Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kentwell Hall - a quintessentially English historical house.

I visited Kentwell Hall recently and it was more than forty years since I'd been – but the place hasn't changed at all. It isn't slick and touristy like some stately homes, but accessible and intimate. We were able to wander about peeping into cupboards and touching things in a way that couldn't possibly happen anywhere else. In the moat house you could go upstairs into an Elizabethan bedroom – everything was there, down to the combs and other items one might find on the dressing table. There was also the brewery in which there were ancient barrels and kegs.

However, the kitchen and dining rooms were the most exciting. The kitchen had a fireplace you could roast a whole ox in and everywhere were pots and pans, kitchen implements and other things of interest. What was fascinating was that at one end there was a stone bench under which were two arches in which fires could be lit. On the top were iron grills – just like a modern cooker. I'm not sure what era these were as the house is obviously been in continuous use since it was built in the sixteenth century. They hold events here and they had cupboards full of pewter plates and goblets.

The bedrooms are furnished in various styles and there was a Georgian one complete with harpsichord as well as an Edwardian one in the Oriental style.The gardens are still laid out as they were when the house was built although there is now a storybook trail for the children which was great fun. The big carp pool is still there and when we stood at one end a row of mini tidal waves approached as the fish were expecting to be fed.

We also went into the ice house – I've never actually been inside one before and it was an experience I'm not eager to repeat. Astonishing to think that ice could be stored in there throughout the summer so frozen desserts could be served at banquets.

I would highly recommend that you go and visit Kentwell Hall if you're ever in the vicinity of Long Melford.
Fenella J Miller

Fenella's latest release is not one of her usual Regencies, but a second world war saga. The box-set trilogy is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


The fascinating new summer exhibition A Royal Welcome at Buckingham Palace, open until September 27th, shows the visitor exactly what goes on behind the scenes to make a state banquet a success. The palace has recreated the banquet setting for the State Visit from Singapore in 2014.

The tables for the State Banquet are set

The moment I entered the palace, I thought: as a writer of novels set in the Regency period, this is the nearest I’m going to get to one of the Prince Regent’s state banquets at Carlton House. This is more than just a wild leap of imagination on my part; it was George IV who invited the architect John Nash to transform Buckingham House into a palace with nineteen appropriately splendid State Rooms; and much of the furniture, ornaments, chandeliers etc. came from Carlton House.

Nash’s Grand Staircase

Nash had a flair for the theatrical and the Grand Staircase, which welcomes important guests into the palace is in itself a sort of coup de théâtre, leading you into the unknown. You can’t see what’s at the top but you sense that it will be something special – as, indeed it is. Almost the first thing I spotted was Canova’s delicious white Carrara marble statue, Venus reclining, (1816, from Carlton House) a very Prinny touch!

Silver Pantry

For this exhibition, the palace has created a series of special ‘behind the scenes’ showcases. This is where we see what goes on behind the scenes. The Silver Pantry, for example, has the silver-gilt plates and the cutlery, much of it collected by the Prince Regent. He had eclectic tastes; he liked rococo and baroque, as well as classical; and he seems to have collected it piecemeal. There isn’t enough gold plate for a complete banquet set – so the guests’ plates and cutlery comprise several different sets.

Gold centrepiece, bought by the Prince Regent

The gold centrepiece, shown here in the process of being cleaned and put back together, was another of his purchases.

The porcelain for the State Visit from Singapore, 2014

The Prince Regent was equally interested in porcelain. The photograph shows two different sets used for the banquet. One set of plates is a very pretty turquoise and gold Minton bearing Queen Victoria’s VR monogram; the other set, decorated with birds was made by François Tournier for the Duc d’Orléans, and bought by the Prince Regent after the French Revolution.  

The Wine Cellar

The wine cellar showcase shows an array of glasses, decanters and wine etc. The decanters date from the Prince Regent’s time and are still in use today. Note the butler’s uniform hanging up. Each guest has six glasses: for water, white wine, red wine, champagne, sweet wine and port.

Banquet table detail

There are four servants: page, footman, under butler and wine butler, to look after every nine guests. They each have their specific jobs and it is all meticulously synchronized.

Making chocolate buttons

So, what’s going on in the kitchen? We are given a fascinating glimpse into the making of chocolate buttons (based on the buttons on the footman’s uniform). Note the copper moulds for the famous chocolate bombes – sure to have been a hit at a Carlton House banquet, too. The numerous copper utensils are all originals and some date from our period. They are regularly used and re-tinned when necessary.

Sugar orchid flowers

I also loved the beautiful orchid sugar flowers, as made for the Singapore State banquet, whose national flower it is. Nothing is too much trouble to make the guests feel welcome. Each guest is given a small booklet with the guest list, the menu, the wine, and the live music being played. The banquet ends with the Queen’s pipers circling the room twice, after which, the Queen, and then her guests, leave the room. The palace wants every guest to feel comfortable and to know what happens when.

