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


Friday, June 30, 2017

Before the Rain Comes

As I sit writing this with a jumper on and a rather dull day outside, it's difficult to believe that only a week or so ago we were basking in ridiculously warm temperatures by UK standards. Okay, it's the summer and so we expect (or hope) for some sunshine and warmth. Blazing heat, however, is a different matter. Clearly I am showing my age as I kept coming out with lines such as "it was never as hot as this in my day." But actually it was, of course. I vividly remember the hottest summer on record, 1976, when water was rationed and we were sent home early from school but it was too hot to play.

England has a reputation for being a cold, wet country. There are plenty of references in literature to
the prevalence of rain in the English weather. The Canterbury Tales opens with a line referring to April’s sweet showers – but it also refers to the “drought of March.” It is a surprising feature of the UK climate that drought is actually a recurring theme through history. Where I live on the chalk downs the springs are recorded as running dry in the drought years and the river, which is a “winter bourn” that relies on chalk streams to feed it, can sometimes dry up for several years.

As early as 682 AD there is a record of a terrible drought in Southern England and the crops dying in the fields and the population starving. In the medieval period the lack of rainfall could threaten the livelihood and then the lives of a significant part of the population. If wells and rivers ran dry and harvests failed the people died. Even the richer folk, the clergy and nobility suffered a loss of income from tithes although that is comparative when you can’t feed your family. 1730 was a drought summer and there have been at least ten major droughts since 1800.

One feature of the 19th century was that there were several instances of years when the winters were dry in a row leading to a shortage of water and a widespread failure of local water supplies. By this stage the industrialisation of society meant that supplies could be brought in by train but it also meant that there was a greater demand for water for industrial purposes in mills and works, some of which were forced to close as a result. It was not unusual for the use of water to be limited to four hours per day for months on end.

One consequence of drought was the spread of diseases such as typhoid and cholera. The “Great Stink” of London in 1858 was caused in no small part by the hot summer and the lack of rain. The Thames and many of its tributaries were overflowing with sewage and the warm weather encouraged bacteria to thrive causing both illness and terrible smells (smells so bad that there were plans for Parliament to move upriver to Hampton Court and for the law courts to relocate to Oxford.) This ghastly picture from the time, called The Silent Highwayman, illustrates all too vividly how disastrous a time it was. The situation was eased when the weather broke with heavy rain, as it always seems to do.

One of the rather curious things that occurs when there is a drought is that parch marks in the fields
reveal the outlines of ancient building and field systems. Another is that those valleys flooded to make reservoirs such as Mardale in the Lake District and Ladybower in Derbyshire reveal the ruins of the villages lost when the area was “drowned.”

King's tower and Queen's bower,
And weed and reed in the gloom;
And a lost city in Semmerwater,
Deep asleep till Doom.

- 'The Ballad of Semmerwater' by Sir William Watson

A lake called Semer or Simmer Water near Askrigg in Wensleydale (picture above from is said to cover the site of the lost village of Simmerdale (sometimes referred to as Old Bainbridge), submerged as a judgement on the wickedness of the inhabitants, according to old Yorkshire folklore. Whether there is any truth in this or not, it’s a story that I long to research and write about – perfect for a timeslip romance!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pipes, Snuff and Poison

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

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

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

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

I have not yet killed off a character with tobacco, but I well might. The dangers were known. Tobacco is listed in a late 18th Century treatise on poisons. According to the writer, there was evidence to suggest it was an active poison, “yet everyone knows that under the influence of habit it is used in immense quantities over the whole world as an article of luxury, without any bad effect having ever been clearly traced to it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Nightingale Chronicles - Better Bend Than Break

