Sunday, December 27, 2009

Letters From A Regency Lady

Letters from a Regency Lady
Here is your first letter. The story will unfold as the letters are exchanged.

To Captain Robert Jenson, from his sister Lady Horatia Melton. 27th December 1815.
My very dear Robert.

How we have missed your company this Christmas, dearest. Even Melton remarked that it was "damned slow without Robert" – which was unusual, for, as you know, his lordship is not one to crave company. I am sure if I did not insist upon it, we should go from one week to the next without dining with our friends. I, on the other hand, cannot be happy unless I am either dining out or entertaining, and since Melton is in no mood to deny me anything after my loss, he allows me to do much as I please.

Mama is staying with us, of course. I believe she spends more time with us here than in the dower house at Little Hall, which, given her delicate health, is a blessing in disguise. Melton has to bite his tongue often but Mama has never been the easiest of companions, as you know only too well, dearest. I never cease to wonder that she allowed you to escape to the army and the freedom I know you craved. Our sister Antoine is very well and sends her love. I may have further news on her account another time but I shall not even whisper it yet in case she is disappointed again. You know of what happy event I speak but the earl has not been told of her hopes so I shall not breathe a word to anyone.

Antoine and Bathurst were here for the affair on Christmas Eve but did not stay over night. I am fortunate to have my sister settled not more than ten miles distant. She was a great comfort to me at the time of my loss but I shall not dwell on that! for I have something of importance to tell you. Melton's cousin James is engaged to a very rich and beautiful young lady.

Miss Mary Jenkins is a sweet little thing with huge blue eyes and pale curls. She is an heiress of some note, which is a good thing for Melton's cousin; however, Melton feels she is too slender for child bearing and did not approve of poor James's choice for that reason. He never reproaches me, but I know that he feels our loss deeply, and, if the doctor is right, James may be called upon to provide the heir for Melton – but I shall say no more on that subject. I am determined to be quite gay and smile again. There have been too many tears these past months.

We have received an invitation to dine with the Regent at Carlton House next week and I dare say we shall go. I find Prinny's houses too warm for he invariably overheats them but he is a kind and generous host and Melton likes him so I shall have to bear it for his sake. I am determined to give a ball at Melton House next season and I pray that you will manage to come, dear Robert. You look so smart in your regimentals and I felt very proud of you going off to fight the way you did with Old Hookey, as you so wickedly call your commander. I know it to be a show of affection, but dare not think what he would make of such a term – though you say he is well aware of what his men call him and he named them far worse. Indeed, I know he believes in calling a spade a spade and some of the things he says are quite shocking, but he is charming. I shall allow no fault in him despite what others may say, for he spoke so kindly of you to me. His Grace told me you were a brave soldier and a man of honour, which I have always known, of course. It was a truly wonderful victory against Bonaparte and the country owes you all a debt of gratitude.

The Christmas Eve party passed off very well, though on Christmas Day itself there were only seven of us besides Melton and I. Melton's aunt Hortense is staying with us until after the New Year. She always brings her pug dog – a smelly little brute – but Melton feels obliged so we must put up with the creature; the pug not Hortense! Dear Hortense is always welcome, of course. Melton's sister Joan and her husband stayed for a week but left this morning. I shall miss her and her two boys. Matthew and Jack are as lively and noisy as ever. Melton felt I might be upset by their presence in the nursery, but it was a relief to hear a child's laughter again. George would have enjoyed their visit so much. They are two years older than he but were always so good with him. No more! I must not or I shall not see to write.

You must not think that your sister is sunk in grief, Robert dear. I promise you it is not so. I can write of my darling to you in the knowledge that you will not reproach me. Mama weeps if I mention his name, and Melton will not hear it. He cannot bear me to speak of our loss. I know he is grieving but I do not wish to forget my darling child. Antoine understands a little because of her two miscarriages but even she does not know what pain comes from losing a child and the heir Melton so desperately wanted. He does not blame me for producing only the one child thus far, but I know he wonders if he ought to have chosen his wife more carefully. I wish it were otherwise but I must not give up hope.

On Boxing Day we handed out gifts to the servants. Melton is very good at that, you know, and so generous. Each man received a gift of boots, cloth and some ten shillings; every woman received cloth, shoes and five shillings. I am not certain this is exactly fair. I think the maids work quite as hard as the footmen, perhaps more so at times. However, I sent the housekeeper, Mrs Benson, five pounds to distribute amongst them as she thought fit so I am content. Melton would no doubt think me extravagant but it is my own money so he does not need to know. You must not think I am in the habit of keeping secrets from my husband, dearest, but you and I always shared everything and so I tell you things that perhaps no one else hears. You will not think the worse of your sister, for if I had not your approval I should be bereft. I remember that you were not certain when I married Melton. Mama thought it an excellent match and everyone was of the same opinion, but you had reservations. Now do not think me unhappy, dearest one, for it is not so. I promise you I am much happier now than I was, though I did miss you this Christmas. Perhaps you will be home in the spring. You must promise to come to us for I long to see you and your letters are a ray of sunshine.

I shall not write more at this time for I must visit Mama and see if she has all she wants. Melton has gone out with the hunt. I think he was glad to see the guests go for his mood does not much improve.

Write to me soon, dearest. Your loving sister, Horatia

PS. Your present has just arrived. What joy is to be had in a book of poetry. Only you would understand my need. Thank you so much, dearest brother.

PPS. I forgot to say that Mama sends her love.
Happy Christmas and a Healthy New Year to all my friends and readers. Anne Herries

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas with Mr Darcy

Happy Christmas everyone!

I've recently finished writing Mr Darcy's Secret, which is to be published by Sourcebooks. Here's a small extract with a festive theme. Elizabeth Bennet is married to Mr Darcy and is welcoming her family for the Christmas season to Pemberley for the first time, not without some trepidation!

Christmas Eve and the arrival of the Bennets and Bingleys to Pemberley marked the official start to the festive season. Elizabeth was pleased and surprised at her own feelings on firstly welcoming her parents and two of her sisters, Mary and Kitty, to her new home. For all her newfound happiness and exultation in the success of her marriage, she had not realised until coming face to face with them again, how much she had missed them. It was especially heartening to see her papa again and as he hugged her until she thought she might have no breath left, her feelings took her by surprise. The resulting misting of her eyes she quickly brushed away before his notice provoked a comment.

“I am very glad to see you, Elizabeth, and for this invitation from you and your husband, we are very grateful,” he said, standing back at arm’s length to admire the daughter he loved best. “I have missed you and it does my heart good to see you looking so well.”

Mrs Bennet was, for once, struck quite dumb on their entrance into the hall and did not utter a syllable for the first ten minutes. Her eyes darted everywhere, alighting on the marble floors, staring at the grand curving staircases, the statues in the niches and the paintings adorning the walls and the ceiling. She looked almost frightened and had such an appearance of stupefied shock upon her countenance that Lizzy felt quite concerned.

