Friday, February 27, 2009

Spring is in the air

The days are getting longer here in the UK and the air smells of spring. After a long winter, my mind is starting to turn towards the garden. The snowdrops are already out and the daffodils are just beginning to open.

It started me thinking about Regency gardens, and of the passage in Mansfield Park where Mr Rushworth is keen to have his own grounds remodelled by Repton. Garden design was revolutionised in the Georgian era by Capability Brown, who removed the hard lines and formal patterns of earlier eras and replaced them with soft and natural landscaping. The term, landscaping, came about because the gardens were designed to seem as though they were a part of the landscape instead of being something artificial and man-made tagged onto it. Following on from Capability Brown - so called because he spoke of the capabilities of a garden - was Humphrey Repton.

From Mansfield Park:

(Mr Rushworth) had been visiting a friend in the neighbouring county, and that friend having recently had his grounds laid out by an improver, Mr. Rushworth was returned with his head full of the subject, and very eager to be improving his own place in the same way; and though not saying much to the purpose, could talk of nothing else. The subject had been already handled in the drawing–room; it was revived in the dining–parlour. Miss Bertram’s attention and opinion was evidently his chief aim; and though her deportment showed rather conscious superiority than any solicitude to oblige him, the mention of Sotherton Court, and the ideas attached to it, gave her a feeling of complacency, which prevented her from being very ungracious.

“I wish you could see Compton,” said he; “it is the most complete thing! I never saw a place so altered in my life. I told Smith I did not know where I was. The approach now, is one of the finest things in the country: you see the house in the most surprising manner. I declare, when I got back to Sotherton yesterday, it looked like a prison— quite a dismal old prison.”

“Oh, for shame!” cried Mrs. Norris. “A prison indeed? Sotherton Court is the noblest old place in the world.”

“It wants improvement, ma’am, beyond anything. I never saw a place that wanted so much improvement in my life; and it is so forlorn that I do not know what can be done with it.”

“No wonder that Mr. Rushworth should think so at present,” said Mrs. Grant to Mrs. Norris, with a smile; “but depend upon it, Sotherton will have every improvement in time which his heart can desire.”

“I must try to do something with it,” said Mr. Rushworth, “but I do not know what. I hope I shall have some good friend to help me.”

“Your best friend upon such an occasion,” said Miss Bertram calmly, “would be Mr. Repton, I imagine.”

“That is what I was thinking of. As he has done so well by Smith, I think I had better have him at once. His terms are five guineas a day.”

Anyone wanting to see a Regency garden these days can visit one at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, where they have restored the garden to be in keeping with the era of the building. For more details, have a look on their website here

The gardens are beautiful and they give a good idea of the kind of views our heroes and heroines would have had from their windows.

Amanda Grange

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I love research trips- Bath and Beyond!

I love any excuse for a research trip and a chance to escape a frantic and busy life, so when my husband suggested a trip to Bath at the weekend I was very excited. I thought I'd share some of the photos I took of the Assembly Rooms in Bennett Street, which are stunningly beautiful. It is so easy to imagine social gatherings taking place here in Jane Austen's time; you can hear the chatter and rustle of silk gowns just by looking into one of the rooms. The top photo shows the entrance, which some of you may recognise from the television adaptations of Persuasion.
The second shows one of the fireplaces in the Octagon room which is where card tables might be set up for those not interested in dancing and wishing to try their luck with a little gambling.
Lastly, is the Tea Room which was used primarily for refreshments and concerts. Meals were served throughout the day from public breakfasts to supper during dress balls. Food was laid out on side-tables and included such delights as sweetmeats, jellies, wine, biscuits, cold ham and turkey. Tea was the favourite drink, generally without milk, but occasionally with lemon or arrack (fermented cocoa).

In this extract from Jane Austen's Persuasion, Anne Elliot has met up with her old love, Captain Wentworth, at the Assembly Rooms. She has recently discovered that he is not in love with Louisa Musgrove and from the very recent conversation with him dares to hope that he may still have some feelings for Anne.

As she ceased, the entrance door opened again, and the very party appeared for whom they were waiting. "Lady Dalrymple, Lady Dalrymple!" was the rejoicing sound; and with all the eagerness compatible with anxious elegance, Sir Walter and his two ladies stepped forward to meet her. Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret, escorted by Mr. Elliot and Colonel Wallis, who had happened to arrive nearly at the same instant, advanced into the room. The others joined them, and it was a group in which Anne found herself also necessarily included. She was divided from Captain Wentworth. Their interesting, almost too interesting conversation, must be broken up for a time, but slight was the penance compared with the happiness which brought it on! She had learnt, in the last ten minutes, more of his feelings towards Louisa, more of all his feelings, than she dared to think of; and she gave herself up to the demands of the party, to the needful civilities of the moment, with exquisite, though agitated sensations. She was in good humour with all. She had received ideas which disposed her to be courteous and kind to all, and to pity every one, as being less happy than herself.

