Monday, March 15, 2021

Release Day: Dangerous Magic: A Pride and Prejudice Fantasy Variation

While I love Regency Romance, I also enjoy writing fantasy. I've wanted to write a Jane Austen Regency fantasy for a long time, and this year, I was finally able to make it happen. With all the lockdowns, turmoil, and anxiety, it seemed a good time for me to retreat into a magical world where I could suspend reality for a little while and hide from the constant bombardment of bad news coming from all directions. 

Writing a fantasy seemed one way I could have a little bit of control over my own world, and working with on that 'narrow bit of ivory' -- as Jane Austen called it-- provided a calm space for me to write. I'm pleased to say I was able -- finally -- to accomplish my goal. 

I'm delighted to announce that my novel, Dangerous Magic, is now out, and is available for free on Kindle Unlimited on Amazon as well as on paperback for those who prefer real books. 

A sparkling tale of Regency England, a forced marriage, and two mages who must work together to save the Kingdom.

Elizabeth Bennet is stunned when the Royal Mages come to her peaceful country home of Longbourn to take her away. She is even more bewildered when she is commanded to marry a powerful mage by the name of Fitzwilliam Darcy. She has always dreamed of marrying for love, and an arranged marriage with an arrogant stranger was never part of her plans.

But Darcy and Elizabeth have no choice in the matter. Uniting their two forms of magic is essential for the Kingdom to defeat Napoleon’s mages. Darcy and Elizabeth may dislike each other on sight, but they must overcome their differences and find common ground before it is too late. Fortunately, it is not long before the sparks begin to fly between them.

Join the author of ‘Fortune and Felicity’ in this enchanting story of determination, love, and hope against all odds. 

Now available on Amazon for pre-order.

If you'd like to find out more about the novel from my blog tour, as well as having a chance to win an e-book copy, you can see my schedule below. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Fortune and Felicity: A Pride and Prejudice Variation

I hope you are all surviving during this difficult period of isolation and anxiety for the future. While we may not be able to embrace our social friends, at least we have the internet to keep us going. To be honest, I'd be completely devastated without it. For those of us who write historical fiction, at least it enables us to imagine more realistically the feelings of those who lived in small isolated communities in the past.

When we're talking about isolation measures, we're not talking about something new. Successive generations went through the same thing. Quarantine procedures were established in England during the 1660s as a defence against the plague. Like the cruise ships now, people on ships with outbreaks were stopped from coming ashore. Eventually, people who were infected were allowed to leave their ships, but they had to be quarantined. During the plague, as the case today, people in London stayed off the streets and shops closed. Movement out of London was allowed initially, then severely restricted. Those who wanted to leave the city had to have a document proving they weren't ill -- our equivalent of having a test showing that we have the antibodies. 

With vaccinations and the arrival of antibiotics, we have been living with a sense of complacency here in the West. Scientists' warnings that the overuse of antibiotics will trigger antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria have been around for years, and dystopian novels and films about viruses wiping out the whole of humanity have been on the rise. So why have we been taken so much by surprise by coronavirus? Part of it, I think, may be a result of rather smug belief that, with our high life expectancy, we no longer need to learn any lessons from the past. But antibiotics don't provide protection against viruses, and we don't have any special immunity to the ravages of natural disease. We now know what it is like to be those people in history, who had to stand by and see their communities decimated, unable to do anything about it. Perhaps we can even begin to understand the reasons for the Victorian obsession with momento mori. At the very least, it enables us to empathise more with past generations in their struggle against uncontrollable destructive forces. 

 We, too, will be in the history books. The idea is very little consolation when you're going through something like this. Someone in the future will be writing a blog on a Historical blog site like this one. They'll be talking about the impact of coronavirus on the early 21st century. I wonder what they'll say about us? I really hope our brush with disease will be nothing more than a small blip, worthy of only a few sentences.

Meanwhile, with thoughts like this running through my head, it's been difficult to concentrate on writing. Even reading has been more scattered than usual. Thankfully, I'd already finished a rough draft of my latest novel before the storm hit, otherwise I would have been struggling.

I haven't published a new Jane Austen variation for a while, but here it is, finally.

