Sunday, July 17, 2016

What Are Young Men to Rocks and Mountains?

I fell in love with the Lake District a long time ago, and the fact that it's mentioned in 'Pride and Prejudice' my favourite story of all times, might have had something to do with it, even though, thank goodness, Elizabeth never made it to the Lakes and stopped in Derbyshire instead.

'What are men to rocks and mountains?'
she rhetorically asks her aunt in a moment of frustration with Mr Bingley, Mr Collins, with Mr Wickham a little (she hadn't heard the truth about him at that point) and great deal with Mr Darcy (ditto).

Elizabeth's frustrations aside, she might have had a point. The sights are astounding!

Just a few hundred yards from where the above picture was taken, there is an old inn. 

Apparently, there has always been an inn here from 1496 onwards, so when Mr and Mrs Darcy went to the Lake District at some point or other after their marriage – as they must have done, to make up for the trip that never happened – they might have stopped here, at Kirkstone Pass Inn. 

Or maybe they stopped here, even though it’s not on the beaten track, and it’s unlikely that they would have gone mountaineering on the nearby Crinkle Crags, no matter how much Elizabeth might have loved the wide open spaces! Still, it’s a lovely place, some 300 years old and converted from a dairy, the proprietor said.

The 'Rules of the Inn' are worth a read as well. There are fourteen altogether, but here are a few:

No. 4: Only coins of the realm may be tendered for the purchase of liquor. Cheques or notes of hand will not be accepted from those below the rank of Royal Duke. (So even Darcy would have had to pay hard cash!)

No 8: The following penalties may be invoked for swearing: an oath 1d, a curse 3d, a blasphemy 6d, it being for none but the proprietor to categorise.

No. 10: There may be no dicing, whether the die be fair or loaded.

No. 13: No spirituous liquors shall be served for the consumption by dogs, except before fights.

And lastly, No. 14: Seamen and travellers are invited to be moderate in the telling of tall stories, lest the credulity of the company be strained, and the King’s peace threatened.

So I suppose that with all the travellers, the dog-fighting, gambling and brawling, this might have been a bit below par for the Darcys – but wherever they might have stopped, I hope they enjoyed their trip, and were delighted with the scenery, as well as with each other!

I only wish I could follow them to Pemberley!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Strange times!

While I’ve been wallowing in the mid-eighteenth century, we’ve been experiencing some strange times in the UK. We had a referendum, then the Prime Minister resigned, and so did the favourite to take his place.
Changes of regime are never straightforward. We wait on events. We certainly live in interesting times!
And yet, someone looking back at this time and whatever happens next will see the events as inevitable. Just as we think of George III following George II to the throne. If you read the history books, they say that Culloden was the end of the Jacobite threat.
But it wasn’t.
Several events occurred to make the 1750’s a time of uncertainty, of shifting opinions and events. There are so many “what if”s and turning points in the decade that I’m constantly surprised that more authors haven’t grabbed the opportunities and run with them.
Diana Gabaldon, for sure, took the Jacobite cause and looked at it anew. But she examined it from the point of view of the hapless Scots. There are other ramifications that have been obscured only by the passage of time, but once they were raw and new.
In 1751, the Prince of Wales died. Frederick was a popular prince, even though he didn’t get along with his father and had a court separate from him. Nevertheless, he was the King’s successor. We could have had a King Frederick! Frederick left a young family, all healthy, but none of them were out of the shcoolroom. The oldest, George, was the new Prince of Wales, but he was only thirteen when his father died.
The Princess of Wales, Augusta, was particularly close to Prince George’s tutor, John Stuart, the Earl of Bute. Of course, Bute was more of an advisor than a hands-on tutor, but it meant he saw the prince a great deal, and became very important in his life, just as Lord Mountbatten did to Prince Charles. However, it was also rumoured that Bute was the lover of Princess Augusta. Bute was not popular.
Parliament was settled until 1754, when the Prime Minister, Henry Pelham-Holles, died. His brother, the Duke of Newcastle, took over, but it soon became obvious that he wasn’t up to the job, and a change of political alliances was going to rock the House of Commons.
King George was in frail health during the 1750’s. He died in 1761, long enough for Prince George to attain his majority, but it was a close run thing.
If the old king had died before his grandson had come of age, George III would have had to have a Regent. There could have been a revolution.
Times of uncertainty make a country vulnerable. And so, into that potential perfect storm, came the Stuarts in exile.
The Young Pretender visited London in 1751 and converted to Protestantism. If the opportunity arose, he wasn’t going to let religion get in the way of his succession. He talked with several important people while he was there, and he could have returned throughout the decade. When he came to London, the government kept an eye on him, but preferred not to arrest him and make a martyr of him. Either that, or Charles came under an amnesty, but if there was one, it hasn’t come to light. He could have returned, but there is no evidence either way that he did so.
However, Charles had become a disillusioned drunk who refused to marry and sire children who would have been a threat to the throne. He was living with a woman who he beat regularly, and who bore him a daughter. His own folly disbarred him this time, and as the decade wore on, the establishment settled into a new pattern. The rise of the brilliant politicians Fox and Pitt, and the onset of the Seven Years’ War moved Britain into a new process, and Prince George grew older.
But for a few years, anything could have happened. And that is what authors rely on for their stories. At least this one does.
I’ve been commissioned to write three more books set in the 1750’s, this time about the Shaw family, and I’m spoiled for choice with plots. I’ve written another book, yet to find a home, about another aspect of life back then, the race to discover longitude, and the craze for astronomy.
I can’t see my interest ever waning!