The delightful emotions were a little subdued, when on stepping back from the group, to be joined again by Captain Wentworth, she saw that he was gone. She was just in time to see him turn into the Concert Room. He was gone -- he had disappeared, she felt a moment's regret. But "they should meet again. He would look for her, he would find her out long before the evening were over, and at present, perhaps, it was as well to be asunder. She was in need of a little interval for recollection."

Upon Lady Russell's appearance soon afterwards, the whole party was collected, and all that remained was to marshal themselves, and proceed into the Concert Room; and be of all the consequence in their power, draw as many eyes, excite as many whispers, and disturb as many people as they could.

Very, very happy were both Elizabeth and Anne Elliot as they walked in. Elizabeth, arm-in-arm with Miss Carteret, and looking on the broad back of the Dowager-Viscountess Dalrymple before her, had nothing to wish for which did not seem within her reach; and Anne - but it would be an insult to the nature of Anne's felicity to draw any comparison between it and her sister's: the origin of one all selfish vanity, of the other all generous attachment.

Anne saw nothing, thought nothing of the brilliancy of the room. Her happiness was from within. Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks glowed; but she knew nothing about it. She was thinking only of the last half-hour...

Jane Odiwe

Sunday, February 22, 2009

We go to the US!

Or at least a US blog! If you haven't joined us yet on the
Risky Regencies
, where we're the guest bloggers, come on over and join the fun. There are competitions to enter and a chat about the difference between Regencies in the UK and the US, so what are you waiting for? See you there!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Do You Worry About Your Heroes?

Do you worry about your hero – the one you are writing now or perhaps the one you are currently reading about? Do you fret about what is going to happen to him when you close the book? There are all kinds of things to worry about with historical hindsight –if he is a soldier or a sailor you know what battles lie ahead. You know about cholera outbreaks and the Indian Mutiny, riots and stock market crashes.

Or do you worry about more superficial things? What will your hero look like in ten, twenty, fifty years? I get depressed just thinking about Victorian fashions in trousers and ghastly leg of mutton side whiskers. And then there’s the physical side of things – will that chiselled jaw sag, the thick hair develop a bald patch, that flat stomach become a comfortable paunch?

The beautiful young man in the picture is twenty two years old and the year is 1826. I bought the print on the strength of a glimpse amongst a pile of others in the picture on an auction room’s website. He is a follower of Byron, quite obviously – the Turkish weapons and pipe and the slippers by the fireplace signal that. The litter of correspondence on the mantelpiece show that he has pretensions to be a man of letters, the elegant Biedermeier sofa and the studied elegance of his clothes demonstrate that he is a follower of fashion.

But who is this intellectual exquisite? When I got him out of the frame and bleached out the foxing I found the title at the bottom: The Author of Vivian Grey. It is Benjamin Disraeli, future Prime Minister, confident of Queen Victoria – “We authors ma’am…”

Now have a look for Disraeli on the web. The picture at the top of the Wickipedia entry will do. Oh dear. Now I worry about my heroes even more.

Louise Allen

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ostrich Feathers and Scented Candles

Last week was quite a week.

On Monday, I went up to London to attend the RNA’s Romantic Novel of the Year Lunch which took place on Tuesday at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. It was a great event and thoroughly enjoyable for everyone who was there.

In spite of the weather and the travel difficulties, the room was full and buzzing with excitement. Last year, the tables had been decorated with balloons and streamers, straining for the ceiling. This year, there were scented candles floating lazily in large glass bowls, and arrangements of red and black ostrich feathers in matt black candelabra, looking like exotic head-dresses at some rather off-beat ball.

There were video screens, too, where we saw the covers of all the short-listed books and heard their titles and stories as we waited for the moment when the winners were announced. First, the winner of the Romance Prize — India Grey, for Mistress: Hired for the Billionaire’s Pleasure. Then, the winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year — Julia Gregson, for East of the Sun. You can see the winning authors, and read more about them, and the other finalists, on the RNA’s website here.

The RNA — which celebrates its 50th birthday in 2010 — has also inaugurated a Lifetime Achievement Award. The first recipient of the engraved star trophy was Judy Piatkus, a publisher who really believes in romantic fiction, and who gave many RNA members their start in publishing. If the audience’s reaction was anything to go by, her award was hugely popular.

Many historical authors were at the lunch. Among others, I saw Louise Allen, Anne Herries, Carol Townend, Mary Nichols, and Elizabeth Bailey, who also does a fantastic job as the RNA’s volunteer press officer. If you’ve seen newspaper articles about the award, raising the profile of romantic fiction, Liz probably had a hand in them.