Banquet: the head of the table. Note the organ – originally in the Brighton Pavilion

The room is candlelit for the banquet and the candlelight makes everything shimmer – especially the ladies’ jewellery and the gold centrepieces.

I just loved this piano

Afterwards, there is a formal exchange of gifts; followed by coffee and, in Prinny’s day, perhaps some music. The grand piano from Carlton House is also now in Buckingham Palace.

Looking back towards Buckingham Palace from the gardens.

So, dear readers, if you would like to experience how it might feel being invited by the Prince Regent to Carlton House for a formal occasion, I suggest that you visit A Royal Welcome at Buckingham Palace. You will not be disappointed.

Elizabeth Hawksley

All photographs by Elizabeth Hawksley

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Writing tips #10 - to plan or not to plan.

When I started writing full-time, before I sold any books or knew much about the process of writing I bought several "how to" books and devoured the contents. Every book I read said that detailed planning was essential. I'm not including research in this post – that's something I shall do next time. Here is a list of suggestions for those just starting out on their writing careers. Sometimes, when writing a saga or series, it's essential to do a family tree as well in order to make sure your characters will fit in and there are no anomalies with their ages and birth dates.
1. Write a biography for each of the main characters. In this you put details of appearance, characteristics, age, aspirations and back story.
2. Make a list of all minor characters such as friends/family members/servants (if you write historical as I do) and give them a mini biography and make sure the names you use don't begin with the same letter as the names of the main characters.
3. Create a timeline and put any major events that actually took place so these can be slotted into your story if necessary. (This only applies to historical, obviously.)
4. Write a brief outline of what takes place in each scene/chapter and indicate from whose viewpoint it is so that you keep a balance of hero/heroine/villain.
When this is done you are ready to start writing your book. The characters should now be vivid in your mind and you will have a good idea of the direction your book will take. However, remember that this is only a guide and it doesn't have to be followed exactly. I found having this written down extremely helpful in the beginning because when you get to the "sagging middle" you can refer to your original plans to tighten things up.
Jean Fullerton, a very successful author of Victorian and East End nursing sagas for Orion, has an even more meticulous planning method. Even after eight books she still does this before she starts. On her screen she will have the equivalent of a double page spread divided into sections, in each section is a scene of about 1000 words. When I speak to her on the telephone she will often tell me she still has X number of scenes to complete – this means she always knows where the book is going and how much longer it will take her to write.
Now that I'm writing my forty-third book (seven mainstream historical and the rest Regency) I no longer need to plan for a 'single' title at all. I get an idea, think of the title, sort out the names of the main characters and I'm ready to go. I keep a notebook in which I write the names/ages/places as they occur in the book because by the time I get to the end I've often forgotten whether the butler is called Foster or Jenkins. However, I've just started writing a series which will have six books in it; although I've done no story planning I spent a couple of hours working out names/pages/partners and a title for each book. This is essential if you're writing a series as you must keep the chronology correct.
I expect that your are now wondering whether you should be planning or not before you start your book. My advice is to plan meticulously for your first couple of books but after that do whatever suits your writing style. I do recommend that you always keep a notebook with essential details of your characters. I hope these suggestions will be helpful to those still unsure which method to use. I know dozens of successful writers and I think it's probably a 50-50 split as to whether we plan or not before we start.

Fenella J Miller
To read all our posts on this subject just click on "writing tips" in the labels below.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Getting to Know You - Jane Odiwe

Early scribbles
I was very lucky to grow up in a family where everyone loved reading, and my favourite memories are all associated with going to the library or having the wonderful treat of going to choose a book of my very own. I had many favourite childhood books, I’ve written about some of the later ones here, but I think of the early stories nothing captured my imagination like Milly-Molly-Mandy, not least because of the illustrations.
I used to write my own stories, most of which were heavily inspired by those written by Joyce Lankester Brisley, and I dreamed one day of becoming a children’s author - a dream, which has never gone away - I hope one day I’ll finish the children's book I started writing in 1995!
I wrote an homage to Milly-Molly-Mandy when I was nine, consisting of six chapters of The Smiles Family (complete with a map) written and illustrated into little books that I made up with paper pieces and a stapler. I can’t tell you the excitement I still have when I buy paper or a new exercise book - so many of my first attempts at writing started in these little books - I kept a lot of them, because they gave me so much pleasure writing them.
Taking a look through the titles and their accompanying drawings I can see I loved historical figures even then. A story about The China Gentleman, a magical tale where a figurine in a cabinet comes to life, is illustrated with a gentleman in Victorian costume with the title, ‘Would you like some snuff?’ This is in an exercise book grandly labelled, Stories for Children, and features The Ballerina, A Visit to the Fair, and The Theatre. Another story features a Victorian aunt, who is young, pretty, and smells of lavender water - in the drawing I’ve given her a reticule.
By the time I reached the age of ten or eleven one of my great loves was ballet, and I loved Noel Streatfeild’s book, Ballet Shoes. I wrote my first attempt at a novel with a friend at school, and we called it Orphan Dancer. Our heroine was named Rosanna Estelle who dreamed of becoming a dancer from her earliest days at the orphanage. I think you might be able to guess what happened! We were often given permission to stay in and write it at playtime, which we loved, as no one else enjoyed the same privilege, and we thought we were very special.
Dancing on the beach
Apart from some pieces published in a school magazine, and English composition at school, which I loved, I didn’t write for a long time. I went on to art school, and became a teacher, always thinking that I’d love to write a novel, but never being brave enough to attempt it. When Jane Austen sequels started appearing I really felt inspired, I loved Pride and Prejudice, and it was wonderful to start writing again.

