Sunday, December 16, 2018

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!



Jane Austen born at Steventon Rectory, Hampshire on a freezing December 16th, in 1775, and today is her 243th birthday. She is many people's  favourite author - including myself, so here is Rudyard Kipling's poem in her honour.


Jane went to Paradise: 
That was only fair.
Good Sir Walter followed her,
And armed her up the stair.
Henry and Tobias,
And Miguel of Spain,
Stood with Shakespeare at the top
To welcome Jane.

Then the Three Archangels
Offered out of hand,
Anything in Heaven’s gift
That she might command.
Azrael’s eyes upon her,
Raphael’s wings above,
Michael’s sword against her heart,
Jane said, ‘Love.’

Instantly the under-
Standing Seraphim
Laid their fingers to their lips
And went to look for him.
Stole across the Zodiac,
Harnessed Charles’s Wain,
And whispered round the Nebulæ
‘Who loved Jane?’

In a private limbo
Where none had thought to look,
Sat a Hampshire gentleman
Reading of a book.
It was called Persuasion
And it told the plain
Story of the love between
Him and Jane.

He heard the question
Circle Heaven through –
Closed the book and answered:
‘I did – and do!’
Quietly but speedily
(as Captain Wentworth moved)
Entered into Paradise
The man Jane loved!

Jane lies in Winchester, blessed be her shade!
Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made.
And, while the stones of Winchester – or Milsom Street – remain,
Glory, Love, and Honour unto England’s Jane!


Happy Birthday, Jane!

Elizabeth Hawksley

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

The Romanovs: Every Jewel has a Story


The new exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Russia, Royalty & the Romanovs, is, as you might expect, a feast for the eyes, especially if you love Fabergé and late 19th century Russian jewellery – and who doesn’t? I thought, on this chilly December day, you might enjoy a peek at some of the treasures.



Fabergé Basket of Flowers Egg, 1901

I'm starting with a love story which, alas, ended tragically: Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), only child of the Prince Regent, later King George IV, and heir presumptive to the throne, and the handsome Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg who arrived in London in 1814, in the train of Tsar Alexander I who was there, as Britain's ally, for the premature Peace Celebrations to mark the defeat of Napoleon and his exile to the island of Elba. I can find no record of whether Charlotte actually met the Tsar, but she certainly met Prince Leopold, and they fell in love. She immediately met opposition from the Prince Regent, who wanted her to marry William of Orange, but Charlotte persisted and, eventually, she and Leopold were married on 2nd May, 1816.  



Princess Charlotte, portrait after George Dawe, 1817, wearing a sarafan dress

In the George Dawe 1817 portrait of Princess Charlottte, she is wearing a traditional Russian sarafan, or, more accurately, an English version based loosely on the sarafan. She is also wearing the Star of the Order of St Catherine, given to her by Tsar Alexander  I, which suggests that she might have met him.



The actual sarafan dress

The actual dress is also shown above. The sarafan is, in fact, a pinafore dress and the Princess wore it over an embroidered linen blouse. The blue silk pinafore has a drawstring under the bust which allows it to be loosened as her pregnancy took its course. The gold lace braid incorporating crimson silk was made in London.

Tragically, Princess Charlotte died in childbirth in 1817. Two years later, Princess Alexandrina Victoria (incidentally, Princess Charlotte's first cousin, and later to be Queen Victoria) was born, Tsar Alexander became little Drina's godfather. The friendship between the Russian and British royal families was firmly established, and, until the Russian Revolution put a stop to it, gifts were constantly exchanged and a number of Anglo-Russian royal marriages took place. 



Portrait miniature of Maria Feodorovna, née Princess Dagmar of Denmark, in a Fabergé frame, about 1895 

In 1862, Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward, married the Danish Princess, Alexandra. Four years later, in 1866, Alexandra’s sister, Dagmar, made a spectacular marriage to Tsar Alexander III, changing her name to Maria Feodorovna. The two countries’ ties became even closer.    



Casket of nephrite jade, with gold, silver, rubies, emerald and pearl decoration by Pavel Ovchinnikiv (1830-88), 7 x 17 x 10 cms. 


In 1874, Queen Victoria’s second son, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, married the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, daughter of Tsar Alexander II and the couple were given the above casket. 



Jewel flowers: l to r  Fabergé philadelphus: rock crystal, gold, nephrite, quartzite and olivines, 1900;  H.I. Wigstrom chrysanthemum: rock crystal, gold, nephrite, enamel, 1908; Fabergé pansy rock crystal, gold, enamel, nephrite and brilliant diamond, 1900

Two of Queen Victoria’s grand-daughters also married into the Romanov family; the Princesses Elisabeth and Alix of Hesse, daughters of the Queen’s second daughter, Princess Alice. Princess Elisabeth married the Grand Duke Sergei in 1884 and, most spectacular of all, Princess Alix, renamed Alexandra Feodorovna, married Tsar Nicholas II in 1894.




