Friday, September 15, 2017

My Three Favourite Historical Fiction Writers

Initially I wrote a post about writing and depression but then thought that was too depressing so have decided to put up something on my three favourite historical fiction writers.
Bernard Cornwall must rank at the top of this list. I have every book he has written, apart from the short series set in America to do with the War of Independence which I didn't like. His research is impeccable, his writing compelling and his heroes everything they should be. Of course, the Sharpe novels were made into a series of TV dramas with the wonderful Sean Bean in the lead role. Whenever I reread one of these books, despite the fact that Sharpe is supposed to have black hair, I always imagine Sean Bean.
There is now a series about Uthred (see below) with an equally irresistible actor playing the lead role.
Richard Sharpe, who alone can recognise the top French spy, is under orders to capture him alive.
Richard Sharpe is once again at war. But this time his enemy is just one man – the ruthless Colonel Leroux. Sharpe’s mission is to safeguard El Mirador, a spy whose network of agents is vital to British victory. Soldier, hero, rogue – Sharpe is the man you always want on your side. Born in poverty, he joined the army to escape jail and climbed the ranks by sheer brutal courage. He knows no other family than the regiment of the 95th Rifles whose green jacket he proudly wears.
In a land torn apart by conflict, an orphan boy has come of age. Raised by the Vikings, deadly enemies of his own Saxon people, Uhtred is a fierce and skilled warrior who kneels to no-one.
Alfred – Saxon, king, man of god – fights to hold the throne of the only land still resisting the pagan northerners.
Uhtred and Alfred’s fates are tangled, soaked in blood and blackened b the flames of war. Together they will change history…

Christian Cameron is next on my list. I only discovered him comparatively recently but again I have everything he has written on my keeper shelf. I love his books and am reading his latest,The Green Count, at the moment. If you haven't read anything by him then I envy you – you've got a treat in store.
Arimnestos of Plataea was one of the heroes of the Battle of Marathon, in which the heroic Greeks halted the invading Persians in their tracks, and fought in the equally celebrated naval battle at Salamis.
But even these stunning victories only served to buy the Greeks time, as the Persians gathered a new army, returning with overwhelming force to strike the final killing blow.

For the Greeks, divided and outnumbered, there was only one possible strategy: attack. And so, in the blazing summer of 479 BC, Arimnestos took up his spear one final time at the Battle of Plataea.

The third on my list is Dorothy Dunnett. I can remember fighting over who would read her latest book first with my husband when they came out 40 years ago. They are complex, beautifully written, historically accurate stories spanning many years with a cast of compelling characters. I've read all of them at least three times.  To be honest, when I tried to reread the Lymond Chronicles a few years ago I couldn't get into it. I think they are too erudite for my ancient brain nowadays.
I despised men who accepted their fate. I shaped mine twenty times and had it broken twenty times in my hands'
It is 1547 and, after five years imprisonment and exile far from his homeland, Francis Crawford of Lymond - scholar, soldier, rebel, nobleman, outlaw - has at last come back to Edinburgh.
But for many in an already divided Scotland, where conspiracies swarm around the infant Queen Mary like clouds of midges, he is not welcome.
Lymond is wanted for treason and murder, and he is accompanied by a band of killers and ruffians who will only bring further violence and strife.
Is he back to foment rebellion?
Does he seek revenge on those who banished him? Or has he returned to clear his name?

No one but the enigmatic Lymond himself knows the truth - and no one will discover it until he is ready . . .
'A storyteller who could teach Scheherazade a thing or two about pace, suspense and imaginative invention' New York Times

I haven't included Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters as they are not historical fiction writers, they are writers who wrote in their own era that we now read. I could have put Georgette Heyer in as I grew up on her books and read all of them voraciously in my teens. However, although her books are enjoyable, they don't compare the stature and gravitas of these others so I haven't included them.
Fenella J Miller

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Georgette Heyer: Watering-pots

Watering-pots are mentioned a number of times in Georgette Heyer’s novels - tearful heroines tend to apologize for behaving 'like a watering-pot' - so I thought it would be interesting to look at watering-pots more closely.

Take Frederica. The heroine, Frederica, is discussing her sister Charis with the hero, the Marquis of Alverstoke. Charis, she says, is very sensitive, ‘The mildest scold utterly sinks her spirits!’ Frederica wants to encourage Charis’s paragon of a suitor, Sir Mark Lyncham, who, she thinks, will be very gentle with her.

Alverstoke replies, caustically, ‘Judging him by myself, I should think he would murder her – or seek consolation elsewhere! I can think of few worse fates than to be married to a watering-pot!’


Inside the Garden Museum, next door to Lambeth Palace and once St Mary’s church
I’d always assumed that a watering-pot was a Regency synonym for a watering-can – until last Friday, when I visited the newly-opened Garden Museum in Lambeth and, to my amazement, they actually had an early 19th century watering-pot.

A watering-pot dating from 1800
This is it and you can see that it’s different from a watering-can. For a start, it’s rather squat and made of terracotta. It looks pretty heavy and it’s not a particularly attractive object. The short spout has what looks like an integral rose. Perhaps it unscrews but I suspect that the pot was filled from the hole in the top.

I couldn’t help thinking that it would probably break quite easily – unlike a metal watering-can – which may explain why I’d never seen one before.


Mid-19th century watering-can
The Garden Museum also had an example of a mid-19th century watering-can. It is a lot bigger than the watering-pot – and probably a lot lighter, too. You can understand why they took over from the watering-pot.