Lydia Bennet’s Story, Willoughby’s Return, and Mr Darcy’s Secret were my first novels, and I’ve since gone on to write timeslip/dual story novels, Searching for Captain Wentworth, Project Darcy, and Mr Darcy’s Christmas Calendar. I’m writing another Jane Austen inspired novel, but I’m determined to go back to the historical children’s book I started all those years ago. Perhaps I’ll get it finished in another twenty years time!
Jane Odiwe

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Writing tips #9 - beginnings

Here’s the 9th of our posts on writing tips. Today I’m talking about beginnings. The beginning of your book is very important because it needs to grab your readers’ attention. If nothing much happens for the first ten pages, your reader will lose interest and put the book down. So here are some suggestions for making the start of your book compelling.

1) Start with a life changing event.
Perhaps the heroine is about to become a governess or a housekeeper, or perhaps one of the heroine's relatives has arranged a marriage for her, or perhaps she decides to marry so that she can provide for herself and her family. All of these situations have drama and interest built into them because neither the heroine, nor the reader, knows how she is going to react to her new circumstances and this provides the reader with a reason for continuing.

In romantic fiction, it’s very important to delve into the characters’ feelings, and as life changing events involve deep and perhaps contradictory feelings, you will have plenty to explore. This will allow you, and your reader, to get to know your heroine.

Or you could open with your hero. Giving him a life-changing event will allow the reader to get to know him and important aspects of his character will be revealed by his reactions to difficult situations.

2) Start with some action.
Perhaps the heroine stumbles across a dead body, or perhaps she is running away from something and in doing so she bumps into the hero. A dramatic scene will give you plenty of opportunities to create tension between your hero and heroine. Will they trust each other? If so, why? Will they suspect each other? How will this affect their relationship?

3) Start with a dilemma
Perhaps the heroine has to decide whether to accept a proposal from a man she doesn't love, as she is poor and cannot support herself. Perhaps she has to decide whether or not to accept a job, or whether to sell her family home. Any dilemma will allow you to delve into the heroine’s personality, involving her hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses, and this will allow your reader to empathise with her.

4) An important characteristic is revealed
Perhaps the hero or heroine does something rash that will have serious consequences for them, and bring them into conflict with their romantic counterpart

5) An unusual but important activity is revealed
Georgette Heyer uses this to brilliant effect in Faro’s Daughter, where the heroine owns a genteel gaming house. Heyer gives good, strong reasons for the unusual situation and her research is impeccable, so that all the details are accurate. The unusual situation forms an important part of the book as the gaming house sets up the main conflicts of the plot. If you’re going to use a similarly unusual opening, then it needs to form an important part of the story, but if used well it can be very compelling.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Forged by Love

When I got my crazy idea to write about gods and goddesses in eighteenth century Britain, I thought I must be mad. And then the story magic went to work. The more I studied the legends, the more they slotted in to the way people thought and lived then. It just worked. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve created a world where the gods and goddesses of ancient Rome were reborn in the 18th century. I got the idea from a throwaway remark in a textbook, where the author said the aristocracy were treated like gods, and built their houses as if they belonged on Olympus.

Wow, what a concept. I wrote one, “Lightning Unbound,” then it just seemed to flow. Now, a few books in, I’m getting more adept at spotting the similarities. In the book that featured Bacchus,“Mad for Love,” I had a maze. Guess what, the 18th century aristocracy had a fascination for mazes!

The latest one, “Forged By Love,” is about Venus and Vulcan, taking place just after Venus’s torrid affair with Mars. All of the characters have other identities, Venus being the Virginie, Duchesse de Clermont-Ferand and Vulcan is Harry, Earl of Valsgarth. I start the books by looking at the legends surrounding the gods and goddesses I’m writing about. There are plenty of them, and some of them are contradictory – thank goodness, because then I can choose the one that works best! I use Ovid as my base, but I’ll bring lots more in. And then it becomes magically straightforward when I try to fit it into 18th century thinking and events.

I put in the gossip and anecdotes I read about the era, and blend them with the legends. For instance, “Forged by Love” starts with a theatre riot. The eighteenth century was marked by a number of these. Some even resulted in the theatre being burned down! I could mix the fatal attraction between Venus and Mars into the stories of the riots, and I had a memorable scene. Venus and Mars infect the audience with their potent sexual attraction, and the almost-orgy that ensues is the motivator that persuades them that what they are doing is wrong, that they both have to learn from the experience and move on.

