Saturday, April 25, 2009

Finding Mr Darcy and Mr Willoughby!

I love any excuse for a research trip so when I managed to persuade my sister and her husband that they would enjoy a few days in Derbyshire looking at houses like Chatsworth and Haddon Hall I was thrilled. We stayed in a pub in the picturesque village of Beeley which is on the Chatsworth estate and a short walk from the great house itself. On our first day we were lucky with the weather and the sun shone. We did the walk which took us along the side of the river Derwent. There were few people about and I couldn't help thinking how beautiful the landscape was with its backdrop of high wooded hills. I'm not quite convinced that Jane Austen transplanted Chatsworth for Pemberley, but these words from Pride and Prejudice came to mind.

Elizabeth's mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
The interiors of Chatsworth are stunning, but I particularly loved the details of rooms and objects and artefacts displayed. This limewood carving by Grinling Gibbons caught my eye, I cannot imagine where he would have even started to make such a carving. I particularly loved the dining room, too, with a table laid out with a beautiful service in green contrasted by cranberry glass.

There is a lovely exhibition on at the moment featuring the costumes from the film 'The Duchess' which is based on the life of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. There is also a room full of Georgiana's personal belongings and letters which are fascinating to read and a fun room where you can try on some costumes and wigs to transport yourself back in time. Chatsworth featured prominently in the recent production of Pride and Prejudice - the nearest I got to seeing Mr Darcy was the bust they had made of Matthew Macfadyen! But I'm sure fans of the film would not only love to see that but would enjoy wandering round pointing out all the places that were used in the film.

A walk round the gardens is a must though the heavens decided to open as we walked to the cascade. The garden covers more than 105 acres and it is a good idea to take a trip round in one of the special buggies they have. We explored on foot and I didn't mange to see everything I would have liked - I will just have to go again another day.

Last, but by no means least I am excited to show you the cover of my new book, Willoughby's Return, which will be published by Sourcebooks in November. I think it's gorgeous - thank you to the wonderful designers at Sourcebooks! There is more information about the book on my website Austen Effusions and an extract from the book.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mary Bennet's Diary

It's always interesting to see other people's interpretations of Jane Austen's characters. I was thinking recently about Mary Bennet, and although other people generally see her as an object of pity, I think that Mary has a high opinion of herself and that she is above her company, if not downright smug. And so I had fun writing some extracts from her diary. No, a whole book will not be forthcoming, but I hope this makes you laugh!

Wednesday 1st January

It is very hard being the only intellectual in the family, a fact I had not appreciated until I came to make my New Year’s Resolutions.

I will spend three hours a day in rational conversation
This is impossible, since no-one else in the house is capable of such a thing. Papa might be able to equal my intellect, if he would only apply himself and make suitable extracts from the books he reads, but he prefers to spend his time laughing at Mama. Mama is incapable of talking about anything except balls and bonnets, and my sisters are no better, in fact, they are worse. Elizabeth and Jane are well enough, though they seldom open a book, but Kitty and Lydia spend all their time walking to Meryton to see my aunt, and looking at bonnets on the way.
They are none of them my intellectual equals.
Mr Shackleton agreed with me when I confided in him at my Aunt and Uncle Phillips’ house this evening. Although he is only my uncle’s clerk he shows some signs of intelligence and I believe his friendship to be worth cultivating. Mr Shackleton also believes the friendship is worth pursuing.
Shakespeare said, Friendship is constant.
Goldsmith said, Friendship is a disinterested commerce between equals
I have copied both of these thoughts into my books of extracts, and I have composed one of my own: There is nothing so pure as friendship.
Mr Shackleton was much taken with it. I felt it my duty to tell him that he might write it into his own book of extracts if he wished.

I will spend three hours a day practising the pianoforte
This is not easy as Mama comes into the room after ten minutes and says, ‘What is all that noise? Really, Mary, have some compassion on my poor nerves,’ whilst my younger sisters laugh at me and tell me to play a jig.
Mr Shackleton agrees with me that sonatas are of great intellectual beauty, whereas there is no intellectual value in a jig.
I have promised him I will write a maxim on the subject.