“Are you quite well, mama?” asked Elizabeth, taking her mother’s hand and rubbing it between her own. “Indeed, you do look very tired. But the journey is such a long one, I know. Come inside and get warm by the fire.”

Mrs Bennet shook her head and spoke at last. “I am astonished, Lizzy. I knew Pemberley must be a great house, but I never expected this; not in all my born days did I expect to see such opulence, such finery! The floor alone must be worth a mint, not to mention the gilded balustrades, the paintings and statues, the drapes, the chairs and settees, and I know not what. And this is only the hall! Lord bless me! I shall have to sit down. And as for the grounds, I thought Christmas would be over before we arrived, so long did it take to get from the road to the house. What a prospect! The finest house, the grandest park, the most magnificent hall that I ever did see. What a pity that Lydia cannot be with us to see it. I know she would have loved to see Pemberley, and dear Wickham too. I’m sure he would have enjoyed seeing his former home.”

“But, mama, though I admire your feelings of benevolence in consideration of Mr and Mrs Wickham’s lack of invitation,” observed Mary, who loved to reflect and sermonize on the folly of others, “in my opinion, such deliberation is ill conceived. If you dwell for just one moment on the real likelihood of such a summons to our misguided sister and her husband from Mr Darcy who we know to be a rational man, you must also know it to be highly improbable.”

“Oh, Mary, hold your tongue. Mrs Wickham can come to Pemberley whenever she likes, whatever you might think on the matter,” rejoined Mrs Bennet loudly, with an expression of exasperation.

Mrs Gardiner advanced quickly to reach Mrs Bennet’s side to greet her and divert the course of conversation just as Mr Darcy entered the hall to welcome his guests. He had thought it prudent to allow Elizabeth a little time with her parents and sisters before he came on the scene. His manners were as impeccable as ever and Mrs Bennet became quite girlish in her manner at his attentions, patting her curls and looking at him under her lashes. When Lizzy was able she could not resist catching her husband’s eye, raising her own heavenwards. She felt such a mixture of pride and love for all that he represented to her, the man who in disposition and talents suited her to perfection.

No sooner were the Bennet family installed dispatched to become acquainted with their rooms over which Mrs Bennet was soon exclaiming, not only at the size, but also at the number assigned to them, than Elizabeth’s sister, Jane Bingley, her husband, and his sister arrived. Never was a reunion more joyful between two sisters who adored one another and who had never before in their lives been separated for so long. Jane still had the glow of a new bride about her and Lizzy was overjoyed to see Bingley again. Elizabeth was not so pleased to see Mr Bingley’s sister Caroline, who had in the past been the cause of a temporary rift between Jane and her husband during their courting days, not only separating them but informing Jane of her wish that her brother be married to Miss Darcy. But she received her with much civility, which in the circumstances was highly gratifying, as she recalled with a certain glee that Caroline had at one time fancied that she might take on the role of the mistress of Pemberley herself. How very satisfying it was to be addressed by Caroline Bingley as Mrs Darcy.

“My dear, Mrs Darcy, how splendid it is to see you again. It is exceedingly kind of you to invite me to Pemberley for Christmas, which, as I am sure you have heard is always unsurpassed in both hospitality, and by its splendour.” She turned to Mr Darcy who was regarding her with what Elizabeth had come to recognise as the expression he reserved for those he could not tolerate; a look of polite indifference, but happily, undetected by the person on whom it was bestowed. “Oh, Mr Darcy, we have enjoyed one or two merry Christmases together, have we not? Such parties and balls, that I have been quite spoiled forever. I do not think I shall ever enjoy such entertainments again. But, forgive me, Mrs Darcy, you are hosting a grand ball on the morrow, are you not? What felicities we shall enjoy, I cannot wonder. Do you remember, Mr Darcy, when Reynolds fetched out the old fancy costumes from the attic and we dressed up? I thought I should die laughing when I saw you as Robin Hood and I was Little Bo-Peep, as I hark back. What fun we had. Do you recall, Georgiana? You were the sweetest lamb, all in white with a pink ribbon on your tail.”

Miss Bingley, having found a willing listener in Georgiana immediately led her away talking at the top of her voice about the wondrous parties of the past.

Elizabeth was starting to feel quite sick with nerves at the prospect of the coming ball. She did so want it to be a success and whispering into Mr Darcy’s ear when the others were busily engaged in directing the servants with their luggage, said, “Oh dear, do you suppose we should have had a fancy costume ball?”

To which came the rapid answer, “Absolutely not. The whole idea was of Miss Bingley’s engineering and I loathed every minute of it. I absolutely forbid fancy costume balls to be held at Pemberley ever again!” 

I hope you and your families all have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season and wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year!
Jane Odiwe

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Regency with a different setting

The final cover for Krakow Waltz, my "Polish Regency", to be published next year, has arrived (left). The photograph used for the background is really Krakow - it's a detail from a picture I took when visiting the city a few years ago.

Krakow is a place close to my heart. I have visited enough times to have lost count, and my mother mother's family still live there. My grandparents met there during the Second World War. A terrible time for many in the city, but their story has a touch of romance. It was winter, bitterly cold, and my grandmother came across my grandfather selling nylons out of a suitcase in the market and thought he looked chilled and under-nourished and so took him home to feed him up.

I was interested to discover that at the Vienna Peace Settlement in 1815, Krakow was designated a "free city". (The rest of Poland was divided between Russia, Prussia and the Austrian Empire.) Along with civic and cultural "improvements", such as tearing down the old medieval walls to make a circular park ("Planty") around the old city centre, it would have been rather a melting-pot where the cause of Polish nationalism lived on. The city was a mixture of narrow medieval streets and newer boulevards. Having walked the streets of Krakow Old Town it is easy to imagine them as a setting for intrigue. While the nobility largely adopted the (French) fashions of Europe, there remained pockets of "Polishness", and in Krakow Waltz, I left the city for a time, taking the characters into the countryside where there meet wolves and wild boar, and where the banquets are in "the old Polish style".

Krakow in the second decade of the nineteenth century seemed to me to be calling out to be the setting for a Regency adventure and romance and I'm very much hoping readers will enjoy the unusual setting.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Country House Christmas


I am eight years old and live at Hall Garth, a large country house in Co. Durham, with my parents and my three brothers (an heir and two spares: ‘You’ve done very well, my dear Joan,’ says my grand-mother, condescendingly), a nanny, a nursery-maid, a cook, a butler, a groom who looks after my father’s hunters, a gardener whose wife does the cleaning helped by Mrs Speirs from the village, and old Mrs Tulloch, (who came from the Shetlands and tells me stories of her childhood there) who does the mending.

My Aunt Polly and her two sons usually join us for Christmas. Roland and Piers are two and five years older than me and call each other ‘Bros’ which I find incredibly grown up, though, in fact, it’s just prep school slang.