I love writing these books. It’s my first foray into mixing two of the genres I love, and I wanted to be faithful to each, to do justice to each. I keep getting more and more ideas for it, so long may it continue!
Forged by Love is out on Tuesday, 18th August. Here's the  Amazon US link and here's the link for Amazon UK

Lynne Connolly

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Historical Romance – An enduring passion for Melinda Hammond

 Historical romance, I can't get enough of it!  But why?  that's difficult, it's a love affair that started a long time ago....
Think historical romance and perhaps you think of big dresses, even bigger hats(!) and lush plots featured in the older movies. This was probably my first impression of the genre, gleaned from the films shown on British TV when I was a child and still reading Enid Blyton. One such film was the Wicked Lady, starring Margaret Lockwood (seen here in the title role). It was actually made in 1945 but has been shown many times since then – I am not quite that old!)

Historical romance in book form came first with the "classics" we read at school, Jane Austen, The Brontes, Dickens etc. topped up by liberal readings of Georgette Heyer and Jean Plaidy, amongst others. So what was it about historical fiction that is so enduring? For me, it is another world, one we can never visit, except in our imagination. Wandering around castle ruins and old houses, I can imagine how people lived there and although the basics might be due to the guide books and history books that I have read, the colour and "flesh on the bones" comes from novels. Authors interpret history using their own voice, this gives tremendous scope for different views on the same period, but is it so very different today? We have contemporary writers who write about the modern world in hugely differing ways, from gritty political thrillers to warm, funny romances.
As a child my first historical romances came from the family bookcase, The Three Musketeers, The Scarlet Pimpernel and an author one hears little of these days, Jeffery Farnol. His books are romantic adventures full of action and passion, dashing heroes, spirited heroines and dastardly villains.  I loved them and still have them all in my own bookcase. However, I have to admit I do not re-read them as much as Heyer.

I discovered Georgette Heyer as a young teenager and have been re-reading her books ever since.  They were an escape for me – I could visit a world that was far more glamorous than the inner city where I grew up and escape from the pressures of being a teenager – exams, boys, keeping up with fashion, etc.

Over the years this love of historical romance has endured, so much so that my old copies of Heyer are now so worn I am having to replace them – not with the new glossy paperbacks, but I treat myself occasionally to hardback versions such as this one. 

When I decided I wanted to write a novel, it seemed natural to write historical romance, but being published is only the start of it. In the early 80's, with three books to my name, I was still a relative newcomer facing all the challenges for authors – research, marketing, finding time to write while looking after a young family, staying published - it was then that I met fellow West Country author Jean Saunders. She was a prolific romance writer and she gave me lots of encouragement – including this signed copy of her book, Scarlet Rebel.

It was Jean who told me about the Romantic Novelists Association and encouraged me to join. It was a wise move, for the RNA provides a hugely supportive network for writes of romance in all its forms. Sadly Jean died in 2011 but I know she is remembered fondly by many authors like myself, who found her an inspiration.
 And still the fascination of romantic fiction endures for me. I am so busy writing my historical adventures under the names of Melinda Hammond and Sarah Mallory that I do not have as much time to read as I would like.  Still, I do my best, and there are many great new authors coming along all the time, so there is no shortage of reading material.

What is it you enjoy about historical romance? Do you like adventurous swashbuckling stories or a comedy of manners? I'd love to hear your views.

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The English country house - Lyme Park

One of the things I love most about living in England is visiting magnificent country houses. England has many such houses, built by wealthy landowners in previous centuries, and they demonstrate the best of English architecture and taste over a millennium.

One of my favourites is Lyme Park , on the border of Cheshire and Derbyshire. Lyme Park is one of the most famous, and beautiful, houses in England. It's probably most well known for its appearance as Pemberley in the 1995 BBC mini-series of  Pride and Prejudice. It's immediately recognisable because of the mirror lake in front of the house, which, on a clear day, perfectly reflects the house. Nowadays, visitors approach the house from the other side but in its heyday, the drive led up to the side by the lake.

The estate was granted to Sir Thomas Danyers in 1346 and passed to the Legh family in 1388. The house itself was built in the late sixteenth century, with alterations being made in the 1720s showing the influence of Baroque and Palladian styles. It was passed to the National Trust in 1946 and is now held in trust for the nation. The National Trust owns many of England's historic houses, since most of them are too expensive for individual families to maintain.

The houses are open to the public and I've spent many a happy hour wandering through perfectly preserved rooms, examining architecture, enjoying the gardens, learning about the history or just soaking up the atmosphere. I'm also lucky enough to do frequent book signings at Lyme Park, where Mr Darcy's Diary proves very popular in the shop. They often have exhibitions linked to Pride and Prejudice. My favourite was probably the costume exhibition, which featured the famous white shirt which became the famous wet shirt! Here I am, standing next to it (although, alas, Mr Darcy was not wearing it at the time). As you can see, I dressed for the occasion!