And when I eventually arrived home, late on Wednesday, a box of author copies was waiting for me — the US edition of His Reluctant Mistress, which will be published in North America in April and in the UK in June. I will admit to having taken some out and stroked them. It doesn’t matter how many books I write, it’s still a thrill to receive real, printed copies and to know that the book will actually be out there for readers, I hope, to enjoy.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Tantalizing Secrets

The third book in the Secrets series is out on the 24th February from Samhain. It's set in my home town of Leicester, and my heroine, Arabella, lives in a reimagined version of Belgrave Hall, a pretty manor house now in the city, but originally built a mile or two outside. Originally, this was conceived as a trilogy, but I've received so many requests for stories for some of the characters featured in the series, that I'm thinking of extending it.
Oh, and isn't the cover pretty? Ann Cain rocks!

Arabella Mason is too busy investigating her brother-in-law’s “accidental” death to entertain thoughts of love. She’ll go to any lengths to ease her sister’s grief, even accept the help of the distressingly attractive Viscount Bredon, Peter Worsley. Instead of answers, the trail of clues only leads to more questions. Who was her brother-in-law, really…and why does Peter, who poses as her brother in public, make mincemeat of her resistance in private?

A successful politician and confirmed bachelor, Peter has bedded the loveliest women in society. He never imagined he’d wind up in a Leicester backwater, helping a pretty widow investigate his brother’s untimely death. As his suspicions of foul play grow stronger, the danger rises—and so does his desire for Arabella. One kiss, and she snatches away all his resolve, leaving him wondering which he wants more…

To find his brother’s killer? Or keep Arabella safe—and make her his?#

The coach lurched to a halt and they were flung forward. Peter flung out a hand to stop Arabella hurting herself, and was rewarded by a handful of fabric and a brief contact with one soft breast. He took her arm and hauled Arabella back on to the seat as the carriage pulled to a halt.
Breathlessly she stared at him and they both heard a gruff voice. “Stand and deliver!”
“Good Lord!” The gleam of battle sparked in him. Cautiously he settled the pistol in his pocket so it came easily to hand.
The door of the carriage was wrenched open. A heavily muffled figure stood outside. “Out,” the man commanded.
Peter descended and held his hand out to help Arabella. To his surprise, she wasn’t looking in the least shocked. If he didn’t know her better, he would have thought she was angry.
Lounging against the open door of the carriage, Peter stared at the highwayman. Their assailant was so muffled up it was difficult to make out much about him, but Peter noted the man was no taller than he was, and wasn’t grossly overweight. He’d pulled a cocked hat low down on his forehead and a muffler up over the lower half of his face.
Peter thrust his hands in his pockets, touching the rounded end of the pistol. In the other pocket, he had a knife, usually carried for more mundane purposes but it might come in useful too, given the chance. He kept Arabella in view, prepared to push her to the ground. Some highwaymen wanted more than jewelry and cash; he wasn’t about to allow that.
Arabella lifted her chin and glared at the man. There was no doubt about it now—fire flashed from her dark eyes. She was angry. Peter hoped she wouldn’t do anything foolish. He wished he could see the coachman but that was impossible without turning.
Their aggressor swore, fluently and, much to Peter’s surprise dropped the hand holding the pistol to his side. “Jewelry. Money.”
Then Arabella did something that took Peter completely aback. She put her hands on her hips and thrust her face forward in the age-old position of the fishwife. It said a lot for Peter’s newfound attraction that he found her pose delightful. “And who do you think you are threatening? Get in the carriage this instant!”

Linkie -

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Reason to Rebel

I am delighted with the cover for my first e-book, A Reason to Rebel, due to be released by Samhain on 21st April. My heroine, Estelle Travis, is torn between the duty she owes to her father and the desire to live her life by her own rules. I think the inner conflict she battles with has been captured perfectly by the artist in her expression. And as for the hero, well...I'm not surprised that one look at him and Estelle's inhibitions flew out the window!

Do let me know what you think of the cover and be sure to look out for A Reason to Rebel, due to be released on 21st April in e-book format ISBN9781605044965 priced at just $5.50.

Wendy Soliman

Monday, February 09, 2009

A writer's life can be a cold one!

When writing I always research meticulously, I want the details and background to be as authentic as I can make them However, this past week I have been "living history"! We ran out of central heating oil and have had to rely on a couple of electric heaters and a small open fire in my study. Being so cold made me think what it must have been like 200 years ago in most houses. My son said I could have kept busy, and warm, by spring cleaning the house. Instead I huddled in several layers of woolly clothes - hot water bottle tucked under my jumper and felt very hardly done by indeed.
It made me think about how people managed before the wonder of central heating arrived - then I recalled having been obliged to scrape the ice of the inside of my bedroom window when I was a child, and of taking my vest and pants into bed with me in the morning and getting dressed under the covers. It's strange how quickly one forgets these things.
Today the oil arrived and life will return to normal - but being warm is not something I shall take for granted any more.
In spite of the Arctic conditions both inside and outside my home, I still continued to work. I now have an agent, Kate Nash, to look after my projects. At the moment she has two Regency romantic suspense, a Jane Austen retelling and a Victorian saga to find homes for. I'll let you know what happens to them. I can't tell you the relief it is to be able to send off a manuscript and then forget all about it, leaving the hassle and worry to Kate.
The Ghosts at Neddingfield Hall- out now- 9780709087901 Robert Hale. Available from Amazon and all good bookshops. Don't forget you can order all my books from your local library in the UK.
Fenella Miller

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Second in my Season In Town trilogy

This is an excerpt from my Regency coming later this year. I gave you a little bit of the first last time and this is an unedited scene from the second.