Carr, the butler, does the Christmas decorations in my parents’ part of the house: morning-room, dining-room, drawing-room and the two halls, but ignores the smoking-room, my father’s domain. He arranges artistic sprays of holly along all the large gilt picture frames with tasteful blobs of cotton wool for snow.

The Christmas tree is up in the nursery and smells wonderfully piny. We still use the Victorian metal candle-holders with real candles which you clip onto the branches. When lit, they flicker beautifully, especially if you jump up and down near them (strictly forbidden). There are fragile Victorian glass baubles, too, which gradually break.

Most exciting of all, Roland organizes games of ‘battle royal’. We upend the nursery furniture for barricades, share out the soft toys and hurl them at each other as hard as we can, never mind the bruises. Every now and then, Roland calls a truce to collect the toys in no man’s land. Heaven knows how we don’t burn the place down – though there is a bucket of sand by the tree in case of accidents.

On Christmas Eve, we hang up stockings at the end of our beds using my father’s knee-high woolly shooting socks (knitted by Mrs Tulloch).

The turkey for so many people is so huge it has to be cooked in the large 19th century oven built into the four feet thick wall in the Elizabethan part of the house. At eight, I am still eating with my brothers (and cousins) at the nursery table, so I don’t get to see the turkey in all its glory nor the flaming Christmas pudding. I am not considered old enough to eat in the dining-room downstairs.

I don’t suppose such a Christmas would have been out of place in the 1850s. No wonder I write historical novels!

I wish you all a terrific 21st century Christmas and all the best for 2010.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Books for Christmas

For several months before Christmas I buy research books, justifying them as my Christmas presents to myself. (The rest of the year the justification varies - my birthday - that works for 11 months - the fact there's a Monday in the week; I might need it someday; the bookcases haven't quite collapsed yet...)

I was admiring the pile of enticing reading by my desk and I thought I would share them with you - just in case anyone needs some help spending that Christmas book token.

The first are two of the new series of Pevsner Architectural Guides published by Yale University Press. They are paperback, small enough to carry around easily and full of coloured illustrations. Bath (Michael Forsyth) and Brighton & Hove (Nicholas Antram & Richard Morrice) were the obvious choices for me and I can't wait for the Spring so I can revist both towns and try out the detailed walks that make up the main part of the books.

My next choice is one that I am already dipping into - an ideal fireside read as the rain falls outside. Voices from the World of Jane Austen by Malcolm Day (David & Charles) draws on letters, diaries, sermons, journal articles, travelogues and Jane Austen's novels themselves to look at topics such as "Marriage, wealth & breeding", "The rhythm of the year", "Domestic life" and "In public".
There are coloured plates and charming black and white drawings and plenty of Austen-information such as a map, a family tree, gazeteer and chronology.

But the scope is much wider than Jane herself and the extracts range from far and wide - you really can "hear" those voices.

Next is a fabulous blockbuster of a book, the revised 3rd edition of The London Encyclopedia published by Macmillan. I've been coveting it for ages and finally
decided that covetousness was not good for me so I had better give in to temptation.

It is both a reference book and a delicious box of chocolates for dipping into. There are lots of black and white illustrations and entries for streets, buildings, gardens, cemeteries, places and institutions that have long vanished, taverns, bridges, coronations, shops... the list goes on and on. The only problem is that it is so heavy it is impossible to walk around with - perhaps I could convert a wheeled walking frame with the addition of a lectern.

Finally there is a title that I can justify by saying it is relevant to the research for the next book I will be writing which has a renegade naval captain as the hero. There's no title yet, but I do know that it starts with a shipwreck on the Isles of Scilly and the heroine is the daughter of a wealthy nabob. (And the half-French hero is giving me palpitations already.)

Dressed to Kill: British Naval Uniform, Masculinity and Contemporary Fashions 1748-1857 by Amy Miller is published by the National Maritime Museum.
It is beautifully illustrated in full colour with photographs of original uniforms, including minute details, line drawings to make the cut of garments clearer and contemporary portraits and cartoons.
If you want to know what a flag officer's waistcoat was like, see the inside detail of an epaulette, discover how uniforms developed from the fashionable dress of the day or simply to swoon over the portrait of Commander James Clark Ross, firm-jawed, draped in a bearskin and grasping his sword, this is the book for you.
Have a wonderful Christmas everyone!
Louise Allen

Thursday, December 17, 2009

December & mistletoe

As a writer fascinated by history I thought it might be interesting to look back and discover where some of the customs we take for granted actually originated. In doing so I have learned a lot.
For example, December used to be the tenth month of the Roman year. Its name comes from decem meaning ten.

I never knew there was a patron saint of thunderstorms, fire, gunpowder and loud noises. Her name is Saint Barbara and her Feast day is celebrated on 4th December.

6th December is the Feast day of St Nicholas who was Bishop of Myra (in what is now Turkey) in the 4th century AD. In many European countries this is the night when St Nicholas traditionally brings sweets and gifts to well-behaved children. Dutch settlers took this tradition with them to the USA where St Nicholas evolved into Santa Claus, who then came back across the Atlantic to merge with the British Father Christmas.

The pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice – also known as Yule – on 21st December is one of the oldest celebrations in the world. It marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere.

A Winter Solstice tradition carried out by Celtic priests was the cutting of mistletoe, especially that growing on oak trees as oaks were considered sacred and the white berries of the mistletoe symbolised the continuation of life during the dark winter months.

The Yule log is traditionally lit on the evening of the Solstice and burned for 12 hours throughout the night to banish evil spirits and bring good fortune in the coming year. Flames from the burning Yule log banish darkness and symbolise belief that the sun will return.

28th December is Holy Innocents Day or Childermas, and commemorates the murder by King Herod of all boy children under two years of age as he attempted to kill the baby Jesus.

On 31st December, New Year’s Eve, the old year ends and the New Year is welcomed in. I remember my grandfather always stepping outside the house just before midnight. The door would be closed. As the clock struck twelve he would knock on the door and, carrying a small piece of coal, a piece of bread and a few coins, (symbolising warmth, food and prosperity) he would be welcomed in and everyone would drink to his health and each other’s.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas and good health, peace of mind, and prosperity in 2010.
Jane Jackson.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Soldier's Christmas

It’s easy to forget how different Christmas was before the Victorians imported so many customs from Germany. We owe them Christmas trees, for example, though apparently we owe one of our traditions to the Regency Duchess of York, wife of the Prince Regent’s brother, Frederick.

She first introduced the German custom of giving Christmas presents. She used to turn her dining room into a kind of Christmas fair, with decorations and piles of presents. She would invite all her servants and local children, too, to see the spectacle and share in the gifts.

For the army out in the Peninsula, Christmas doesn’t seem to have been particularly special. Often the army was in winter quarters and pretty bored. The only entertainment they had was what they made for themselves, much of which involved quite a lot of drink!

Leach recounts a horse race where the animals were such nags that horses and riders ended up in a floundering heap. It was followed by a performance of a makeshift play where everyone had so much wine and grog that "they all forgot their parts, and it was a toss-up whether our attempt at horse-racing, or at play-acting, was the most ludicrous."