If you're looking for a quintessentially English day out, I can thoroughly recommend Lyme Park. It's a beautiful house with interesting rooms, glorious gardens, a deer park and a folly. It has a wide variety of displays and exhibitions, which vary from season to season, and it has an excellent shop full of Pride and Prejudice inspired items. It's one of my favourite places and I hope it becomes one of your favourite places, too.

Amanda Grange

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What Makes a Gentleman? - A historical post

Class has always been a hot topic in English society and I’m wondering a little at my audacity – or even foolishness – in dipping a toe in the waters of it here. When did the “gentry” first emerge as a social class? Was belonging to the gentry synonymous with being a “gentleman”? What did the term mean in the Georgian and Regency period and what makes a gentleman these days? These are big questions but perhaps we can look at a few elements of them.

In 1583 Sir Thomas Smith wrote: “One who can live idly and without manual labour and will bear the port (deportment) and countenance of a gentleman, he shall be taken for a gentleman.” The luxury goods and extravagant clothing of late 16th and 17th century London were an avenue to social mobility. Sumptuary legislation - the laws that governed the types of clothes that the different social classes were entitled to wear - had lapsed and a consumer revolution was taking over. Eighty years after Smith was writing, the diarist John Evelyn complained: “How many times have I saluted the fine man for the master, and stood with my hat off to the gay feather, when I found the bird to be all this while but a daw.” In other words, in the 17th century smart clothes and an appearance of wealth made the gentleman. Or perhaps gave the appearance of a gentleman.

Sir William Craven was one such man who made good at the turn of the 17th century. He was the son
of an agricultural worker from Yorkshire who was apprenticed into the cloth trade in London. He worked hard, built up his business, married well, acted as moneylender to the court of Elizabeth I, bought himself a knighthood from James I, and was Lord Mayor of London. By the time of his death he had amassed a fortune of billions in today’s terms and had moved firmly from the lower labouring classes to the upper echelons of the Middle Class. His sons were both given titles and moved into the aristocracy. Phenomenal social mobility and all through the acquisition of a fortune! But did this make them gentlemen or is the definition of such a term more nebulous?

The original dictionary definition of the word gentleman was strict: A well-educated man of good family. It was also used to refer to a man whose income derived from property as opposed to a man who worked for a living. It was only in the eighteenth century that it came also to mean a man who was cultured, courteous and well-educated with a code of honour and high standards of proper behaviour.

By the time of Jane Austen, the gentleman had come to be defined by his personal qualities as much as by his status as a member of the landed gentry. He was not a member of the nobility but was an “esquire” at the top of the pile of untitled landowners. (Knights and baronets also do not belong to the peerage but are still a cut above an esquire by virtue of holding a title, and of course Jane Austen emphasises beautifully the superiority of Sir Walter Eliott, for example, a baronet, over Lady Russell the widow of a mere knight!) Even so, a gentleman such as Mr Darcy, untitled but well-connected, with a beautiful house and a very good income, was not to be sneezed at.

Further down the social scale was the “lesser gentry” constituting those in the military, attornies, doctors, clerics; the professional elite. Of course some of these, especially in the military and the church, might be younger sons of the nobility, just to confuse the issue. But these professions also offered opportunities for fortune and social advancement. The wealthiest of merchants and manufacturers were at the bottom of this “gentry pile”. As a group the gentry described themselves as genteel, polite and civil. They did not pretend to be members of “the Quality” although a connection to the Ton was highly prized (illustrated again by Sir Walter and his kow-towing to Lady Dalrymple!) There was in fact a profound cultural gulf separating the lesser gentry from the landed aristocracy.

It is the gentleman of the Georgian period who is the precursor to the gentleman of the Victorian period in that he establishes a code of conduct based on the three Rs: Restraint, Refinement and Religion. During the reign of George III, the British begin, by their reserve and emotional control, to distinguish themselves from the peoples of southern Europe whom they considered to have a more hot-headed temperament. This is where the move to define the gentleman by his manners rather than his birth or fortune begins.

By 1897 when Mrs Humphrey published her book “Manners for Men” the concept of the gentleman
was still being hotly debated. She wrote: “ Gentleness and moral strength combined must be the salient characteristics of the gentleman, together with that polish that is acquired… through the influence of education and refinement. He must be thoughtful for others, kind to women and children and all helpless things… but never foolishly weak. There are few such men but they do exist. Reliable as rocks, judicious in every action, dependable… full of mercy and kindness.” A total paragon, in fact! Her comments on the “ill-bred young man,” the reverse of the gentleman, are very funny. He is unkempt in his personal appearance, is so untidy that he creates extra work for the maids, late for meals, irritable and rude. Those who use strong language in front of ladies are held up for particular criticism.