I will spend three hours a day sewing blankets for the needy
Mama said that I had better sew blankets for the Bennets then as we will soon be needy.
‘If not for the entail I should encourage you to help the poor,’ she said, ‘but once an entail is involved there is no knowing what might happen. As soon as your father dies we will all be turned out of our home and we will need those blankets because we will all be sleeping under the hedgerows.’

I will devote three hours a day to learning a new instrument

Lydia said it was bad enough that she had to listen to me playing the pianoforte and that she could not bear to listen to me learning to play the harp.
Lydia is a Philistine.
She only laughed when I said so, and danced around the room, saying, ‘Phyllis Stein, Phyllis Stein, Lord! What a lark! Kitty, you must not call me Lydia from now on, my new name is Phyllis Stein.’

I will spend three hours a day making extracts from improving books
Kitty said that I had much better read a novel, and Mama agreed, saying that gentlemen do not marry girls who think too much.
‘They do not marry girls who dance too much, either,’ I said.
This is a sore point with Mama, as Mr Bingley has left Netherfield without proposing to Jane. The rest of the family feel his loss quite as keenly as Mama, but I am a philosopher and so I bear it with equanimity. Indeed, I believe his friend, Mr Darcy, is the more worthy of the two gentlemen, despite popular opinion. Mama took against him because he said that Elizabeth was only tolerable, but in point of fact he was telling the truth. Elizabeth is not a great beauty like Jane, nor is she ugly. She is, indeed, merely tolerable.
I believe that Mr Darcy might be an intellectual, like me, but unless he returns to Netherfield, I will not have a chance to find out.

I will spend three hours a day in healthful exercise
Elizabeth said that if I carried out all my resolutions they would amount to eighteen hours of useful activity every day and when would I sleep? I replied that I was willing to sacrifice a few hours’ sleep every night in order to preserve my position as the most accomplished young lady of the neighbourhood.
Jane commended my resolutions but thought them misguided. Jane is a sweet girl but not even her best friend could call her an intellectual.

Saturday 4th January
We attended the Meryton assembly this evening. Mr Shackleton was there and he was very impressed with my maxim on the subject of music: A jig might feed the body but a sonata feeds the soul.
I did not dance. I believe that Mr Darcy had the right of it when he refrained from the activity, saying that every savage could dance.
Instead, I had a rational conversation with Mr Shackleton. It is good to know that there is one person in Meryton who has a brain, even if, when I told him I was thinking of becoming a bluestocking, he said that he was sure I would be the most intelligent girl in Meryton, whatever colour stockings I wore. I had to inform him that a bluestocking was an intellectual woman who spent her time in rational activities, and who discussed literature and other intellectual things, instead of wasting her time on balls and bonnets. He listened attentively and then apologised earnestly for his mistake. I told him graciously that it was no matter, and we continued to have an intellectal discussion about music and literature.
To be sure, I thought I had misjudged him when I felt his hand on my knee. But when I reproved him, saying that we were in Meryton and not in Sodom and Gomorrah, he was heartily offended and said that he had merely been brushing a moth from my gown.
It was then my turn to apologise.

Monday 13th January
We dined with the Lucases this evening. Sir William happened to mention that Charlotte had been blessed with her husband, Mr Collins, who was in every way an estimable son in law, and who combined the virtues of an excellent living with the blessings of a noble patroness in the form of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. This annoyed Mama, who was not pleased to be reminded of the nuptials. She remarked that if Elizabeth had not been such an obstinate girl, she could have had Mr Collins, and not Charlotte.
It was this very obstinacy which caused Mr Collins to withdraw his offer and seek consolation elsewhere. Mama was of the opinion that if Charlotte Lucas had not been so artful, Mr Collins would have proposed to me. And indeed, if he had done so, I believe I might have been prevailed upon to accept him. With guidance, I think he would have made me a tolerable husband. He has some intelligence, as his rank as a clergyman shows, and with a settled course of reading he might have one day become my intellectual equal.
But I think, on the whole, that Mr Darcy would make a better husband for me. We have many opinions in common for we both think that Elizabeth is merely tolerable and that every savage can dance. Moreover, he has the experience to appreciate an intellectual wife. As Mrs Darcy, I would have a fine library at my disposal, and I would be in a position to do a great many good works, including sewing numerous blankets for the needy, for I would never have to save the blankets for myself as I would never be in a position to sleep under the hedgerows.
If Mr Darcy returns to the neighbourhood, I think I will show him my extracts.