The two standing together
The case they were in was somewhat crowded – so apologies for the photo. The bottom of the watering-can is partly obscured by an early glass cucumber straightener! I’ve included this photo to show you the difference in size.  

So, dear reader, when you next read Frederica, and reach the bit at the end where Alverstoke tells Frederica that she’d better consent to Charis’s marriage with Endymion because, ‘You cannot possibly live with a watering-pot for the rest of the summer!’ you will know exactly what a watering-pot is.
Elizabeth Hawksley


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Restrictions and Parameters in writing historical romance

We novelists do like giving ourselves problems. One of the ways we do this is by finding some kind of niche within our particular genre. As if it isn't bad enough that Regency has its own parameters and restrictions merely by the fact of being set in a particular period.

I always think of Regency romance as fairytales for grown-up little girls. I've never lost my love of the fairytales that enchanted me as a child, and writing Regency is a bit  like writing a fairytale.

For one thing "the past is another country", and for another there is still the basic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl that is the standard romance trope. Within that the permutations are endless.

However, we are still restricted to the confines of the period, although we do have to take liberties or there wouldn't be any story! The truth of the matter is that marriage in the Georgian and Regency period was very much an arranged affair on the whole. Of course people fell in love, but often couldn't marry the love of their life. Engagements often went on for years and years while the man in the case followed his profession and stabilised his income to be able to afford a wife.

Jane Austen's Charlotte in Pride and Prejudice is likely closest to the norm. She married a man she despised because it gave her independence from her family, took her off her father's hands as an expense, and provided her with her own household to run. She was 27 and if she had refused Mr Collins, she would likely have remained a spinster, a drain on her family and obliged to help out wherever she was needed in exchange for her keep.

Thus we can't stick with that particular truth or where is the romance? And so we are writing a fairytale dressed up in the parameters of the time and with some or many of the rules broken - depending on the author's personal feeling about sticking with period detail.

You can also be stymied by the requirements of the publisher. For example, when I began writing for Mills & Boon many moons ago, I could include lots of secondary characters, plenty of adventure and some fairly chaste sex. Over time, editors began to request us to concentrate on the developing central relationship and keep periphery characters to a minimum, but ramp up the sensuality. Adventure went out of fashion and then came back in later.

There is therefore a freedom in writing for yourself and putting your own work out there. But we authors seem to be bent upon giving ourselves a headache. What do I do but decide to write a series about Cinderella heroines - that is, those women who (like Charlotte) have missed the boat or didn't "take", as well as those stricken with poverty, or who have to earn their own living, or those orphaned poor relations made into drudges. In other words, the no-hopers who either never expect to be married or are confident of being left on the shelf. These are my Brides by Chance.

Why, I hear you cry, is this a problem? Well, I've given myself the headache of finding ways for these girls to meet a hero when they aren't even debutantes (mostly) and to find a way for them to become respectable enough to be married to a hero who is at least an earl. It's vital for him to be a high-ranking peer or where's the Cinderella element?

Right now in the wip I'm struggling with Hetty, a heroine whose father has lost his expectations and thus she and her twin are now poor and unable to have another season, and the new duke of the district who just happens to be a recalcitrant type with an in-built resistance to conformity. Well, he has to, doesn't he? Otherwise Theo is not going to flout convention - which dictates he marry a female of high rank, excellent family and prospects - and plump instead for our highly ineligible disaster-prone miss with an excess of sensibility and a tendency to weep at the slightest provocation. She's a fighter though and gives as good as she gets.

Actually, I love having to be inventive to overcome the restrictions. Although I never know how in the world I'm going to do it while I'm writing the book. I just start with a heroine, a hero and a premise and off I go, hoping something will occur to me to make it all come right in the end.

Elizabeth Bailey
Brides by Chance link

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pride and Prejudice For Ever!

 It’s now 200 years since Jane Austen died, but her books are immortal. As if to prove this point, Mammoth Screen have just announced a new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which should hit our screens in 2020. The news has been widely reported, showing the evergreen popularity of Jane Austen and her timeless novels. The Radio Times and Digital Spy both carried the story.
     So what do we all think about it? Comments on my facebook page have been mixed, with most people needing to know more before they make up their minds. What we know so far is that it will be made for ITV and adapted by Nina Raine, who promises us a darker version of the novel. Quite what that means is anyone’s guess. It could mean there will be a focus on the humour rather than the romance, or more emphasis on the plight of the Miss Bennets – in fact, it could mean anything. We’ll just have to wait and see. 

Meanwhile, Austenesque fiction fills the Pride and Prejudice - shaped hole in our lives. My own novels, including Mr Darcy's Diary, Dear Mr Darcy and Mr Darcy, Vampyre are all still very popular, and new books are appearing all the time. There are trilogies, novels, novellas and short stories – there really is something for everyone. Historical Romance UK’s own Monica Fairview has a wonderful trilogy, the Darcy Novels, out now. Mr. Darcy's Pledge starts the trilogy,  followed by Mr Darcy's Challenge, and Mr. Darcy's Pride and JoyAustenesque Reviews loved the novels and said: “I am quite enchanted with these delightful sequels by Monica Fairview!” 