Saturday, July 09, 2016

A Spy at Pemberley - A Jane Austen variation.

£1.99 $2.99
A Spy at Pemberley is the final book in the 'At Pemberley' series. Darcy and Lizzy have been married for some time and their union is going through troubled times. This is bought to a head when Caroline Bingley, who always had designs on Darcy, arrives unexpectedly. 
If having Darcy’s old flame under her roof wasn’t enough for Lizzy to contend with Colonel Fitzwilliam, an intelligence officer, arrives also. However, this isn’t a purely social call as he needs Darcy’s assistance to entrap two spies who are passing secrets to the French. Against her better judgment Lizzy is drawn into this dangerous escapade and asked to invite the suspects to a house party at Pemberley. 
As Lizzy and Darcy dash from Pemberley to London and back again they not only unmask the traitors but rekindle the spark that brought them together all those summers ago.

Writing a series is the done thing nowadays. Trad publishers want them and so do readers. I've completed two WW2 series, one Victorian and this Regency Jane Austen liked one. I've written two of a six book series - The Duke's Alliance - the third will be out next January. I'm halfway through writing the first book in a three book WW2 series about a female ATA pilot. I've only written one single title this year - the Christmas story for the next Regency Romantics box set. 
It was even more difficult doing a series with someone else's characters. I enjoyed writing four books linked to Pride & Prejudice but am glad to be saying goodbye to them now. Every Jane Austen fan has their own interpretation of the story and the character - I was told that 'Jane wouldn't have done that'. This was my Jane and she could do whatever I wanted.
I love the cover by J D Smith - I'm sure her designs  help to sell my books.
Fenella J Miller

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Remembering the Spanish Peninsular War

The effect of the Spanish Peninsular war on the 19th century national consciousness was in some ways similar to our own feelings about battles on the Western Front during the First World War. Both were part of a much wider conflict; both were extremely bloody; and both had a huge effect back in Britain.

And, as always happens in war, stories emerged which caught the public imagination. One of these was the (true) story of the Maid of Saragossa. Readers of Georgette Heyer's The Spanish Bride will remember the scene when Juana intrepidly rides back to their previous lodgings to return a stolen Sevres bowl to its owner. 'Well done, Juana!' exclaims Colonel Barnard. 'You're a heroine. Why, the Maid of Saragossa is nothing to you!'
 Wellington's HQ at Ciudad Rodrigo

I was reminded of all this when I saw the Scottish artist David Wilkie’s paintings of the Peninsular War in the Royal Collection at the Queen’s Gallery. I’d seen lots of contemporary prints of the war but not proper oil paintings, so I was interested to see these. 

Wilkie visited Madrid in 1827 and, inspired by stories of Spanish guerrilla resistance, painted a series of pictures from the Spanish point of view. It is interesting that Wilkie chose the Spanish as his subjects. Perhaps he had seen too many returned British soldiers, wounded and out of work, begging on the streets for him to want to glamorize them.

