Monday, July 16, 2018

All's Well That Ends Well - at least I hope it does.

Click Here To Buy
The Nightingale Chronicles - Book 4 - All's Well That Ends Well
This is the final book in a four book series and both Sarah Cooper and Alfie Nightingale will have to endure a deal of heartbreak and danger over the next two years to reach their happy ever after. Sarah becomes betrothed to Robert Billings and moves her family back to Colchester, and Alfie leaves to be a policeman in London. Somehow Sarah must hold the family together and pray that her man will come back to her. Alfie has a life changing decision to make but will he make the right one for himself and the family that he has abandoned?

I was sad to say goodbye to my characters, Sarah and Alfie Nightingale, after many years with them. I took them from twelve and thirteen years old to twenty-four and twenty-five with families of their own. The Nightingale Chronicles  are family sagas and also regional as they are set firmly in Essex and the East End.
There are now something called Exotic Sagas - ones set in foreign places - such as the Tea Planter's Wife. It would appear, according to agents and editors these are highly desirable titles right now - also anything about an orphan. 
I have already written what could be classed as an Exotic in Victoria's War. Victoria isn't working class (so not a clogs and shawls - which the others were) but Anglo-Indian and forced to give up her heritage when she marries an English army captain. The book starts in India, then moves to England, Africa, India, Bruma, America and ends in England. This book was inspired by my mother's memoirs (she was Anglo-Indian) and I love it. Not sure why it hasn't proved as popular as my other WW2 books.

I was going to write a series about a family involved with building the railway but now wonder if I should write something about an orphan. Victorian era is packed full of interesting stories. Henry Mayhew is my go-to research book and I can't wait to finish the Regency I'm writing and the edits for Aria and then I'll get started on my reading. 
best wishes
Fenella J Miller

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Lucasta, Gainsborough and the Long Regency

Publishing a new book (albeit a revised one) is always exciting, but searching for a new cover for Lucasta, my latest Melinda Hammond to be re-published on Kindle, turned up a fascinating true story that is the equal of any fiction.

You may be asking yourself why I have included a Georgian romantic adventure in this blog for Regency authors. Lucasta is set in 1780 and it can be argued that this was at the very beginning of a period known as the Long Regency, which covers a much wider time-span than the actual time the Prince of Wales was Regent (1811 – 1820). Generally, the Long Regency stretches from the late 18th century, when the Prince of Wales was coming into his own as a both a fashionable and a political figure, until 1837, when Victoria became Queen (and merited a historical period all to herself)


Lucasta is set around the 1780s, just before the French Revolution and the huge changes in society and fashion that followed. When I needed a cover for the e-book, it made sense to go to the leading artists of the day for my inspiration. And I came across this:
The Honourable Mary Graham of Balgowan by Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788)

 You can see how alike it is to my own cover (included at the end of this blog), which the talented Jane Dixon Smith designed for me.  The original portrait is now in the National Galleries of Scotland. It was painted after 1777, so it fits with the setting of my story (even if the style was influenced by the 17th century painter Van Dyck, so the costume and setting has echoes of an earlier period). When I looked a little deeper into the history of this painting, however, I discovered that the lady's own life was equally as interesting as any fiction.

The Hon Mary Cathcart was born in 1757, the daughter of a Scottish baronet who was at the time Ambassador to Catherine the Great. She was born in Russia and spent her early years there, but returned to England when she was "of marriageable age".  She was married at the age of 17 to a Perthshire landowner, Thomas Graham, in 1774. It is said that he was so love-struck that when she forgot to bring with her the jewels she wanted to wear at a ball, he rode 90 miles to fetch her jewel box.

She suffered from  consumption and her husband took her to Brighton in an attempt to improve her health. It was there she met Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire and they became life long friends (and possibly even lovers). Gainsborough adored her and painted her three times, including the version shown above, which was exhibited to great acclaim at the RA in 1777.

Mary's health continued to be a concern and her husband took her to the Mediterranean in the hope that a warmer climate would prove beneficial, but she died onboard ship, off the coast near Nice, in 1792. Thomas brought her body back through France, which was by then in the grip of revolution, but his party was accosted by French soldiers and Thomas was forced to stand by and watch while they broke into the coffin and violated his wife's body. He had planned to bury her in France, but after this appalling incident he decided to bring her home: she now lies buried in the mausoleum which he built in the churchyard at Methven.
Thomas never recovered from this outrage and could not look at the portrait again. He hung it with white muslin and later passed it to her sister. Thomas then spent the rest of his life in the army, fighting the French. In the mid 19th century, the portrait was bequeathed to the National Gallery by one her descendants on condition that it never leaves Scotland, and it has been there ever since.