Today my post is unashamedly promotion. The third book  in The Nightingale Chronicles is now on pre order on Amazon and for sale everywhere else. The link to the other venues crashes this page so not going to include it. 
I have enjoyed writing these books and the final one, All Well That Ends Well will be out next year sometime. The first three have been set in East End of London and Colchester, my home town. Made research so much easier. The final book will be in East End again and in Chelmsford.
Here is the blurb and the first couple of pages. Hope you enjoy it enough to download.  
Her name was Sarah Cooper – she could hardly believe she was no longer a Nightingale like her brother Alfie. She twisted the thin gold band around her finger and smiled shyly at her husband.
'Well, Sarah love, you've made me the happiest of men.' He didn't kiss her but pulled her hand through his arm and led her back down the aisle.
'I can't remember ever being so happy, Dan, and to think that only two years ago…'
'No, lovey, put the past behind you. You're my wife now, ma to our three boys, and it's my job to look after you all.'
She emerged from the church just as the heavens opened. Was this a bad omen? Then the children threw themselves at her and she forgot her silly fears.
'Are we going to get wet, Ma?' Joe, the eight-year-old, asked as he danced around clinging onto her hand.
'Fraid so, son, but it's not far from the church to our house. If we all run it won't be too bad,' Dan said as he ruffled the boy's hair.
The youngest, John, held out his arms to be picked up. 'You're a bit too big to be carried, young man, and we can run faster holding hands.'
'Yes, Ma, I'm the bestest runner.'
Davie, almost as tall as his brother although he was a year younger, grabbed John's other hand. 'We're blocking up the doorway, Ma, we'd better set off.'
Dan took the lead with Joe close beside him; she raced along behind holding her skirts up with her left hand and clutching Davie's with the other.
The weather had been clement when they had set out to St Leonard's Church but the clouds had rolled in whilst they were inside exchanging their vows.
Dan already had the door open and they tumbled in laughing and shaking the rain from their clothes and hair.
'Joe, stay by the door so you can open and close it when anyone arrives. Would you look at that – blooming rain's stopped now – we could have waited and saved ourselves a deal of bother.'
'Never mind, at least our guests won't get wet. It's a good thing we didn't put out any of the food before we left or it would have been quite spoiled.'
'You get the kettle on, love, and I'll get the boys to start taking out the sandwiches and cakes. I still think we should have had some beer to celebrate the occasion.'
The front door opened and shut and her brother Alfie, and her best friend Betty Thomas, burst in laughing. They seemed a bit too cosy to her, Alfie was only sixteen and in her opinion far too young to be courting.
It was different for her, she had married an older man, someone with a good job who could take care of her and the boys. Alfie had done well for himself in London, come back with his pockets full, but he wasn't properly established in Colchester as yet and must be living on his savings.
'You should have waited a bit, Sarah, the rain stopped and the rest of us have walked here without getting wet.' Alfie was a head taller than her and looked older than his years.
'Don't just stand there, you and Betty have got jobs to do. I'm the bride – I shouldn't have to be waiting on you and everyone else today.'
Betty hugged her and dashed into the kitchen and Sarah heard her put the kettle on the range. The mugs, milk jug, teapots and sugar were all waiting. All that had to be done was boil the water and tip it in.
Dan joined her in the front parlour where they had decided to greet the guests as they came in before directing them outside. 'Is the backyard very mucky after that rain? Do you think we should stay in here?'
'Don't fret, sweetheart, no one will mind getting a bit of dirt on their boots. The boys are wiping down the benches and chairs so they won't be wet to sit on.'
'I can hear others arriving. I wish my ma could have been here to see me wed.'
He squeezed her shoulder and she wiped away the unwanted tears. Nothing was right about this marriage – although she loved the children, and was very fond of Dan, theirs wasn't going to be a proper marriage – at least not for the moment.
All his mates, and their families, from the timber yard crowded into the small house as well as Mr and Mrs Davies, and a dozen or so other friends of Dan's. She and Betty had made plenty of food so no one would go hungry. In pride of place, on the trestle that served as a table, was the cake. She had made this herself and was proud of her efforts – she hoped it tasted as good as it looked.
Halfway through the afternoon Mrs Davies drew her to one side. 'Sarah, lovey, I reckon one of the menfolk went to a beerhouse and brought back a few jugs.'
'I thought the noise was getting louder. There's nothing I can do about it, I just thought with so many children attending my wedding breakfast that alcohol wasn't a good idea.'
The front door had been left open to allow a welcome breeze to drift through the house. There was no danger that uninvited visitors would come in as Alfie's huge dog, Buster, was guarding the opening. It would be a brave person who tried to step past him.
The dog barked and she stepped back into the passageway to see what had disturbed him. 'Good heavens, Ada, I'm so glad you have come after all.'
Ada Billings had taken her in when she had been all but destitute and Sarah had kept in touch with her. 'Come out of the way, Buster, let my guests come in.' The dog heaved himself to his feet and stood there, waist-high, his long grey tail wagging.
'I hope you don't mind, I brought my oldest son, Robert, with me. He's a pal of your Alfie and has just got back from Harwich after his last voyage.'
'Have you not brought any of the children? There are more than a dozen playing in the yard with my three boys.'
'No, bless you, you wouldn't want my brood racketing about at your wedding breakfast. The neighbour's keeping an eye out for them so I can't stay long.'
Her son was tall, had broad shoulders, a pleasant face and startlingly bright red hair. He held out his hand and she shook it. 'I'm delighted to meet you, Mrs Cooper, Alfie has told me so much about you I feel we're friends already.'
'Please call me Sarah, everyone else does. Come in, the tea and ginger beer are in the kitchen and I'm pretty sure there's beer available in the yard.'
Robert smiled and wandered off – she wasn't surprised he ignored the tea and ginger beer. 'Ada, you look so much better. I can't believe the difference in you since I saw you a few months ago.'
'I told Billings there would be no more babies in my house and if he wanted a bit of how's your father he'd have to find it somewhere else. He's moved in with his fancy woman in Barrack Street and good riddance to him. My Robert is taking care of us now.' She beamed proudly. 'He's going up in the world you know, is taking exams and everything. I reckon he'll be a captain of a ship before he's finished.'
'He's a cut above his brother and pa, then? I didn't know the sons of ordinary folk like us ever got to be a captain of a ship. I'm pleased for you – your life will be so much easier from now on.'
A sudden burst of laughter outside interrupted their conversation. Sarah led the way into the yard to see what was causing all the commotion.
'Good heavens, they're playing the Reverend Crawley's game. I'm going to join in,' Sarah said, and ran across to take her place in the circle. The object of this game was to join hands with the people in the ring, but you couldn't hold the hand of anyone standing beside you.
She found herself attached to Robert Billings with her right hand and an unknown child with her left. It took a considerable time for everyone who wanted to play to get themselves in position. Now the fun started as the object was to untangle themselves without letting go.
She couldn't remember laughing so much in her whole life and when eventually the knot was undone to her astonishment she discovered there were two separate circles of players, one inside the other.
Dan put his arms around her and she leant back into his embrace. He rested his chin on top of her head and sighed.
'Is something wrong?'
'No, my love, I couldn't be happier. When everyone's gone, I need to show you something. Alfie and Betty are going to take care of the boys whilst we're out for a bit.'

