Monday, February 13, 2017

Maybe Tomorrow

This month marks the release of my first timeslip novel. If I’d known they were such fun to write, I’d have written one a long time ago!
I was asked to write the story as part of the Enchanted Keepsake collection. There are some fabulous books here, and they all have the same theme. That a woman is condemned to travel through time, bringing happiness to others but never finding it herself.
In my contribution an American visitor to London finds a miniature portrait in a junk shop, and is rocketed back in time to the Regency. She meets Avery, Lord Northcote, the man in the picture. The person who sold her the miniature told her she had a return ticket. Once was all she had.But when disaster strikes she has a terrible decision to make.A few years ago I took a trip down the Thames to Hampton Court. I had a lovely day and enjoyed it very much. I never realized I’d be writing about it! And that is why I keep a diary. I dug up my account of the trip and recreated it for Tabby, and then, later in the story I show how the scenery has changed in two hundred years. It was an absolute treat to write and a great challenge.During the trip I saw a house I thought was absolutely lovely. It’s one of those Thames-side villas that
the fashionable of the Regency had built for weekend getaways (although they didn’t call it the weekend then!) and naughtier pleasures. During my research I found the perfect house, Marble Hill House, the residence of George II’s mistress, Henrietta Howard. It’s a gem of a house and although built a couple of generations before the Regency, I chose it because it’s lovely. It has a slightly racy history, but Henrietta held parties and received some of the most important people of the age. Ladies of society, of course, wouldn’t go there, but Henrietta was a woman of taste and refinement, encouraging poets, artists and other literary figures.
Describing houses then and now was a challenge and huge fun. I wanted to bring the London of yesteryear and today to life, to try to show how it might have changed—and how it stayed the same.Maybe I’ll write more timeslips!

Maybe Tomorrow

Two hearts beat as one - two hundred years apart!

Tabitha Simpson is on her honeymoon alone, after her fiancé cheated on her. In London she finds a tiny shop, where she buys a miniature portrait. The man in the picture calls to her, as if she already knows him. When she finds the full-size painting, magic happens, and she is transported back in time to 1816.

Avery is the Earl of Northcote, expected to marry and provide an heir. But when he finds Tabby on the sofa of his Thames villa, he is smitten. He doesn’t want anybody else. He will defy everybody and everything to have her.
But some things can’t be defied.

Tabby and Avery are madly in love, but they can’t stay together. Their lives are two hundred years apart.
When Tabby goes home, she knows she can’t return. Avery must spend the rest of his life without her, or find a way to join the woman he loves.

Buy the book here:
Amazon US Amazon UK Apple iTunes | Kobo | Barnes and Noble
Available in ebook or paperback.

Read the first chapter here

Thursday, February 09, 2017

How important is it to write a series rather than a stand-alone title?

I'm delighted to tell you that the third book in my bestselling series about the Duke of Silchester, "The Duke's Alliance", and his five siblings is now available on preorder. I'm writing two a year and the fourth one will be published the end of the summer. I can't wait to get onto the duke's story – although he does feature in every book.
This is the second Regency series I've done – the first was the three book 'At Pemberley' series of Jane Austen variations. Although I enjoyed writing these I was glad to write the final one as using somebody else's characters somewhat stifles the creative impulses.
Currently I'm writing the third book in the Victorian saga, "The Nightingale Chronicles", and there will be a fourth next year.
 I've also written the first book in a World War II series, "Ellen's War", Blue Skies & Tiger Moths, which is going to follow the life of a woman ferry pilot in the ATA. This will be launched in April. I'm very excited about this particular book as there aren't many fictional stories about these brave women.
I've written a stand-alone Regency which has yet to be published, and will write a Christmas themed Regency – but these will be the only stand-alone titles I do this year.
Series seem to do so much better than individual titles at the moment – I certainly enjoy reading about the same character in Bernard Cornwell and Christian Cameron's  brilliant series – so I suppose I'm not the only one.
This book is available as a pre order at the moment and will be released on 23rd  February.
Here is the blurb:

£1.99 /$2.99
Release day 23rd February
An Unconventional Bride is the third in The Duke's Alliance series. 
Mrs Mary Williams, a colonel's widow, arrives at Silchester Court with Miss Elizabeth Freemantle, who has been brought up as her sister. Beth is the Duke of Silchester's cousin and he is her guardian. 
Lord Aubrey, the duke's youngest brother, finds himself designated to oversee the London debut of both Lady Giselle, his sister, and his lively cousin, Beth, as the duke is called away to his estates in the North.
Although Mary is only four years older than Aubrey she is more worldly and well-travelled. Mary is not thinking of marrying a second time, she values her independence too much, and certainly not to a young gentleman like Lord Aubrey. 
Only when her reputation is lost, and marriage to Aubrey is impossible, does she understand that her feelings have changed.
Is it too late for them to find happiness together? Will the duke allow her to be part of his prestigious family?


