Saturday, December 25, 2010

Jane Austen writing in December 1798 - Jane Odiwe

Steventon Rectory.
This painting was inspired by drawings made by Jane Austen's neice, Anna Lefroy.
Jane Austen had just turned twenty three when she wrote to her sister Cassandra on Christmas Eve, 1798. Her letter opens with the news from Admiral Gambier that their brother Charles is to be sure of winning promotion as soon as an opportunity can be made for a commission on a frigate. One cannot help thinking of the comparison with Captain Wentworth!

With regard to your son now in the `London' I am glad I can give you the assurance that his promotion is likely to take place very soon, as Lord Spencer has been so good as to say he would include him in an arrangement that he proposes making in a short time relative to some promotions in that quarter.

A little further on we see her mischievous wit as she writes:
I returned from Manydown this morning, and found my mother certainly in no respect worse than when I left her. She does not like the cold weather, but that we cannot help. I spent my time very quietly and very pleasantly with Catherine. Miss Blackford is agreeable enough. I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal. I found only Catherine and her when I got to Manydown on Thursday. We dined together and went together to Worting to seek the protection of Mrs. Clarke, with whom were Lady Mildmay, her eldest son, and a Mr. and Mrs. Hoare.

I cannot help wondering about Jane's relationship with her mother who seems to have often been fancying herself ill on numerous occasions. There's an undercurrent here, I think, of a certain exasperation.

Jane had been staying with her friend Catherine Bigg-Wither at Manydown Park, a substantial property in the Steventon neighbourhood. (Incidentally, it was Catherine's brother, Harris, who proposed to Jane in 1802, but that's another story.) Jane had clearly not found enough interest in Catherine's visitor, Miss Blackford who is described as 'agreeable enough', but it's the next line that shows Jane at her most caustic, and I think, funny! I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal. I have this quote on a magnet on my fridge door!
Christmas at Steventon
Jane and Cassandra

She goes on to describe a Christmas ball she has attended, and here we find the youthful Jane reminiscent of Lizzy Bennet, teasing and flirting, dancing and abusing her suitors! She obviously loved dancing like the heroines in her books as she dances all twenty.

Our ball was very thin, but by no means unpleasant. There were thirty-one people, and only eleven ladies out of the number, and but five single women in the room. Of the gentlemen present you may have some idea from the list of my partners - Mr. Wood, G. Lefroy, Rice, a Mr. Butcher (belonging to the Temples, a sailor and not of the 11th Light Dragoons), Mr. Temple (not the horrid one of all), Mr. Wm. Orde (cousin to the Kingsclere man), Mr. John Harwood, and Mr. Calland, who appeared as usual with his hat in his hand, and stood every now and then behind Catherine and me to be talked to and abused for not dancing. We teased him, however, into it at last. I was very glad to see him again after so long a separation, and he was altogether rather the genius and flirt of the evening. He inquired after you.

There were twenty dances, and I danced them all, and without any fatigue. I was glad to find myself capable of dancing so much, and with so much satisfaction as I did; from my slender enjoyment of the Ashford balls (as assemblies for dancing) I had not thought myself equal to it, but in cold weather and with few couples I fancy I could just as well dance for a week together as for half an hour. My black cap was openly admired by Mrs. Lefroy, and secretly I imagine by everybody else in the room.

Cassandra was staying with her brother Edward and his family at Godmersham Park at the time and Jane was delighted to hear that she had enjoyed dancing at Ashford and had had supper with Prince William-Frederick and all the august company of the wealthy society in Kent!

Tuesday. - I thank you for your long letter, which I will endeavour to deserve by writing the rest of this as closely as possible. I am full of joy at much of your information; that you should have been to a ball, and have danced at it, and supped with the Prince, and that you should meditate the purchase of a new muslin gown, are delightful circumstances. I am determined to buy a handsome one whenever I can, and I am so tired and ashamed of half my present stock, that I even blush at the sight of the wardrobe which contains them. But I will not be much longer libelled by the possession of my coarse spot; I shall turn it into a petticoat very soon. I wish you a merry Christmas, but no compliments of the season.

The weather was very cold and snow was expected.

I was to have dined at Keane to-day, but the weather is so cold that I am not sorry to be kept at home by the appearance of snow. We are to have company to dinner on Friday: the three Digweeds and James. We shall be a nice silent party, I suppose.

I'm always glad that Jane was able to go after all though she gives nothing of the details!
Wednesday. - The snow came to nothing yesterday, so I did go to Deane, and returned home at nine o'clock at night in the little carriage, and without being very cold.

These are just a few highlights - you can read all of the letter here.

Happy Christmas everyone! Season's Greetings and Happy Holidays to all our visitors - may the New Year bring you joy and happiness!

Jane Odiwe

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Glimpse of Fashion

I used to knew a delightful picture framer. We became good friends and enjoyed many happy conversations about this and that whenever I brought a picture in to be framed. One day, he presented me with a large brown envelope. Inside were nineteen assorted costume prints from the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries.

He told me that a neighbour was just about to throw them out and he’d rescued them. ‘Give them to me!’ he’d cried. ‘I know a lady who would just love them!’ The neighbour was glad to get rid of them and this lady was thrilled to have them. Here are two of them.

The first is a Promenade Dress of 1809 from Ackermann’s Repository. The lady is gazing out to sea, shielding her complexion from the injurious effect of the sea breezes with the latest Pagoda parasol, fringed around the edge. I just love that shawl with the sophisticated dark red design on the petrol blue.

The other one is dated 1829 and comes from Costumes Parisiens. There is no other identification. My guess is that the couple are in evening wear: both are wearing the de rigeur white gloves. The lady holds a fashionably small fan and her skirt is shorter than a day dress would be to allow her freedom of movement to dance – and the gentleman to catch an intoxicating glimpse of her ankles. The gentleman himself is definitely wearing dancing pumps with the distinctive bow at the front – and note how he sports the very latest in beards – little more than a trim around his face. Very 1829, my dear!

But it’s the lady’s hair which fascinates me. It’s obviously dressed for an indoor activity because she couldn’t possibly wear a hat with a hair-do like that! Just look at it! All those curls, twists and knots. How on earth did it stay up? Such a distinctive hair-style must surely have a name – any help here would be gratefully received. And how on earth does she get her breasts (delicately suggested by the shading) up so high? According to my research, the bodice was kept in place simply by its tight fit and was without bones.

I’m wondering about the colour, too. Wasn’t pale mauve a half-mourning colour? In which case, why was the lady preparing to dance at all? Going to a ball whilst in half-mourning was surely not on. However, in my copy of The Ladies’ Pocket Magazine of 1831, I see that ‘lilac’ is noted as a fashionable colour, so perhaps it’s a question of tone, and the skirt’s colour is certainly quite bright.

Or perhaps her tiresome elderly husband popped off a year ago, and she’s making up for lost time. Her finger is pointing towards the gentleman in a somewhat indiscreet manner, so possibly…

Happy Christmas, everyone.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Bumper Month

I can hardly catch my breath this month with three books out!
The seventh in the Regency Silk & Scandal continuity, and my second contribution to the series, is The Officer and the Proper Lady. My hero, Hal Carlow, is a cavalry oficer in Brussels just before the battle of Waterloo and his heroine, Miss Julia Tresilian, a most respectable young lady, is there too, in search of a husband.