The Guerrilla’s Departure by David Wilkie, 1828

The Guerrilla’s Departure, painted in 1828, shows a Carmelite monk offering a guerrilla a light for his cigar. Tobacco smoking was ubiquitous, thanks to the Spanish colonies in Latin America, and Wilkie’s depiction of an ordinary working man smoking a cigar must have startled people back home. And was Wilkie, a son of the manse, also hinting at Roman Catholic intrigue with the monk offering the guerrilla a light? The church towers up behind them, and a ragged boy sits on the ground looking up at the scene. A laden donkey waits behind the man.


The Guerrilla’s Return by David Wilkie, 1828

The companion picture The Guerrilla’s Return (1828) shows the returning guerrilla. He arrives ragged and wounded, his left arm heavily bandaged, slouching on his exhausted donkey, his gun pointing downwards in a gesture of defeat. There is no church involvement here; this is personal. A young woman wearing a mantilla, perhaps his wife or sweetheart, holds up both hands in distress. Behind him we can just glimpse a man who has, perhaps, helped the guerrilla get home safely. In the front right of the canvas a kneeling girl looks up.

The Defence of Saragossa, by David Wilkie, 1828

Wilkie’s most famous picture The Defence of Saragossa (1828) takes as its subject the true story of Agustina Zaragoza, ‘the Maid of Saragossa’. In 1808, the French besieged Saragossa, a city which had not been attacked for four hundred and fifty years. The local guerrilla leader, Palafox, and the priest Boggiero, another hero of the resistance, seen conferring at the back, have managed to aim a gun at the French. They are ill-equipped and the ramparts are crumbling. How can they hold off the French with a few ancient cannons? They are heavily outnumbered.
Turret on the ramparts of Ciudad Rodrigo

Behind the cannon, slumped on the floor, is the dying gunner Zaragoza. His wife, the twenty-two-year-old Agustina, has seen the French bayonets wreaking havoc on the defenders who are losing heart. Heroically, she runs forward, seizes a match and fires the gun at the French at point blank range, mowing them down. Inspired by her bravery, the fleeing Spanish rallied to her defence and, together, they beat off the French – at least for a while.  

The ramparts of Santa Lucia.

Wilkie’s picture of this stirring event is a highly-dramatic one. The cannon is pushed up against the ramparts by four straining men. Agustina, in a swirl of white and pink drapery, holds the lighted taper aloft, ready to fire the cannon. Behind her, pressed against the ruined city wall, Palafox talks to Boggiero.

Agustina's story quickly spread. Byron depicts her in the first canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Here, she is inflamed by the sight of her lover mown down by the French.

Her lover sinks—she sheds no ill-timed tear;
Her chief is slain—she fills his fatal post;
Her fellows flee—she checks their base career;
The foe retires—she heads the sallying host:
Who can appease like her a lover's ghost?
The French, as Byron puts it, are: ‘Foiled by a woman's hand, before a battered wall.’ This extract comes from Canto 1, published in 1812 while the Peninsular War still raged.

                  After her heroism at Saragossa, Agustina became a rebel with the guerrilleros helping to harass the French and it's good to know that she lived to a ripe old age. Interestingly, Byron actually met Agustina some years after he wrote Childe Harold.

Bridge over the River Coa, she scene of fierce fighting

Many of us who write Regencies have sent our characters to the killing fields of the Peninsular War. Indeed, I’ve done so myself. So I thought you might enjoy a glimpse of a different take on the subject with David Wilkie’s vivid paintings.

 If you’d like to see the paintings for yourself, they in the Scottish Artists 1750-1900: from Caledonia to the Continent exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery until 9 October, 2016

 Photos: The Guerrilla’s Departure by David Wilkie and The Defence of Saragossa by David Wilkie courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

Other photos by Elizabeth Hawksley

Elizabeth Hawksley


Sunday, July 03, 2016

The Infamous Arrandales

July sees the publication of the last book in the Infamous Arrandales series, The Outcast's Redemption.

Those who have followed the series will know that the Arrandales have always courted scandal, but the most infamous of them all is Wolfgang, who fled to France following the death of his wife and the disappearance of a valuable necklace (I think one of the saddest facts of life in the Regency period is that loss of property was considered a more serious matter than loss of life).

So, ten years later, Wolf Arrandale returns to England determined to prove his innocence. Here's the first lines of the book -

March 1804

The village of Arrandale was bathed in frosty moonlight. Nothing stirred and most windows were shuttered or in darkness. Except the house standing within the shadow of the church. It was a stone building, square and sturdy, and lamps shone brightly in the two ground-floor windows that flanked the door. It was the home of Mr Titus Duncombe, the local parson, and the lights promised a welcome for any soul in need.