Fortune & Felicity



April 1812

As he crossed the lane and strode through one of the gates into Rosings Park, Fitzwilliam Darcy realized he was still holding his hat in his hand. He pushed it onto his head impatiently, adjusting the rim to shade his eyes from the setting sun. It galled him that Elizabeth Bennet might have seen him from the window, leaving the Parsonage with his head bare, looking like a laborer. It seemed like the last straw in a catalogue of humiliations the evening had to offer. He supposed it was a fitting image of what she had done to him, stripping away his pride bit by bit until he had become nothing, leaving him raw and exposed and feeling like an utter fool.
Rosings came into view and he checked his pace, seeking to compose himself in case he encountered anyone upon entering. Lady Catherine called out to him as he came in, asking him where he had been.
“You have missed tea, Darcy,” she said, peevishly. “The refreshment tray has been cleared.”
He threw her a quick greeting —some nonsense or the other— and bounded up the stairs before she had the chance to waylay him. It was an undignified retreat, but it was nothing compared to what had happened at the Parsonage. In his room, he shut and locked the door, then threw himself on his bed, his mind full of his disastrous encounter with Elizabeth Bennet.  
A burning sense of injustice gripped him at the accusations Elizabeth had flung at him. He had stood there staring stupidly as she accused him of treating George Wickham abominably, too shocked at her rejection to make any effort at all to defend himself. And to think she believed George Wickham more worthy of her affections than himself! It boggled the mind. It filled him with a sense of intense outrage. He could not possibly let it go. He had to tell her the truth, to stand up for himself against any slander that the rogue had used to turn her against him, but it was too late to say anything. He had lost the opportunity. He could not very well intrude upon her again at the Parsonage.
There must be a way.
His gaze fell on the escritoire at the corner of the room. Of course! He would write to her. It was completely improper to write to an unmarried young lady, but he had no choice. Besides, he expressed himself better on paper. Not that he held out any hope that she would change her mind about him. It was obvious she would not. Nevertheless, Darcy could not allow Wickham’s falsehoods to go unchallenged.
He opened the escritoire, spread out a sheet of paper, and dipped the quill.
Dearest Elizabeth,
He stared down at the words for a few minutes, overcome. He had been certain, not too long ago, that by the end of the day, those were the words he would use to address her for the rest of his life.
It was all over now.
He took up the paper and crushed it. He had no right to call her by that phrase. In any case, it was a bad idea to address her by name in the letter, in case it fell into the wrong hands. If it did, she would be compromised, and would be compelled to marry him. His heart lurched as he considered this solution to his misery, but he dismissed it. No matter how appealing the idea may be, he did not want an unwilling bride.
Taking up a new sheet of paper, he set it down and stared at it for several minutes. He dipped the quill in the ink and began to write.
Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving this letter.
It took him some time to grind out a few sentences. Everything he wrote seemed so inadequate to communicate what he wanted to say. He started letter after letter, crumpling the pages and tossing them to the floor.
It was almost impossible to keep his mind on the task at hand. His mind kept drifting to their bitter exchange. How could he have misjudged the situation so completely? He had been so arrogant, so self-absorbed, that he had not even considered whether she would be open to his proposal. He had believed it would be a matter of a few minutes before his future was resolved. Before they even noticed he was absent from Rosings – what a to-do there would be if Lady Catherine discovered that he was not in his room resting, but out of the house – he would be back, engaged to be married. Then he would wait for the appropriate moment to announce the engagement. He had imagined the expressions of disbelief, Lady Catherine’s insistence that he marry Anne, the cries of betrayal. He was prepared for every outcome. He had considered so many situations, and grimly planned for them like a commander going into battle – as Cousin Fitzwilliam liked to say. 
Ironically, he had missed the most crucial element in the situation. He had made the most fundamental and self-destructive mistake any commander could make, the one thing that he should have considered the most: Elizabeth’s consent. He had made no plans to deal with refusal, nor had he shielded himself against possible attack. Consequently, he had been taken by complete surprise. Fortunately – very fortunately – the reserve that had been bred into him through the generations of powerful Darcy ancestors prevented him from completely falling apart in front of her. Somehow – he was not quite sure how – he had managed to be polite, to hold himself together and walk out of the Parsonage with some semblance of composure. 
How could he not have harbored a single doubt that she would marry him? Even worse, how could he have burst into the room in that uncivil manner, blurt out all the things he had been thinking – all the reasons, in short, why he ought not to marry her – without any concern for her feelings? What must she think of him?
A bitter laugh escaped his lips. He knew exactly what she thought of him. She had told him what she thought, without mincing her words. When she first began to speak, it had taken him some time to make sense of what she was saying. The truth of the matter was, he had not really been paying attention. He had been thinking about when it would be appropriate to take her into his arms and kiss her.
