Monday, February 05, 2018

Ocean Liners: Romance on Board

Earlier this week I was invited to the preview of the new blockbuster exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum: Ocean Liners: Speed and Style. If you want a bit of luxury and glamour – and who doesn’t? - this is a must see exhibition.

Cunard poster

It struck me that being on board a 1930s ocean liner as a first class passenger was the 20th century equivalent to being one of the ton in Prinny’s Brighton in about 1820. And, to prove my point, I’m inviting you to come with me back to the glory days of the Ocean Liner and let me take you on a luxury five day London to New York trip – no expense spared.

We are travelling First Class – naturally – with one of the top shipping lines for speed, comfort and attention to detail; perhaps Cunard, or maybe we are on the French liner Normandie, who prided herself on being even faster than the Queen Mary.


A model of the Conte di Savoia, showing the new gyrostabilisers deep in the hull of the ship

We are travelling after 1930 – and this is a must. It was in 1930 that the Conte di Savoia first introduced gyrostabilisers which made travel a whole lot more comfortable; no more being sea-sick, or watching your meals sliding off the tables in the dining room.


The bellboy looks after the first class passengers: nothing is too much trouble

We are greeted on deck by a bellboy who looks about fifteen – and probably is. His job is to make sure Madame or Mademoiselle has a deckchair and, if it is chilly, a warm woollen blanket to put over your knees. Naturally, he will also fetch you a cocktail. The bellboy above is wearing a French uniform, and the deckchair next to him dates to 1935. 

Marlene Dietrich’s day suit by Christian Dior, 1949

We must keep our eyes peeled to see who else is aboard. Marlene Dietrich is a frequent traveller, or we might be lucky enough to meet the handsome and dashing U.S. diplomat, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Junior, famous for his style.


The dashing U.S. diplomat in his 1940s day suit.

Here he is, gazing out to sea – and being careful to stand in the sort of pose which says: I know that I am an attractive (and wealthy) man and I am well aware that women will look at me. Who knows, I may meet you at dinner.

In Regency times, a young girl would have to be properly introduced to a suitable gentleman – and he would have been thoroughly vetted first by her Mama or chaperone. In the 1930s, things would have been a bit more relaxed: if you had the money, you could buy a first class ticket for the voyage. There’s plenty of scope for the villain to slide on board – his eye on the lovely Lady Mary’s diamonds – or her heart.

Luxury suitcases from the 1940s.

However, you are now in your luxury cabin and your luggage has arrived which a maid is unpacking for you. The set of suitcases in the photo above dates from the 1940s and belongs to the Duke of Windsor who frequently crosses the Atlantic, often with as many as 100 pieces of luggage!


French furniture and wall panelling, 1927

So, let’s look around the ship. In the 1920s and 30s, Art Deco was the prevailing fashion, and luxury liners underwent frequent redecoration to keep them up to date. Above we see some wooden wall panelling from the Beauvais suite on the Ile de France, 1927. It is made of different-coloured marquetry in a floral design. The centre of the panel has a Lalique light which simulated rays of sunlight. It is very much in the French grand style. The two chairs are also French. Very classy, I think you’ll agree – though I’m not sure they look very comfortable.

Still, a gentleman could always invite a lady to take a stroll with him on deck.


Silk georgette and glass beaded ‘Salambo’ dress by Jeanne Lanvin, 1925, worn by Miss Emilie Grigsby.

It is time to dress for dinner. What will you wear? Your maid whispers that some fashionable travellers buy a completely new wardrobe just for the voyage. Everyone is wondering what the Kentucky-born beauty and socialite, Emilie Grigsby, will be wearing. It’s bound to be something both daring and fashionable.  
Nothing changes here. The 1820s young lady, if she’s particularly daring might dampen her petticoat to make her dress cling more closely to her figure.

