Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Ellen's War An ATA Girl.

Out now £1.99/$2.99
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This is the second in a three book series, Ellen's War, the first being Blue Skies & Tiger Moths. This series begins in 1939 and will end in 1945. 
I was looking for a subject to write a short story for an anthology ( I didn't write one) and came across a reference to the ATA - Air Transport Auxiliary. Before this was set up aircraft were delivered by serving pilots. This was a waste of trained men so the ATA came into existence. 
This was initially men, injured RAF pilots, men too old to enlist and so on, but after  Dunkirk it was obvious to the Air Ministry that there weren't enough male civilian pilots to do the job. 
Pauline Gower persuaded the powers that be to allow women to join. Eight experienced pilots signed up, all from the upper classes; after all only the idle rich could afford to learn to fly. These brave women collected and delivered  Tiger Moths, used for initial training, mostly to Scotland. These planes had an open cockpit and the women didn't have heated, padded flight suits like the men.
By the end of the war some of  the women were happily flying four engine bombers, and anything else they were asked to deliver. There were around 800 members altogether in the ATA and around 200 were women. The most famous of these was Amy Johnson who tragically died after ditching in the Thames estuary.

This book is the story of Ellen, known as Ellie, after she joins the ATA. 
Here is the opening which picks up exactly where the last book ended. I hope your are tmepted to download it after reading this.
Fenella J Miller

June 1940

 Glebe Farm didn't seem like home anymore now that her brother Neil was buried. Ellie wished she didn't have to stay the full week of her compassionate leave but it would be unfair on her dad and Mabel to leave early.
'Ellie, love, you've not eaten anything today. You'll fade away if you don't have something.' Mabel was more than cook housekeeper here now, she was the future Mrs Simpson and Ellie wasn't sure she was ready for more changes in her life.
'I'm sorry, every time I try and swallow my throat sort of closes up. I had some cocoa and a bit of the Victoria sandwich when I got up, so I'm fine.'
'Why don't you take the dogs for a walk, clear your head, Fred will be back from the bottom field for his lunch soon. He'll not want to see you moping about.'
Ellie bit her lip somehow keeping back a sharp reply. Neil's funeral had only been two days ago, for heaven's sake, why was she expected to be rushing about the place so soon? It was none of Mabel's business anyway, she wasn't a member of the family yet.
'I'll do that. I'll be back in time for lunch.' Jack and Jasper, the two dogs they'd rescued from Battersea, were delighted to be taken for an extra stroll – not that they needed any exercise as they were always racing about the place catching rats, chasing rabbits and generally enjoying themselves.
Every time she called Jack it made her think of the other Jack in the family. He was a fighter pilot as Neil had been, but he was flying a Hurricane not a Spitfire. Everyone believed the Germans were about to invade and he was going to be in the forefront of the fighting.
George, her one remaining brother, was also a fighter pilot. However, he had severed the link between Glebe Farm and himself and was now firmly in the same camp as her obnoxious fascist grandfather, Sir Reginald Humphrey, and her estranged mother. She no longer considered either of them as part of her life and would probably never know if George was killed in the line of duty.
Jack Reynolds was her brother now – the only one she'd got. If anything happened to him she wouldn't be able to cope. Pushing that miserable thought aside she whistled to the dogs and walked briskly down the lane towards the farmhouse. She'd seen the tractor with Dad and the two remaining ancient labourers returning to the farm. They were about to retire, were in fact already too old to be working, but Dad was keeping them on until they wanted to go.
She waved to the team of land girls busy clearing the ditches. They didn't work every day here, they were in teams and lived in a hostel in the village and were sent out in rotation to the farms in the area. Dad owned three of them so they tended to be working for him most of the time.
There was always a hot meal at lunchtime and it was served outside on a trestle table. She didn't go out and join them as she wasn't in the mood for small talk. She hadn't been hungry since that awful call to the CO's office a few days ago when she was told that her beloved brother was dead. The fact that he had bailed out over Dover when his Spitfire had been hit should have meant he survived. He was machine-gunned by a passing Messerschmitt and had been dead when he hit the ground.
Somehow being killed like this made it even worse. His death had been an unnecessary act of cruelty – he should have been safe over his own home soil and dangling from a parachute. She wished she could join Jack fighting the Germans and killing those that had murdered her brother in cold blood. She was certain no British pilot would do such a thing.
The kitchen was unpleasantly hot so she continued into the sitting room which was cooler. She wandered about picking up and reading an occasional sympathy card from those scattered along the windowsill and mantelpiece.
Did one reply to these? She didn't know the addresses of half of them. The parish magazine was no longer printed because of the paper shortage or they could have put a notice in that. Maybe the vicar would make an announcement? Anyway, she wasn't going to do it.
She couldn't even write to her friends Daisy and Mary, as by the time her letter had been sent to a central postbox and then delivered secretly to the radar station they were posted at, she would be back. Telephone calls were also banned. Even her parents and fiancé, Greg, didn't know what she was actually doing. They just thought she was involved with something to do with radio operations. It was all very hush-hush.
She would leave tomorrow. She couldn't stay here with nothing to do and too much time to think of what she'd lost. Keeping busy was the answer. Unable to settle, she made her way to her bedroom. Her eyes filled when she passed what used to be Neil's room, next to it George's room, neither of them would ever be used by her brothers again.
Perhaps there was something of Neil's left in his wardrobe she could have as a memento and take back with her. Of course, she had a photograph but something more personal would help with her grief. There was a war on, three families in the village had lost loved ones as well, she had to get a grip and stop wallowing in her misery. Dad and Mabel were quieter than usual but they were getting on with their lives.
She put her hand on the door of Neil's room but couldn't bring herself to open it. Too soon. Instead she went into her own bedroom and stretched out on the bed. She could hear the murmur of voices coming through the open window.
'Fred, love, I'm that worried about Ellie. She's taken this hard. I don't like to bring up the subject of her wedding, not when she's so down.'
'She was close to Neil, it'll take her a while to get used to the idea. Greg said he was going to contact the vicar and get the banns read so they could be married as soon as they can coordinate home leave. With that bastard Hitler about to invade us I don't see either of them getting time off in the next few months – so there's no rush, love. Let things settle a bit.'