This, then, is the answer I am to receive….
He groaned and leaned forward on the escritoire, resting his forehead on the hard wood, riding the wave of anguish that gripped him. Had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner. That she could have said such a thing of him – when he had always prided himself on his impeccable conduct! He banged his head on the table. The ink pot jumped and splashed ink on the last letter he had written. It was the longest one – two sheets of frantically scribbled words, the handwriting uneven, nothing like his usual neat writing. The blot of ink had landed in the middle of the second sheet, and his sister’s name leapt up from the page.
He stared at the letter. What was he trying to do? Did he really mean to reveal Georgiana’s secret in some misguided attempt to make Elizabeth think better of him? Did he really think that revealing Wickham’s true nature would make Elizabeth love him? Did he really want to risk being seen accosting and giving a letter to a single woman for some futile attempt to make himself look better in her eyes? By giving her this letter, he would be risking the reputation of the two women he – heavens help him – loved the most in the world. And for what?
If anyone found his missive, Georgiana’s elopement would be made public. The scandal would utterly ruin his poor delicate sister. After all the trouble he had gone through to cover up the traces and to make sure no one could suspect that Georgiana had been on the verge of running away with Wickham, was he really prepared to jeopardize everything?
Thinking about Georgiana and everything she had been through brought him some sanity, enough to hold off the terrible churning feeling inside him and allow some coherence to return. What right did he have to use his sister to plead his own case? Revealing Georgiana’s scandal would not make Elizabeth Bennet love him.
It was a terrible realisation. It was like the stab of a sword in the belly, agonizing and indisputable. There was absolutely nothing he could say to make her love him. Nothing at all.
He rose to his feet and began to pace, ruffling his curls until they became wild. He stopped as he caught sight of himself in the mirror. He barely recognised himself. His disheveled appearance shocked him to the core. So this is what he was reduced to by love! Had he really stooped so low?
He was going about this all wrong. He was refusing to face the truth, which was that her dislike of him was too strong. He could not delude himself any longer. It was time to cut his losses. Perhaps it was just as well she had rejected him so cruelly. Perhaps he ought to consider it, not as a tragedy, but as a fortunate escape. Elizabeth Bennet’s harsh rejection might well be the best thing that could have ever happened. She had freed him from the terrible weight of his obsession by removing any possibility of hope.
He wanted desperately to believe that there was something he could do that might change her mind. Every fiber of his being refused to accept that it was all over, that it had ended before it had even begun, that the dream of a life with Elizabeth was gone. He refused to believe that it was just that – a dream, an illusion he had created from nothing.
He had to face reality. He had to take up his responsibilities to his family and his position in society. He had to become what he had been trained to be. He owed it to a long line of noble ancestors who were no doubt turning in their graves as they witnessed his foolhardiness.
He spent the night battling his demons, urging them to come under his control. Using her rejection as a weapon, he set about exorcising the feelings that had led him into such excruciating, uncharacteristic folly.
By the time the grey light of dawn appeared on the horizon, Fitzwilliam Darcy had won. The unruly impulses were vanquished. He rose from the hard chair of the escritoire and stretched his body, easing out the muscles that seemed to have gone numb. Surveying the results of the battle around him – crunched pieces of paper tossed all around, balled up like fists—he felt a grim sense of satisfaction. At least the words he had written –written in blood and tears – had acted like a purge, removing the fever from his veins.
Now he had to purge the words themselves. They were the ramblings of a madman, ranting of desire and despair. No one must ever know of this terrible moment of weakness. He went to the cold fireplace and started it up, waiting patiently until the coals began to burn. He then picked up the papers and threw them into the fireplace, one by one, watching the edges curl and blacken as the fire consumed them.
The battle had taken its toll, draining him of all strength, leaving him empty inside, and he wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. With steel will, he resisted that temptation, worried it would bring him dreams of her and cause him to weaken. He rang for his valet instead, peering out of the window and trying not to wonder if Elizabeth Bennet was out there, taking her customary walk. He would never walk with her again. So be it.
He had never been one to enjoy walking, in any case. Walking had been something he had done with her in mind. It would be easy enough to break that newly acquired habit and return to old familiar ones. Riding was his preferred exercise. A good hard gallop would clear the cobwebs from his brain and the bracing morning air would jolt him awake from the threads of a nightmare that had all but consumed him for the last few months.
He would need all his wits about him to execute what he planned to do next.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Georgette Heyer's Book Covers