Silk crepe evening dress by Lucian Lelong

If the spectacular Jeanne Lanvin evening dress is a step too far for you, what about the silk crepe red dress (Lucien Lelong, Paris, 1935) worn by Mme Bernadette Armal on the maiden voyage of the Normandie. I love this dress; cut on the cross, its folds cling to the body sensuously. Many French couture houses sent representatives for an on-board show for this trip, where they each showed a garden party dress, a tailored ensemble and three evening gowns. It is the perfect venue: A-list guests and a captive audience for five days. ‘What else is there to do on the voyage, my dear, but spend money?’

Panel from ‘The Rape of Europa’ from the Normandie.

The Normandie is famous for its top quality Art Deco style. It has a spectacular 140 metre long Grand Salon with a giant glass mural of over 400 panels, predominantly in black and gold and reverse-painted on mirrored glass. It is undoubtedly impressive but I’m not sure I like it.

Surely, the Regency equivalent here is the Brighton Pavilion itself, finally completed in 1820.


Toiletries case by Louis Vuitton. 1934

You have decided what to wear and your maid has artfully attended to your makeup and hair, and eased you into your chosen evening dress. The contents of your Louis Vuitton toiletries case, hand-made in Morocco leather, brass, wood, crystal, silver, ivory and glass, give you confidence. Will that connoisseur of beautiful and well-dress women, Mr Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Junior, be there? And will he notice you?


The Grande Descente

This is the ceremony where first class passengers descend the beautifully curved staircase to the first class dining-room, which shows off their every move. There is the shimmer of silk as the ladies sashay down the stairs. Passengers from the lower classes watch and applaud, but they do not, of course, join in. (The background shows a film of the famous Grande Descente.) Mr Drexel Biddle, Junior, is indeed there, on the stairs, dressed in the fashionable evening wear of the day. His eyes turn towards you; he likes what he sees.

Fans of Stella Gibbons Cold Comfort Farm (1932) will remember the scene in the 1830s Assembly Rooms in Godmere where Elfine, now transformed into a Beauty, descends the red-carpeted staircase to the ballroom where she is greeted by ‘a low hum of admiration, the most delightful sound in the world that a woman’s ears can receive.’  As Flora’s mentor, the Abbé Faussse-Maigre, puts it: Lost is that man who sees a beautiful woman descending a noble staircase. I rest my case.


Tableware from the Normandie, 1934.

Back on board the Normandie, Mr Drexel Biddle, Junior, smiles and offers you his arm and, together, you move towards the best dining table. Other women watch you enviously. Time passes….


The ship’s first class swimming pool

Before you part, he asks you to meet him by the swimming pool the following morning. Here we see a variety of swimwear. The lady seated at the back left is wearing a 1968 bikini; the lady standing knee deep in the water with a white swimming cap, sports a red and black 1925-9 swimming costume. The man standing on the side at the back, right, wears a 1926 man’s swim suit; and the lady doing a handstand in the water wears a mustard-yellow two-piece swim suit, 1937-9. Who will you choose to be?
Our voyage is over and we must return to real life. My moral here is that Ocean Liners of the 1930s have much to offer a romantic historical novelist.
Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, sponsored by Viking Cruises, is on until 17th June, 2018. I thoroughly recommend it.
Elizabeth Hawksley


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Surprising revelations about pianos

When I was writing the book that is coming out on 4th February, I had blithely made my heroine a virtuoso piano player without realising how much research it was going to demand. I knew about Broadwood pianos. Well, I’d heard of them. And of course we’ve all heard of a Steinway Grand. But this is the early 19th century, the Spring of 1806 to be exact, and here is my heroine asking for a quality piano in exchange for giving herself to a convenient marriage.

I delved. And found no Steinway, but Stein. Yes, we had Broadwood. But we also had Graf.  Who he? You may well ask. There were others, but we will content ourselves with these three as I did for the book.

Johann Andreas Stein, it turns out, was a major contributor in the late 18th century to the improvement of the piano in terms of controlling the sound and responding to the player’s touch. I won’t attempt to explain how, but this illustration shows the innovation called the Stein Action which is all in the way the key works to make the sound with the “hammer”. This is just one contraption attached to one key.