August Schaumann, one of Wellington’s commissaries, recounts his experience of that same Christmas in 1810 in Torres Vedras (Portugal):

"I spent Christmas at Rio Mayor. Before dinner we often rode to a small river where our outpost was stationed. Across the river was a bridge which was barricaded. On the opposite bank stood the French sentries, on this side our own. On these occasions the French officers would come down and have a chat with us. They admired our beautiful English horses, spoke of our good King George… and they also sang the praises of Lord Wellington and the Portuguese troops.

They told us that they had a theatre in Santarem at which every night a piece entitled “The Entry of the French into Lisbon” was acted. We retorted smartly that very soon they would act the piece called “The Flight of the French” at which they all laughed.

We also gave them all the news, and they would throw their water bottles over to us to be filled with wine, and we would exchange our English newspapers for their French ones, by tying them round a stone and flinging them across the river.

But Lord Wellington put a sudden end to this fraternisation—and rightly, too."

Sounds a pretty tough way to spend Christmas, though they clearly went to huge lengths to keep their spirits up.

Best wishes to everyone for a wonderful holiday season.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Guest blogger Carol Townend - Echoes & Ideas from a Box of Papers

We're delighted to welcome Carol Townend to the blog. Over to you, Carol!

Thank you, I'm delighted to be here!
Years ago, I was asked to be custodian of a box of letters - some of them are very old. One is a copy of a family will - apparently the original was deposited at Halifax Parish Church in 1520! It would be wonderful to see the original.

Even after such a long passage of time, a glance at the copy shows that certain names are still popular with our family. The 1520 will is that of William Townend. William is my father’s name; it is also one of my brother’s names. The 1520 William was a yeoman farmer and he leaves his ‘best beast’ to the Vicar of Halifax. Several sums of money are bequeathed to various churches as well as for the building of a ‘stone bridge at Sourby’.

William leaves his son John, ‘all my clothes, plough and harrow with all their necessaries’.

And his daughter, Margaret? The will states: ‘Residue of all my goods, my debts paid, I give to my daughter Margaret, whom I ordain my true executrix.’

So William gives his son the means of carrying on his livelihood, and his daughter the household goods. I was struck by the fact that in 1520, Margaret was ordained executrix, which must surely be a reflection of William’s view of his daughter as a competent and efficient person. He knew he could rely on her to deal with his estate, such as it was.

Below is a scan of a letter dated three centuries later. It was written in the Barton Poor House on April 11th 1819. (Barton in Yorkshire)

The letter is addressed to ‘My Dear Uncle’ and comes from his ‘Affectionate Neice (sic) Ellen’. It poses more questions than it answers. Here is a (rough) copy, I have tried to keep as closely as possible to Ellen’s original rather exenntrik spellygnes and punctuation:

My Dear Uncle

I am extremely unhappy that I have to address you upon such an occurrence which has happened, I left Mrs Berry in thoughts of going to Cleckheaton, as Inform’d her to spend a few days I took inconsiderate step and went forwards to London, my journey to London as I went inside the Coach took all the Money I had I borrowed five pounds of Mrs Turnball to defray my expences home I came by way of Manchester, I stoped all night at Mr Wrights the Palace Inn. I paid five shillings at the Coach Office at the Bridge. water bins the Person who kept the Coach Informed me I would be seven shillings to Halifax from there I thought of going to Mrs Berry’s of Thong but my money being entirely finished I could not proceed any further so I thought to walk so far I am going to relate a very unpleasant circumstance to you I took a sudden and Inconsistent thought into my mind I walked as far as Barton a Village about five miles behind Manchester and went into the river with an Intention of drownding myself when I had been in the water some time I was very fortunately rescued from being drowned by a person who got me out of the river in safety I really believe that the hand of the Almighty who thought proper for me to be restored to life again…they took me to an Inn in the Village the Person who resided there being the Constable he said that I was to go to the Poorhouse in Barton, and they inform me I am to stop their while you come to acknowledge me your Neice, as I shall expect you as soon as you receive this letter my dear Uncle if ever you have any regard to me…

…your Affectionate Neice Ellen

Since the letter was saved, Ellen’s uncle must have been fond of her and he must have gone to fetch her home from the poor house. I certainly like to think so. But this letter raises so many questions! The cool tone is extraordinary given the dramatic nature of the events Ellen describes. What drove her to set out on her ill-fated journey? And what happened to her afterwards?

Whatever the truth behind Ellen’s story, her letter could certainly inspire a novel or two…

Carol’s latest book: Runaway Lady, Conquering Lord is out in paperback with Mills & Boon in December. It is set in England and France shortly after the Norman Conquest, and tells the story of a fallen Saxon lady, and the Norman knight she is forced to appeal to for help.

Carol keeps trying to move on to the twelfth century, but the eleventh century seems to have her firmly in its grasp. She is currently working on a novel set in the Byzantine Empire.

Carol’s blog

Her website is currently being revamped, but she hopes it will be updated very soon! This is the link to Carol’s website

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Compare and Contrast

What a contrast between these two covers; the first came out in May the second last month. I think My Weekly Pocket Novels have finally got it right - what do you think? I can't wait to see the next one, out January 1st - Christmas at Hartford Hall - I know a week late, but at least it's before the wise men come!
I was delighted to be featured this month on the Redrosesforauthors blog - an interview and a lovely review which I'd like to share with you.
Two Gentlemen From London
Fenella-Jane Miller
Robert Hale
222 pages
ISBN 978-0-7090-8896-7

Colonel Robert Sinclair and Major Dudley stumble upon two ladies in distress when their carriage breaks down. Annabel and her mother are hiding from Lady Rushton's brutal husband. They ran away when Sir Randolph's depravity became too much, but he is still searching for them and he has Annabel in mind.

To keep her safe from this menacing predator, Robert is prepared to marry Annabel, though he believes at the start that he can never again give his heart. Can he forget the past and can she overcome her fear and find happiness?

This is a fast-paced Regency with many twists and turns. It is an enjoyable novel, amusing and lively. I recommend this popular author. Her books are always worth seeking out and reading. 4.5 red roses. Linda Sole
Posted by Anne Herries Author at 08:11

Have a peaceful and happy Christmas and succesful New Year.
Fenella Miller

Monday, December 07, 2009

Regency Connections

I know I'm not alone in loving the research aspect of writing (see Melinda's post below!) and I enjoy it all the more when my reading turns up something totally unexpected. Last week I was thrilled to discover that one of the Craven family whom I am researching for my National Trust book about Ashdown House was none other than a founding patroness of Almack's Assembly Rooms, "the 7th heaven of the fashionable world."