My mother introduced me to Georgette Heyer when I was about thirteen. She always bought the latest Georgette Heyer the moment it came out and, apart from enjoying the stories, I also admired the covers. I quickly realized that they were a pastiche of Regency prints – we had a number of prints by Rowlandson at home, and my mother had a copy of Batsford’s plates from the Gallery of Fashion 1790-1822, which is now mine, so I recognized the sort of clothes Heyer’s characters would have worn.  

Illustration from theGallery of Fashion’

I don’t know what happened to all my mother’s first editions of Georgette Heyers, unfortunately. I bought my own paperback copies, some with awful covers, like this 1962 cover of The Corinthian.

The Pan Books 1962 cover of ‘The Corinthian’

Fortunately, some, like the 1963 Peacock cover by Victor Ambrus, a well-respected book illustrator, are rather good. (Peacock was a Penguin Books imprint which, age-wise, came between Puffin Books for children, and Penguin Books for adults.) The Ambrus pictures have energy and movement which captures the restlessness and impetuosity of the young hero, Dominic, and the excitement of the story, perfectly. And, big plus, he'd obviously actually read the book.

 Devil's Cub front  cover by Victor Ambrus

Victor Ambrus's back cover for Devil's Cub

I did manage to buy some hardback Heyers in second hand bookshops, a number of which were first editions – but, as one of her early books, These Old Shades, sold over 190,000 copies in hardback when it came out in 1926, first editions are not particularly rare. Her books were automatic bestsellers, after all.

Georgette Heyer’s ‘Friday’s Child’, 1944, cover by Philip Gough

A number of Heyer’s early novels had books covers by Philip Gough, and I particularly like his cover for Friday’s Child’ with the heroine gazing out of the window. We cannot see her face and do not know what she’s looking at so intently, but it draws us in.

I already had a paperback copy of the book, but I happily upgraded it for this nice edition with the original cover.  

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer, cover design by Arthur Barbosa

I value my Georgette Heyers – they have given me a lot of pleasure over the years. I have been known to buy a second hand hardback copy of a Georgette Heyer simply for its cover, for example, Sprig Muslin. My own copy was a first edition hardback but it was coverless. I bought this copy for £4.99 – not expensive, put the new cover on it, and donated the book I’d just bought, now coverless, back to the Charity Shop.

'Sylvester' by Georgette Heyer, book cover by Arthur Barbosa

I did the same thing with Sylvester, which has another Barbosa cover. I was particularly pleased with this purchase because I didn’t know what the original cover looked like, so I was thrilled to find it.

I’d be very surprised to find that I’m the only Heyer fan to do such a thing! It just goes to show that a classy cover really can sell a book. And the continuing popularity of Heyer's novels. 

Georgette Heyer, photo by Howard Coster, 1939

A closing note
This is my last post for the Historical Romance UK Blogspot and I’d like to thank all of you who have followed me. I hope you have enjoyed the posts – I certainly enjoyed writing them.

I shall continue to blog every Sunday on my Elizabeth Hawksley website and I hope that you will visit me there.  I also Tweet whenever I put up a new post. @Hawksley_E

I have recently expanded my list of Categories which has a number of areas of interest to readers of Historical Romance, for example: Castles (including Stately Homes); Exhibitions (King Charles II and Power Dressing; or historical royal toys at Buckingham Palace); Exploring London (Behind the scenes at the Royal Mews); Fashion (History of Underwear exhibition at the V & A); Jane Austen and her World (posts about Georgette Heyer are listed here); Royal Connections (from sexy John of Gaunt to a Medieval Queen’s bathroom at Leeds Castle); Notable People (Lord Byron, Georgette Heyer) There are eighteen categories in all and posts appear in more than one category.

You are welcome to browse. Click on Blog, then on Categories.

There is a Comments box, if you wish to share your thoughts. You will need to give me your email address but no-one else will see it, and you don't have to give your full name. I have a friend who comments as 'Eleanor' - a name she wishes she had! If you'd like me to notify you by email of a new post, please tick the follower box.

I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2019.

Elizabeth Hawksley  

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Culling my research library

While we are all thinking about New Year resolutions, I am reminded of the horror with which I contemplated the hideous prospect of getting rid of my books. Moving house became imminent at the beginning of the year and there was no way I was going to be able to take them all with me. But oh, my research books!

I used to have a huge seven foot high bookcase full of material covering all aspects of life, mostly from the 18th Century with a smattering of books on other periods along with my crime library concerning investigations and murder. The move, when it came, was to a really tiny flat, and that bookcase was not going to fit in.

I had to make some crucial decisions. I had room only for one largish bookcase. I managed to create space for a couple of small ones and most of the books that fell by the wayside were novels, I'm afraid. Culling my research books proved well-nigh impossible, but I did get rid of those I decided I was never going to have time to use. I absolutely had to keep the main ones relating to the Georgian and Regency periods, many of which I cannot do without.

The most used is Cunnington’s Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century, without which I couldn’t function, although I usually leave these descriptions to the editing stage. The great thing about Cunnington is the detail, from fabrics to accessories, with year on year changes for both men and women.

She details everything, from bonnets and hairstyles, to materials used and when they were fashionable, whether women wore ruffles, what colours were worn when to such intimate little gems as false bosoms and using mouse skin artificial eyebrows. What about this little aid to beauty?

"Cork Plumpers were occasionally worn to restore roundness to the hollow cheek."

Invaluable material.