Mozart, who visited Stein in 1777, had this to say of his pianos:
... In whatever way I touch the keys, the tone is always even. It never jars, it is never stronger or weaker or entirely absent; in a word, it is always even…. His instruments have this special advantage over others that they are made with escape action. Only one maker in a hundred bothers about this. But without an escapement it is impossible to avoid jangling and vibration after the note is struck. When you touch the keys, the hammers fall back again the moment after they have struck the strings, whether you hold down the keys or release them ...

Joseph Broadwood, a British maker, founded a dynasty that survives today. (See the piano at the top.) His was the maker hand that developed the pianoforte (or fortepiano) into a piano, increasing the range to six octaves. Who knew?

Conrad Graf was Viennese, and his pianos were known for effective damping of sound after the key was released. Graf achieved this result by a variety of means, with which I will not trouble you. He also had a second soundboard. This is, I am told, the surface of a string instrument that the strings vibrate against, usually via some sort of bridge. But Graf’s second soundboard had no bridges, but simply floated above the strings (not attached to them)… its purpose was to make the sound mellower and more blended."

As if this wasn’t enough to contend with, my heroine needed music to read from in order to play. How did one get this then? Fortunately there was sheet music, but you didn’t necessarily buy it. You could borrow it, like books, from a music library. But once she has the means, Lily is only too happy to take out a subscription to the music sellers so that she may buy her own copies of new music coming out.

Yet I still had to find out who was composing then. Whose music was she likely to be able to play? I pored through lists and found some names suitable to the time and details about their styles. Eureka!

Finally, where was she going to buy this piano? Who sold them? Fortunately, I found Clementi’s in Tottenham Court Road where she could go, not only to look at pianos, but at sheet music too.

Phew! I had all I needed. Isn’t the internet wonderful?

Elizabeth Bailey

“This fellow will serve you, Lily.”
He indicated the assistant, who bowed. “My name is Driffield, my lady.”
Lily’s face lit. “Oh, thank you! I have never seen a Stein, and I have not heard of this one.” She waved at the instrument by which she was standing. “Graf? Is it German?”
The fellow Driffield nodded. “Viennese, my lady. A new name, Conrad Graf, who is gaining something of a reputation. We thought to give it a trial.”
Lily began to strip off her gloves. “May I try it, Mr Driffield?”
“Of course, my lady.”
The assistant opened the instrument, laying bare the gleaming set of black and white keys. Lily shoved her gloves at Vincent, who took them automatically, watching her slip onto the stool and poise her hands above the keys. She flexed her fingers and ran her right hand along the keys, producing a series of notes. She did the same with the left hand and then, apparently satisfied, she began to play.
Vincent was no judge, but the air Lily produced, playing from memory, was pretty and her fingers moved across the keys with ease and sureness.
“It has a pleasant tone,” she said, addressing the fellow Driffield. “Does he use dampers?”
“Indeed, my lady. And a second soundboard, which makes the sound mellower and more blended. We find these pianos to be of sturdy construction and believe they should last for years. A most promising instrument, we think.”
Within minutes, Lily and the elderly creature were deep in discussion about the rival merits of the various instruments and Vincent was utterly lost. Unknown terms battered his ears as the two spoke of the merits of five or six octaves, pedal controls and the Stein action. They might have been talking in a foreign language. Indeed, Vincent suspected much of what they said was in German or Italian.
Lily flitted from one piano to another, discussing each as she played what she called a mazurka here and a sonata there. It struck him that Driffield went from interested to thoroughly engaged, as if Lily was almost as knowledgeable as he clearly was himself.
“Well, my lady,” he said at last, “from what you have said, I would recommend the Stein.”
Lily smiled. “Yes, and I dare say you are right that it will give me the best tone.” The mischievous note Vincent was coming to know entered her voice and she threw him one of her dancing looks. “And my husband has very kindly given me permission to purchase the best piano that I can find. Only I’m afraid I have fallen in love with that Broadwood over there.”
With which, she raced across to the very first piano she had seen upon entering the showroom. Driffield followed and Vincent trailed in their wake, his interest aroused.
Lily was addressing the assistant, touching the pale wood with its decorative inlay.
“It’s so beautiful to look at, you see, apart from its tone, which is perfect. I think I would take as much pleasure from its aesthetic line as from playing it. Do you not think so?”
Driffield was deference itself. “It is a consideration certainly. But from the point of view of the sounds you will produce, I submit your ladyship cannot do better than the Stein.”
Lily looked back at the recommended piano, which was of a dark wood, rich and smooth. But Vincent was not much surprised when she opted for the other.
“No, I have quite made up my mind. I will have this one.” She smiled at Vincent. “And save my husband a few pounds into the bargain.”
Vincent waved aside this mundane consideration. “Have the one you want, Lily. The cost is immaterial.”
For answer, she sat down at the piano of her choice and played for several minutes, becoming, as far as Vincent could see, quite lost to the world. She sat with eyes upon the keyboard barely half the time, her fingers moving across the keys as if she could see them by touch alone.