Instead of an eligible gentleman, Julia falls for Hal, the worst rake in the cavalry. For once in his life Hal is set on doing the right thing, but when he is left for dead on the battlefield he finds he has underestimated well-behaved Julia, who will do anything to save the man she loves. The story can be read alone but it also brings the series to the point where the old scandal has become lethally dangerous. All will be revealed next month!

Also out in December is the third in the The Transformation of the Shelley Sisters trilogy. Innocent Courtesan to Adventurer's Bride is the story of youngest sister Celina. She has taken refuge from her bullying father in her aunt's brothel but an accusation of theft sends innocent Lina fleeing to the depths of the Norfolk countryside. She thinks she is taking refuge with one of her aunt's elderly ex-clients, but the arrival of his heir, the adventurer and scholar Quinn Ashley, a man with his own demons to fight, plunges her into more danger - and into love.

The third book is a complete departure for me - non-fiction. I love walking in London to locate places and people, often long gone, sometimes, surprisingly, still to be found. When I looked at my notes I realised that I had the makings of a walks book that would allow me to share this pleasure with enthusiasts for the period and so Walks Through Regency London was conceived.

There are ten walks - I had to stop somewhere! - taking in the St James's area; Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens; Mayfair North; Piccadilly and South Mayfair; Soho North; Soho South to Somerset House; British Museum to Covent Garden; Trafalgar Square to Westminster; The City from Bridewell to Bank and Southwark and the South Bank.

I used illustrations from my collection of Regency prints to illustrate the book in full colour - some fashion prints, some sporting, but mainly views of London from Ackermann's iconic Repository. Along the way I found places and objects I never expected - a startlingly lifelike waxwork of Nelson in Westminster Abbey; the location of Warwick House where Princess Charlotte escaped from her father to run away to Princess Caroline; Napoleon's "nose" and the surviving columns from Carlton House. I have drunk beer in Tom Cribb's own pub and in the only galleried coaching inn left in London; seen the scales that Byron and Nelson were weighed on; looked at a cell door from Newgate and admired the first public male nude statue in London.

The cover illustration is St George's Hanover Square in 1812.
For more information and how to get a copy see or email me at

A very happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year to everyone!


Friday, December 17, 2010


We've got a white world once more - and before Christmas! A rare occurrence in Cornwall. Even here the amount of snowfall can vary hugely, with several centimetres on high ground, and not a flake to be seen in two miles away. Back in the 1960s snow lay a foot deep in our village. No cars could get in or out. Our two regular postmen walked from the nearest town with cash for the post office so people would have enough money for rent, coal and food. Supermarkets hadn't yet arrived and everyone shopped locally and every back garden had a veg patch; a few fruit bushes and, if you were lucky, an apple or plum tree. Bartering was a way of life and is coming back as more people grow their own on allotments. A few weeks ago my husband was offered use of a south-facing, well-drained field for a minimum of ten years. He thought he'd died and gone to heaven. This field has never been cropped and was very overgrown. But after several days work with a brush-cutter - a kind of strimmer on steroids that requires the operator to wear a heavy duty rubber parachute-type harness onto which a sling clips to hold the machine. It has a handlebar similar to a bicycle but wider and both a metal blade and cutters of plastic sheathed serrated steel wire. He has to wear a full-face helmet, ear protectors and heavy gloves, and the thing is so heavy he can only work for about ten minutes at a time. But it's amazing, cutting through tangled brambles with half-inch stems like a hot knife through butter. I followed behind - a long way behind - gathering up what he had cut with a long-handled fork with curved tines called an "evil" - an apt name - and hauling it to a pile which, when we finally burn it, will be visible from space. Since man founded settlements people have been growing their own food. Concern about the use of chemicals in food production is inspiring ever more people to grow their own. It's hard work, but also enormously satisfying to harvest a crop you've watched grow from seed. And because you'll have more than you need, you swap surplus runner beans for someone else's new potatoes or strawberries. Spring seems a long way off while there's snow on the ground. But sitting by a warm fire with a pile of seed catalogues brings it closer.
Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a new year that offers all you hope for.

Jane Jackson

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Here in Hereford, we're waiting for the next dollop of snow to land on us. Hereford is a mistletoe growing county. It's been picked and sent to market for Christmas by now, but you still see huge balls of it everywhere, as you're driving around. And of course, as we're full of apple orchards for all the cider we make, there are plenty of the kind of trees that mistletoe seems to like.

In the Asterix stories, as fans will know, the mistletoe grows on oak trees and is cut by the druid with a golden sickle. Well, round here, I have never seen mistletoe on an oak tree. It's on all kinds of trees, except oaks. Perhaps you've seen some on an oak in your part of the world?

When I was writing my Christmas story, The Earl's Mistletoe Bride, (published in the UK in the double volume shown here) I wanted to create a mystery with a Christmas twist, so I spent some time researching the lore surrounding mistletoe. One of the customs I loved, and used in my story, is that of removing a berry from the sprig of mistletoe every time a couple kisses under it. That produces a pleasing urgency for the writer. If her eager hero doesn't grab his girl at the first opportunity, he may lose out when there are no berries left. Can't have that, can we?

There are lots of other mistletoe customs, too, not all of them positive. Did you know, for example, that mistletoe isn't supposed to be used in churches? The reason isn't certain. It may be the tradition that the cross was made from mistletoe; or perhaps because druids allegedly used mistletoe in human sacrifices. So no mistletoe in the Christmas bride's bouquet, I'm afraid, pretty though it would be.

All best wishes to you, and to those you love, for the festive season.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Dan Cruickshank - The Secret History of Georgian London