One book on antiques has a useful set of images depicting the way rooms actually looked, as well as individual items of furniture - for which I’ve also got Chippendale’s workbook. Ackermann helps with scenes of London, such as Brooks’s, Astley’s Amphitheatre, Covent Garden and the Pantheon. The Romance of the Road gives two whole journeys from London to Bath and London to Portsmouth in drawings, so you get distances, inns and the likely traffic. I had to hang on to my books on Georgian cookery, and all those books with satirical drawings are wonderfully evocative of the period.

Setting is vital and I’m in love with my book of maps from the late 18th century covering the entire country. I’ve also got London and greater London A-Z style maps, and a whole raft of detailed Victorian books about London and surrounding districts with interesting snippets, like who lived where, what’s there and the history behind it, plus sketches.

Of course there is the internet, and I will dive into Google for little facts and figures. For example, an expression so common to us now like "mad as a hatter" might not have been current in the period. Google is excellent for little things like that. And for details about old inns, towns and distances from place to place.

Pinterest is a mine of useful images. You can pretty much find out what anything looked like, from a copper foot warmer to how a lady manages the exigencies of ordinary life wearing all those petticoats. I add to my boards all the time, though whether I shall ever be able to find the exact image I need at any given moment is a moot point.

I like images best because they help me picture the scene, and I can garner textual stuff to furnish detail. It’s amazing how it puts me into the period in my head, which in turn enables me to write it for the reader to imagine.

This is what I love about books, and why research is vital. You can’t detail everything you’ve read. Instead you draw the scene in brush strokes of words, letting the reader fill in the gaps. I have to immerse myself in the data, even if only about 10% ends up in the book.

To be honest, I’m far too apt to lose myself in the books and forget what I’m actually looking for. One piece of research leads to another, besides throwing up new plot points I hadn’t thought of. Research for me is as much part of the process of writing as it is exploration of the period.

Just as well I've managed to hang on to most of my precious books!

Happy New Year
Elizabeth Bailey

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

Jane Austen born at Steventon Rectory, Hampshire on a freezing December 16th, in 1775, and today is her 243th birthday. She is many people's  favourite author - including myself, so here is Rudyard Kipling's poem in her honour.

Jane went to Paradise: 
That was only fair.
Good Sir Walter followed her,
And armed her up the stair.
Henry and Tobias,
And Miguel of Spain,
Stood with Shakespeare at the top
To welcome Jane.

Then the Three Archangels
Offered out of hand,
Anything in Heaven’s gift
That she might command.
Azrael’s eyes upon her,
Raphael’s wings above,
Michael’s sword against her heart,
Jane said, ‘Love.’

Instantly the under-
Standing Seraphim
Laid their fingers to their lips
And went to look for him.
Stole across the Zodiac,
Harnessed Charles’s Wain,
And whispered round the Nebulæ
‘Who loved Jane?’

In a private limbo
Where none had thought to look,
Sat a Hampshire gentleman
Reading of a book.
It was called Persuasion
And it told the plain
Story of the love between
Him and Jane.

He heard the question
Circle Heaven through –
Closed the book and answered:
‘I did – and do!’
Quietly but speedily
(as Captain Wentworth moved)
Entered into Paradise
The man Jane loved!

Jane lies in Winchester, blessed be her shade!
Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made.
And, while the stones of Winchester – or Milsom Street – remain,
Glory, Love, and Honour unto England’s Jane!

Happy Birthday, Jane!

Elizabeth Hawksley

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

The Romanovs: Every Jewel has a Story

The new exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Russia, Royalty & the Romanovs, is, as you might expect, a feast for the eyes, especially if you love Fabergé and late 19th century Russian jewellery – and who doesn’t? I thought, on this chilly December day, you might enjoy a peek at some of the treasures.

Fabergé Basket of Flowers Egg, 1901

I'm starting with a love story which, alas, ended tragically: Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), only child of the Prince Regent, later King George IV, and heir presumptive to the throne, and the handsome Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg who arrived in London in 1814, in the train of Tsar Alexander I who was there, as Britain's ally, for the premature Peace Celebrations to mark the defeat of Napoleon and his exile to the island of Elba. I can find no record of whether Charlotte actually met the Tsar, but she certainly met Prince Leopold, and they fell in love. She immediately met opposition from the Prince Regent, who wanted her to marry William of Orange, but Charlotte persisted and, eventually, she and Leopold were married on 2nd May, 1816.  

Princess Charlotte, portrait after George Dawe, 1817, wearing a sarafan dress

In the George Dawe 1817 portrait of Princess Charlottte, she is wearing a traditional Russian sarafan, or, more accurately, an English version based loosely on the sarafan. She is also wearing the Star of the Order of St Catherine, given to her by Tsar Alexander  I, which suggests that she might have met him.

The actual sarafan dress

The actual dress is also shown above. The sarafan is, in fact, a pinafore dress and the Princess wore it over an embroidered linen blouse. The blue silk pinafore has a drawstring under the bust which allows it to be loosened as her pregnancy took its course. The gold lace braid incorporating crimson silk was made in London.

