Monday, June 29, 2009

Colonel Brandon's Diary

I'm just dropping in to say that the US paperback of Colonel Brandon's Diary will be out on July 7th. I really loved writing this book.

At first glance, Colonel Brandon might seem like an unlikely hero but on closer inspection he's a man with a deep heart and a tragedy in his past. I enjoyed bringing this past to life in his diary, following the plot laid down by Jane Austen but adding detail and colour, exploring his relationships with his father and brother, with his first love Eliza and with Eliza's daughter.

And I adored showing his love for Marianne Dashwood, giving his perspective on her warm, generous nature and her free spirit.

It's such a great story, with heroes and villains, comic characters and silly ones, and I hope you're going to love the story from Brandon's point of view.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Persuasion, the Cobb and Louisa Musgrove

I've been to Lyme Regis very recently - I always love going because I know it is a place that Jane Austen visited often and really took to her heart.

...the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which in the season is animated with bathing-machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger's eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest-trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again to make the worth of Lyme understood..

Part of Jane's book Persuasion was inspired by the town - the dramatic turn of events when Louisa Musgrove jumps from the Cobb is a turning point in the book for our heroine Anne Elliot.

There was too much wind to make the high part of the new Cobb pleasant for the ladies, and they agreed to get down the steps to the lower, and all were contented to pass quietly and carefully down the steep flight, excepting Louisa: she must be jumped down them by Captain Wentworth. In all their walks he had had to jump her from the stiles; the sensation was delightful to her. The hardness of the pavement for her feet made him less willing upon the present occasion; he did it, however. She was safely down, and instantly to shew her enjoyment, ran up the steps to be jumped down again. He advised her against it, thought the jar too great; but no, he reasoned and talked in vain, she smiled and said, "I am determined I will": he put out his hands; she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb, and was taken up lifeless! There was no wound, no blood, no visible bruise; but her eyes were closed, she breathed not, her face was like death. The horror of that moment to all who stood around!

Far from running up these steps myself I found it quite terrifying - descending from the top is the scariest way down especially when there is a gale howling! Walking along the top of the Cobb is exhilarating but even in fine weather there seems to be a good chance of getting blown off - not for the faint hearted!

Jane Odiwe

Illustration by Philip Gough

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Waterloo 2009

For those of us who enjoy looking at men in Regency uniforms:

Kate Allan

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mr Darcy, Vampyre

Way back in June 2008 I warned you I have an untidy mind, and listed all the books I was thinking about writing. Little did I suspect that soon afterwards a completely different idea would occur to me and that I would drop everything to write it! I've been sitting on this for a long time, dying to tell you all about it but at the same time wanting to keep it under wraps. But now, here it is, Mr Darcy, Vampyre!

The book is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice with a twist. Elizabeth and Darcy's love for one another is legendary, but can it overcome Darcy's terrible secret? You'll have to wait until August to find out, because that's when the book hits the shops in the US (or should that be stores?!)

Meanwhile, you can read more about it on the Mr Darcy, Vampyre blog and it's available to pre-order now from Barnes and Noble and Amazon US

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fancy a Dip in the River?

As I write this it is not exactly Flaming June, but perhaps by the time it appears the sun will come out again and we'll all be in the mood for bathing.

I have researched seaside bathing during the Regency and even set a love scene in a bathing machine (The Outrageous Lady Felsham) and of course, the hero or heroine taking a risky plunge in the local stream often occurs in a hot summer romance - but it had never occured to me that anyone might willingly take a swim in the 19thc Thames or Mersey.

Then I found the print above of the Royal Waterloo Bath in Ackermann's Repository for 1819. According to the description "It contains a plunging-bath, 24 feet long by 8 feet wide, and two private baths, 10 feet long by 8 feet wide. The depth may be regulated at pleasure by machinery, which raises or depresses the bottom. To each of the baths are attached small dressing-rooms, commodiously fitted up, with proper persons to attend upon visitors. The water, being a running stream, is changed every two minutes."

There was a boat at Waterloo Bridge to convey the bathers out to the Bath and the "terms of bathing" were one shilling in the plunging-bath or one and six for the private baths. Season tickets were available.

I was dubious about how popular it could be to bathe in the Thames in the middle of London -surely the water must be filthy? - but to my surprise I found an unmistakeable floating bath with its tall flagpole in the Grand Panorama of London, 1844. This one is moored at Blackfriar's Bridge.

In the words of the Ackermann's article "...we have a noble river filled with the purest and most wholesome waters in the world. The want of baths in London has led to the incommodious and indecorous practice of public exposure in the Thames."