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Hinting at the dark side. Adding a little reality to the Regency World

One of the joys of writing historicals is learning about life in in the past.  The Ton's Most Notorious Rake features  two aspects of life during the Regency, although neither of them are glamorous. The poor and those who had "fallen from grace" had little prospect of improving their lot without some help.

My heroine, Molly, is housekeeper for her brother, who is vicar of Compton Parva, and since he is unmarried she had taken over many of the duties that would normally fall to a vicar's wife. She visits the poor, and has set up  a Sunday school for the poorer children.
The Sunday school movement began in the 1750s and flourished throughout the 19th century.  The first documented Sunday school was set up by Hannah Ball in High Wycombe but I first heard about this movement as a child in Sunday school. We learned about a local philanthropist, Robert Raikes, who believed that one of the best ways to prevent the poor turning to  crime was  education.

Raikes was born in Gloucester  in 1736 and inherited a publishing business from his father. He used his fortune to fund schools for poor boys, and his newspaper to publicise his views. Since many poor children worked in factories six days a week, the best time for them to attend lessons was on a Sunday.  Originally, his textbook was the Bible. His first school began in 1780 with boys only, but later girls began to attend. Other schools flourished across the country and despite some detractors, including criticism from some religious leaders, the movement proved a success. By 1831 over one million children were being taught weekly.

Raikes's schedule for the school is probably not much different from others set up around the country. This is his plan:- "The children were to come after ten in the morning, and stay till twelve; they were then to go home and return at one; and after reading a lesson, they were to be conducted to Church. After Church, they were to be employed in repeating the catechism till after five, and then dismissed, with an injunction to go home without making a noise."

Reading and writing were skills that could take a poor person from the gutter into gainful employment, perhaps as a clerk, or working in a shop. It also meant they were able to read newspapers and notices for themselves,  which meant they were better informed.