Friday 25th July
My sister Lydia is in Brighton and my sister Elizabeth is in Derbyshire, which means that I can practise on the pianoforte for hours together without any interruption. To be sure, Mama says my playing gives her as headache and Papa asks if I would not rather be outdoors, and Kitty cries whenever I approach the instrument, but these are no more than the ordinary obstacles which fall into the path of the intellectual.
Mr Shackleton agrees with me. I discussed the matter with him this evening, when we both dined with my aunt Phillips, and he said that the lives of the great were always fraught with difficulty.
I was prevailed upon to play the pianoforte after dinner. I was just embarking on my second sonnata when I was alarmed to find Mr Shackleton’s arm around me. He was shocked when I reproved him and said that I had mistaken his motives entirely, explaining that he had merely been reaching round me to turn over the pages of my music.
Harmony was restored, as I remarked to him as I embarked on a third sonnata, and he laughed at my witticism and said that I should make a note of it in my book of extracts. I have duly done so. My only regret is that no one ever reads the book. I am sure my sisters would benefit from it, for it would be sure to impart learning and wisdom to anyone who opened its pages. I have tried to encourage Lydia and Kitty to read it, and to be sure Lydia started to do so, but she only laughed when she read that Mr Shackleton had had his hand on my knee, and Kitty was no better, saying that there should only be one n in sonata.

Sunday 3rd August
My sister Lydia is ruined. I am not surprised. If ever a girl was born to be ruined it is Lydia. She has run away with an officer.
Mama has spent the day bewailing her poor baby’s fate, though as I remarked to Mama, Lydia is not in point of fact a baby, but a young lady of fifteen summers.
Mama ignored me, saying that if she had only had her way we would all have gone to Brighton. When I said that, if she had carried the day, she might now have four daughters who had run away with officers instead of only one, she told me that she wished I would run away and then I would not be able to plague her with my moralising.
Poor Mama! She would never be accepted into the bluestockings, she has far too many nerves.

Monday 4th August
My sister Jane has spent the morning writing to Elizabeth, whilst I have spent my time more profitably by making suitable extracts to sustain my family in their hour of need.

Saturday 9th August
Elizabeth has returned home, my father has gone to London, and Mama expects Lydia, daily, to be found. She talks of her marriage but I fear that no marriage will be forthcoming. Lydia is not the sort of young lady that men marry. She is the sort of young lady that men run off with and then abandon to a life of poverty and vice.
I memorised one of my extracts and comforted my sisters by telling them that, although it was a most unfortunate affair, and one which would be much talked of, we must stem the tide of malice and pour into the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation.
Elizabeth was humbled into silence by my wise words, and, seeing how affected she was, I added that, unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we could draw from it a useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable - that one false step involves her in endless ruin - that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful - and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.
Elizabeth was speechless with admiration.
Mr Shackleton, too, who had learnt of the matter from my aunt, thought the sentiments very well expressed.

Saturday 16th August
Mr Collins has written to my father. He has sent a very sensible letter in which he has advised my father to throw off his unworthy child from his affection for ever, and leave her to reap the fruits of her own heinous offence.
His sentiments were so ably expressed that I have borrowed his letter and I have copied it into my book of extracts.

Monday 25th August
My aunt and uncle have managed to arrange a wedding for my sister and she is soon to be married. Mama was in transports of delight, saying that she longed to see Lydia again, and what fun it would be to introduce her to all the neighbourhood as Mrs Wickham. Papa said that Lydia should never set foot in the house. Lydia and Wickham will arrive next week and stay for ten days.