It is a fascinating story, and one that I might never have learned had I not decided that this lady would make a perfect model for my eponymous heroine.

 Happy reading!

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

Lucasta is now available on Kindle

Thursday, July 05, 2018

In the Gallows' Shadow

What must it have been like to be in a prison where the gallows was always visible? When you might soon be climbing those wooden stairs and feel the noose being put around your neck. These thoughts jostled through my head when I visited Downpatrick Museum in Co. Down recently – it was once a gaol.

My writing self thought – but a gallows is just what a novel needs. Think of the scene in Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) where the innocent Tom is climbing the scaffold's wooden stairs. The tension is almost unbearable. Will a pardon come in time? Or will poor Tom swing?
Downpatrick Gaol's scaffold and gallows as it would have looked in 1796

Downpatrick Gaol opened in 1796 and closed in 1830, and, during that period, it housed thousands of prisoners. Most of them were held for very minor offences, like petty theft, or being a public nuisance (which could mean practically anything). But it was also a convict gaol and hundreds of prisoners were held here in its cramped cells before being transported to New South Wales.

The very stones must have smelled of misery and hopelessness.
The outer yard of Downpatrick Gaol

It also held prisoners who fought for Irish independence from Britain in the 1798 rebellion, some of whom were hanged on the Downpatrick Gaol gallows. The most notable gallows victim was Thomas Russell, friend of the staunch Irish republican, Wolfe Tone. Russell met Tone in Paris during the French Revolution, together with another Irish revolutionary, Robert Emmet. Russell, Tone and Emmet were all executed for their beliefs. Russell and Emmet were hanged in 1803, Russell in Downpatrick, and Emmet at Rathfarnham. Tone was captured in 1798 and court martialed. He committed suicide when his plea to die a soldier’s death by shooting was refused.

These were violent times.

Downpatrick Cathedral, described by John Betjeman as 'the prettiest small cathedral in these islands.'


The Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, himself a staunch supporter of the French Revolution, had visited Paris a few years earlier, and famously wrote:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven.

But he was appalled by the violence unleashed by the Reign of Terror and, when things got too hot, he had no option but to leave his French sweetheart, Annette Vallon, in Paris with their baby daughter, hoping to return when things became more stable.  

The huge slab of stone said to mark St Patrick's grave


Downpatrick Gaol lasted only from 1796-1830, but they were years of exceptional violence, both in Ireland, in the rest of Europe and in the new United State of America. The scaffold and gallows were swept away and, nowadays, the place is a lively and interactive museum with exhibitions and events, showcasing Downpatrick’s rich history – St Patrick himself was buried at Downpatrick Cathedral in about 461 A.D..

It also tells the story of the gaol’s prisoners. Thomas Russell has not been forgotten.

Downpatrick Gaol: the inner prison yard

The museum’s director, Mike King, told us how the gallows returned to the museum. In 2015, the director of The Frankenstein Chronicles (starring Sean Bean) wanted to film there – and they would build an exact replica of the scaffold and gallows in its original position in the prison yard. With great presence of mind, Mike offered to waive the fee if the museum could keep it once the filming had ended. A lot of school groups visit the museum and he thought they’d love it. He was right. 
Gruesome or not, it’s a very visible reminder of the terror the scaffold and gallows must have once inspired.
Elizabeth Hawksley




Monday, June 25, 2018


This month I have the absolute honour to share an excerpt from my new book, out with Kensington this Tuesday.
This one is set mainly in London, and I got to research the cluster of bookseller shops and stalls that clustered around the bottom of Ludgate Hill, Paternoster Row, and around St. Paul's.
In the mid-eighteenth century, if you wanted to buy a book, that was where you went. Or you sent your servant, of course! These days the area is under yet another development, but for most of the twentieth century it was a bleak place that attracted every gust of wind going.
But back then, some cheeky traders even used the walls of the newly built St. Paul's Cathedral as support for their stalls! Print shops depicted the scandals of the day in graphic detail, and this is the area my heroine, Drusilla Shaw, is drawn to.

Lady Drusilla Shaw may be a bit introverted, yet she has the observant mind of a writer, capturing all of society’s quirks and scandals. But when the novel she’s been working on disappears from her room, that is just the beginning of her problems. Confident, magnetic Oliver, Duke of Mountsorrel, has taken an interest in Dru, and when he proposes, she is both thrilled and anxious. Her book depicts a ruinous family story that is uncannily similar to Oliver’s real-life, not to mention libelous. The manuscript could surface at any moment—and eventually it does, in published form, for all to read . .
Oliver is bewildered by his new wife and her blasted book. Worst of all, how can he love a woman he no longer trusts? But when it becomes obvious that someone is taking their cues from the book in a series of attacks, he has no choice but to stick close to her. Their explosive connection in bed should take care of the heir-making, but for that to happen, Drusilla has to stay alive—and so does Oliver.