1858, only fourteen years after this print was published, was the Great Stink when the Thames was so foul that Parliament had to close and people fainted. In the intervening period improvements to domestic sanitation had sent sewage from homes direct into the river and the floating baths were doomed.

I still haven't discovered when the floating bath first apeared in London, but there was certainly one in Liverpool in 1816. The Liverpool Mercury for August 9th 1816 has a picture of it and both an advertisement and (doubtless by the same hand) a letter to the editor explaining the improvements to increase the flow of water through the boat. Apparently, those in rowing boats passing at either end could see through the grills into the bathing compartment - which must have been entertaining for all concerned. On the Prince Regent's birthday there would be admission for ladies - but only to view the boat: no bathing would be allowed. One wonders if this was to allay their fears that their sons and husbands were sneaking off to some other kind of establishment altogether!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Carriages in Vienna

This is one of the row of about twenty carriages lined up outside the Hofburg palace in Vienna. This line contained carriages of every colour: pure white, pale blue with black leather seats, maroon with black trim, maroon and white, and a glossy black one with an interior of white buttoned leather. You will see in the photo that behind each of the two horses is a sort of canvas chute. This catches any droppings so the streets of Vienna remain clean. I have not been able to find out if this was the case during the Congress of Vienna. Emperor Franz Joseph had ordered a hundred such carriages built for the visiting monarchs of Europe. They were painted dark green with the Imperial coat of arms emblazoned on the doors in gold. Each coach was drawn by two white horses and had a driver and groom dressed in the imperial yellow livery. It must have been a spectacular sight to see them - the coaches not the grooms! - dashing about the streets of Vienna, or waiting outside one of the many palaces where every night hostesses vied with each other to give the most lavish ball.
Some happy news. I completed my latest book for Severn House on April 24th and sent it to my agent. She loved it and sent it on. Entitled Heart of Stone it was accepted within two weeks and is scheduled for publication this November. I'm delighted, and breathless!
Jane Jackson.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fourteen inches and fug

I’m currently researching naval life in the Regency period for a series of books I’m starting to write. So a trip to Portsmouth was absolutely essential. We are so lucky that HMS Victory has been preserved, essentially as she was. Writers can get a real feeling for what life on board might have been like. The only thing that hasn’t been preserved is the chaos of war — and the smell. Sailors apparently preferred to have the gunports closed, and to live in the dark and the fug!

Life on board was exceedingly cramped, unless you were the Admiral, or the Captain. Nelson’s cabin, on the upper gun deck, occupied about a quarter of the length of the ship. In his dining cabin, you can see the polished mahogany table laid for 20, with room to spare. The Captain’s cabin, on the quarterdeck above, was about half that size. There were guns everywhere and the sailors’ quarters, in particular, were dominated by them. Everything else — eating, sleeping in a hammock in 14 inches of hanging space — had to be squeezed in between.

Photography isn’t allowed on board HMS Victory, but here is a shot of an officer’s cabin on board HMS Warrior, launched in 1860, which was actually much more spacious than HMS Victory. In HMS Victory, officers’ cabins were smaller and the guns took up far more of space. When a ship cleared for action, everything was dismantled and stowed away, leaving guns and crews.

The museum at the historic dockyard includes some interesting exhibits of the reality of warfare. I’d learned at school about how the young Napoleon Bonaparte dispersed a Paris insurrection in 1795 with a “whiff of grapeshot” but I didn’t actually know what grapeshot was. Given the name, I’d imagined shot about the size of a grape. Wrong! This is grapeshot as used in naval canon. Each of the balls is about the size of a tennis ball and as the shot is fired, the canvas bursts and the balls fly in all directions. Terrifying. No wonder the Paris mob was dispersed.

It’s all grist to the writer’s mill and I am thoroughly enjoying becoming immersed in naval life. Though I really don’t think I’d have enjoyed living it! Would you?


Saturday, June 13, 2009


Most historical romances are about the aristocracy, mine included. We love to read about lords and ladies, dukes and duchesses, all young, all good looking and sexually irresistible, finding their way to love.

So what about the other classes of society? Didn’t they fall in love?

I have incorporated other classes sometimes, for instance Rose in the Richard and Rose books is from the landed gentry – a different class to the aristocrats, and Arabella, heroine of “Tantalizing Secrets” is a factory owner’s widow and the daughter of a vicar.

In Georgette Heyer’s books all her heroes and heroines had some connection with the top echelons of society. Her governess heroines had relatives who were generals or barons. And if we were to put all the dukes in all the Regencies end to end, they’d probably circumnavigate the globe. It would be an interesting sight, though, wouldn’t it?