The Hon. Maria Craven, daughter of the 6th Baron Craven became Lady Sefton when she married William Philip Molyneaux, 2nd Earl of Sefton, in 1792. The Earl and Countess were prominent members of the Ton, but unlike some of the other patronesses such as Lady Jersey or Lady Cowper, very little is recorded about Maria Sefton other than the fact that she was considered to be amiable and kind. To add to her mystery, there appear to be no contemporary portraits of her. References to her role as patroness of Almack's are often illustrated with a picture of her mother instead! I imagine that this might amuse - or possibly annoy - Maria Sefton if she knew; her mother, Elizabeth Craven, had been a scandalous member of Georgian society, indulging in several love affairs and leaving her husband in 1783. She travelled widely abroad and set up as mistress to the Margrave of Anspach in Germany. They later married but when Elizabeth returned to England in 1791 her daughters, including Maria, refused to visit or even to acknowledge her. In taking her father's part Maria conveniently ignored the fact that he had behaved every bit as disreputably as his wife!

This idea of Maria being a very respectable member of society who disapproved of the more racy and scandalous set fits well with the image of the patronesses of Almack's as the arbiters of manners as well as fashion, banning people whom they thought would lower the tone. I suspect, however, that none of them were particularly kind people, no matter what Captain Grunow thought! Wielding that sort of power to make or break a young lady's social career seems pretty cruel to me. One also wonders what Maria made of the less than respectable shenanigans in her own generaton of the Craven family. Her younger brother William, who became the 1st Earl of Craven of the 2nd Creation, was a lover of the notorious courtesan Harriette Wilson and later went on to marry the celebrated actress, Louisa Brunton. Described as a very charming gentleman by Jane Austen, who nevertheless disapproved of his private life, he was the archetypal Regency nobleman, a distinguished soldier, a bon viveur and a man who had his yacht armed with small cannon in case he met the French when sailing in the Channel!

During most of the eighteenth century the Craven family lived very quietly as country gentlemen (and ladies). It is quite a relief to find that at the end of that period they burst onto the social scene and remained prominent members of society into the twentieth century. At least there is more research for me to get my teeth into! However, I would like to discover more about Maria, Lady Sefton. If anyone knows of any references to her and especially if there is a portrait that is really her and not her mother, I'd love to hear about it!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

All in the name of research.

I have been reading and writing about the Georgian and Regency periods for many years, but whenever I write a new book I always find there is something that needs more research.

For the Wicked Baron, I needed to read up on the techniques used in painting frescoes. I had been looking around West Wycombe, the beautiful Italianate mansion owned by the National Trust and decided I wanted my heroine to be able to paint a fresco on the ceiling. Thankfully there was a lot of information online,including the snippet of information that Michelangelo sometimes painted alone (which is important in setting up a scene for Carlotta to meet the Wicked Baron).

For More Than a Governess, I spent a day travelling part of the old coaching road from Leek to Rochdale, stopping off at Rushton Spencer where the carriage wheel broke and my hero and heroine were obliged to spend several eventful days. And for Moonshadows, I had to try out a Porsche (well, maybe that wasn't strictly necessary, but it was fun – and I couldn't get to test drive in an Aston Martin, which is the other car featured in the book!)

When I wanted the villain to sabotage a carriage in the Wicked Baron it had to look like an accident. This meant reading up on carriage construction and in the end I contacted two carriage builders/restorers and asked their opinion – the line in one emailed reply made me smile, "1817 is a good date for sabotage"! I won't go into detail, but around this time there was a change in how wheels were fixed to the axles, making it much easier for a loose wheel to be overlooked.

I have always found experts extremely helpful when researching a book, and I am constantly amazed by how generous they are with their time and information. This is very good news for authors like myself, because their expertise makes our books all the richer.

Melinda Hammond (Sarah Mallory)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

In time for Christmas

It is always exciting when a novel comes out in a new format and many Loveday fans enjoy the audio version. Good news for them. The audio version of THE LOVEDAY CONSPIRACY is out today. It is published by Isis Soundings and would make a great Christmas present for anyone who prefers to listen to stories. If purchased through the Isis Soundings website it is approximately half the price of Amazon. 12 Cassettes boxed set £21.99. CD set £31.99. MP3 CD £31.99. Other titles in the series are also available.
I love the cover presented by Isis.

It is always a thrill hearing from Loveday readers either through email on my Kate Tremayne website or through The Loveday Books blog. These are a few of the questions that readers have asked about the series and my writing. I hope you find them interesting.

Q. For your Loveday characters, do you draw on the nature of your friends or your family?
A. That could be a good way of losing family and friends. But taking the question seriously there must be a subconscious element in my work when this occurs. I think most writers have an in built radar that has the ability to see two sides of a conflict between personalities. We probably also have an extra sense that delves into the psychological makeup of a character, so we know how they would react in a given set of circumstances. Also who of us have not judged a celebrity or person in a news story for their behaviour and how it affected others. This is information we gather all the time and it must leak back into our consciousness when developing character traits.

Q. Do you agonize before "killing off" a character?
A. This is never an easy decision especially when it is a member of the family. If I cannot do it in a way that has me reaching for the tissue box then I feel I have failed them. Unfortunately for the series to progress it is sometimes necessary to say goodbye too much loved friends. This enables new conflicts to be introduced and the drama within the family does not stagnate and they become bound by old rivalries. I have filled bin liners full of soggy tissues. Even with old adversaries, although there is a sense of satisfaction in bringing an enemy to justice, I have to decided what is dramatic and right for the series which will keep the story unpredictable and exciting. New protagonists bring in new emotion and drama and I hope the readers look forward to more adventures with Tristan.

Q. Within any given novel, do you know everything that is going to happen to your Loveday characters? Have there been surprises?
A. There are times when I despair of some unexpected escapades a Loveday has become involved in and have to find a way of retrieving them from it. Yet every time this has happened, I forget the sleepless nights, the extra research, and anxious days of resolving some fresh crisis, when I realise how much this event has improved the novel. The most recent of these incidents is in The Loveday Conspiracy when Adam shoots a man and saves Tristan’s life. Adam simply took over the scene. I was aghast. Not only did this make Adam a cold-bloodied murderer but he had saved the life of the cousin he hated as he blamed Tristan for St John’s death. My immediate reaction was to rewrite the scene. Yet knowing Adam so well this was how he would have instinctively reacted to the situation that presented itself. Whatever the rivalry and conflict within the family in times of danger loyalty binds them together.

Q.Your characters have such interesting names. How do you come up with them?
A. A character never comes alive for me until I have the right name. For Adam I wanted something very Alpha male. St John seemed more enigmatic. A name for a man of position who was a victim of the desolutory nature of the men of his times. When I heard the name Japhet I knew he would be the blacksheep of the family and a lovable rogue. It fitted him so well. In contrast his brother was always Pious Peter with his own demons to fight. Edward was a no nonsense name that felt right for their father. Meriel came to me as soon as she was introduced on the page and was exotic for an inn-keeper’s daughter but right for her fortune-huntress scheming. Senara needed to have an earthy ring to it because of her pagan ways. Tamasine was an unexpected arrival in the family and I wanted a name that showed her fighting, unconventional spirit. Recently when it was time to introduce a ne’er-do-well cousin who had clawed his way up from the gutter with a dark past and every reason to hate his family, Tristan sounded intriguing for a guttersnipe who vowed to become lord of the manor. He is the most complex character and I still enjoying exploring deeper aspects of his character.

