Saturday, January 28, 2012

Penny Jordan and my post

Hi everyone

I just wanted to say how sad I was to hear about Penny's death.  I didn't know her well but I loved her books and she was pleasant to talk to at various events where we met.  I recently bought her new book as Annie Groves and am looking forward to reading it.  She will be sadly missed.

As far as my own writing goes I have a Regency trilogy coming out in quick succession starting with the Disappearing Duchess next month.  I hope my readers will enjoy them.  There are also two Regencies in a double edition that comes out shortly - so a lot of my books about this year.

Don't really want to say more today.  Life is so unpredictable and I was shocked at the news.  I think one thing is certain, Penny was very much loved by readers and friends alike.  May she rest in peace.

Love to all of you.

Anne Herries, Linda Sole

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Tribute To Penny Jordan


Many of you will know by now that bestselling and best-loved novelist Penny Jordan died on 31st December 2011, having been ill with cancer for some time. There have been obituaries in  The Telegraph and The Guardian, as well as on the Mills and Boon website. They have documented the fact that Penny wrote almost two hundred books, selling around 80 million copies worldwide. But I wanted to write a more personal account of Penny here on the Historical Romance UK blog, and about her love of Regency romance.


Although Penny was best known for her contemporary romances, she started her career by writing Regency romances under the name of Caroline Courtney. The first, Duchess in Disguise, was published in 1979 and led to a list of other titles. Penny and I bonded over our love of Regencies when we first met about ten years ago.

At the time, I was thinking of starting a local chapter of the RNA, and I posted on the RNA email loop to see if anyone else thought it was a good idea. I received an email from Penny, saying she lived nearby and that she would be very interested. It was typical of Penny that she didn’t say she was a phenomenal bestseller, or that her pen name was Penny Jordan, she simply signed herself “Penny”.


The inaugural meeting went ahead, at which time there were only four of us: (l-r) Penny, Amanda Ashby – who was at the time unpublished, but who went on to write very successful (and very funny) young adult novels – Amanda Grange (me!) and Susan Stephens (right). The fifth person in the photo (second from the right) is a friend of Susan's. We met for lunch in a local wine bar and we hit it off straight away.

Penny and I quickly discovered we shared a love of Georgette Heyer. We immediately started talking about our favourite books – Penny’s was The Grand Sophy whilst mine was Cotillion – and we laughed at all our favourite minor characters and situations, whilst sharing our favourite heroes and heroines. That was when Penny told me that she had started her career by writing Regencies, which she still loved.

She was a very warm, funny person, with a love of  books of all kinds. She loved encouraging others and she set up a writers’ group to help aspiring novelists make it into print. She was a very knowledgeable person and she was always willing to share her experience with others. Many of her protégées became successful writers themselves, including Susan Stephens.

But that was only part of Penny. Although she loved books, she had many other interests, too. We often met up to chat about books and writing, but also the other things in life. When I went round to her house I commented on her fabulous decorations and she revealed that she had designed all the rooms herself. Not only that, but she had painted them herself, too. She said that she loved painting because it satisfied her creative impulse whilst also being relaxing.

Now I like decorating, and I’ve decorated a lot of rooms in my time, but Penny’s results were professional. She said that, if she hadn’t been a writer she would have been an interior designer, and it was easy to see that she would have been very successful. Everything in her home was immaculate. All the lamps, cushions and ornaments were chosen with an artist’s eye. Despite this, her home was not a show home. She was a great dog lover and her Alsatian, Sheba, was her beloved companion.

Although she had a lot of difficulties in her personal life, with her husband dying of cancer and her own health problems, Penny remained a cheerful and optimistic person, writing until the end of her life. She will be remembered by her readers for her wonderful Regencies and historical sagas, as well as her contemporary romances and blockbuster novels, but she will be remembered by those of us who were lucky enough to know her as a warm, kind, generous, fun-loving person who filled her own life, and the lives of those around her with happiness. She will never be forgotten and she is sadly missed.

Amanda Grange


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Thursday, January 19, 2012

On Thin Ice

There is no snow in London at the moment, and certainly no ice for skating on, but during the early 19thc century skating on the lakes and ponds in the parks was very popular – and could be perilous.