Mrs Humphrey then issues some extremely helpful instructions to those aspiring to be a gentleman. It is important for a gentleman to walk on the outside of a lady on the pavement so that he gets splashed by the traffic (and the contents of chamber pots raining down) and she does not. I remember that my grandfather, another self-made gentleman, was a stickler for this although the habit has somewhat died out now along with a close encounter with chamber pots, fortunately. The gentleman, of course, always offers his seat to a lady. Interestingly I noted that a lady should never ask for a seat; this is not ladylike. All Mrs Humphrey’s advice relates to manners and behaviour, the implication being that even a man without good birth or fortune can become a gentleman. In fact she notes that if he comes from a poor home and still turns out well that is even more laudable.

So in our modern age, do you think it is still important for a man to be a gentleman? What do you think are the qualities we look for in a gentleman? Are these different from the ones that we require in the heroes of our Regency fiction? Who is your favourite gentleman, real or fictional?

Nicola Cornick

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Elizabeth Hawksley: Writing Tips #8

Today, Elizabeth Hawksley is giving us some of her favourite writing tips in the eighth part of our series.

Tip for Getting a Character Unstuck

I discovered this trick quite by chance. For some reason, I just couldn’t sort out an important scene between my hero and heroine. I knew sparks were supposed to fly but it wasn’t working; it was more damp squib than fireworks.

In desperation, I decided just as an exercise to write my heroine’s diary for the same scene. Perhaps a first person viewpoint would help to free the block. At first, a stream of waffle poured out. Doggedly, I went on writing. Then, suddenly, an unexpected nugget popped up. I continued writing.

After about forty minutes of continuous writing I realized, to my surprise, that I now knew several important things about my heroine that I hadn’t known before. I’d no idea where they’d come from but, once they’d appeared, not only did they make sense, new possibilities for the scene emerged. The block was unravelling. I stopped writing, took myself off for a ‘thinking’ walk and, by the time I got home, I’d sorted it.  

Note: it’s important to write in stream of consciousness mode without trying to shape it. Eventually, your heroine herself will give you the answer.

P.S. This also works for heroes.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Looking for more writing tips? Click on "writing tips" in the label below to find more in the series.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Why I love Regency romance

I first discovered Regency romance in my early teens with Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and I was hooked. Of course, Jane Austen wasn't really writing Regency romance, she was writing contemporary novels, but she set the template for a whole genre with Pride and Prejudice. Georgette Heyer picked up the baton in the twentieth century and made the Regency romance her own.

So what do I love about it? I love the chance to escape to an elegant age where courtesy was the order of the day; where witty conversations took place in crowded ballrooms or gracious drawing-rooms; where men and women danced and rode and took tea as they gradually fell in love. Many Regencies are comedies of manners about impoverished ladies who meet rich, handsome and arrogant gentlemen, causing the sparks to fly. Or sometimes it's the reverse, with heiresses meeting their match in impoverished gentlemen,

The language is another thing I particularly love about the genre. Georgette Heyer introduced a lot of wonderful phrases to the genre, which came from her detailed research. Characters are not poor in Heyer's novels; instead, they don't have a feather to fly with or they have pockets to let. They aren't drunk, they are a trifle disguised. There's a fantastic list of Heyer slang here This kind of rich and exuberant language peppers the pages of Regency romance and provides a unique and very entertaining read.

Regencies also offer a chance to delve into history and find out more about how our ancestors used to live. Some Regencies focus on the day-to-day life of the characters in small country villages. Others highlight historical events and place their characters in the turbulence of the Napoleonic wars or other similar events. I love reading and writing smuggling stories similar to Poldark, or stories about highwaymen or daring rescue attempts from the shores of revolutionary France, as well as elegant comedies of manners. Most of my own Regency romances have some kind of adventure as well as a romance. There is so much choice in the genre, it offers something for everyone, which is why I suppose it is still so popular, over 200 years after the first publication of Pride and Prejudice.

Amanda Grange

Friday, August 07, 2015

GETTING TO KNOW YOU – Melinda Hammond

Hi, I am Melinda Hammond, but if you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that I also write as Sarah Mallory, so first of all let me answer a question I have been asked many times… why do I use two names?

I started writing my romances many years ago as Melinda Hammond but when I began to write for Harlequin Mills & Boon I needed another name, a separate brand, if you like, for the fast-paced passionate historical romances I write for Harlequin. As Melinda Hammond I have published a much more varied selection, from the sweet traditional Regencies such as the award-winning DANCE FOR A DIAMOND to my WWII time-slip AND THE STARS SHINE DOWN and dual time novels like MOONSHADOWS and CASTING SAMSON (an e-book that is best described as Ivanhoe meets the Vicar of Dibley!)

As a child I used to make up stories and by the time I went to secondary school I was telling stories to my friends in the playground and beginning to write down the odd tale. My very first "commercial" success was when I was about ten. We had a visit from the Cadbury's educational team telling us how chocolate was made and there was a competition to write an essay about it. I won and the prize was several bars of chocolate. Unfortunately I have never been paid in chocolate since!

