Thursday, August 30, 2007

Free open day at Chawton House

If you live anywhere near Chawton House, once a home to Jane Austen, you might like to know that they are having a day of FREE entry to the Chawton House Library, as part of a national heritage scheme. It's on Saturday 8th September from 10.30am till 4.30pm.

The Chawton Estate has been closely connected with the Knight family since
the early 16th century. Chawton House was built in 1583 by John Knight and
passed by inheritance to Jane Austen¹s brother, Edward, on the death of
childless cousin, Thomas Knight in 1794. Jane, her mother and her sister
subsequently moved to a house in Chawton village, now Jane Austen¹s House
Museum. Edward himself later changed his surname to Knight.

In 1987, the house was inherited by Richard Knight, but was by then in
such a dilapidated state that radical action was required. In 1993,
following the failure of a plan to convert the estate to a country club and
golf course, the American philanthropist, Sandy Lerner, acquired a 125-year
lease for the purpose of forming a library and study centre based on her
collection of 7,000 works by women writing in English before 1830.
Following ten years of meticulous research, planning and restoration work,
Chawton House Library opened as a research library and study centre in July

Visitors will be able explore the library, the house and the gardens and
there will also be a number of activities going on throughout the day. In
particular, the Hampshire Regency Dancers will be doing dancing
demonstrations of some Blasis Quadrilles which they found in a book in
Chawton House Library. The book was published in 1830 and they may not have
been danced for over 100 years!

There will also be shire horse demonstrations, readings from Jane Austen,
live music from the Liss band and children¹s activities. Refreshments will
also be available in the Old Kitchen. Everyone is welcome to come and enjoy
this special day.

To find out more, visit the Chawton website by clicking here

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Influence of Georgette Heyer - Part 7

Authors are always being asked to name their favourite novel, and for me it has to be Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy. It sums up everything I enjoy about Heyer’s Regencies – strong characters, wit, invention and immaculate plotting. Sophy, descends (like another favourite heroine Flora Poste, in Cold Comfort Farm) on an unhappy, dysfunctional family and organises them ruthlessly for their own good – finding the love of her life in the process.

Sophy is headstrong, outspoken and has a sense of honour that was expected from a man at the time, but never from a woman. I’m sure all of us would have enjoyed driving the priggish Miss Wraxton past the clubs of St James’ but how many of us would have apologised so bravely afterwards?
Here is a picture that sums up my picture of Charles, liberated from Miss Wraxton and Duty by the irrepressible Sophy.

Louise Allen

Louise's latest book is No Place for a Lady

The liberty of trade...Miss Bree Mallory has no time for the pampered aristocracy! She's too taken up with running the best coaching company on the roads. But a meeting with an earl changes everything...Soon, beautiful Bree has established herself in Society. She hopes no one will discover that she once drove the stage from London to Newbury...or that she returned unchaperoned with the rakishly attractive Max Dysart, Earl of Penrith. Is either any place for a lady?Bree's independence is hard-won: she has no interest in marriage. But Max's kisses are powerfully - passionately - persuasive...!

No Place for a Lady (Mills & Boon August 2007), is available from bookshops and online from Amazon by clicking here

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Results of the Regency Celebrity Poll

A few months ago I asked readers to vote on my website for the person they considered to be the ultimate Regency celebrity. There was a huge response and the results are now in. It was especially interesting to read the fascinating comments that accompanied the nominations.

Here are the results:

With an impressive 48% of the vote, the runaway winner was Jane Austen. Whilst acknowledging that she was not a "celebrity" in her own time, people commented that her current celebrity status was based on achievement and they valued enormously the contribution she had made to literature.

In second place with 18% of the vote was Lord Byron. The man who was "mad, bad and dangerous to know" was, in the words of one voter a man who was built up, lionized and torn down in the same fashion that modern celebrities experience.

In third place on 12% was Beau Brummell. One reader commented: "He was famous for nothing in particular, like many of our celebrities today who are just famous without having any particular accomplishments."

Mary Shelley got 4% of the vote, as did the Prince Regent himself. There were also honourable mentions for war heroes Nelson, Wellington, Cochrane and Napoleon, and for several fictional creations such as Mr Darcy.