A fortune at stake if he does not marry now. Almost anyone will do.

Intrigued by the dissolute Lord Wintringham and with nothing but drudgery in store, Lily Daubney dares to contemplate his desperate offer. Sanity prevails. But Vincent’s persistence lands her in so much hot water she has no option but to marry him.

Delighted with her reward of a fine pianoforte, Lily rapidly discovers the perils of her bargain. Impossibly selfish, treading a path to perdition, Vince seems wholly irreclaimable. Is Lily’s growing desire to reform him doomed to failure? Or will her unexpected influence turn disaster into happiness?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Men, Women and Herveys!

I’ve been obsessed recently with the fate of minorities in eighteenth century Britain. Mostly gays, because I’ve been writing and promoting Sinless. I discovered so much. It wasn’t a happy fate, unless you were rich and powerful enough to ignore the rules. Even then, if you fell from power, the locusts would descend.
Pre 1969, sexuality was used to bribe, coerce and blackmail people. Even more after the strictures of the Victorians led to an intractible moral code that drove anyone not deemed as “normal” to the burgeoning underground. Not just “sodomites” but the promiscuous, people with unusual preferences, and the rebels.
It isn’t necessarily a threat to security, being gay (I know it’s an anachronistic term but so is “homosexual” – I had to take the plunge and use the terms they did at the time!), but being forced into hiding a secret causes a vulnerability. Molly houses welcomed all gays, but also transvestites who were not necessarily gay. However, for much of the eighteenth century men were unashamed peacocks. As we now know, they are not all the same, but they were considered so for a long time. The famous Chevalier d’Eon, who dressed in women’s clothes publicly, wasn’t definitely outed as male until after his death. He was a spy, a man who dressed in the clothes of both sexes, took part in duels and created a fuss wherever he went. He must have been remarkable.
Closer to the 1750s, when Sinless is set, was the even more remarkable John Augustus Harvey. He had a wife who adored him, and with whom he had a large family – eight children. He was a politician at the highest level. John Hervey was a baron, but never inherited his father’s title of Earl of Bristol, as he predeceased his father. He was one of twenty children. Oh yes, twenty. He was an ally of the Prince of Wales, but after falling out with him over a woman, switches sides to Walpole. He was Lord Privy Seal, and a member of the Privy Council. However he also had a male lover, Stephen, to whom he was devoted. They had to share him. There was plenty to go around. All this was conducted at the highest level of society. Hervey also had a pernickety diet, in an age of gluttony, he dressed flamboyantly, made no attempt to conceal his preferences. He was probably the lover of Princess Caroline, the daughter of George II, who was said to have mourned him for the rest of his life.
A literary squabble arose with Alexander Pope, who was jealous of Hervey’s friendship of Lady Mary Montagu, who once declared that there were three sexes – men, women and Herveys.
I have his biography, and one thing that puzzled me was, where did he find the time? He had eight children, a male lover, and at least one other female lover, he was a hard working and intelligent politician, he was an important figure in the literary world. Honestly, if I’d written a book about a character based on Hervey, nobody would have believed me!
So I wrote about Darius instead. I do love him, the man with an essential humanity, who cared deeply about his family and the person he falls in love with. If he was cut open, Darius would have “iintegrity” written all the way through him. I am very fortunate that my publisher let me write his story, in the middle of a series about purely heterosexual relationships. I wrote him as a foil to his twin Valentinian, but he gained his own fans, including me, as we all got to know him better. Would I have loved John Hervey as much? I doubt it.