I’d like to do something a little different this month—review a non-fiction text that wasn’t written by anyone on this blog, or their colleagues. But this book is so good, so useful to the student of the era that it’s almost a necessity.
Dan Cruickshank is an architectural historian. He was responsible for the wonderful TV series, “Around the World in 80 Treasures,” and several BBC series on the history of architecture. He’s a scholar with a very sound and solid background in the world of academe, but he wears his academic credits lightly. Most of all, he’s a brilliant communicator. On his TV series, he draws the viewer in with his combination of deep knowledge and breathless enthusiasm.
His approach is that of the “Marxist” history style, in which the people who actually built the structures and the specific and particular are as important as the people of power, who caused the buildings to be made. Since 1999, he’s been working on his epic “Secret Life of Georgian England,” and the book contains a fascinating mix of the particular and the general that makes for a wonderful read.
Author Sarah Mallory reminded  me of this book recently. I’d been meaning to buy it for some time, but it was on my Amazon wishlist for a while before I found it on offer at ASDA and took the plunge. I started reading it as soon as it arrived, and now at the end, I know it won’t be the last time I read it.
His basic premise is to show how the sex industry helped to build London in this era of massive rebuilding and development. London, already a large city in comparison to the other known cities on the globe, gained in size massively in the Georgian period (1727-1830). Great mansions were torn down and the space used to build the elegant Georgian terraces. The West End was developed inot the squares and streets still seen today. But this was an example of mass building projects and Cruickshank claims it was only because of the demand for reasonably priced terraces and the fact that attractive properties sold better. It’s a compelling argument.
The centre of the sex industry in Georgian England was Covent Garden. The Garden, originally laid out and imagined for the upper classes never caught on as such, but being near the theatres and other places of entertainment provided a good base for the brothels, bagnios and coffeehouses of the period.
Cruickshank starts his journey with Hogarth’s “Rake’s Progress,” a great series of paintings, long lost in a fire but known from the many engravings Hogarth bought and sold. Ostensibly a morality tale, they showed the wages of sin in detail, and one of the most well-known paintings in the series shows a scene in the Rose Tavern, a well-known Covent Garden brothel. Hogarth shows the scene in great detail, even depicting some of the characters of the time. The companion series, “The Harlot’s Progress” shows similar scenes, but not an orgy.
At about the same time, the most famous erotic novel of the time was released. “Fanny Hill” by John Cleland shows the progress of a harlot, but unlike the unhappy heroine of Hogarth’s series, Fanny has a happy ending as did many of the women of ill repute of the times.
The sex life of London encompassed many women, many careers. At its worst it led to the kind of sordid, disease-ridden life that ended in Bridewell or an anonymous death in the gutter. At its best, it led to leadership of a certain kind of London society, even in some cases respectability, although that was limited and very rare. It led to the growth of some of London’s suburbs, for example Hampstead Heath. Some of the demi mondaine patronised artists, giving them much-needed commissions.
The poorhouses and orphanages were partly populated by the offspring of a society where birth control was little understood and haphazard. Thomas Coram’s charitable institution at Great Ormond Street, recently opened to the public as a museum, contains tokens that the unfortunate women left with their children, pathetic reminders of a life spent when just to exist was a privilege.
Cruickshank brings all this to live and more, illuminating previously dark corners of London life, exploring and describing with a meticulous attention to detail and yet never losing sight of the overall picture.
For researchers and historians, this is an essential addition to the bookshelf. For the general reader, it’s a fascinating and brilliantly readable account of a little-explored part of London’s history.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

London Particular

As I look out of my office window, all I can see today is hoar frost and freezing fog. It looks very beautiful but also very cold – and very treacherous!

In the early nineteenth century it was the winter fog as much as the ice and snow that created problems for our forebears. The bad weather of 1813/1814 started with a dense fog that lay over London on the 27th December. Travelling was almost impossible. One of the Prince Regent’s outriders fell in a ditch at Kentish Town on a journey to visit the Marquis of Salisbury at Hatfield House. The entire party turned around and returned to Carlton House. Many hackney carriages veered off the road, the Maidenhead Coach overturned injuring several passengers and the Birmingham Mail could not get further than Uxbridge.

In November 1833, Richard Rush wrote of the London fogs:

“The fog was so thick that the shops in Bond Street had lights at noon. I could not see people in the street from my windows. I am tempted to ask, how the English became great with so little daylight? It seems not to come fully out until nine in the morning, and immediately after four it is gone.

On the 22nd of the month, accidents occurred all over London, from a remarkable fog. Carriages ran against each other, and persons were knocked down by them at the crossings. The whole gang of thieves seemed to be let loose. After perpetrating their deeds, they eluded detection by darting into the fog. It was of an opake, dingy yellow. Torches were used as guides to carriages at mid-day, but gave scarcely any light through the fog. I went out for a few minutes. It was dismal.”

The combination of poor weather and the smoke from coal fires created the “London Particular.” Thick shrouds of black fog could envelop London for days and weeks. The fogs were dangerous for Londoners and hundreds died of asthma and other breathing difficulties caused by the condition. Dickens used the phrase “London Particular” in Bleak House to describe the fog and in 1871 a correspondent from the New York Times described “a fog of the consistency of pea soup.” Pea soup was subsequently re-named as “London Particular” in a rare example of soup imitating life!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Value of a Posed Portrait

by Monica Fairview

I’ll admit this isn’t a subject I’ve given much thought to until lately. I was reading David Noke’s biography of Jane Austen when I came across a portrayal of Jane’s brother Edward, who was adopted into the aristocratic Knight family. Nokes describes Edward's process of integration into his adopted home as gradually became so complete that by the time Edward was twenty-one and doing the Grand Tour, he was “effortlessly affecting an aristocratic cross-legged pose, leaning nonchalantly on his walking-cane with a classical carving at his feet."

I wondered as I viewed the portrait how much a pose such as this contributed to Jane Austen's imaginary Mr Darcy.
Which got me thinking about poses and the whole culture of portraiture as such – so unlike the flash photography of today, which creates instantaneous images. The whole idea of portraiture is that it gives you time to “assemble yourself,” to create your own image, so to speak, or to be “assembled” by others, as for example Emma does with Harriet Smith. Harriet Smith is the “natural” daughter of an unknown family. As part of her attempt to make her appear more eligible to marry Mr Elton, Emma draws a portrait of her as a "standing memorial": "a little improvement to the figure, to give a little more height, and considerably more elegance." Of course, it backfires, because Mr Elton is more interested in the artist than in the subject of the painting.

In my novel, The Darcy Cousins, I have a scene in which Georgiana Darcy goes to Plymouth to catch a sight of Napoleon on board the Bellerophon. Of course hundreds of people gathered around the ship and artists rushed to take advantage of the rare opportunity to paint him. Napoleaon, quite willing to play the game, would grace people with half hour appearances. I was interested to compare his pose in the well known portrait by Eastlake with his earlier far more collected pose, the Hand-in-Waistcoat pose for which he is famous. The pose can also be called the Imperial pose, as it is based on the hand-in-toga Classical sculpture.

Note how on board the ship he has given up the Imperial pose in favour of a much more nonchalant aristocratic type of pose. But it's also striking that in all three portraits the left arm is hanging down while the right is bent -- as if that all too casual hanging arm must be counteracted by a suggestion of activity.

Speaking of images, by the way, it is apparently an “urban myth” (?) that Napoleon was short. The myth is based on his measured height of 5 foot 2 inches. However, this measurement uses the French foot, not the standard English measurement. He was actually average height, but generally looked short compared to his Imperial Guard because they had a basic height requirement of 5 foot 10 (French) -- the equivalent of 6 foot 2 inches. In this case, choosing to be surrounded by others who were much taller than him was a mistake serious enough to have him written into history as a short man!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Snowy Romance

Hi everyone. With the current icy weather sweeping the UK I remembered putting a very snowy scene in my slightly supernatural tale, MOONSHADOWS, so I thought I would share it with you.To set the scene, Jez is travelling back from a business appointment in the Midlands with Piers, her devastatingly attractive boss. Despite their mutual attraction she is determined to be faithful to her boyfriend. However, there is someone else - or something - also atracted to Jez.....