Just as they had always done, thought the man walking up the steps to the front door. Just as they had done ten years ago, when he had ridden through the village with the devil on his heels. Then he had not stopped. Now he was older, wiser and in need of help.

Mr Duncombe's daughter, Grace, is at first wary of the vagabond who arrives at her father's door, but she is soon caught up in Wolfgang's search for the truth.

I loved writing this series, and especially in bringing the final mystery to an end with Wolf and Grace's story. And even as I was announcing the arrival of The Outcast's Redemption, the postman delivered copies of the Italian version of the second book in the series. In English the title is Temptation of a Governess, the Italian, as you can see from the cover, always sounds so much more romantic and mysterious!


Sarah Mallory /Melinda Hammond

Friday, June 17, 2016

It's that time of year...

It’s that time of year to don one’s best bonnet and go gallivanting again to Regency events and the ever so delightful balls and assemblies. Some friends and I will be dancing at the Alton Ball tomorrow, and those of us who have more love of Austen than sense [putting my hand up ;) ] simply can’t wait to get there.
If my scheduled post were next week, I could have brought new photos, but as it’s today I had to look for photos from previous years in Alton and Chawton.

The lure of Chawton is ever so great for those of us who revere Jane Austen and the legacy she left us. 

The beautiful cottage whence her genius was released into the world...

...the Great House with its tranquil beauty...

...the whole village and its picture-perfect cottages...

...and the surrounding countryside with the English verdure she writes about with so much affection in ‘Emma’

We can easily imagine Jane Austen walking the very same woodland paths – I think that, like Elizabeth Bennet, she enjoyed a good long ramble, and might well have returned home on more than one occasion with her skirts six inches deep in mud.

As always, I wonder what she would say were she to somehow learn of the amazing following she and her work still have, two centuries on; were she to see the crowds gathering in Alton in their finery to honour the Regency period, largely because of her. I think she would be surprised, hopefully gratified, but greatly entertained as well. Much like Elizabeth Bennet, I think she, too, dearly loved a laugh.

There will be laughter aplenty ‘on the morrow’, and dancing and good cheer, and hopefully we would continue to meet in years to come, to play dress-up (odd as non-Janeites think us :) ) and flutter our fans, dance and party like it’s 1799.

Monday, June 13, 2016


Looking at images of Georgian life, one gets the impression that the use of tobacco was neither general nor widespread. Caricatures tend to depict an exaggerated truth, and only in a few does one find a pipe smoker, and in none a man taking snuff.

Rowlandson shows one soldier smoking in a group of five, and similarly one working man among seven in a pub. A few men are depicted taking a pipe at their own hearth. Ackermann’s Fleet Prison yard, with groups enough to form a crowd, has one lone fellow with smoke issuing from his long clay pipe. Only Hogarth has half the males smoking pipes in a single group, and that is in a scene of drunken debauch!


It seems fair to assume, then, that although smoking was prevalent not everyone indulged in the habit; those who did confined their pipes to the pub, the coffee house or home. One can also be confident that far fewer women than men took tobacco at all, although an image of an elderly working class dame with a pipe pops up occasionally.

Clearly many did use snuff, because it was a high production trade and is mentioned in contemporary accounts. But although tobacco had a place, it seems unlikely that its use was anything like as widespread as it was during the earlier years of the twentieth century. Yet those Georgians who disapproved of the use of tobacco appear convinced that it was highly prevalent in their own time.

The dangers were known. Tobacco is listed in a late 18th Century treatise on poisons. According to the writer, there was evidence to suggest it was an active poison, “yet everyone knows that under the influence of habit it is used in immense quantities over the whole world as an article of luxury, without any bad effect having ever been clearly traced to it.”

Much was made of the effects of snuff on workmen who manufactured it, some sources claiming it gave them bronchitis and dysentery among other ailments, but others managed to prove that workmen became used to it and didn’t suffer any ill effects. As ever, those with a vested interest will find a way to prove their point!

Such symptoms as were noted are known to us now: speeded up heart rate, giddiness, shortness of breath, spasms, fainting, sickness, weak pulse and sleepiness. One doctor suspected apoplexy (heart attack) “is one of the evils in train of that disgusting practice”, referring to taking snuff. Two young men actually died from tobacco poisoning, having smoked about “seventeen pipes at a sitting”. One wonders how that compares with 20 or 40 a day now?

