Friday, January 23, 2015

Gothic!



“Gothic” is a word that instantly conjures up images of pointed arched windows and doors, dark ruins, gargoyles, ghosts and terror.  But in literature it’s so much more and an exhibition recently on at the British Library shows how the genre of gothic fiction has evolved from the very first example, The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, written in 1764 – 250 years ago!

This novel featured medieval castles, ghostly apparitions, mistaken identities, knights, shadows and doom.  It was based on a dream Walpole had, but at the same time it has its roots in medieval stories of chivalry and romance which Walpole felt were so much better than the novels of his time.  It wasn’t until the second edition, however, that the phrase “a Gothic story” was added to the title page and so a genre was born.

He also invented the literary device of pretending to have found an old manuscript, the “discovered document” then being published as if it were an old story rather than just written.  He didn’t officially let on that he was the author until the second edition.

A gothic novel usually has plenty of terror, wonder, mystery and darkness.  Castles, old abbeys and ruins often feature, or at the very least a creepy house of some sort.  The heroines seem to be predominantly virgins (or naive young ladies) who need to be rescued by dashing, courageous heroes.  And the villains are bad, very bad.

The landscape and/or weather can play a huge part in these novels, as for example in Wuthering Heights.  Ann Radcliffe, author of The Mysteries of Udolpho among other novels, was apparently a master at creating a terrifying atmosphere using descriptions of the landscape.  I confess that although I own a copy of that book, I have yet to read it.

Gothic novels were extremely popular and Northanger Abbey, mentioned by Elizabeth in a previous post, was Jane Austen’s wonderful satire of what happens when you read too many of these types of stories.  The exhibition I went to featured first edition copies of all the books the heroine of Northanger Abbey reads, which was interesting to see.  I love seeing old books, especially first editions!

My first encounter with the genre was when reading Victoria Holt’s books during my teens. On the Night of the Seventh Moon, Mistress of Mellyn and Kirkland Revels for example all featured an innocent young heroine who walked right into danger, finding herself in a scary castle or some such place with a brooding hero and something dark and threatening happening.  The reader was never sure whether he was actually a hero or a villain until he saved the heroine from some dire peril.  I loved those books, but I’m not sure I would like them as much now (haven’t tried reading one since).

Then there was Edgar Allan Poe – I avidly read all his stories and adored the poem The Raven.  It’s just so wonderfully evocative!  I also happen to love Thomas Grey’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, although I never thought about it as a gothic poem before going to this exhibition.  I just liked the way it sounded when read out loud.

The gothic genre is definitely still alive and well, with all the paranormal books and horror stories that abound.  For me though, I think I prefer the old kind – although scary, it wasn’t quite as graphic.  What do you think?

Christina x
www.christinacourtenay.com 

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Monday, January 05, 2015

Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey

I’ve just finished reading this, the third book in HarperCollins’ The Austen Project, a 21st century re-writing of Jane Austen’s novels. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as much for Val McDermid’s skill in giving the story a completely credible 21st century makeover, as for the unputdownable book she came up with. I shall not reveal the neat twist at the end - though I suspect that many of you will already have read the book.

The Edinburgh Festival makes an excellent alternative to Bath – plenty of things to see which will broaden Cat’s mind – and relocating Northanger Abbey to the borders is just right.

Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey

I also think that Cat being obsessed with vampire fantasy really works. Cat buys into the vampire fantasy world and allows herself to believe that it fits uncannily well into what she knows of the Tilneys. Of course, she’s going to be frightened witless and make an utter fool of herself.

However, the real technical problem for Val McDermid, surely, was how to create a believable Catherine Morland, a seventeen-year-old who must be naïve and ignorant of the world – but in the 21st century. Her solution is brilliant: Cat has been home-educated by her mother, a Primary school teacher, so she has never had to cope with her dinner money being stolen; never been laughed at or shamed in class; she’s never had a best friend to giggle with – or to break up with; and, apart from her brother James, she knows no boys.

Furthermore, she has a highly-developed imagination and lives almost entirely inside her head where she is the heroine of her own adventures following the vampire stories she so loves. I suspect that for many of my fellow bloggers who were ‘scribbling children’ this may ring as bell, as it did with me.