The volume of traffic in the town was keeping the roads clear, but by the time they reached the motorway it was snowing hard, thick flakes flying towards them and building into a white frame on the edges of the windscreen. The traffic slowed to a crawl. Piers tuned the radio to the traffic reports.
“Heavy snow falling in the Midlands… M69 closed north of Coventry… M1 closed north of junction 20… A46 southbound blocked by a jack-knifed lorry…motorists are advised to avoid the area for the next few hours…”
“Sounds as if everything’s coming to a standstill.” Piers leaned forward, staring out at the swirling snow which was now beginning to coat the road signs. “We’re approaching a junction. I think we should get off the motorway while we can. We could be snarled up in traffic for hours. What do you think?”
“Whatever you say—I don’t know this area very well.”
He pulled onto a slip road and headed off the motorway.
Jez peered out of the window. “Where are we going?”
Piers did not answer immediately, for the car hit a patch of ice and he fought to stop it careering into the bank. Not wanting to distract him, she did not repeat her question. As they drove away from the motorway, the roads were almost deserted and soon they were driving through an unfamiliar white landscape.
“I’m heading for the Manor. It’s only a few miles from here, and I think we should get off the road until the weather improves.”
She stared at the white verges, where the snow was beginning to pile up. “No chance of that for a while, I think.”
Piers turned on the radio again, but the weather reports were not encouraging. Snow was forecast for several hours, strong north easterly winds, drifting. Jez kept her eyes fixed on the snow-covered road and wondered how Piers could find his way. The sports car slewed occasionally on the slippery roads, and she reluctantly admired his skill in keeping the powerful engine in check. The snow was beginning to build up on the road itself, forming deep drifts against any obstacle. She began to fear that the low Aston Martin would soon find it impossible to get through.
“Here we are.”
She looked up and saw the lights of the Manor shining through the trees ahead of them. They slid into the drive and crawled towards the hotel.
“Shall I drop you at the door?”
“No, let’s park and I’ll walk back with you—if you stop on this you might not get going again.”
Once they had parked, Jez climbed out of the car and pulled up her collar against the chill wind as Piers collected her luggage, then they set off towards the welcoming lights of the entrance. Her heels slipped on the icy ground and she instinctively put out her hand. Piers took her arm and walked her quickly across to the entrance. As they entered the hotel she felt her face glowing in the sudden heat. Piers put down the bags, grinning at her as he pulled off his gloves.
“I didn’t like to say anything back there, but we came very close to getting stuck a couple of times.”
“I know. And I was beginning to think we were lost. I didn’t see a road sign for miles. Lucky you know this road so well.”
“Come on, let’s get cleaned up.” He lifted an eyebrow. “One room or two?”
“Two,” she said firmly.
She watched as he spoke to the receptionist. She felt an almost physical blow as she realised again just how attractive he was. His black hair was gleaming with melted snow and the turned-up collar of his dark coat gave him the look of an adventurer. A buccaneer, she thought, or latter-day pirate…
Down, girl! she told herself. You’re on dangerous ground. She hoped Piers could not read her thoughts as he turned to speak to her.
“Do you mind a room in the old wing? It’s all they have left.”
The receptionist was eager to explain. “A lot of our guests should have been leaving tonight but unfortunately, due to the snow, they can’t get away…”
“No, no, that will be fine. I was in the old part of the house last time—” she broke off, blushing, and was grateful that Piers appeared not to notice.
He picked up her bag, glancing at her key. “Room forty-six. Come on then, I’ll drop you off. My suite is at the end of that corridor.”
“Hang on—if they’re so busy, how did you manage to get a suite?”
He grinned and leaned closer to say quietly, “I told you, I own the place. Come on.”
When they reached room forty-six he unlocked the door and carried her bag into the room.
“Hmm, a bit small—are you sure you don’t want to share mine?”
“It’s fine.” She took her bag and gave him a push towards the door. “Go and have a cold shower, Piers.”
He grinned. “I’ve booked dinner for nine, that suit you? Good. I’ll call for you at eight thirty.”
Jez shut the door, smiling. How easily they slipped into this bantering. He found her attractive and it showed—she might not be able to reciprocate, but she was human enough to be flattered. She thought of him now as a friend, and as long as the banter did not get out of hand she could relax in his company.
She glanced at her watch: time for a shower and a change of clothes. The little bathroom was cramped, the obligatory en-suite built into the bedroom. This was obviously one of the smaller rooms, used only when everything else had been taken. The wall panelling was probably original and the faded velvet drapes were in need of replacing. Even the lighting was substandard, with the lights by the bed and over the mirror not working at all. She grinned. She’d complain to the management—better still, the owner.

After showering, Jez pulled on the heavy towelling bathrobe she found hanging on the bathroom door. She took off the shower cap and shook out her hair. It was still damp from the snow and curled wildly about her head. She suddenly remembered Kate’s comment about pre-Raphaelite tresses—perhaps she would drag a comb through it and leave it loose tonight.
Jez yawned, suddenly feeling very tired. It had been a very long day. She walked to the window to pull the curtains but stood for a moment, her head resting against the wooden frame, watching the snow. It was still falling heavily, large feathery flakes hurtling against the window before being whipped away by the blustery wind that moaned around the old building. The movement was relaxing, mesmerising.
Suddenly, Jez was aware that she was not alone. Someone was behind her, very close, and the subtle smell of sandalwood filled her senses. A hand stole around her waist.
“Oh Piers, I thought we had agreed.” She could not resist him. With her eyes still closed, she tilted her head back, silently willing him to kiss her neck. His lips were gentle on her skin, the merest touch. The bathrobe fell open and she gave a long, shuddering sigh as his hand moved up to caress her breasts.
“No, no don’t.”
“You know you want me.” The words were a whisper, almost inaudible, close to her ear. “Don’t fight me, I’ll never let you go now. Ah, Sarah, Sarah.”
Jez started. She opened her eyes and for a moment stood rigid, a cold chill running down her spine.
“Piers?” She forced herself to turn around.
The room was empty.
She pulled the bathrobe around her and tied the belt in a knot, trying to control the shivering.
“Where are you? Who are you?” she whispered, her eyes straining to pick out the slightest movement, the faintest shadow.
The room was empty, but she did not feel alone. Her words echoed around the room, unnaturally loud, bouncing off the panelled walls. She slumped on the bed and reached for the telephone. Dead. Jez forced her trembling legs to move and stumbled to the door, but it resisted her attempts to open it. She took a deep breath. She must not panic. She dare not lose control. Slowly she tried the door again, but still it would not open.
“This fear is in me,” she said aloud. “This is my imagination. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
Had she heard it? Perhaps it was just the wind outside. She felt a draught on her face, as though something had come close, disturbing the air around her. Suddenly she wanted to be out of that room. She banged on the door with her fists.
“Help! Anyone—help!” She hammered and kicked the door, screaming. In her distress she did not hear the footsteps in the corridor, or the voices.
“Someone in that room, sir? Yes, I’ve a master key—but it’s not locked. I can’t open it, they must be leaning against the door—”
“Jez? Move away from the door. Jez—”
She was crouched against the door, sobbing with fear. Someone was pushing at the door, trying to get into the room.
“Jez, we can’t open the door unless you move away. Move back.”
She shifted slightly and the door opened wider, enough for someone to enter. Piers was the first through the gap, dragging her out of the way to allow two hotel porters to follow him. They stood in the doorway, looking anxiously down at her.
After a quick glance around the room, Piers nodded at them. “It’s all right. I’ll handle this now. Thanks.”
The men hovered, looking concerned. “Perhaps we should get a doctor…”
Kneeling beside Jessica, he shook his head impatiently.
“Do you think you’ll get anyone to come out in this weather? She’s fainted, that’s all. I’ll take care of her. You can go.” He waited until they had left the room, then said softly, “Jez. Jez, it’s all right, I’m here. Come on now.” He lifted her to her feet.
“There was someone here—I thought it was… He t-touched me, c-couldn’t open the door—” She was shaking uncontrollably.
“No-one’s here, love, only me.”
She stared at him for a long time, unable to focus. Then gradually recognition returned and she clung to him, sobbing.