Wednesday 3rd September
My sister has had the benefit of clergy and is now Mrs Wickham.

Thursday 4th September
I am very disappointed in Papa. When Lydia arrived, he had an opportunity to tell her how grievously she had sinned, and to extol her to be a better woman in the future, instead of which he laughed at her iniquities and those of her husband.
It emerged that Mr Darcy had been at her wedding, indeed, he seems to have arranged it. This was very wrong of him. He should have roundly condemned Lydia, as Mr Collins did. I think that Mr Collins would have made me a better husband, after all.
Mr Shackleton agreed with me. He said that wealthy gentlemen never make good husbands and that the best husbands are often clerks. I was surprised at this, but he assured me that he had read it somewhere and he has promised to find the passage so that I might make an extract of it.

Thursday 18th September
Mr Bingley has returned to the neighbourhood. Mama believes he means to make Jane an offer, but as I said to Mr Shackleton, we have been down that path before. I only hope that Jane is not too disappointed when Mr Bingley disappears again.

Wednesday 8th October
Mr Bingley has propsed to Jane. Mr Darcy has proposed to Elizabeth. Mama has proposed that we all move to Pemberley after the wedding.
I was surprised that Mr Bingley offered for Jane because he seemed eager to leave Netherfield last year and as for Mr Darcy, he has never looked twice at Elizabeth in his life, except to find fault with her and to say that she was only tolerable. I have read much about the fickleness of women, and indeed I have made many extracts on the subject, but it has become clear to me that men are the fickle sex.
I am beginning to lose my faith in extracts.

Tuesday 30th December
Jane, Elizabeth and Lydia are married. Kitty and I are the only two girls remaining at home. Kitty says she will never find a husband if Papa keeps her chained to the house, however she has been to stay with Elizabeth once, Jane twice and my aunt Gardiner three times, so I think her image of chains is not intellectually chosen. When I pointed this out to Mama she said, ‘Oh, Mary, do be quiet,’ but Mr Shackleton agreed with me.
He told me I looked charming in my new gown and asked me to dance with him when we met at my aunt’s house tonight. When I demurred, he reminded me that dancing was a healthful exercise and said that, in point of fact, he thought it more beneficial than playing the pianoforte, for that exercises only the fingers and dancing exercises the entire body.
I was much struck by his comment and I have decided that I should dance more often.
As Mr Shackleton led me back to my seat, I overheard my Aunt Phillips saying that we had had three weddings last year, and would no doubt soon have another one.
I cannot think what she means, unless Kitty has enraptured one of the officers, but no doubt I will discover her meaning in time.
After all, I am an intellectual.

Amanda Grange :-)

A Country Miss In Hanover Square

I am posting this on the options so I hope it works. I shall not be able to post on 23rd and I missed the last couple of posts. I just wanted to say that the first of the Hanover Square trilogy is out soon, and available on the internet but not yet in the shops. Each book has Hanover Square in the title, my publisher's idea. I hope it doesn't confuse readers because it could easily do so I think.

I have an ebook called Dark Ancient Queen coming through in the next month or so and the second in my Family Feud trilogy with Severn House is out now. It is this cover I will post, because it is rather attractive. This book will also come out in trade paperback, which is something that has pleased me. It makes the book a little more affordable and that is good news. My civil war trilogy came out in trade paperback but this is the first of the Severn House sagas to do so, though they may do the first book in the trilogy as well.

I am still writing hard, fingers crossed because I am waiting for news. I am now working on a second book in the big series I am writing and also catching up with proofs, revisions and some more HMB books to write. Sometimes I wonder when I'll get time to catch my breath.

I hope the forward option works for me. Best wishes, Linda/Anne Herries

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Disgraceful Mr Ravenhurst

This month sees the fourth of my Those Scandalous Ravenhurst titles released in the UK - The Disgraceful Mr Ravenhurst. Black sheep of the family Theo is pursuing a career on the margins of the law chasing works of art and antiquities around Europe. His mother, the Bishop’s wife, tries to pretend he’s on the Grand Tour, but far from a solemn inspection of the great artistic sites of Europe, Theo is in hot pursuit of a frankly shocking piece of erotic antique silver - and so are a number of ruthless rivals.