Anne Herries/The Debutante of Hanover Square/Mills & Boon

Coming in June 2009
The cover is for The Homeless Heiress and the copyright of Mills & boon Ltd


‘Oh, no you don’t!’ Max Coleridge said as the urchin attempted to pluck a kerchief from the pocket of his companion. His hand shot out, grasping the dirty boy around his wrist with a grip of iron. ‘That is thieving, my lad, and it will land you in prison. You will end with your neck stretched at the nubbing cheat if you continue this way.’
‘Let me go guv,’ the boy whined. ‘I ain’t done nuffin’ bad, honest I ain’t – and I ain’t had nuffin’ ter eat fer a week!’
‘Indeed?’ Max’s right eyebrow arched. ‘Should I believe you I wonder? And what should I do with you supposing that I do?’
‘Let the ruffian go and be done with it,’ Sir Roger Cole advised. ‘I dare say he deserves to be handed over to the beadle, but it requires far too much effort.’
‘Your trouble, my friend, is that you are too lazy,’ Max replied with a smile that robbed his words of any offence. ‘No, I shall not let the boy go for he would simply rob someone else and eventually he will die in prison or at the rope’s end.’ His grasp tightened about the lad’s arm. ‘Tell me your name, lad. I shall take you home and tell your father to keep you off the streets.’
‘Me name’s ‘Arry,’ the boy muttered sullenly. ‘I ain’t got no home nor no farvver or muvver neivver. Ain’t’ got no one. Let me go like the gent said, sir. I won’t trouble you no more.’
‘No family at all?’ ‘Arry shook his head and Max sighed. ‘Unfortunately, if I let you go, you would trouble my conscience far more than you imagine. I shall take you with me. You are going to school, ‘Arry – whether you like it or not.’
‘School? Wot’s that?’ ‘Arry asked and wiped his running nose on his sleeve. He eyed the large man suspiciously. ‘You ain’t one o’ them queer nabs are yer?’
‘I am certainly not,’ Max denied with a wry smile. ‘If you are hungry you will like school – you will be fed three times a day, if you behave yourself.’
‘Food fer nuffin’?’ ‘Arry stared at him suspiciously. Wot’s the catch, guv? ‘As to be a catch. No one does nuffin’ fer nuffin’…’
‘No, I dare say they do not where you come from,’ Max said. ‘In return you will have to give up a life of crime – and grime – and learn a trade…’
‘I ain’t goin’ up no chimneys!’
‘Good grief, I should hope not,’ Max said. ‘You might like to be a carpenter or a groom perhaps – or even a politician?’
‘You shouldn’t put ideas into the boy’s head, Coleridge,’ Sir Roger said. ‘A politician indeed!’
‘He could not do much worse than those we have in power at the moment,’ Max replied wryly. ‘But I would advise an honest trade – perhaps a baker?’
‘I like cake,’ ‘Arry said his eyes suddenly bright. ‘I pinched some orf a baker’s stall once on the market.’
‘There you are then,’ Max said, hiding his smile. ‘The future looms brighter already, ‘Arry – a baker you shall be…’
‘You are mad, quite mad,’ Sir Roger said and grinned. ‘It is hardly surprising that you are not married, my dear fellow. I do not know whether any sensible woman would have you.’
‘I dare say she wouldn’t if she knew my habit of picking up boys from the streets,’ Max replied and smiled at his friend. ‘Excuse me, I have a rather dirty ruffian to scrub before I present him to someone who will teach him a few manners…’ He neatly avoided a kick from the struggling urchin. ‘I should give up if I were you, ‘Arry. I could always change my mind and hand you over to the constable, and then you might never eat cake again…’

Saturday, February 07, 2009


What is the enduring appeal of Scotland as a setting for the historical romance? Is it that it seems a mysterious land of legend and folklore, with a history that is dramatic, fascinating and frequently violent? Is it the beautiful, rugged landscape? And is that ruggedness reflected in the strong, passionate nature of the hero?

For me the appeal of setting a book in Scotland was to draw on the places I know and love. I set my book Kidnapped: His Innocent Mistress in Wester Ross in the Highlands at the beginning of the nineteenth century. My “version” of Kidnapped is a homage to the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. A few years ago my mother-in-law gave me an ancient copy of the book as a birthday present. I had read and enjoyed Kidnapped many years before and now I picked it up again and was plunged into a world of romance and intrigue and adventure. I'm dating myself here but I also love the 1979 TV version with David McCallum as Alan Breck Stewart!