 Fabergé Mosaic egg and surprise, 1914

This egg is a technical masterpiece. It was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II but never collected and it was subsequently confiscated by the Bolsheviks. Its construction is ingenious, it has an egg-shaped yellow gold and platinum lattice frame into which tiny brilliant diamonds, rose cut diamonds, emeralds, topazes, sapphires, garnets, half pearls, and moonstones have been inserted creating a petit point tapestry effect.

The 'surprise' inside is a jewelled and enamelled miniature of the silhouettes of the Tsar and Tsarina's five children, l - r in order of birth: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei. The designer was the Finnish Alma Theresia Pihi, who worked for Fabergé. 



 Fabergé silver, amethyst and diamond brooch, c.1909


This brooch was given to Princess Mary, later Queen Mary, in 1909 by the Tsar Nicholas II and the Tsarina Alexandra during their visit to Cowes to enjoy the regatta. Their whole family was there; it was to be the last time that the two Royal families met before the First World War broke out. They dined on each others' yachts.  

Siberian amethysts are famed for their intense purple hue as you can see from the example above. It is a hexagon with a diamond framed border and a diamond bow at the top. It can be worn as a brooch or as a pendant. 


Fabergé cigarette case, 1908


     This vivid Art Nouveau royal blue moiré guilloché enamel Fabergé cigarette case with a sinuous two colour gold snake decorated with brilliant and rosé cut diamonds grasping its tail in its mouth was given to King Edward VII by his mistress, Mrs Keppel in 1908. The snake holding it's own tail is a symbol of  everlasting love. It is noticeably plainer than most Fabergé  objects we see associated with royalty - but it is supremely elegant. - as, indeed was Mrs Keppel.

Contrary to what one might expect, Queen Alexandra approved of Mrs Keppel who was kind, generous and tactful, and could always cheer up the King when he was moody. Alexandra even allowed Mrs Keppel to visit him to say good-bye when he was dying.

After his death, Queen Alexandra returned the cigarette case to Mrs Keppel, who remained on the Dowager Queen's guest list. That changed when Queen Alexandra died in 1925. Court life under Queen Mary and King George was much stricter (and possibly duller) and Mrs Keppel was firmly dropped. Then, in 1936, Mrs Keppel returned the cigarette case to Queen Mary so that it could always stay in the Royal Collection.

An interesting move and I can't help wondering why she did it. I don't altogether buy the 'official' reason.  


Vladimir tiara made by court jeweller Bolin for the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, wife of  Grand Duke Vladimir, 3rd son of Tsar Alexander II, 1874


This beautiful tiara is made of interlocking diamond circles set in gold and silver with pear-shaped pearl drops. It also has an extraordinary story. The Grand Duchess Maria, the first owner of the tiara, was living in the sumptuous Vladimir Palace in St Petersburg when the Russian Revolution broke out. 

In 1917, things got too hot and she fled, leaving her jewels hidden in her bedroom. But exile was expensive and she soon needed money. At the point, the story began to remind me of the Edwardian anti-hero, Raffles, creation of the novelist E. W. Hornung. Raffles, an ex-public school and gentleman burglar with bags of charm, is invited to various country houses, accompanied by his ex-fag, Bunny as his valet, where he steals the other guests'jewels.. Naturally he gets away with it.   


The Grand Duchess's son, Boris, accompanied by a British friend, Bertie Stopford, an art dealer with diplomatic ties (or, in some versions, a spy) came up with a highly dangerous plan. Disguised as workmen, they managed to gain access to the Vladimir Palace, get into the Grand Duchess's bedroom, retrieve the jewels and smuggle them out in the diplomatic bag. The jewels were taken to London but, en route, some of them were damaged. 


In 1920, Maria was the last Grand Duchess to escape from Russia; her journey, via Italy and France, was traumatic and she died a few years' later, leaving her jewellery to her daughter, Elena, Queen of Greece and Denmark - and, incidentally, Prince Philip's aunt.


Queen Mary, who loved collecting objects once owned by her murdered Russian relations, bought a number of jewels from Elena, including the Vladimir tiara. It was in a bad state and needed restoring. Queen Mary wanted to make it more adaptable and it now has emerald drops as well as the original pear-shaped pearls.   


So, dear reader, if you want an idea for a novel, you could do a lot worse than go for the story of the Vladimir tiara.

The exhibition, Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs, is on at the Queen's Gallery until 28th April, 2019. It is well worth seeing and it certainly has the 'Wow!' factor.

I did a companion blog on the exhibition itself on 18th November, 2018 on my http://elizabethhawksley.com website. I have listed it under 'Exhibitions', 'Royal Connections', 'Celebrating the Arts' and 'Victorian Age' categories. 

Photographs: courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2018 

Elizabeth Hawksley   



Friday, November 30, 2018

The fascination and process of using the amnesia trope


A quick search on Amazon for “amnesia historical romance” produces 221 results. If you cut out the historical and go for “amnesia romance” you get 1000 results. I should say that makes it quite a popular theme among authors.