Samhain Publishing

This was a bit of wish fulfillment-I have always wanted a Piers to rescue me (in fact, when I was walking home through the snow on Wednesday night I would have loved him to come along!). However, I am not sure I would want the haunting....

Sarah Mallory / Melinda Hammond

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Latest Loveday Publication

Writing the Loveday series has been a dream beyond my wildest expectations. For eleven years and eleven novels I have lived and breathed this family’s passions, adventures, romances and conflicts. I have loved every minute of it. The series certainly tested my creativity and ingenuity to avoid similarities in so many characters or repetition of plots and settings. The chronological order of the novels covered over twenty years of wars, sea-battles, romantic escapes, rivalries, political intrigue, social upheaval and close encounters on both sides of the law and the inevitable consequences. During my research and writing I have experienced a roller-coaster ride through the exciting times of the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Within every novel characters, although driven by their motivation and passions, have to develop and are changed by their experiences. The eleven novels have allowed me to cover the historical and social dramas of events in Cornwall and London as well as those in France, America and the newly founded colony in Sydney cove.

My greatest challenge to date was the development of Rowena Loveday who was born in the first book of the series. In THE LOVEDAY VENDETTA she is seventeen. Throughout her childhood she had been defiant and wilful and undoubtedly spoilt by her doting father. She was mischievous and often resentful of her wealthy cousins that provoked her into jealous rages and causing trouble amongst her siblings. Whilst this made great drama in her younger years, by the time she is a young woman and about to take her place as the heroine in the latest novel, she was not the most sympathetic of characters. To her credit was that her childhood had been difficult and she had had to face more traumas than her cousins. I loved her spirit that refused to be cowed or defeated, but as an adult for her to win the empathy of the readers, I had to get into her psyche as she battled to win respect and overcome the prejudices of her past and the misunderstandings that had surrounded the dramas she had created.

I did this by allowing the reader to understand her suffering and her desire to win the respect of her family and prove herself equal in blood and honour to her family.
Here is an extract when she pours out her heart and need for acceptance in a letter to her dead father. This was a device I used sparingly but I hope you agree that it enabled the reader to understand this complex woman.
May Day Eve 1805
Dearest Papa,
Why did you leave me? Was my love not enough? Or was I to blame? Was I too like Mama and you could not look at me and not see her betrayal? These questions scream in my head and you were the only one who could answer them. What could I have done to stop you taking your life? I should have been a better daughter. I thought everything would remain the same forever, that you had not a care in the world. Or was that the drink making you deny how close we were to ruin. Were those, older and wiser than myself, who should have seen what was happening too wrapped up in their own lives to disregard the obsession that destroyed you? I, who loved you, thought you infallible. But they should have seen your pain. They betrayed you and I cannot forgive them.
At your death my world crumbled. What did new dresses and a fine house mean then? They were nothing without you. Oh, Papa, I need you so much. Everyone is against me. They do not look at me and see Rowena they see Meriel. I am cursed with my mother’s looks but it is not her blood than burns through my veins. It is yours, which drives me to prove that I am a Loveday – that my wildness is the heritage of men who would be conquerors, who rule their lives as they ruled the sea as buccaneers. I am proud to be a Loveday. Why will others not see beneath the image of my mother to the heart of Rowena?
I am condemned for sins that were not mine. Not that I could blame you, Papa. If I had not been conceived you would not have been forced to wed a tavern wench. Did you also blame my birth for ruining your life, Papa? Is that why you found more pleasure away from our home than within it?
I was so angry when you died, Papa. I hated everyone. What had they done to save you? I wanted them to pay for their arrogance. I was an embarrassment to them. A reminder of all they wanted to forget.
They sent me away to school so that they did not have to trouble themselves over me. Only you would have understood, Papa. Only you truly loved me. Why did you forsake me, Papa? Why did even you not love me enough to throw off the shackles of convention so that we could start a new life elsewhere?
When will this pain of missing you end? How can I show you that I am a worthy child of your blood?
Your devoted daughter

The handwriting with its extravagant flourishes and twirls ran together where Rowena’s tears had fallen on the paper. This was the only way she could release her pain. The only way she could try and find an answer. The only way she could pretend that her father was still close to her and could be proud that she could redeem the honour of their name.
She closed her eyes willing answers to come to her. The paper crinkled in her hand as tension ripped through her. The silence tore at her heart. No answers whispered in her ear. She was again forsaken. Then following the ritual she always performed at these times she touched the corner of the paper to the candle flame and watched it
devour the words wrenched from her heart. At the last moment before her fingers were burned she dropped the paper into a bronze bowl and stared at it until the flames died down and only ashes remained. She ground these to a fine dust with a wooden pestle, and then opening the window allowed them to drift on the breeze. With them went her simple prayer that they would travel through the ether to the afterlife, the words conveyed to her father. It was important that he would understand and not judge her.
No one else would witness the depths of her turmoil. Her pride would not allow her torment to be known. The words were the essence of her soul, her conscience, her way to make sense of all she had lost and to prove that she was not her mother’s spawn, she was her father’s daughter.

THE LOVEDAY VENDETTA is published in paperback by Headline on 9th December

I wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and enjoy the snow while remaining safe and warm.

Kate Tremayne

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Guest blogger - Hazel Statham

We'd like to welcome Hazel Statham to the blog today.

Thank you so much, ladies, for inviting me once more onto you blog. Previously, my visit coincided with the publication of LIZZIE’S RAKE, but now I’m touring to promote my new Avalon release, THE PORTRAIT.

Inspiration for THE PORTRAIT came to me from a song whilst watching the film ‘Hawks’, which is the story of two young men dying of cancer, but determined to enjoy life whilst they can. In the song, the singer utters the words ‘I want to be the man that you think I am’, which, in the theme of the film, translates into wishing he was strong and healthy for his girlfriend’s sake. I took that thought and translated it into a hero returning from war with devastating wounds.

When he had joined the ranks of those fighting against Napoleon, Edward Thurston, the new Earl of Sinclair, had recently entered into an arranged betrothed with Lady Jennifer Lynton, but a cannonball wreaked such damage on his noble frame that he had no desire to continue with the marriage. In other words, he wanted to be the man she thought he was, not the wreck he perceived himself to have become.

