane was sold for £20,000 ! In 1848 somebody had the bright idea of combining sewage and dust and sold manure cakes to farmers and gardeners for five shillings a cart full.
Families sometimes worked on this dust heap. The man brought it in, the boys took it to their mothers and put it in a wire sieve called a shifter, and then they rummaged through looking for rags, bones etc which could be sold for money. Dustman were relatively well-paid – ten shillings a week in some cases.
There was also a busy market in collecting dog poo – this was called 'pure'. Tanners were the main purchasers. Old ladies were often seen walking round the streets with a bucket and scoop collecting this from the pavements.
There were also the mudlarks who worked on the Thames, which was literally knee deep in human effluent and other unmentionable things. I can imagine the smell in the summer was overwhelming. These river scavengers would look for anything of value such as copper, cold, and also  bones and metal pieces which could be salvaged and sold.
Another source of unpleasant odours were the of coal fires which belched out soot and carcinogens into the air.The ash from these fires also had to be disposed of.

No wonder the wealthy deserted London after the Season and remained in the country where the air was fresher and healthier.

Fenella J Miller

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Peace Breaks Out! 1814




Sir John Soane’s Museum’s new exhibition celebrates the end of the Napoleonic Wars with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1814. For Britain, it had been a long and bloody conflict, beginning with the Revolutionary Wars in 1793. The war gradually extended to the whole of Europe, including Russia, and the U.S.A.. Indeed, Napoleon had had his expansionist’s eye on Egypt and even India. During the wars, over 3,500,000 people lost their lives. 

Coalport tea cups - note Prince of Wales feathers on left cup and dove of peace on right cup

What I found interesting was that Britain in 1814 was celebrating Peace, not, as might have been expected, Victory. The souvenirs of the time shows this very clearly. The display includes an attractive Coalport porcelain ‘Peace of Paris’ tea-set, for example. Or, if you were less wealthy, a ‘Peace of Paris’ Bristol pottery jug might take your fancy. A fashionable ivory brisé opera fan has a roundel depicting an allegory of peace ascending over an army, represented by the tips of their lances and a banner. Other symbols show doves carrying olive branches.  


Ivory brisé Fan

In April 1814, the great and the good began to descend on London for the Peace Celebrations, including Tsar Alexander 1st;, his sister, the Grand Duchess Catherine of Oldenburg; King Frederick of Prussia; and the popular General Blücher. The Prince Regent, naturally, wished to reap the credit for the magnificent show London was putting on. Unfortunately, he had forgotten that his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, was related to the Russian royal guests. Embarrassingly, they kept asking after her.   


Jackson’s purse

The Prince was anxious to show his royal guests round London. Amongst other attractions, Tsar Alexander visited the 'Emperor of Pugilism', ‘Gentleman’ John Jackson’s boxing academy for gentlemen at No 13, Bond Street. Here Alexander watched a special sparring bout. The exhibition has the net purse he awarded Jackson afterwards – suitably full of guineas, one hopes.


Castle of Discord

I particularly enjoyed the colourful prints of the attractions London had to offer. I loved the print of the destruction of the Castle of Discord, a wooden structure erected in Green Park opposite what is now Buckingham Palace. It was 130 ft high and 100 ft square. On August 1, it was subjected to a ‘cannonade’ simulating siege warfare. During the two hour ‘battle’, clouds of smoke obscured the castle, accompanied by some tremendous bangs. When the smoke finally cleared, behold! the castle had vanished and in its place stood the Temple of Concord, ‘rich, beautiful and resplendent’. The event finished with fireworks celebrating the return of Peace.


Temple of Concord

The writer Charles Lamb was there to enjoy the junketings. He wrote to Wordsworth, ‘The fireworks were splendid – the Rockets in clusters, in trees and all shapes, spreading about like stars in the making.’      

I wish I’d been there to see it. Oh, to time travel! Fortunately, the illustrated exhibition catalogue includes interesting and informative essays by the curators, Alexander Rich, who has loaned many objects from his magnificent collection, and Dr Jerzy Kierkuć-Bielinski.  

Photographs courtesy of: Alexander Rich, Private Collection. Photography: Lewis Bush
Peace Breaks Out: London and Paris in the Summer of 1814 is on at Sir John Soane’s Museum from 20th June – 13th September, 2014. It is free. www.soane.org 

Elizabeth Hawksley.