 The second aspect of Regency life that I wanted to explore in this book, just a little, is the plight of "fallen women". Molly is the widow of an abusive husband, and she knows all too well how difficult it is for women to make a living without a man's support. Women during the Regency were rarely free to choose their own destiny. They were expected to obey their fathers until they were married off, when they became the property of a husband.  Women who lost their reputation were often cast out of their home, or their place of work, and left to survive as best they could. You may have heard of the Harlot's Progress, Hogarth's prints that show how an innocent country maid is lured into work as a prostitute, and eventually comes to a bad end.

Molly sets up Prospect House, a refuge for women in this parlous situation. Molly knows their stories, and she is determined to help them to help themselves. The  residents of Prospect House are lively, courageous young women and in return for her support they provide Molly with  friendship and advice.

Naturally, because The Ton's Most Notorious Rake historical romance, it has a happy ending. But I do not believe that as a novelist I should ignore the darker side of Regency life. We should never forget that the ladies and gentlemen who people our stories live on a knife edge. Reputations and fortunes could be lost in an hour, and rich and poor alike were liable to be struck down by death or disease. This constant threat adds colour and vibrancy to the period, and makes it, for me, one of the most exciting times in British history.

Happy reading.
Sarah Mallory / Melinda Hammond

The Ton's Mot Notorious Rake
Published by Harlequin Mills & Boon, March 2018

Monday, March 05, 2018

Jane Austen: The Power of Money

I have been struck by the number of wealthy older women in Jane Austen’s novels who exercise stringent financial control over various young male relations.

The importance of money: 19th century reticule

In this post, I shall look at three examples; firstly, Mrs Churchill, the rich aunt by marriage of Frank Churchill in Emma. She brought him up after his mother’s death and dotes on him but that hasn’t stopped her from exercising strict control over his life. She is generous to him; he obviously has plenty of spending money but it comes at her discretion, and she is a capricious woman. He is supposed to be her heir – he changed his name from Weston to Churchill on his coming of age – but it is not official. Interestingly, Mrs Churchill is entirely off stage; we never meet her but her influence is profound.

Frank comes to Highbury (with Emma and Harriet)

Mrs Churchill’s main role is surely to show facets of Frank’s character. He is only twenty-three, and, as Mr Knightley tells Emma, ‘A young man, brought up by those who are proud, luxurious and selfish (is bound to be) proud, luxurious and selfish, too.’ He doesn’t cut Frank any slack. He points out that ‘we hear of him forever at some watering-place or other; a little while ago he was in Weymouth. This proves he can leave the Churchills (implication: if he really wanted to).’

Frank Churchill chatting to Emma

Mr Knightley ends by saying, ‘It is Frank Churchill’s duty to pay this attention to his father (visiting him on his marriage). He knows it to be so by all his promises and messages; it he wished to do it, it might be done.’ Frank’s omission is discourteous towards the new Mrs Weston, in particular. He wrote her ‘a very handsome letter’ but the actual visit keeps getting put off.

The reader gathers that Mrs Churchill is jealous of Frank’s relationship with his father. Even so, there may be something else behind Frank’s procrastination.

Mr Woodhouse is concerned for Jane Fairfax’s health

Frank has a secret, one which could have serious repercussions if his aunt gets to hear of it; he is secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax, whom he met in Weymouth. Jane is acknowledged by all to be beautiful, talented and cultured. Unfortunately, she has no money and Mrs Churchill’s jealous nature could lead her to disinherit Frank. The reader realizes, much later, that Frank only appears in Highbury when Jane Fairfax returns to her aunt and grandmother who live there.

Mrs Smith dismisses Willoughby

My second wealthy female relation is Mrs Smith, the elderly cousin of Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility. Willoughby is her presumed heir but this, as with Frank Churchill, is unofficial and could be revoked. Willoughby at least has some money of his own, what Sir John Barton calls ‘A very pretty estate’ in Somerset, worth about £600 p.a. It’s not a lot for a gentleman but, if he chose to live modestly, he and Marianne could manage. To complicate matters, Willoughby has been living beyond his means and is in debt. He visits Mrs Smith at Allenham every year, just to keep her sweet, and he does his best to keep secret his unsavoury seduction of the sixteen-year-old Eliza, the ward of Mrs Smith’s neighbour, Colonel Brandon. Mrs Smith, like Mrs Churchill, is off stage and we never meet her.

