Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pride and Prejudice For Ever!

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Air Transport Auxiliary - ferry pilots in WW2

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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A new book!

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

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

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

Buy the Book and read an extract:

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

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Celebrating 25 books with Harlequin/Mills & Boon

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Happy reading, everyone.

Sarah Mallory

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

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

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Royal Coaches and Landaus

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

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


A Semi-State Landau

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

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

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


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

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

The Glass Coach

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

Coachman’s livery

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


The Gold Coach used at the Coronation

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Historical Romance and Historical Fantasy

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Summer Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Dunkirk - thoughts from those who were actually there.

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

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Regency's Darker Secrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading!
Sarah Mallory / Melinda  Hammond

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

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Georgette Heyer: Why I love 'Sprig Muslin'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Georgette Heyer by Howard Coster, 1939

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

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

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

Elizabeth Hawksley


Friday, June 30, 2017

Before the Rain Comes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- 'The Ballad of Semmerwater' by Sir William Watson

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pipes, Snuff and Poison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Nightingale Chronicles - Better Bend Than Break

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

Fenella J Miller

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

Colchester 1843