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

Cat’s admirable parents try to keep her feet on the ground but they don’t grasp the extent to which her growing up largely in isolation from her peers has made her potentially vulnerable. If Cat had been educated normally, she’d probably have had a crush on the lovely Bella who talks the talk, knows who’s hanging out with whom, and where the cool places to be seen in are - and grown out of it. In the stories Cat tells herself, best friends are never devious or manipulative, so she simply doesn’t recognize Bella for what she is. Bella becomes an instant soulmate – and Cat is loyal to her friends.

She has no idea how to take Johnny Thorpe’s mixture of boasting, fulsome admiration of herself, and heavy hints she doesn’t understand and which make her feel awkward. Bella and Johnny are types quite outside her experience and, if she’s to emerge unscathed, she’ll have to wise up fast. 

Claremont Lake  - a touch of mystery

I love the way Val McDermid shows us all this. It’s interesting, too, that sex is a subject Cat shies away from; it embarrasses her. When Bella comments, ‘Oh God, that was the first sleepless night your brother gave me.’ She paused and gave a cat-like smile. ‘But not the last’, Cat’s reaction is to shift the conversation away as fast as possible. It’s obvious to the reader that this is an area where Cat is completely ignorant. And it fits. I liked the way that her growing feelings for Henry come tentatively (‘she felt a curious yearning sensation in her stomach’) and she’s cautious about labelling it. That, too, rings true. We feel that she will sort out sex later, when she’s ready for it.

Val McDermid is equally successful in her portrayal of Henry Tilney. In the original, Henry is a clergyman: intelligent, fun to be with, and he opens Catherine’s eyes to a number of things, including explaining Isabella and Frederick’s behaviour. He’s Cat’s emotional mentor. However, he has no personal problems to overcome, which a hero needs.

In McDermid’s version, Henry is still Cat’s emotional mentor but we get a hint of his back story. When Cat demands, ‘How would you feel if your fiancée was letting another man come on to her in public?’ We learn that ‘Henry’s face froze’. The discerning reader picks up that there is something in Henry’s past which has hurt him badly. Did Freddie seduce Henry’s own girl-friend, perhaps. We aren’t told but, if we read carefully, we realize that Henry, too, has emotional problems, and this makes him more real and, dare I say it, more intriguing than the Reverend Henry Tilney. 

Dillington House, standing in for Northanger Abbey

McDermid’s Eleanor Tilney, too, is more filled-in as a character than the original. She longs to do an art degree but her father has forbidden it. She is also lonely and misses her mother, who died when she was thirteen. She confesses to Cat: ‘It’s like I don’t have anybody to show me how to be a woman, if that makes sense?’ She is forced to live in an entirely male environment with no consideration of what she needs.

Cat, who has two sisters and comes from a loving family, is unselfconsciously affectionate towards her new friend and Eleanor responds to this.

In fact, one of the most interesting strands in the book is Cat as catalyst. Just before she sets off for Northanger Abbey, Andrew Allen, a highly-successful theatrical ‘angel’ tells her that having her to stay, ‘has broadened the range of what I’ve been to see…. I think you may inadvertently end up earning me quite a bit of money.’

St Alban’s shrine – a touch of Gothic

Cat is astonished. ‘Her parents had never encouraged her to think of herself as having a positive influence on anybody’s life.’  Not only may Cat have to do some internal readjustments, we realize that her parents may have to do so, too. Her lack of pretentions and her openness have also affected both Henry and Eleanor for the better; they, too, are moving on  Cat’s innocence holds a sort of moral mirror up to the other characters in which their true natures are displayed.

If you haven’t already read this book, I highly recommend it. Not only did I enjoy it thoroughly, it also gave me great pleasure to think about it at some length and to write this piece.

Elizabeth Hawksley

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Highlights 2014

2014  was an excellent year for new writing - for the first time in three years I was back to my original output of 4/5 books a year. I continued to sell all my books for Large Print and this means they will eventually appear in the library. However my writing career took off when Amazon introduced KU - and I was a Star Author for two months running. I also got a two page spread in the local paper and the photo was flattering -although the one of my cat was even better. Christmas at Hartford Hall was No 1 on the Regency list for three weeks. The year is ending more on a whimper than a bang - but then - who has time to read in December?
I have a new Regency coming out in January - Lord Ilchester's Inheritance - and am part of a joint venture which will be releasing a boxset  in time for Valentine's Day. Very excited about this -there will be more news nearer the time.
Happy and peaceful New Year to everyone.
Fenella J Miller

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Highlights 2014


My highlights on the writing front this year arrived completely unexpectedly, which is often the way, I find. I belong to The Islington Archaeology and History Society, a small society with about three hundred members which produces a quarterly journal. In the spring journal, there was a request from the editor asking for reviewers. I applied, expecting an occasional worthy tome on something of local historical interest to drop onto my doormat.
 