Q. How much research do you do for each Loveday book?
A. I read everything I can about the Georgian period and apart from rereading several of these to check certain facts usually add another 6-8 new ones for each novel that are relevant to the new twists of the plot.

Q. Are you a disciplined writer?
A. To be published you have to be disciplined it is your work, but when the muse refuses to strike its OK to take some time out. Then I usually read or watch a film and sometimes find that by doing this an answer is given to me.

Q.Are there days when you DO NOT feel like writing? If so, how do you get back on track
A. Writing is a passion if not an obsession with me and no day feels complete if I have not produced some writing. There are however days when the Lovedays do not co-operate which often means I am tackling a scene or conflict from the wrong angle.

Q. Has a Loveday plot or character ever come to you through a dream?
A. Yes but not nearly often enough to make writing easy for me. Most of the prologues in the books have been dreams.

I wish everyone all the joys of the festive season.
Kate Tremayne

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Travel of various kinds.

This is my first post as a regular contributor to this blog, so there's a little new, a little old.

Part of the "old" is where I was, on the west coast of Canada. Part of the new is where I am, in Whitby, on the east coast of England. Both beautiful.

On the new, I've started a new book! Normally, that's not quite such an event. Usually, when people ask (as they always do) "So, are you writing a book at the moment?" I answer, "Always." That hasn't really changed. In the process of moving back to England from Canada, I've finished one book, begun and completed another, and written a short novella. None of it has quite been in my "zone", however, which is where I like to write, especially over the earlier part of November when I was rambling around England in the company of dashing young men in regimentals.

Where's my zone? In my study, at my old DOS computer, sitting in my Aeron chair (all shown here part way through unpacking) amid a generally stable and peaceful life.

So when I say I started a book, I mean all of the above, and with a good chance of it continuing. Believe me, my creative process is chaotic enough; I don't need any extra rattling!

The new book is a Georgian. It's not directly connected to my Malloren books, but characters from other books might turn up. I have no idea. I fly into the mist, ie -- I don't pre-plot my books.

I've been blogging for years in a couple of places, and one is my Blogger spot called Minepast, where I put any tid-bit of history I stumble across. I never used to know what to do with them. Now I do.

Here's an entry from a while back.

I was researching one of my Regency-set books, The Rogue's Return, one that started out in Canada. In seeking information about trans-Atlantic travel in 1816 I came across the diary of Laurent Leclerc, a young deaf man, who sailed from France to America and kept a diary in English in order to improve his use of the language. I found some of the events startling. So did he!

"I have forgotten to say in the beginning of my journal that we have in our ship different species of living animals for our daily nourishment, among which are six hogs, several ducks and several cocks and hens. We have also some canary birds to tickle the ears of the passengers by the agreeable sound of their singing. Ah well!! After dinner I was told that one was now going to kill a hog.

In truth, I saw two strong sailors seize the poor animal by his feet, throw him down and thrust a large knife in his neck. The blood flew and gushed-such a spectacle caused too much pain."

On another date, he wrote: "The interior of our ship abounds with mice. Now and then we see some running here and there. From time to time we kill some, and every day we hear them cry in their holes. They make a horrible ravage among our effects. They gnaw our books, papers, linen, clothes, provisions, etc. We have a cat, it is true, but she is so little that she cannot make war on them, and even if she were larger she would not know how to catch them, because she is spoiled and because she is nourished deliciously. She thus loses the taste of the most of the mice. Some one lately presented her with a dead mouse which she smelled and disdained. By way of retaliation our ducks are more warlike and courageous. We once threw a dead mouse upon deck and they pounced upon it, tore it in pieces, disputed over it and endeavored to eat it. And another time they swallowed, in a trice, several little mice which were put before them. I was extremely surprised at seeing that and I said that since ducks eat mice dead or live, doubtless we also eat mice when we eat ducks. I requested, therefore, that I should no more be served duck at dinner."

I love these glimpses into lives of the past. Do you know any unusual on-line diaries you could share?


There's always more on my web site.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Art of Letter Writing

The art of letter writing was something that people in previous centuries worked on and brought to perfection. Ladies of leisure really looked forward to receiving letters from their loved ones, because, of course, it was often the only way of keeping in touch. The arrival of a letter was anticipated and seen as something very exciting, and the execution of these letters would have been beautiful. In the last of the A Season in Town series, the heroine is a great letter writer and it is part of the reason for what happens to her.

Next month I am going to begin a story told for you in letters, which will run for some months I expect. Because my posting day has been moved to 27th of the month there doesn't seem much point in doing a Christmas story for you here. However, I may do one on my new Anne Herries Regency blog. I also have a new Regency group, which anyone can join, authors and readers. You can find the group if you go to the blog.

At the blog you will find excerpts, a competition and the group details.
Love to all, Anne Herries

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Willoughby's Return - Blog Tour and Interviews

I've been having a lovely time on my blog tour for the launch of Willoughby's Return. Here's an interview I had with Barbara from Everything Victorian and More. Thank you Barbara, I really enjoyed the interview!

1. What inspired you to write about the main character?

I’ve always had a soft spot for Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. She’s a heroine who wears her heart on her sleeve and never loves by halves. In Jane Austen’s book Marianne has two great love affairs – firstly, with the dashing Mr Willoughby, who ignites the feelings of her first great passion but who lets her down badly, and secondly, with Colonel Brandon, an older, steadier man who is the real hero, the one she marries. The ending of Sense and Sensibility surprises some readers who can’t believe that Marianne really loves the Colonel enough to marry him. This intrigued me, and the fact that she is a character we easily identify with – I’m sure most people have known a Willoughby at some stage in their lives, but have been able to move on and find lasting, true love with somebody who really suits them. Colonel Brandon has also suffered from the disappointment of a first love and I wanted to explore not only their relationship but also how the impact of those first attachments might affect their lives together.

2. What is your favorite line from this book?

Gosh, what a good question! This is a difficult one, but when Marianne meets Willoughby again and has to be escorted into dinner by him she finds herself in a very difficult situation. Here’s the line: Despite purposefully leaning as far away from him as she was able, she could not help but be aware of his nearness, and of his smell, emanating like an elixir from a bygone age, mingled into a potpourri of fragrant images from the past.

3. When did you know you wanted to be a writer and how long have you been developing your craft?

I was a very small girl when I first started writing, but then I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. I still have a series of little books about the ‘Smiles Family’ that I made when I was about eight or nine. I think it’s taken a lifetime to develop my craft and I’m still learning now!