Fenela J Miller

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Jane Austen: The Tyrannical General Tilney

General Tilney is surely one of the most unpleasant characters Jane Austen ever created. He’s greedy, hypocritical and a bully. Yet is it through him that the naïve eighteen-year-old Catherine Morland, heroine of 'Northanger Abbey' learns some important lessons about human nature.


When Catherine Morland first sees him in the Assembly Rooms she is standing beside Henry Tilney – a man she has recently met and finds very attractive. She notices that she is being ‘earnestly regarded by a gentleman…immediately behind her. He was a very handsome man, of a commanding aspect, past the bloom, but not past the vigour, of life.’  He learns forward and whispers something to Mr Tilney.

Catherine is embarrassed by the gentleman whispering. Is there something wrong with her appearance? Then Henry says: ‘That gentleman knows your name and you have a right to know his. It is General Tilney, my father.’  


It the first time that General Tilney’s attentions make Catherine feel uncomfortable, but it won’t be the last. What she doesn’t know is that the obnoxious John Thorpe, the brother of her friend Isabella, has been telling the General lies about her: that she has a dowry of between £15-20,000, and she is the heiress of the wealthy Allens, whose guest she is.

The General is immediately determined that Catherine will marry his younger son, the Reverend Henry Tilney. He invites Catherine to stay with them at Northanger Abbey.


His invitation (he goes on for twenty-three lines) is a mixture of boasting and fulsome flattery. He tries to impress her with name-dropping; he had hoped to see ‘the Marquess of Longtown and General Courteney, some of my very old friends here’ and then asks her if she could ‘be prevailed upon to quit this scene of public triumph, and oblige your friend Eleanor (his daughter) with your company in Gloucestershire.’ He ends, with hypocritical modesty:  his ‘mode of living is plain and unpretending; yet no endeavour shall be wanting on our side to make Northanger Abbey not wholly disagreeable.’  


His use of litotes (‘not wholly disagreeable’) is ironic, and makes it clear that, in fact, he rates the attractions of Northanger Abbey very highly. The whole speech is way over the top and, not unnaturally, Catherine is overwhelmed. ‘To receive so flattering an invitation! To have her company so warmly solicited!’  She takes it all at face value.

But, even as the carriage sets off for Northanger Abbey, Catherine begins to feel uneasy about his constant attention. Is she comfortable? He stops for lunch at an inn and bullies the waiters with impossible demands. He’s very fussy about his food and the ‘short’ stop takes over two hours. What would Catherine like to eat? He fears that he’s offered her nothing to her taste, when she’s never seen such a variety of food in her life before. In any case, they had a substantial breakfast before they set out and she’s not hungry. He makes ‘it impossible for her to forget for a moment that she is a visitor’.


The truth is that the general is a bully who manipulates Catherine into praising everything she sees, whether she likes it or not. Jane Austen leaves us in no doubt that General Tilney fails as a host because he’s not interested in his guest’s comfort. He only wants to hear praise of himself and his possessions.  

It gets worse once they reach Northanger Abbey. Catherine, whose passion is reading Gothic novels, is longing to see the ancient parts of the abbey but the General, having offered her a choice of seeing the house or grounds, says: ‘Yes, he could certainly read in Miss Morland’s eyes a judicious desire of making use of the present smiling weather. But when did she judge amiss? The Abbey would always be safe and dry.’ He has manipulated her into doing what he wants.


Poor Catherine! ‘She was all impatience to see the house, and had scarcely any curiosity to see the grounds.’ She ‘put on her bonnet in patient discontent.’  (A phrase which perfectly describes Catherine's feelings) The tour is a nightmare. The General hopes to learn that the Allens’ estate is inferior to his own. All Catherine can say of what she’s shown: ‘It was very noble – very grand – very charming!’ over and over again. General Tilney supplies his own praise. 

One of the lessons Catherine must learn, both with regard to her friend Isabella and with General Tilney is that people can say one thing but mean something quite different. She has already been confused by Isabella falling in love with her brother James, becoming engaged to him, and then encouraging the attentions of Frederick Tilney, Henry’s older brother (a far better marriage prospect). Duplicity isn’t in Catherine’s nature and she doesn’t understand why people behave dishonestly.


When the General arranges for them to visit Henry’s home at Woodston Parsonage, he insists: ‘You are not to put yourself at all out of your way. Whatever you may happen to have in the house will be enough. I think I can answer for the young ladies making allowance for a bachelor’s table.’

Catherine believes him. But Henry knows better, and leaves Northanger Abbey early in order to prepare a suitably elaborate meal.

Catherine exclaims: ‘But how can you think of such a thing after what the General said? When he so particularly desired you not to give yourself any trouble, because anything would do.’

Henry smiles but still leaves early for Woodston.


After Henry has gone Catherine finds herself pondering on the General’s inexplicability: That he was very particular in his eating, she had, by her own unassisted observation, already discovered; but why he should say one thing so positively; and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood? 