As far as single novels are concerned, there are plenty to choose from. I counted over twenty new titles this month, including A Companion For Miss Darcy by Ellen Carstairs. This seems to be a popular theme, because I counted four further “companion” tales, including one by the excellent Joana Starnes. There are also novellas and short story collections for those who prefer shorter reads. A Stay at Pemberley by Caroline Bryant is an August release, and there are plenty more to choose from.
     It isn’t only Austenesque fiction that owes a debt to Jane Austen. Regency romance owes a debt to her, too. Mr Darcy is the inspiration for the arrogant, haughty heroes who fill Regency novels, and Elizabeth Bennet is the inspiration for intelligent, independent and forthright heroines.

For those who like Regencies, as well as Austenesque fiction, five of our blog authors have a new collection out for the summer. Midsummer Marriages is sure to keep you entertained, whatever the weather!

There isn’t enough space to mention every new Austenesque release here, but if you have an Austenesque release this month, feel free to include a link in the comments below. And don’t forget to tell us what you think about the forthcoming adaptation of Pride and Prejudice!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Air Transport Auxiliary - ferry pilots in WW2

At the moment I'm writing the second book in my three book series, Ellen's War – An ATA Girl. The first book, Blue Skies and Tiger Moths came out earlier this year. The second book follows Ellie Simpson from June 1940 until December 1941 – at least that's when I think it will finish. I don't really know until I get there. In this one she leaves the WAAF and joins the Air Transport Auxiliary. Therefore, this month I thought I'd tell you a bit about them. The trouble is I find the subject so fascinating I'm doing rather more research then I should and a lot less writing. This is why I love being a historical fiction writer – I can immerse myself in fascinating facts.
The ATA was started by the director of British Airways. He could see that when the second war started there wouldn't be enough trained pilots to protect Britain if they were used to ferry new aircraft from the factories and take back damaged ones for repair. Also there would be a suspension of civil aviation which meant these pilots would have no work.
The RAF had strict entry requirements and many of these civilian and commercial pilots would be considered unsuitable for operational service.
Initially just over a hundred men were recruited from all walks of life. It soon became apparent that these gallant few would not be enough to move trainers, fighters and bombers from storage units to RAF squadrons stop the RAF had thought they could use their own pilots for this but it became glaringly obvious after Dunkirk they would need every able-bodied RAF pilot in active service.
Most of these ATA pilots were limited to flying single engined training aircraft so they were given conversion courses so they could fly Hurricanes and Spitfires and multi-engine types.
Then Pauline Gower stepped in and convinced the powers that be that well-trained women could do the job just as well as men. So on January 1st 1940 eight women pilots were employed to ferry Tiger Moths and Pauline was appointed commander of this first group of women flyers.
They were based at Hatfield in a small office behind the de Havilland hangars. There sole job initially was to fly planes from the de Havilland factory to training airfields and storage units, for the most part in northern England and Scotland. This was the middle of winter and Tiger Moths were open cockpit. This was the first time in history women would be officially given the task of ferrying military aircraft and they did a wonderful job at it.
ATA girls in uniform.
By 1941 the women were at last cleared to fly class II aircraft, Hurricanes and Spitfires. More women from all walks of life were taken on until eventually there were twenty-two ferry pools – some pools like Hamble, Crossford and Hatfield were all women ferry pools but most of the others were mixed with men and women pilots working side by side.
Many foreign pilots also found employment in the ATA. They were known as " The Flying Legion of the Air," as there were men and women from thirty other countries in the organisation.
In 1943 female pilots who had previously earned 20% less than male pilots were at last given equal pay. By now they were flying all class of aircraft, with the exception of class VI flying boats. They flew using only a compass and gyro and could only take off and land when the weather was clear.
By the end of the war ATA pilots had delivered over 300 000 aircraft of 51 different types. The ATAs total complement consisted of 1152 men and 166 women. There were also aircrew, radio officers, ground engineers and ATC cadets. 129 men and 20 women were killed in service, including Amy Johnson.
Fenella J Miller

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A new book!

Forgive my dust, but I have a new book out this month, and I'm mad keen to tell you about it!
Fearless is the first book in The Shaws. While you met this family in The Emperors of London, now the most scandalous family in London gets to tell its own story!

When Lady Charlotte Engles receives an offer of marriage from an eligible suitor, she’s finally ready to let go of her long-held hope that her engagement to Lord Valentinian Shaw will result in marriage. For despite the betrothal their families made between them, Val shows no interest in leaving his reckless life behind in favor of one with Charlotte. But when her plea to end their arrangement ends in a heated embrace, suddenly Val seems reluctant to let her go . . .

The last thing Val wants is a wife, despite how desirous his lovely bride-to-be has become. But when he discovers sweet Charlotte is planning to marry a dastardly man, he feels duty bound to keep her safe, even if that means making good on his marriage pledge. Then Charlotte is taken hostage by her dangerous suitor and suddenly Val is ready to risk everything for the woman who has won his heart .

Buy the Book and read an extract:

Maybe you'd like a taster? How about a garden tryst?