His cousin Elinor, bluestocking, dowd and confirmed spinster, literally bumps into Theo in the basilica of Vezelay in Burgundy and finds her world turned upside down when she becomes entangled in Theo’s quest with almost murderous results.

If you have read the three previous Ravenhursts you will meet again the redoubtable Lady James, the Grand Duchess Eva, her son Freddie and last, but never least, her gorgeous husband Sebastian.

And an entire houseparty of Ravenhursts are required to sort out the quite disgraceful pickle their friends Sarah Tatton and Jonathan, the Earl of Redcliffe have got themselves into. Disrobed and Dishonoured is in May in the Historical Undone e-book series. (Be warned, this is a sizzler!)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Russian Marriage

Last week, I was guest blogging on Risky Regencies about the research I’d done for the Aikenhead Honours trilogy, and especially for the first book, inspired by the real-life adventures of Nadezdha Durova, the cavalry maiden. Here she is:
If you’ve read His Cavalry Lady, you’ll know that it contains a Russian wedding. Sadly, it just wasn’t possible to describe it in detail, but here’s a description from the journals of the Wilmot sisters, dating from 1803-1808.

First, the wedding of nobles:

“In the morning I went accompanied by Princess Anne Simonovna and the 2 Mlles Kotchetoffs to see General Loptoff’s wedding with the Princess Gallitzen, as I had never seen a noble’s wedding in Russia. We went to the church at 12 o’clock and soon after arrived the Bridegroom in full dress. The Bride followed half an hour later, dressed in Lace, satin, a bandeau of diamonds, and diamond earrings. Their rings were exchanged three times; they sipped three times the wine, emblematic of sharing equally the joys or sorrows of life, they wore the Nuptial Crowns, and were led three times round the altar. The Priest then read a sort of exhortation or sermon, and that’s all. The bride was not veiled as peasants are, nor is a noble’s wedding so interesting as a peasant’s. There was a good number of persons in church. After having congratulated the bridals we returned home. By the bye General Loptoff quitted the Church before his lady.”
[The picture shows the cathedral of St Nicholas]

Then the arranged wedding of peasants (though not, as you’ll see, poor peasants):

“The first interview between a young man and woman destined for each other by their parents … always takes place during the dead of the night that no creature except the two families immediately concerned may know anything of the matter, as if it happened that the man refused on seeing her to marry the woman chosen for him, no other would marry her during her life. This however rarely happens as the fathers are very arbitrary. As for the young women they are disposed of without a question on the subject and being kept close prisoners literally till they are married. 'Tis no great wonder if they accept anything that’s offered having nothing better to compare and give a preference to; besides their marriage releases them from a confinement which they grumble against most bitterly. This first interview fixes the fate of the young woman looked at, as they call it, but the supposed first interview in presence of all the relations on both sides takes place some days after, during which time the father of the bride-elect sends a list of what gowns, petticoats, pearls, diamonds, linen, plate etc he intends to give with his daughter to the bridegroom-elect, who frequently expostulates on the scantiness or bad taste of the goods, naming what pleases him better. When the assembly of relatives takes place and the matchmaker, the young man begs this most essential personage to ask for such a young woman by name in a profound whisper; she does so; he is then permitted to touch her hand. From that moment they are considered man and wife. The arrangements for the ceremony are public and all’s said. There is no difference in the religion of this class of persons from that of the noblesse.”

Jewels, especially diamonds, figure a lot in accounts of noble life and dress, and not only at weddings. This is the jewel I had in mind in His Cavalry Lady when I was describing Alex’s visit to the Hermitage in St Petersburg (shown at the top of this post).

Alex thinks it’s hideous. What do you think?

However, since it's April and the second book of the Aikenhead Honours trilogy is out in the USA and Canada, I should probably be blogging here about His Reluctant Mistress and Vienna, plus all the amazing celebrations that took place during the months of the Congress of Vienna.

