Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Letters from A Regency Lady and news

First I want to share some exciting news. For at least the past month, which was when I discovered it, my book, The Lord's Forced Bride has been in the top ten or twenty of Kindle's historical romance. It is at number 4 as I write and has been as high as number two for short periods. It sometimes goes down and I think that it will drop and then bounces back. At the moment I am 282 highest paid in kindle - whatever that means - and usually about two thousand something it the lowest I get with any book, mostly much higher. I think the next best on the list is about ten thousand or so. While this may not mean a huge amount of money it is exciting to be up there.

I have to report that while I've been watching both Louise Allen and Mary Nichols have been in and out of the top twenty or ten of the top one hundred in Kindle. I think this is remarkable for romance books, but I hadn't taken much notice before so perhaps others are doing it all the time. I know I found it exciting.

Now read the latest in Lady Horatia's letters, this time a diary entry.

An entry in Lady Horatia’s diary

I cannot write this in a letter to anyone for my dearest Robert told me in confidence and I would not betray him for the world. Yet it is too hard to keep inside and so I must put down what he told me.

I understand now why he has been so ill and why for a time he did not seem to wish to recover. I suspected that Robert had been disappointed in love but it is so much worse, so painful that I can hardly bear to write the words.

Robert was and is in love, but the object of his affection was a chambermaid who worked at an inn, a girl of no breeding and little education. My brother tells me that she was the sweetest, kindest girl in the world and I believe him for he wept as he told me. He knew that to marry his darling Alice would mean that his mama would never forgive him. He would have received no further preferment in the army and might have been ostracised by his friends. It is his grief and his shame that he let these things weigh with him yet still embarked on a clandestine love affair with the girl. Even when she told him she was to have his child, my brother begged her to keep their secret, which she did until the last. When her employer at last discovered the truth she was dismissed. She went away and hid herself in shame telling only Robert where she lived. He visited her and promised to take care of her but his regiment was out of town when she gave birth, alone and in great distress.

Robert wept bitterly when he told me that on his return he went to visit her and found both Alice and the child dead. She had bled to death after the birth and the child died either at birth or soon after of neglect.

No man could bear such guilt. I do not wonder that my beloved brother was close to death when I reached him. Had I not pledged to stay with him I think he must have given up. I do not think that he will ever truly recover for how could he? His pain is mine and I feel his shame and his despair. He has told me that I must never do as he did, never hide my love for the person I wish to be with.

‘If you send him away and something should happen you will never forgive yourself,’ he told me as I held him while he wept out his sorrow and regret.

I shall write to my dearest love later. Robert’s story has broken my heart. For now I can write no more.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Day Out with Amanda Grange

Recently Amanda Grange and I had a lovely day out at Jane Austen's House Museum - don't you think we look very much at home? Jane Austen moved to Chawton, a large cottage on her brother Edward's estate in July 1809. It was possibly a former coaching inn at one time and in Jane's day was a busier place as coaches rumbled past the windows day and night. One of Jane's nieces remembered how comforting it was 'to have the awful stillness of night frequently broken by the sound of many passing carriages, which seemed sometimes even to shake the bed' - perhaps not a sentiment that would be enjoyed by many today. Jane Austen looked forward to the move. After her father's death in Bath, their circumstances had been greatly reduced and eventually they had moved to Southampton to live with one of the sailor brothers. An opportunity for a home of their own for the Austen women was not a chance to be passed up, and Jane looked forward to buying a piano again instead of renting one as she had had to do in Bath and Southampton. ' good a one as can be got for thirty guineas, and I will practise country dances, that we may have some amusement for our nephews and nieces, when we have the pleasure of their company.'
Jane's sister-in-law thought the rector of Chawton, Mr Papillon, might be a suitable marriage prospect for Jane. In a letter Jane joked about it in typical fashion - 'depend upon it that I will marry Mr Papillon, whatever may be his reluctance or mine.'

Jane and her sister Cassandra became increasingly responsible for running the household. Mrs Austen devoted herself to the garden and needlework. When the sisters were at home it was Jane's responsibility to make the breakfast and to order tea, sugar and look after the wine stores. When Jane came down in the morning she would start the day with practising on her piano so as not to disturb the others later on. She would then put the kettle on and make the breakfast. Cassandra took care of all the other household chores giving Jane invaluable time to write. It was at Chawton that she started to revise the books she had already written - Elinor and Marianne, which became Sense and Sensibility, and First Impressions, which became Pride and Prejudice. Though callers could see her writing through the window a creaky door gave her warning when anyone was about to enter the room. She would cover her work and was able to keep her writing secret.
The house remains largely unchanged today. It is still possible to wander through the sitting room, dining room and bedrooms where Jane walked and worked, and to see examples of clothing and jewellery that belonged to her. Recently, the kitchen has been renovated, and there is a new bookshop which sells not only a wonderful selection of books, but lots of other momentoes and souvenirs.
Walking through the village gives a sense of going back in time, and a walk to the 'Great House' where her brother Edward and his family lived must have very similar views to the ones back then with old cottages lining the road. At the church you can find the graves of Jane's sister and mother. I always feel it's rather sad that Jane is buried in Winchester away from them and far from the place that she loved.
We had a lovely day out - it's a place I never tire of going to see! There are more pictures on my blog Jane Odiwe

