Thursday, October 30, 2014

A new slide show

Like many other people, I love making slide shows. This one features some of our recent books, but the Animoto slide show tool is very easy to use and could be used for family photos or other similar things. I think it would be a good way of displaying completed craft projects or artwork. Does anyone else use it? If so, what for?

Click play to see a selection of our books

Amanda Grange

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar

I've had such a lot of fun writing my Christmas novella, Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar. I love Advent calendars, and have collected them since I was a little girl, and still get excited choosing one for Christmas. I especially love the traditional ones with pictures behind the doors and windows, though I quite like a chocolate one too!
It was the German calendars I really loved when I was young, which depicted snowy villages, glittering with other tantalising  worlds behind the doors, giving glimpses into the houses of girls and boys who lived a different life to me that made them so special.
Thinking about the magic those pictures in the traditional calendars used to create as a child, gave me the idea to combine some of my favourite loves - Jane Austen, Christmas, Advent calendars, magic, time travel, and Pride and Prejudice. It's as close as I'll ever get to writing a romantic Christmas fantasy! If you'd like to read Chapter One please click here.

Lizzy Benson visits Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, and buys a special advent calendar in the gift shop, but strange things start to happen when she opens up the first door and finds herself back in time with all the beloved characters from her favourite book, Pride and Prejudice. As she finds herself increasingly drawn into an alternate reality, Lizzy discovers not only is Mr Darcy missing from the plot, but also that Jane Austen has never heard of him. All Lizzy can hope is that she can help to get the story and her own complicated love life back on track before Christmas is over, and bring everything to a happy resolution in Jane Austen's imaginary world!

It's a variation on Jane Austen's book, Pride and Prejudice, in which she stars herself, and there is a chapter for every day of the Advent season. It's been lovely to indulge in the impossible, mixing up all my favourite things about Jane Austen, Christmas and time travel.
I've had a lovely time creating a pinterest page for this book - it's a great way of 'getting in the mood' or for inspiration if you're writing, though it's highly addictive once you start!

I've made a book trailer using the templates on Animoto - there always seems to be one which just fits the theme of my book, and as there is a beautiful magical snow globe in my book, I thought this was very appropriate. You can see it here - I hope you enjoy it!

Finally, I had great fun creating a chocolate Advent Calendar on Snapajack  - the picture shows the design for front and back - you can use your own pictures to create an individual, personalised calendar - I've made a couple for prizes to be given away on release day - November 4th, on Austen Variations. I hope you'll join me!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Christmas Recycling!

Cover it has now on Amazon. Christmas at Hartford Hall ( First published by DC Thomson in 2009) A sweet Cinderella story – perfect for Christmas reading. When Elizabeth's grandfather died, there was no sign of a will; and, devastatingly, she discovered she was now dependent on his heir. When the new Lord and Lady Hartford and their twin daughters arrived, they reduced her status to that of a servant. Elizabeth is determined to leave Hartford Hall in the New Year and find work as a governess. But the arrival of Sir James Worthington to make an offer for Lady Eleanor Hartford only leads to her difficulties....
This is the cover for Linford Romance -large print.
This is the cover it had for Musa.
This is the cover it had from MWPN way back in 2009. Astonishing that this little book is now in it's fourth incarnation - just love the cover design by Jane Dixon-Smith Which cover do you like best? Fenella J Miller