We are indebted to a French chemist of the era, Vauquelin, for naming the killer substance in tobacco as nicotine. Later chemists argued about which precise part of tobacco caused the problems, but it was generally agreed that tobacco contained an “acrid, alkaline principle and an essential oil to which the alkaloid adheres with great obstinacy”, which was bad news.

As early as King James, who wrote “The Counter-Blaste to Tobacco” within a few years of its introduction into Europe by Sir Walter Raleigh, it was believed that the smoking habit would result in “evil consequences” because of its poisonous qualities. Some governments tried to stop its introduction, although their methods were harsher than our current bans on smoking in public places. Popes excommunicated those who smoked in St Peters; in Russia it was punished with amputation of the nose; and in the Canton of Bern it ranked next to adultery.

Did that make any difference? Not according to the treatise writer: “Like every other persecuted novelty, however, smoking and snuff-taking passed from place to place with rapidity; and now there appear to be only two luxuries which yield to it in prevalence, spirituous liquors and tea.”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chôse!

Guest blog by Elizabeth Bailey

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Melford Hall, Long Melford, Suffolk

View from the drive.
View from the front.
I try and visit a couple of stately homes every year. The first of 2016 was Melford Hall. The Hall was built on top of the original building which  belonged to the Abbots of St Edmundsbury. With the dissolution the abbot was forced to surrender the Abbey and all its possessions to Henry VIII in 1539.
The Great Hall
William Cordell, was a wealthy Long Melford man who made his fortune in the law and became Solicitor General in 1553. Queen Mary knighted him, as he was a Catholic, and chose him to be Speaker in her parliament. Even under Queen Elizabeth he remained a respected figure.
The bed that Beatrix Potter slept in.
 Cordell had no children so that the house passed to his sister Jane. Thomas Savage, the great-nephew of Sir William Cordell, inherited the house from his grandmother in 1602. Sir Thomas had nineteen children and extended the house – possibly to accommodate his enormous family.
During the puritan rule Countess Rivers, the owner,  sold the estate to a descendant of Sir William Cordell's grandfather. These new owners repaired and renovated the house and restocked the park.
Banquet Hall built in 1613
Sir Cordell Firebrace replaced the Tudor windows with Georgian sash windows, pulled down the old east wing and created a set of rococo style reception rooms in the north wing.

 I was surprised how small the banquet hall was, but a helpful volunteer explained that the meaning of the word has now changed. Banquet was derived from the word banquette which meant a small bench. This hall was set aside for dessert which was served to only a selected few of those that had been invited to dine. It was a place for conspiracy and secret conversations, which was why it was set aside from the main house.
Another fascinating thing I learned was that Beatrix Potter was a cousin to Lady Hyde Parker and visited Melford Hall frequently. The actual toy duck that Beatrix dressed and used for inspiration to write "The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck" is on view at Melford Hall.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this delightful stately home. The fact that the current owners live in the north wing makes the place more welcoming.
Kentwell Hall
Kentwell Hall is no more than half a mile away. They were built around the same time and it would be perfectly possible to visit both on the same day.
£1.99 / $2.99

Fenella J Miller

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Love and Friendship

I’m always a sucker for TV and film adaptations of my favourite historical novels and Jane Austen’s books are at the top of my list. Regardless of some people saying that the costume drama genre is stale, for me it never gets old. So I was very excited to see that there is a new adaptation of Austen’s book Lady Susan in the cinemas now, a film entitled Love and Friendship.

I loved Lady Susan from the moment I first read it in an anthology with Sanditon and The Watsons, two other lesser-known Austen books. The structure of the book, with the story told via letters, was new to me and I really enjoyed it. What I particularly liked, though, was the character of Lady Susan herself. Quite simply, I think Lady Susan is a monster. She’s a very clever, beautiful and interesting character but a monster nevertheless. I It took me a while to realise this. Jane Austen constructs her character so cleverly through her own words that I can still remember the shock I felt when I first realised “this person is not very nice!” In fact Lady Susan is ruthless, amoral and calculating, and all the more interesting for it. I imagine that Jane Austen, like so many authors, relished writing a villain.

Sometimes characters are entirely imaginary constructs, sometimes they have bits and pieces of real people in them, authors being like magpies in picking up and using things they observe, and at other times they may be inspired by a real person. So it is with the character of Lady Susan, whom Jane Austen was said to have based on a rather fearsome-sounding woman called “The Cruel Mrs C.”