Willoughby’s seduction of Eliza and her having had his child, has made Willoughby’s personal situation far more perilous than Frank’s. When Mrs Smith discovers it, she demands that he marries Eliza. Willoughby refuses and what follows is a total breach.

That night, before he leaves Allenham, Willoughby wrestles with his conscience and decides that, much though he loves Marianne, it is ‘insufficient to outweigh the dread of poverty, or get the better of those false ideas of the necessity of riches.’ He abandons Marianne without any real explanation, causing her a great deal of distress, and goes to London to find a rich wife.

Ironically, once he is married, Mrs Smith relents. She approves of his marriage to a ‘woman of character’, and reinstates him as her heir. He gets what he thought he wanted – money, but loses what he has come to realize is far more valuable, marriage to a woman he loves.

Mrs Ferrars

My third rich older woman is the widow, Mrs Ferrars, the mother of the hero, Edward Ferrars, in Sense and Sensibility. Edward, as her elder son, is the heir but he is not financially independent. He has £2,000 of his own which brings in a mere £100 p.a., not a sum a gentleman can live on. Edward, too, must dance to his mother’s tune. Mrs Ferrars appears two thirds of the way through the book when Elinor and Marianne visit their half-brother in London. Elinor and Marianne pay a call on him, together with Lucy and Nancy Steele.

This is the only time we see Mrs Ferrars for ourselves. She is a little, thin woman with ‘a strong character of pride and ill nature’ She suspects that Edward loves Elinor and ‘eyes her with the spirited determination of disliking her at all events’, addressing not a single word to her. Instead, she pays a lot of flattering attention to Lucy Steele who has been secretly engaged to Edward for four years.

Lucy confides in Elinor about her secret engagement to Edward

The reader knows that sooner or later Lucy’s engagement to Edward will come out. What will Mrs Ferrars do? For the rest of the book, she’s off stage, but Jane Austen allows Lucy several scenes triumphing over Elinor (Lucy suspects an attachment between Edward and Elinor). We also hear from Lucy’s cousin, Mrs Jennings, that Mrs Ferrars has cut Edward off without a penny; and from an appalled John Dashwood, Elinor’s half-brother, who can’t understand why Edward won’t marry the rich Miss Morton; and from Lucy’s vulgar sister, Nancy. The eaction of each illuminates the respective characters.

Edward does as a gentleman ought; he stands by his engagement to Lucy, though he has long since ceased to love her. Now almost penniless, he moves into cheap lodgings. His only option is to take Holy Orders (which he wants) but, without the help of a rich patron, he’ll be lucky to find a curacy, which, notoriously, paid a pittance; £50 p.a. was not unusual.

Edward arrives at Barton Cottage to propose to Elinor

Colonel Brandon steps in and generously offers him a living. It is only worth £200 a year but it means that Edward is no longer homeless and has a future. Robert, his asinine brother, now officially Mrs Ferrars’ heir and with the income that should have been Edward’s, elopes with the artful Lucy. Mrs Ferrars becomes reconciled with Edward, accepts his marriage to Elinor, and gives him £10,000, the sum she gave her daughter Fanny on her marriage to John Dashwood.

National Portrait Gallery. Jane Austen after Cassandra Austen, stipple engraving, published 1870

I find it interesting that Jane Austen has three rich, older women who pull strings to control younger male relations. Mrs Churchill and Mrs Ferrars are both seriously manipulative and unpleasant. Ultimately, Mrs Churchill’s death removes the obstacle to Frank’s marriage with Jane. Mrs Ferrars has to give way and allow Edward a decent sum of money, even if it is only half of what he should have had. Both women’s behaviour ratchets up the dramatic tension, and tests the young men’s mettle, which is something every author should be looking to do.