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Ghosts at Pemberley

I am delighted to tell you all that the first of a four books series of Jane Austen variations – The Pemberley Series – The Ghosts at Pemberley is now available as a pre-order on Amazon Kindle. I know that traditional publishers stopped taking Jane Austen related books some years ago but there are still a large number of readers, especially in America, who still love to read anything Jane Austen linked.
As my first Jane Austen variations, Miss Bennet and Mr Bingley, was a Pride & Prejudice book I decided to continue the same vein. The main difference between my new book, The Ghosts at Pemberley, and my first is that this one is set after the weddings and introduces new characters. I have already started writing the second in this series in which Georgiana Darcy is the heroine and a handsome major the hero.
This is the blurb: The Ghosts at Pemberley - a Jane Austen Variation. Miss Kitty Bennet is travelling to Pemberley in order to become a companion and friend to Miss Georgiana Darcy when disaster strikes. Adam Denney, the Rector of Bakewell comes to her aid and is much taken with her. Bingley is hurt in the accident and he and Jane are obliged to remain at The Rectory, whilst Kitty continues her journey. The coach accident is just the first of many terrifying incidents that occur once Kitty is established at Pemberley. Somehow her arrival has woken the spirits that occupy the East wing and these ghosts are determined to get their revenge on those who trapped them in the spirit world. Elizabeth is in danger and Darcy is determined to keep her safe. Can the power of God defeat the evil or will Pemberley and its occupants be destroyed? The Ghosts at Pemberley will be released on 30th October and as the book is set in the two weeks before Christmas it is suitably topical. Fenella J Miller

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination

I can feel diffident posting about exhibitions that some of you might not be able to visit like Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination, which has just opened at the British Library. Fortunately, the British Library, in partnership with BBC 2 and BBC 4, will be celebrating all things Gothic this autumn with a series of exciting programmes exploring the literature, art, architecture and music – not to mention the famous people associated with the Gothic over the last 250 years. So, dear reader, you won’t be losing out.

At the preview, the curator Tim Pye defined the essentials for a Gothic novel: a dark medieval castle, terrifying spectres, mistaken identities, battling knights and a general air of doom. One could also add moonlight seen through clouds, bats, ivy and owls.

  1. Tintern Abbey
The above picture of Tintern Abbey from 1812, shows a gentleman and a lady visiting the ruined abbey at night. Naturally, there is ivy, a full moon (and clouds) to add to the frisson of terror. Note the servants holding up flares to cast shadows and enhance the Gothic experience.

The exhibition opens with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), the first Gothic novel. I enjoyed the lively Czech cartoon film of the novel, done as a magic lantern show – very atmospheric, and full of what Walpole called ‘gloomth’. And there are a couple of painted prints of ruined abbeys, designed to be back lit by candles flickering behind the Gothic windows.

 2.  Castle of Otranto

A spate of Gothic novels followed in the 1780-90s, the most famous of which was Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. Mrs Radcliffe was a skilled writer and the book gave the genre literary respectability. The exhibition also has a case containing all seven of the ‘Northanger Horrids’ which Isabella Thorpe recommended to Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, published by the Minerva Press with creepy titles like The Castle of Wolfenbach (1794) by Eliza Parsons, and The Necromancer (1794) by Carl Friedrich  Kahlert.  

3. Nathaniel Grogan The Mysteries of Udolpho

Interestingly, perhaps as a result of the French Revolution, the genre began to change, the first of many transformations in its 250 year history. Tim Pye suggested that the French Revolution was so frightening in its own right that the Gothic novel had to up its game: you can’t have reality being more blood-curdling than the Gothic novels specifically written to terrify.

The genre moved from spectres in ruined castles to monsters in human form; for example, Frankenstein’s monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and later, Dr Polidori’s The Vampyre, inspired by Lord Byron’s fragment written whilst they were all staying at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Leman in the Alps. Now the monstrous came in human form and, worse, the vampire could be someone one knew – in disguise.

4. Frankenstein

There is also a terrific clip from the 1935 film The Bride of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester. Her screams (at about three minute intervals) pierce the air as you go round the exhibition.

The exhibit which probably attracted the most press attention was the mid-Victorian Vampire Hunting Kit borrowed from the Royal Armouries. One can only speculate as to why they own such a thing – unholy disturbances in the Bloody Tower, perhaps?

The handsome box contains everything a respectable vampire-hunter could possibly want: wooden mallet and stakes, crucifix, rosary, Book of Common Prayer, bottles of Holy Water, crushed garlic, a pistol, an iron mould for making bullets, and some bullets.

5: Vampire Hunting Kit. 

I cannot resist ending with a splendid poster from 1890 of the decidedly Gothic melodrama Manhood. It has all the elements of a Gothic play: noble hero with clinging heroine, Gothic ruins, moonlight, ivy, bats, an owl, a graveyard, and a man with a gun, loaded one presumes with a silver bullet, who has just shot another man – probably a vampire in disguise.

