Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Secret Kiss of Darkness

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I absolutely love time slip (or dual time) stories, and I’m therefore thrilled to have had another one published last week, TheSecret Kiss of Darkness, as well as a short digital only sequel, The Soft Whisper of Dreams.

            The Secret Kiss of Darkness is set in Devon, partly in the present and partly in the eighteenth century, and the heroine Kayla realises she’s in big trouble when she almost bankrupts herself to buy a life-size portrait of a mysterious eighteenth century man at an auction.

            In the past, Jago Kerswell, inn-keeper and smuggler, knows there is danger in his stolen moments with Lady Eliza Marcombe, but he'll take any risk to be with her.

            Over two centuries separate Kayla and Jago, but when Kayla’s jealous fiancé presents her with an ultimatum, and Jago and Eliza’s affair is tragically discovered, their lives become inextricably linked thanks to a gypsy’s spell. Kayla finds herself on a quest that could heal the past, but what she cannot foresee is the danger in her own future.

Here is a short extract:-

He’d sworn he would wait an eternity for her if he had to, on the assumption that the waiting would eventually be rewarded. But years, centuries passed with no end in sight and he was beginning to despair. To doubt. Would they ever be reunited?
He drifted in and out of the darkness that held him captive, sometimes conscious of things going on around him, sometimes just listening. He learned how the world was changing, evolving into a more tolerant society than the one he’d lived in. It gave him hope, but also made him sad. If only things had been like that in his day.
The scent of honeysuckle and roses unexpectedly jolted him out of the shadows and he stared at the woman standing before him, staring with rapt attention. It wasn’t her, his lost love, but there were similarities and that perfume teased at his nostrils, bringing bittersweet memories. He felt hope well up inside him once more, stronger this time. Perhaps it was a sign? Yes. It had to be.
She walked away, but she would be back, he was sure of it. He smiled as he returned to the secret kiss of darkness.

Christina x

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Unusual Lifestyles - Mother Clap.

Unusual lifestyles
Occasionally I pick up a book with a different lifestyle featured. A book about gay men (mm) for instance, or a ménage (three people in a relationship together). I enjoy them if they’re done well, and the way the characters cope with their dilemma. They make a change. But I’ve seen these books called anachronistic when they have a historical setting.
They might be, but the premise is not.
There have always been people who need something different. However, right up until the Georgian era, homosexuality, or to be more precise, sodomy, was illegal, punishable by death.
There were prosecutions, but most of them weren’t for the “crime” itself, but for something else, like creating trouble, and in a fascinating series of prosecutions and executions in the 1720’s, they were associated with a Jacobite spy ring. At the time the Jacobites were closely allied with the French, who were happy to use the exiled royals as pawns in a bigger game. And there was a faction in British, or more precisely, the English, who distrusted and disliked the French.
When I revised “Tom Jones” last year I was careful not to add too much French language to my revisions, because Fielding was a Tory, a member of the French-distrusting group. So “unnatural practices” were associated with the French, as can be seen in some of the slang of the period. However the French referred to corporal punishment for sexual titillation as “The English Disease,” so the feeling seems to have been mutual!
Back to the gays. They always existed, but when the punishment was to be hanged, there was little to be gained in “coming out.” So they married, had children, but also had boyfriends, or they went to houses where they could meet with others of the same inclination. Unfortunately, driving them underground put them in the same bracket as true criminals in many people’s eyes, and thus the confusion with spying and even murder.
Here’s the most famous case from this time, Mother Clap. A window into the past.

“Margaret Clap was indicted for keeping a House in which she procur'd and encourag'd Persons to commit Sodomy , on the 10th of December last and before and after.
Samuel Stevens thus depos'd. On Sunday Night the 14th of November. I went to the Prisoners House in Field-Lane, Holbourn . I found near Men Fifty there, making Love to one another as they call'd it. Sometimes they'd sit in one anothers Laps, use their Hands indecently Dance and make Curtsies and mimick the Language of Women - O Sir! - Pray Sir! - Dear Sir! Lord how can ye serve me so! - Ah ye little dear Toad! Then they'd go by Couples, into a Room on the same Floor to be marry'd as they call'd it. The Door at that Room was kept by - Ecclestone to prevent any body from balking their Diversions. - When they came out, they used to brag in plain Terms, of what they had been doing, and the Prisoner was present all the Time, except when she went out to fetch Liquors. There was - Griffin among them, who was since hang'd for Sodomy. - And Derwin who had been carried before Sir George Martins for Sodomitical Practices with a Link Boy, he brag'd how he had baffled the Link Boy's Evidence and the Prisoner boasted that what she had said before Sir George, in Derwin's Favour, was a great Means of bringing him off. - I went thither 2 or 3 Sundays following, and found much the same Practices as before. They talk'd all manner of the and most vile Obscenity in her Presence, and she appear'd wonderfully pleas'd with it.
Joseph Sellers depos'd to the same Purpose and added he believ'd there were above 40 Sodomies commited that Night.
The Prisoner in her Defence, said that Darwin was taken up only for a Quarrel and that it ought to be considered, that she was a Woman, and therefore it could not be thought that she would ever be concern'd in such abonsinable Practices. But the Evidence being full and positive, the Jury found her Guilty .”

Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Portland Vase and a Victorian Vandal

On the 7th February 1845 William Mulcahy, a drunken visitor to the British Museum, smashed the famous Portland Vase. 

The Portland Vase had had a long and colourful history. It is piece of Roman cameo glass that served as a major inspiration to glass and porcelain makers from the Georgian period onwards. Made of violet blue glass, it has two pieces of cameo glass depicting different scenes from mythology. It is thought to have been made between AD 1 and AD 25.

Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador in Naples, purchased the vase in about 1778. he brought it to England and sold it to the Dowager Duchess of Portland. Her son, the 3rd Duke, loaned the vase to Josiah Wedgwood, who tried to make a copy of it. It took Wedgwood years to come up with a version he was happy with and when he displayed it at a private view the event was limited to 1900 tickets and sold out. The tickets read: “Admission to see Mr Wedgwood’s copy of the Portland Vase, Greek Street, Soho, between 12 o’clock and 5.  He later displayed the vase at his London showrooms. It must have been amazing to see the crowds gather to view a beautiful replica of the original.

The original vase was passed to the British Museum for safekeeping but in 1845 William Mulcahy, who had
been drinking for the entire preceding week, picked up a nearby sculpture and threw it on top of the glass case containing the Portland Vase, smashing both into small pieces (pictured). He was arrested and fined £3 for wilful damage but was obliged to spend time in prison as he could not afford to pay the fine. An attempt was made to restore the vase but when it was complete there were still 38 pieces spare! The final reconstruction was done in 1988 and the vase returned to display. As for Mulcahy, who had dropped out of studying at Trinity College Dublin, I couldn’t discover what happened to him and I wonder if he became an upstanding member of the community or if the drink ruined him! Whatever happened, he will always be known as the “intemperate vandal” to quote the police report of the time, who wilfully smashed the Portland Vase.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Rollright Stones: a fantastic setting for a novel

Recently, my daughter and I visited the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. Set in a field next to an ancient ridgeway with a wood nearby, these prehistoric stones exude an air of mystery and power. They comprise ‘The King’s Men’, a stone circle of over a hundred stones weather-worn into fantastical shapes (the exact number is unknown – they are uncountable); ‘The Whispering Knights’, the remains of a portal dolmen or burial chamber about ten minutes walk away, at the far end of the field; and ‘The King Stone’, which is by itself in the next field.

What I love about them is that they are completely accessible – there is no Visitor Centre, no ticket office. They are there, in the field, as they have been for thousands of years, and anybody can visit them at any time. They date from c. 3600 B.C. (The Whispering Knights) to c. 2500 B.C. (The King’s Men) and lastly, c. 1500 B.C. (The King Stone). There are numerous prehistoric burial chambers nearby, and the whole area must once have been an important and significant site.

Naturally, legends abound. One story goes that King Rollo the Dane passed by with his army on his way to conquer England. He met a witch who said:
              Seven long strides shalt thou take, and
              If Long Compton thou canst see
              King of England shalt thou be.

Rollo stepped forward eagerly but the witch raised a long mound in front of him and his view was obscured. She then turned them all to stone; the king by himself overlooking Long Compton, his men in a circle nearby and the five treacherous knights further off. Finally, she transformed herself into an elder tree. It is said that, at night, the stones comes alive and the King’s Men go down to the river to drink.

When we visited on New Year’s Eve, the place was deserted but other visitors had been there very recently. In the centre of the circle lay a wreath of holly, ivy, pine cones, a pomegranate, some apples and some feathers. Others, too, had left offerings of rose hips and berries elsewhere. What a setting for a novel, I thought.