One of the best lakes for skating was the Serpentine in Hyde Park. It was formed in 1730 by damming the Westbourne, one of London’s lost rivers flowing down from Hampstead, and snakes between the Park proper and Kensington Gardens. It was in this water that Harriet Shelley drowned herself in 1816. The print on the left shows skaters in St James's Park with the Queen's House, later Buckingham Palace, in the background.

The Picture of London for 1807, a particularly handy guidebook (and one that I tend to prefer to modern volumes when exploring!) has this to say about the dangers of thin ice and the steps taken to deal with them:

In severe winters, when the Serpentine River is frozen over, the ice is almost covered with people. One winter there were counted more than 6000 people at one time on the ice. A number of booths were pitched for the refreshment of the populace; and here and there was a group of six, eight or more, fashionable young men, skating, and describing very difficult figures, in the manner of a country dance, with particular neatness and facility of execution… From the number of accidents which happen annually on this river when frozen over, his Majesty gave the Humane Society a spot of ground on its banks, on which they have erected a most convenient receiving-house for the recovery of the apparently drowned; it cost upwards of £500 and is worthy of inspection by the curious. The Society, during the times of frost, keep men on the river to guard the unwary from danger, and to relieve those who may require their aid.

The Humane Society, which later received its royal charter, and which still exists as the Royal Humane Society to reward acts of courage in saving life, was founded in 1774 by two doctors who were concerned about reports of apparently drowned persons not being resuscitated and then either dying or being buried alive. The society was at first called the Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned. They set out to publish information on reviving the drowned, paid rewards to anyone attempting a rescue, paid pub keepers if they allowed their premises to be used during a resuscitation attempt and provided volunteers, such as the Icemen around the Serpentine, with life-saving equipment in key locations.

They also established other Receiving Houses around the Westminster area so that drowning victims might be treated. The Hyde Park building survived until it was demolished in 1954 and branches of the Society were set up around the country, mainly in ports.

Valuable as this work was, the methods used to revive the drowned were strange by today’s standards. Draping the body over a barrel was supposed to drain the water from the lungs, which might have had some effect. Spirits were often administered, which probably made the choking worse, but oddest of all, was the application of tobacco smoke.

This was supposed to be blown into the rectum of the unfortunate person, and, I suppose, the indignity of the operation might have brought round the merely semi-conscious. Fortunately for the person who was puffing away on a pipe as part of the procedure, devices like little bellows were invented to introduce the smoke into the rectum. At one time these were placed at strategic locations around London’s lakes and along the Thames and one rare survivor is shown in the photograph above.

If the weather is good and you are in London, a walk through Hyde Park taking in Apsley House at one end and Kensington Palace at the other, is described in Walks Through Regency London, available from www.louiseallenregency.co.uk

Louise

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On Thin Ice

There is no snow in London at the moment, and certainly no ice for skating on, but during the early 19thc century skating on the lakes and ponds in the parks was very popular – and could be perilous.

One of the best lakes for skating was the Serpentine in Hyde Park. It was formed in 1730 by damming the Westbourne, one of London’s lost rivers flowing down from Hampstead, and snakes between the Park proper and Kensington Gardens. It was in this water that Harriet Shelley drowned herself in 1816. The print on the left shows skaters in St James's Park with the Queen's House, later Buckingham Palace, in the background.

The Picture of London for 1807, a particularly handy guidebook (and one that I tend to prefer to modern volumes when exploring!) has this to say about the dangers of thin ice and the steps taken to deal with them:

In severe winters, when the Serpentine River is frozen over, the ice is almost covered with people. One winter there were counted more than 6000 people at one time on the ice. A number of booths were pitched for the refreshment of the populace; and here and there was a group of six, eight or more, fashionable young men, skating, and describing very difficult figures, in the manner of a country dance, with particular neatness and facility of execution… From the number of accidents which happen annually on this river when frozen over, his Majesty gave the Humane Society a spot of ground on its banks, on which they have erected a most convenient receiving-house for the recovery of the apparently drowned; it cost upwards of £500 and is worthy of inspection by the curious. The Society, during the times of frost, keep men on the river to guard the unwary from danger, and to relieve those who may require their aid.