What is interesting here is that, for the first time, Catherine is discovering things ‘by her own unassisted observation’. Not only has she has stopped taking everybody on trust - Isabella has been using both James and herself – she has stopped living in her Gothic fantasy world; General Tilney has neither incarcerated his wife nor murdered her. And both of them alter the truth to suit themselves.

Jane Austen after Cassandra Austen. National Portrait Gallery.

Catherine is beginning to judge people for herself; and she is shortly going to need her new-found emotional intelligence. And, I would argue, the obnoxious General Tilney is, perhaps, the most important instrument of her maturation.

Photos of Powis Castle, Dunham Massey and Lyme Park standing in for Northanger Abbey taken by Elizabeth Hawksley 

Elizabeth Hawksley.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Perfect Regency?

Ten years ago, I wrote this post with the help of several authors, notably the late, great, Jo Beverley, whose sense of humour was pretty wicked!
So here are the ingredients for your perfect Regency romance. Let's see what you choose! I'm delighted to say that I have broken the rules numerous times over the years. You can make it more interesting by rolling a die to choose! And please, don't take this one too seriously.

Writing a Regency Romance (excluding Scottish romances)
Choose one of the following in each section.

The hero is:
1. A rake about town
2. An army officer (captain or above, please, no lieutenants)
3. A widower with small children
4. A pirate duke (marquis or earl will do at a pinch)
5. A spy who is also a peer of the realm

The hero is never:
1. Geeky, spotty or bald.
2. overweight
3. Reasonably cautious and sensible.
4. Shorter than the heroine.
5. If he wears spectacles, he isn’t dependent on them and can lose them at convenient times without any ill effects.

The heroine is:
1. A clever, beautiful ingénue
2. A bookworm not interested in society or husband hunting
3. An older spinster looking for a husband for her beautiful younger sister
4. A governess or housekeeper, usually the daughter of a peer fallen on hard times
5. A young girl forced to wear a male disguise and work as a secretary/groom or something similar.
6. A young American heiress, despising English society.
7. A highwayman/urchin/thief by night, a respectable member of society by day.
8. A young woman fighting to save her family from financial ruin, caused by the gambling habit of her brother or father, or even both.

The heroine is never:
1. A respectable young woman with a good fortune looking for a future husband.
2. A war widow, who has lost her husband in the Napoleonic wars and has now returned to society. Widows are Sad, so they can't be heroines.
3. The daughter of a City gentleman, looking to increase her social standing. This is Bad because it makes her look mercenary.
4. Less than stunningly beautiful, clever and accomplished, even if she tries to hide these facts at the start of the story.

They meet:
1. In a country inn, where they get snowed in.
2. In a ballroom, where she hates him on sight.
3. At the gates of a country house, where she mistakes him for the gardener or he mistakes her for a maid.
4. On the road, he in his phaeton, she in her travelling carriage.
5. At the altar.
6. In a gaming hell where she is the stake.
7. At a secluded lake where the heroine or hero is taking an impromptu bath.

They never meet:
1. By being introduced by their parents, who want to see if they would like to make a match of it.
2. By politely promenading in the park at the fashionable hour.
3. They have always known each other, because society is small, and they are, in fact, distantly related.

1. Hate each other on sight, but are filled with lustful thoughts
2. He loves her, she hates him.
3. She loves him, he hates her.

They never;
1. Take a liking to each other without it being accompanied by lustful thoughts.

Note: 2 and 3 must be accompanied by a Big Misunderstanding. They must always fancy each other’s pants off on sight, or It Isn’t A Romance.

The first time they make love is:
1. In the marriage bed (boring unless they met for the first time at the altar)
2. In a small antechamber set conveniently close to a ballroom
3. In a summerhouse
4. In a small cottage where they’ve taken refuge from the storm
5. In his library where she has gone in the middle of the night, barefoot, in search of a book to read. He is already there in his shirtsleeves, drinking.

The villain:
Choose one or two of the following:
1. The hero’s brother who wants the title. He is usually handsome, etc, but not as handsome etc as the hero.
2. The hero’s ex mistress (see below)
3. The heroine’s father. He is usually a gambler who has lost the family fortune and now wants to sell the heroine in a card game.
4. A man who wants the heroine, but isn’t prepared to marry her. He may abduct her, take her to Gretna, etc. to achieve his wicked end. He will not rape her, though it is usually a near thing. He often seems to be a pleasant character.

Secondary characters:
1. The hero’s best friend. Usually another peer, with a set of problems of his own. He will get his own story later. Repeat as necessary to create a series.
2. The heroine’s sister. She provides plot problems, adds comments, and is there because she’ll get her book later.
3. The heroine’s closest friends. See heroine’s sister.
4. The hero’s ex mistress. Jealous, experienced, may be the villain. When she is not, she is always jealous of the heroine, and she plots against her.