I first came across “the cruel Mrs C” as a result of my research into the Craven family of Ashdown house because she was a member of the Craven family. Jane Austen, as many of you will know, was great friends with Martha and Mary Lloyd, whom she first got to know because their mother rented a house in the next village from Jane’s father, George Austen. Their grandmother was the Mrs C in question, a beautiful woman who had moved in the first circles of society as a member of the aristocratic Craven family, but who had apparently treated her three daughters very badly indeed. She beat them, starved them and locked them up, treating them like servants. One eloped with a horse dealer and another with a farmer. The third married the Reverend Mr Lloyd. The picture here is of Elizabeth Craven as a child - I couldn't find a portrait of her as an adult.

One can imagine Jane Austen hearing tales of the shocking behaviour of Mrs C from her grand-daughters, and it may well be that after the death of Mrs Lloyd in 1806 she felt free to draw on the character of Mrs Craven as inspiration. Yet however unscrupulous and selfish Lady Susan is, she does not have the genuine cruelty of the mysterious Mrs C, the accredited beauty who was so brutal to her daughters in private.

Has anyone seen the film Love and Friendship? What did you think of it? Which is your favourite Jane Austen adaptation?

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Visit to the Park of Monsters

My first thought on visiting the Park of Monsters, a.k.a. the Park of Wonders or the Sacred Grove at Bomarzo, in Lazio, Italy, was that it would be a wonderful place for a heroine in jeopardy to have all sorts of hair-raising adventures. So this post is an account of what's in this amazing place - and you can decide for yourselves.
This is one of the first things you see. It is so huge that you can stand up inside the gaping mouth and there's enough room to stretch your arms up to touch its teeth. There is even a bench inside.
 The Mask of Madness

The park is the creation of the 16th century Italian condottiere, Pier Francesco Orsini. It is situated on the edge of an extraordinary volcanic landscape strewn with huge tufa boulders the size of a house. Orsini turned this chaotic landscape into a place which is unlike anything else in Italy. Many of the statues have carved inscriptions which are designed to provoke thought and to challenge assumptions, as well as to entertain.

Fighting Giants: the standing giant is about to tear the upside-down giant apart
 The sheer scale is impressive. When I stood by the railing in front, my head just reached the eyes of the upside-down giant. It's not easy to make out what's going on in the photo: the upside-down giant's right arm is on the floor with his hair flowing over it. His head is resting on it. An enigmatic inscription carved nearby reads: If Rhodes of old was elevated by its colossus, so by this one my wood is made glorious, too, and more I cannot do. I do as much as I am able to.

What does it mean? This was an age when the aristocracy, both papal and secular, enjoyed displaying their superiority by their interest in philosophy and hermetic knowledge. The statuary is full of obscure classical allusions. Are the giants Titans? If so, they represent the ancient gods who were defeated by Zeus and the gods of Olympus. But why are they here?

The Leaning House

This is a full scale building carved out of one of the tufa boulders. I climbed the stairs and went inside. The floor is tilted at a vertiginous angle and my instant reaction was to feel sea-sick. And that, I think, is exactly what Orsini wanted. An inscription nearby reads: Dedicated to Cristoforo Mandruzzo, Archbishop of Trent. The mind becoming quiet becomes wiser thereby.

I got the distinct impression that Orsini didn’t altogether approve of the archbishop. Maybe he was a know-it-all and Orsini felt he needed to be jerked out of his complacency. If you suddenly feel nauseous, at the very least you'll stop talking!

Carthaginian War Elephant

A war elephant has lifted up a Roman soldier and is about to hurl him to the ground. The elephant towers above you - my head reached about halfway up its legs. This is a reference to Hannibal and the Carthaginian Wars – which almost defeated Rome. This is not about the (eventually) victorious Romans; here, the elephant perhaps represents the power of the unconscious mind. One might argue that, about 350 years before Freud, Orsini is acknowledging the power if the Id.
 Dragon and Lions in Combat

This vast statue looms out of the undergrowth. What does it represent? Normally, one would expect the lions to defeat the dragon. Here, I’m not so sure. The Park of Monsters also seems to be about turning one’s expectations upside-down.