6: Manhood poster.

I’m looking forward to the BBC programmes.

Elizabeth Hawksley

The British Library exhibition, Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination runs from 3 October, 2014 to 20 January, 2015.

1.  Tintern Abbey, 1812, courtesy of the British Library Board
2.  Watercolour of The Castle of Otranto from Walpole’s personal copy of the book, courtesy of the British Library
3.  'Lady Blanche crosses the ravine’ from The Mysteries of Udolpho by Nathaniel Grogan, late 1790s, courtesy of the National Gallery of Ireland
4.  Frankenstein’s monster from the first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, courtesy of the British Library
5.  Vampire Hunting Kit, courtesy of the Royal Armouries
6.  1890 theatre poster for Manhood, performed at the Elephant and Castle Theatre, courtesy of the British Library Board

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Traditional Regency romance

Like many other people, I grew up reading and loving Georgette Heyer's Regency romances. They are full of wit and humour, with likeable heroes and heroines as well as a full range of other characters. One of the appealing things about Heyer's romances is that the heroines are of all different ages and types. Some are young debutantes, some are blue stockings and some are maiden aunts.
My Regency short story, The Dashing Miss Langley, has a maiden aunt for the heroine, but Annabelle Langley is not a wallflower by any means:
She was a striking sight, her Amazonian figure clad in a sky blue pelisse and her fair hair topped with a high-crowned bonnet.
She is full of common sense and knows just how to handle her niece, Caroline, when Caroline is convinced she's fallen in love with the gardener's grandson. Instead of arguing with Caroline, she remarks:
'If Able is your choice, then what business is it of mine?'

When she tempts Caroline with a trip into the country and offers to teach her how to drive the carriage. Caroline can't resist. But when a storm drives them off the road, the dashing Miss Langley encounters an old love at the inn, after which her own romantic difficulties take centre stage.Will she be reunited with him, or will circumstances once again push them apart? And what of Caroline? Will she marry the gardener's grandson?

The story was originally included in The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance but it's now available on Kindle as a single story. Quite what Georgette Heyer and the dashing Miss Langley would have thought about books being downloaded out of thin air and being read on a device small enough to fit into a reticule, who knows?!

The Dashing Miss Langley is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US as well as all other Amazons.  If you're a fan of traditional Regencies, I hope you enjoy it