You may pick as many of the following as you wish, to give color to your story:
1. An urchin, cheeky but very poor, a boon companion of the hero or heroine. This may be actually the heroine in disguise.
2. An old retainer, a maid who used to be the heroine’s nurse. She is referred to by her Christian name and magically has all the skills required of a good lady’s maid.
3. A valet. He may be either scoundrelly and talk with Dick Van Dyke Mockney, or superior, and talk like Jeeves.
4. A butler. Superior, tall, talks like Jeeves, or short and fat and an old retainer who knows all the family by their first names, prefaced by “Miss” or “Master.”
5. A Bow Street Runner, usually less intelligent than the hero or heroine. Always on the side of good, he is upright and honest (unlike the usual run of BSR’s in RL)
6. An old man, who the heroine is required to marry to restore the family fortunes.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Have I lost my sparkle? (UK)  (US)
I am starting 2017 with a re-edited recycled book. Search For A Duke was once published by Robert Hale as A Suitable Husband. This was the second book I wrote for them way back in 2006 but I well remember Mr John Hale telling me, ' I love the sparkle in this story.''
I still love writing but I fear after 60+ books over the past eleven years my sparkle might be somewhat dimmed. I don't jump out of bed and rush to my study so I can continue with whatever book I'm working on. I am a writer - it's something that I have to do - but I don't think it's possible to maintain the same amount of  'sparkle' that all new writers bring to their book.
By improving my skills, learning my craft, I am now, like all professionals, producing a well-constructed book. Sometimes, I think knowing the things we shouldn't do, restricts us; new writers still have that wonderful freedom to express themselves.
I shall never forget the excitement of holding my first book in my hands. Now I publish and move on - write five or six new titles a year - and only when a reader contacts me to say how much they loved a title do I stop and think how wonderful it is to be a writer and how lucky I am.
Strangely, the harder I work the luckier I get.
Here is a short extract from Search For A Duke introducing the hero:

Up to that point Oliver Mayhew had seen and dismissed Sarah as a woman of medium height, reasonable figure, and ordinary features. He had already decided to refuse the job when it was offered; there was nothing to interest him at Rowley Court. This had been a wasted journey.
Then her smile transformed her face from commonplace to breath taking. Her eyes were an extraordinary mix of emerald green and darkest brown and he fell into their intriguing depths. He swallowed, twice, and forced his limbs to untense, angry such an experienced man as he had allowed himself to be floored by a pair of what had to be the finest eyes in England.
'Are you feeling quite well, Captain Mayhew? You have gone pale. I will order some refreshments. I expect you are fatigued after your long journey.' She stood up and pulled the bell-strap. Her actions allowed him time to recover.
'Thank you, ma'am, that would be most kind.' He hid his amusement well. Had she forgotten he was a veteran of the Peninsular? The thirty-five miles from town was a mere bagatelle.
She ordered a cold collation to be prepared and served immediately in the small dining room. She resumed her seat, and folded her hands tightly around her list, smiled again and Oliver swallowed again.

Fenella J Miller

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Another Mystery Portrait!

My new timeslip, The Phantom Tree, was published last week and it’s so exciting to see it in the shops! This time I’m travelling between the present and the Tudor era, visiting Wolf Hall in mysterious Savernake Forest, and Littlecote Hall near Hungerford (thinly disguised as Middlecote in the book!) I blogged about the Wiltshire background to the book last month but this time I wanted to share with you the picture that started it all...

I was visiting family and saw this gorgeous picture on the wall of a woman in Tudor dress. I found it totally beguiling. She has a hint of a smile on her face as though she knows a secret, and there is a pearl missing from her hood… On the back of the picture it says it is a portrait of Anne Boleyn, one I’d never seen before. It also had another inscription in Latin. I found this totally intriguing and would love to know the history and provenance of the picture. The art dealer who sold it apparently suggested that it was a 19th century copy of a Tudor portrait. I need to find an art historian who can help discover the true story behind the picture!

However, Anne Boleyn or not, my writer’s imagination got going and I started to speculate on how
interesting it would be if it were not actually Anne but some other, lesser-known Tudor woman. I’d always been interested in Mary Seymour, Katherine Parr’s daughter, and thought it odd that no one knew what had happened to her. Such a high-born child simply to disappear…  I thought how fascinating it would be if the portrait were in fact a clue to Mary’s fate and so the idea for The Phantom Tree was born.

I love the way that so many different things can spark a story idea and then the idea grows and develops in unexpected directions. I’ve always loved timeslip stories and dual time books where a historical mystery is solved in the present but although the mystery of Mary’s disappearance is solved (fictionally) in The Phantom Tree I’m wondering if I can solve the case of the mystery portrait!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Georgette Heyer: Why I love 'The Quiet Gentleman'

There is a school of thought which sees The Quiet Gentleman as a sort of unsatisfactory Sense and Sensibility, with Marianne Bolderwood as a more thinly drawn Marianne Dashwood, and Drusilla as a pale variation of the sensible Elinor Dashwood. One critic complained that the hero Gervase Frant, Earl of St Erth’s courtship of Drusilla Morville is almost non-existent. 