Reading a diary of the event kept by a local bureaucrat was very interesting. In the first weeks, he recorded absolutely everything that happened down to the last detail. By Christmas, he appears to have become bored out of his mind. He recorded only unusual events, and not even all of those. He was more concerned about the huge inflation in Vienna and the fact that his pay wasn't enough to cover food and heating. In fact, the Austrian Emperor had to give all his staff a pay rise. No wonder he was nearly bankrupt!

In the Riskies blog last week, I commented on the special napkin folding which was used at the Austrian Imperial court, but only when the Imperial family was present. Nowadays, it's is used only when the President of Austria hosts a state dinner, apparently. What's more, the secret of the elaborate folding is known only to two people at any one time. It's a state secret that goes with the job.

You may think such a thing would be easy to fathom. I did, until I looked at it. Here it is so you can decide for yourself. Are there any origami specialists out there who think they can replicate this from a single damask napkin? Looks like a very daunting piece of reverse engineering to me, but you may know better?


Late PS: I have just discovered that I've been giving you the wrong date for UK paperback publication of His Forbidden Liaison, book 3 of the Aikenhead Honours trilogy. It's not July. It's September 2009. (The hardback will be out in July.) Many, many apologies to UK readers who have been misled and who will have to wait even longer. Grovelling apologies to all.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Reason to Rebel

My first e-book, A Reason to Rebel, is released by Samhain on the 21st April.
Set in Regency England, Estelle Travis rebels when ordered by her father to enter into a second marriage of convenience. Alex, Viscount Crawley, is fascinated by the enigmatic Estelle and agrees to help her when she flees her father's ubiquitious clutches and embarks upon a search for her missing sister. In so doing he leaves himself exposed to very different dangers to those that he expects.
To read an excerpt and enter a competition to win a copy of the book, please visit my website
A Reason to Rebel
Samhain Publishing
ISBN 978-1-60504-496-5
Available from: http://www.mybookstoreandmore Price $5.50
Good luck with the competition.
Wendy Soliman

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Miss Bennet & Mr Bingley

This is the cover of my latest book - Miss Bennet & Mr Bingley. I am thrilled with it- many thanks to Jane Odiwe for doing this for me. Publishing this book has been fraught with difficulties - it's as if someone doesn't want it to be seen. After many hours spent removing various glitches from the manuscript I proudly released it on the world - only to discover that there was a line of total gibberish on the first page. When I'd been reading it through I'd spoken to my husband with my voice recognition still turned on. I had to remove the book from circulation and start the process all over again. I eagerly awaited the final, final proof copy to arrive. To my horror (and amusement) it arrived with an extra book attached to the end. I don't think fans of Jane Austen would appreciate reading the views of 'the democratic left', do you?
Now I have to wait, again, for another proof copy to be sent in order to get it back into the distribution system. Hopefully Miss Bennet & Mr Bingley will be available not only on, but also everywhere else, by the end of the month.
I would also like to tell you about my new website. The wonderful Aimee Fry, of siteamigo, redesigned it for me. I think it's perfect for a historical novelist. Please go and have a look and see what you think.
Fenella Miller

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Research takes you to some interesting places!

As part of the research for the book I’m currently writing, which is set in the Arctic during the age of exploration, I have been researching life in the British Royal Navy during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In doing so I came across the Royal Hospital, Greenwich, (the naval equivalent of the army’s Chelsea Hospital) and a recent archaeological excavation there that threw light on the lives of the pensioners living there.

The Royal Hospital was a retirement home for “seamen worn out or become decrepit by age and infirmities in the service of their country.” At least 93 men who served at the Battle of Trafalgar lived there. Interestingly one of the facts about Trafalgar that I had not realised before was the number of different nationalities who fought alongside the British, including 28 Americans. Veterans became in-pensioners at the Royal Hospital only in old age or if they had no family to care for them. Hospital food was plentiful if basic. Each man had 1lb of meat a day, boiled or sometimes roast beef on three days of the week, mutton on two days a week, 4oz cheese a day, 1lb bread a day and half a gallon of beer a day. On Wednesday and Fridays they were given pease pottage, a stew with peas and bacon, 8oz cheese and 2oz butter. Tea joined the rations in the early 19th century, as it did in the Navy; also chocolate at breakfast, potatoes, and other improvements. Even then, cabbage was the only green vegetable, for two months in summer so maybe there was scurvy on shore as well as at sea!