Personally, I’ve used it twice. In A Trace of Memory, our hero finds the heroine wandering in his woods, dishevelled and unable to remember who she is or how she got there. Of his two sisters, who are with him, one believes Elaine genuine, while the other suggests she is guilty of an elaborate ploy to entrap the eligible earl. Nevertheless, they take her in and look after her, although Charles is in two minds.

My current book just launched features another earl who is thrown from his curricle and injured. Widow Chloe takes him in but when he wakes his memory is missing. In this scenario, his identity is known as he has a groom with him, but Lance has no idea who he is and the story revolves around his mistaking Chloe for his lost love, Clarissa.

The working out of an amnesia plot follows the same pattern as any other Regency story. Boy meets girl. Attraction is followed by complications which, when resolved, result in the happily ever after – or at least a hope of it. The interesting bit comes in how much we can develop the symptoms and progress of the condition and how much that influences the story.

An amnesiac, by definition, has an impaired memory. We are not talking here of the distressing condition of the gradual onset of dementia which we know is not going to go away. For the purposes of romance, that would be impossible. But a knock on the head can produce a more immediately severe condition that is, we hope, temporary.

The trick lies in how much memory our amnesiac discovers through the story. How much of the mystery do we choose to reveal, piece by piece? What triggers can we use to build even a vague picture of this person’s past, and indeed of their character? The opportunities are legion and the development of the story depends upon those choices.

You can, for example, change a man’s whole character, as demonstrated by Harrison Ford in the film “Regarding Henry” where the hero survives a bullet and becomes a completely different individual, warmer and loathing what he learns of the man he used to be.

With Widow in Mistletoe, a dream-induced memory of Clarissa pitches Lance into the first and major complication since Chloe resembles her. He also begins to discover an arrogant attitude he had as a lord that he now deprecates. His confusions abound and he begins to fear for his reason. Chloe becomes the only stable point in his new existence.

I must say that as I was writing the story, I didn’t work this out ahead. It grew in the writing. Logic dictated that in a person who still has their faculties, the loss of memory must be distressing – unlike with dementia where often the victim does not realise they even have the condition. This presented scope for plenty of drama and the story became quite dark in places. It’s hardly gothic, but the psychological disturbance creates that darkness.

I wonder if this is the magnet that drives authors to the trope? The fascination with the psychological aspects of the condition and how that affects the victim and the people around them has so many possible permutations that it’s unlikely any one story is repeated elsewhere.

Nevertheless, I think it’s a risky trope. Easy to overplay or underplay it. For example, what of the convenient second accident that miraculously recovers the memory lock, stock and barrel? I suspect any amnesiac will retain hidden pockets that prove elusive. Far more believable to allow snippets to appear here and there and perhaps widen as familiar territory helps to jog them into more coherent memories.

I left my hero incomplete, I’m afraid, but at least with sufficient recognition to know who he was really in love with!

Elizabeth Bailey


An overturned curricle creates a vanished memory. When Chloe takes in the injured lord, she puts her heart in danger. Dare she hope Lance may realise she is not his dead betrothed and learn to love her for herself?




Sunday, November 25, 2018

Boundless

The last book in the Shaws series is out next month, but instead of a straight "buy me," post, I'd prefer to talk about an aspect of the story.

Orphanages. At the start of Boundless, Livia is attacked by some skinny children from the orphanage she has just visited.
Georgian London had good ones and bad ones.
Thomas Coram's Foundling Hospital

The best was the famous Foundling Hospital which Thomas Coram helped to establish. A retired sea captain, he used his fortune to fund the school for children who needed a good upbringing. The children weren't strictly orphans, but they came from parents who could not afford to bring them up. In effect, the parents gave their babies away. They left little tokens so they could identify the child if they were ever in a position to reclaim them. The Hospital has a pathetic and terribly sad collection of them that you can go and see today. As far as is known, not one parent returned to claim their child, and if they had, since the tokens were removed it would have been almost impossible to recognise them.
The children were brought up strictly to be good Christians and to have a trade. Eventually they'd be apprenticed out or sent as servants somewhere.
And that was the good version.

In the bad one, like the one my heroine Livia visited, the orphanage was little better than a thieves' kitchen. they were taught a trade all right, but that might be pickpocketing or burglary. Remember Fagin in Oliver Twist? That was written when the rookeries were still swamps of filth and danger in the middle of London - turn the wrong way on The Strand and you could find yourself in an area the authorities left alone, and if you were wearing good clothes, you might not come out alive.
Livia mistakenly visits the kind of orphanage where children were trained to steal, and my hero has to rescue her. Oliver is very attracted to Livia, and astonished to see her in this part of London, but from that moment their fate is set.
And you'll have to read Boundless to find out what happens next!

*****

She’s the unlikely wallflower of the extraordinary Shaw family.  A woman who will never marry, but not for the reasons you might think . . .
 