The Humane Society, which later received its royal charter, and which still exists as the Royal Humane Society to reward acts of courage in saving life, was founded in 1774 by two doctors who were concerned about reports of apparently drowned persons not being resuscitated and then either dying or being buried alive. The society was at first called the Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned. They set out to publish information on reviving the drowned, paid rewards to anyone attempting a rescue, paid pub keepers if they allowed their premises to be used during a resuscitation attempt and provided volunteers, such as the Icemen around the Serpentine, with life-saving equipment in key locations.

They also established other Receiving Houses around the Westminster area so that drowning victims might be treated. The Hyde Park building survived until it was demolished in 1954 and branches of the Society were set up around the country, mainly in ports.

Valuable as this work was, the methods used to revive the drowned were strange by today’s standards. Draping the body over a barrel was supposed to drain the water from the lungs, which might have had some effect. Spirits were often administered, which probably made the choking worse, but oddest of all, was the application of tobacco smoke.

This was supposed to be blown into the rectum of the unfortunate person, and, I suppose, the indignity of the operation might have brought round the merely semi-conscious. Fortunately for the person who was puffing away on a pipe as part of the procedure, devices like little bellows were invented to introduce the smoke into the rectum. At one time these were placed at strategic locations around London’s lakes and along the Thames and one rare survivor is shown in the photograph above.

If the weather is good and you are in London, a walk through Hyde Park taking in Apsley House at one end and Kensington Palace at the other, is described in Walks Through Regency London, available from www.louiseallenregency.co.uk

Louise

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The past in the present

In Cornwall, past and present are very much intertwined.   This milestone and very ancient Cornish cross mark the junction at the small hamlet of Crows-an-Wra,  Cornish for Witch’s Cross.  Behind the cross is a chapel - now converted into a home.  The small graveyard just beyond the back garden contains perhaps a dozen graves neatly laid out amid the grass. The road beside it leads up to Chapel Carn Brea, the most westerly hill in Cornwall.

This plaque in the car park beside the gate leading up to the top of the hill tells the history of the cairn and the burial monuments.  At the top of the hill on 21st June a bonfire is lit - the first of a chain of bonfires stretching right across Cornwall - to celebrate the summer solstice.

Across the road from the car park a track leads across gorse and heather moorland to the holy well a short distance from the Iron Age village of Carn Euny. 

Mothers used to bring their children to be dipped in the water which was said to have healing powers. People still come -  the equinoxes and solstices are favourite times - to touch the water, leave an offering on the tree or tucked between the mossy stones of the well, and make a wish for the year ahead.  The tree is festooned with ribbon, crystals, bits of cloth, keyrings: in fact whatever people have on them and feel inspired to leave, perhaps hoping to return, maybe moved by the evidence of so many wishes made over so many years. Many of the offerings tied to its branches are covered with lichen and barely distinguishable from the tree itself.  A special place with a powerful atmosphere it's not easy to reach, but well worth the effort.

Jane Jackson.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

What makes a Keeper?

First of all, a very Happy New Year to all our visitors and bloggers.

I came across a request recently from a reader who wanted book recommendations that would give her "action packed adventure, romance, mystery, a touch of amusement". I should have recommended my own trilogy, The Aikenhead Honours, but being a Brit, I didn't. Like many Brits, I'm generally not that good at self-promotion, especially when it feels really pushy. Yes, a failure on my part, I admit.

However, that request got me thinking. What is it that makes the difference between a book we like and enjoy reading, and a book we absolutely love and put on our precious keeper shelf? (I'm told that a good rule to preserve your keepers is only to let houseguests read them if they do so while inside your house. And also to threaten to search their luggage for "inadvertently" packed books when they leave!!)

I'd love to hear what other lovers of historicals think about this. What is the special aspect of a historical romance that moves it over the line from "liked/enjoyed" to "keeper"? Or are you, like me, one of those who can't quite put her finger on it, but knows it when she reads it?