Amanda Grange

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


While reading about the life of William Wickham, Britain’s first spy master, I came across a reference to ‘the notorious and disgraced Lord Camelford.’  Obviously I had to find out more.
        Born at Boconnoc near Lostwithiel in Cornwall – the house purchased by the Pitt family in 1717 after selling the famous Pitt diamond to the Regent of France (the diamond ended up in the hilt of Napoleon’s sword) - Thomas Pitt was a cousin of both Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and William, Lord Grenville, secretary of state at the Foreign Office. 
        Thomas spent his early years in Switzerland then returned to England and was enrolled at Charterhouse School.  He later claimed those years were the happiest of his life. So why did his father want to move him to a different public school? Whatever the reason, in a sign of things to come, Thomas rebelled and enlisted in the navy as an able seaman.  
        By the age of sixteen he had already acquired a reputation for bad behaviour. Yet when most of the crew abandoned HMS Guardian after she struck an iceberg near the Cape of Good Hope Pitt remained on board. Aided by the remaining crew he helped Captain Riou bring the ship safely into Table Bay.
        Pitt then joined Captain Vancouver’s ship, HMS Discovery on a voyage of diplomacy and discovery. Because all officer berths were taken he again signed on as an able seaman.  
        In Tahiti he was flogged for trying to buy the favours of an island woman with a piece of broken barrel hoop. He was flogged again for unauthorised trading with Indians at Port Stewart, flogged once more for breaking the ship’s binnacle glass while fooling about, and finally clapped in irons after he was discovered asleep when he should have been on watch.  
        In 1793 his father died, elevating Thomas to the peerage as the second Baron Camelford, an event that would have lethal repercussions for Captain Vancouver.    This same year when one of the ships on the expedition returned to England, Vancouver sent the unmanageable Pitt with her. But Pitt jumped ship in Hawaii. After being discharged from another ship and shipwrecked off Ceylon, eventually he got back to Europe, seething at what he perceived as ill-treatment by Capt. Vancouver who had returned to England in 1795.
        Pitt challenged Vancouver to a duel which the captain declined saying he was unable ‘in a private capacity to answer for his conduct in his official duty.’ So Pitt stalked then attacked him on a street corner in London.  While accusations and rebuttals flew back and forth in the press, an ill and exhausted Vancouver died.
        In 1797 Pitt was promoted to lieutenant and given command of HMS Favourite over the head of her first lieutenant, Charles Peterson, who was his senior.  Refusing to serve under Pitt, Peterson transferred to HMS Perdrix.  When both ships were in Antigua in 1798, the two men quarrelled over rank.  After Peterson three times refused Pitt’s orders, Pitt shot and killed him.
        Pitt was court-martialled but acquitted, probably due to Admiralty panic over the recent Spithead and Nore mutinies.  He joined another ship but was arrested for trying to make an unauthorised visit to France, then at war with England.
        Leaving the navy he returned to London but his behaviour didn’t improve. Fined for knocking a man downstairs during a quarrel, he fought a mob that smashed his windows because he hadn’t lit lamps to celebrate the peace with France.
        Yet in 1799 he donated £1500 towards the establishment of a school in Soho Square.
His volatile temper led him to challenge his friend, Captain Best, to a duel over an uncomplimentary remark Best was supposed to have made to Pitt’s latest fling who had previously been Best’s mistress.
The following day Best asked Pitt in the name of their friendship to withdraw his challenge. Fearful of being called a coward Pitt refused.
On 7th March 1804 they met in a field near Holland House. Pitt fired and missed. Best’s shot left Pitt paralysed and bleeding internally. He died three days later, leaving instructions that Best was not to be charged. He was twenty-nine years old. The title died with him.
        Despite his strong sense of honour and proven courage, Thomas Pitt’s violent nature and frequent legal battles saw him condemned as mad.  Today’s medical knowledge might offer a less scathing diagnosis. 

Jane Jackson.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Two series set in the same period? What was I thinking?

I’m currently writing two new historical romance series for two different publishers. How do I tell them apart?
They’re set in the same period, the 1750’s, but the premises are very different. One is straight-down-the-line historical romance. The “What if…?” that kicked the series off was plausible. What if the Jacobites continued to plot in the 1750’s? What if a new threat appeared, a branch of the Stuart family with a legitimate claim to the throne and more plausible heirs than the Young Pretender and his brother? By the 1750’s, Charles Stuart had degenerated into a bitter, fat, drunk, and his brother Henry had become a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. But what if more lurked, somehow?
That series started with a family. A duke and his five sisters decided to name their children after the Roman emperors. So their outlandish names led to them banding together. And when the Jacobite threat came – well, the gloves came off.
My other series, Even Gods Fall In Love has a completely different “What if…?” What if the gods of ancient Rome returned to Georgian Britain? This was prompted by a contemporary remark in a letter, that the aristocracy behaved like the Olympian gods, and expected to be treated that way. So what if they really were the gods?
The series takes the premise that the gods are reborn, Dalai-lama style, in new bodies. So some (not all) of the aristocracy are gods. This of course takes the series a completely different way, into the historical paranormal category.
I want the historical details in both series to be right. Even if the gods weren’t there, even if there wasn’t a branch of Stuarts, I wanted both ideas to fit into a genuine eighteenth century context. So the research I do for both series is broadly similar. When I wanted a whorehouse for Connie to take shelter in for “Rogue in Red Velvet,” I went to Covent Garden and took pictures, chose the house and took note of the doors, windows and general placement. If I hadn’t been able to do that, I’d have gone to Google Maps and the history books, as I do when I write my American-set contemporaries.
But the series have turned out to have very different feels. I thought the Emperors of London would be deadly serious, but the twists and turns have given me characters who don’t always want serious. They want to live and breathe, and have their laughs as well as the tears. That’s one way I differentiate. If I make the characters as real as I can, then they breathe the life into the series. They  might walk the same streets, eat the same food as the gods, but they don’t behave the same way.
I didn’t want these series to interact. I’ve done that before, and it can get messy! So the series are separate. You won’t find Olympian gods in the streets walked by the Emperors. It’s possible that Bonnie Prince Charlie might turn up in a gods book, but he was a real character. One of the people I created for the series never will appear.
The gods series has also created its own character. It’s a trifle darker, and the high concept has given it a character of its own. I’ve just created a London club for it, which will be mentioned in the second book and featured in the third, and I have mazes, ichor, and madmen. All of which has to be researched!