Kidnapped: His Innocent Mistress will be published by Harlequin
Historicals in the US in March and by Mills & Boon Single Titles in the UK in October. Those readers who know the original story and read my re-imagining will realise that my version only draws on half the original tale. I'd love to write a sequel! Here is an extract:

I knocked on the study door and went in, Mrs Campbell following me. The minister was seated at his desk with Mr Sinclair in a chair beside the fire. Mr Sinclair looked up when I came in. He had a thin watchful face tanned a dark brown from sea and sun, a face with character and resolution in the line of his jaw. I gave him a cool nod, which seemed to amuse him, and addressed myself to Mr Campbell.
“You wished to see me, sir?”
I spoke very politely but I saw the flash in Mr Sinclair’s eyes that suggested he thought this obedience out of character. A faint smile curled the corner of his firm mouth. I turned a shoulder to him.
“Catriona… Yes…” Mr Campbell seemed flustered, which was unusual to see. He gestured me to the long sofa. This piece of furniture was the most uncomfortable in the house and necessitated me to sit upright as though I were a bird perched on a twig. This did nothing to improve my temper, especially as Mr Sinclair seemed deliberately to lounge back indolently in his chair with a sigh of contentment as he sipped his brandy and watched me over the brim of the glass.
Mrs Campbell had followed me in and now hastened to see to her visitor’s comfort. “You have had sufficient to eat and drink, Mr Sinclair? May I fetch you anything else?”
I watched the gentleman smile his thanks and put Mrs Campbell at her ease. He had a very easy charm. I could not deny it. When Mrs Campbell went out again her face was flushed peony pink like a young girl’s.
“Well now,” Mr Campbell said, shuffling the papers on his desk, “there are matters to be settled, Catriona. Matters to do with your future. We have been thinking that now your parents have passed on, the natural place for you is with your remaining relatives.”
I thought that he meant my mother’s family, who lived far, far away on the south coast of England. My mother had made a scandalous match twenty years before when, as a young debutante, she had visited Edinburgh, fallen in love with my father, a poor schoolmaster, and eloped with him.
“Can I not stay here?” I asked. “Here in Applecross, I mean,” I added, in case poor Mr Campbell had thought I was suggesting I should live on his charity indefinitely.
“I could help the new schoolmaster, or act as companion to old Miss Blois...”
Mr Sinclair smothered what sounded suspiciously like a snort. I looked at him.
“I beg your pardon, sir?” I said frigidly.
There was laughter in his eyes. “Forgive me, Miss Balfour,” he said, “but I cannot see you as companion to an elderly lady. Nor as a schoolmistress, for that matter.”
I set me lips in a thin line. I did not see what business it was of his. “You do not know me very well, Mr Sinclair,” I said. “My father taught me himself, having no prejudice against the education of females. I can teach reading and write a very fair hand.”
“I do not quarrel with your father’s abilities as a tutor,” Mr Sinclair said lazily. “I simply have seen no evidence that you have the temperament required to do the job yourself.”
I was so cross at his presumption that I almost burst there and then. “Well, I do not see it is any concern of yours,” I began, but Mr Campbell made a slight movement and I subsided, holding fast to the fraying shreds of my temper.
“It would not serve, Catriona,” he said. “Applecross is a small place and it is time for you to go out into the world, the sooner the better. I have already had three requests from gentleman for your hand in marriage and have no desire to be turning more away from my door.”
I was astonished. Not one single gentleman had approached me with a view to marriage and I could not imagine who could have asked Mr Campbell for permission to pay their addresses to me. I stared at him in puzzlement.
“Who on earth…”
Mr Campbell ticked them off on his fingers. “McGough, who farms up beyond Loch Ailen, young Angus the shepherd and Mr Lefroy of Callanish.”
This time there was no doubt that Neil Sinclair was laughing. His shoulders were positively shaking. I tried to ignore him whilst inside me the anger seethed at his presumption.
“McGough has buried three wives already,” I said, “young Angus is kind but a mere lad, and Mr Lefroy wants a housekeeper he does not have to pay for.”
“A wife is more expensive than a housekeeper in the long run,” Mr Sinclair observed laconically.
I swung around and glared at him. “Do you know that for a fact, sir?”
His dark eyebrows went up. “Not from personal experience, madam,” he drawled, “but I do know on the strength of a few hours acquaintance that you would no more make a biddable wife than you would a suitable lady’s companion.”
Nicola Cornick

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Smuggler Returns

The Smuggler Returns is published by My Weekly Pocket Novel this week. It's available in WH Smith, Tesco and Asda and if you miss it, copies can be ordered by post from DC Thomson's subscription department.

The story is set in the first decade of the 19th century in Cornwall. Jane Tregarron refuses to accept an arranged marriage that will save the family fortunes. Running out of the house in anger after an argument, she slips and falls...