‘This part of the world is a very witchy place,’ said my daughter. I could see what she meant. But we both agreed that, whatever may have happened here in the past, nowadays, walking around quietly among the King’s Men and visiting the Whispering Knights and the King Stone, the atmosphere was peaceful and benign.

The Rollright Trust, who looks after the place, urges to public to subscribe to the Sacred Sites Charter: Take nothing but photographs and memories. Leave nothing but footprints.

A happy, if belated, New Year to you all.

Photos, top to bottom:
The King’s Men; The Whispering Knights, The King Stone, Wicker Witch, Offering

Elizabeth Hawksley

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Lady Beneath the Veil

February is so drear this year in the UK, lots of storms and floods, so I am not getting my usual fix of walking the moors on crisp icy mornings. Instead it is nicer to curl in the warm and look out of the window!  So here's an excerpt from my latest Sarah Mallory romance, which is out this month. LADY BENEATH THE VEIL takes the premise of a couple who should never have married - a prank that went horribly wrong, but of course everything turns out well in the end!  Hope you enjoy it.


Dominique stood very still, staring up into the shocked face of her new husband. It was all there, everything she had expected: horror, revulsion, disgust. She had known how it must seem to him once the trick was revealed. He pushed his fingers through his auburn hair, disturbing the carefully arranged disorder, while behind them Max’s cruel laugh rang out.
‘Caught you there, Albury!’
‘But I don’t understand. Your cousin—’
‘This is my cousin.’
Max chortled and Dominique’s heart went out to the man standing before her. He looked stunned.
As well he might. Instead of the beautiful, voluptuous blonde he had courted for the past two months he was married to a diminutive brunette whom he had never seen before in his life.
‘Is something amiss?’ The vicar looked from one to the other before directing a vaguely worried look towards Max. ‘Lord Martlesham?’
‘No, no, nothing’s wrong,’ declared Max, still chuckling. ‘The groom is struck dumb by the enormity of the occasion, that’s all.’ He began shepherding the guests away from the church. ‘Come along, everyone, the carriages are waiting!’
‘Just a moment!’ The man beside her did not move, except to shake her hand from his arm. ‘Where is Dominique?’
‘Lord, Albury, have you not understood it yet? You have married her!’ Max gave him a push. ‘Come along, man, don’t stand there gawping. Let us return to the Abbey.’
‘Please.’ Dominique forced her vocal chords to work. ‘Come back to the Abbey and all this can be explained.’
Frowning, he grabbed her arm and set off for the gate with Dominique almost running to keep up with him. As was usual with weddings, the path was lined with well-wishers who showered them with rice as they hurried to the carriage. It was decorated with ribbons for the occasion, the Martlesham coat of arms displayed prominently on the door. Without ceremony her escort bundled Dominique into the carriage, climbed in after her and the door was slammed upon them. Max’s grinning face appeared in the window.
‘Now then, Gideon, try to contain your lust until after the wedding breakfast. The journey from here to the Abbey ain’t long enough to tup a woman properly. I know, I’ve tried it!’
Dominique closed her eyes in mortification. The carriage began to move and the raucous laughter was left behind them.
‘So, this was one of Max’s little tricks.’
Dominique looked at Gideon. His voice was calm, but there was a dangerous glitter in his hazel eyes that made her think he might be about to commit murder. She swallowed.
‘And everyone at the Abbey was privy to the joke, except me.’
‘You and…my mother.’
‘Max told me she was too unwell to attend the ceremony.’
Dominique bowed her head.
‘She does not know. Maman would never have agreed to such a scheme.’
‘I take it the female I knew as Dominique was hired for the part?’
She nodded.
‘An actress. Agnes Bennet.’
‘And a damned good one. She fooled me into thinking she was a lady. Whereas you—’ His lip curled. ‘You may be Max’s cousin, but no true lady would lend herself to this, this joke.’
His contempt flayed her. Given time, she could explain to him why she had agreed to Max’s outrageous scheme, but they had already arrived at the Abbey. She waited in silence for the carriage to stop and a liveried footman to leap forwards and open the door. Her companion jumped out first and with exaggerated courtesy put out his hand to her.
‘Well, madam, shall we go in to the wedding breakfast?’
Miserably, Dominique accompanied him into the house.


Sarah Mallory
Lady Beneath the Veil, pub Harlequin.Mills & Boon, Feb 2014