Joanna
http://www.joannamaitland.com

Friday, January 13, 2012

The intrepid traveller

I recently read a book purporting to take part in the Regency where the hero, the testosterone-loaded, aristocratic leader of fashion went tooling around the countryside in a landau.
For those of us in the UK, a landau means the Queen at Ascot, a posh four-seater pram on wheels, with outriders. In the era of carriages, the landau was little different. It was a vehicle popular with widows and married ladies of a certain age, and it was strictly a town vehicle, since it was low-bodied. The rough roads of that time would have ripped the vehicle to shreds. And it was definitely a carriage to be driven in, not to drive oneself. I could see a hero driving a curricle or a phaeton, or even taking a turn at driving his own travelling carriage.
Georgian roads were rough and rutted. Vast improvements occurred later, and slowly, with the various Turnpike Acts and the improvement of road structure, with macadaming, but for most of the period, the roads were bad. Even the relative luxury of a post-chaise, a privately hired vehicle, was limited, because the carriage was running on the same roads.
By mid century, suspension had improved greatly, so at least people could sit instead of being thrown around like eggs in a basket. For the most part. But the quality of roads was extremely variable. It depended on the remoteness of the place, the wealth of the people living there, and the local terrain. A stony environment might have better, if rougher, roads than a sandy one. Roads were largely the responsibility of the people living in the vicinity, so if there was a wealthy farmer, or an aristocrat who wanted the road, then they would pay for it, or contribute towards it. Hence the turnpike.
They were companies who required investors, and they recouped the costs by charging travellers. There are still toll-roads around today, and toll-bridges, too. The toll road movement helped enormously to improve the quality of the roads.
Travelling carriages had to be robust, for the most part. Young gentlemen taking high-perch phaetons on a normal road were literally taking their lives into their hands. The fall could kill them, but a low-bodied vehicle would be torn apart. On smooth, well-kept roads like the one from London to Brighton in the Regency, you might see such vehicles, but not on the outlying country roads.
Many travelling carriages started to be fitted for comfort with padded seats, but few meant for long distance had glass in the windows. In an accident, glass was a serious hazard, and if you survived your carriage overturning, you might die from the broken glass slicing you. They did have leather blinds that could be pulled down.
And passengers had portable comfort stations, small bordeloos they could use as discreetly as you can in the close confines of a carriage, and then tip the contents out of the window, always being careful of the wind direction, of course! They carried blankets, had hot bricks made up for them at the coaching inns, and thick, practical cloaks. Very few people travelled any distance in their best clothes, because they would be a mess by the end of the journey.
Journeys weren’t to be taken lightly, either. London to York took three days for much of the period, with stays at sometimes very ropey inns. Wealthy passengers would travel with their own sheets and linen to avoid bedbugs.
Then there was the stagecoach. This carried passengers at a reasonable price to and from all the major cities and towns in the country. Travelling inside was more expensive than travelling outside, but the coach crammed people in, together with some merchandise like luxury goods, and all the luggage. They were built for durability and strength rather than comfort or attractiveness. Coachmen were notorious for their stamina and their rich use of the language, adding to the characters who thronged the Georgian stage.
It’s very surprising that any travelling carriages survive, but they do. They can be seen in all their variety in museums and stately homes, and some old gigs are in use even today.

Lynne Connolly
http://lynneconnolly.com

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

An Interview with Anne Gracie


Today it is my very great pleasure to welcome award-winning Regency author Anne Gracie to the blog! Anne's fabulous new book, Bride By Mistake, is out now. Described as "a love story with an unforgettable twist" by Romantic Times, from whom it garnered a four and a half star review, and as "an incredible stand-alone read" from Night Owl reviews where it was a Top Pick, it is indeed a terrific read. Now, over to Anne!


"Anne Gracie here, thanking you for allowing me in to blog with you.

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep... (Robert Frost)


One of the most important qualities I look for in a hero is honour. Of course it goes without saying I also want him to be devilishly attractive in his own unique, masculine way, but I look for honour in a man, even though I suspect it's regarded by some as a bit old-fashioned.

I don't care how handsome, strong, passionate, driven or tortured he is, without honor he's a hollow man. And for me, a particular focus of that honour has to be directed toward women in general and the heroine in particular. I'm not a fan of the kind of romance where the hero hounds and mistreats the heroine for three quarters of the story and then discovers he loves her and magically changes his ways. I don't believe in that kind of happy-ever-after.

I've read and written romances in which a young boy will appear as a minor character and he'll do something and I'll think, "he'll make a hero when he grows up." I think the seeds of honour are planted young and while they might go astray for a while they'll return when the chips are down and a choice has to be made.