So here's an bit from the first chapter.
“Just look at him,” Livia murmured.
“Who?” Dru peered around the magnificent room.
“Mmm?” Not wanting to appear anxious and doing her best to forget the brief but memorable encounter, Dru shrugged. “Is he upsetting people?”
“No, he’s dancing nonstop. Paying attention to all the young ladies. The unmarried ones, anyway.”
Dru caught sight of the duke whirling a girl in pink around until she breathlessly laughed into his face. “She wants him to take her into supper. Or more likely, out into the garden for some air. Our sainted aunt ensures all parts of the garden are well lit. She’ll have to work hard to find a dim spot.”
Livia laughed. “But I’ll wager you could discover one.”
Dru shrugged. “I’ve visited this house many times. You could find a secluded spot too. Don’t even pretend you could not.”
She won another laugh for that. But Livia had drawn her attention to the one person she had wanted to ignore, and now she could not look away.
The vigorous country dance left the participants tousled and out of breath. All, that was, except the duke, who bowed calmly to his partner and took her back to her parents. After exchanging a few words with them, he moved on, leaving the girl staring after him wide-eyed. Until her mother delivered a sharp jab to her ribs. Now back with her parents, the girl seemed even younger than when she was on the floor. She was, Dru noted, possessed of a particularly fine bosom. Unlike herself. It took clever lacing to give her the cleavage she was sporting tonight. Another reason Dru tolerated Forde’s behavior. The woman could tight-lace so well, she could force breasts up where there were none.
But on the one cavorting around the floor with yet another schoolroom miss? From their brief contact, she knew how little of his appearance owed to clever padding. His chest had not given way, not a bit of it. His arms, while clad in blue twilled silk, had revealed nothing but firm, well-exercised muscle.
She shivered. What could a man do with all that power? Men often made the mistaken assumption that women were innocent merely because they had little practical experience. Dru read a lot, and not all the books would have been approved by her mother. Had she known her daughter had read the full version of Fanny Hill, for example, she might have tried to regulate every book her daughter read. “Tried to” being the important words.
She knew what men and women did in the bedroom. She had even anticipated it with some eagerness, but these days, she’d stopped torturing herself and tried not to think about it. She cursed Mountsorrel for bringing that feeling back to her.
He appeared not to notice her at all. Once, when he was stripping the willow, separating from his partner to skip down the outside of the central column of dancers, he glanced up and caught her staring. Dru flipped her fan open and lifted it to cool her heated cheeks, lowering her eyelids in an expression of icy disdain.
He laughed.
She must stop looking at him. He danced with one young woman after another. He was hunting for a bride.
Dru curled her lip and turned away. The set was coming to a close. She had no desire to see another young woman make a fool of herself over this man. “When are they serving supper?” she asked Livia. “I swear I am famished.” Flicking her fan before her face, she turned abruptly, with the aim of heading to the back of the room. Only to almost collide with her aunt, the hostess of this benighted ball.
Dru sank into her accustomed curtsy. She had of course made her obeisance on arrival, but her aunt enjoyed the attention, and it cost her nothing to give it again.
“Drusilla, is it not?” the duchess said.
Dru concentrated on lifting her head at exactly the perfect angle as she rose, but to no avail. Her stumble nearly overbalanced her completely. For standing next to the duchess was the duke. The Duke of Mountsorrel, not her aunt’s husband. She regained her equilibrium, hopping from one foot to the other, making her hoops wobble, feeling like a complete beginner. Anyone meeting her would imagine she had been dragged up by careless servants, not nurtured by loving parents to become the best person she could be.
Perhaps that was as well. After all, she didn’t wish to become further acquainted with his grace. Did she? She gave a tiny shake of her head. She should not indulge herself. He had no interest in any woman over twenty. That was for sure. If he danced with her, it would be a pity dance.
Heedless of anything but her own interests, the duchess plowed on, making the formal introduction. At least she could curtsy properly this time, but she did not make it as low. When she lifted her head she met his dark gaze directly. Let him be the first to look away.
He bowed over her hand. At his touch, skin to skin, she had to fight to repress her shudder. Only one word described the way she felt—recognition. Of what, she did not know. Nor did she care to find out.