Attacked on the streets of London, Lady Livia Shaw is relieved when a gentleman comes to her aid—and startled to discover her rescuer is Adrian, the Duke of Preston, a notorious rogue. But their association—and instant attraction—does not end there, much to the Shaws’ distress. For Livia was robbed of a memento—one that is both her most precious possession and a reminder of a shameful secret. It is a secret she knows will cause her to lose Adrian forever, yet he is determined to track down the thief . . .

Adrian never wanted to be anyone’s hero, but now he’s finding the prospect as pleasing as he does Livia’s company, and her beauty. Certainly he wants her in his bed, but what surprises him is how much she comes to mean to him. Which is why the revelation of her scandalous past is nearly his undoing. Arrogantly, he had assumed only he had the power to shock. But it is too late to turn back, and now Adrian may have to risk everything for Livia, even his heart . . .

You can preorder the book here!


Saturday, November 10, 2018

The inspirational power of water










As a writer, I need inspiration and I find water is one of the most inspiring elements.  Whether it is looking out over the Bristol Channel at the end of a long sunny day, or watching the restless sea beating on the Devon coast, I just can't get enough of the view. It sets the creative juices flowing. 

 Writers need contrast in their books, so I need inspiration for the reflective scenes as much as for the exciting ones, and water provides that. Perhaps it is because we live on an island, we are never very far from water and for someone who writes about Georgian England, water is important. 
HMS Trincomalee, Hartlepool

Along with coal, it powered the industrial revolution, and provided trade routes around the coast or via the rivers and canals for centuries before the roads and railways took over.



Recently I have been travelling around Scotland, where they have, er, an abundance of water. It's everywhere, in the rivers and lochs and around the coast with its thousands of islands. (there is also plenty in the sky, too, but luckily not when we were there!) There was the excited anticipation of setting out on a ferry to the remote island of Jura,
  and the sheer pleasure of sitting in the sun, watching the seals sunning themselves in the bay at Port Charlotte, on Islay.




You might think this would only provide inspiration for seafaring adventures, but not in my case. Although I do have some books set beside the sea, and even on it, many of my books are set in Regency London, or in an English country house, but travelling around and looking at waterfalls and wonderful views over vast expanses of water seems to free the mind to wander where it will, resolving knotty problems about plot providing a route to the necessary happy ending.




But you don't have to travel that far to enjoy the benefits of water, fountains and lakes in city parks can be just as enjoyable, or walking along a canal. Even just soaking in a bath has been known to help when I have been wrestling with a storyline!



Happy reading (and writing).
Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

Beauty & the Brooding Lord
Out now!


Monday, November 05, 2018

There's something about soldiers in scarlet coats.


In Chapter VIII of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a militia regiment arrives in Meryton, to the delight of Lydia and Kitty Bennet. ‘They could talk of nothing but officers’ and every other topic of conversation ‘was worthless in their eyes when opposed to the regimentals of an ensign.’  Their father calls them ‘two of the silliest girls in the country’,  but Mrs Bennet says wistfully, ‘I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well – and, indeed, so I do still at my heart.’
I was reminded of this when I visited the Household Cavalry Museum recently and I have to admit that the sight of soldiers in uniform, wearing crested helmets and scarlet jackets, sitting on gleaming black horses and being put through their paces by an even smarter officer, gladdened my heart, too. I knew just what Mrs Bennet meant. And the hundreds of people watching the Household Cavalry completing the Changing of the Guard in Horse Guards Parade obviously agreed.

Visitors watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony in Horse Guards Parade. 
I went into the Household Cavalry Museum to find out more.
The Household Cavalry is a union of the Life Guards (red jackets) formed by King Charles II on the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660; The Royal Horse Guards, known as ‘The Blues’ (blue jackets), raised in 1650 as part of Cromwell’s New Model Army, and The Royal Dragoons, who were originally based in Tangiers. The Blues and the Royals later amalgamated, hence ‘The Blues and Royals.’
These two cavalry regiments form The Household Cavalry which has several functions; first and foremost, they are soldiers, fighting wherever they are sent; they are currently serving in Afghanistan. Their other important job is to protect the Sovereign; and to undertake various ceremonial duties, such as the State Opening of Parliament, escorting the Sovereign during State visits from foreign heads of state, Royal Weddings and the like. Naturally, their equestrian skills are superb.


Farrier’s axe and officer’s helmet, early 19th century. The axe was used to kill a badly wounded horse and also to chop the hoof off a dead one which enabled the farrier to prove that the horse was dead and that he could apply for a replacement.
I’ve always been interested in early 19th century military history, and I was delighted to find that the Household Cavalry Museum was full of splendid uniforms, bloodthirsty weapons and anecdotes of astounding courage; many of which centre on the battle of Waterloo, in June 1815. It was a battle in which both the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals were heavily engaged.