“I ask one favor before we say goodbye. Because this will be goodbye, Charlotte. I will seek an interview with my father and you must speak to yours. They will negotiate how best to break the contract and then it will be over. You’ll be free to marry your Lord Kellett," Valentinian said.
She closed her eyes and swallowed. Yes, she would. “Could I ask my father first? Will you give me a few days?”
“Of course. We shall say that my behavior is too much for you to bear. That is only the truth, after all.”
He saw too much, but she would not deny it. “Yes.” Her stomach tied itself in knots at the thought of the ordeal that lay ahead. But she was set on the path now and she would see it through. At least she could offer a substitute husband, one who wanted to marry her immediately.
 “I’ll always be your friend, Charlotte. You must come to me if you ever need help.” He didn’t say it, but he inferred that her brother was no use. That was not strictly true, but as yet he was too young to have any influence on their father. In time he would make a fine duke, but to rely on a man five years younger than she—no, she would not think of it.
Normally she would have said thank you, drawn her hands away, and asked him to take her into the house. Today she wanted one more thing. “I want us to part with a kiss,” she said, but her voice shook on the last two words. Just once she would know what he tasted like, why women went wild for him.
He stared at her, eyes wide and dark.
“Never mind. I didn’t mean it.”
With a swift movement, he dragged her forward, tipping her off-balance so she fell into his arms. “Oh yes you did.” His voice deepened to a growl as he settled her against his shoulder. “You shall have your kiss, Charlotte.”
When she opened her mouth on a gasp, he brought his mouth down on hers.
Charlotte had imagined adult kisses, of course she had, but this was her first. That was why she’d wanted it from Val. He knew how to kiss. He must, with the numbers of lovers he’d had.
She wasn’t wrong. His lips caressed hers, brushed over them in a gentle caress, moving from one side to the other before settling in for a firmer touch. Unthinkingly, she reached up and curved her hand around the back of his neck. Under the crisp, white neckcloth, his bare skin waited for her. Inching a little higher, she discovered the nape of his neck.
Was it her imagination, or did he shudder?
He had his hands spread over her back. Even through her shift, stays and the heavy back pleats of her gown she felt them burning, touching her as if she belonged to him. They held her firmly, giving her the entirely erroneous impression that she was safe with him. Charlotte had never been safe from Val.
When he crushed his lips against hers, she moved closer, curving her body to press against him. Despite the many layers they both wore their proximity made her melt. His breath was hot on her cheek, and the stubble she could not see, only feel, rasped with delicious roughness against her chin.
He touched her lips with his tongue, delicately tracing. With a little gasp, she opened. His grunt was like nothing she’d ever heard from him before, unguarded and essentially masculine.
Firm, slick wetness caressed her when he touched her tongue with his, stroking her, exploring her mouth, delicately at first and then with more firmness, taking all she offered and demanding more.
When he sucked in a breath through his nose she realized she’d been holding hers. She followed suit, breathing through their kiss, letting him take her where he would. His moan vibrated through her mouth, and she swallowed it, hungering for more.
Was she really letting this man go? She should have hung on, demanded more, because she ached to know what came next.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Celebrating 25 books with Harlequin/Mills & Boon

My September release, Pursued for the Viscount's Vengeance, is my 25th book for Harlequin/Mills & Boon and it will be available for sale from mid-August.

I will be celebrating with a Goodreads Giveaway for the book later this month, so do look out for that, and I am also planning a major giveaway to celebrate reaching this wonderful milestone, so if you want a chance to win the prize enter then please do visit my Facebook and sign up for my newsletter (the button for this is on the left had side of the page).  Here is the link -

In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here is a sneak preview from the beginning of the book. First, when Deborah is at the assembly and knows someone is watching her....

Deborah’s spine tingled as she went down the dance. He was here again, the stranger in the shadows, watching her. She had never seen him clearly, but she was aware of him, it was as if she could physically feel his presence. As the dance ended and she accompanied her brother from the floor she glanced across the room. Yes, there was the tall figure of the man she had noticed around the town several times in that past few weeks. He kept his distance and was always just turning away whenever she glimpsed him, or disappearing into a doorway. He was plainly dressed, but he carried himself with such assurance that she was sure he must be a man of substance.

Not for the first time she thought of telling Ran, but what could she say, that she had noticed the stranger on several occasions? The man had not accosted her; she had never caught him ogling her. Indeed, he had never been that close to her, but somehow her body knew when he was in her vicinity. She sensed him, like a wild animal sensed danger.


Next, the moment Deborah and Gil meet for the first time - an unplanned encounter, that leaves them both shaken....

Deb had been lost in her own thoughts, hurrying to return the shawl her kind friend Lady Gomersham had loaned her and get back to Randolph, but the near collision brought her to a sudden halt. She was murmuring her apology even as the gentleman scooped up her parcel. It was then, as he straightened and looked at her, that she recognised him.
Manners were forgotten. Deborah stared at the man as he handed back her package. He had been a shadowy figure for some weeks, but fate had given her this opportunity to study him and she took it. She observed every detail: the near black hair, the slate-grey eyes set beneath curving dark brows, the unsmiling mouth and strong cleft chin. The lines of his lean face were too angular to be called handsome, but they were further disfigured by a thin scar that ran down the left side, from temple to chin.
All her suspicions were confirmed when he met her eyes. His was not the look of a man who had just bumped into a stranger. The intensity of his gaze made her tremble inside and set her pulse racing, but the next instant he had stepped back and was smiling politely as he tipped his hat to her and strode on. Deb clutched her parcel and remained frozen to the spot, trying to quieten her pounding heart. She must not turn back. She must not stare after him. Summoning all her willpower, she forced herself to walk on around the corner and out of sight, but for the rest of the day she carried his stern, unsmiling image in her head. The Man with the Scar.

So, who is the Man with the Scar, and why is he watching her? Deb can think of no reason why anyone should show such interest in her. Her conscience is quite clear and her quiet life has so far been completely uneventful. Now, however, everything is about to change.