I will be looking at the cult of celebrity in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in an article for the Historical Novel Review's autumn edition.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

The influence of Georgette Heyer, Part 6 - Kate Tremayne

I first discovered the joy of Georgette Heyer when I was sixteen and I have all her books which are extremly dog-eared and browning with age. I love the books that captured different aspects of the social history of the age such as The Toll Gate. The first one I read was The Masqueraders and loved the sense of period and adventure and from then I was hooked. Because my first love is history rather than romance my favourite Heyer book is The Royal Escape which covers Charles II's escape after the battle of Worcester. Another favourite was Infamous Army but all the books have a magical charm and memorable quality.

Reading Heyer has certainly influenced the sense of period and history I use in the The Loveday series, which follows the life and loves of the Loveday family in the late eighteenth century, in the way that Winston Graham's Poldark series followed the life and loves of the Poldarks.

The Loveday Honour is available from bookshops and Amazon

Our recent books

Friday, August 17, 2007

Georgian Health & Safety

In today's safe world it is hard to credit the risks our ancestors were prepared to take in their day to day lives. In the eighteenth century very few streets in major towns had street lighting, making travellers easy prey for footpads and highwaymen. Of course the very rich could hire link-boys to precede them as they made their way around town, or they could be accompanied by footmen, while if they were making long journeys then outriders would be employed. In The Belles Dames Club the dastardly captain of a slave ship has only hired his outriders to accompany him on the most dangerous part of his coach journey from London to Bristol, and when the ladies learn this they set their trap for him.

The poor had no one to look after their safety, but even the rich and fashionable were at risk – chalk was added to the milk to make it whiter, expensive tea was adulterated - the leaves of elder, hawthorne or ash were added, to say nothing of sheep's dung, while green tea was often coloured with copper carbonate and lead chromate to produce the right colour. Such adulteration was partly responsible for the rising popularity of black tea by the end of the 18th century. The ladies in my books often drink tea, and it is to be hoped that it is purchased from a reputable tea-seller.

Looking good was certainly not a healthy option. For part of the eighteenth century at least the use of lard to keep the ladies' enormous hairstyles in place attracted plenty of vermin, including mice! Face powder contained white lead - one recipe calls for the lead to be steeped in vinegar and rested on a bed of horse manure for three weeks! Rouge was no better, containing lead-based carmine. I have no doubt that Lady Gaunt, the most fashionable of The Belles Dames Club members used both these products. Not that the medical fraternity were much help – until the middle of the 18th century physicians did not advocate washing - they feared that water would enter the body through the pores and contaminate the internal organs, affecting the humoral balance!

Writers have to tread a very fine line between portraying history as it really was, and writing a story that a modern audience will enjoy, let's hope we get it right!

Melinda Hammond

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The influence of Georgette Heyer, Part 5 - Fenella Miller

Here Fenella Miller talks about her love for Georgette Heyer.

"I was about eight or nine and had read through the children's library and was starting on the adult shelves. A helpful librarian told me to try Georgette Heyer and Lesley Charteris (The Saint). This must have been in the early '50s and Heyer was producing new books all the time. I read them avidly - as well as Lorna Hill and any horsy stories I could find.
I've loved Georgette Heyer ever since and although some don't read as well as they did, I have most of them on my bookshelves. It was reading her books that begun my love of things floaty and romantic! I like to think of my books as a mixture of Heyer/Austen andCornwall- all my heroes are written with Sean Bean as Sharpe in the back of my mind."

Fenella's latest Regency is Lord Thurston's Challenge.
When Charlotte Carstairs and her young sister and brother are orphaned by the death of their mother she has no choice but to seek out her estranged grandfather, Lord Thurston. However, Major Jack Griffin, a disfigured and dissolute Napoleonic war veteran, has inherited the title and is determined not to allow Charlotte and her family to remain at Thurston. Not wishing to appear uncaring he issues an impossible challenge. Charlotte can remain if she is able to improve the dilapidated house and poor estate, which are in ruins because all the money was lost in a shipping disaster. Charlotte is determined to stay and equally determined to persuade Lord Thurston to mend his ways and take a proper interest in his property. But it is not her intention that he takes an interest in her as well and as they grow closer sinister forces are working to ruin their plans. Can they unmask the murderous plotters before they lose everything?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Guest Blogger of the Month - Gail Mallin

The name of Gail Mallin will need no introduction to Regency fans. Here she talks about her books, her break from writing, and her new book.