I don’t agree. I have always enjoyed the subtle steps by which Georgette Heyer indicates Gervase’s growing interest in Drusilla. To appreciate this, you need to attune your ear to the ironic – and irony is something Heyer does supremely well. Drusilla is not your usual Regency heroine. She is not particularly pretty, she employs no arts to attract, and her conversation is prosaic. We know that; ‘the Earl thought her dull.’

The Quiet Gentleman, original cover, courtesy of Wikipedia

However, he does notice that ‘she was dressed with propriety and even a certain quiet elegance’ and that, ‘Her countenance was pleasing without being beautiful, her best feature being a pair of dark eyes, well-opened and straight-gazing.’

Their relationship consists of a series of small encounters, each adding to Gervase’s knowledge of her character and his gradual discovery of the qualities he needs in a wife. Their first conversation is not propitious. Drusilla says that she has been looking for him and the Earl’s response is decidedly cool. He raises his brows and says, ‘In what way may I serve you, Miss Morville?’

It is meant as a put down but Drusilla is not fazed. She replies that she is only concerned to serve the Dowager, and adds that she can see that he thinks she is guilty of presumption.

She has wrong-footed him and the earl reddens. It is the only time in the book where Gervase is put out of countenance; somehow she has got to him. When she adds, ‘I should have explained that I have no very great opinion of Earls’, her father is a Philosophical Historian writing a History of the French Revolution from a Republican point of view, we can see that his interest is caught.

She tells him about her background (her parents are intellectuals with advanced notions of women’s rights) and he is amused. She then persuades him to allow the huge epergne on the dining table, which Gervase had ordered to be put away in a dark cupboard, to be displayed on a Buhl table in the window embrasure instead. As the Earl ruefully says later to his cousin, ‘I have let the wretched chit talk me into permitting the continuing existence of that abominable epergne in my dining-room!’     

Somehow, Drusilla has negotiated a domestic compromise, stood up for herself, and amused him with her down to earth remarks. He learns that she is well-used to society (she stays with her Morville relations for the Season) and, later, his step-mother remarks that, ‘the Morvilles must be supposed to rank amongst those of the best blood in the country’ in spite of their shocking Republican views. In other words, (though this is far from his thoughts at the moment) marrying Drusilla would not be a misalliance.

Alert readers will notice the care with which Georgette Heyer lays her ground; Gervase is not yet interested in Drusilla but he no longer thinks she’s negligible.  

Later, he discovers that it is largely Drusilla who has organized the ball. She tells him that she enjoys it and she’s obviously good at it. We realize that Heyer has given her another tick; Drusilla would make a good chatelaine.

Heyer allows Drusilla to be seen at her best at the ball wearing a gown in soft pink under a figured-lace robe which suits her (and it’s obviously not cheap). She has diamond drops in her ears, holds an antique fan and wears ‘a pair of very long French gloves of a delicate shade of pink which instantly awoke Marianne’s envy.’ She is, clearly, no dowd.

When Gervase, being polite, asks Drusilla to dance the waltz, ‘she surprised him by proving herself to be an experience dancer, very light on her feet…’  He asks her for another dance and makes it clear that this is what he wants; ‘I consider myself now at liberty to please myself.’  Dancing involves physical contact and subconsciously the Earl surely notes that their steps match.

There is a significant moment about half-way through the book when Gervase’s horse throws him and Drusilla discovers that someone pulled a rope stretched across the path to bring him down. They discuss the implications and what line they should take. Gervase says, ‘I have a great dependence on your discretion, Miss Morville. We shall say, if you please, that I was so heedless as to let Cloud set his foot in a rabbit hole.’

Note that significant ‘we’. A few moments later, Gervase, Drusilla, and his friend Lord Ulverston are in a curricle driving back to the castle. Gervase puts his arm along the back of the curricle to give Drusilla a bit more room. I don’t know what you think, but I can’t help thinking that Drusilla would have felt Gervase’s arm behind her, even though it wasn’t touching her; and he would have been fully conscious of what he was doing.

I love Drusilla’s prosaic remarks; they make me laugh. It’s obvious to the reader (though not to Drusilla) that Gervase enjoys them, too. One of my favourites is her comment about the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft: ‘Mama has always maintained that most of the trouble arose from Miss Wollstonecraft’s determination to make him (her lover, Gilbert Imlay) an elm tree round which she might throw her tendrils. Very few gentlemen could, I believe, support for long so arduous a role.’

The Earl says, ‘I find myself, as always, in entire agreement with you, Miss Morville,’ he said, gravely.’ And we cannot doubt the irony here, the word ‘gravely’ gives it away; he obviously enjoys it as much as the reader does.

When Drusilla comes to visit him after a second, more serious attack, where Gervase is shot, the Earl smiles at her and stretches out his right hand ‘in an unconsciously welcoming gesture.’  

Drusilla looks at it and doesn’t move. When she does speak it is in ‘her most expressionless voice.’  It is obvious that Drusilla at least is well aware of her feelings for Gervase. Gradually, as the plot thickens, the wounded Gervase and Drusilla are thrown together and we notice that they now touch each other unselfconsciously: she takes his pulse, he grasps her wrist. He holds her hand and kisses it.