An honourable man is sexy. Think of The Mountain, guarding his Prudence's sleep in Heyer's The Masqueraders. And what about Eva Ibbotson's Guy Farne, in Magic Flutes, who is almost ready to sacrifice his own happiness because he gave his word, and his word is his bond. Almost. . . Yes, he wouldn't be a hero if he actually did sacrifice his own and the heroine's happiness, so he does escape, and in such a clever way that you almost cheer as you read. And still, he doesn't break his word. That's a hero to rely on.

You could tell Guy Farne was going to be a hero from the time he was a little boy, vigorously, if erroneously, defending his foster mother. I've read and written romances in which a young boy will appear as a minor character and he'll do something and I'll think, "he'll make a hero when he grows up." I think the seeds of honour are planted young and while they might go astray for a while they'll return when the chips are down and a choice has to be made.

In my latest book, Bride By Mistake, the hero, Luke, comes across a young girl being attacked in the mountains of Spain. It's wartime — Napoleon. My hero is just nineteen, a young Lieutenant, and of course, he rides to her rescue. Then he learns she's orphaned and alone —thirteen years old and fleeing a forced marriage. What's a young hero to do?

"I promise you I will look after you. No-one will take you, no-one will force you."
Her eyes narrowed. "You promise?"
"On my honor as an English officer and a gentleman." What the hell was he doing, promising such a thing?
She gave him a long, searching look, then gave a satisfied nod and mounted up behind him. As they moved off, she laid her cheek against his back and her skinny little arms wrapped trustfully around him.
Luke felt it with a sinking heart. What had he done? And how the hell was he going to keep his rash promise?
The answer came to him as they rode into a small village. The first building they saw was a small stone church. A priest stood by the doorway, as if expecting them.
It was Fate, thought Luke. Fate had looked after him so far in this war. He would trust it again. He pulled up by the church and handed Isabella down.

Yes, Reader, he married her, and eight years later, when my book starts, Luke must break the news to his mother that he's not actually available for her matchmaking, that he's already married. It's not an easy conversation.

"But Luke... Thirteen, a mere child! How could you?" She looked at him with faint horror.
"Don't be ridiculous, Mama," he said with asperity. "Of course I never touched her. What do you take me for?" And because he could still see the confusion and anxiety in his mother's eyes, he continued, "I married her to protect her, of course. And then I gave her into the care of her aunt, who is a nun."

So a promise made in haste eight years before binds Luke to a woman he scarcely knows, and sends him on an unexpected adventure. He doesn't want this marriage, but he's a man of honour and will do his duty. . .
But his bride, Isabella, has promises of her own to keep, and is just as determined as Luke. Far from the demure and obedient convent-raised girl he's expecting, Bella is resourceful, loyal, courageous and vulnerable and she leads Luke a right merry dance — which is exactly what he needs.

So, do you think honour is a prerequisite for a hero, or do you do you think a man can learn to become honourable and achieve hero status in the process. I must admit, it would be an interesting premise for a story. The trick is in making it believable, I suppose. What do you think?

Thank you so much for letting me visit.

Thank you for joining us today, Anne! Anne is offering a copy of Bride by Mistake to one commenter on the blog today!

Anne Gracie
www.annegracie.com

Join me on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/1annegracie

Tweet with me: https://twitter.com/#!/AnneGracie

For every promise, there is price to pay. ~Jim Rohn

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep...
~Robert Frost

A promise is a debt. ~Proverb

A promise made is a debt unpaid. ~Robert Service

We promise according to our hopes, and perform according to our fears. ~Francois duc de la Rochefoucauld

Promises are like babies: easy to make, hard to deliver. ~Author Unknown

Promises are the uniquely human way of ordering the future, making it predictable and reliable to the extent that this is humanly possible. ~Hannah Arendt

When a man takes an oath... he's holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then - he needn't hope to find himself again. ~Robert Bolt