Georgette Heyer
I scribbled away, writing short stories, adventures, anything and everything, but inthose early days I never considered that I might get published, but it must have been there, deep down, because one of the reasons I went into secretarial work was for the typing skills, I knew they would be very useful for my writing!  I continued to write, and gradually found my direction - I had discovered Georgette Heyer's novels when I was a teenager and I don't think there has ever been anyone to match her for the mixture of story-telling, historical detail and witty light comedy.  She virtually invented the Regency novel and when she died in 1974 I was bereft – what was I going to read now?  It seemed logical to try and write my own. So that was when I began to write Regency romance.

However, although I had always read a lot I knew nothing of the publishing world and it was not until I gave up a full time job to have my first child that I even considered sending something to a publisher. In blissful ignorance I bought a Teach Yourself to Write book, typed up my manuscript and posted it off. I was incredibly lucky – the third publisher I approached actually made me an offer. I wrote two more books in quick succession but then the birth of my twin boys put an end to any spare time. This was coupled with a downturn in the publishing world, my publisher was not taking so many historical novels and although I kept on scribbling, my growing family were taking up most of my time and I decided that the writing would have to take a back seat. I didn't have anything else published for several years.

Then in 2000 I had a stroke of luck (!) – I stepped off a kerb, broke one ankle, badly sprained the other and was confined to a sofa for 12 weeks.  I was soon very, very bored. I decided to use the time to dig out an unfinished manuscript and have another go at it. By the time I was back on my feet the book was revised, I sent it off to the publisher and was thrilled when it was accepted. That was MAID OF HONOUR and since then I have never looked back.  I have now published over a dozen books as Melinda Hammond and June this year saw the publication of my 20th book for Harlequin Mills & Boon.

The Chaperon's Seduction, my 20th book for Harlequin Historical

I love writing historical novels, but I also like my books to have an element of adventure. I grew up in a street full of boys, with three older brothers and no sisters, so I was a bit of a tomboy.  My dad was a reader, and I read the books that were in his bookcase, The Three Musketeers, The Scarlet Pimpernel plus all the Jeffrey Farnol novels, which were historical romances. Oh, and I fell in love with Biggles, so much so that for my birthday a couple of years ago my family bought me a flight in a  1940'sTiger Moth – complete with WWII flying jacket, helmet and goggles!

As a writer of historical fiction, and especially writing about the Regency era, I couldn't miss out on the bicenennary events to mark the Battle of Waterloo so in June I joined a small party of enthusiasts to visit Waterloo.  We have the most fantastic time, so many re-enactors living under canvas for the duration, it was living history!  There isn't room here to tell you all about it, but you can read it on my own blog here  One Belle's Strategy

So that's it, a brief introduction, which I hope you have enjoyed. Now, with the family grown up, I am back to writing full time and I love it. There are so many stories I still want to write and as soon as one if finished I can't wait to get on to the next!
Happy reading!

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Afternoon Tea - an English tradition.

I cannot think of anything more English than afternoon tea. This started when well-to-do ladies made morning calls (in the afternoons) and were served biscuits and tea. Over the years this became a ritual that is now a traditional afternoon tea. Afternoon tea is different from high tea or a cream tea.
Afternoon tea should be served on tiered cake stands and should include a dainty assortment of sandwiches, freshly baked scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, as well as an assortment of small cakes. Tea must be provided in pretty porcelain cups and a china teapot. Nowadays you can also drink bucks fizz or champagne with your tea.
I have eaten afternoon tea in several places but the best is when it's served at home with friends and family. I bought an old-fashioned mixer in order to be able to bake an afternoon tea. I also have five glass and china cake stands as well as five beautiful cardboard stands and I use pretty flower decorated plates. I had an afternoon tea party for my last birthday and as well as tea and coffee I served Pimms - much more refreshing than champagne in my opinion.
A cream tea is slightly different to an afternoon tea. This will only include freshly baked scones, either with sultanas or without, clotted cream and strawberry conserve. In Devon they put cream on first and then the jam and in Cornwall the other way round – cream tea can also be served in a Devonshire split - a sweet bap (a kind of soft roll) instead of scones. Then we come to High Tea. This would be served at the table using plates and cutlery; traditionally it would be ham, cheese, pickles, possibly tomatoes and served with real bread, freshly sliced. There would also be a centre piece of a large cake on a suitably impressive stand, and possibly scones as well. This is a big meal rather than an extra meal slipped in between lunch and supper.
Eating together with friends and family is always a time for celebration and never more so than when eaten at a beautifully decorated table, with stunning cake stands and served in an English country garden.

Fenella Miller
Fenella's latest book is Lady Emma's Revenge. Lady Emma Stanton is determined to discover who killed her husband even if it means enlisting the assistance of a Bow Street Runner. Sam Ross is not a gentleman, has rough manners and little time for etiquette, but he is brave and resourceful and Emma comes to rely on him - perhaps a little too much?