Fenella J Miller

Better Bend Than Break is the third book in The Nightingale Chronicles, a series of four, Victorian family sagas. Sarah Nightingale marries Dan Cooper and becomes mother to his three boys. They move to a fine house of their own and Sarah has never been happier. Alfie Nightingale is obliged to do the right thing by Sarah's friend Betty, so now there will be two babies in the family. Then one disaster follows another and Sarah and Alfie have dreadful choices to make if they and their families are to survive.

Colchester 1843

Saturday, June 10, 2017

First Names: a second look

I really enjoyed Elizabeth Bailey’s post on May 30th. I, too, have always been fascinated by first names, especially what names were in fashion when, and what they indicate about their owners’ status. I have, over the years, done several blogs about this, but, today, I’d like to share with you some of the name books I have in my collection and how useful I’ve found them.


Oxford Dictionary of First Names by Hanks and Hodges

First up is the Oxford Dictionary of First Names by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges. My copy dates from 2003. It covers a much wider range of names than E.G. Withycombe’s Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names. For a start, the names included are not necessarily either English or Christian. It covers British (including Celtic) and European names; those of Canada, Australia and New Zealand; American names, Black names, and has special sections on Arab names and those from the Indian sub-continent.

‘Daisy’: A popular Victorian name brooch

For example, take the name Stephen. It gives the name’s history: ‘the first Christian martyr (Acts 6-7)’, the date, and what the name means: it comes from the Greek stephanos, which means a garland or crown. It then gives you the name in eleven foreign languages from French: Etienne or Stéphane; to Italian: Stephano; to Spanish: Esteban; and Hungarian: István. Really useful, if you want to introduce a sexy French nobleman escaping from Revolutionary Paris, or a Portuguese guerrilla harrying Napoleon’s retreating army in the Peninsular War.


Everyman’s Dictionary of First Names by Leslie Dunkling and William Gosling
My next book is Everyman’s Dictionary of First Names by Leslie Dunkling and William Gosling, published by Book Club associates in 1983. Leslie Dunkling founded The Names Society in 1969 and published a number of books about the origins of first names in the English-speaking world. He has plainly done some serious research and corrected some of E G. Withycombe’s conclusions, for example: ‘Miss Withycombe makes the rather extraordinary statement that Maxine is ‘a favourite modern French girl’s name’. In fact, the name will not be found in any French name dictionary, and French people consider it to be an English name.’   


The Guinness Book of Names by Leslie Dunkling
Leslie Dunkling also wrote First Names First and The Guinness Book of Names, both of which are well worth snapping up. The latter has tables of the top 50 first names of both sexes from 1838 (when the legal registration of births came in), 1850, 1875, 1900, 1925,1950 and 1971.)