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Monday, January 09, 2012

Essex Coaching Days

Essex Coaching Days by J.Elsden Tuffs
 A good friend of mine, knowing my interest in the Regency, sent me a wonderful little book called "Essex Coaching Days". As I live just outside Colchester this was an ideal gift.
I thought I'd share a few nuggets of information with you.
Firstly a little  about the coachman himself: a typical coachman would have had to be a rugged individual as he spent his entire life been buffeted by the elements.He expected his tip, as did the guard, at the end of each stage. (This must be why taxi drivers make the same demand.)
The coach route was usually in three "grounds".  The first section, called the "upper", the next section called the "middle" and the final stretch was the "lower". The upper and  the lower provided the biggest tips so the middle ground was never very popular with coachmen.
Tuffs provides an amusing quote from John Wesley who travelled from London to Norwich  in 1779. "I went to Norwich in a stage-coach with two very disagreeable companions, called a gentleman and  gentlewoman, but equally ignorant, insolent, lewd and profane."
Essex coaching map.
The outside passengers were at risk not only from the elements but also schoolboys with pea-shooters. If the coach overturned in a snowdrift, or was held up by foot-pads,  these unfortunate individuals were targeted first. Outside travellers also ran the risk of freezing to death. Inside was almost as bad; "the windows were hermetically sealed and the atmosphere fit to choke in," is the way Tuff describes it.
In the winter extra horses were often needed to get the coaches up a particularly difficult hill. For instance, Brentwood hill, on the London side, was somewhere passengers were often asked to walk. Also an additional couple of horses would sometimes be harnessed to help drag the coach forward. A postilion would ride the nearside one.
Another drawing form Tuff's book.
The journey from London to Colchester took six hours and that was considered fast. Coaches were uncomfortable, often dangerously overcrowded, and expensive. To travel by public transport 200 years ago one would have to have been resolute and fit.
Mind you, on more than one occasion it has taken me several hours to get from Liverpool Street to Colchester because of problems on the trains. The A12, more or less the same route  the stage coach would have used, is notorious for accidents and delays. On occasions you still have to be tough and determined to get from Colchester to London nowadays.
best wishes
Fenella Miller
www.fenellajmiller.co.uk

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Dauntsey Park

I’m very excited that MIRA Books has re-issued my 2008 Edwardian historical romance The Last Rake in London. It has a new title – Dauntsey Park – and a gorgeous new cover!

Writing about the Edwardian era was a new departure for me. The book is set in 1908 and the research was fascinating. In may ways the time period reminded me of the Regency, almost 100 years before. Not for nothing was the Edwardian era know as “The Gilded Age” with its opulence and excess, at least in the higher strata of society! Like the Regency it was also a time of huge change, both in society and in terms of technology. It was the era that saw the first mass-produced cars most famous which was Henry Ford’s Model T. The telephone was a novelty (as anyone who has seen the struggles of Carson the butler with it in Downton Abbey will know!) and the first flying machines were taking to the air. Parts of the London Underground were built and it was already known as “The Tube.”

Fashion was also as glamorous as in the Regency period. Both women and men in the upper echelons of society changed their clothing several times a day depending on the social occasion. Men wore the “sacque suit,” a three-piece suit including waistcoat, worn with coloured shirts and a silk tie. The tuxedo was coming into fashion, replacing the tail coat for formal evening wear. In The Last Rake in London, the hero’s great-aunt comments unfavourably on his “modern” outfit when he appears wearing a tux. For sporting pursuits the knickerbocker was fashionable, worn with a Norfolk coat of tweed.

For ladies the most glamorous gowns came from the House of Worth in Paris. Sumptuous clothing in silk, satin, chiffon, tussore, faille, crepe de chine, mohair, and cashmere was all the rage. For full effect, it needed to be trimmed with lace, fur, feathers or braid. Hats got larger and larger during the Edwardian decade. Even the food was trimmed with added decoration; roast pheasant would be served with its tail feathers! The dinner table was a work of art. It would be adorned with flowers, perhaps in gold or silver wicker baskets, with roses a particular favourite, entwined with ferns and ivy. The table flowers were often chosen to match the hostess’s gown! Such attention to detail required a huge hall of servants to carry off. At Ashdown House during the Victorian and Edwardian period there were forty outdoor servants attending to the garden and grounds, the potting sheds, flowerbeds and hothouses. There were another forty indoor servants keeping the house going.

There is an excerpt from The Last Rake in London, much more background research, and a special contest here on my website!

Are you a fan of Downton Abbey? Do you enjoy historical fiction set in the Edwardian era? I’m offering a copy of Dauntsey Park: The Last Rake in London to one commenter today!

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

What's in a name: top female first names in 1800

I’ve been fascinated by first names ever since I was a child: where they came from, what they meant, and which names were fashionable when, and why. When I came to write historical novels, this was even more important.

So which female names were most frequently used in 1800? My information comes from research into English parish records undertaken by The Names Society, founded in 1969 by Leslie Dunkling.