Pursued for the Viscount's Vengeance is a rip-roaring adventure full of romance and danger. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I hope I shall go on to write another 25 romances!

Happy reading, everyone.

Sarah Mallory

Pursued for the Viscount's Vengeance will be released mid-August and available in bookshops and online.

And have you tried my Melinda Hammond Regency Romances? They are now available on Kindle.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Royal Coaches and Landaus

Earlier this week, I was invited to the Royal Mews Bloggers’ Breakfast. I’d never visited the Royal Mews before and I had the most fascinating morning. This post looks at a couple of things I learnt which I thought might interest you. You may already know them but my own knowledge, as I discovered, needed both correcting and expanding.

First: the landau. I remembered, of course, the obnoxious Mrs Elton, in Jane Austen’s Emma, boasting about her sister’s barouche-landau  - which she takes every opportunity to mention (presumably because Emma doesn’t have one at Hartfield). And, at the end of Persuasion, Captain Wentworth buys Anne ‘a very pretty landaulette but I wasn’t very clear as to what a landau actually was, and how it differed from other coaches.


A Semi-State Landau

According to the O.E.D., the word dates from 1743 and comes from Landau in Germany where this four-wheeled carriage was first made. Its top is in two parts so that it can be either half or fully opened. It looks a bit like an old-fashioned perambulator. I’d always pronounced ‘landau’ as if it were German (which it was, originally) with the ‘au’ bit rhyming with ‘Frau.’ I was wrong. It’s correct pronunciation is ‘landor’.
A State Landau looks much the same as the semi-state but is more decorated. The 1902 State Landau which carried the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge back from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace after their wedding, is upholstered in crimson satin and richly ornamented in gold leaf; it has four candle-lit lanterns and is drawn by four Windsor Grey postillion horses, that is, it’s driven by postillion riders.

A postillion’s Ascot livery. Notice the riding boots.  

The postillion’s state livery comprises a scarlet and gold jacket and a wig and cap. The jackets may change - they also have semi-state livery, Ascot livery and everyday dress - but they always wear white breeches and top boots.
The State Landau can hold up to four people and it’s perfect for those occasions where the occupants need to be clearly seen from three sides: two footmen, looking magnificent in their red and gold coats, sit behind the occupants.


Here I am, in a Semi-State Landau, waving

And, if you want to sit in one yourself, there is a replica Semi-State Landau in the Stable Block where you can do just that. It’s certainly comfortable to sit in but it’s probably not so much fun when moving as the floor of the landau moves both up and down and from side to side.
The second thing I learnt was the difference between a coach being ‘postillion driven’ and ‘coachman driven’.

The Glass Coach

This coach dates from 1881 and it was bought for King George V’s coronation in 1911. It is a particularly comfortable coach with excellent suspension, which must be a relief - not all of the royal coaches are so comfortable. Traditionally, it is the coach royal brides travel in to their weddings, including Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923; Princess Elizabeth in 1947; Princess Anne in 1973; and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. At least they didn’t arrive at the church door feeling sick. 

Coachman’s livery

You can see that there is a box richly draped with a ‘hammer cloth’ at the front for the coachman to drive the horses. His state livery is the gold and scarlet frockcoat shown above. He also wears scarlet plush knee breeches, pink silk stockings, and gold-buckled shoes, not to mention a wig and a wonderful tricorne hat with ostrich feathers. There is no seat behind for the footmen; they have to stand – though they do get to wear rather amazing hats which makes them look as if they’ve just returned from the Marlborough wars. Their job is to open the door and let down the steps for the occupants.  


The Gold Coach used at the Coronation

Here the Gold Coach, the one used in the coronation; this is postillion driven. The postilion rides the leading nearside horse of a team or pair and it is he who drives the carriage. The Gold Coach actually needs eight horses to pull it, so each pair has a postillion on the nearside horse. The nearside is the pavement side so, in effect, postilion–driven coaches have a right-hand drive. 
Most of the royal coaches can be either postillion-driven, or coachman-driven as the coachman’s box is removable. If there is a royal event where it’s important that the occupants are seen, then the coach’s box will be removed and the coach will be postillion-driven.
We were very lucky to have an excellent guide, Charlotte Regen, who is currently writing a book about the Royal Mews. She not only gave us the information in a lively and interesting way, she also told us the stories behind the coaches.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Historical Romance and Historical Fantasy