4. Is reading a large part of your life? Which book/books made the biggest impact on your writing?

Of course Jane Austen is a huge influence. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and all of her books have made the biggest impact. But I also love any books by Frances Hodgson Burnett, (The Making of a Marchioness) Edith Wharton, (The Age of Innocence) and Fanny Burney (Evelina) to name but a few of my favourite writers. There are so many wonderful books out there that it’s hard to choose. Writers of the past rather than the present are my biggest influence because those are the books I tend to prefer – I love the quality of writing that you get in an older book.

5. Who is your favorite writer?

No contest – Jane Austen. Her books have been the pleasure of my life and the reason I have become a published writer. She is recognised now as a genius, but I wish she had known in her lifetime how her writing would eventually be regarded - how much her work is revered and loved today!

6. Does storytelling run in your family?

We all enjoy a good book or story. My parents encouraged us to read and told stories when I was young. I hope I’ve passed this love of storytelling to my children. My husband is a brilliant storyteller – I think he’d write a marvellous book.

7. When creating the story, which is the most difficult, the beginning, middle, or ending?

The middle is the most difficult for me, most definitely. I think you have to be able to keep the reader interested in turning the pages and keeping up the momentum being careful not to give too much away too early and tying it all up too soon before you get to the end.

8. What is the writing process like for you? Are you a morning person or night person? Do you have a special place you like to go to for inspiration? What energizes you?

I am a morning person, but that can mean very early morning. Sometimes, I wake at three in the morning with an idea, and I have to write it down because if I don’t I’ll forget it before I wake up again the next day. I think I must be solving problems in my sleep because this happens quite a lot. There is something lovely about writing in the early hours when there is no one about – my little writing room is next door to my bedroom so it’s very easy to pop in there and switch on the computer. I love my room, I am so lucky to have one all of my own. It’s lined with books, and filled with objects, pictures and paintings that I love. I have a desk before the window and watch all the world pass by whilst I’m writing. It’s great inspiration.

9. What advice would you have for emerging writers?

Keep striving to learn how you can improve your writing, and read, read read! Remember why you started writing in the first place when you get bogged down with problems – that’s sometimes forgotten when you are in pursuit of getting published and you’ve just received a rejection letter.

10. What is the most rewarding thing about being a writer?

I sometimes get to meet the people who have read my books – I can’t tell you the thrill it is when someone tells me or writes to tell me that they enjoyed a particular book. I indulge myself in my favourite activity on a daily basis and also get to spend huge chunks of the day in another century in Jane Austen’s world (or my version of it, at least) – what more could anyone wish?

The very lovely Anne Herries also interviewed me for the Red Roses for Authors blogspot. Thank you, I really enjoyed your questions!

If you'd like to catch up on my blog tour, please visit my blog, Jane Austen Sequels.

Willoughby's Return - Sense and Sensibility continues...Odiwe's elegantly stylish writing is seasoned with just the right dash of tart humor, and her latest literary endeavor is certain to delight both Austen devotees and Regency romance readers. John Charles - Booklist

Jane Odiwe

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mr Edward Comely, deceased

My last post was about a lawyer’s detailed expenses claim for a journey to London which several people said they found interesting, so here is a much more gloomy, but still fascinating bill – for the funeral of Mr Edward Comely.

Edward Comely was buried in the Gray’s Inn New Burial Ground on April 16th 1811 after dying on the 11th in the parish of St Andrews Holborn Hill, London. His funeral was “performed” by Samuel Page, Undertaker, Auctioneer and Appraiser of High Holborn.

Given the short time at his disposal, Mr Page did Edward Comely proud. He was buried in “A strong Elm coffin with fine Black Serge close drawn with double rows of the best Japanned Nails, a Double Flowered Plate with Urn and large escutcheons with Wrought Handles.” That cost £5.10s

Within that Edward was dressed in a “Fine crape Shroud with cap” (18s) and laid on a “Fine Crape Mattress and pillow” (12s)

For providing a Mourning Coach and hearse, each with a pair of horses, the charge was 12s but in addition to that there was a 2s for the coachmen’s cloaks and 10s for hatbands and gloves for the men.

“2 Porters in proper dresses to stand at the door and walk in Procession” cost 12s with 10s for their hatbands and gloves. The four men who carried the coffin were charged at a rate of 10s and they were equipped with mourning cloaks, hatbands, hoods and scarves. One of Mr Page’s men attended the funeral, suitably garbed (at extra cost) and the gravediggers charged 5s.

All this totalled £13 2s 6d while the charge for the service “etc” was £4 7s and the minister received £1 9s.

At a time when a butler in a great house might earn £60 to £80 and a footman £25 to £35 a year, you could get dead drunk on gin for 2d and pay 6d for a place in the pit at the Opera a bill of £18 18s 6d suggests that Mr Comely must have been a man of comfortable means – a merchant perhaps. I wonder if his executors queried that £4. 7s for the service and "etc" though - I'd be very suspicious!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Heart of Stone

When a new book comes out it's always a frantically busy time. We need to let the public know the book is available through different types of publicity: this blog for example. Because I write Cornwall-based historical romance a press release to the local weekly papers and glossy monthly and bi-monthly magazines is another opportunity. A copy also goes to BBC Cornwall. This paid off particularly well a week ago when I was invited onto the afternoon show to do a live 15-minute interview. Because it was going out live I spent the entire morning preparing - writing notes about the characters and the background (a granite quarry inherited by my heroine and a badly scarred hero who manufactured gunpowder.) I included a page from the book to read out as a "taster" and some bits of information that I found interesting and thought listers might too.
The interviewer was terrific. When he phoned me to set up the interview he apologised for not having read the book. Actually, I hadn't expected him to: so many interviews, so little time. Once we were on air he asked me about my life as a writer and about the background to this story. Then I read the page. All too soon my time was up and I hadn't had an opportunity to tell him about the origins of saltpetre - one of the three constituents of gunpowder. From the late Middle Ages until the late C19th this vital ingredient was obtained from beneath dungheaps or from urine-soaked straw that was kept wet with more urine and left to rot for up to a year. The resulting crystals were washed out of the straw with water which was then evaporated, leaving behind crude saltpetre crystals. These would be further refined before being made available to the gunpowder makers. Because of the source of the material, saltpetre-makers were called Devil's Men or The Dark Men. Coming across facts like these is what makes research so fascinating.

Jane Jackson.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Teasing Task

Like most writers, I’m fascinated by language. Some of the oldest forms in English are amongst the most evocative. What about these expressions, all derived from medieval hunting jargon?

  • A sounder of wild boar
  • A drift of pigs
  • A shrewdness of apes
  • A watch of nightingales
  • A skulk of foxes
  • An unkindness of ravens
  • A murder of crows

Ages ago, I heard James Naughtie talking on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme about this. He produced these, which I loved:

  • A smear of journalists
  • A pedant of Today Programme presenters

That made me start musing about romantic novelists. So far— deliberately excluding those that would be X-rated — I’ve come up with the suggestions below.