However, during the campaigns, it was seen that he relied greatly on a miniature he carried and it was to this he clung during his time spent recovering in a convent on the Portuguese border.

For differing reasons, Lady Jennifer had also decided to end the engagement. She felt slighted that Edward’s letters had been impersonal with little but trivialities in their content. Why should she trot down the isle with a man she hardly knew and made no attempt to inform her of his injuries?

Will Edward find happiness with the girl in the portrait or will he stay firm in his resolve not to wed? His head dictates on course, his heart another!

If you have time, please read an excerpt at the link below

Regards to all,

Hazel Statham

Hazel Statham lives in England and has been writing on and off since she was fifteen. Initially she was influenced by Austen, the Brontës, and Sabatini but when she turned seventeen, Georgette Heyer opened up the romance and elegance of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She immediately knew she had found her eras and wanted nothing more than to re-create them in her work.
Her latest book is the Regency romance novel, The Portrait, released by Avalon Books in August 2010.
Hazel lives with her husband, Terry, and a beautiful Labrador named Mollie. Apart from writing, her other ruling passion is animals, and until recently she acted as treasurer for an organization that raised money for animal charities.
You can visit her online at and her blog at

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Genteel Occupations for the Regency Lady

With two books out in December, both of which have heroines who start out as well-behaved young ladies (even if that doesn't last long!) I was interested to see how they could pass their time when they were not being romanced by dashing cavalry officers (The Officer & the Proper Lady) or mysterious adventurers (Innocent Courtesan to Adventurer's Bride).

Writing letters was a major occupation every day and with numerous postal deliveries in London messages could be exchanged with almost modern speed. This charming lady (Ackermann 1813) is wearing morning dress and a pretty cap while she catches up with her correspondence.

Reading was another unexceptional pastime - provided the book wasn't one of those shocking Minerva press novels - and so much the better if it could be combined with a healthy walk in the countryside. The lady engrossed in her book is from Journal des Dames et des Modes (1811). Perhaps she's reading sermons, but somehow I doubt it.

Every young lady was supposed to be proficient at sketching and to record charming scenes with pencil or watercolours. This rather rakish young lady is another from the Journal, this time 1801. Her expression suggests something more interesting than a stll life - I wonder if she is drawing a gentleman?

The scene below from a memorandum book of 1805 is certainly more proper. Two very smartly dressed ladies have called to see their friend engaged in painting another friend's portrait.

Memorandum books often showed charming groups of ladies engaged in fashionable pursuits. Proficiency at music was considered even more important than drawing and here there is both a harp and a pianoforte (1805). I think the friends are planning their music for an evening reception - perhaps the one leaning on the piano is agreeing what she will sing with the pianist while the lady with the harp - a more elegant and expensive instrument to learn - looks on. No doubt they are hoping that eligible young gentlemen will join in duets or turn the music for them.

Craft work was also considered a suitable occupation for a lady. One might make a reticule, create a scrap-covered screen, grow ferns on the windowsill or net a snood for your hair.

An interest in natural history was unexceptional - shells and coral were collected and seaweed pressed to make pictures.

Very adventurous ladies might create a shell grotto in the garden or turn a summerhouse into an "Alpine" cabin with pine cones. These friends from another memorandum book of 1805 are admiring a collection of shells and corals which look very exotic and probably, expensive. Or did a relative in the navy or the East India Company collect them and send them back to be marvelled over?

Louise Allen

The Witch Child

First I would like to tell you about something I consider quite daring for me. I have put a book into Kindle myself. I wasn't sure I could do it but I had an MS of my very first published book, which Robert Hale published in 1980. I've had the rights for years but never done anything with it. Then I read about Amazon's new policy for authors, which is much fairer than it used to be and decided to have a go. I didn't have a cover so I used a photo of my garden, a little secret summerhouse, which is actually quite apt for the book. I have published it under Linda Sole and it is now up at You just go to kindle then put Linda Sole in and it is there for sale. The picture above is the one you will see and I feel quite chuffed. This is an experiement but if people buy the book I intend to publish some previously unpublished books that are too long for my publishers and rather different. So fingers crossed there will be some interest.

She was beautiful. She was wicked. She was wanton. And she drove men mad with desire! But to love her was to court death or despair. She was the Witch Child…

Now read the latest in the Regency Lady's letters.

From Lady Horation Melton to her mother

Dearest Mama

It is with great relief that I write to tell you that my brother is at last feeling a little better in himself. For a while I feared that he might succumb to his illness but he begged me not to worry you. Now he asks that you will visit him when our sister can spare you.

I had a letter from Melton asking me to return but refused him on the grounds that I could not leave Robert while he was so ill. Once you are free to visit I may return to London briefly, but I must tell you, Mama, I have grave doubts about my marriage. I believe it must come to an end soon for neither of us is happy. Robert has offered me a home here and I may take him at his word. I cannot say for sure, because I have thought of going abroad. Please try not to be too shocked or upset. I know you believe it is a wife's duty to obey her husband in all things but I no longer feel able to do this. There was never true love in the marriage and now there is no longer respect.

Please do not lecture me for my mind is made up.

Your affectionate daughter.

From Lady Horatia to her lover

My dearest One

At last Robert is feeling better. He asks that you visit soon, because he wishes to meet you. He has given me his blessing in the matter of our affair and I have made up my mind that I shall see Melton once more only, to tell him that our marriage is over. It will not be pleasant, for I fear he will try to stop me leaving him, but I am not afraid of him.

I long to see you. Do come soon.

Your adoring Horatia.

Friday, November 26, 2010

November 26th in Pride and Prejudice

In Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth goes touring to Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle they visit Pemberley and to Lizzy's horror she comes face to face with Mr Darcy. She's really embarrassed because she's turned down his marriage proposal and she is mortified at what he will think of her looking over his house and grounds. But, it's at this point in the book that Darcy starts to show that he's really taken notice of Elizabeth's criticisms of him and he makes an enormous effort to be extra civil and attentive to her and her relatives.

During the visit he introduces his sister Georgiana, and Lizzy discovers that Bingley is with him also. Her sister Jane is in love with Bingley, and been disappointed by him. Yet, it is very clear that he has not stopped thinking about Jane and this is proved when he remembers the exact date when he saw and danced with her last - November 26th.

Here's an extract from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice followed by one of my favourite scenes that takes place during the Derbyshire visit from the BBC Pride and Prejudice with that 'look' from Mr Darcy!

Jane Odiwe

 Miss Darcy and her brother appeared, and this formidable introduction took place. With astonishment did Elizabeth see that her new acquaintance was at least as much embarrassed as herself. Since her being at Lambton, she had heard that Miss Darcy was exceedingly proud; but the observation of a very few minutes convinced her that she was only exceedingly shy. She found it difficult to obtain even a word from her beyond a monosyllable.

   Miss Darcy was tall, and on a larger scale than Elizabeth; and, though little more than sixteen, her figure was formed, and her appearance womanly and graceful. She was less handsome than her brother; but there was sense and good-humour in her face, and her manners were perfectly unassuming and gentle. Elizabeth, who had expected to find in her as acute and unembarrassed an observer as ever Mr. Darcy had been, was much relieved by discerning such different feelings.