Xystus with Acorns and Pinecones

But there are also places in the Park where one can relax and enjoy oneself. A xystus (my word for the week, though heaven knows when I’ll use it again!) is an open colonnade or walk designed for relaxed conversation and recreation. The plinths support alternate pinecones and acorns. Pinecones represent enlightenment and the third eye (the god Dionysus, or Bacchus to the Romans, always carries a Thyrsus, a wand of fennel with ivy wound round it and topped with a pine cone to represent the importance and power of the unconscious mind). Acorns represent spiritual growth. You can indulge in philosophical thoughts, or you can just enjoy the walk!

 The Mouth of Hell

The Mouth of Hell is another monstrous head. Inside the mouth is a large cavernous space with a stupendous echo – I sang Donne Nobis Pacem (somewhat incongruously) and the echo reverberated right through my body. The inscription here reads: Abandon all thought you who enter here.  This is obviously a reference to the message above the door of hell in Dante’s Inferno, which reads: Abandon all hope all ye who enter here. But Orsini doesn’t want his visitors to abandon hope. He wants them to put aside all preconceptions, which is a very different matter.  

Cerberus: the three-headed dog who guards the entrance to Hades
And, in case you haven’t got the point, a statue of Cerberus guards Hell’s open mouth.
All in all, I could envisage plenty of places for a heroine to be frightened, hide in, be imprisoned in and, generally, have her mettle tested. There are also some statues of more friendly goddesses, like Demeter, to offer sanctuary or advice.
 Mermaid with double tail

I leave you with a statue of a double-tailed mermaid which defies explanation. Who is she and what are the two creatures in front of her? I have no idea. And that is one of the attractions of this intriguing park. You have to be content not to know. Maybe that is the lesson Orsini is trying to teach us: sometimes we don’t know, and that is all right.

Photos by Marilyn Palmer

Elizabeth Hawksley

Friday, June 03, 2016

Writing tips - Avoiding the Sagging Middle

Okay, you have an idea for your book, a really great idea, a fantastic love story! You start writing in a flush of enthusiasm and its all going well, until..... some point you begin to feel that you are flagging, that the book is going nowhere, that it is (hushed whisper) boring.

Many, if not all writers get this at some point. I know a lot of authors who say it kicks in at around 30,000 words. Sometimes they have finished the whole book and looking back they find the middle is stodgy, They have introduced the characters, set up the scenes, but then everything seems to flounder.  This is the bit commonly known to writers as the Sagging Middle.  Let's face it, if you as the author don't like the book at this point, it's unlikely that your audience is going to enjoy it.

So, what can you do about it?  It is unlikely that you can cut the whole middle section out, after all, you need to get from A to B somehow! So here's a few tips that might just help.

Interview your characters. They are your creations, and if you have done your job well then they can help you a great deal at this point.  Are they saying/doing what is right for them? Are they being forced in directions they don't want to go?  Talk to them, ask them what they want to do (I know, I know, this may sound slightly crazy, but believe me, once you have created characters they can take on a life of their own and the most difficult thing can be keeping them in order. So if you have great characters, then interview them, ask them what is wrong.  They might just tell you.

Go back and check your overall plan.  Does is still make sense? Is it going in the right direction?   Often when we are writing, a book takes a turn that we had not anticipated and if we manhandle it back on track that may not be the way the story really should go. Be prepared to change it, if it feels forced or unnatural.

Read your manuscript as a reader. Be objective, if you can.
If you feel too close to it then perhaps you can put it aside for a while and then read it with fresh eyes. Remember, though, readers read for entertainment and pleasure, not for grammar or spelling or construction. If bits of the story don't excite you, take them out or re-write them. Make sure everything you put in adds value.  Are you adding too much information, is it slowing the story and detracting from the pleasure of reading?

Discuss your work with someone. Perhaps you have a critique partner/group,  or a fellow writer who is on the same wavelength. Ask them to read your work and comment.  However, be careful not to ask too many people, or you could get too many differing opinions!

Do something else! This is the one that appeals to me most often. It doesn't matter whether its ironing, washing up, walking the dog, shopping, gardening, or even watching TV.
Get away from your work in progress for a while. Allow the ideas to settle, ferment, evolve. Give yourself permission to think of something else and very likely your brain will continue to work on the problem in your subconscious.

So that's it.  I hope these ideas might help to get you over the point of that sagging middle.

Happy reading (and writing)

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

Published July 2016 - The Outcast's Redemption (Harlequin Historical)