Mrs Smith isn’t overly intrusive; she doesn’t have a prospective bride waiting in the wings, for example. She thinks as a right-thinking woman should. Willoughby complains about ‘the purity of her life, the formality of her notions, her ignorance of the world,’ and tries to dismiss her outlook as old-fashioned, but his speech only serves to show up his selfish disregard for Eliza, Marianne and Mrs Smith herself. Out of the three young men, Willoughby is the one who really loses out.

Reading Lady

I discussed this post with my Mediaeval historian brother who said that anyone from a similar background in the 14th century would have understood the problem instantly. It was the norm until comparatively recently that the older generation controlled the family money.

He reminded me that marriage settlements ensured that a widow had her dowry, but she was also legally entitled to ‘the widow’s third.’ That could tie up an awful lot of money.

Illustrations from Emma and Sense and Sensibility by Hugh Thomson

Elizabeth Hawksley

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Foundling Hospital

Sir Thomas Coram by William Hogarth

In the continuing story of the eighteenth century, the research never stops. The more you know, the more there is to discover.
I’ve recently been working on edits on the last The Shaws book, due out at the end of the year. I had to research the orphanages for this one.
Most of us have heard about Thomas Coram. This old sea dog founded the most famous orphanage, or “foundling hospital” of the eighteenth century. He was helped by his friend the artist William Hogarth, who painted one of his best portraits of Thomas Coram.
It became fashionable to support foundling hospitals. Poor mothers would arrive and leave their children, so they weren’t always orphans. The mothers would leave a token with the child, in case she was in a position to pick the child up later on. But these tokens – a tiny embroidered scrap of fabric, a coin, a cheap piece of jewellery—were usually taken away from the child and stored separately.
Records were taken, of the child, its age, and in time, the foundling hospital would find a job for the child, a useful and legal occupation. It was a worthy thing to do, especially when undertaken by someone as philanthropic as Coram.
Tokens left with children at the Foundling Hospital
But not all foundling hospitals were made the same. Some were little better than thieves’ kitchens. In Oliver Twist, a couple of generations later, Dickens describes Fagin and his band of little pickpockets. Although this was a Victorian phenomenon, it might has well have been Georgian, for these places existed then, as well. They weren’t all good places. Children could be trained to do the dangerous work of theiving and burglary, then, if they were caught, the hospital would disown them.
However, many of the foundling hospitals were run by philanthropic individuals, and collected donations from the rich and influential. A politician’s reputation could be enhanced by such charitable giving, and a lady was considered gracious, and she had the cosy feeling of doing good.
Very few actually visited the places regularly and became involved in the running of the place. A board of governors would meet and discuss the place. Again, Dickens describes these well, although his orphanage was in fact a poorhouse, the inevitable development, when the state took over running many of these.
It’s a sad story.
Coram’s is now open to the public, together with the sad and pathetic tokens left with those poor children.
It wasn’t always so good in the good old days.

Lynne Connolly

Monday, February 05, 2018

Ocean Liners: Romance on Board

Earlier this week I was invited to the preview of the new blockbuster exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum: Ocean Liners: Speed and Style. If you want a bit of luxury and glamour – and who doesn’t? - this is a must see exhibition.

Cunard poster

It struck me that being on board a 1930s ocean liner as a first class passenger was the 20th century equivalent to being one of the ton in Prinny’s Brighton in about 1820. And, to prove my point, I’m inviting you to come with me back to the glory days of the Ocean Liner and let me take you on a luxury five day London to New York trip – no expense spared.

We are travelling First Class – naturally – with one of the top shipping lines for speed, comfort and attention to detail; perhaps Cunard, or maybe we are on the French liner Normandie, who prided herself on being even faster than the Queen Mary.


A model of the Conte di Savoia, showing the new gyrostabilisers deep in the hull of the ship

We are travelling after 1930 – and this is a must. It was in 1930 that the Conte di Savoia first introduced gyrostabilisers which made travel a whole lot more comfortable; no more being sea-sick, or watching your meals sliding off the tables in the dining room.


The bellboy looks after the first class passengers: nothing is too much trouble

We are greeted on deck by a bellboy who looks about fifteen – and probably is. His job is to make sure Madame or Mademoiselle has a deckchair and, if it is chilly, a warm woollen blanket to put over your knees. Naturally, he will also fetch you a cocktail. The bellboy above is wearing a French uniform, and the deckchair next to him dates to 1935. 