Tragically, Princess Charlotte died in childbirth in 1817. Two years later, Princess Alexandrina Victoria (incidentally, Princess Charlotte's first cousin, and later to be Queen Victoria) was born, Tsar Alexander became little Drina's godfather. The friendship between the Russian and British royal families was firmly established, and, until the Russian Revolution put a stop to it, gifts were constantly exchanged and a number of Anglo-Russian royal marriages took place. 

Portrait miniature of Maria Feodorovna, née Princess Dagmar of Denmark, in a Fabergé frame, about 1895 

In 1862, Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward, married the Danish Princess, Alexandra. Four years later, in 1866, Alexandra’s sister, Dagmar, made a spectacular marriage to Tsar Alexander III, changing her name to Maria Feodorovna. The two countries’ ties became even closer.    

Casket of nephrite jade, with gold, silver, rubies, emerald and pearl decoration by Pavel Ovchinnikiv (1830-88), 7 x 17 x 10 cms. 

In 1874, Queen Victoria’s second son, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, married the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, daughter of Tsar Alexander II and the couple were given the above casket. 

Jewel flowers: l to r  Fabergé philadelphus: rock crystal, gold, nephrite, quartzite and olivines, 1900;  H.I. Wigstrom chrysanthemum: rock crystal, gold, nephrite, enamel, 1908; Fabergé pansy rock crystal, gold, enamel, nephrite and brilliant diamond, 1900

Two of Queen Victoria’s grand-daughters also married into the Romanov family; the Princesses Elisabeth and Alix of Hesse, daughters of the Queen’s second daughter, Princess Alice. Princess Elisabeth married the Grand Duke Sergei in 1884 and, most spectacular of all, Princess Alix, renamed Alexandra Feodorovna, married Tsar Nicholas II in 1894.

 Fabergé Mosaic egg and surprise, 1914

This egg is a technical masterpiece. It was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II but never collected and it was subsequently confiscated by the Bolsheviks. Its construction is ingenious, it has an egg-shaped yellow gold and platinum lattice frame into which tiny brilliant diamonds, rose cut diamonds, emeralds, topazes, sapphires, garnets, half pearls, and moonstones have been inserted creating a petit point tapestry effect.

The 'surprise' inside is a jewelled and enamelled miniature of the silhouettes of the Tsar and Tsarina's five children, l - r in order of birth: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei. The designer was the Finnish Alma Theresia Pihi, who worked for Fabergé. 

 Fabergé silver, amethyst and diamond brooch, c.1909

This brooch was given to Princess Mary, later Queen Mary, in 1909 by the Tsar Nicholas II and the Tsarina Alexandra during their visit to Cowes to enjoy the regatta. Their whole family was there; it was to be the last time that the two Royal families met before the First World War broke out. They dined on each others' yachts.  

Siberian amethysts are famed for their intense purple hue as you can see from the example above. It is a hexagon with a diamond framed border and a diamond bow at the top. It can be worn as a brooch or as a pendant. 

Fabergé cigarette case, 1908

     This vivid Art Nouveau royal blue moiré guilloché enamel Fabergé cigarette case with a sinuous two colour gold snake decorated with brilliant and rosé cut diamonds grasping its tail in its mouth was given to King Edward VII by his mistress, Mrs Keppel in 1908. The snake holding it's own tail is a symbol of  everlasting love. It is noticeably plainer than most Fabergé  objects we see associated with royalty - but it is supremely elegant. - as, indeed was Mrs Keppel.

Contrary to what one might expect, Queen Alexandra approved of Mrs Keppel who was kind, generous and tactful, and could always cheer up the King when he was moody. Alexandra even allowed Mrs Keppel to visit him to say good-bye when he was dying.

After his death, Queen Alexandra returned the cigarette case to Mrs Keppel, who remained on the Dowager Queen's guest list. That changed when Queen Alexandra died in 1925. Court life under Queen Mary and King George was much stricter (and possibly duller) and Mrs Keppel was firmly dropped. Then, in 1936, Mrs Keppel returned the cigarette case to Queen Mary so that it could always stay in the Royal Collection.

An interesting move and I can't help wondering why she did it. I don't altogether buy the 'official' reason.  

Vladimir tiara made by court jeweller Bolin for the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, wife of  Grand Duke Vladimir, 3rd son of Tsar Alexander II, 1874

This beautiful tiara is made of interlocking diamond circles set in gold and silver with pear-shaped pearl drops. It also has an extraordinary story. The Grand Duchess Maria, the first owner of the tiara, was living in the sumptuous Vladimir Palace in St Petersburg when the Russian Revolution broke out. 