Maxi Prénoms by Florence le Bras
Lastly, a French book of names called Maxi Prénoms by Florence le Bras published by Marabout in 2000 which I bought in Canada. It’s a fun book to browse through but I have to say that its etymological accuracy can be dubious. Take Cordélia. Le Bras says it’s from ‘de Delya’, that is the Greek island of Delos, which seems fanciful, to say the least. Withycombe and Dunkling agree that it’s probably a variation of Cordula, one of the companions of St Ursula.
I take the names I use in my books very seriously - as I know you all do. I try and make sure that they are not anachronistic. All the same, I still hanker after heroes with exotic names!

Elizabeth Hawksley

Monday, June 05, 2017

The Legend of Corryvreckan

Whirlpools, Viking Princes ,George Orwell & Austen.

Hi Melinda here.
This post is a little different, but I hope you will bear with me, because  although it does not relate directly to the Regency, it does involve myths, legends and a few literary links, which I hope you will appreciate!

 I have just returned from an Island-hopping holiday in Scotland and the highlight of the trip was chasing whirlpools in the Gulf of Corryvreckan.  You may think there is no link with Regency romance here, but I am sure that anyone who writes historical adventures would find their imagination running riot,  as mine was, and I have no doubt that many sailing ships of the time tried to sail through the Gulf, and possibly some of them foundered. There are many stories surrounding this area and the whole experience was truly inspiring. I could easily imagine the fears of those early sailors who suddenly found themselves in what appears to be a giant boiling cauldron.

The Gulf of Corryvreckan is a narrow strait between the islands of Jura and Scarba off the west coast of Scotland. The seabed at this point is very deep (around 100m) with numerous humps and holes, including one huge hole going down 219 metres and an equally huge pinnacle which rises to just 29 metres from the surface. The effect of these two features forces water upwards into the tidal flow, where is forms whirlpools, even when conditions are otherwise calm.

At full strength the currents can reach over 10 knots, and in stormy conditions standing waves can be up to 5 metres high.  Imagine you are a sailing ship wanting to sail against such a current.  Apparently, it is not too bad at slack water, but ships under sail, and even modern boats without powerful engines, can find themselves going backwards.

Many sailors have drowned trying to navigate through the gulf of Corryvreckan, and – to give you a literary link – George Orwell, who was living on Jura at the time, was nearly drowned there. He had taken his nephew out in a dinghy which lost its motor and was in danger of being sucked into one of the whirlpools. The story goes that he tried rowing but lost the oars, but he still managed to get himself and his nephew to the shore, where they were rescued by a lobster boat.  That was in 1947: if he had perished, then he would not have finished his most famous work, 1984.

We visited the Corryvreckan with SeaFari Adventures (, sailing from Easdale  in a powerful open RIB and had to dress appropriately in waterproofs and a life jacket.
Dressed for the Occasion!
We had three experienced crew members with us, who explained what caused the phenomena and told us some of the tales surrounding the Corryvreckan. They took us into the heart of some of the whirlpools, so that we were spinning around with the water. There was a spring tide but the weather conditions were very calm, so although the waters were choppy the waves were less than a metre. They still provided plenty of spray, though, so our waterproofs were necessary!
 We watched as large areas of the water surface became very flat and calm before swelling upwards and turning into a churning mass of water that would then form itself into a whirlpool. It was exhilarating to be so low in the water that one could reach out and touch the surface, which was calm one moment, boiling the next. It really was like being on top of a giant, bubbling cauldron.

One legend says that Corryvreckan means Breacan's Cauldron. The Viking Prince Breacan wanted to marry the Lord of the Isles' daughter, but to do so he had to prove his courage by anchoring his boat in the whirlpool for three days. He took advice from his father's wise men who told him it could only be done by using three ropes, one of hemp, one of wool and the third made from the hair of pure maidens.

Breacan followed their instructions and at first it seemed he would succeed, for although the hemp and wool ropes broke, the one made from virgins' hair held firm – until the third day, when it broke because one of the maidens was not as pure as she made out! The hapless Breacan drowned in the whirlpool.

And another literary claim (although tenuous), is that the whirlpool of Charybdis, described in Homer's Oddysey, is in fact the Corryvreckan!
As a writer I spend most of my days sitting at my desk making up adventures for my characters. Indeed, I would not describe myself as an adventurous person, but I thoroughly enjoyed "playing" in the whirlpools. It was exciting, exhilarating and maybe, as Austen says - "None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”  

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A love affair with names

From my earliest writings, I’ve had a fascination with names. I collect them, make lists, and pore through them, relishing the sounds they make and imagining the characters they will be – hopefully one day.
Alisaundre, Odierna, Laureola, Hierytha, Pertesia, Mariamne, Jesmaine
How they roll around the tongue!