Available from all Amazons including UK  US

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Historical Costume: 19th Century Underwear Revealed

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of watching historical costume expert, Mireille Weller, demonstrate what a Victorian lady in 1875 would have worn, from the shift up. As I watched her getting dressed, I realized that it was not that different from Regency times, so I thought a post on  19th century underwear might be interesting.  

The defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo signalled not just a change in the map of Europe, but also a change in fashion. After twenty-five years of war, people were desperate for something new. As the waist slowly descended to normal levels, the base of the skirt, held in place by a wadded hem, began to bell out. Stays had always been worn but now they became stiffened with whale bone and extra-tight lacing came in to emphasize the waist. By 1818, fashion dictated that a small bustle (known colloquially as a ‘bum-roll’) be tied as high up as possible under the back of the skirt to create the fashionable ‘Grecian bend’. In fact, according to The Handbook of English Costume in the 19th Century, a miniature version of this was in evidence even earlier before 1810.  

And, we must not forget that the formal dress of the 18th century, with huge hooped skirts for the ladies, was the correct court wear until 1820. Our heroines would have had to cope with hoops and corsets, if they were to be presented to the Queen. So how did they manage?

Stage 1: the shift and stockings

Mireille, our guide, appeared in her shift and stockings. Her shift was a loose cotton (linen in the Regency) garment with short sleeves and a scooped neckline which fell to just below the knee. It was ubiquitous throughout the 19th century, being cheap and easily washable. Her cotton stockings were held up by garters above the knee. Our Regency heroine’s stockings were held up by garters below the knee and, thus, occasionally visible.

This could lead to some embarrassment as the following poem from The Oracle of 1800 shows:

Why blush, dear girl, pray tell me why?
You need not, I can prove it;
For tho’ your garter met my eye
My thoughts were far above it.

Stage 2: the open-crotch drawers

Mireille then put on her open-crotch drawers, tying the strings at the back. Then she pulled the shift out so that only the legs of the drawers showed.

Stage 3: boots

So, what came next? The answer was unexpected. Boots. Mireille had learnt from experience that once she’d got her corset on, it was impossible to bend down enough to put on her boots, so they had to come first.

Stage 4: the corset. This was fastened at the front and tightened at the back.

Then came the hooped petticoat plus the bustle at the back to give the right silhouette. And our Regency heroine would have attached the bum roll at this point.

Stage 5: the crinoline and bustle

Next came the corset. This fastened at the front with wire hooks and eyelets but there was also lacing at the back which Mireille could tighten herself. She invited me to measure her waist before and after. Her waist was one and a half inches smaller after she’d tightened the laces and, doubtless, a determined maid could have lost another inch or so. 

Interestingly, tightly-laced stays were worn throughout the early Regency period. As The Ipswich Journal put it in 1807: ‘long stays are adapted to give the wearer the true Grecian form’. And in 1813, a garment described as an ‘Apollo’ was, according to The British Press, ‘a sort of under-dress or coat of mail worn by ladies to make their waists looks slender and genteel.’ It sounds excessively uncomfortable!

Stage 6: the first petticoat goes on over the head.

Next came the petticoats – two of them. She put them on over her head as she couldn’t bend enough to step into them. The second petticoat was more decorated than the first and they were both there to hide any evidence of the crinoline or bum roll ‘scaffolding’. In winter, a Victorian lady would have also worn a scarlet flannel petticoat for warmth. Since Medieval times, the colour scarlet was thought of as being, literally, warming; the early 17th century portrait of the Cholmondeley sisters in the Tate Britain gallery, each holding a baby swaddled in scarlet, is a good example. And we know that ‘The Princes of Wales wore a very large red shawl at the theatre’ in 1808. Presumably this, too, was for warmth.

Stage 7: the second, more decorated petticoat

Of course, having two or more petticoats, each one more elaborately decorated than the one underneath, allowed a lady to lift her skirt a fraction to display a froth of lace.

Stage 8: the skirt

Then came the skirt which also had to go on over the head – and you can see from the photograph how awkward it was to arrange properly. In reality, Mireille would probably have had a maid to help her. The skirt fastened at the back.

Stage 9: the decorative over skirt

After that, she put on the overskirt. This was purely decorative.

Stage 10: the bodice

Lastly, Mireille eased herself into her bodice and showed us the false curls which would enable her to put up her hair in a fashionable chignon with ringlets hanging down. The hair-style is not too dissimilar to the antique Roman style fashionable in 1812. Plus ça change…

You can see that with so many separate garments, even the simple act of sitting down could be a problem. This was why, Mireille explained, a gentleman pulled out a lady’s chair in the dining-room. His job was to give her the space to manoeuvre all her petticoats, crinoline and skirt into position so that she could sit down; and for that she needed both hands. The gentleman then gently pushed the chair forward so that she could sit safely – without, we hope, landing her on the floor.

It was a fascinating demonstration and Mireille’s explanations were equally interesting. All the same, I found myself thinking: thank goodness I live in the 21st century.

All photographs by Elizabeth Hawksley

Elizabeth Hawksley