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Thursday, July 03, 2014

THE SCARLET GOWN

I am thrilled to have a new historical book published this month. THE SCARLET GOWN is a Regency romance but also a country house mystery. Here's the blurb from the back cover -

When impoverished Lucy Halbrook arrives at Lord Adversane's estate she knows her assignment is unusual, not only will she act as his hostess at his Midsummer's Eve play, she must also pretend to be his fiancee! 

What Lucy doesn't know is that Ralph must uncover the truth behind his wife's death and Lucy is the key. She challenges him at every turn and, as each day passes, unlocks a little more Ralph's guarded heart.

 




This book was particularly enjoyable to write because I used my local area of the South Pennines for the backdrop, so when I was walking the dog each day I could actually visualise my characters in the setting. I love using real places for the background to my books but usually I give it a fictional name so that I can take a little artistic licence for the sake of my plot, but isn't that what all fiction writers do?

I have added a short extract from the book below: happy reading!

THE SCARLET GOWN
Sarah Mallory

Lucy and Ralph are out riding……


‘I think it is time that we abandoned the formality, at least in public.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘You cannot keep calling me “my lord”. I have a name, you know.’
Lucy felt the tell-tale colour rising up again.
‘I do know,’ she managed, ‘but—’
‘No buts, Lucy. There, I have used your name, now you must call me Ralph. Come, try it.’
She felt uncomfortably hot.
‘I—that is, surely we only need to do so when other people are near—’
‘And how unnatural do you think that would sound? We need to practise.’
‘Of course. R-Ralph.’
He grinned. ‘Very demure, my dear, but you look woefully conscious.’
‘That is because I am,’ she snapped.
‘Which proves my point,’ he replied in a voice of reason that made her grind her teeth.
Observing her frustration, he merely laughed, and adjured her to keep up as he trotted out of the village.
It was impossible to remain at odds. There was too much to see, too many questions to ask. The hours flew by and Lucy was almost disappointed when Adversane said they must turn for home.
‘We are on the far side of Ingleston,’ he told her. ‘It will take us an hour to ride back through the town, longer if we skirt around it. Which would you prefer?’
‘The longer route, if you please.’ Lucy recalled her meeting with the parson and had no wish to be stared at and pointed out as the future Lady Adversane.
They kept to the lanes and picked up the road again at the toll just west of Ingleston. Lucy recognised it as the road she had travelled when Mrs Dean had taken her to the town. She recalled there was a narrow, steep-sided valley ahead, where the highway ran alongside the river. It had felt very confined in the closed carriage, with nothing but the green hillside rising steep and stark on each side and Lucy was looking forward to seeing it from horseback. She turned to her companion to tell him so and found that his attention was fixed upon something ahead, high up on the hills. Following his gaze, she saw the moors rising above the trees, culminating in a ragged edifice of stone on the skyline
‘Is that Druids Rock, my lord?’
‘Yes.’
She stared up at the rocky outcrop. The sun had moved behind it and the stone looked black and forbidding against the blue sky.
‘Your cousin told me that the old track to Adversane ran past there, before this carriageway was built.’
‘That is so.’
‘And can one still ride that way?’
‘Yes, but we will keep to the road.’
She said no more. His wife had died at Druids Rock and it must be very painful to have such a constant and visible reminder of the tragedy. She longed to offer him some comfort, at least to tell him she understood, but he had urged Jupiter into a fast trot, and quite clearly did not wish to discuss the matter any further.
By the time they arrived back at Adversane Hall Lucy felt that she had achieved a comfortable understanding with her host. Glancing up at the clock above the stable entrance, she wondered aloud if there would be time for her to bathe before dinner.
‘I have not ridden so far in a very long time,’ she explained.
‘You had probably forgotten, then, how dusty one can get.’
‘And sore,’ she added, laughing. ‘I have a lowering suspicion that this unaccustomed exercise will leave my joints aching most horribly!’
‘I shall tell Byrne to put dinner back an hour and have Mrs Green send up hot water for you.’ He helped her dismount and led her towards a small door at the back of the stable yard. ‘This is a quicker way,’ he explained. ‘A path leads directly from here to a side door of the house, which opens onto what we call the side hall, and from there we can ascend via a secondary staircase to the main bedchambers. It is much more convenient than appearing in all one’s dirt at the front door.’
‘I guessed there must be a way,’ she told him as she stepped into the house. ‘Only I had not yet found it. Does it lead to the guest wing, too?’
‘No. They have their own staircase, over there.’ He pointed across the side hall to a panelled corridor, where Lucy could see another flight of stairs rising at the far end. ‘My guests have perfect freedom to come and go as they wish.’
There was something in his tone that made her look up quickly, but his face was a stony mask. She began to make her way up the oak staircase, conscious of his heavy tread behind her.
‘How useful to have one’s own staircase,’ she remarked, to break the uneasy silence. ‘Was it perhaps the original way to the upper floor? Mrs Dean did say that the grand staircase was added when the house was remodelled in the last century.’
She knew her nerves were making her chatter, but when her companion did not reply she continued, glancing at the dark and rather obscure landscapes on the wall. ‘And of course it gives you somewhere to hang paintings that are not required elsewhere…’
Her words trailed away as they reached the stop of the stairs, and her wandering gaze fixed upon the large portrait hanging directly in front of her. But it was not its gilded frame, gleaming in the sunlight, nor the fresh, vibrant colours that made her stop and stare. It was the subject. She was looking at a painting of herself in the scarlet gown.