I think what I’m saying is that if you pick up an Emperors book, you might like to take a look at a gods book, but don’t expect the same people to turn up!

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Historical Novel Conference

On Saturday I was part of the HNS conference as I sat on a panel with Maureen Lee, Bernadine Kennedy and Jean Fullerton. There were ten different talks and workshops on at the same time and we were delighted that we attracted a good audience. The talk was about the perils and pitfalls of writing 20th century fiction - but a lot of what was said also applies to writing in the Georgian and Regency era. Dialogue was one of the subjects discussed and both the panel and audience we all agreed that using dialect doesn't work and that it's better to change the rhythm of the speech to indicate that the speaker is historical. Gadzookery is not popular! Another area talked about was research. Although there is no danger of anyone having been alive during our period to dispute our facts, it is perhaps easier to research modern history as there are not only books but aural records to refer to. Too many historical details can ruin a story for the reader - we all agreed that history should blend in to the story not dominate it. Characters and plot are always more important than the history, whatever era you are writing in.
Regency books are different to other historicals in that they are a sub-genre with their own rules and reader expectations.They are always romantic, often contain an adventure and must have a happy ending. That they must also be historically accurate goes without saying. I was unable to go to any of the other interesting talks and workshops and wished that I could have done. The conference was well attended and well organised. I am looking forward to 2016 when the next one is in London again. Fenella J Miller

Friday, September 05, 2014

Surnames in Jane Austen’s Novels

I have just been re-reading Maggie Lane’s brilliant Jane Austen and Food. In it, she makes the perceptive point that Mrs Norris in Mansfield Park is ironically named - from the French nourrice, a nurse. She behaves in the most un-nurturing way towards Fanny Price and seems to take every opportunity to put her down. 

I began to think about other Jane Austen surnames which might be significant in some way. Fanny Price’s own surname, for example, could also be viewed as ironic. For much of the novel, she is seen to have little value. Her own mother is happy to give her away to her rich relations, surely a traumatic experience for a timid ten-year-old girl. And Henry Crawford values her only as a plaything when he aims ‘to make a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart’.

Fanny is not taken in. Underneath her shy and retiring exterior, she is spot on in her judgement of the Crawfords and, when Henry proposes, she courageously refuses him, in spite of her uncle’s strong disapproval of such wilfulness. She is, as Sir Thomas, Edmund and even Henry Crawford himself eventually realize, priceless, with a moral worth beyond value.

Even the cloddish Mr Rushworth’s name carries a hint of irony. Maria rushes into her engagement with him, unable to bear the humiliation of Henry leaving without declaring himself. And worth is not a quality we associate with Mr Rushworth – or, indeed, Maria.

We might note, too, Mary Crawford’s letter to Fanny about Tom Bertram’s illness. She makes it clear that, if Tom dies of his fever, then a future ‘Sir Edmund Bertram’ would sound very well.

In Emma, there is surely more than a touch of irony in Frank Churchill’s name. Frank – that is, honest and open – he is not. And Churchill carries associations of Christian good behaviour, which, again, is wide of the mark. By contrast, Mr Knightley’s name suits his character and we see him taking the time and trouble to be kind to Miss Bates and Harriet Smith, both persons of little social consequence.