Tea and cakes at Buckingham Palace!

What I did not expect was an immediate invitation from the Victoria and Albert Museum to The Glamour of Italian Fashion preview! This was swiftly followed by an invitation to the first Bloggers’ Breakfast at the Queen’s Gallery (part of Buckingham Palace) to see the preview of The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy, 1714-1760.

I was delighted to go to both of these and to subsequent previews. What has been particularly enjoyable is the fact that, as well as reviewing them for the IAHS Journal, they often provide wonderful material for my Historical Romance UK blog. The HRUK blogs need to be slanted differently, of course, but I enjoy that.

I wish all my fellow HRUK bloggers a happy and successful 2015.

Elizabeth Hawksley

 

 

 

Highlights 2014

How quickly a year flies by!

2014 was a very busy year for me with 4 titles published with Harlequin (writing as Sarah Mallory), starting with Lady Beneath the Veil in February, then At the Highwayman's Pleasure in March. The Scarlet Gown followed in July and Never Trust a Rebel in September.Since then I have been busy working on a book set at Waterloo, A Lady for Lord Randall, which will be published by Harlequin early 2015, so watch this space for more information on this!

I have also been busy re-releasing my Melinda Hammond titles, and recently issued A Lady at Midnight on Kindle, with a super cover, which I really love!

May I take this opportunity to wish everyone happy reading and good fortune for 2015.


Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory.

Happy New Year

I haven't managed to get into the blog for a long time unfortunately, but I wanted to say what a lovely job you are all doing here.  The photos this Christmas are beautiful and the articles are varied and interesting.

I've been working extremely hard on my various books and am doing much more in the saga line now than historical, though I do have 2 Regency books with Mills and Boon this Christmas - The Brides of convenience trilogy, volume one was out December and volume 2 will be out next month.

However, the highlight of my year as far as Regency books is concerned was the number one best seller I shared with Nicola Cornick at amazon.  Amazon did a promotion on the book and it was exciting to see that red number one best seller mark against it in the lists.

So that's my small piece of news.  I wish all of you success with your writing and your lives.

Best wishes, Linda

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ice Skating



Ice skating seems to have become very popular here in the UK, with ice rinks opening in time for Christmas every year in various locations – outside the Natural History Museum in London and in the courtyard of Somerset House being two of them.  Hurrah, I say!

For me, ice skating was something I did as a child all winter long.  From the moment the first snow arrived and it was cold enough for ice to form, the skates came out of the closet (although usually they had to be traded in for a bigger pair as I’d grown over the summer).  At all the schools in my home town, the janitors would get their water hoses out and start pouring water onto the football pitch, layer upon layer which was left to freeze each night until finally we had our improvised skating rink.  We were allowed to use it during break times and many of our PE lessons were held there too.  Huge fun!

The Swedish lakes take a little longer to freeze to the right thickness – you don’t want to skate on a lake unless you’re absolutely sure you’re not going to fall through the ice!  (Although just in case, all Swedish kids are given lessons on how to get out of the hole if you should happen to fall in).  But once they freeze, it’s lovely to fly across the ice on your skates, sun shining on the huge polished expanse.  You just have to watch out for any bumps, ie little waves that have frozen in mid-lift, or you go flying in a completely different way and risk knocking your teeth out!  (I almost did once but got away with a bruised and bleeding chin).

Photo from Wikimedia
File:January-scene-skating-early-1820s.jpg
Ice skating has been around for thousands of years – Vikings, for example, strapped bits of polished bone to their shoes, a practical way of getting around quickly as you can go quite fast.  The Dutch made things easier by inventing the steel blade with sharp edges – more or less what we still use today – and ice skating came to England from the Netherlands, becoming very popular especially in the 19th century.  It’s obviously been a source of winter enjoyment for ages, as witness all the Christmas cards featuring ladies in long dresses gliding across ponds with some gallant man holding their hand (or not).

Winters in England used to be more severe so the chances of finding some suitably iced over pond must have been much greater.  And even if people couldn’t afford the metal runners to tie onto their shoes, I’m sure they found other ways of sliding on the ice.  My friends and I certainly did, the few times we’d forgotten our skates at home!