Unfortunately, he stared back. A smile curved his lips. Had he noticed her reaction? He behaved as if he did, as if they shared a private joke. She refused to give in, absolutely refused to. “Lady Drusilla, I’m delighted to meet you…formally. May I request the honor of your company for the next dance?”
She could hardly say no. That would entail more touching, but she couldn’t help that. At least she knew what contact with him meant. The sensation would wear off in time. She absolutely knew it. Gazing at him, she caught sight of a defect. A thin white scar cut across his lower jaw, leaving a clean line where the incipient stubble of his beard should be. Another smaller scar bisected his left eyebrow. Not noticeable at first, but once seen, never forgotten. The upper scar gave him a devilish look, as if he were perpetually quirking his brow. Her imagination went off on its own happy journey, as it often did.
When he led her on the dance floor, she was careful to keep her hand on his sleeve, needing all the armor she could find. The duchess had employed an eight-piece orchestra. They made an unholy amount of noise. That meant she did not have to converse. Except that he led her to the far end of the large room, away from the musicians. And to make matters worse, they were to dance a minuet. Partners did not change in this dance that required elegance and confidence for its effect. Neither of which she had right at this moment.
But she wasn’t a marquess’s daughter for nothing. Steeling her spine and schooling her face into immobility, she prepared for her ordeal. Unfortunately, immediately after she rose from her initial curtsy, she said, “You are very kind, spending time with the old maids.”
He tilted his head to one side and offered his hand to help her up and display her as she paraded around him. “I have not seen any yet.”
“Truly? Allow me to take you over to meet them.”
“That, my lady, would not be proper. A single lady should not put herself forward, you know.”
Was he goading her? Undoubtedly. Sadly, the slow simmer of annoyance burned her stomach and made itself known to her fevered mind. “I am sure my aunt would be delighted to introduce you. My sister and cousin are over there with the others. We have quite a society underway.”
“Interesting. What do you talk about?” As she moved past him, her powdered hair grazed his mouth. “Eligible gentlemen? The latest fashions? Or patterns for knitted stockings?” He pointedly fixed his gaze on her sleeve. “Or how to get ink stains out of lace.”
She pulled in a breath, trying very hard to control her outrage. She absolutely refused to rise to his bait. Except that she did. “The abolition of slavery and the utter ignorance of some menfolk.”
His laugh told her she’d hit a mark. “Touch√©, Lady Drusilla. I stand corrected. Such women can change the world, can they not?”
“Indeed. And they are often possessors of the best family secrets. Together, we probably know every dirty little secret the highest in society are doing their best to conceal. We know how to keep secrets, too.”
She danced a perfect round and lifted her chin.
His silence came as a surprise. Tension ratcheted up between them. Dru could hardly hear the music over the thudding of her heart. What had she said? “There is no obligation to share your secret with me, sir. I fear, however, that I will probably know it shortly. I can hardly help it. Let me speculate.” She couldn’t stop. Considering the angry stares he shot at her, she should be dead of shock and awe, but Dru had never given in. She decided on a few light sallies until he regained his temper. “Perhaps you have a secret sister, or your parents were never married officially. Or you keep a killer locked up in the attic of your remote house in Scotland.” She didn’t even know if he had a remote house in Scotland, but it sounded good. She had taken to reading Gothic romances recently, like the one written by Horace Walpole. Ridiculous things happened, enough to tickle her fancy and far removed from the world she lived in. Walpole poked fun at the stories while he dived in, and that appealed to Dru’s sense of the ridiculous. She recalled the plot of the story she was working on. “Or maybe you are sheltering a secret heir, one who is so oppressed he dare not think for himself. He is kept hidden from society—”
Releasing her hand—positively throwing it at her—the Duke of Mountsorrel turned his back on her and strode away, leaving her stranded in the middle of the floor.
Rigid with shock, Dru stared after him. He didn’t look back. Not that she expected him to, because she’d caught the expression on his face before he left. He was incandescent with fury. His eyes had flashed wide open before his mouth thinned into a hard line and the creases at the sides deepened. He’d spun on one heel, executing a perfect turn. She admired it even as she went hot and cold, the chill running down her spine turning her into ice.
And still the orchestra played the minuet.