Contemporary ceremonial dress Life Guards and Blues and Royals
Their ceremonial dress is magnificent.  The scarlet jacket belongs to the Life Guards, and the dark blue belongs to the Blues and Royals. The basic design has not changed very much over the centuries.

Lieut. Charles Lorraine’s officer’s full dress coat: The Blues (1795-1800)
If Lieut. Lorraine had been lucky enough to have been invited to the Duchess of Richmond's famous ball on the eve of the battle of Waterloo, this is what he would have worn. It’s made of blue woollen broadcloth with scarlet collar and lapels, gold lace loops and gilt buttons. But the weather that June was notoriously wet and a soaked blue broadcloth jacket would have weighed him down terribly, so perhaps it’s just as well he wasn’t on the guest list. We know that many of the officers at the ball went straight from the ballroom to the battlefield.


 Saddle of an officer in The Blues used at the battle of Waterloo
When Major Harry Smith set out for Brussels to join his regiment before the battle of Waterloo, he took five horses, his wife Juana, himself, his brother Charles, three servants and Juana’s pug-dog with him. And his regiment was only the Rifle Brigade – not a smart cavalry regiment.
Officers had to provide their own saddles and equipment as well as their horses. They also had to buy an officer’s commission, starting at the bottom as a subaltern. To get into a top cavalry regiment, like the Life Guards, was very expensive. It wasn’t until after the fiasco of the Crimean War in the 1850s that officers could enlist without having to pay, and were promoted on merit rather than their ability to buy their way up the career ladder.


John Edwards’ bugle
But you didn’t have to be rich to become well-known in your regiment. Take John Edwards, 1799-1875. He joined the 1st Life Guards age 9, in 1808, and became a bugler. At Waterloo, he was Field Trumpeter under Major-General Lord Edward Somerset and, aged only 16, he was the person who gave the signal for the decisive charge of the 1st Life Guards.
John Edwards' memorial card
His story caught the public imagination and his long career became part of the story of his regiment. The elaborate memorial card, crowned with angels holding trumpets, printed after his death in 1875 indicates how well known his story was. It ends with the sentence, ‘Now waiting the trumpet of salvation.’


The eagle of the 105th regiment
The capture of one of Napoleon’s eagles at Waterloo was cause for great celebration. Napoleon had designed them himself – in emulation of Ancient Rome – and presented them personally to his regiments, so losing one was felt as a disgrace.


A replica of John Shaw’s skull. Sir Walter Scott, who greatly admired Shaw, also had a replica made of his skull
One of the most flamboyant characters in the 2nd Life Guards was Corporal John Shaw (1789-1815) who was famous for his size – he was over six foot – and strength; he once carried two ponies down stairs, one under each arm (or so the story goes). He took the King’s shilling, that is, he enlisted as a private in 1807 and soon caught the attention his officers by his strength and skill in various regimental exercises. He became a renowned boxer and his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography follows his career with gusto.


John Shaw’s sword and scabbard
On the morning of June 18th, 1815, he took part in the first charge of the battle. A French cuirassier charged straight at him and Shaw parried the thrust with his sword and finished off the cuirassier by slicing straight through his helmet and skull right down to the chin. He fought ferociously in several other charges but eventually found himself outflanked and surrounded. He killed nine Frenchmen with his sword before it broke, then he tore his helmet off and began to use it as a cestus – that is, a sort of knuckle-duster used by boxers in Ancient Rome. He was eventually killed by a cuirassier sitting a little way off who unsportingly, one feels, shot him with his carbine.

The Earl of Uxbridge’s cork leg
Henry William Paget, Earl of Uxbridge (1768-1854) was a soldier who had fought with great distinction both in Europe and in the Peninsular. He was also a man with a scandalous private life – he had eloped with the Duke of Wellington’s sister-in-law.
The Earl’s knee was shattered by one of the last cannon shots of the battle. He was near Wellington when it happened and exclaimed, ‘By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!’ To which the Duke replied, coolly, ‘’By God, sir, so you have!’  His unemotional response was possibly caused by his resentment at Uxbridge’s behaviour – though Wellington’s own reputation with regard to the ladies was hardly spotless.
The Earl’s leg had to be amputated above the knee and he had a cork leg made. Dissatisfied with it, he eventually had a fully-articulated prosthetic leg invented for him which creaked loudly whenever it bent. However, it was successful enough to become the standard prosthetic leg until 1914.

Mementos from the battle of Waterloo
After the battle, the looters moved in, and those of an entrepreneurial turn of mind who were quick to see the value in souvenirs. Above are a couple of examples of mementos from the battlefield. The curl of horse hair comes from Napoleon’s horse, Marengo; and the hoof snuff box comes from one of the horses killed in the battle. It’s gruesome, yes, but peace, however welcome after twenty-five years of war, left a lot of people, including soldiers, unemployed. We know that there were a lot of scavengers in the years following who made a living selling whatever they could find on the battlefield, from teeth to gilt buttons and bits of armour.


