Monday, July 16, 2018

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

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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)

GEORGE IV

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