You can read more and buy the book here: 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Inspirational Ruins

This month I’m thinking about ruins: castles, abbeys, more humble dwellings – it doesn’t matter. As a writer of historical fiction, I have always known, as I’m sure you have, that a ruin can be immensely useful in a novel, both as a suitable location to test your hero or heroine, and for what it can add to the atmosphere.   

I’ve just come back from a holiday in Northern Ireland where I saw a number of ruined monastic buildings. And the thought stuck me immediately that they’d offer ideal opportunities for hiding or pursuit.


 Grey Abbey; the east wall - note the buttresses

Take Grey Abbey, a Cistercian abbey dating from 1193, overlooking Strangford Lough. What my novelist’s eye noticed at once, was that, at some point, part of the abbey had become unstable; you can see three buttresses propping it up along the east wall.


Looking from a doorway along the line of buttresses; note the deep shadows

Take a Regency heroine (let us call her Angelica); she is in jeopardy – naturally. We find her inside the ruined abbey, peering cautiously through a side door, desperate to escape from the loathly Sir Tancred . She spots the line of buttresses, their width and depth could be useful in concealing her. But, could Sir Tancred be hidden behind one of them?  The abbey’s architecture allows your characters to play a deadly game of hide and seek amid the shadows.

Grey Abbey from another angle

It is evening, and the shadows begin to lengthen. In one corner, where plants grow in the crevices, there are some protruding stones going up the wall. Could that be an escape route? Angelica spent her childhood climbing trees but does she dare crawl over that huge arch?

Dog tooth decoration on the ceremonial arch at the west end of the church

Angelica freezes. The moon has floated out from behind a cloud and a dark figure has just stooped under the arch and there is a glint of a sword. Could it be Sir Tancred? But he’s too tall…   

Struell Wells, the ruins of a medieval church and the beehive-shaped drinking well

However, ruins can also be useful in other ways. Take the complex of buildings at Struell Wells, once a healing centre, dating from at least the 8th century. St Patrick himself is supposed to have visited it. The buildings spread out over a field, and comprise the Drinking well, the Eye well, and two separate bathhouses for men and women, as well as a medieval chapel. A stream with exceptionally pure water runs through the field and connects them all. The historical evidence suggests that this has been a place of healing since pagan times. An 1831 map shows that a holy thorn also once grew in the field.
 Close up view of the drinking well

Suppose your heroine (who needs a name change – Agneta?) lives in pagan times and comes from a long line of women healers. We all love proactive heroines, and pagan healing women were powerful and respected in the community. The arrival of Christianity brings problems to Agneta’s community, and St Patrick arrives to convert the holy springs and wells to Christianity. He is known to have spent hours in the Drinking well building, singing psalms.
And I don’t imagine priests at that date would have been keen on pagan women healers as guardians of Struell Wells, either.


The Eye well. Note the Men and Women’s bathhouses in the background.

The Eye well is a small rectangular building with a corbelled roof which is pyramidal in shape. Very little is known about it but this is an area which is rich in wild flowers and I don’t doubt that once special herbs were used to help cure eye complaints. Again, this could useful for a heroine. What Agneta actually does at the eye well is up to the author and you don’t need me to tell you that there could be much at stake… even her very life.

The Women’s bathhouse is small and poky compared with the men’s; you can just see a low ledge, perhaps for a bench on the right.

The Women’s bathhouse was once also known as the Limb well, and the Men’s bathhouse as the Body well. The current building dates from somewhere between the 13th and15th centuries. The men’s section is much larger; whether that was true originally, we don’t know. The water running (via a tap) in the Women’s bathhouse is silky smooth. 


General view of the landscape around Struell Wells

Society continued to have problems with powerful women who were trained in anything – and accusations of witchcraft continued until well into the 17th century. Even midwifery underwent an attempted male takeover. (Would Princess Charlotte have died with an experienced female midwife, one wonders.) The notorious ‘witch finder’ Matthew Hopkins hanged sixty women in Essex alone in 1645. Agneta could be a healer anytime up to the 18th century, which gives writers a lot of scope.
So there we are. All the imagination needs are a few ruins! 
Elizabeth Hawksley



Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Musing on the Changes in Publishing

I am in the process of moving from a three-bed house with a 21 year tenure to a tiny 2-room sheltered flat. Downsizing with a vengeance. Apart from having my mother’s goods and chattels to sort, I have been faced with what to do about screeds of old letters to and from agents, editors and publishers and paper copies of old books, and it got me thinking about how much has changed since I began in this business.
In the first place, any approach you made in a hopeful spirit to an industry professional had to be done by letter. Yes, I mean snail mail type letters. If you sent sample work, it was printed out. In fact, now I think of it, when I started it was typed out! Just as it was for all writers before the advent of word processors.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the double spacing, which meant sending a manuscript involved about 300 pages of printed material in a jiffy bag. Printed on one side of the paper only, that was about the size of an 80,000 word manuscript. Those bags were heavy. They cost quite a bit, and you had to enclose return postage too. The last thing you ever wanted to see was the postman standing outside with a whacking great oblong jiffy bag in his hands, because it meant your manuscript had just boomeranged with another rejection.