The top fifty names are as follows:
1-10: Mary, Anne, Elizabeth, Sarah, Jane, Hannah, Susan, Martha, Margaret, Charlotte
11-20: Harriet, Betty, Maria, Catherine, Frances, Mary Ann, Nancy, Rebecca, Alice, Ellen
21-30: Sophia, Lucy, Isabel, Eleanor, Esther, Fanny, Eliza, Grace, Sally, Rachel
31-40: Lydia, Caroline, Dorothy, Peggy, Ruth, Kitty, Jenny, Phoebe, Agnes, Emma
41-50: Amy, Jemima, Dinah, Barbara, Joan, Joanna, Deborah, Judith, Bridget, Marjorie

It’s interesting to see that most of Jane Austen’s female characters’ names are here. I was surprised to find Lydia at number 31, I had supposed it to be an uncommon name. I also expected to find Henrietta, Louisa and Isabella, which aren’t there.

What can we learn from this list? First, nearly half originate in the Bible, like Susan, Martha, Rebecca, Esther, Lydia, Ruth, Jemima, Dinah, Deborah and Judith. Some come in several versions, for example, Mary/Maria/Mary Ann; Anne/Hannah/Nancy; Elizabeth/Betty/Eliza; Sarah/Sally and Jane/Joan/Joanna/Jenny.

It’s noticeable that a number of what were once pet names have become independent names: we have Peggy and Marjorie as well as Margaret; Kitty as well as Catherine, and both Fanny and Frances. It’s, perhaps, significant that these names have been used by Royalty, together with Charlotte, Harriet (from Henry), Sophia, Isabel, Eleanor and Emma.

Phoebe is a classical Greek name, as is Ellen (a variant of Helen). Grace is a ‘virtue’ name which came in with the Reformation. Remove all these and you have only Amy, Dorothy and Bridget to explain. All three had been popular since the Middle Ages. Dorothy and Bridget were saints’ names which managed to survive the Reformation which swept away many saints’ names as being ‘too papist’. The name pool is actually quite small.

The question for historical novelists is: how far do we want to take historical accuracy? Personally, I don’t necessarily want my heroines to have ordinary names. On the other hand, I don’t want to give them anachronistic names, either.

I allow myself to use any Bible name – it helps is I’ve found it on a tombstone. I’ve called a heroine Merab, for example. I also use names familiar from the Classical world, like Cassandra and Phyllida. I think ‘virtue’ names are fine: I have a Clemency. Italianate variants of popular names are justifiable, too, for example Dorothea instead of Dorothy, or Emilia instead of Emily.

I wouldn’t be happy giving my heroine a name which would never have been used at the period in which the book is set, though I try to use names on the above list for minor characters to give a feeling of authenticity. How about you? Does an anachronistic name worry you? What criteria do you use when naming a heroine?

Elizabeth Hawksley

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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

NEW YEAR, NEW E-BOOK

Happy New Year to everyone! This time fo the year is always one for new ideas and projects, and the year has started at a gallop for me! 

Robert Hale has just published one of my all time favourite Melinda Hammond books as an e-book!

The Belles Dames Club was first published in about 2007 and is a sparkling comedy/adventure/romance that seemed to fly onto the page - such a joy to write a book like that!  It started with my thinking about the gentlemen's clubs that abounded in the 18th century, and I wondered "why should the men have all the fun"? So The Belle Dames Club was born - a secret club for gently-bred ladies to enjoy some of the less genteel amusements, like smoking, gambling, watching naked wrestling....

And of course, when problems threaten any of the ladies, they band together to sort it out.

I am delighted to see this book as an e-book and I hope it will now be available to a much wider audience. In fact, looking at the stormy weather outside the window, I think I might just curl up with this book again myself.....

Melinda Hammond
Sarah Mallory


The Belles Dames Club
By Melinda Hammond

Miss Clarissa Wyckenham comes to London to join her pretty step-mama and finds that Mama-Nell has formed a discreet club for ladies. Soon she is pitched headlong into the deliciously wicked antics of the Belles Dames Club, and finds herself in conflict with the disapproving Lord Alresford…..

A sparkling comedy of romance and adventure set at the end of the eighteenth century.


http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Belle-Dames-Club-ebook/dp/B0063A9A4I

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