In 1917, things got too hot and she fled, leaving her jewels hidden in her bedroom. But exile was expensive and she soon needed money. At the point, the story began to remind me of the Edwardian anti-hero, Raffles, creation of the novelist E. W. Hornung. Raffles, an ex-public school and gentleman burglar with bags of charm, is invited to various country houses, accompanied by his ex-fag, Bunny as his valet, where he steals the other guests'jewels.. Naturally he gets away with it.   

The Grand Duchess's son, Boris, accompanied by a British friend, Bertie Stopford, an art dealer with diplomatic ties (or, in some versions, a spy) came up with a highly dangerous plan. Disguised as workmen, they managed to gain access to the Vladimir Palace, get into the Grand Duchess's bedroom, retrieve the jewels and smuggle them out in the diplomatic bag. The jewels were taken to London but, en route, some of them were damaged. 

In 1920, Maria was the last Grand Duchess to escape from Russia; her journey, via Italy and France, was traumatic and she died a few years' later, leaving her jewellery to her daughter, Elena, Queen of Greece and Denmark - and, incidentally, Prince Philip's aunt.

Queen Mary, who loved collecting objects once owned by her murdered Russian relations, bought a number of jewels from Elena, including the Vladimir tiara. It was in a bad state and needed restoring. Queen Mary wanted to make it more adaptable and it now has emerald drops as well as the original pear-shaped pearls.   

So, dear reader, if you want an idea for a novel, you could do a lot worse than go for the story of the Vladimir tiara.

The exhibition, Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs, is on at the Queen's Gallery until 28th April, 2019. It is well worth seeing and it certainly has the 'Wow!' factor.

I did a companion blog on the exhibition itself on 18th November, 2018 on my website. I have listed it under 'Exhibitions', 'Royal Connections', 'Celebrating the Arts' and 'Victorian Age' categories. 

Photographs: courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2018 

Elizabeth Hawksley   

Friday, November 30, 2018

The fascination and process of using the amnesia trope

A quick search on Amazon for “amnesia historical romance” produces 221 results. If you cut out the historical and go for “amnesia romance” you get 1000 results. I should say that makes it quite a popular theme among authors.

Personally, I’ve used it twice. In A Trace of Memory, our hero finds the heroine wandering in his woods, dishevelled and unable to remember who she is or how she got there. Of his two sisters, who are with him, one believes Elaine genuine, while the other suggests she is guilty of an elaborate ploy to entrap the eligible earl. Nevertheless, they take her in and look after her, although Charles is in two minds.

My current book just launched features another earl who is thrown from his curricle and injured. Widow Chloe takes him in but when he wakes his memory is missing. In this scenario, his identity is known as he has a groom with him, but Lance has no idea who he is and the story revolves around his mistaking Chloe for his lost love, Clarissa.

The working out of an amnesia plot follows the same pattern as any other Regency story. Boy meets girl. Attraction is followed by complications which, when resolved, result in the happily ever after – or at least a hope of it. The interesting bit comes in how much we can develop the symptoms and progress of the condition and how much that influences the story.

An amnesiac, by definition, has an impaired memory. We are not talking here of the distressing condition of the gradual onset of dementia which we know is not going to go away. For the purposes of romance, that would be impossible. But a knock on the head can produce a more immediately severe condition that is, we hope, temporary.

The trick lies in how much memory our amnesiac discovers through the story. How much of the mystery do we choose to reveal, piece by piece? What triggers can we use to build even a vague picture of this person’s past, and indeed of their character? The opportunities are legion and the development of the story depends upon those choices.

You can, for example, change a man’s whole character, as demonstrated by Harrison Ford in the film “Regarding Henry” where the hero survives a bullet and becomes a completely different individual, warmer and loathing what he learns of the man he used to be.

With Widow in Mistletoe, a dream-induced memory of Clarissa pitches Lance into the first and major complication since Chloe resembles her. He also begins to discover an arrogant attitude he had as a lord that he now deprecates. His confusions abound and he begins to fear for his reason. Chloe becomes the only stable point in his new existence.

I must say that as I was writing the story, I didn’t work this out ahead. It grew in the writing. Logic dictated that in a person who still has their faculties, the loss of memory must be distressing – unlike with dementia where often the victim does not realise they even have the condition. This presented scope for plenty of drama and the story became quite dark in places. It’s hardly gothic, but the psychological disturbance creates that darkness.

I wonder if this is the magnet that drives authors to the trope? The fascination with the psychological aspects of the condition and how that affects the victim and the people around them has so many possible permutations that it’s unlikely any one story is repeated elsewhere.

Nevertheless, I think it’s a risky trope. Easy to overplay or underplay it. For example, what of the convenient second accident that miraculously recovers the memory lock, stock and barrel? I suspect any amnesiac will retain hidden pockets that prove elusive. Far more believable to allow snippets to appear here and there and perhaps widen as familiar territory helps to jog them into more coherent memories.