Since all approaches went by snail mail, everything took forever and a day. You enclosed, if you were wise, a postage paid postcard to acknowledge receipt. Some publishers actually used it. Then you waited. And waited… and waited. There’s an unwritten rule that you should wait six weeks before nudging on a submission, but it wasn’t unusual to wait months for a response while your hair went grey and the wrinkles in your face doubled.

If you actually went to the expense of approaching publishers in foreign lands, the whole thing cost four times as much and took even longer. None of this digital age winging an attachment across the pond in seconds. If you couldn’t afford air mail, it went by sea. Don’t even count how long that took.

Once you were lucky enough to get some kind of contract, there was more delay while the two copies were sent to you, signed on every page and returned to the publisher, who then signed both copies and finally returned your copy for keeping. These days, the contracts are whisked back and forth, digitally signed to start the process going, and then the printed version follows in due course. But by then it’s all rolling along merrily.

When the book was in production, along came the proofs. Yes, more print-outs (which actually looked like book pages then, two to a sheet), more jiffy bags. You got around two weeks to go through, make your corrections and send it back. At some point, actual glossy covers would come through in a card-backed envelope, and finally your copies of the book arrived in a box. The books arriving in a box still happens if your work is going out in paperback, but all the earlier process is done digitally by email these days.

During the life of the book, twice yearly, in came the batch of royalty statements. Of course I can’t throw away either these or the contracts, as they are the only records prior to shifting to digital. Now imagine 18 odd books over a period of 30 years, reprinted in different editions including foreign, and you’ll get an idea of the piles of paper accumulated. Not to mention the piles and piles of books. What I’m going to do with them all I have absolutely no idea!

Elizabeth Bailey

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Home Guard - 1941

 I was looking through my research bookshelf and came across the Home Guard Manual 1941 and thought I would dip into this for my monthly post.
"The primary object of the Home Guard is to have available an organised body of men trained to offer stout resistance in every district, and to meet any military emergency until trained toops can be brought up."
There were to be five platoons – signals, medical, transport, engineers, and supplies. I think that most Home Guards would have been lucky to have one platoon let alone five. The platoons were scattered about the neighbourhood. 
With regards to equipment each unit was supposed to supply their own which would have been made available in a store at the unit headquarters.
Each man was supposed to have when mobilised – a haversack, two blankets, waterproof coat or sheet, a greatcoat, knife, fork, spoon, plate, a change of underclothes and socks, a serviceable pair of boots, soap, towel, rations for at least twenty-four hours and a bottle of water.
I don't know about you, but whenever I think of the Home Guard my mind goes to the brilliant TV series, Dad's Army. Imagine the very elderly chap, who was the medical man, having to carry that lot.
They were also supposed to understand and be able to use semaphore, drill in a disciplined manner and have enough weapon training to make them effective with a rifle or whatever weapon was available. They were also supposed to be skilled at field craft, map reading and reconnaissance, field engineering, first-aid and basically anything else that might crop up.
Remember Pike? "Stupid boy!" 
It does add that training and ability will vary according to the physical capabilities of the men and meet local conditions or national urgency.
I can only be thankful that their role as protectors of the country was never needed.
 best wishes
Fenella J Miller

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Richmond, a Georgian Theatre and Miss Moonshine

Earlier this week I took a trip to Richmond, North Yorkshire. The town is full of beautiful Georgian buildings, many of them still with original features. 

The weather was lovely and we had an excellent day visiting the castle and making our way to the top of its massive tower, from where one can see for miles in all directions. 

The castle is perfectly placed to defend the town and lookouts would have had plenty of warning of an advancing army. Lots of information there for my current project, a hero who owns a sham castle, known as "Duke's Folly". He is weighed down by responsibility and needs a suitable wife, certainly not the tomboy hoyden who currently lives in Duke's Folly!  Look out for this charming story in the forthcoming Regency Romantics box set, due out soon!

Later that day we had a tour of Richmond's beautiful Georgian theatre. It seems tiny by modern standards, and seats an audience of about 200 these days, although our guide told us in the 18th century they would cram in about 400! We sat in the boxes, where the fashionable and wealthy patrons of the theatre would have enjoyed being seen by all and sundry (being seen was so much more important than anything that was happening on stage!).  In the eighteenth century it would have been lit by candles, about as bright as it is in this photo, but they were left burning throughout the performance, so the actors had to work hard to keep the audience's attention.

Then we went down past the pit, where the hoi polloi might have been sitting to enjoy an evening of heckling and throwing things at the actors, and down to the dressing rooms. The theatre was built by a travelling troupe and would have been "dark", or closed for most of the year until the troupe returned from the circuit (the actors walking, props and costumes taken by cart). We saw two of the three beautiful fireplaces in the theatre, one in the dressing room and one at the back of the stage, and fires would have been kindled a few days before the theatre opened, to drive off the cold and damp that would have permeated the building while it was closed up. Some of the actors might live in the dressing rooms during their stay in Richmond, so it was important that it was not too cold for them.