Marlene Dietrich’s day suit by Christian Dior, 1949

We must keep our eyes peeled to see who else is aboard. Marlene Dietrich is a frequent traveller, or we might be lucky enough to meet the handsome and dashing U.S. diplomat, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Junior, famous for his style.


The dashing U.S. diplomat in his 1940s day suit.

Here he is, gazing out to sea – and being careful to stand in the sort of pose which says: I know that I am an attractive (and wealthy) man and I am well aware that women will look at me. Who knows, I may meet you at dinner.

In Regency times, a young girl would have to be properly introduced to a suitable gentleman – and he would have been thoroughly vetted first by her Mama or chaperone. In the 1930s, things would have been a bit more relaxed: if you had the money, you could buy a first class ticket for the voyage. There’s plenty of scope for the villain to slide on board – his eye on the lovely Lady Mary’s diamonds – or her heart.

Luxury suitcases from the 1940s.

However, you are now in your luxury cabin and your luggage has arrived which a maid is unpacking for you. The set of suitcases in the photo above dates from the 1940s and belongs to the Duke of Windsor who frequently crosses the Atlantic, often with as many as 100 pieces of luggage!


French furniture and wall panelling, 1927

So, let’s look around the ship. In the 1920s and 30s, Art Deco was the prevailing fashion, and luxury liners underwent frequent redecoration to keep them up to date. Above we see some wooden wall panelling from the Beauvais suite on the Ile de France, 1927. It is made of different-coloured marquetry in a floral design. The centre of the panel has a Lalique light which simulated rays of sunlight. It is very much in the French grand style. The two chairs are also French. Very classy, I think you’ll agree – though I’m not sure they look very comfortable.

Still, a gentleman could always invite a lady to take a stroll with him on deck.


Silk georgette and glass beaded ‘Salambo’ dress by Jeanne Lanvin, 1925, worn by Miss Emilie Grigsby.

It is time to dress for dinner. What will you wear? Your maid whispers that some fashionable travellers buy a completely new wardrobe just for the voyage. Everyone is wondering what the Kentucky-born beauty and socialite, Emilie Grigsby, will be wearing. It’s bound to be something both daring and fashionable.  
Nothing changes here. The 1820s young lady, if she’s particularly daring might dampen her petticoat to make her dress cling more closely to her figure.

Silk crepe evening dress by Lucian Lelong

If the spectacular Jeanne Lanvin evening dress is a step too far for you, what about the silk crepe red dress (Lucien Lelong, Paris, 1935) worn by Mme Bernadette Armal on the maiden voyage of the Normandie. I love this dress; cut on the cross, its folds cling to the body sensuously. Many French couture houses sent representatives for an on-board show for this trip, where they each showed a garden party dress, a tailored ensemble and three evening gowns. It is the perfect venue: A-list guests and a captive audience for five days. ‘What else is there to do on the voyage, my dear, but spend money?’

Panel from ‘The Rape of Europa’ from the Normandie.

The Normandie is famous for its top quality Art Deco style. It has a spectacular 140 metre long Grand Salon with a giant glass mural of over 400 panels, predominantly in black and gold and reverse-painted on mirrored glass. It is undoubtedly impressive but I’m not sure I like it.

Surely, the Regency equivalent here is the Brighton Pavilion itself, finally completed in 1820.


Toiletries case by Louis Vuitton. 1934

You have decided what to wear and your maid has artfully attended to your makeup and hair, and eased you into your chosen evening dress. The contents of your Louis Vuitton toiletries case, hand-made in Morocco leather, brass, wood, crystal, silver, ivory and glass, give you confidence. Will that connoisseur of beautiful and well-dress women, Mr Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Junior, be there? And will he notice you?