The mounted guard looks both right and left to check for anything untoward. 
The Household Cavalry Museum at the Royal Horse Guards in Whitehall is well worth a visit. You can even take a photo of yourself standing next to one of the guards, just don’t expect him to smile; he’s trained not to.  
Elizabeth Hawksley


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Consulting the future: Napoleon’s Book of Fate and Oraculum


Our ancestors were no less given to ways of foretelling the future than we are. Whether you regularly read your star sign in the newspaper, consult a medium or have your hand read in the gypsy stall at a fair, you are in good company.

According to a book I acquired long ago, Napoleon is said to have consulted his oracle on every important occasion. The book is supposed to be, it states, “a fac simile of the one used by NAPOLEON” (their spelling of facsimile).

I am not sure how much good it did him, if we are to judge how much poor old Napoleon changed over the years.



Not only does this book contain a complicated oracle, it goes into interpreting dreams, “weather omens, astrological miscellany and important advice”. Also palmistry, observing moles, face reading, lucky days and a whole lot more.

The oraculum starts with rules. What you do is make five rows of lines, making sure there’s at least a dozen on each line. You then count the lines on each row, and if the number is odd, you assign it one dot, and if it’s even, you assign it two dots.

That gives you a pattern, as you can see in the illustration. You can then ask one of 32 questions, and the following pages give you a key. You locate your pattern, run down the column to your question, and find the letter given. Then you go the page for that letter, again find your pattern, and you get your answer.

Highly random, the whole thing. The questions are couched in old-fashioned language, as are the answers.

Let’s do a test. Question 15 seems appropriate to our present.

What is the aspect of the SEASONS, and what POLITICAL CHANGES are to take place?


I’ve done my lines and come up with odd, even, even, odd, odd. The key gives me the letter V. My answer is: “Expect a plentiful harvest.” What to make of that, I really don’t know!



There’s a warning that it is improper to ask TWO questions on the same day, so I can’t do another one. Instead, let’s have a look the second Oraculum or Book of Fate, which has a slightly different system of four rows of dots and only 16 questions.

I had a peculiar dream the other day, so let’s ask “What does my dream signify?”
Oh my sainted aunt! The answer is: “Signifies trouble and sorrow.” Argghh!

Enough of that already. What about moles? I have about 500 of them I think, so this should be good. I’m going for the biggest one on my face. The closest is upper lip, which shows happiness in marriage. Well, that’s better, though it’s a bit late for me.

Without our amazing Met Office, I daresay the weather omens would come in handy. Spiders seem to figure strongly, but how about these for omens of foul and wet weather, which is pretty standard for the UK most of the time?

If the crows make a great deal of noise, and fly round and round.
If worms creep out of the ground in great numbers.
If the owl screech.
If asses shake their ears, bray, and rub against walls or trees.

Ah, here’s one most of us ought to be able to notice:
If cats lick their bodies, and wash their faces.

We won’t go into face reading, or you'll be off in the mirror checking out your eyes!

To finish, I will wish you fortunate dreams:  of baking, of catching birds, of camels, clocks or cheese, of apricots, milk, leaping or – and what could be more dream inducing? - the moon.

Speaking of which, I will leave you with this moon charm to discover your future husband.


Elizabeth Bailey


Monday, October 15, 2018

Hybrid Publishing - is this the new way forward ?

Click Here


Here I go on a new adventure. I always wanted to work with a mainstream publisher and now I am. Aria - Head of Zeus bought this book and the two that follow.  The Spitfire Girl comes out tomorrow and I don't quite know what I'm expecting. I have had my hair cut and gone an a diet as I thought I needed to be ready in case the press are beating down my door demanding an interview. :)
The jury's still out on this hybrid publishing lark.
 I love having an enthusiastic and excellent team there to support me, but dislike not being in charge. After almost 60 books indie-published, where I'm fully in control of the process, having to wait a week for an answer to an email etc is frustrating.
What I do like is that I'll no longer feel so personally offended if a reviewer gives me a 1*review. There's one on Goodreads that calls me retarded and refers to a character as 'airport boy'. Reviewer doesn't know the difference between an airfield and an airport. Now I can relax knowing if 'my team' love the book then the reviewer must be wrong. 
I'm also not thrilled with being in the dark about sales etc. Amazon is so good now with data that I know exactly what I'm earning and can plan my expenditure. I don't even know how much I'll get per sale let alone anything else. On the other hand I now have a big publisher as eager as I am to push the book and don't have to do it all myself.
I love that they have organised a blog tour, put the title on NetGalley and I don't have to be involved. I did write five posts -but didn't have to.
The blurb was written by someone else and I didn't see it until it went up.  Some things needed changing and I wished I'd seen it before it was visible to the public..
I was fully involved with the cover and title choice but in the end it was my editor's decision. I have to accept that she knows the market better than I do.
The difficulty is that I feel strangely divorced from this book, as if it is no longer anything to do with me. Like a son or daughter leaving home it now has to find its own way in the world.