Jane Odiwe

Friday, October 22, 2010

That First Chapter

I’ve just returned from the Historical Novel Society conference in Manchester where I gave a workshop on The First Chapter – how to hook your readers. We all know how important the opening chapter is and I’m sure I’m not the only writer to wrestle with it.

Taking a workshop is always a bit alarming to begin with. I knew eleven people had booked but there might be more. And – awful thought – would that include a fully-paid-up member of the Awkward Squad? It can happen. In the event, I had eighteen delightful people, including our very own Sarah Mallory – whom I’m sure didn’t need any instruction in the subject - but it was great to have her there.

We looked at five points which I thought were important:
a) Introduce the main characters and what’s at stake for them
b) Set up your plot lines
c) Make sure you have a number of hooks
d) Start at a point where something is about to happen
e) Get the story going immediately

The reader’s natural instinct is to become involved with the first character they meet and to become involved with his or her problems. It’s our job as writers to give them the sort of problems where they can do just that: a destitute heroine facing an uncertain future; a hero dangerously involved in spying against Napoleon, say. Both need a quest, something they need to learn during the course of the novel.

Then there’s plot. A lot of aspiring writers have problems with this. It is not the same thing as a series of events. Plot is where actions have consequences, frequently emotional. Miss Anne Elliot meets naval captain does not constitute a plot-line; however, Miss Anne Elliot re-meets naval captain to whom she was once engaged and whom she still loves is another matter! Clearly, there's some unfinished business here.

Several people in my workshop weren’t clear what ‘hooks’ were. A hook is something which leaves the reader gasping, ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen now?’ Darcy denigrating Elizabeth at the Netherfield Ball is not, in itself, a hook. What makes it a hook is that Lizzie overhears him. Actions have consequences again.

My guess is that many of us have problems with points five and six. It’s all too easy to waffle on for several pages before getting on with the story. Jane Austen should be our guide here. She doesn’t open Pride and Prejudice with the back story of Mr Collins and the entail, she opens with the news that Netherfield Hall is being let to an eligible bachelor who has an even more eligible friend as a house guest; exciting news for a family with five unmarried daughters. Instantly, we are hooked.

My workshop went well. Everyone joined in and there was a lot of animated discussion. I emerged exhausted (taking a workshop can be draining emotionally) but also elated and, ultimately, re-energized.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fabulous week

For the most part, my life is very ordinary but now and again I get away from the computer and have some fun. Last Tuesday I went to dinner at the Reform Club, hosted by the wonderful Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks. It gave all the UK Sourcebooks authors a chance to meet and chat, and of course to eat, drink and take photos! Here I am (in the middle) with fellow bloggers Jane Odiwe (left) and Monica Fairview.

And here I am with Dominique and a certain Mr Darcy, Vampyre!

The following day, Jane and I went to the Chawton House Jane Austen Museum, "Home of England's Jane", where we were treated like royalty by the lovely Ann, Louise and Jo. Here I am signing some of my books.

The museum is fascinating and well worth a visit. It's wonderful to stand in the rooms where Jane stood and to walk around the garden she knew. The house itself is lovely, I could happily live there! But it's all the small touches that make it so wonderful: the amber crosses in a drawer, the lock of Jane's hair, as well as all the furniture that has been assembled to show the type of furnishings Jane would have known. The bed in particular set Jane (Jane Odiwe and not Jane Austen!) and I talking, with all its tenting. I didn't take a photo because the things are delicate but I recommend you go and see it for yourself.

There's a cafe just over the road from the museum and also a pub so it's easy to make a day of it, and the house isn't hard to reach. It's just over an hour from Waterloo to Alton, and then a short taxi ride or bus ride or about a 45 minute walk to the museum itself.

Then on Thursday it was off to the RAF club for the RNA "Fabulous at Fifty" lunch. It was wonderful to be a part of the association's fiftieth year celebrations. Here's to the next 50 years!

Now it's back to work. But some breaking book news before I go. A Darcy Christmas is out now in the US and it will be out in the UK at the end of November. Wickham's Diary (a novella) will be out in April and Henry Tilney's Diary will be out in May. So plenty there to amuse you, I hope! Meanwhile, I'm getting on with a new book to keep you entertained into 2012 and beyond!