Jane started. A shadow appeared over her.
‘Miss?’ the voice repeated. It was smooth, calm but with an understandable veneer of concern. But he was someone she did not recognize. Who could it be?
‘Miss? Are you all right?’ A hand touched her forearm.
Jane turned her head. A young man crouched beside her, the wind tussling his damp, ash-coloured hair. A tall man with an aquiline nose. Something in the strong line of his jaw was familiar. His high cheekbones. His nose.
There was little chance of a real stranger being here. No one came to Penhaven without reason. Had she lost her memory? Who was he?
‘I slipped,’ Jane said. ‘I’m all right, thank you.’
His eyes regarded at her closely. ‘Can I assist you?’
His boots were highly polished. New boots, she was sure.
‘You know this ground is thoroughly wet?’ he said.
‘I didn’t chose to fall over,’ Jane heard herself day before she had the wherewithal to bite her tongue. She had no reason to be piqued with him. Perhaps if she had been less hasty, she would not have fallen.
‘I think, if you can stand, I should help you up. Let us at least find somewhere dry for you to recover?’
‘I’m sorry.’ Jane swallowed. ‘I’m not feeling completely all right. When I fell, it hurt and it’s still painful.’
‘Here.’ He stood up. The swallow-tails of his dark grey coat flapped in the breeze. He gave her his arm. Rain splashed down onto the stones of the path behind him.
He gripped her under both her arms and pulled. Strong arms; muscles like rock beneath her touch, Jane suddenly felt shy about holding onto him. He was a stranger, after all.

(c) Kate Allan, 2009

Thursday, February 05, 2009


One of my Christmas presents this year was a DVD of Lost in Austen. So last Sunday afternoon I sat down at my computer (the TV was hijacked by family members) and watched the four-part series all in one go.

I think it’s only when you see all the episodes back to back that you realize how very clever it is. Because it really sucks you through that bathroom wall and into Eliza Bennet’s new/old world. Lost in Austen could easily have become a caricature of Pride and Prejudice. Just a touch more exaggeration or a heavier hand with the comedy, and it would have gone overboard. Instead, by being restrained, it takes Pride and Prejudice seriously enough to be a true tribute.

Of course you have to suspend disbelief to even watch it. People don’t step out of their bathrooms into Regency England. But wait – it isn’t Regency England. Amanda steps through her bathroom into a novel. Now that’s pure fiction.
But the funny thing about the whole film is that Lost in Austen manages to persuade us that P&P isn’t fiction, it’s somehow real. I had quite a jolt when Amanda tore a copy of Pride and Prejudice into pieces and threw it into the pond. Somehow, I didn’t want a reminder that P&P is just a novel.

Hats off to the actors. These actors had to play their roles on many levels it makes me dizzy to think of it. They had to be the original P&P characters, while at the same time, they followed a completely different script. Added to that, they had to work around the intrusion of the modern world into a period drama in the figure of Amanda, who constantly reminds them that there is a world beyond Jane Austen. Yet they not only pull it off and portray characters who are convincing, but they even add new dimensions to the JA’s characters. We believe them to be people from Pride and Prejudice, and the thrill of watching the drama is to see how these people who are so familiar to us will react to the new and unexpected twists in the plot. They were so convincing that fans on any number of websites have been voting to see which of the actors – Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen or Elliot Cowan portrays Darcy best.

Hold on a minute – Elliot Cowan didn’t do Pride and Prejudice!

I emerged from my three-hour stint squint-eyed but full of admiration (in case you didn’t notice). As a postmodern take on Austen, Lost in Austen succeeds in being lots of things at once: a spoof, a loving tribute to Austen, a time-travel tale, a reinterpretation of Austen’s characters, a critique of the social restrictions of regency England, a parody of other Jane Austen film adaptations, and, strangely enough, and most importantly, a romance, with Darcy as the hero.

Mr Darcy (played so skillfully by Elliot Cowan -- I swear his eyes kept changing colour with different emotions) emerges from this unlikely production still very much the romantic hero – not only the hero of P&P, but of Lost in Austen as well – dripping with water and magnetism, of course.

Though I admit to finding Wickham (the new and revamped version) very appealing indeed.

Monica Fairview, whose THE OTHER MR DARCY is coming out in June 2009.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A Mothering Sunday Special

This is the new cover of More Than a Governess, which is being published in the UK in a special two novel edition along with Kathryn Albright's novel the Angel and the Outlaw. It's a very different cover from the original North American publication, but ideal for Mothering Sunday. Perhaps you'd like to tell me what you think of it.