 Lord Darius Shaw has never been in love before. But when he renews his acquaintance with lawyer Andrew Graham in a raid on a molly house, where men meet men for forbidden pleasure, they discover mutual feelings as deep as they are dangerous. For while society will turn a blind eye to an aristocrat’s transgressions, Andrew has far more at stake. The son of city merchants, Andrew has a disastrous marriage in his past, and a young daughter to support. He could lose his livelihood, his reputation and even his life—and drag Darius down with him.

Darius and Andrew’s only choice is to deny the true nature of their relationship. But when an enemy Italian spy threatens their secret—and their futures—the two set out to catch him. And in the process they are forced to face their desires—and make a life-changing decision.

Buy Sinless Here:
Publisher; Kensington Books  :  Amazon USA  :  Amazon UK  :  iTunes  :  Kobo  :  Barnes and Noble Nook

Monday, January 15, 2018

Inspirational Trees

Trees are everywhere. They clean our air, break up boring landscapes, soften built-up areas. We take them for granted until they drop their leaves on the rails and disrupt the trains, or are blown down in a hurricane.  But they are very inspirational. Think of the stories that involve trees. Charles II hiding in the oak, myths and legends like Robin Hood taking refuge in the forest, big bad wolves hiding there, a tree lined road that conceals hidden menace. Even forests that are alive, and trees that can move.

I find them very inspirational and many years ago I watched a tv programme that introduced a series of trees, including the Pitchford Lime, an ancient tree with a beautiful treehouse built amongst its branches (there it is, above).  The treehouse wasn't a children's toy but used by adults. My imagination immediately moved towards a story with my heroine using her treehouse as a refuge.  That story turned into one of my all time favourites, Lucasta.

Many people find a walk in the forest relaxing. There is something about trees that can be comforting, to say nothing of the benefits of exercise! On the flip side, think of a forest in winter, bare trees, wind soughing through the branches, or even a wood at night with owls hooting and leaves rustling. Then you have the beginnings of a nightmare.  I recently enjoyed a walk through a nearby forest which was very much like the setting for a Gothic novel, and I came across this beauty.

Immediately I was imagining secret trysts, or a heroine coming upon a strange man resting upon this branch. Is he hero or villain, will he be her downfall or salvation?

What do you think about trees, to they set your imagination running wild, or perhaps you just enjoy walking through them, listening to the birdsong, looking out for squirrels. Maybe you remember building a treehouse?  Do tell!

Melinda Hammond

Friday, January 05, 2018

Jane Austen's 'Persuasion': Rules of Precedence

The importance of precedence is a major theme in Jane Austen’s last novel Persuasion, and this post looks at the ramifications of this. Persuasion’s opening scene shows Sir Walter Elliot’s perusal of the Baronetage, the most important book in his library, which charts the lineage of the Elliot family from its first mention in Sir William Dugdale’s Baronetage of England (1675-6) until Sir Walter's own entry in the 1790s.

The Importance of the Family Tree

Sir Walter has no sons, and his heir is a distant male relation. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, shares his feelings about the importance of the Elliots and they get on well. However, he rates his two younger daughters 'of very inferior value.’  Mary, the youngest, has acquired ‘a little artificial importance by becoming Mrs Charles Musgrove,’ but Anne, the middle daughter and the book’s heroine, is ‘nobody with either father or sister.’