"Thanks for inviting me to the blog! I am really excited to have a novel out again after a long period away from writing, but I must confess that "The Eccentric Miss Delaney" isn't reallya new story. Way back in 1990 my editor at Mills & Boon, a lovely lady called Elizabeth Johnson, came up with an idea to celebrateValentine's Day with a four in one title to be called "Regency Quartet". This was the first time a multi-volume had been done for the Mills & Boon Historical line and I was one of the authors Elizabeth approached.

Lots of ideas were tossed around on how to link the four novellas together, but the schedule was tight and in the end it was decided that each story should stand alone. Each of the four heroines featured would find love in a different way and I was asked to write about a girl who was looking for security. I came up with idea of the daughter of a charming, well-bred wastrel, who, when her father proposes to drag her off to Vienna to help him run a gambling hell, decides enough is enough.

Miss Athena Delaney is twenty-four years old and, determined to manage her own life from now on, seeks refuge in the small seaside resortof Parkgate. Athena's beauty attracts numerous suitors, but she is more interested in restoring the run-down tavern owned by a relative of her formergoverness, a redoutable dame who has accompanied Athena to Parkgate to act as her chaperon. Athena's success as an inn-keeper brings a measure of financial security and a reputation for eccentricity, a reputationLord Nick Verlaine thinks deserved when he finds her dusting the inn'scoffee-room. Thinking her a chambermaid he ventures to steal a kissand is astonished when the furious Athena boxes his ears and berates himfor his impudence. Nick finds Athena's unattainability a challengeand he accepts a wager that he can make the eccentric Miss Delaney fallin love with him...

The "Eccentric Miss Delaney" is a frothy romance, but getting the facts right is important to me and I do a lot of research for every novel. I also like to choose more unusual settings for my stories if I can and Parkgate seemed perfect since it was close enough to where I lived at the time for me to visit often and gather all the information I needed.

Although the sea has receded since Regency times and the promenade now overlooks a grass-filled marshland, I enjoyed imagining the town in its heyday with its sea-bathing machines and balls at the AssemblyRooms. It was great fun trying to bring that long-lost world back to lifeand if the original reviews are to be believed readers loved the story -can I do a little boasting here and tell you that mine was voted thebest of the four novellas in a survey Mills & Boon conducted after publication? Sorry, couldn't resist mentioning that, but it is a story I'm proud of and I'm absolutely thrilled that it's been given the opportunity to reach a new generation of readers."

The Eccentric Miss Delaney is available from BBC books by clicking here

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Carstairs Conspiracy

You might think that writing a book of over 70,000 words is the hardest part of an author's lot, but there are any number of other things involved with the process that this writer finds challenging.

The copy that goes on the inside cover is one such example. In not much more than a hundred words you're required to tempt and tantalise prospective readers without giving away too much of the plot. If the jacket designer has done his job well then readers will be attracted by his efforts and will pick up your book. You then have a few seconds of their time in which to persuade them to carry your tome to the checkout.

Here, after much agonising, is what I came up with for my latest Regency romance, The Carstairs Conspiracy, to be published by Robert Hale in January 2008.

Abigail Carstairs suspects that someone is trying to kill her. As sole heir to the late Duke of Penrith's vast estate she can only surmise that her fortune is her aggressor's objective but cannot accept that any of her relations are culpable.

In desperation she turns to the notorious Lord Sebastian Denver. Unable to deny a lady in distress, Sebastian inveigles his way into Abby's hunting lodge, where all the prime suspects are gathered but, distracted by his growing attraction towards Abby, is unprepared when a further attempt is made on her life.

Sebastian, putting aside his own feelings, must now delve into Abby's past and lay a daring trap to in order to outwit the culprits. But time is not on his side so can he really hope to succeed?

Would this little taster make you want to read the book, I wonder.

Wendy Soliman

Friday, August 10, 2007

The influence of Georgette Heyer, Part 4 - Lynne Connolly

Heyer and me

Georgette Heyer was the first modern romance writer I read, and there's a lot to be said for starting at the top.
I really can't remember what the first book was, but once I'd started, I read as many as I could get my hands on. When I got to "Frederica," I thought I was in heaven. So funny and Alverstoke is one of the best heroes I've ever read.
Even today, umpteen books later, the suave, aristocratic but oh-so-human Marquis of Alverstoke has my heart. Heyer had a marvellous gift for the right words and the appropriate ones and her turn of phrase was concise and witty.
We rarely see that kind of wit these days, and to be truthful, we didn't then, either. When I started reading Heyer, she was a "trashy writer," something that was a direct result of the snobbishness of the literary establishment. It's only just started to relax. If you're popular, you can't possibly write anything of literary merit!
But I believe that Heyer did. True, she doesn't aspire to the truths you find in Jane Austen, the deep knowledge of human society and the way it behaves, but she wrote in a different age, with different aims. And her kind of light, witty banter was just what I needed.
And still do.