I can think of exceptions, some excellent ones. Maddy, the heroine of Laura Kinsale’s wonderful “Flowers From the Storm” is a quaker miss with not one aristocratic relative, yet she marries her duke. Maddy came alive for me in that book, and her different background made the book more enjoyable and explained her character to a certain extent. She wasn’t the saint she thought she was, neither was she as infallible as she thought. Maddy thought too small, as the hero’s aunt, Lady de Marly, pointed out in one unforgettable scene.

In doing the research for “Tantalizing Secrets” I became engrossed in the history of the cities and towns of England and I came across the phenomenon of the London Cit, the wealthy city merchant or banker. They had their own institutions, their own social circles and their own customs. They would have hated one of their number marrying into the aristocracy, although occasionally that did happen. The Cit’s power base was their often fabulous wealth, the Guilds, ancient institutions that regulated industry in the City of London, and Parliament, particularly the House of Commons. The aristocrats had the Lords, the Cit had the Commons, together with the landed gentry and the untitled members of the aristocracy.

Queen Charlotte’s coronation gown was encrusted with diamonds – all borrowed from City merchants. Her husband, George III, was very aware of the power of the city merchant, and did his best to keep them sweet. Many innovations came from the City or were financed by the merchants there. And women had a lot of freedom, like one of my ancestors, Hester Bateman, who became one of the premier businesswomen in London. Her husband died young, and she had sons to provide for, so she carried on the business for them. It prospered, and although her company never reached the artistic heights of a Paul Storr, she did very well with everyday items, and they are sought after today. Not that she ever made a piece of silver herself.

So I’m doing more research into the city merchants and financiers. A novel in the offing? Maybe, but I’m enjoying the research!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Credit Crunch - Regency Style

Living beyond one's means is nothing new. In fact betting and gaming was a major preoccupation during the Regency period. Upper-class women mostly confined their gaming to cards - loo, faro, marcao, whist and the like. Men also gambled at cards, often wagering vast sums on a hand in the clubs and hells of Pall Mall, or risking their fortunes on the roll of the dice.
Almost any kind of bet was acceptable but once entered into was held as binding. Although gambling debts were not enforceable through the law they where considered to be debts of honour and it was understood amongst the upper classes that a wager undertaken between them took precedence over just about anything else - even if it meant the gentleman incurring the debt forfeited his entire estate as a consequence. A man of honour would not dream of defaulting, even if it meant keeping his tailor, and other tradesmen, waiting for payment.
Vowels - or IOU's - are commonly referred to in historical fiction. Their name is derived from the vowels - i,o and u which they represented. Incurring a debt of honour was taken so seriously that borrowing from a woman or even resorting to a moneylender were considered more honourable alternatives than defaulting.
Women did not view their gaming debts quite so seriously as men but were still obliged to pay. This often resulted in the sale of jewellery or other valuable personal items in order to honour their commitments. But such was the lure of the card table that the share of pawning their diamonds didn't prevent them from presenting themselves for more punishment, convinced that their luck must be due to change, the very next night.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Two Gentlemen From London

Here is the final version of my cover for the Hale book which comes out in October. As always I love it - what do you think? Below is the opening scene from the book. I hope you enjoy it enough to want to read the whole thing when it comes out.

'Miss Bentley, lawks a mussy! They're here. Young Fred saw the carriage turn into the lane not ten minutes ago.'
Annabel Bentley dropped the jar of bramble jelly she had been about place on the shelf in the pantry. 'After so long? I had thought Mama and I safe from him.' Stepping over the sweet mess on the flagstones she gathered up her skirts, calling over her shoulder as she ran. 'You and Tom know what to do; we have about thirty minutes before they arrive.'
How had he found them? They had been so careful these past years, had not even attended church or visited Ipswich themselves. Her heart pounding, she ran upstairs calling her mother.
'Mama, we are discovered. We must get organized or it will be too late.' She had hoped never to be reminded of that black time again.
Lady Sophia appeared from the south facing chamber she used for her studio, as usual she had paint streaks on her face and fingers. 'Are you quite certain, my love? I can hardly credit that monster has been able to find us.'
'Well, he has. Mary and Tom are putting on the holland covers, we have to clear your studio.'
In the beginning they had practiced this exercise several times, but as the months, and then the years, slipped by they had stopped rehearsing. However, the boxes were ready and it was the work of moments to fill them with the paraphernalia.