Archaeological excavations at the site bear out the suggestion that life in Nelson's Navy was tough. Work was hard, discipline brutal, accommodation dark, cramped and unhygienic and food often uneatable. Disease was rife. The Navy tried to keep its ships clean but with so many men in such cramped and fetid conditions, fever could spread fast and only the strongest survived. 60% of the bodies examined by the archaeologists had broken noses, either from falls – or fights! Fractures were common, from falling out of the rigging to being crushed by the proverbial “loose cannon.” However the Greenwich Pensioners were a hardy lot. Many survived into their 70s, eight of the Trafalgar veterans were over 80 and one was over 90 years old!

Nicola Cornick

Sunday, April 05, 2009


You often hear of a reader tossing a Regency romance aside in disgust and saying: this is a modern romance in Regency clothing. The obvious reasons for this are that the language is all wrong, or there are several horrible historical howlers that are too obvious to ignore. But one of the most important things that makes a Regency novel indigestible for the savvy Regency reader is that it they’ve forgotten a crucial player on the stage: Society.

A Regency novel without the unspoken (and often spoken) presence of Society is like a plum pudding without the raisins.*

A modern heroine wondering onto a Regency set will act as if she’s an individual, as if she’s free to interact with her hero in any way she chooses. The conflict of the novel is restricted to just the two of them, and the world outside is tossed to the four winds. But in a good Regency novel, Society is the third party in a triangle. The Strong Regency Heroine, in addition to having conflict with her hero, has to contend with Society as well. The moment you have a heroine coming onto the scene with no clue that Society is her big adversary, she is either in for a big surprise, or the experienced reader is going to put down that book.

If you think of some of the best Regencies you have read, note how many of them have excerpts from scandal sheets or references to scandals. Julia Quinn comes to mind, with her excerpts from Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers. The need to include Society as a character at times becomes so crucial that the author will actually create a character – like Lady Whistledown -- or a group of ladies to embody it. The boundary between internal conflict and external conflict in these situations is blurred, because Society is both an internal and external part of the heroine’s makeup.

It doesn’t always have to be fear of scandal either. Society can intervene between the hero and heroine in many different ways. In my novel An Improper Suitor, for example, a bluestocking heroine is pressured by Society, represented unexpectedly by her grandmother, to marry, not to a bluestocking like her (can a gentleman be a bluestocking?**) but a rake, and she is later compelled to get engaged to him when she thinks she has been compromised by a kiss. She and her grandmother consult the Society papers to determine if she needs to go through with the engagement or not.

If you don’t want your phaeton wheels to fall into one of those ruts in the road that are so important to Regency plots – okay, maybe you do want that wheel to break – remember that the ever present ton is not simply a background stage drop – a chance to show those costumes, or to hold a ball -- but one of your biggest sources of conflict in the novel.

*Traditionally plums are not plums. “Plums” referred to raisins.
**The answer to this is yes – the original Blue Stockings Society’s
membership (some pictured here on the right) had a majority of women, but included men, and was named, in fact, after a knowledgeable gentleman, Benjamin Stillingfleet, was invited to join, but did not have the required formal wear which was black stockings. He showed up in blue stockings instead, and the group adopted this name to refer to their indifference to matters of fashion.

Monica Fairview, whose AN IMPROPER SUITOR is coming out in Large Print from Thorndike on 15 April 2009.

Friday, April 03, 2009


My second Sarah Mallory novel, THE WICKED BARON, is published in North America this month. I was thrilled when I saw the cover as the hero looks remarkably the way I imagined him!
One of the main characters in this story is the house, Malberry Court. At the time of the story it is being redecorated and an Italian artist has been employed to paint the beautiful frescos and murals - including some rather more advanturous scenes in the bath house in the park (I won't tell you any more, but the bath house plays an important role in this story!)