In Sense and Sensibility, the name Dashwood might be interpreted as an oxymoron.  Marianne certainly has the dash which leaves Elinor with too much of the phlegmatic, though steadfast, wood. Elinor needs more dash and Marianne needs to be more grounded (wood), which is exactly what happens over the course of the book.

Persuasion is, perhaps, the novel with the most interesting surnames. We know that Sir Walter Elliot is very aware of the value of a good name. He is scathing of Anne visiting an old school friend Mrs Smith: ‘A mere Mrs Smith – and everyday Mrs Smith, of all people and all names in the world to be the chosen friend of Miss Anne Elliot…’  Anne makes no reply, though she is well aware that her sister’s friend, Mrs Clay, a woman with no fortune, and ‘no surname of dignity’ is covertly making up to her father.  

Mrs Clay’s surname sounds suitably cloddish and sticky but she has enough guile to elope with William Elliot, Sir Walter’s heir, at the end of the book. 

Sir Walter himself is overly concerned with appearances. At the end of the book, when he learns that Anne is going to marry her former love, Captain Wentworth (a match which had gravely displeased him ten years earlier), he decides that, (Captain Wentworth’s) superiority of appearance might be not unfairly balanced against her superiority of rank; and all this, assisted by his well-sounding name, (a name of ‘worth’) allows him to give them his blessing.     

The surnames in Pride and Prejudice make a different point. Both Darcy and Lady Catherine de Bourgh have surnames of Norman-French origin, thus demonstrating their aristocratic credentials.  However, and this could be an example of Jane Austen’s ironic sense of humour, the maiden name of both Darcy’s mother and Lady Catherine was Fitzwilliam, a surname which indicates illegitimacy as fils (French: son) was used for the illegitimate children of kings or princes. Fitzwilliam might be an aristocratic name, but there’s a definite whiff of irregular behaviour about it.

The one book which doesn’t appear to use surnames to indicate anything about their owners is, surprisingly, Northanger Abbey. Why, I wonder.

All pictures are from The Ladies’ Pocket Magazine
Elizabeth Hawksley


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Wednesday, September 03, 2014


As a writer I am often asked where my stories come from. Clearly they have to come from somewhere, and I call it my dream factory.  Today I thought I would show you around.  So, welcome, come on in….

First there is the Creative Section, where new stories or scenarios are dreamed up. This department has several offices, including the car or even the train, for I often think out plots or ideas while I am travelling. Then there are the lanes and moors around my home. The first picture (left) is an ancient trackway where I walk regularly. The moors are particularly spectacular at the moment, with the heather in full bloom

And I also have a helper: this Willow, a member of my creative team – he doesn't say a lot but I often use him as a sounding board for my ideas. To date he has never made one negative criticism!

This next picture is the sort of sky that inspired my recent book The Scarlet Gown: it is set in Yorkshire and my characters are caught in a storm on the moors, easy to imagine when you have this sort of cloud hanging over you.

Then there's the Research & Development Department, where I sort out details of the setting, the historical background, perhaps find some Regency or 18th Century costumes. And of course I have to give my characters A Life. Characters need to have a back story, perhaps a career and sometimes a home. R & D involves libraries, the internet, lots of my own reference books and also places like this,
Lyme Park (aka Pemberley, for some of us!). Wandering through an old property can be very helpful in working out the layout of a character's home, or getting the feel for just how cold and draughty these stately piles must be in winter, not to mention all the hard work involved in lighting fires or getting hot water up to a bedroom!

Then  we come to the hard work – putting it all in order and turning it into a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. This cluttered space is the assembly line, where the dreams and nebulous ideas are pulled together into a (hopefully) coherent whole. (Notice the two stars in pride of place on the top - my Rona Rose Awards from the Romantic Novelists Association. They inspire me to keep going).  I spend so many hours here, typing away, until at last I am happy enough with the result to send it off to my editor.

If we are sticking with this analogy, then Harlequin must be the production line, because they take my typescript and after a bit of judicious editing my dreams are whisked away and turned into a book, not only a digital version but a lovely printed paper version, and here's a selection of recent titles that now sit proudly on my shelf.