Lynne Connolly

Milestone Book

No Place For A Lady, out this month, is my 20th title for Mills & Boon – which seems impossible until I count them all lined up on the shelf!

I've blogged in the past about the fun I had taking carriage driving lessons in preparation for this one, and how useful it was to be able to get inside a real drag – the boy racer’s vehicle of choice in the Regency – to see if it really was possible to have a passionate encounter in one. It was, and Bree and Max take full advantage of my research in the course of their rather rocky romance.

Bree is a woman with a foot in two worlds –she runs a stagecoach company and her half brother is a viscount. Max falls heavily for Bree – but he has a dark secret of his own, and one that takes a very Gothic twist before the end of the book.

My most recent research involved obtaining the accurate measurements of a bathing machine to see how suitable that would be for a romantic rendezvous. Not very, was the answer, not because of the size but because apparently the floor would have been covered in very soggy carpet. Faced with that, my hero and heroine have taken to the sea under cover of the umbrella-like canopy invented by a Quaker gentleman to preserve the modesty of lady bathers. I doubt he would have approved.

Anyone interested in bathing machines, or the history of seaside life, will love Margate museum where the wonderful Terry and Peter helped me delve into the archives.

That trip was for The Outrageous Lady Felsham, book 2 of my new series of six books – Those Scandalous Ravenhursts –about seven cousins and their intertwined lives and loves. The first, The Dangerous Mr Ryder is due out in the UK in March next year and in North America in July. Lady Felsham is due out here in May and in North America in August.

I have never tried to link more than two books before and I am finding this fascinating – but rather like three dimensional Fair Isle knitting! What do you think about series, either as a writer or a reader? I’d love to hear your views – and tips on staying on top of the constantly entwining plots!

Louise Allen

Buy No Place For a Lady from:
Amazon on
or Mills & Boon on


Many of you will know that my current release, Bride of the Solway, features characters from my 2004 story, My Lady Angel. When I was writing Angel, I had created a best friend for the hero. The best friend was one of those characters who appear in my mind more or less fully formed – looks, character, the lot. It’s almost magical when that happens. This one came with a name, too: Ross Graham. And he hinted that he had a slightly mysterious past.

Ross doesn’t feature all that much in My Lady Angel. He appears at the start, and again at the end. But he is such a lovely fellow that he deserved a story of his own. Especially as he had ended up with a broken heart. So I started thinking about Ross’s story and decided that he should go to Scotland to search for the truth about his roots.

Until I’d actually started working on Bride of the Solway, I hadn’t thought much about Ross’s mysterious Scottish family. But in order to start writing, I obviously had to find out all about them. I then realised that, although Graham is a fairly common name in Scotland, I did not know whether it was common in Dumfries and the Border country where my story was set. Even if it proved to be wildly inappropriate, it was too late to change it. I was stuck with Ross Graham as my hero’s name, since My Lady Angel was already in print.

So imagine my shock when I discovered, in my 1806 edition of Cary’s Itinerary of the Great Roads of England and Wales (and Scotland), that the coaching inn at Longtown, the last English town on the main road to Scotland, just 4 miles from the border, was called The Graham Arms. To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t been written on the page in black and white. It gave me a really spooky feeling, but it also convinced me that my first Scottish story was definitely meant to be.

Later, on a research trip to the Border country, I was even more surprised to find that The Graham Arms is still there, on the main road in Longtown, apparently very little changed from Regency times. It’s a fine Georgian building, and much too solid to be spooky, as you can see.

When I was taking the picture, the sky was grey and it was starting to rain. But I was so pleased with the omens for the world I was creating in Bride of the Solway, that I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear.

Coincidence? I leave it to you to decide...

Best wishes

Bride of the Solway is available, at a 25% discount until end September, from the Mills & Boon store

Also available from Amazon

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The influence of Georgette Heyer, Part 3 - Amanda Ashby

Georgette Heyer's influence was far reaching. Not only did she inspire historical authors, but contemporary authors as well.