Below is an extract from More Than a Governess: Juliana is desperate to find work, and she screws up her courage to confront Major Collingham, hoping to convince him that she is just the person he needs to look after his children! Enjoy

A liveried footman admitted her to the house and showed her into a small study on the ground floor while he went off to carry her message to his master.
Too nervous to sit down, she stood in the middle of the room and looked about her. The walls were lined with oak panels from floor to ceiling, in the same manner as her cousin's drawing room, but there all similarity between the two houses ended. The panelling in Major Collingham's study gleamed and several lively hunting scenes hung on the walls. She was just wondering if any of the figures depicted could be the master of the house when a deep voice sounded behind her, making her jump.
'You wished to see me, madam?'
'Oh—I did not hear you come in!'
'I am sorry if I startled you,' responded the Major, sounding not a whit remorseful.
Juliana looked at him. In her cousin's hallway she had only seen the back of his head. Now, staring up into the harsh, unsmiling face, her spirits began to fade. He was very tall, and dressed with military precision—there was nothing of the dandy about him, she noted with approval; the long limbs encased in buff-coloured pantaloons and black boots hinted rather at the athlete. His blue coat fitted perfectly about his broad shoulders and the crisp whiteness of his shirt and cravat enhanced his dark complexion, tanned by years in the sun—she knew he had been a soldier, and guessed he had seen action in the Peninsula. His bearing was upright and looked as solid and unyielding as his countenance. His voice, when he spoke again, was tinged with impatience.
'Well, madam, what can I do for you?'
'I—I came because—because you require a governess.'
Her words came out in a rush.
'Then it is my secretary, Brasher, you should see. I made it quite clear in the advertisement.'
He turned to go.
'Oh, I have not seen the advertisement—and it is you I wish to see, Major Collingham.'
He stopped and turned to face her.
'Not seen the—then how the devil…?'
His frown was not encouraging, but she screwed up her courage—she must do this for Thomas and Amy's sake.
'I am a cousin of Mr Pettigrew, the lawyer. I overheard your conversation with him this morning, about requiring a governess urgently. It—it is a fortunate circumstance for you, sir, that I am looking for just such a post.'
'I see. Well, if that is the case, I am of course delighted that you have come, but my secretary can handle the details—'
'But I do not wish to talk to your secretary, Major.' She swallowed. 'I—I want to talk to you about my terms.'
The major raised his black brows.
'Yes.' She drew a breath and put up her chin. 'I believe you require a governess to take up the post immediately sir. Well, I am free to do that, upon condition.'
The Major stared at her. Juliana returned his gaze steadily, praying that he could not hear the rapid thudding of her heart. His countenance relaxed a little.
'I see this is not going to be the work of a moment.' He moved to his desk. 'Pray will you not be seated, miss…?'
'Miss Wrenn, Major.' She sat down on the edge of the chair, facing him.
'Well, Miss Wrenn, it is true that I am in need of a governess, but, as the employer, I was of the opinion that it was my place to set the conditions.'
She did not flinch from his hard gaze. Mrs Churwell had told her to have faith in herself, and she must do just that.
'In the normal course of events, yes, but you do not appear to be having much success; you told my cousin you would pay a king's ransom for a governess who could—ah—stay the course was your term, I think?'
He laughed suddenly, and the rather harsh lines of his face softened into something much more attractive.
'Quite right, Miss Wrenn, I did. Very well, why do you think you would suit my requirements?'
'Because I have had an excellent education, I am used to dealing with children and can teach them all the usual accomplishments of reading, writing, a little arithmetic and geography, the use of globes; my French and Italian are very good, I play the pianoforte and the harp, I paint and draw , I am a skilled needlewoman and—'
'And you are desperate for employment.'
She blinked.
'You do not deny it, Miss Wrenn.'
'No, sir.' She looked him in the eye and said with more confidence that she was feeling, 'But I have imp—impeccable credentials.'
He sat back, folding his arms across his chest and fixing her with a hard stare.
'You are very young for such a post.'
'I am one-and-twenty, sir.'
'What is your experience?'
She clasped her hands in her lap.
'I was educated in a select seminary in Clapham until I was seventeen years old, and had some teaching of the younger girls while I was there. I learned all the usual accomplishments, and was especially good at languages—a gift from my father, I think. My mother's demise made it necessary for me to come home and for the past four years I have had the care of my brother and sister.'
'And what has changed, that you must now seek employment?'
She looked down at her hands. It was not easy to admit her straitened circumstances to a stranger, but it must be done. 'My father died a month since and all his effects were seized to pay his debts. That is why we are staying with my cousin, until I can find a way to support us all.'
'And how old are your brother and sister?'
'My brother is twelve years old, sir. My sister just nine.' She looked up at the Major, but his face was impassive. She said, with a touch of defiance, 'I am not looking for sympathy, sir.'