Here is an extract - hope you enjoy it.


Essex
July 1939
‘Well, Miss Simpson, what do you think?’ Joseph Cross asked as he pointed to the de Havilland 60 Moth that stood proudly on the worn grass outside the barn that served as a hanger.
Ellen wanted to hug him but thought he might not appreciate the gesture. ‘I love it. Is it dual control?’
‘No, but it has the usual two seats so can take a passenger.’
‘Good – I’ve got more than enough pupils to teach. Since the government subsidy last year every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to learn to fly.’
‘I hope you don’t expect me to pay you any extra, young lady. I reckon you owe me far more than your wages would have been for all the lessons and hours you’ve spent flying my aircraft over the past five years.’
She put her hands on her hips. ‘Giving my brothers and me lessons at your Flying Club couldn’t have been as much as the rent you would have had to pay to use my father’s farms and fields.’ He was about to interrupt but she continued. ‘Not forgetting the fact that Dad bought the first aircraft and both Neil and George acted as instructors until they joined the RAF.’
He scowled but she wasn’t fooled for a minute. ‘The cost of one lesson is usually two pounds – the three of you never paid a penny…’
‘Joe, I don’t want to stand here arguing anymore. I want to take her up before it gets too hot. Are you coming with me or can I go solo?’
‘Circuits and bumps only, my girl, no flying off into the wild blue yonder. There are three new enquiries to be dealt with in the office – I want you to sort those out this morning.’
The other aircraft the flying club owned were a Swallow and a Gypsy Moth. Both were fitted with dual controls. Joe had several clients who liked to go up on their own and pootle about until the fuel ran out. This de Havilland had been bought to satisfy those clients.
Sidney, the ground engineer, and the only other full-time employee, wandered out from the hanger. ‘Nice little machine, Ellie, sweet as a nut. You going to take it up for a spin?’
‘If that’s all right with you, I’d love to. I’ll not be long – I just want to get the feel of it for myself.’
‘The bloke what brought it said it flies like the Gypsy only a bit faster. You’ll have no problem – you’re a natural. I remember your first solo flight when you were no more than a nipper…’
Joe poked his head out of the office. ‘No time for reminiscing, Sid, let her get on with it. Just had a bell and we’ve got a new pupil coming in an hour.’
‘Sorry, guv, I’ll not hold her up.’
She collected her helmet and goggles and scrambled into the cockpit. Even though the weather was warm she needed her flying jacket on over her dungarees. It got a bit nippy at a thousand feet above the land. After doing her pre-flight checks she taxied into position on the grass runway and took off.
An uneventful forty-five minutes later she landed smoothly and headed for the office to catch up with the paperwork. The new pupil, a middle-aged bank manager, decided after a couple of circuits of the field that he didn’t want to learn to fly after all. As they’d only been in the air for a quarter of an hour there was no charge.
By the time her last pupil left the airfield it was almost six o’clock. Often they had to work until it was too dark to fly, but tonight they’d finished early. Ellen left Sid to lock up and jumped onto her bicycle. At least in the summer Dad didn’t come in for his tea until late so she wouldn’t have missed her meal.
She pedalled furiously down the track, swerving instinctively around the dips and ruts, covering the mile in record time. She skidded into the yard, sending half a dozen chickens squawking into the air in protest, and tossed her bike against the wall.
With luck she’d have time to wash before her parents sat down to eat. It had taken Mum months to get used to seeing her only daughter dressed in slacks or dungarees. She might be a farmer’s wife now, but she’d come from a grand family and had very high standards.
The fact that Mum had been disowned when she’d married a farmer should have softened her but instead, according to Dad, it had made her even more determined to bring her children up as though they were landed gentry and not the children of a farmer.
After a quick sluice in the scullery Ellie headed to the kitchen – she was about to open the door when she realised the voices she’d heard were coming from the seldom used front parlour. Mum insisted on calling it the drawing room, but no one else did.
This must mean they had guests. She looked down at her scruffy oil-stained dungarees and wondered if she had time to nip upstairs and put on something more respectable. Unfortunately, her mother must have heard her come in.
‘Ellen, you are very late this evening. Had you forgotten Neil has a twenty-four hour pass?’
She was pretty sure this was the first she’d heard of it but having her oldest brother home was a wonderful surprise. She didn’t stop to think why this meant they were in the parlour, and burst in.
‘Hello, little sister, I’ve brought a chum along. Let me introduce you to Gregory Dunlop.’
Only then did she become aware of the second RAF uniformed young man staring at her with open admiration. He was a bit shorter than Neil, but broader in the shoulders, with corn coloured hair and startlingly blue eyes.
‘I’m pleased to meet you, Flying Officer Dunlop.’ She wasn’t sure if she should offer her hand as despite her best efforts it was far from clean.
He stepped closer and held out his and she had no option but to take it. ‘I’ve heard so much about you, Miss Simpson, and have been pestering your brother for an invitation in order to meet you for myself.’