Here Amanda Ashby, author of You Had Me At Halo, talks about her love of Heyer. Over to you, Amanda!

"I'll never forget when I was a 19 year old University
student and was complaining to a friend that it was
very annoying that Jane Austen was dead because I just
loved reading her books so much. Anyway, my friend said that if I liked Jane Austen I might like one of her mother's favourite authors, someone called Georgette Heyer.

My friend and her mother then consulted and quickly decided that Arabella might be a good place to start. It was, and from there I quickly made my way through their entire collection before I lovingly started to gather together my own set of books so that I could re-read then again at my leisure.
Twenty years later and my books have travelled from Australia to New Zealand to England and back again. I've discarded furniture, clothes and just about everything else during that time, but never my Georgette Heyers and despite the fact that I write paranormal romances, she's definitely been the author who has most influenced me the most (oh, and in case you're wondering, my favourite GH is Grand Sophy!!)"

Thank you, Amanda! I'm sure The Grand Sophy is a favourite choice for many people!
Amanda's paranormal romance, You Had Me At Halo, is a witty, fun read and it's available from books shops as well as online fromAmazon UK and Amazon US. This is what Romantic Times had to say about it:

"This book has a delightfully quirky concept that develops into a fun and interesting story. Peopled with a fascinating variety of characters, it also has an intriguing mystery and a charmingly different type of interaction between the hero and heroine. Expect a delightful tale with a wonderfully distinctive ending."

Our recent books


I am pleased to announce that recently I sold a sixth Regency romantic adventure to Robert Hale.This will be published early in 2008. This book is set in Dedham, Constable county, in north-east Essex. As you can see from the pictures it's a lovely place.

I also sold A COUNTRY MOUSE to Thorpe Large Print and to Belgrave - where it is about to appear along side THE RETURN OF LORD RIVENHALL on
I sent a fourth novella to D C Thomson A DANGEROUS DECEPTION this week and I will let you know when I hear from them. The My Weekly Story Collection books are now being sold at Tesco as well as W H Smiths - so I can proudly say 'My books are being sold in Tesco now.' These books are undergoing a re-vamp and will appear from October in a different format and will be called My Weekly Pocket Novels.
Best wishes
Fenella Miller

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The influence of Georgette Heyer, Part 2 - Wendy Soliman

In Praise of These Old Shades

This is a terrible admission for a historical novelist to make but until about three years ago I hadn’t read a single Georgette Heyer book. I know, I know! It was just one of those things that I’d always intended to get round to but, well, you know how it is.

And then, quite by accident, a five-book omnibus of her works came into my possession and my life took a decided turn for the better. By the time I’d got to the end of the first page of These Old Shades I was already transfixed. In case you’re not familiar with this particular novel, these are the first few sentences that so captured my imagination.

"A gentleman was strolling down a side street in Paris, on his way back from the house of one Madame de Verchoureux. He walked mincingly, for the red heels of his shoes were very high. A long purple cloak, rose-lined, hung from his shoulders and was allowed to fall carelessly back from his dress, revealing a full-skirted coat of purple satin, heavily laced with gold; a waistcoat of flowered silk; faultless small clothes; a lavish sprinkling of jewels on his cravat and breast. A three-cornered hat, point-edged, was set upon his powdered wig, and in his hand he carried a long beribboned cane. It was a little enough protection against footpads, and although a light sword hung at the gentleman’s side its hilt was lost in the folds of his cloak, not quickly to be found."

Who could fail to be intrigued by such a lavish description? It was impossible not to want to know who this gentleman was and why, when he was obviously rich and well-connected, he was exposing himself to the dangers of the Parisian side streets. Abandoning everything else I soon became embroiled in the world of the cold-hearted Duke of Avon and the mysterious redhead who turned his well-organized life on its heels, bringing to the fore the better side of the duke’s nature, which he had striven for so many years to keep under close guard.

By the time I’d finished These Old Shades I was convinced that by good fortune I’d hit upon Georgette Heyer’s most richly textured novel first time round. After all, how could she possibly improve upon such a beautifully woven and wittily related tale?

Then I started reading Sprig Muslin ….