Yesterday I put a post up on Facebook about historical accuracy, and the lack of it. I had read a book description that described a book set in the 1860s as Regency.
Is it too much to ask that Amazon, authors and publishers at least try to get historical periods right?
In the replies, one author pointed out that she never used a specific time and place. That I didn’t understand at all. How can you call a book historical; when you don’t know when it’s set?
It isn’t just a picturesque setting and pretty clothes that makes a historical romance so fascinating. It’s the way people thought at the time, the way important events affected them, and what they thought about it.
It’s also details like character names and titles. Title errors are particularly annoying because they occur through the whole book. Like calling Sir Sydney Smith “Sir Smith,” or addressing a duke as “my lord.” I can’t read a book that does that. Besides, if the writer didn’t do that much research, how reliable is the rest of the book?
There is, I believe, a whole subgenre of “historical” romance, that I would call “fantasy historical.” This is a world where girls run about London on their own, and don’t get kidnapped for their fortunes or forced to marry someone. It’s a world where whores can marry dukes and become the centre of society, a world where a lady can pose as an actress with no ill effects on her social position. And the women all wear party dresses, but they dream of independence and turn down offers of marriage on a whim. Where a wife demands a divorce from her husband, and lives to fall in love with another member of the nobility.
Now let me say there is nothing wrong with these stories. They’re lighthearted, amusing and wile away a few hours. Since I research my period quite heavily, they’re not for me. I find them too superficial. They skim the surface but never explore issues, even their own, with any depth.
I would love a way of differentiating them from the historical romances that I love. Why not call them “fantasy historicals”? I write paranormal romance, where vampires and dragons live in our world. Fantasy. So why not fantasy historicals, too? A genre that could stand separate from historical romance. There are distinct markets for both, but they rarely coincide. Readers of Dorothy Dunnett aren’t going to migrate to Julie Garwood’s books, for instance, although both have their place.
I’m not talking about covers here. Cover art is often imposed on an author, who may have little or no control over it. And there is precious little historical stock art out there that has any degree of accuracy. The adage not to judge a book by its cover is never more true than it is today.
So let those of us who love history have our historical romances, and the people who enjoy vague history set in a vague periods have theirs, too.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Summer Garden

As a child I was only aware of three butterflies: the red admiral, the tortoiseshell and something I called a cabbage white. Although my family were keen gardeners they were not particularly interested in insects or fauna and it was many years before I realised that there were a whole host more of British butterflies and to learn something of their names and history.

The word butterfly is ancient. It is first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon manuscript written 1300 years ago and the name is common to several North European languages. Since butter is yellow it seems that the original butterfly must have been the male Brimstone, which is bright yellow in colour.

The English names for butterflies are also very poetic, or many of them are. Often these names are assumed to have been given in the nineteenth but most are far older than that. However it took a while for consistent butterfly names to evolve. This did not stop people from describing them in gorgeous language though. In 1589 the Tudor physician Thomas Moffet described the Peacock butterfly’s wings as: “Four adamants (diamonds) glistering in a bezel of Hyacinth which shine curiously like stars and do cast about them sparks of the Rain-bow.”

It was James Petiver who in the 17th century invented many butterfly names to go with the simple
descriptions and engravings of them that he published.  Most of his names are lost now. He invented The Royal William, for example, which we now call the Swallowtail. It was named after the reigning king and had been caught in the gardens of St James’ Palace. These days it can only be found in Norfolk.

By 1748, when The English Moths and Butterflies by Benjamin Wilkes had been published, most butterflies had acquired their modern names.  Many of these include a colour: Clouded Yellow, Small Copper, Orange-tip. Wilkes was an artist and so may well have been looking at his butterflies with the same sense of colour and imagination he used for his art. Other were named simply for the places they were found. The Wall is self-explanatory and the Gatekeeper often flies along the side of hedges and meadows.

What of my childhood Red Admiral? It is apparently nothing to do with the sea and derives from its size, beauty and colour. It was originally called “Red Admirable.” Because there is also a White Admiral butterfly I had assumed that they were associated in some way with naval squadrons! However, they are both indisputably admirable.

The cabbage white is actually the Large White, which has a taste for cabbages. And now I have discovered so many more butterflies with wonderfully historic, evocative names: The Purple Emperor and The Duke of Burgundy for example. (Unfortunately no one seems to know which Duke of Burgundy it is named after or why). A visitor to my own garden is the Painted Lady, which sounds slightly raffish and disreputable, like a courtesan perhaps. So as I watch the butterflies in my summer garden I not only admire their beauty but also think about the astonishing stories behind their names.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Dunkirk - thoughts from those who were actually there.

The book I have in the sale.
As the release of the much awaited film, Dunkirk, is due next week I thought I would share some of the personal stories, from the men who were actually there, that I've come across in my research.
The RAF were erroneously accused of abandoning the army to be bombed by the Luftwaffe. In fact the opposite was true. If they hadn't flown non-stop protecting the beaches behind Dunkirk the miracle of evacuation wouldn't have taken place. They might not have been seen by the soldiers but they were there doing their job.
The man in charge of the Luftwaffe convinced Hitler to let his pilots destroy The British Expeditionary Force so the advance of the tanks and soldiers was halted to allow him time to do so. History tells us that this was possibly the decision that changed the course of World War II.
Squadron Leader Al Dere 54 Squadron, said they were flying for fourteen days non-stop. He did thirty-seven hours in ten days. They just kept flying. They had no reserve pilots.
Flying officer Geoffrey Page, 56 Squadron. He states that his operations over Dunkirk were in two main categories. The first was that they had to do a fighter sweep – they would fly all the way round behind beaches and try and intercept any German aircraft coming up to attack the soldiers on the ground. The other role was to escort the Blenheims when they went to bomb targets related to the evacuation from Dunkirk. He reports that their ground crews got into fights in local pubs because the soldiers would say, "where were you?" And the ground crews knew very well what we'd done over there.
Bernt Engelmann, Luftwaffe pilot.
He reports that on the dunes north of Dunkirk there were thousands of light and heavy weapons abandoned on the sand along with munition crates, field kitchens, scattered cans of rations and many wrecks of British army trucks. He writes that if the German tanks and Stukas and Navy had managed to surround the British here, shooting most them, and taking the rest prisoner, then England wouldn't have had any trained soldiers left. Instead, the British seemed to have rescued them all – and a lot of Frenchmen too. Adolf can say goodbye to his blitzkrieg against England.
This book is in the promotion too -but not in the sale.
Lady Chichester who was a civilian volunteer work in Hampshire talked of her husband's experience. "He was in the guards, in the retreat, and was picked up by private yacht with a lot of other Welsh Guardsmen and brought back to England. They had to abandon everything they possessed, except their guns – even their sleeping blanks, their clothes and their equipment. They just got on board any ship that was able to take back twinge. At the time, knowing the French given up the fight, the Germans all along the coast of France, we really did think that any day they would be invading."