But Heyer cannot yet allow any words of love to be spoken. The villain is still at large and the plot needs to be wrapped up.

The final scene is delicious. Up to now Drusilla has been in control of her emotions but when Gervase kisses her, she bursts into tears and, for the first time, allows her own insecurities to show. I cannot resist quoting here:

‘Oh no! Pray do not! You felt obliged to comfort me! I assure you, I don’t regard it – shall never think of it again!’

   ‘My poor dear, you must be very much shaken to say anything so foolish!’ said the Earl lovingly. ‘Never did I think to hear such nonsense on my sage counsellor’s lips!’

   ‘You would become disgusted with my odious common sense. Try as I will, I cannot be romantic!’ said Miss Morville despairingly.

   His eyes danced. ‘Oh, I forbid you to try. Your practical observations, my absurd robin, are the delight of my life!’

   Miss Morville looked at him. Then, with a deep sigh, she laid her hand in his. But what she said was: ‘You must mean a sparrow!’

   ‘I will not allow you to dictate to me, now or ever, Miss Morville. I mean a robin!’ said the Earl firmly, lifting her hand to his lips.

Georgette Heyer 1939 by Howard Coster

The critic who complained that the courtship between the Earl and Drusilla was negligible also complained that there was only one kiss. Well, there’s only one kiss between hero and heroine in Cotillion, The Grand Sophy and The Reluctant Widow, and many other Heyer novels. So what? For me, a long, anticipatory build up is just fine.

I like the fact that the reader has to be alert to the oblique signs of interest expressed by Gervase, and to Drusilla’s touching hidden emotional insecurity. The Quiet Gentleman is not an ‘in your face’ novel and, in my view, it’s all the better for that.

Photos: Cover of The Quiet Gentleman courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo: Georgette Heyer by Howard Coster
Other photos of Lyme Park and Chiswick House standing in for Stanyon Castle by Elizabeth Hawksley

Elizabeth Hawksley







Tuesday, January 03, 2017


HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you all have a wonderful 2017, full of laughter and happiness and lots of lovely reading!  I am still in the holiday mood so I thought I'd kick off 2017 with a little bit of whimsy and share with you a few secrets about how I begin a new story.
Just before Christmas I finished writing my last Sarah Mallory novel, so I have had the festive break to mull over ideas for a brand new historical romance.  I really love this part of the process, when I have the writer's equivalent of a blank canvas, just waiting to be filled with daydreams and ideas.  This is the point where I indulge in a little armchair research, looking through magazines, books and images to decide on how my hero and heroine will look, where they will live and what they will do, etc.  Nothing is set in stone at this point, even the characters' names could change, but I thought you might enjoy coming on this little journey with me….

First of all there are the characters. I have a gentleman whose nickname is Russ. I decided he should be a Corinthian – a fashionable Regency sportsman.  Russ is also a dangerous rake. He is rich, possibly titled,  and is more used to fighting off women than chasing them.  I imagine him looking a bit like Rufus Sewell,…..


My heroine for this story is a young widow, Molly. She has had a tough time (but I am not going into that now, it would spoil the story) so she appears quite serious, although there is a spirited lady hidden beneath her sober appearance. There is a hint of this in the fact that she cannot quite control her unruly dark curls. So perhaps a mix of these two ladies.....

Then there is setting. Is it going to be an adventure story, set on a rugged coast,

perhaps a Gothic mystery with an old ruined castle….

No. this story is set in a village or small town, where one of the large local properties has just changed hands, and the new owner has brought a large party there for the hunting season.  So - I need to choose a house – something Palladian like Stourhead, perhaps,

or older,

My mind is tending towards something like this, Beningbrough, possibly because I think the story is going to be set in the north of England and this lovely property would suit very well.

And if we are in the north, then perhaps it will be winter, and my characters will have to travel through the snow…..
Or if it is summer, perhaps my characters might have reason to visit the ice house. In one of my books (Winter Inheritance) a villain shuts the heroine in an icehouse in an attempt to kill her, so I won’t be using that scenario, but I might have Molly and Russ meeting up there, and there is a lovely example at Stourhead.

Or, perhaps a trip to Harrogate, to take the waters (they would visit the Sulphur Well, which until 1842 was covered by this temple, which now sits over the Tewit Well)

and they might stay at the Queens Head, the fashionable coaching inn (which is still there, although it has had a change of name).

So you see what fun I can have without ever leaving my chair?  Of course there is a lot of research to be done when I get down to planning the story in more detail, but for now I can let my imagination wander as I decide on the people, places and scenes that I want to fit into this book.
At present, I have only written an opening scene, when Molly is dreaming. She is a child again,  hiding in a tree from her brother (who will never find her, because he does not believe girls can climb trees).  Now, some time ago I visited Ashbrittle, in Somerset and saw this beautiful ancient yew tree. It would make the perfect hiding place for Molly, so that is my inspiration for the first scene.