  • A passion of romantic novelists
  • An escape of romantic novelists
  • A happiness of romantic novelists

and (I wonder why?)

  • A vineyard of romantic novelists

I’m sure visitors to our blog will have lots of ideas here. I’d love to hear them.


Friday, November 13, 2009

The Importance of the Country House

    One of the classes I teach in the US is on the great country house, and how important it is to visit them.
    I also write contemporaries and if I can’t visit the place in question (I’ve set two books in LA, but not made it there yet) I find someone who has, to see if I have the “feel” right.
    While we can’t contact someone who lived there in Regency times, we can visit people who have visited it now. And we can read the impressions of people who lived there.
    The country house was the seat of power for the Regency nobleman. While he would visit London regularly, to attend Parliament, visit his man of business, attend social functions, even have his wife give birth there (the best accoucheurs preferred to remain in London), the country house was his home, and the base of everything he did.
    In those days, most of the power was in property and the land. Even the new industries depended on mineral resources and suitable locations. Most of the populace lived in the country and London was an exception. The largest city in Europe, maybe in the world, it was an aberration that didn’t reflect the way things were done in the rest of the country.
    Feudal structures lingered and the basis of power in the counties was the gentry. So to carry this forward and represent their influence and power, the great country houses were built.
    From Hardwick Hall, and several houses before it, the castle became virtually obsolete. Through the eighteenth century, Palladianism was the ideal, the familiar structure of a columned portico and a series of great state rooms was adhered to. Blenheim was built by “A grateful nation” for John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. His wife, Sarah, complained that it wasn’t a practical house because the kitchens and dining room were so far apart, but that was dealt with in later structures by having a smaller preparation room close to the dining room, so food could be heated up and finishing touches added.
    The state rooms, first in a line, “enfilade” and later in a circular layout, formed the heart of the house. Not where the family lived, but where they entertained and met the people they needed to impress. Without that, the status of the family and the whole of the local gentry would be depressed.
    In modern books set in the Regency, the country house is often neglected in favour of London life. I’d love to see more stories set in places like Longleat, Chatsworth and Holkham.
    When I write a book set in a country house, I use a particular house as a model, but I change its name, and occasionally its location. In “Yorkshire” I used Calke Abbey as a patterncard for Hareton Abbey, and moved it a few miles north, from Derbyshire to Yorkshire. I might try to blog about that at a later date because it was the most remarkable house I’ve ever visited!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

USA Today bestseller!

Wonderful news this week, because our very own Nicola Cornick is on the USA Today bestseller list with her Christmas anthology, Heart of Christmas. It's a fabulous book, and a treat for all Christmas stockings!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Seed Time and Harvest

Nov 7 (1812)
The land is now more firm than it has been for some time. I have drilled nine acres Upper stoney & finished sewing Wheat yesterday in Grassy peice, nearly the whole of which I have drilled & have done 4 or 5 acres of my pea land over again; I fear Sweetendiness will be a very deficient plant. I had lodged 43 wether sheep in Hillyfield & last night 3 were slaughtered, the Offal and carcases taken away. I sowed 10 stretches of white wheat hither side of Nine acres & on the thirteenth stretch from the side began to sow 1 Quarter of Buncle wheat I bought of Freesland. Grassy piece is sowed with Day's Wheat except about 3 rods to Woody piece.

I love this diary entry. It would seem that this farmer either moved at the speed of Superman or when he refers to himself he actually means his farmworkers. Day's Wheat is probably seed he got from someone with that name, but I've no idea what Sweetendiness is. What a fabulous name for something - I think it could be a type of pea plant.

Today my novella, Lady Charlotte's Secret, should be in all major supermarkets and WH Smiths. Look in the My Weekly Pocket Novel container which is usually on the top shelf of the magazine section. Unfortunately my author copies haven't arrived because of the postal disruption so I can't show you the cover.
Two Gentlemen From London, which came out on the 31st of October, is available from Amazon, Book Depository and the Robert Hale website. Don't forget most UK libraries will order the book if you request it .
Fenella Miller

Saturday, November 07, 2009

In the steps of the Romantics!

On my recent trip to Scotland I did some historical sightseeing with a difference! On a beautiful sunny and calm day we embarked on a small fishing boat for a trip to the island of Staffa.

It took about an hour to reach Staffa from Mull, where we were staying. The island is uninhabited and is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. It was originally formed 60 million years ago as a result of violent volcanic activity. Staffa’s magnificent basalt cliffs, which resemble enormous organ pipes, were created when liquid rock cooled and hardened into columns. The sea caves for which Staffa is also famous were formed when the sea wore away the soft volcanic ash at the base of the columns. The name “Staffa” comes for an Old Norse word meaning wooden building staves which suggests that like modern tourists, the Vikings also marvelled at Staffa’s basalt columns.

Staffa was farmed during the late 18th century and the ruins of several stone structures on the island suggest that people either lived there permanently or seasonally. The island was first brought to the attention of the wider world in 1772 by the famous botanist Joseph Banks, who wrote: “Compared to this what are the cathedrals and palaces built by men! Mere models or playthings, imitations as his works will always be when compared to those of nature.” It was Banks who coined the name “Fingal’s Cave.” This was a reference to the then fashionable Macpherson’s Ossian, the tale of the great deeds of the Gaelic hero Fingal, a bestselling epic poem, which was later proved to be a forgery. The poem was discredited but the name of Fingal’s Cave stuck!

Banks’s “discovery” of the island coincided with the spread of the Romantic Movement across Europe with its emphasis on wilderness, emotion and natural splendour. Staffa soon became one of the “must-see” sights of Scotland. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell attempted to land on Staffa during their tour of the Hebrides in 1773 but were beaten back by heavy seas. Fingal’s Cave went on to become a place of pilgrimage for the Romantics: William Wordsworth, John Keats, Sir Walter Scott, JMW Turner and Felix Mendelssohn all visited and were moved to write, paint or in Mendelssohn’s case create a piece of music inspired by the island. The island proved so popular with visitors that in the 19th century a romantic-style folly was built to provide some shelter and a place to rest and eat. This is in ruins now but it’s possible to imagine Regency and Victorian visitors huddled within its walls when the weather turned stormy and I did think what a wonderful setting it would make for a book!

We followed the walkway along the cliffs and entered the cave, which is a hugely impressive 250 feet long and 70 feet high. The sound of the sea crashing on the rocks does indeed mimic music and it was an awe-inspiring place. This photo shows Monty, our intrepid sea-dog, admiring the view outside the cave! Unfortunately, by the time we got back to the boat, the wind had changed and the tide was creating big waves that were driving onshore. We had to choose our moment to leap back into the boat, arguably the most exciting part of the trip! All in all though it was worth it to see the majestic splendour of Staffa’s cliffs, to stand in the spot that had inspired the poets, writers and musicians of the Romantic Movement and to hear the sound of the sea that had suggested to Felix Mendelssohn the music of the Hebrides Overture.