I found myself wondering how the sisters themselves viewed their social status. The snobbish Elizabeth is content to walk ‘immediately after Lady Russell out of all the drawing rooms and dining-rooms in the country.’ What is important is that Elizabeth is the eldest daughter of a baronet – an inherited title. This ranks above Lady Russell’s title; she is the widow of a knight, the next down in rank, a title given by the monarch for life only. The only reason that Lady Russell precedes Elizabeth, is that she is married and Elizabeth is not.

However, the fact that Elizabeth, Anne and Mary are daughters of a baronet means that they are entitled to various social privileges.

Mary, (Mrs Charles Musgrove) is acutely aware of this and resents not being afforded her due when visiting her in-laws, the unpretentious Mr and Mrs Musgrove of Uppercross Hall. She constantly complains to Anne that her mother-in-law ‘was very apt not to give her the precedence that was her due when they dined at the Great House with other families’. Correctly speaking, Mary, being a daughter of a baronet, has precedence over her mother-in-law.

As one of her sisters-in-law says to Anne, ‘Nobody doubts her right to have precedence of mamma, but it would be more becoming in her not to be always insisting on it.’ One can only agree.  Anne, we note, never thinks of putting herself forward in such a way.  

Even though Anne is the middle daughter, she is below Mary in the social scale as she is unmarried. Mary, as the only married daughter is now above both her sisters – though I can’t see the snooty Elizabeth allowing Mary to take precedence over her. 

There is a scene in Lyme, where Mary is staying after her sister-in-law Louisa’s accident, which illuminates this. Mrs Musgrove, Louisa’s mother, has come down to do what she can to help. Initially, her hostess, Mrs Harville, gives the elder Mrs Musgrove the precedence. Mary is put out. Fortunately, she receives ‘so very handsome an apology from (Mrs Harville) on finding out whose daughter she was,’ that her self-importance is satisfied – especially as Mrs Harville thenceforward gives Mary the precedence that is her due. Whew!

But what of Anne? She has none of the Elliot self-importance. When she goes to stay with Mary at Uppercross Cottage, she is perfectly happy to pay an unceremonious call on the elder Mr and Mrs Musgrove at the Great House. Correctly, they should be deferential and call on her first. But Anne says, ‘I would never think of standing on ceremony with people I know so well as Mr and Mrs Musgrove.’

Mary, however, disagrees. ‘Oh, but they ought to call on you as soon as possible. They ought to feel what is due to you as my sister.’ 

Anne’s reaction on meeting Captain Wentworth’s friends, the hospitable Harvilles, is one of delight (Mary, by contrast, notes that they have only one maid). ‘There was so much attachment to Captain Wentworth in all this, and such a bewitching  charm in a degree of hospitality so uncommon, so unlike the usual style of give and take invitations, and dinners of formality and display… These would have been my friends,’ was her thought; and she had to struggle against a great tendency to lowness.’ 
This is one of her lowest points; she has now seen, with her own eyes, she sort of life she might have had with Captain Wentworth; one of warmth and affection, and without the cold pomp and ceremony of life in her father’s house -  if she hadn’t broken off their engagement eight years ago.

But Anne has yet more trials to face; she must go to Bath, to her father’s smart and fashionable house in Camden Place, and leave Captain Wentworth behind, not knowing if they will ever meet again or whether he will propose to Louisa.

The letter scene

We see Anne once more ignoring the dictates of her upbringing, and the disapproval of her father, when she visits her old and sick school friend, Mrs Smith. Her father is outraged: 'A mere Mrs Smith ... to be the chosen friend of Miss Anne Elliot, and to be preferred by her to her own family connections among the nobility of England and Ireland!'

But it is this renewal of friendship which helps Anne to be proactive and take the steps necessary for her own future happiness. No-one else will do it for her. Mary and Elizabeth, in their different ways, expect Anne to give way to their own convenience. And Lady Russell values rank more than she ought.