Anyone can learn, but obviously it’s not easy in the beginning.  As long as you remember to bend slightly forward though (never lean back!), you won’t fall far.  Even better, if you have a helping hand to hold onto, it’s a great way to pass an hour or two on a cold winter afternoon – I’d highly recommend it!

Happy Christmas everyone!

Christina xx

PS.  Check out my latest Regency novella, Never Too Late, which is out on Kindle tomorrow!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Jane!

Today is Jane Austen's birthday. She was born on December 16th 1775 and would be 239 if she were still alive. We're sharing our thoughts about the immortal Jane in honour of that birthday and I'm going to start the ball rolling.

Jane Austen has travelled with me through life. I first discovered her when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I found Pride and Prejudice in my local library and as soon as I read the first page I was hooked. It was the humour that appealed to me. When Lizzy and Darcy entered the story, things just kept on getting better. I lived every moment of it and it became my favourite book, which it has been ever since. I then read all of her other books, some of which I loved instantly and some of which have grown on me over the years. Writing the heroes' diaries was something I adored and although it took me about 8 years, it was time well spent. I loved digging deeper into Jane's novels and discovering things I hadn't noticed, even though I'd read them many times.

And now, here we are again at her birthday, which is a reminder of her genius and of what she has given to the world.

What are your thoughts, feelings and memories of Jane? How has she affected your life?

Amanda Grange

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas and Winter stories for Lizzy and Darcy lovers!

Thanks to Amazon, our own knowledge and help from everyone who left comments in our last post about Christmas stories featuring Jane Austen's characters, here is an updated list (including two winter stories which might include Christmas). Again, if you can think of any we've missed, please let us know in the comments. Follow the links to find details on Amazon.

Twelve days of Christmas by Jennifer Lang

Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar by Jane Odiwe

Christmas with Mr Darcy by Victoria Connelly

Twelfth Night at Longbourn by Maria Grace

A Darcy Christmas anthology by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan and Carolyn Eberhart

Christmas at Pemberley by Regina Jeffers

   

Mr Darcy's Christmas by Elizabeth Aston

Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy by Barbara Tiller Cole

Holidays with Jane anthology - various authors

The Ghosts at Pemberley by Fenella Miller

The Mission: He Taught Me To Hope, a Vignette by P O Dixon

Tis The Season For Matchmaking by P O Dixon

A Touch of Classic And Contemporary by Elizabeth Ann West and Barbara Silkstone

And here are two winter stories:.

Winter at Netherfield Park by Jennifer Lang


A Winter Wrong by Elizabeth Ann West

Happy reading!

A Regency Saturnalia



When we think of the things we take for granted at Christmas, most of them turn out to be Victorian developments, not Regency.
The Christmas tree, elaborate presents, the Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, even the very special time of year, they were all invented or developed by the Victorians to help in their resurrection of family values.
When William IV died in 1837, the monarchy was at a low ebb. William was the last of the “wicked uncles” and his death draws a line under the era of debauchery and frivolity, and the feverish atmosphere of war that marked the early nineteenth century, particularly the Regency era.
Christmas was just one of many celebrations. The big one as far as the Church was concerned, was Easter, when Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead. Christmas was fairly arbitrary in any case, chosen by the early Catholic church to conveniently cover the period when the pagans went nuts at the winter solstice.
The remnants of the solstice are still there. After all, what does the Christmas tree have to do with the Christian story? Precious little. Then there’s the Christingle orange, one that does have religious significance, but has been dragged kicking and screaming into the church.
Our Christmas is a cunning mix of religion and happy party times. It is supposed to bring families together, but in the Regency era, it was a much quieter celebration, marked by churchgoing.
It overlaps with the Twelve Days, the Roman Saturnalia, when everything was turned upside down, when masters became servants and vice versa.
Many of our Regency ancestors did celebrate that one. A party where the masters served the servants and the servants gave the orders, often held at Twelfth Night. But any servant who wanted to keep his or her place would take care not to make the party too realistic! I can see it being embarrassing for some. Maybe the maid didn’t want to order her mistress to fetch her some figgy cake!
Saturnalia originally had a religious theme. The Romans liked that one, and they held it between the 17th and 23rd December. It was supposed to recreate and celebrate the golden age of the gods, when everything was perfect.
It would appeal to the flip side of the Regency zeitgeist—order overturned, the unthinkable happening. The kind of society that produced the Hellfire Club would celebrate it with relish.
It died out in the more staid Victorian era, when Christmas completed its transition from a wild, half-pagan celebration, to a religious celebration of family.
Which do you prefer?

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