So, I hope you enjoyed your whistle stop tour: I am going to get back to work now, but before I go just one more picture – at the end of the day, I put my feet up and relax after a hard day being creative and my assistant needs his rest too: he likes to be covered up cosily so he can sleep, ready for another hectic day in the dream factory!

Sarah Mallory / Melinda Hammond
Never Trust a Rebel – Sarah Mallory, Harlequin Historical, pub. September 2014
A Lady at Midnight – Melinda Hammond – published as an e-book.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Mrs Darcy's Diamonds - A new novella

I've a new novella coming out on September 2nd - Mrs Darcy's Diamonds. It's the first of a new series of tales which have jewellery for their inspiration. I've been doing some research into my family history and discovered that on one side of my family were three generations of jewellers and silversmiths - now every time I see a piece of silver or jewellery made in Birmingham I can't help wondering if my ancestors had anything to do with its origins.
This first novella is also inspired by Pride and Prejudice - I've loved re-visiting all the characters from Jane Austen's wonderful novel and adding a few of my own. One of the really fun things I love to do is to find portraits which represent Elizabeth, Darcy, Mrs Bennet, etc. and a great way to do this is to put together a Pinterest board. I hope you'll take a look at the boards I've put together for some of my recent novels - I warn you, it's a highly addictive pastime once you make a start. I loved thinking about the jewellery, costumes, interiors and houses!

I love this portrait of Sir Humphry Davy- I think he makes quite a good Mr Darcy!

Here's a little blurb about Mrs Darcy's Diamonds:
Elizabeth is newly married to Fitzwilliam Darcy, the richest man in Derbyshire, owner of a vast estate, and master of Pemberley House. Her new role is daunting at first, and having to deal with Mr Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is a daily challenge. But, Elizabeth is deeply in love and determined to rise to every test and trial she is forced to endure. When her husband presents her with a diamond ring, part of the precious and irreplaceable Darcy suite of jewels, she feels not only honoured and secure in her husband’s love, but also ready to accept her new responsibilities and position. 
Mrs Darcy knows she will face exacting scrutiny at the approaching Christmas Ball, but it will be her chance to prove that she is a worthy mistress, and she is excited to be playing hostess to the Bennets, the Bingleys, and the gentry families of Derbyshire, as well as Mr Darcy’s French cousins. Antoine de Valois and his sister Louise have arrived at the invitation of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Elizabeth is delighted that this young and lively couple are helping to bring Miss Georgiana Darcy out of her shell. However, when her ring goes missing before the ball, Elizabeth is distraught, and her dilemma further increased by the threat of a scandal that appears to involve the French cousins.

Here's the first chapter-I hope you enjoy it!

Longbourn House, Hertfordshire - 11th December 1812

‘My dear, you are determined to vex me at every turn,’ said Mrs Bennet to her husband on the day before they were to travel to Pemberley House in Derbyshire. ‘I simply must know your opinion.’
Mr Bennet exhaled deeply from behind his newspaper. He preferred breakfast to be a quiet affair, but why he still had an expectation for such a fancy he had no idea. For the last four and twenty years he had listened to Mrs Bennet’s unceasing prattling, chittering, twittering and chatting. He considered that breaking his fast would have been a quieter occasion had he sat in Meryton High Street as the militia marched by with a full military band blaring the songs of the day. He looked coyly round the edge of his newspaper to see Mrs Bennet arrayed in a bandbox of jewels from a sparkling diadem on her head to several rows of necklaces around her neck and layers of bracelets jangling on her wrists.
‘I cannot help thinking that such old-fashioned jewels will be out of place at Pemberley,’ whined Mrs Bennet, ‘and I cannot decide which to wear for the ball. Ought I to wear the cut-steel or the diamond paste? Of course, Lizzy will be wearing the real thing - no paste for her!’
‘My father made the purchase of the cut-steel for my grandmother. They were made by Mr Matthew Boulton himself, were considered most desirable at the time and came all the way from the exotic midlands.’
‘Exotic! What are you talking about, my dear? I never heard Birmingham called anything so fanciful in my life.’ Mrs Bennet caught her husband’s expression and knew she ought to temper her outbursts. ‘Cut-steel is very pretty, to be sure, by candlelight, but I am afraid I shall look like a country bumpkin with neither taste nor fashion. Besides, I am to wear a very fine gown - Lizzy sent the silk herself - and I do want to look my best.’
Mr Bennet’s expression softened. Just occasionally, he saw a glimpse of the girl he’d married, the beauty who had stolen his heart. But he loved to tease.
‘Then the diamond paste will set you off a treat!’ he declared, quickly retreating behind his paper.
Upstairs, Miss Kitty Bennet heard all that was going on below with some amusement. She’d escaped the dining parlour as soon as she could, knowing what was about to transpire. Her own feelings about the coming ball were those of great excitement, spoiled only by the knowledge that her sister Lydia was not to share the momentous occasion. Pulling out Lydia’s last letter, she reread every word. At least Lydia did not seem so very upset that she’d been snubbed or at least, that was the impression she was trying very hard to give.