To coincide with the release of the film Dunkirk there will be a 50+ author book sale (all with one book reduced to $ 0. 99/£0.99) of historical fiction all in some way connected to Dunkirk. There is also a raffle, to give away and a variety of other things – including lists of the most popular World War II films.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Regency's Darker Secrets

Many readers think historical romances are all the same. They are not. True, they are set in the past, true they all have a (mostly) happy ending, but stories and styles vary enormously.  I have just finished writing a sparkling Regency romp for Harlequin, which will be published next year, but my September publication, Pursued for the Viscount's Vengeance, weaves far more serious matters in amongst the romance.
Image result for Quincey Opium Eater images wikicommons

This book required research into some of the Regency's darker secrets, such as the use of laudanum. Opium mixed with a little alcohol was widely used to provide pain relief in a time when there was nothing else. It was even given to teething children. Laudanum was highly addictive and amongst the "opium eaters" of the day were the poet Coleridge and even the reformer, William Wilberforce (the extent of the Regency's opium addiction was exposed in Thomas de Quincy's, "Confessions of an Opium Eater ").

There was also a continuous fight by the Bank of England against counterfeit money. The practice of coining is well known, coins of the realm had their edges clipped off and the clippings were melted down to make new coins.  What is less well known is the trade in counterfeit notes. This was particularly prevalent during the time this book is set, because bad harvests and the ongoing war had reduced the stocks of gold bullion in England to low levels and the Bank of England issued vast quantities of poorly designed one and two pound notes that were easy to copy. Clever forgeries of bank notes were produced and circulated via the use of "utterers", poor women who would use the notes to buy relatively cheap goods and receive good coin in change. The victims were usually amongst the poorer sections of society such as innkeepers, small shopkeepers and market stallholders, many of them poorly educated and unlikely to spot a forgery. Naomi Clifford tells the sad but fascinating story of , Sarah Bailey, who from the reports could justly be labelled a "feisty" woman. She was  caught passing forged notes and was eventually hanged for her crimes, but only after giving the authorities a run for their money! You can read her story here -

And you might ask, why not call the book the Viscount's Vendetta? To me, "vendetta" conjures up the turbulent, violent times of the Borgias and Medicis, but when I checked more closely I found it originally related to blood feuds amongst families from Sicily and Corsica, and it was not used in England until the mid 19th century. I therefore decided it would be safer not to use the word for a book set in 1817.

The main characters are complex and damaged. Deborah Meltham thinks herself too disfigured for any man to want her and she has given up all thoughts of marriage and devoted her life to looking after her beloved but dissolute brother. Gil, Viscount Gilmorton, is grieving for the loss of his loved ones and carrying a heavy burden of guilt because he was not there to protect them. When Gil and Deb's paths cross, there is an instant attraction, but once the truth is known, there are surely far too many obstacles to a happy ending. Aren't there?

Well, of course not! In the best traditions of Harlequin Historical romance Deb and Gil have to struggle against the odds to be true to each other and themselves and hope you will agree with me that, in the end, they deserve their happiness.

Happy Reading!
Sarah Mallory / Melinda  Hammond

Pursued for the Viscount's Vengeance is published mid August 2017 in North America and the UK by Harlequin / Mills & Boon

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Georgette Heyer: Why I love 'Sprig Muslin'

Sir Gareth Ludlow, is one of Heyer’s quiet heroes; he’s tall, good-looking, rich and has impeccable manners; but he is, perhaps, a touch dull at the beginning. Being an excellent uncle to his lively nephews and nieces is all very well, but it’s not going to make any female reader’s heart beat faster. He needs a problem. His presenting problem is that his beautiful and adored (but spoilt and wilful) betrothed, Clarissa, was killed in a carriage accident seven years previously, leaving Gareth broken-hearted. His only brother was killed at Salamanca, and, if the baronetcy is not to die out, then Gareth must marry and father an heir. Thinking he’s past the age of falling in love, Gareth decides to offer for the Lady Hester Theale who has been on the shelf for years.

But there is another problem he needs to address – and I’ll come back to that.
Hester Theale, our heroine, is twenty-eight. Although pretty and ‘with a sweet face’, she never ‘took’ when she came out, possibly because of shyness. Now, she’s the unmarried daughter, living at home, bullied and ignored by her self-important and prudish brother, Widmore, and his vulgar wife. Her three younger sisters have all married and Hester is at their beck and call whenever they want her help. Her father, the Earl of Brancaster, is addicted to gambling. He sees Hester more of an encumbrance than a comfort.

Hester has no life of her own. She copes in the only way she can by detaching herself emotionally and developing a sort of vagueness. She’s also slightly myopic; although whether she really is short-sighted of whether it’s part of her defence mechanism, isn’t clear. She comes across as mildly dotty.

When Lord Brancaster announces that Sir Gareth has made her an offer, Hester drops her shawl in shock. ‘If you are funning, it is not a kind jest. … I do not wish for this splendid match, Papa.’