   They had not been long together before Darcy told her that Bingley was also coming to wait on her; and she had barely time to express her satisfaction, and prepare for such a visitor, when Bingley's quick step was heard on the stairs, and in a moment he entered the room. All Elizabeth's anger against him had been long done away; but had she still felt any, it could hardly have stood its ground against the unaffected cordiality with which he expressed himself on seeing her again. He inquired in a friendly, though general way, after her family, and looked and spoke with the same good-humoured ease that he had ever done.

   To Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner he was scarcely a less interesting personage than to herself. They had long wished to see him. The whole party before them, indeed, excited a lively attention. The suspicions which had just arisen of Mr. Darcy and their niece directed their observation towards each with an earnest though guarded inquiry; and they soon drew from those inquiries the full conviction that one of them at least knew what it was to love. Of the lady's sensations they remained a little in doubt; but that the gentleman was overflowing with admiration was evident enough.

   Elizabeth, on her side, had much to do. She wanted to ascertain the feelings of each of her visitors; she wanted to compose her own, and to make herself agreeable to all; and in the latter object, where she feared most to fail, she was most sure of success, for those to whom she endeavoured to give pleasure were prepossessed in her favour. Bingley was ready, Georgiana was eager, and Darcy determined, to be pleased. In seeing Bingley, her thoughts naturally flew to her sister; and oh! how ardently did she long to know whether any of his were directed in a like manner. Sometimes she could fancy that he talked less than on former occasions, and once or twice pleased herself with the notion that, as he looked at her, he was trying to trace a resemblance. But, though this might be imaginary, she could not be deceived as to his behaviour to Miss Darcy, who had been set up as a rival to Jane. No look appeared on either side that spoke particular regard. Nothing occurred between them that could justify the hopes of his sister. On this point she was soon satisfied; and two or three little circumstances occurred ere they parted, which, in her anxious interpretation, denoted a recollection of Jane not untinctured by tenderness, and a wish of saying more that might lead to the mention of her, had he dared. He observed to her, at a moment when the others were talking together, and in a tone which had something of real regret, that it "was a very long time since he had had the pleasure of seeing her;" and, before she could reply, he added, "It is above eight months. We have not met since the 26th of November, when we were all dancing together at Netherfield."

   Elizabeth was pleased to find his memory so exact; and he afterwards took occasion to ask her, when unattended to by any of the rest, whether all her sisters were at Longbourn. There was not much in the question, nor in the preceding remark; but there was a look and a manner which gave them meaning.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Killing Fields

The battle of Albuera in 1811 and the storming of Badajoz in 1812 were among the bloodiest engagements of the Peninsular War. Recently, I visited both sites on a Peninsular War tour.

In 1811, Badajoz was in French hands and, crucially, on the major southern route to Lisbon, essential for Wellington’s supplies and ammunition. He had failed to take it twice before. Then he learnt that Maréchal Soult was marching towards Badajoz with 24,000 men. It was a potential disaster. General Beresford was ordered to stop him at the village of Albuera.

Unfortunately, Beresford miscalculated Soult’s probable route and the British and Portuguese forces were taken by surprise. The carnage was appalling: 4000 Allied soldiers and 7000 French were killed. In places, the British forces were outnumbered three to one. Nevertheless, they held their nerve and, after a four hour blood-bath, the French retreated. The battlefield was christened the Fatal Hill. Later, Soult told Napoleon, ‘The day was mine yet they did not know it and would not run.’ A tribute indeed.

When Wellington arrived five days later, it was to find one famous regiment ‘literally lying dead in their ranks as they had stood’. The regiment did not have enough living men to bury the dead.

So, what happened to the wounded? The nearest military hospital was the tiny chapel of S. Joao in the strategically important fortress of Elvas over twenty miles away which Wellington used as a base. The hospital was woefully inadequate. The doctors did what they could but there were few means of getting the wounded there and scanty medical supplies. If their wounds did not kill them, then gangrene, dysentery and enteric fever probably would.

And the dead? We are used to seeing neat rows of military graves. In the 19th century, the war dead were stripped naked and buried in huge pits on the battlefield (their clothes were auctioned off). At Albuera, the pits were not always deep enough. A year later, Lieut. William Bragge visited the battle site and saw the ground white bones – the wolves and kites had had their fill.

The situation after the final successful storming of Badajoz in 1812 was even worse. A surgeon, visiting the main breach the following day, reported: ‘There lay a frightful heap of thirteen to fifteen hundred British soldiers, many dead but still warm, mixed with the desperately wounded, to whom no assistance could yet be given. There lay the burned and blackened corpses of those who had perished by the explosions, stiffening in the gore, body piled upon body…’

Rifleman John Kincaid has another haunting tale from Badajoz . He came across a young officer digging a grave for four of his fallen comrades when ‘an officer of the guards arrived on the spot from a distant division of the army, and demanded tidings of his brother, who was at that moment lying a naked lifeless corpse under his very eyes. The officer had the presence of mind to see that the corpse was not recognized, and, wishing to spare the other’s feelings, told him that his brother was dangerously wounded…’

In 2000, the Friends of the British Cemetery in Elvas was set up to repair the small neglected war cemetery in a bastion of the fort, together with the adjacent chapel, once the military hospital. Their excellent website explains the history. There are just five graves, three from the Peninsular War. Nobody knows where the thousands who died at Albuera and Badajoz are actually buried, but this quiet little cemetery has memorials to all the regiments that fought there. It is a peaceful and moving place.

Photographs: Top: Fatal Hill Albuera; centre: Badajoz, both taken by author; bottom: British war cemetery, Elvas, courtesy of

Elizabeth Hawksley

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Did Jane Austen have a Christmas tree?

Regency novels often avoid the inclusion of Christmas trees as the general belief is that Christmas trees only came to England with Prince Albert in the 1840s. However, Emma Austen Leigh, who was a niece of Jane Austen, kept a record of her Christmas gifts from 1813 – 1821, and the entry for 1818 is significant:

1818 By the tree (my bold italics)
Mamma – A thermometer
Aunt – An amethyst cross

This started me on a quest to discover details of the earliest Christmas tree in England. Here are the results of my research, but if anyone knows of any earlier trees, please leave a comment!

Working backwards from 1846, when this picture of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the London Illustrated Mail popularized the Christmas tree, we come to Christmas Eve 1832. The 13-year-old Princess Victoria wrote in her journal: "After dinner...we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room...There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees..."

But the Christmas tree can be traced to an earlier date, to the reign of Queen Caroline (1781-1812). A. J. Kempe, in The Loseley Manuscript, wrote: “We remember a German of the household of the late Queen Caroline at Windsor making what he termed a Christmas tree for a juvenile party at Christmas. The tree was the branch of an evergreen fixed on a board. Its boughs bent under the weight of gilt oranges, almonds etc and under it was a neat model of a farmhouse surrounded by figures of animals. The forming of a Christmas tree is, we believe, a common custom in Germany.”