'I have offered you none. You have been very frank, Miss Wrenn, so let me be equally open with you. I am a widower and have been so for the past eight years. My three children have been in the care of my mother—their grandmother—in Hampshire. Unfortunately, my mother died twelve months ago. Bonaparte had just escaped from Elba and it was impossible for me to leave my regiment at that time, so my sister took the children in; she lives nearby with her own young family. After Waterloo I was eager to settle my affairs and return to England, but it took me until a few months ago to complete my duties and get away.' He paused and sat forward, resting his arms on the desk. 'While in the care of my sister, my daughters were taught in the schoolroom with their young cousins, but I was naturally desirous to have the children with me, so I moved them back into Kewhurst, their old home, with a governess to look after them while I completed my business prior to taking them all to Lancashire. To date, as you pointed out to me, Miss Wrenn, I have been singularly unsuccessful in my choice of staff. The first governess lasted less than a week and left the house claiming that the place was haunted. The second I turned off when I discovered her addiction to strong liquor. The third, well, I thought she was settled, so I came on to London to put my affairs in order. I sent for the children to join me, and instead of the governess, they came with their aunt and their old nurse, and the information that the governess had discharged herself.'
'As you say, Miss Wrenn, oh dear.'
'How old are your daughters, Major?'
'Gwendoline is twelve years old, and Wilhelmina is eight. They are quite normal, Miss Wrenn—high spirited, perhaps, but not demons.'
'I do not doubt it. But you said you have three children, sir?
'Yes. My son Giles is fifteen years old and for the past few years has been under the tutelage of a learned reverend. When I arrived in Hampshire I discovered that this gentleman has accepted a much more attractive position as bear-leader to a young gentleman embarking upon the Grand Tour. However, Giles need not concern you; once we are settled in the north, I will engage another tutor for him.'
'You said you are leaving town at the end of next week?'
'Yes, on Friday. I have property in Lancashire that requires my attention. I want the governess to travel with us, and to take charge of the children on the journey.' Again Juliana found that harsh stare fixed upon her. 'After what you have heard, are you still eager for this position, Miss Wrenn?'
She sat up and adopted her most businesslike tone.
'I think it would suit very well, sir, if we can agree terms.'
'Miss Wrenn, I hardly think you are in a position to made demands….'
'Then we need discuss this no further.' she rose. 'Let me see, today is Saturday, your advertisement should be published on Monday, at the earliest. No doubt your secretary is very efficient; if he interviews the candidates quickly, I suppose it might be possible to engage a suitable person in time to travel on Friday, assuming he has received suitable references, of course…'
He held up his hand.
'Very well, Miss Wrenn, you have made your point. Can you supply me with suitable references?'
'I am sure Mr Pettigrew will vouch for my character, and you may apply to Miss Shaftesbury at the Academy in Clapham. As to my education, you can test me, if you so wish.'
'No, I do not so wish!' he growled at her. 'Pray sit down again, madam, and tell me these terms of yours.'
Resuming her seat, she gave him a beaming smile.
'They are not really so outrageous. I will engage to look after the children, Major Collingham, and educate them for the next four months, that is, to the end of September. I would like you to pay me a lump sum at the end of that time.'
'How much?'
Julia took a deep breath and named her price.
She winced, but held her ground.
'You said you were willing to pay a king's ransom for this service, sir; I think you will agree that it is hardly that, but it would be sufficient for me to rent a little house in, say, Harrogate or Bath, and support my family by teaching. That is all I ask, Major.'
There was no more she could say. Juliana forced herself to sit still while the Major stared at her, his fingers drumming on the desk top. The remuneration she was asking was high, but discreet enquiries of her cousin had convinced her that the Major could afford twice that sum. Now she only needed to hold her nerve. She smiled to herself; perhaps she had something of her father's gambling spirit after all. At last he spoke.
'Very well. I will have Brasher draw up an agreement today.'
She found she had been holding her breath, for it now came out in a long sigh.
'Thank you, sir. I will not disappoint you.'
'I trust you will not. I shall make sure you do not get a penny if you do not keep your side of this bargain. One more thing. What do you propose to do with your siblings for the next four months?'
She hesitated.
'I am hoping to persuade my cousin—'
He shook his head.
'Pettigrew is a lawyer and a bachelor. I'd wager he knows less than I do about children. You had best bring them with you. They will be companions for Gwen and Minna on the journey, and there will be plenty of room for them at Blackthorpe.'
'Th-thank you.'
He stood up and came round the desk towards her.
'Then let us shake hands upon it, and I will send for the children.'
Juliana rose and put out her hand. As he took her fingers in his strong grip she looked up into his face and wondered how she had ever managed to bargain with such a man. At close range he was even more intimidating. His eyes were as hard as granite; his countenance bleak and unforgiving. Dangerous. But even as she began wonder to if perhaps she had made a mistake, she saw a gleam of amusement in his grey eyes.
He said, 'Now what are you thinking, Miss Wrenn?'
She did not even consider prevaricating.
'That you would make an implacable enemy, sir.'
His grip on her hand tightened.
'True. But I am also a very good friend. Which would you have, Miss Wrenn?'
Sarah Mallory/Melinda Hammond