Finally, we wandered about the town, enjoying the large cobbled market place and the beautiful Georgian buildings that surround it, and while we were exploring we came upon this beautiful Emporium, and I couldn't resist a photograph, because I thought how much Miss Moonshine would have loved it.

For those who haven't heard, Miss M is the main character in an anthology to which I had the privilege of contributing a short story. Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings is published on 18th May, and includes feel-good stories from nine northern authors - a perfect read for the long summer evenings ahead.

Happy Reading!

Melinda Hammond

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Jane Austen: A Writing Master Class

Jane Austen’s niece, Anna Austen Lefroy (1793-1872) was, as far as we know, her only relation who was also a novelist – though an aspiring one. When she was nineteen, Anna asked her aunt’s advice on her own novel Which is the Heroine? Does Dawlish have a decent library, she wanted to know - the answer was that it was ‘pitiful and wretched’. What I found interesting was that Jane understood her niece’s concern to get things right. Both wrote contemporary novels and they knew that accuracy was important.


Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra. National Portrait Gallery

For example, in a letter to her sister Cassandra in January 1813, Jane asks her if she ‘could discover if Northamptonshire is a country of Hedgerows.’ This seems a very minor point but it is all part of her creation of a convincing depiction of the countryside around Mansfield Park, which is set there and which she was writing at the time.
Later that year, Jane learnt ‘from Sir J. Carr that there is no Government House at Gibraltar’ and that, therefore, she ‘must alter it to the Commissioner’s’. It gets a tiny mention by William Price when he comes to visit Fanny at Mansfield Park, but fellow writers will give Jane Austen a tick for her attention to detail.  We all know how mortifying it is to be picked up on some small point we have got wrong. Readers, then as now, rightly expect authors to have done their research properly.

Mr Collins introduces himself to Mr Darcy

Jane also picks up on a social point in Anna’s novel: ‘I have also scratched out the Introduction between Lord P. and his Brother, and Mr Griffin. A Country Surgeon (don’t tell Mr C. Lydford) would not be introduced to Men of their rank.’  It reminded me of Elizabeth Bennet’s acute embarrassment when Mr Collins insists on introducing himself to Mr Darcy at the Netherfield Ball: ‘Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him from such a scheme; assuring him that Mr Darcy would consider his addressing him without introduction as an impertinent freedom…’  a moment nicely captured in Charles E. Brock’s illustration above.

Later in the same letter, Jane has some further advice for Anna: ‘We (she and her sister, Cassandra) think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland. But as you know nothing of the Manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations. Stick to Bath There you will be quite at home.’
We note that Jane Austen follows her own advice in Emma. She does not follow Colonel and Mrs Campbell (and Jane Fairfax) to Ireland to visit the Campbell’s newly married daughter, Mrs Dixon; instead, Miss Fairfax insists on visiting Mrs and Miss Bates, her grandmother and aunt in Highbury, which is where we meet her. Miss Fairfax is doing that dangerous thing for a Regency lady – being proactive – and, when Mr Frank Churchill arrives, that precipitates a very tangled web of deceit indeed.
Promenade dress, 1809

We know that Jane Austen had a holiday in Lyme from her letter to her sister Cassandra in 1804. Sea bathing is mentioned, presumably from a bathing machine, something she really enjoyed; she attended a public ball; and walked for an hour on the Cobb. We have only the one letter from Lyme, but she must have taken the opportunity to note what it had to offer and used it in Persuasion many years later. I’d have loved a scene with Anne Elliot sea-bathing!
Jane wrote to Anna again in September 1814 with some more interesting plot advice: ‘We are not satisfied with Mrs F’s setting herself  as Tenant & near Neighbour to such a Man as Sir T.H. without having some other inducement to go there. A woman, going with just two girls growing up, into a Neighbourhood where she knows nobody but one Man, of not very good character, is an awkwardness which so prudent a woman as Mrs F. would not be likely to fall into. Remember, she is very prudent, you must not let her act inconsistently.’