BRIEFLY, Luke, Fifth Baron Darvell finds life in the army very dull after Waterloo and returns to England, intent on enjoying himself before he finally settles down to bring his impoverished estates back to prosperity. Then he meets Carlotta Durini, and all his plans are quite overthrown!

I've put a short extract below. Hope you enjoy it!

'Excuse me, but you cannot come in here.'
The voice had come from above.
'Oh? And why may I not come in?' Luke spoke to the air.
'It is private. This house belongs to a gentleman.'
Luke spread his hands.
'And am I not a gentleman?' A slight movement on the platform close to the ceiling caught his eye and he observed a slight, boyish figure staring down at him.
'Are you the owner?'
'No,' said Luke, 'but I am come on his behalf.'
'Oh. Mr Kemble is not here.'
'So I can see. Where is he?'
'They have all gone to the inn. It is mid-day and they are always hungry by mid-day.'
'But not you?'
'No, I must finish the fresco while the plaster is still wet.'
Luke shielded his eyes, trying to get a better view of the shadowy figure so high above him.
'Are you not a little young?'
'I am eighteen.' The voice grew a shade deeper.
'Come down and let me look at you,' said Luke, intrigued.
'No, sir. I cannot leave my painting.'
'Then I shall come up to you.' Luke put his foot on the ladder and heard a squeak from above. 'Well? Will you come down now?'
'I will, but only for a moment.'
Luke stood back and watched as the figure scrambled on to the top ladder and began to climb down. He grinned. The upper body was shrouded in a loose shirt but the tight-fitting breeches left nothing to the imagination: the figure descending from the scaffolding was most definitely not a boy!
Moments later the girl stood before him, her eyes, large and dark, regarding him with a mixture of defiance and apprehension. She was very petite with a mass of gleaming dark hair, constrained at the back of her long, slender neck by a poppy-red ribbon. A paint-spattered shirt billowed from her shoulders but could not disguise the gentle swell of her breasts, and the tight-fitting breeches were worn with a nonchalance that would have done credit to any actress at Drury Lane. He bit back an appreciative smile.
'Well, does my brother know he has hired a lady to decorate his house?'
'You are Mr Ainslowe's brother?'
'I am. And who are you, what is your name?'
'I am Carlotta Durini.' She clasped her hands together. 'Perhaps I should explain.'
'Please do.'
'My – my father is the artist commissioned to paint Malberry Court, but he has broken his leg and– and I am finishing the last frescos for him, so that the house will be ready on time. Please sir, you must not think that there is any plot to deceive, but there was no one else to do it and if it is not finished in time then Papa will not be paid the full amount, and then Mama cannot have her maid - and it is only this one ceiling –'
Laughing, he reached out and caught her hands.
'Peace, peace, Miss Durini! Do not upset yourself.'
Her hands were very small and soft within his grasp. Smiling, his thumbs gently stroked her wrists, just above the palm and he felt her agitated fingers grow still. Her lustrous dark eyes were still wary but he detected the beginnings of a shy smile curving her mouth. Luke found himself wondering what it would be like to kiss those soft red lips. His smile deepened, he opened his mouth to charm her with a few well-chosen words but they were never uttered. The sound of voices drifted in on the still air. He looked out across the park and saw a group of figures was emerging from the trees. Something very akin to disappointment passed over him.
'I think this must be the others returning now. I will talk to Kemble.'
Those dark eyes regarded him anxiously.
'You will not turn me off?'
'I have no power to do so. But if your work is not up to the standard…'
To his surprise, the worried look left the girl's face.
‘It will be, sir. I have been well taught.' She stepped back, gently pulling her hands free. 'If you will excuse me, I must go back to my painting: if the plaster becomes too dry the fresco will be ruined.'
Without another word she scrambled up the ladder and was soon lost to sight.

Sarah Mallory / Melinda Hammond