The Grande Descente

This is the ceremony where first class passengers descend the beautifully curved staircase to the first class dining-room, which shows off their every move. There is the shimmer of silk as the ladies sashay down the stairs. Passengers from the lower classes watch and applaud, but they do not, of course, join in. (The background shows a film of the famous Grande Descente.) Mr Drexel Biddle, Junior, is indeed there, on the stairs, dressed in the fashionable evening wear of the day. His eyes turn towards you; he likes what he sees.

Fans of Stella Gibbons Cold Comfort Farm (1932) will remember the scene in the 1830s Assembly Rooms in Godmere where Elfine, now transformed into a Beauty, descends the red-carpeted staircase to the ballroom where she is greeted by ‘a low hum of admiration, the most delightful sound in the world that a woman’s ears can receive.’  As Flora’s mentor, the Abb√© Faussse-Maigre, puts it: Lost is that man who sees a beautiful woman descending a noble staircase. I rest my case.


Tableware from the Normandie, 1934.

Back on board the Normandie, Mr Drexel Biddle, Junior, smiles and offers you his arm and, together, you move towards the best dining table. Other women watch you enviously. Time passes….


The ship’s first class swimming pool

Before you part, he asks you to meet him by the swimming pool the following morning. Here we see a variety of swimwear. The lady seated at the back left is wearing a 1968 bikini; the lady standing knee deep in the water with a white swimming cap, sports a red and black 1925-9 swimming costume. The man standing on the side at the back, right, wears a 1926 man’s swim suit; and the lady doing a handstand in the water wears a mustard-yellow two-piece swim suit, 1937-9. Who will you choose to be?
Our voyage is over and we must return to real life. My moral here is that Ocean Liners of the 1930s have much to offer a romantic historical novelist.
Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, sponsored by Viking Cruises, is on until 17th June, 2018. I thoroughly recommend it.
Elizabeth Hawksley


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Surprising revelations about pianos

When I was writing the book that is coming out on 4th February, I had blithely made my heroine a virtuoso piano player without realising how much research it was going to demand. I knew about Broadwood pianos. Well, I’d heard of them. And of course we’ve all heard of a Steinway Grand. But this is the early 19th century, the Spring of 1806 to be exact, and here is my heroine asking for a quality piano in exchange for giving herself to a convenient marriage.

I delved. And found no Steinway, but Stein. Yes, we had Broadwood. But we also had Graf.  Who he? You may well ask. There were others, but we will content ourselves with these three as I did for the book.

Johann Andreas Stein, it turns out, was a major contributor in the late 18th century to the improvement of the piano in terms of controlling the sound and responding to the player’s touch. I won’t attempt to explain how, but this illustration shows the innovation called the Stein Action which is all in the way the key works to make the sound with the “hammer”. This is just one contraption attached to one key.

Mozart, who visited Stein in 1777, had this to say of his pianos:
... In whatever way I touch the keys, the tone is always even. It never jars, it is never stronger or weaker or entirely absent; in a word, it is always even…. His instruments have this special advantage over others that they are made with escape action. Only one maker in a hundred bothers about this. But without an escapement it is impossible to avoid jangling and vibration after the note is struck. When you touch the keys, the hammers fall back again the moment after they have struck the strings, whether you hold down the keys or release them ...

Joseph Broadwood, a British maker, founded a dynasty that survives today. (See the piano at the top.) His was the maker hand that developed the pianoforte (or fortepiano) into a piano, increasing the range to six octaves. Who knew?

Conrad Graf was Viennese, and his pianos were known for effective damping of sound after the key was released. Graf achieved this result by a variety of means, with which I will not trouble you. He also had a second soundboard. This is, I am told, the surface of a string instrument that the strings vibrate against, usually via some sort of bridge. But Graf’s second soundboard had no bridges, but simply floated above the strings (not attached to them)… its purpose was to make the sound mellower and more blended."

As if this wasn’t enough to contend with, my heroine needed music to read from in order to play. How did one get this then? Fortunately there was sheet music, but you didn’t necessarily buy it. You could borrow it, like books, from a music library. But once she has the means, Lily is only too happy to take out a subscription to the music sellers so that she may buy her own copies of new music coming out.

Yet I still had to find out who was composing then. Whose music was she likely to be able to play? I pored through lists and found some names suitable to the time and details about their styles. Eureka!