Wendy Soliman

Wendy's latest book is The Social Outcast, available from Amazon and Robert Hale Ltd

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The influence of Georgette Heyer - part 1

To celebrate the fact that Georgette Heyer has recently been classified as a Classic Author by the British library system, we're running an series of posts about Heyer's far-reaching influence.

We begin with some biographical information about Heyer, taken from jay Dixon's excellent article, An Appreciation of Georgette Heyer on the Historical Novel Society Site.

jay, a fan of Georgette Heyer ever since discovering These Old Shades on the classroom library shelf at the age of 12, is currently researching a book on Heyer. She is the author of The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon 1909-1990s (UCL Press, 1999)

Georgette Heyer was born in Wimbledon on 16 August 1902. A consistent best-selling author since her breakthrough novel, These Old Shades, was published in 1926, she wrote 12 crime, four contemporary, and 40 historical novels in a working life spanning 53 years. Her historical novels are set in various periods, but she is best known for her Georgian/Regency novels, set in the period she had most affinity with.

Heyer’s first novel, The Black Moth, set in 1751, was first told to her brother Boris when the 17-year-old Georgette Heyer, accompanying him on a convalescent holiday at Hastings, started telling him a historical adventure tale to relieve his (and presumably her) boredom. Her father encouraged her to write it down and, when completed, sent it to the literary agent Leonard P. Moore, an acquaintance of his. Moore promptly sold it to Constable in England and Houghton Mifflin in the USA, and it was published in 1921, when she was just 19.

The Black Moth was followed by a further two historicals – The Transformation of Philip Jettan (later republished minus its final chapter as Powder and Patch) and The Great Roxhythe.

Heyer married Ronald Rougier in 1925, a few months after her father’s death. After her marriage, Heyer followed her husband, a mining engineer, to Tanganyika in 1927 and Macedonia in 1928, where she wrote The Masqueraders. Unhappy in his career, Ronald left his job, and they returned to England in 1929 where, after a failed partnership venture, he opened a sports shop in Horsham. Georgette Heyer was now the breadwinner of the family, writing one crime and one historical novel per year between 1934 and 1941.

Her first crime novel – Footsteps in the Dark – was published in 1932, the year she gave birth to her son, Richard Rougier. In 1935 she published the first novel set in the period with which she will always be associated, Regency Buck. Meanwhile, Ronald was studying to become a barrister and was called to the Bar in 1939. During the Second World War they lived in a service flat in Hove, where she wrote The Spanish Bride on her knee, but in 1942 the Rougiers seized the chance to fulfil a long-held ambition of Heyer’s and moved to the Albany, where they lived until 1966. They then moved to a flat in Jermyn Street, to move again in 1971 to a flat in Knightsbridge, where she wrote the last of her Regency novels, Lady of Quality, published in 1972.

Georgette Heyer died of lung cancer on 4 July 1974. Through her own love for one particular period of British history, in her writing life she forged a new sub-genre of historical novel – ‘the Regency’. And with her wit, her page-turning writing ability, and her genius at bringing characters to life, she still brings new admirers to her novels, more than 30 years after her death.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Daydreaming over the Housework......

Writers are always being asked where they get their ideas from. This came up recently concerning The Belles Dames Club so I thought I would share it with you.

The first germ of the idea for the book came from doing the ironing! I find this such a chore that I have to watch TV at the same time, and by chance it was a programme about a stately home and its owners. One of the portraits in the house showed a gentleman with a squirrel climbing on his sleeve and the narrator exlained that the gentleman was member of a club set up in the early 18th century called The Honourable Order of Little Bedlam. Tts members were leading figures of the day, including the Duke of Devonshire, the Earl of Exeter, Sir Godfrey Kneller etc. Each member of the club took the title of an animal and their portrait was painted with the animal included. The legend goes that the animal titles were supposed to protect the member's anonymity! This started me thinking that ladies probably set up little societies of their own, and the idea began to grow in my mind until I had created a secret club for ladies where they could let their hair down and experience some of the freedoms enjoyed by their male counterparts. I decided to set the club at the end of the eighteenth century and then I let my ladies have their heads: they learned the secrets of the gaming hells, helped each other out of tight spots and also indulged in watching a spot of naked wrestling!

The Belles Dames Club was great fun to write and the characters seemed to dictate just what would happen. So, I suppose you argue that the idea came originally from the ironing (although it is still not a favourite chore!)

Melinda Hammond