The earl is horrified: ‘You must be out of your senses!’

‘Perhaps I am.’ The ghostly smile that was at once nervous and mischievous again flitted across her face.’  Plainly, something is going on, something which her family can’t see. But the readers can see and, by the end of the chapter, when Hester ‘cried herself quietly to sleep’ we realize that she has always loved Sir Gareth and she cannot bear the pain of marrying the man she loves when she knows that he doesn’t love her.

When Gareth does propose to her, he sets out the disadvantages of her present situation with a great deal of sympathy, ‘You are not valued as you should be; neither your comfort nor your sensibility is a matter of concern to any member of your family…  He makes it very clear that he is not offering her romance. But he can offer her, ‘A position of the first consequence. You would be at no-one’s beck and call, you would be your own mistress – with a husband who, I promise you, would not make unreasonable demands upon you. You may be sure that I would always attend to your wishes, and hold you in respect as well as affection. Would that not mean a happier life for you than the one you now lead?’

Her face was very white, she pulled her hand away, saying in a stifled voice, ‘No – anguish!’

And we feel for her. Gareth has tried to be reassuring but he’s got it terribly wrong. He would not make 'unreasonable demands' of her; does he mean that he won't be visiting her bedroom too often? His calm assessment of her situation and what he’s prepared to offer is, unintentionally, surely very hurtful.

There is, as I said earlier, another emotional problem Gareth needs to sort out. Warren, Gareth’s brother-in-law, tells his wife, Beatrix, that, in his view, Gareth was well out of it, when Clarissa was killed: ‘She was devilish headstrong and would have led Gary a pretty dance.’  When Beatrix protests that, ‘I know she was often a little wild, but she was so very sweet! ... She would have learnt to mind Gary, for she did most sincerely love him,’ Warren says, ‘She didn’t love him enough to mind him when he forbade her to drive those greys of his… Flouted him the instant his back was turned and broke her neck into the bargain.’      

Gareth was twenty-eight when Clarissa died; I think we are allowed to ask just how emotionally grown-up he was. If the sensible Warren could see through Clarissa’s beauty and pretty ways, why couldn’t Gareth? And since then, we know that he hasn’t looked at another woman. Emotionally, he’s not only frozen, he also needs to learn about women.

The last third of Sprig Muslin is mainly set in The Bull, a small inn in the obscure village of Little Staughton, where the wounded Gareth is lying. He has been shot by mistake by Hildebrand Ross, a young undergraduate with a penchant for writing stirring dramas. With him is Amanda, a typical Heyer younger ‘heroine’, a spirited and very pretty girl, something like Clarissa, but much more practical and down to earth. Hildebrand has brought Hester to nurse Gareth – and she has had to escape from her home to get to the inn. They pretend she is Gareth’s sister.


This is the part of the story I just love. I love the way that, whereas at Brancaster Park, Hester was ignored by all, here, she is central, important, and heeded. She knows how to nurse Gareth and what will make him comfortable; she’s pragmatic about the runaway Amanda, feeling that she should marry her Captain and go to Spain with him; and she helps Hildebrand come to terms with the nearly fatal accident with the pistol, and his squeamishness about blood.

Gradually, she sheds her vagueness and shyness and becomes the calm hub at the centre of their little world. She soothes the angry landlady who wants to throw them out; she tells Hildebrand that she does not know how she would have got on without him; she accepts Amanda’s determination to marry her Captain as perfectly reasonable; and petal by petal she opens up and allows Gareth to see her as she really is. 

As for Gareth, the reader can see that he, too, is reassessing his feelings. There is a wonderful episode where Hester hides behind a chintz curtain in Gareth’s room when an aged friend of his father’s comes to visit. Amanda has told him that Hester is Gareth’s ‘natural sister’. After the visitor leaves, Hester emerges from her hiding place.

‘Gareth!’ said Hester in an awed voice. ‘You must own that Amanda is wonderful! I should never have thought of saying that I was your natural sister!’
   He was shaking with laughter, his hand pressed instinctively to his hurt shoulder. ‘No? Nor I, my dear!’   
   Suddenly she began to laugh, too. ‘Oh, dear, of all the absurd situations - ! I was just thinking how W-Widmore would l-look if he knew!’
   The thought was too much for her. She sat down in the Windsor chair and laughed till she cried.’   

Gareth looks at her, ‘a glimmer in his eyes, and a smile quivering on his lips. ‘Do you know, Hester, in all these years I have held you in affection and esteem, yet I never knew you until we were pitchforked into this fantastic imbroglio! Certainly Amanda is wonderful! I must be eternally grateful to her.’

Georgette Heyer by Howard Coster, 1939

Heyer doesn’t tell the reader what Gareth is thinking but lets us know that, ‘Sir Gareth had his own reasons for not wanting to bring his visit to an end.’
Hester, we learn, is putting on a new bloom as she sits ‘in comfortable companionship’ with Gareth in the orchard ‘valued as she had never been before.’  And we sense that this is true; up to now, no-one has ever truly valued Hester.

We don’t see inside Hester’s head, instead Heyer shows us, and we can see for ourselves that Gareth and Hester are both falling quietly and deeply in love. This time, Gareth has chosen well, and he's learnt how to tell her what she needs to hear. We feel sure that it will be a happy marriage.   

I find Sprig Muslin a very satisfying book and it is one of my favourites.

Elizabeth Hawksley