Helen Rappoport, in Queen Victoria, A Biographical Companion, also talks of a Christmas tree being branches of a tree, rather than an entire tree, remarking that Queen Charlotte set up branches of yew tree decorated with candles and sweetmeats at Windsor in 1800.

It’s possible, then, that the early trees were only branches, although they were still called trees. However, this mention in 1789 – the first I can find, unless the incident "in the reign of Queen Caroline" noted above fell between 1781 and 1789 – leads me to believe that fully grown trees were known of by then, and treated as we now treat our Christmas trees:

"This Christmas (1789) Mr. Papendiek proposed an illuminated tree, according to the German fashion, but the Blagroves being at home for their fortnight, and the party at Mrs. Roach's for the holidays, I objected to it. Our eldest girl, Charlotte, being only six the 30th of this November, I thought our children too young to be amused at so much expense and trouble." - From Court and Private Life in the Time of Queen Charlotte (Wife of George III 1738-1820), being the Journals of Mrs. Papendiek.

Bringing a few branches into the house would hardly seem to consititute “so much expense and trouble” and so it seems to me likely that she was referring to a whole tree, or perhaps the top of a tall tree.

In my story in A Darcy Christmas, I left out any mention of a Christmas tree, but the next time I write a Regency Christmas story, I think I will include one!

Which brings me back to my first question, Did Jane Austen have a Christmas tree? And the answer, I think, is "possibly". We have no direct evidence that she did, but because we have evidence that they were known of in her family, I think it not unlikely.

Amanda Grange

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why don't all libraries have these?

I met a friend last week, one I hadn't seen for a while. I had sent her a copy of the RNA 50th Anniversary Anthology, Loves Me Loves Me Not. As most readers of this blog will know, it contains a whole range of stories, including Regency ones, so I'm not totally off topic here.

My friend said she had really enjoyed reading the stories. She passed the book on to her mother who loved it. The book was then passed to a friend, and the friend's friends, and so on. You can imagine that the book has really been doing the rounds over the last few months.

But the messages that came back to me were twofold. First, that it was a wonderful collection of stories and that everyone loved reading them. And second, that very few public libraries nowadays seemed to stock books like this -- collections of really enjoyable romantic short stories of the kind that appeal to all sorts of readers.

Needless to say, I advised my friend to tell everyone to pass that message back to their public libraries. How will we ever see more collections of short stories, especially romantic ones, if the public don't demand them?

And if you agree with me on this, please go out and demand more short story collections, both in libraries and from publishers. The authors on this blog, and loads of other authors too, would be only too ready to oblige, I'm sure.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thief Takers - and Their Unlacing of Innocent Misses!

I'm delighted to welcome Margaret McPhee to the guest spot to talk about Unlacing the Innocent Miss, the sixth of the Regency Silk and Scandal continuity. Margaret's dark and very Alpha hero, Wolf, is a thief-taker and here she shares some fascinating background to the story -

Before the second half of the eighteenth century there was no police detective force in existence. If victims of theft wanted the return of their stolen goods or the thief brought to justice they often resorted to offering a reward. This was done by word of mouth, by the local town crier, by the distribution of handbills to local pawnbrokers, or by advertising in newspapers. Thief-takers came into being to provide a service to meet this need.
In terms of catching thieves the reward was only paid if the suspect was convicted in a court of law by a magistrate, so thief-takers often obtained confessions to be used in evidence or traced character witnesses to speak against the suspect. Professional thief-takers therefore frequented magistrates' Public Offices and the court room itself.

A Corrupt and Dangerous World
The nature of thief-taking was a dangerous one, which necessitated working with criminals who could be violent in the extreme. Thief-takers straddled the polite world of the judicial system and the murky underworld of crime, with contacts in both.
The reward/compensation system was open to abuse and many thief-takers were corrupt (just as some magistrates were too). The infamous "Thief-taker General", Jonathan Wild, ran a profitable business claiming the rewards for the return of goods his gangs were responsible for stealing. Wild was hanged at Tyburn in 1725. A variety of new laws were passed in an attempt to counteract the corruption and it became a capital offence to accept a reward for assisting a person in the recovery of their stolen goods. Nevertheless thief-taking continued.

The Forerunners of Police Detectives
In 1748 the novelist, playwright and magistrate, Henry Fielding, took over the Bow Street Public Office and set about recruiting men who would detect and bring to justice the perpetrators of crime. Just like thief-takers, "Mr Fielding's People" earned their money mainly from the rewards offered by victims and the courts but the difference was that they were also paid a wage from the public purse. The wage was paltry but, in effect, its payment meant that Fielding's men were the first publicly funded thief-takers. They were the forerunners of what were to become known as the Bow Street Runners, the first London police detectives.
As well as runners, or detectives, the Bow Street Office developed a preventative police force in the form of a Foot Patrole and a Horse Patrole. In 1815, the time of Unlacing an Innocent Miss, there were a total of eight such police offices in London, each manned by three magistrates. This is in addition to the existing old traditional system of Parish policing, a large force that included beadles, constables and night watchmen. Parish police were in place to keep the peace rather than pursue thieves or recover stolen property. The constables were unpaid and were obliged to fulfill their parish duty.
In Unlacing the Innocent Miss, Will Wolversley, also known as Wolf, is a rugged ruthless thief-taker operating in London. When quiet and respectable dowager’s companion, Miss Rosalind Meadowfield, turns thief and escapes to Scotland, Wolf is sent to retrieve her.

Even though Bow Street Runners were in operation in the City at the time of the story Rosalind’s employer chooses not to use them because of the extreme sensitivity of the stolen item. He opts, instead, for a safer option and one with a better chance of success: Wolf.

Wolf has a reputation as the best thief-taker in the business. He and his sidekick, Campbell, are tough, strong men, both physically and mentally, with a network of shady connections within the criminal world, and, unlike their competitors in the profession, they are strictly not open to corruption. Wolf can afford to be picky about the cases he accepts and he charges a high price, which is, of course, only payable upon a successful recovery. He would have taken this particular case even were the reward not so very generous, for he is a man with good reason to despise women like Rosalind. But neither Wolf nor Rosalind has anticipated the attraction that ignites between them or the “unlacing” that is to come.

Thank you, Margaret, for a fascinating insight!

Louise Allen

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

People's Friend & Aspen Mountain Press

I'm delighted to be able to show you the first of my People's Friend books - the title was changed from 'Miss Shaw & The Doctor' to 'Your Tender Heart'. The cover and the new title have little to do with a Regency romance but D C Thomson know what their readers like so I'm sure it will appeal to them.
I would also like to tell you that I've just signed a contract with Aspen Mountain Press, for their new Regency line, Aurora. >Miss Peterson & The Colonel comes out in January. I've already seen the cover and it's lovely. I'm really excited to be part of this venture and hope to have two further Regency stories out next year as well.
Next time I talk to you I will have moved to a delightful riverside village in Essex called Wivenhoe. I'll post some pictures if I can work out how to download them from my camera.
All my novellas and five of my long books are available on Kindle now. I must buy myself a Kindle once I've moved.
Fenella Miller