Finally, where was she going to buy this piano? Who sold them? Fortunately, I found Clementi’s in Tottenham Court Road where she could go, not only to look at pianos, but at sheet music too.

Phew! I had all I needed. Isn’t the internet wonderful?

Elizabeth Bailey

“This fellow will serve you, Lily.”
He indicated the assistant, who bowed. “My name is Driffield, my lady.”
Lily’s face lit. “Oh, thank you! I have never seen a Stein, and I have not heard of this one.” She waved at the instrument by which she was standing. “Graf? Is it German?”
The fellow Driffield nodded. “Viennese, my lady. A new name, Conrad Graf, who is gaining something of a reputation. We thought to give it a trial.”
Lily began to strip off her gloves. “May I try it, Mr Driffield?”
“Of course, my lady.”
The assistant opened the instrument, laying bare the gleaming set of black and white keys. Lily shoved her gloves at Vincent, who took them automatically, watching her slip onto the stool and poise her hands above the keys. She flexed her fingers and ran her right hand along the keys, producing a series of notes. She did the same with the left hand and then, apparently satisfied, she began to play.
Vincent was no judge, but the air Lily produced, playing from memory, was pretty and her fingers moved across the keys with ease and sureness.
“It has a pleasant tone,” she said, addressing the fellow Driffield. “Does he use dampers?”
“Indeed, my lady. And a second soundboard, which makes the sound mellower and more blended. We find these pianos to be of sturdy construction and believe they should last for years. A most promising instrument, we think.”
Within minutes, Lily and the elderly creature were deep in discussion about the rival merits of the various instruments and Vincent was utterly lost. Unknown terms battered his ears as the two spoke of the merits of five or six octaves, pedal controls and the Stein action. They might have been talking in a foreign language. Indeed, Vincent suspected much of what they said was in German or Italian.
Lily flitted from one piano to another, discussing each as she played what she called a mazurka here and a sonata there. It struck him that Driffield went from interested to thoroughly engaged, as if Lily was almost as knowledgeable as he clearly was himself.
“Well, my lady,” he said at last, “from what you have said, I would recommend the Stein.”
Lily smiled. “Yes, and I dare say you are right that it will give me the best tone.” The mischievous note Vincent was coming to know entered her voice and she threw him one of her dancing looks. “And my husband has very kindly given me permission to purchase the best piano that I can find. Only I’m afraid I have fallen in love with that Broadwood over there.”
With which, she raced across to the very first piano she had seen upon entering the showroom. Driffield followed and Vincent trailed in their wake, his interest aroused.
Lily was addressing the assistant, touching the pale wood with its decorative inlay.
“It’s so beautiful to look at, you see, apart from its tone, which is perfect. I think I would take as much pleasure from its aesthetic line as from playing it. Do you not think so?”
Driffield was deference itself. “It is a consideration certainly. But from the point of view of the sounds you will produce, I submit your ladyship cannot do better than the Stein.”
Lily looked back at the recommended piano, which was of a dark wood, rich and smooth. But Vincent was not much surprised when she opted for the other.
“No, I have quite made up my mind. I will have this one.” She smiled at Vincent. “And save my husband a few pounds into the bargain.”
Vincent waved aside this mundane consideration. “Have the one you want, Lily. The cost is immaterial.”
For answer, she sat down at the piano of her choice and played for several minutes, becoming, as far as Vincent could see, quite lost to the world. She sat with eyes upon the keyboard barely half the time, her fingers moving across the keys as if she could see them by touch alone.


A fortune at stake if he does not marry now. Almost anyone will do.

Intrigued by the dissolute Lord Wintringham and with nothing but drudgery in store, Lily Daubney dares to contemplate his desperate offer. Sanity prevails. But Vincent’s persistence lands her in so much hot water she has no option but to marry him.

Delighted with her reward of a fine pianoforte, Lily rapidly discovers the perils of her bargain. Impossibly selfish, treading a path to perdition, Vince seems wholly irreclaimable. Is Lily’s growing desire to reform him doomed to failure? Or will her unexpected influence turn disaster into happiness?