'Quickly, open the panel and I'll start taking things through.' Annabel tried to recall how long it was since she had checked their intended hiding place. It must be almost a year, the two secret rooms would be dust covered, but it was too late to worry about that. There was the clatter of footsteps and their servants arrived to disguise the bed chambers they had been occupying with covers.
'Miss Bentley, everything's ready downstairs, we shall have your rooms done in a trice. Fred is moving the horses, I reckon we'll be prepared in good time.'
'This room is finished; all we need is sufficient food and water for today and tomorrow. No doubt you will be obliged to offer accommodation tonight, but when he finds he's mistaken, he will surely leave first thing.'
'He'll not get a meal he'll enjoy tonight, I'll make sure of that.'
'Thank you, Mary. I cannot imagine why the three of you have stayed with us so long in this isolated place, but we could not have managed without you.'
'Bless you, miss, it's been our pleasure. You mustn't worry. If you and Lady Sophia get settled, we'll be up with what you need as soon as we've done here.'
Annabel stepped into the hidden passageway, relieved to see her mother had not been idle, the sconces were burning and she had sufficient illumination to fasten the panel behind her and to pick up one of the remaining boxes.
The passageways and narrow staircase led from top to bottom of the ancient mansion. The place had once been used by smugglers and although the exit to the beach had fallen into disuse years ago, it was still possible to get from the kitchen to the hidden apartment in the attic.
She followed the twists and turns without hesitation, it was fixed in her mind. She could hear her mother moving about ahead of her and guessed she would be setting up her easel.
'There you are, my love. I shall run back and fetch the last box whilst you check we have everything we need up here. I fear the bed linen will be damp after so long.'
Annabel didn't bother to argue that she was younger and fitter and should be the one to go back, for it would be untrue. Her mother was barely eight and thirty, and she nineteen on her last name day, they would be taken for sisters if ever they appeared together in public.
These secret rooms had been constructed when the house was built. There was no way to enter them via the attics, the only panels that opened were in the room that had been used as a studio and the boot room in the basement. She walked across to the low doors that opened onto the roof.
She pulled them back and stepped out, knowing she could not be seen from below. Brandon Hall, originally built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, now had a false edifice making it appear what it was not. Behind the brick frontage, hidden between two chimney breasts, was a space more than large enough to walk about. She carefully removed the brick that filled the peephole.
Her throat constricted and her hands clenched. Fred had not been mistaken. Already half way down the long curving drive was a smart, black travelling carriage. They had not received a visitor since they had joined Great-Aunt Beth, nobody knew they were there. It could only be her stepfather, Randolph Rushton, and his loathsome man of affairs.
A vivid flash of lightning split the sky. She counted, had reached five, when the thunder followed. The storm they had been anticipating all day would be upon them within the hour. She prayed the river that ran parallel to the lane would not flood, the last time it had done so it had been a week before the road was passable.

Miss Bennet & Mr Bingley is now available from Amazon and all other distributors. It has been given a good review on Pemberley and is mentioned on four other Jane Austen sites.
best wishes
Fenella Miller

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Creative ideas from mysterious places!

The appearance of a crop circle in the shape of a jellyfish in the fields near our house last week might not seem the most obvious inspiration for a Regency author but as you know, we often get our ideas from all kinds of unusual places! When I heard about the “jellyfish” it set me to wondering when the first recorded mention was of crop circles and whether any had appeared in Regency times. I did some research and came up with some fascinating answers!

The earliest recorded mention of a crop circle appears to be in 815AD when the Bishop of Lyons wrote of corn “flattened by magical storms.” A celebrated case in 1678 records the case of the “Mowing Devil” which was shown on a contemporary woodcut. The text that accompanies the woodcut states that when a farmer asked a neighbour to cut his three and a quarter acre oat field, the man 'endeavour'd to sell the Sweat of his Brows and Marrow of his Bones at as dear a Rate as reasonably he might . . . some sharp Words had passed . . . The irritated farmer with a stern look . . . told the poor man, That the Devil should Mow his Oats before he should have anything to do with them.' The result was that that very night people saw the oat field in flames and in the morning a perfect round crop circle had been cut in the middle of the field. However, this report was discredited in some circles as being untrue and the woodcut a means of reinforcing the power of the church as a warning not to anger God with intemperate words. Even if this was the case, however, it does suggest that the concept of crop circles was something that men were familiar with at this time.

By the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, the emphasis had shifted from religion and superstition to scientific investigation. Several scientific journals record the appearance of crop circles in this time, down to meticulous detail of how the corn was bent and flattened in some cases and cut and placed in others. Theories on crop circle formation suggested that they might have been created by swirling vortices of air or some other type of natural atmospheric process such as lightning. However, one particular account from the Victorian period near Plummer's Hill, in High Wycombe, Bucks, describes two disc-shaped objects with flashing lights hovering over a site where the very next day a circle of bent, flattened grasses was discovered! Was this the earliest suggestion that crop circles are created by aliens?