 Reading lady from 'The Ladies' Pocket Magazine'

She suggests: ‘Give her a friend, & let that friend be invited to meet her at the Priory and we shall have no objection to her dining there; as she does; but otherwise a woman in her situation would hardly go there, before she had been visited by other Families.’  This refers to the custom of leaving calling cards. Mrs F. will make sure that she leaves a calling card for any lady with whom she wishes to be acquainted – presumably those introduced by her friend. Her call should be returned within a week which will signify that they are happy to know her socially. But she could not possibly dine at the Priory before this has happened.
In all of Jane Austen’s novels, her heroines need to be properly introduced; apart from anything else, it establishes their social credentials. Emma’s friendship with Harriet Smith is important in giving Harriet an entr√©e into Highbury society – something which Harriet, a mere parlour–border with a dubious pedigree, could never have done on her own. 
A lover from 'The Ladies' Pocket Magazine'
Anne Elliot is entirely dependent on the Musgroves to re-introduce her to Captain Wentworth; to include her in the outing to Lyme; and on Lady Russell to take her to Bath. Lady Russell can travel where she likes, but then, she’s the widow of a well-to-do knight and has her own private carriage. Unmarried ladies, like Anne, have very little opportunity to be proactive.
Lastly, Jane’s other piece of advice to her niece is well-known but is worth repeating: You are now collecting your people delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life; 3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on… I hope when you have written a great deal more you will be equal to scratching out some of the past. The scene with Mrs Mellish, I should condemn; it is prosy & nothing to the purpose…. One does not care for girls till they are grown up.

Frontispiece from 'Correspondence between a Mother and Daughter' by Ann Taylor, 1817
How many of us write scenes which we realize, in the cold light of morning, are ‘prosy & nothing to the purpose’. Another earlier comment: ‘till the heroine grows up, the fun must be imperfect’ is odd, considering that 1814 was the year when Mansfield Park came out, the only novel where Jane Austen shows us her heroine, Fanny, as a child.
Sadly, Anna did not fulfil her literary ambitions – apart from a couple of short stories and a novella published in the 1840s. A few months this exchange of letters with her aunt, she married the Reverend Benjamin Lefroy. He died in 1829 leaving her with seven children and very little money, which may explain why she abandoned Which is the Heroine? and later burnt it.  
But we owe her a debt of gratitude for giving us a glimpse into how Jane Austen constructed her novels and what she thought was important.
Elizabeth Hawksley









Monday, April 30, 2018

Venturing into Audio

After a great deal of maundering around the difficulties or otherwise of putting my books up on audio, I have finally taken the plunge. In fact it proved relatively simple once I chose the way to do it – out of a plethora of apparently problematical paths.

A long time ago, in my acting days, I used to read books on tape for the blind for a charity. I did many Georgette Heyers, delighting in creating a whole raft of different voices for the various characters. I used to make a tape of the voices so that I could come back and check them if I forgot.

That process held no terrors. You simply used a good quality tape recorder with a relatively decent microphone and went to it, taking the thing an hour or so at a time and stacking up ordinary tapes. You then sent off the six tapes in specially prepared boxes to the Calibre library, securely in their free post bags. Job done.

These days, I discovered, it’s a great deal more complicated to do it yourself. With growing horror, I listened to a podcast about the dos and don’ts of current audio recording. In the first place, the whole thing is digital, which is enough to scare the whatsits off oldies like me. Then you’ve got to have the right equipment: proper high quality microphone, some kind of sound-deadening thingy that I didn’t understand, quantities of blankets hung up to cut out extraneous noise, and a whole lot more besides. Exit stage left, quivering.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, you have to be able to upload this fantastically clear recording to the various platforms and then fix it if they say it’s not good enough. Yikes!

I turned, with relief, to the companies who do it for you. Relief short-lived when I discovered that you needed to be a millionaire if you were going to pay for people to read and “produce” your entire canon with scarcely a hope of ever making your money back, let alone garnering profits. I shelved the whole idea.

Eventually I heard about ACX, which is the production arm of Audible, an Amazon company. Now Amazon, as we all know, is a juggernaut riding over everyone else, but they do understand authors are generally poor and have figured out ways for them to use Amazon platforms and make money without dishing out their hard-earned dosh beforehand.

Enter 50/50 deals. You can pay for a producer if you want to, but you can also make a deal with a producer/narrator for no money upfront in exchange for giving them half your profits. Worth it to avoid all the recording rannygazoo!

Though there was that tiny voice at the back of my mind. “Seriously, who’s going to do all that work for nothing?” I hesitated for weeks. Nay, months.
Finally, because I’m doing new covers, I decided to go for it. New branding, new covers, paperback, audio, the works. The idea being that as each new cover arrived, it would get the full treatment.

Would you believe it? Within a day of putting up, with great trepidation, my first book for audition, I got the most wonderful lady narrator who just happens to be a huge Georgette Heyer fan and immediately loved my book. Luck or serendipity?

Below is the audio cover for the book now in production. Hooray, I have ventured!

Elizabeth Bailey