Now all I have to do is write the rest of the  book…..
Happy reading, everyone!

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

While you are waiting for the next Sarah Mallory novel, perhaps you might like to try The Wayward Miss Wyckenham. First published by Robert Hale as the Belles Dames Club, this is a sparkling Georgian romance, sure to cheer up a long winter evening!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas to all our readers!

One of the wonderful things about Jane Austen's novels is that they give us a realistic portrait of family life in the Regency period. This extract is taken from Persuasion. It gives us a cheerful image of lively children, indulgent parents and conflicting views on what does and doesn't make a perfect Christmas!

Immediately surrounding Mrs Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom
she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from
the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them.  On one side was a table
occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and
on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn
and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole
completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be
heard, in spite of all the noise of the others.  Charles and Mary also
came in, of course, during their visit, and Mr Musgrove made a point of
paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten
minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the
children on his knees, generally in vain.  It was a fine family-piece.
Anne, judging from her own temperament, would have deemed such a
domestic hurricane a bad restorative of the nerves, which Louisa's
illness must have so greatly shaken.  But Mrs Musgrove, who got Anne
near her on purpose to thank her most cordially, again and again, for
all her attentions to them, concluded a short recapitulation of what
she had suffered herself by observing, with a happy glance round the
room, that after all she had gone through, nothing was so likely to do
her good as a little quiet cheerfulness at home.
Louisa was now recovering apace.  Her mother could even think of her
being able to join their party at home, before her brothers and sisters
went to school again.  The Harvilles had promised to come with her and
stay at Uppercross, whenever she returned.  Captain Wentworth was gone,
for the present, to see his brother in Shropshire.
"I hope I shall remember, in future," said Lady Russell, as soon as
they were reseated in the carriage, "not to call at Uppercross in the 
Christmas holidays."

Whatever your own idea of a perfect Christmas, whether it's a noisy family gathering or something more sedate, everyone here at Historical Romance UK hopes it will bring you whatever you wish for.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us at Historical Romance UK

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Trials and Punishments in Eighteenth Century England.

Specifically England, because the process was different in Scotland.
Recently I’ve been researching trials for crimes in the mid eighteenth century, and oh my, how different they were!
We wouldn’t recognize the legal system then. From a system dominated by the Waltham Black Acts (the ones that said you could be hanged for almost any offence) to the way criminals were caught and prosecuted, it was all very different.
For trials, first of all prosecutions had to be brought by somebody. The state did prosecute some crimes, most notably treason. Not petty treason, though, which was killing a spouse. There had to be an accuser and an accused, and in most cases the Crown didn’t stand in for that. I’m still coming to grips with what all that meant.
If this was your first offence, you could claim Benefit of Clergy. That meant if you could read a passage from the Bible, then you were let off. It was meant to encourage literacy and education. The trouble was, they used the same passage every time. And there were no centralised records. So if you were taken in a different passage, or you gave a different name, you could get away with it as long as you didn’t come in front of the same magistrate and he happened to remember you.
There was no police force, no civilian law enforcing organisation. There were thief-takers, but they were often corrupt, and took money from both sides. The populace were against setting up a police force. In short, it was a vote-loser, and it wasn’t until the 1790’s that England had any kind of police force; the Thames River Police, a privately funded organisation in its early years. The great reforms instituted by Sir Robert Peel in the 1830’s included the establishment of a civilian police force, so all through the Georgian period, there was exactly nobody to keep the peace.
So that meant there was nobody, barring the parish constable and the magistrate to enforce the law. The parish constable, the night watchmen and the beadle did what they could, and if anyone was taken, imprisoned and brought to trial, there were officials for that. The magistrates were generally drawn from the gentry, but the Lord Lieutenant of the county was usually an aristocrat. County and Country were at loggerheads for much of the century, providing checks and balances, but once the population began to move to the city, and Britain slowly became an urban country instead of a rural one, that had to change.
I’ve read over fifty accounts of murder trials in the Old Bailey records (that’s where I’ve set the trial in my story). You can read them online, and I do. They’re real slice of life accounts, freezing moments in time. That’s probably why they are so popular. One thing they have in common; they pass with dizzying speed. A man could kill his wife, be tried and executed in the space of a month. No waiting months for a trial, prepping for it, or having time to consider. It was done and dusted.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Phantom Tree's Wiltshire Roots

It started with a picture, a small portrait of a lady in Tudor dress that I saw on the wall of my uncle’s house in Wiltshire. It fascinated me She looked demure but with a little smile, as though she was hiding a secret. There was one pearl missing from her headdress. The portrait was inscribed with the name of Anne Boleyn but it wasn’t a copy of any picture of Anne that I had ever seen. I started to speculate, as writers do. What if the inscription was false and this was quite a different lady, the same era, and with royal connections, but someone whose story was yet to be told.