There are many ancient sites and historic events in this part of the world that could inspire a book, including the historic scouring of the Uffington White Horse and I’m tempted to include a mystery crop circle into one of my Regencies!

Nicola Cornick

Friday, June 05, 2009

Jane Austen: The Teen Queen?

I first encountered Jane Austen as a teenager, which probably accounts for why I am fascinated with the way she manages to capture the teenage spirit.

We studied Pride and Prejudice at school. My teacher, Mrs A—, loved reading out the funny parts of the novel to the class, especially the ones that had Mrs Bennet in them. To me, she’ll always be the quintessential Mrs Bennet. As you would expect, many of the girls in the class started groaning the moment Mrs A—/Mrs Bennet started reading, which always conjured up for me the images of Lydia and Kitty. This combination of teacher enacting the mother, and students being who they were – teenagers – has probably skewed my vision of Pride and Prejudice forever.

Still, I think it’s one of the remarkable aspects of Jane Austen that doesn’t get discussed often enough. Her ability to represent teenagers accounts for why each successive generation seems to rediscover Austen in a way that the older folks find irritating. There’s that “been there, done that” feeling whenever the new generation re-discovers her. But then again, each successive group brings to the novel its own notions.
One only has to look at the difference between the 1995 depiction of Elizabeth Bennet by Jennifer Ehle (right) and the 2005 version with Keira Knightly (below). I love Ehle in the 1995 version.

But what the 2005 version shows you much more clearly is that this is a film about teens.

Jane Austen’s skill at capturing the teenage mind was especially remarkable because she did it a long, long time before teenagers were even invented. Apparently it was not until James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause came out in 1955 that the concept of “the teenager” even came to exist. Before that, if you were a teenager, tough luck. You were either an overgrown child, or a very young adult. James Dean, by portraying a lot of the issues and problems of teenagers, put teenagers for the first time on the map.

To give you a sense of how good she was at portraying the teen mind, look at Lydia, Kitty, and Mary, who represent a range of teenage archetypes, from the “popular” girl (Lydia), to the follower who longs to be popular (Kitty), to the “nerd” outsider (Mary). Then compare these figures to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre goes through childhood to adulthood without ever passing through the “teen” phase. We never see it, unless you consider her childhood rebellion as her first teen gesture. But she was only ten. Jane Eyre is a different type of novel, obviously, but it’s much more typical of the way adolescence was depicted generally.

In this, if in nothing else, Jane Austen emerges as a pioneer (though there are plenty of other things she pioneered, too). Of course, if you mentioned the word “teenager” to her, she wouldn’t know what you were talking about. Which makes it all the more amazing that she was able to capture something which was not even identified until a century and a half later.

By Monica Fairview, whose The Other Mr Darcy will be available in a matter of weeks, i.e. at the end of June 2009.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Eastbourne Redoubt

Summer is the time for going to the seaside and strolling along the prom, and a few weeks ago at Eastbourne I did just that, and was rewarded with a wonderful dsicovery.

Eastbourne is more generally associated with the Edwardian era than the Napoleonic wars, but it does have the most amazing redoubt, now restored to its early 19th century glory.

In the early 1800's the fear of a French invasion of Britain was very real. Napoleon moved troops to Boulogne and planned to ferry them across to the south coast. In response the British Government built over 70 Martello Towers plus three circular fortresses at Harwich, Dymchurch and Eastbourne.

In 1805, Nelson's victory at Trafalgar lessened the threat but plans had been laid and work began on the Eastbourne Redoubt, which took three years to build and only ever fired two shots in anger (at a French ship which strayed too close to the shore – the shots missed).

The Redoubt was used as an observation post and convalescent hospital during WWI and during WWII anti-aircraft guns were mounted on the gun platform. It is now a military museum and houses the regimental museums of The Royal Sussex Regiment and the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars.

Ironically, the Redoubt, which was built to defend the south coast, is now itself defended from the sea by the promenade, but I am so glad it has survived.

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

Monday, June 01, 2009

Promotional News

Sorry I am so late putting up my post but I am so excited I think my vibes gave my computer a wobbly and it needed to cool down before it would accept my post.

I have just heard that from late June to September Tesco are doing a special promotion for The Loveday Secrets. Every little helps as they say. I'm off to raid the wine rack and celebrate.

Kate Tremayne