His grip was firm, his hand smoother than hers – but what caught her attention was his upper crust accent. ‘I’m sorry to appear in my work clothes. If you don’t mind waiting a few more minutes I’ll pop upstairs and change into something more suitable for the occasion.’
‘Please, don’t worry on my account. I think you look perfectly splendid just as you are.’
He seemed reluctant to release her hand but she pulled it away firmly. He was a very attractive man and was obviously interested in her, but she wasn’t looking for a boyfriend.
‘Run along, Ellen, you’ve got plenty of time to put on a frock as your father has only just come in himself. We are having a cold collation so nothing will be spoiled by waiting for another quarter of an hour.’
She smiled at her brother in resignation and he winked. They both knew there was no point in arguing once their mother had made up her mind.
She met her father in the passageway. ‘Have you got to change as well, Ellie? She told me at lunchtime I’ve got to put on something smart.’
‘It must be because of Neil’s friend. He certainly sounds very posh.’ She pushed open her bedroom door and was about to go in when he replied.
‘Seems a lot of fuss for nothing but easier to give in than put up with a week of black looks and sour faces.’ He shook his head sadly and went into the room he no longer shared with her mother. Ellie wished her parents had a happier relationship.
If there was one thing she’d learned, by watching the disintegration of what must once have been a happy union, it was this: Don’t marry for love as it doesn’t last. If she ever took the plunge it would be with a man she respected, liked and who shared her outlook on life.
Her mother had told her to put on a frock but she rebelled. She didn’t wish to impress their visitor so would come down in what she usually wore – slacks and blouse. The only time she put on a frock was when she was forced to attend church. Most Sundays she had the excuse that she had to work at the airfield.
She checked her face was oil free and ran a brush through her hair. Satisfied she was presentable she hurried downstairs eager to catch up on Neil’s news. George, her other brother, hadn’t been home since January and she was desperate to hear how he was doing.
Her mother pursed her lips when Ellie came in. ‘Is your father coming, Ellen?’
‘I don’t know, Mum, but I don’t think he’ll be long.’ She joined her brother by the open window, leaving his friend to entertain her mother.
‘I wish you wouldn’t deliberately provoke her, Ellie. Why won’t you call her Mother? You know how much she dislikes being called Mum, especially in front of strangers.’
She shrugged. ‘Whatever she was in the past, now she’s just a farmer’s wife. Have you finished your training?’
He grinned and pointed to the wings on his uniform. ‘I have, didn’t you see these? George is still in Scotland – seems he pranged a Moth and needs longer up there.’
‘He obviously didn’t hurt himself or you wouldn’t be so jolly. Do you know where you’re going to be stationed?’
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of her father looking uncomfortable in a collar and tie. After he was introduced to the guest her mother clapped her hands as if wishing to attract the attention of a crowd of children.
‘We shall go in to dine now that we are all here.’
Ellie hid her smile at her mother’s pretentiousness behind her hand. Ham and salad hardly deserved such an introduction.
When her father mentioned the likelihood of there being a war her mother insisted that this was not a suitable topic of conversation at the dinner table. No one was particularly interested in discussing the weather and an uneasy silence fell.
‘We’ve got another aircraft, Dad. I took her up and…’
Her mother glared at her. ‘I’m sure that Flying Officer Dunlop doesn’t want to hear about your highly unsuitable employment. A young lady should be interested in more feminine things, don’t you agree, Mr Dunlop?’
The young man nodded solemnly. ‘I’m sure that most girls would prefer to talk about fashion or flowers but your daughter is different. I’ve never met a female pilot before and am most impressed. How many hours solo do you have now, Miss Simpson?’
‘Please call me Ellie, everyone else does.’
‘And you must call me Greg.’
‘Well, Greg, to answer your question, I’ve been flying since I was twelve – six years now – and got my A licence when I was fourteen and my instructor’s certificate when I was sixteen. I’ve logged more than twelve hundred hours now.’
‘Good God! That’s a damn sight more than I have.’ He couldn’t fail to hear her mother’s horrified gasp. Instead of being embarrassed he smiled at her. ‘I apologise for my appalling language, Mrs Simpson, I do hope you will forgive me.’
‘Apology accepted. I’ll say no more on the matter.’
He turned to Ellie. ‘I want to hear how you manage in poor weather conditions and hope you will talk to me before we leave tomorrow morning.’
Before she could answer she was instructed to clear the table and fetch the dessert. Obediently she pushed her chair back and began to collect the plates. When Greg made a move to stand up she shook her head.
Clearing the table was a woman’s job, as well all the other domestic duties that she did her best to avoid. Pudding was a sherry trifle accompanied by a jug of thick, fresh cream from their dairy herd. She placed the large glass bowl on the tray and put the cream beside it. The ham salad, again all home-grown, had been excellent but this would be even better.

Fenella J Miller