That was the first inspiration for The Phantom Tree, my new timeslip book that
is out at the end of the month. Tudor history had been my first love as a child and it was exciting to return to it. I write about women from history who have fascinating, but less well known stories and one of the people I had been interested in for a long time was Mary Seymour. Mary was the daughter of Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII and her second husband, Thomas Seymour, of the Seymours of Wolf Hall in Savernake Forest. Mary was born at Sudeley Castle in 1548 but it isn’t long before she disappears from the historical record. I wanted to research her story and imagine the life she might have had.

I live on the border of Wiltshire and first visited Savernake over twenty years ago. I’ve have seen it in all the seasons, when the trees are ghostly winter skeletons and the frost is thick on the bracken, through the new life of spring, the drowsy heat of summer when the Purple Emperor butterfly darts through the leaf canopy, and into the vivid colour of autumn. I love the atmosphere of the forest and the sense of peace. There aren’t many places left in the British Isles where you can lose yourself for hours amongst green lanes and oaks that have stood for a thousand years.

Researching the local roots of the Seymour family was a fascinating process. I love looking at the story behind the story and here was a family that rose from being country gentry to be one of the most prominent dynasties in the land. What better way to get a feel for their journey than to walk in their footsteps in Marlborough and Savernake and the villages around?

I made several trips to Marlborough and to Savernake during the year that I was writing The Phantom Tree. The first was in the summer and we took the dogs and a flask of tea and homemade chocolate brownies. Several years before we had started to visit and map all of the ancient named oaks. This was difficult in the summer because many lie in the heart of the forest off the beaten track. The paths become overgrown with brambles and bracken, strands of wild rose and honeysuckle, and tiny, sweet raspberries and strawberries growing wild in the clearings. They were a delicious supplement to our afternoon tea. We followed tracks whose names recall a lost age and a mysterious past: The Charcoal-Burner’s Road, Long Harry, Postwives Walk. We found the Big Belly Oak beside the modern A346 Marlborough to Salisbury road. It is the oldest tree in the forest, a sapling at the time of the Norman Conquest. It is not known when the convention of giving the oldest oaks names was introduced although the King Oak is recorded in a document of 1634. It is matched with The Queen Oak, in honour of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, his third wife, the aunt of my heroine Mary.

In the depths of the forest, standing near the ancient park pale that once marked the boundary of the medieval hunting ground, we found the Green Fluted Oak, so named because the vertical grooves in its trunk look like a Grecian column. I was on the hunt for one particular tree, The Duke’s Vaunt. This is another thousand year old oak deriving its name from Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of England, the elder brother of Jane Seymour. In its prime it was a huge tree but today it is in decline, having split, and is only a shadow of its former glory.

The dogs love visiting the forest in autumn and winter, as do I. The scents are different, the paths
coated in frosty leaves and the ponds frozen over. You catch a glimpse of the deer disappearing through the bare trees like wraiths, or hear their sharp bark on the cold air. The Savernake of today looks different from the forest of Tudor times. In the 1740s Capability Brown landscaped large parts of the woodland, creating ornamental lawns and planting vistas of trees, designing the grand avenues and rides. Yet beneath the landscaping and the hum of traffic you can still sense the longevity of the forest and the myths and legends stretching back into time.

Once upon a time, Wolf Hall, the medieval manor of the Seymours, was in Savernake Forest but today the woodland covers a smaller area than it did in the sixteenth century and to seek out Wolf Hall I had to take the road to Burbage. On the corner of a minor road is Wolf Hall Farm, built near the site of the earlier timber-framed manor house. Jane’s father, Sir John Seymour, had served with Henry VIII in France and the family were ambitious for advancement at the Tudor court. In 1535 Henry VIII stayed at Wolf Hall as part of a royal progress and it is said he courted Jane Seymour there.  Rumours that Henry and Jane were married at Wolf Hall are false but it is certainly the case that he returned there in 1539, when there was a lavish feast in one of the old barns at the manor.

By the time my story, The Phantom Tree is set, some twenty years after King Henry hunted in Savernake Forest, Wolf Hall had become an old, draughty, inconvenient manor that was no longer considered grand enough for the status of the Seymour family. In the book, I write about it as a house in a state of ramshackle neglect, ignored by the Duke of Somerset’s son, who had plans for a magnificent house nearby at Tottenham Park. Stone from Wolf Hall was taken to build the new house; eventually Wolf Hall became derelict and fell down. There is a trace of overgrown earthworks still visible that mark the spot of the original manor and I found another remnant of the original Wolf Hall when I visited the church of St Mary at Great Bedwyn. It is a stained glass window that features a crown, Jane Seymour’s heraldic device of a phoenix rising from a castle between two red and white roses, the Prince of Wales feathers, and a Tudor rose, and it is said to have been taken from the medieval manor. This is also the place where Jane's father Sir John Seymour is buried.

The Phantom Tree, like Savernake Forest itself, has its roots set deep in the history and landscape of
Wiltshire, drawing on this fascinating part of the county for its inspiration. Wolf Hall may be long gone leaving only a name and a legend, but Savernake Forest is a place whose ancient oaks and woodland paths lead us in the footsteps of the past.