One of the things I love about Persuasion, is that Lady Russell has to do a 180 degree turn in her thinking, and Mary and Elizabeth both get their comeuppance when Anne marries Captain Wentworth.
Anne, restored to the rights of seniority, and the mistress of a very pretty landaulette
Mary, who in her way is fond of Anne, finds it creditable to have a sister married, and ‘it was very agreeable that the captain should be richer than either of her sisters-in-law’s husbands.’ But she is a bit put out to realize that Anne’s marriage means that she, Anne, is restored to the rights of seniority. As the eldest married daughter, Anne now ranks above Elizabeth as well as Mary. Elizabeth’s reaction to the news of Anne’s engagement to Captain Wentworth is to be ‘cold and unconcerned.’

And, as a final thought, we might remember that Jane Austen herself was a second daughter and, by precedence, right at the bottom of her family’s social order. She is asking her readers to consider just what Mary, say, has ever done to warrant being given precedence. The answer, of course, is nothing.

And we might ask the same questions of any number of her characters: Lady Catherine de Bourgh, for example, or Maria Bertram. There is plenty of food for thought for discerning readers here.

Elizabeth Hawksley



Saturday, December 30, 2017

The fun of discovering names to use for character titles and surnames

I’ve spoken before of my obsession with names. Agonising over what title to use and what surnames to bestow upon my characters is another time-wasting phenomenon chez Bailey.

Really, I could just pick any name to go with the chosen Christian names. But not a bit of it. When beginning a book, I pore through my various sources and not only name the main characters, but make lists which I can dip into for minor characters who are bound to pop up. I need aristocratic sounding names for titles as well as names that will sound well on a valet, butler, maid or footman, or a shopkeeper. Perhaps a Bow Street Runner.

Names have got to suit the character, and very often their occupation too. So not just any name will do. The fact that it gives me so much pleasure to choose names is merely by the way, of course. Once chosen, though, it makes sense to check any name applied to the main titled characters against Google search, in case it turns out to be a real title currently in use.

I have three sources for surnames. Following the tradition set by Georgette Heyer, the main one is an old Road Atlas of the British Isles. 

An absolute treasure trove of wonderful names that roll off the tongue and are just a joy to pronounce. Just check out this little corner of one page of said Atlas.

Can’t you just see the characters popping up?
Miss Wimpstone, the governess
Marston, the butler
Paxford, the landlord of the inn, or he might be a groom
Lady Honeybourne, the dotty great-aunt
Viscount Idlicote, the annoying suitor the heroine can’t get rid of
Annabella Darlingscott, the reigning belle who is waspish and jealous of our heroine

See what I mean? Any more of this and I’ll have to excuse myself to go off and write the story.

For my next trick, there’s the invaluable Leslie Dunkling Guiness Book of Names. He’s got a wealth of wonderful surnames listed by county. Here’s the list for Oxfordshire.

I’ve already got Miss Flook from this list – she’s my widow’s companion in the current Regency Romantics anthology story, Widow in Mistletoe. Pegler is my lady’s maid in an upcoming Lady Fan. And I’ve got a definite hankering to use Bubb, Croome and Stinchcombe. I’m pretty sure I’ve already used Tuffley, but Gazard and Wintle are calling to me as well.

My last source is the fabulous Stufflebeem, Brockway & Sturt, by Shelley Keen (see top image). This gem of a book gives the origins of names, which can help with character as well as simply providing lists of names alphabetically. This comes in handy when I’m in danger of having too many names starting with the same letter. I can locate an unused letter and browse through that list to find a name that fits. 

The only name from this snippet from the book I’ve used is Lord Hetherington, the hero of the third in my Brides by Chance series, Knight for a Lady.

As an illustration of how fascinating and useful a map can be, I give you the bluestocking set in my wip, Taming the Vulture (Book 10 in the Brides by Chance series). These were picked wholesale and are genuine double-barrelled names of towns.

Pelham Ferneux, the handsome, showy literary type who actually produces next to nothing
Moreton Pinckney, the critic who panned my hero’s last work of poetry
Stanford Dingley, the historian and friend of my hero
Carleton Rode, the respected essayist
Aspatria Glasson, the champion of the rights of women

Honestly, could I have thought these up by myself? I rest my case.

Elizabeth Bailey

Friday, December 15, 2017

Regency, WW2 and 2017 - How Christmas has changed.