Amanda Grange

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In The Clink

I seem to have spent a lot of time in and around prisons lately - and I haven't done anything to deserve it, honestly officer!

Being thrown in prison was not, in itself, intended as the punishment in Georgian times. Instead it was a method of holding prisoners until they were brought to trial or until their punishment was carried out, whether it was flogging, the pillory, hanging or deportation.

The print on the right (Pyne, 1805) shows a pillory designed to hold several men. This could be a horrendous punishment - if the crowd turned against the helpless prisoner they would often stone them and deaths were not unheard of.

The Clink - the prison that gave us one of the slang names for a gaol - has long gone, destroyed in the Gordon Riots of 1780. It was one of the oldest, set up by the Bishops of Winchester in their enclave in Southwark and Clink Street is still there, close to the river.

In the City you can find the sites of three notorious prisons very close together - Bridewell, the Fleet and Newgate. Bridewell, whose footprint is preserved by Bridewell Place off New Bridge Street, began life as a Tudor palace but soon began its downward slide into a prison for vagrants, disorderly women and similar petty criminals and was finally closed in 1855. The name lived on as a generic term for a local prison for that type of criminal.

New Bridge Street leads to Ludgate Circus. From there, as you climb Ludgate Hill towards St Paul's it is worth glancing up Limeburner Lane, the first street on the left. This follows the south-eastern boundary of the Fleet Prison and the curving modern bronze-faced building you can see on the left hand side shows the exact shape of the Fleet Prison’s walls at this point. The prison dated back to the 12thc. The conditions were dreadful, even after it was rebuilt in the 1780s, and a succession of parliamentary committees called for reform to no avail. It was finally closed in 1842. “Fleet marriages” by clergymen imprisoned there for debt were performed until Hardwicke’s Marriage Act in 1753 made them illegal.

A little further up Ludgate Hill and you can turn into the Old Bailey. The Central Criminal Courts were built here in 1902 on the site of Newgate Prison. There was a prison here from at least the 12thc and a new one was built in 1770-8 but it was severely damaged when 300 prisoners escaped during the Gordon Riots. It was rebuilt in 1793 and a triangular area opened up in front of it that is still there today. This allowed for better accommodation for public hangings which were transferred here from Tyburn in 1783. The area was packed with spectators during executions, many of whom paid premium prices for views from windows overlooking the area. The print on the right, from Ackermann's Repository (1814) shows it looking imposing but not particularly terrible, with the bustling street scene outside. But Henry Fielding called Newgate “a prototype of hell” and the posies of flowers that the judges at the Central Criminal Courts still carry on occasion are a reminder of the appalling stench of the place.
All these prisons are long gone - although you can see a door from Newgate in the Museum of London - but old cells do survive all over the country.

The photograph on the left shows the Old Gaol House in King's Lynn, rather incongruously decorated for Open House Weekend. The design of the doorway, with its shackles, was copied in miniature from Newgate.

Down below is the old prison yard with cells still intact.

On the doors are carved pictures of ships, left there by prisoners who must have been sailors or worked on the busy quayside, dreaming perhaps of escape back to sea from the stench and terror of the cells.

Louise Allen

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hi Everyone, and apologies for being late to blog this month. I got overtaken by the RNA celebration for the launch of the RNA Memoir, Fabulous at Fifty.

But I have my own launch to celebrate. For once, I'm showing you the full cover of my November book, because I think the snow scene on the back cover is exactly right for the mood of my mistletoe lovers. And as you'll see from the opening extract below, the weather for their first encounter is very far from kind, even though it is almost Christmas.


It was cold. So very cold.

Sharp icy fingers were probing into the hidden crevices of her clothing and scratching at every inch of exposed skin. The sleet-laden wind was whipping across her cheeks like scouring sand, rubbing them raw. Every breath was a torment to her aching lungs.

But she had no choice. She must go on. Away from all those pointing fingers. To somewhere safe, somewhere she could breathe again.

She had no idea where she was or where this lonely rutted path might lead. She raised her chin to peer ahead, brushing aside the wet strings of her hair and screwing up her eyes against the sleet in an attempt to see her way. Overhanging trees, mostly naked against the onset of winter; an under-layer of shrubs, some evergreen, but most of them bare and soggy black in the storm; a sodden path strewn with drifts of dead leaves that would soon be swallowed up by the deep, oozing mud. And beyond the trees, the path led into darkness.

She shivered, drew her thin shawl tighter around her shoulders and bent her head against the keening wind. If she stopped now, here, alone, the weather would win their unequal battle. She was not ready to yield. Not yet.