I left my hero incomplete, I’m afraid, but at least with sufficient recognition to know who he was really in love with!

Elizabeth Bailey

An overturned curricle creates a vanished memory. When Chloe takes in the injured lord, she puts her heart in danger. Dare she hope Lance may realise she is not his dead betrothed and learn to love her for herself?

Sunday, November 25, 2018


The last book in the Shaws series is out next month, but instead of a straight "buy me," post, I'd prefer to talk about an aspect of the story.

Orphanages. At the start of Boundless, Livia is attacked by some skinny children from the orphanage she has just visited.
Georgian London had good ones and bad ones.
Thomas Coram's Foundling Hospital

The best was the famous Foundling Hospital which Thomas Coram helped to establish. A retired sea captain, he used his fortune to fund the school for children who needed a good upbringing. The children weren't strictly orphans, but they came from parents who could not afford to bring them up. In effect, the parents gave their babies away. They left little tokens so they could identify the child if they were ever in a position to reclaim them. The Hospital has a pathetic and terribly sad collection of them that you can go and see today. As far as is known, not one parent returned to claim their child, and if they had, since the tokens were removed it would have been almost impossible to recognise them.
The children were brought up strictly to be good Christians and to have a trade. Eventually they'd be apprenticed out or sent as servants somewhere.
And that was the good version.

In the bad one, like the one my heroine Livia visited, the orphanage was little better than a thieves' kitchen. they were taught a trade all right, but that might be pickpocketing or burglary. Remember Fagin in Oliver Twist? That was written when the rookeries were still swamps of filth and danger in the middle of London - turn the wrong way on The Strand and you could find yourself in an area the authorities left alone, and if you were wearing good clothes, you might not come out alive.
Livia mistakenly visits the kind of orphanage where children were trained to steal, and my hero has to rescue her. Oliver is very attracted to Livia, and astonished to see her in this part of London, but from that moment their fate is set.
And you'll have to read Boundless to find out what happens next!


She’s the unlikely wallflower of the extraordinary Shaw family.  A woman who will never marry, but not for the reasons you might think . . .
Attacked on the streets of London, Lady Livia Shaw is relieved when a gentleman comes to her aid—and startled to discover her rescuer is Adrian, the Duke of Preston, a notorious rogue. But their association—and instant attraction—does not end there, much to the Shaws’ distress. For Livia was robbed of a memento—one that is both her most precious possession and a reminder of a shameful secret. It is a secret she knows will cause her to lose Adrian forever, yet he is determined to track down the thief . . .

Adrian never wanted to be anyone’s hero, but now he’s finding the prospect as pleasing as he does Livia’s company, and her beauty. Certainly he wants her in his bed, but what surprises him is how much she comes to mean to him. Which is why the revelation of her scandalous past is nearly his undoing. Arrogantly, he had assumed only he had the power to shock. But it is too late to turn back, and now Adrian may have to risk everything for Livia, even his heart . . .

You can preorder the book here!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The inspirational power of water

As a writer, I need inspiration and I find water is one of the most inspiring elements.  Whether it is looking out over the Bristol Channel at the end of a long sunny day, or watching the restless sea beating on the Devon coast, I just can't get enough of the view. It sets the creative juices flowing. 

 Writers need contrast in their books, so I need inspiration for the reflective scenes as much as for the exciting ones, and water provides that. Perhaps it is because we live on an island, we are never very far from water and for someone who writes about Georgian England, water is important. 
HMS Trincomalee, Hartlepool

Along with coal, it powered the industrial revolution, and provided trade routes around the coast or via the rivers and canals for centuries before the roads and railways took over.

Recently I have been travelling around Scotland, where they have, er, an abundance of water. It's everywhere, in the rivers and lochs and around the coast with its thousands of islands. (there is also plenty in the sky, too, but luckily not when we were there!) There was the excited anticipation of setting out on a ferry to the remote island of Jura,
  and the sheer pleasure of sitting in the sun, watching the seals sunning themselves in the bay at Port Charlotte, on Islay.

You might think this would only provide inspiration for seafaring adventures, but not in my case. Although I do have some books set beside the sea, and even on it, many of my books are set in Regency London, or in an English country house, but travelling around and looking at waterfalls and wonderful views over vast expanses of water seems to free the mind to wander where it will, resolving knotty problems about plot providing a route to the necessary happy ending.

But you don't have to travel that far to enjoy the benefits of water, fountains and lakes in city parks can be just as enjoyable, or walking along a canal. Even just soaking in a bath has been known to help when I have been wrestling with a storyline!

Happy reading (and writing).
Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

Beauty & the Brooding Lord
Out now!