 In the Regency the lesser folk would have been fortunate to have anything different to eat at Christmas. However, those with money and status might well have celebrated in style.
If one was lucky one would be invited to a house party arriving before 21st December. A Yule log would be brought in but the greenery would not be put up until 24th. Christmas Day one would attend church and eat a turkey dinner. Similar to today -although I doubt many attend a service nowadays. Gifts were not given until 6th January -but not in the excess we see today.

The first Christmas of WW2  - 1939 - was the same as any other. Paper decorations, tinsel and candles on a tree, and a stocking for the children. However, there would be one present under the tree - not dozens. As the war progressed and rationing and shortages kicked in, the population did their best, but children would be lucky to get more than a few homemade gifts.
A chicken would be a luxury for many, especially those living in the cities. Country folk fared better as they could grow their own vegetables, keep chickens, and often had a shared interest in a pig.

How different it is today. The shops are full of festive things from September and families borrow money they can't afford to make sure their children don't feel disappointed on Christmas Day.
We all spend far too much, buy too much, and over indulge. I love the decorations, look out for doors with wreaths and lights outside, and enjoy peering into front windows at brightly decorated Christmas trees.
I am not religious, but love the nativity story.
For me it's a time for being generous in kind and in spirit, for reaching out to old friends and being close to family.

I wrote a light-hearted Christmas novella, Christmas at Devil's Gate in two weeks in order to give something to my readers. It's priced at $0.99 & £0.99 and is available on Amazon.

I wish you all a happy holiday, merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
Fenella J Miller

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas, Advertising and.... Biggles!

Léon-François Comerre - The Flower Seller
CHRISTMAS is a time when we are besieged with advertisements. Things to buy, things to eat, programmes to watch.  This week I have been thinking about advertising, how we market our wares, and how that has changed over the centuries.

Shopkeepers have always used signs outside their premises to attract custom, as can be seen in this print by Hogarth (below). At one time, signs hanging over the streets were banned, because of the danger of them falling down and causing injury.

And those with trades to sell might also place ad advertisement in a newspaper, like this lovely, short piece in the London Evening Post in 1746. It appears Mr Grainger promise to teach pupils to "write well in a Month"(many of us would be pleased to have such guarantees in education today!).

The advent of moving pictures early last century was an exciting development in entertainment, and it wasn't long before advertisers recognised the potential. Who doesn't remember sitting through "Pearl & Dean" while waiting for the big picture to start?

Television gave advertisers the opportunity to bring their products right into the home, and boy, did it become an art form! For a while (until modern technology made it possible to fast-forward through the breaks) adverts were in danger of taking over from the main event- indeed, some were much better than the programmes they interrupted (although possibly not the one shown here).

Books have never been subject to quite such a hard sell. After all, as readers we like to take our time and browse, don't we? But authors  want to get the message out there, so they have to advertise, too, and we do. Via our publishers, or personally, via social media.  But it's not new.
This came home to me earlier this week, when I was trying(unsuccessfully) to reduce the number of books on my overcrowded shelves.  As a girl I fell in love with Capt W E Johns' flying ace, Biggles, and my collection of Biggles books has remained with me ever since. For years I spent my hard-earned pocket money on Biggles books, reprints like this...

....or second hand copies, purchased room an Aladdin's cave of a bookshop on the historic Christmas Steps in Bristol.  It was in one of these old books, a 1950s edition of "Biggles Works it Out", that I found a note from Capt Johns himself.   It had been fitted into the front of the book, whether by the publisher or by the book's original owner I do not know, but here is the note .

Perhaps it is because I am now an author myself, and battling constantly with demands of modern media, but this really struck a chord with me. It makes that personal, direct appeal to the reader, just as we are urged to do today.
This book, along with its message, is going to remain on my shelves for a long time to come.
Merry Christmas, everyone, and happy reading.

Melinda Hammond

You can read my homage to the WWII flying aces in my short story,

Or, if you want a little Christmas treat, you might like The Duke's Christmas Bride.