I know, Kitty dearest, that if Elizabeth were to have her way, she would have invited us, I am certain of it! Mr Darcy has NEVER liked my beloved Wickham, and if we’ve been snubbed, it’s HIS doing. Neglecting a sister will forever be on HIS conscience, if he has one, which I doubt. He can keep his WRETCHED ball - in any case, I daresay it will be a stuffed shirt sort of affair. I shall think of you all when I am surrounded by the handsome beaux of Newcastle on Saturday night at the assembly. Major Armstrong declared last week he has never seen such loveliness gracing the dance floor, and little Pickersnick, Wickie’s right-hand man, has quite stolen my heart. I never thought I should find another to take the place of Denny for flattering with ‘passione d’amore’ but he is the sweetest, most attentive little lap dog. He blushes as scarlet as his coat whenever I look his way, and he is willing to do just anything I ask - even delivering my little notes to Captain Webb who is the most good-looking man of my acquaintance, and I declare, quite in love with me.

Kitty put the letter away. Perhaps Lydia was not as sanguine as she tried to make out. She would have loved her sister to be with her at the ball - try as she might, she knew it just wouldn’t be as much fun without Lydia poking fun at all the Pemberley guests. Still, she was very pleased with her new gown and she couldn’t wait to wear it. It was laid on Lydia’s old bed - stiff, glazed muslin with a peach underskirt, the gown was embroidered on the hem and around the neckline. Her first really grown-up dress, a present from Elizabeth who knew her taste exactly. Lizzy had sent some muslin for sister Mary too, not that she was interested in clothes at all. Kitty decided Mary might have been more excited if she’d been sent a pile of books.

They were to travel to Pemberley that very morning and after stopping just one night at an inn along the way, they would arrive at their destination the following afternoon. The Longbourn servants were already running hither and thither whilst Mrs Bennet emerged from the breakfast parlour flapping her arms like a demented bird, barking instructions, scolding her daughters and generally not being very useful to anyone. Mr Bennet disappeared into his favourite room and escaped into a book, ignoring the sounds without, until summoned that the carriage was ready.
‘Well, my dears, can there be anything more exciting than the prospect before us?’ said Mrs Bennet, settling herself in the coach, arranging cushions behind her head and swaddling wraps around her knees to keep out the cold. ‘Just think, with good luck we may be attending two more weddings on our return.’
‘How so, Mrs Bennet?’ her husband queried.
‘Mary and Kitty, of course.’
Mr Bennet beamed at his daughters sitting opposite. ‘Whose weddings are you gracing with your presence, my dears?’
‘Oh, Mr Bennet!’ His wife looked at him in exasperation. ‘I am talking of their weddings - how can you be so obtuse?’
‘Are they engaged? Congratulations, Mary, congratulations Kitty - and all arranged without any inconvenience to myself. Mrs Bennet, I declare you are England’s greatest matchmaker.’
‘I declare you enjoy vexing me on purpose,’ Mrs Bennet replied, clamping her lips together and pointedly staring out of the window as they passed through Meryton and out onto the open road.
Mr Bennet merely winked at his daughters, opened his book and promptly fell asleep.

Jane Odiwe

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