Most of them are still waiting, not yet crossed out. They are too obscure to use, outlandish even some of them: Salathiel, Baldassare, Theldry, Gerente, Jurdi, Odinel, Sagard, Teague, Jolenta, Truffeni. Also out of period, unsuitable for the time.

My bible for historicals is The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names by E.G. Withycombe, of which I now have a second copy by my bed. The other lives above the PC with the writing related books.

The great thing about Withycombe is the references to when the names were fashionable and which level of society used them. You also get nicknames, variants and surnames derived from the name, plus versions in other languages.

Elizabeth, for example, has a whole page of history. We learn its origin from Hebrew Elisheba, and how it travelled across Russia and Europe to England via France (where it became Isabel) and only became hugely popular after the Tudors – for obvious reasons. It has more diminutives than any other name: Betsy, Betty, Bess, Eliza, Beth, Lizzy, Tetty, Tetsy, and a host more in other languages. But no surnames, strangely enough.

Withycombe makes for fascinating reading. I can get lost in there for hours. It’s my first port of call when I’m looking for names for a new hero or heroine. I tend to flick through first, avoiding letters recently used so you don’t get George immediately followed by Gerard in the next book. If a particular name doesn’t jump out at me, I have to go more in depth and pick up a version of the name within the definition.
Dowsabel from Dulcie perhaps. Gatty from Gertrude. Meriel from Muriel. Fillida from Phyllis.

There are endless possibilities; you get spoilt for choice. Although, as most writers discover, characters can be recalcitrant about names. They refuse to have the one you give them and insist on something else. Annoying, but it’s no use fighting it. You just have to give in and accept she’s going to be Caroline and not your preference of Cleome or Chloe.

I have other books of names, but Withycombe is my inspiration. I must have combed it a hundred times, building my pleasurable lists. You can see how well-worn it is.

One list I derived from Italian tombstones on a visit to Florence. I’ve only used one name from it, but I still love them.
Iole Lovisoni, Aida Lorenzini, Ofelia Zocchi-Lumachi, Dionisia Corti-Guidicci, Euridice Casini, Ezio Mangianti.
Can’t you just see the medieval pageant of gorgeously-clad veiled women passing before your eyes?

My French list has yielded names I have been able to use, but others are still waiting.
Hilaire, Gaspard, Eulalie, Hippolyte, Ignace, Venise, Celine.

 Other lists refer to names for contemporary novels, like one I have of gemstone names, many in actual use. Have you known Pearl, Amber, Opal, Sapphire, Jade, Emerald, Ruby or Garnet? You’d have to love a heroine named Topaze, Amethyst or Marcasite, wouldn’t you?

The modern lists carry names I doubt I’ll ever use, but simply cannot resist putting them in.
Azor, Bete, Botolf, Cyr, Jago, Levin, Udo, Ita, Floy, Bovo, Varvara, Kaeso, Dukana.

When it comes to lesser characters and I need a name fast, I go to the lists for specific centuries in The Guinness Book of Names by Leslie Dunkling. This one is also my go-to book for quick surnames when I run out of the lists I’ve made of usable place names I take from maps. Lists again, see. Can’t stop making them.

Just to prove there is a point to my obsession, here are some of the more obscure names picked out of the lists that I have managed to use, though not necessarily for the main characters.

Frideswid (the heroine from Friday Dreaming). The entry shown above for this states that Friday is a diminutive.
Berinthia (the cousin come companion/duenna in Fated Folly)
Hebe (the aunt from Seventh Heaven)
Melusine (my French/English heroine from Mademoiselle at Arms). You can see the arguable French version under the Millicent entry, which is where I got it..

Mairenni and Peneli (the gypsy matriarch and her son from An Angel’s Touch)
Maidie (the heroine Lady Mary Hope from Misfit Maid). The first illustration shows this was a diminutive for Mary.

And to prove the usefulness of Withycombe, my current Brides by Chance series features these adorable lovelies:
Isolde, Marianne, Edith, Apple (from Appoline), Lily (from Liliana), Delia, Chloe, and in the work in progress, Felicity. Waiting in the wings, we have twins Hetty (from Henrietta) and Sylve (from Sylvestre, the feminine form of Silvester).

I can’t think where you get the idea that the naming of names is my delight and my passion!

Elizabeth Bailey