© Sarah Mallory


THE SCARLET GOWN by Sarah Mallory pub July2014 Harlequin Mills & Boon


A LADY AT MIDNIGHT by Melinda Hammond,
now available as an e-book on Amazon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Island of Dejima


I’ve previously blogged about the British traders who went to Japan in the early 1600s – hardy people whose courage you can’t but admire.  However, for various reasons their trading post didn’t last very long in that particular place while other nations flourished, in particular the Dutch.  As I’m currently working on a story set in Japan in 1648, I’ve been going over the notes I made when I was lucky enough to visit the site where these foreigners had their base from 1641 onwards – the island of Dejima in Nagasaki, a truly fascinating place!

It wasn’t an island in the traditional sense, as it was man-made and in the shape of a Japanese fan, constructed especially for the purpose of housing foreign traders (at first for the Portuguese).  Set in Nagasaki’s harbour, it could only be reached via a small bridge and a gate which was guarded at all times.  There was a sea gate on one side where goods could be loaded onto small boats and taken out to the large European ships, but when not in use, this gate was kept closed.

Me in front of the Dejima model
Apart from some trade with the Chinese, Japan was closed to the outside world for about 200 years and by 1641, the Dutch traders were the only Europeans who were allowed any contact with the Japanese at all.  The Japanese ruler – the Shogun – had decided to evict all other foreigners and the Portuguese had been the last to leave in 1639.  Mostly, this was all due to the Shogun’s mistrust of Christianity – any Christians found were executed in various hideous ways – but the Dutch seem to have steered clear of anything to do with religion and so they were allowed to stay.  This permission came at a price though – they were only allowed a foothold on Dejima and couldn’t cross over onto the mainland of Japan except if they were specially invited, and for the journeys to Edo which the Chief Factor had to make from time to time to pay his respect to the Shogun.

Dejima's "Main Street"
At only approximately one hundred and thirty by eighty-odd yards, the island must have seemed very small to the people who were forced to stay there year in and year out.  My heroine yearns to set foot on the mainland, which was tantalisingly close across only twenty yards of water, but most of the foreigners did so very rarely.  I found it hard to imagine being cooped up like that without feeling as though you were in a prison, but perhaps people were more patient back then and didn’t find it as irksome as we would now?

When Japan was finally opened up to the rest of the world in the mid 1800’s, Dejima was abandoned and in time it merged with the rest of Nagasaki by means of reclaimed land.  It is now a designated site of historical importance and work has been going on for many years to restore it, with some of the buildings reconstructed.  When I visited, tourists were able to go into what used to be the Chief Factor’s residence – the most imposing building, and some of the store houses.  To help you visualise what it had all once looked like, there was a scaled down model of the whole island.

My visit was brief and I would love to go back again one day, but for anyone thinking of going to Japan, I can thoroughly recommend a stop-over in Nagasaki to see this fascinating historical site!

Christina x
 



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