She plodded on, forcing herself to lift her weary feet, one step, then another, trying to ignore the freezing water in her boots and the squelching of the mud as it tried to hold her fast and suck her down. She was so very tired. If only—

For a second, the wind changed and whipped at her skirts from behind. She saw— No, she fancied she saw a simple fence, of posts and rails, of the kind that might border a country road, but it was gone in the blink of an eye. No matter how much she strained, she could not find it again. She had probably seen only what she longed to see: some sign of human habitation, of human warmth, of hope.

There was no hope.

The last light of the short December day was almost gone. Soon she would be alone, in the dark, in this strange wooded place, on a path that led to nowhere. Why on earth had she followed it?

At the time, it had seemed the most sensible course. What else could a woman do, abandoned at a lonely crossroads by the coach driver who had taken her up?

She had travelled many miles with him, naively believing that he was helping her out of the goodness of his heart. In truth, he was merely waiting to bring her to a suitably lonely place, where he could present his ultimatum: her money, or her person. Once he discovered that she had neither money in her pocket nor any willingness to pay him in kind, his bluff good nature had vanished. He had brought her even further from any chance of rescue, and pushed her out on to the deserted road, without even allowing her to take down her battered travelling bag. He would sell the contents, he said, to make up for the fare she owed him. He had whipped up his horses then, disappearing without so much as a glance at the woman he was leaving to the mercy of the storm.

She struggled to put the evil man from her mind. She must find the strength to go on. She must not give in to exhaustion. She must go on.

Beyond a huge oak tree, she found herself in an odd sort of dark clearing. It was edged with dense evergreen shrubs surrounding a broad area of churned mud and tussocks of grass. For a second, the wind dropped. In the sudden lull, she tried to tuck her hair back under her dripping bonnet. But the strings parted under the strain just as the wind returned, howling around her. Her bonnet was torn off and disappeared into the darkness, leaving her unbound hair whipping her face like slapping fingers.

She was too tired to wonder for more than a second why she should be suffering so. She knew only that she needed to find shelter soon, or the storm would surely best her.

There was that plain fence again! Or was it?

She took a few steps away from the path, trying to avoid the mud. The grass felt spongy beneath her feet, and treacherous, as though it might give way at any moment and plunge her down into some sucking void.

But those shrubs over there were thick and still densely green. Beneath them, she thought she could make out a kind of haven where they overhung a patch of more sheltered ground, full of dead leaves blown into heaps. It even looked fairly dry. She could take refuge there, just for a while, until the worst of the storm was over and she had regained a little of her strength.

She moved more quickly now. Being out of the wet was a prize worth the effort. She focused all her remaining strength on gaining it. But, in her haste, she forgot to watch where she was putting her feet. Her ankle turned. The laces of her boot snapped with a loud crack. Before she realised what was happening, the boot was gone, sucked away, and her stockinged foot had taken one more unwary step, sinking deep into the mud.

She cried out in shock and fear. Slimy hands seemed to be trying to drag her down. She tried to tell herself that it was nonsense, wild imaginings, but her senses were bewildered. She could not make them obey her.

She tugged hard, desperate to release her foot, but she did not have the strength. Her flailing arms found one of the branches of the evergreen. Something to give her purchase. She hung on to it with both hands and pulled again. No use. Still she could not—

Suddenly, she was free! She stumbled forward a single step, then pitched head first into the base of the shrub and the pile of leaves. Her head and her right arm crunched against unyielding wood. Her nose and mouth filled with debris and dirt. She tasted decay and mould. She was clawing at her face, desperate to breathe. It took her several moments to regain enough control to force the terrors from her mind. Eventually, she spat out the last of the leaf fragments and forced herself up. Pain lanced through her injured arm. Was it broken? She could not tell.

The wind was howling even louder. The evergreens around the clearing bent before it with an angry but defeated hiss. Yet the branches above her did not swish away. They seemed to bend over her, caressingly, like a loving mother soothing her child to sleep. Soothing, soothing.

She let her body relax again into the leaf litter, pillowing her pounding head on her good arm, resting her cheek against her wet, ungloved palm. It would do no harm to close her eyes, just for a space, just until the storm abated. Then she would go on. She had to go on.

Closing her eyes changed everything. Soon she could no longer feel the pain or the cold seeping into her bones. The storm seemed less hostile. She could barely hear the wind or the beat of the rain on the leaves. Was she floating? She was beginning to feel as if she were weightless, drifting slowly up into the heavens. And the sky around her had turned a bright, fierce blue.


Warm fingers touched her clammy cheek, drawing her back to earth, to harsh, forbidding reality. She did not want to return.

The fingers pressed into her flesh, insisting, demanding. She tried to open her eyes in response, but her heavy lids refused to move.

‘Where am I?’ Though the words formed in her throat, no sound came out. She was so weak. So tired. Sleep. She longed to sleep again. To float away.

‘Wake up, woman! You cannot stay here. Come. Open your eyes.’ A man’s voice. Strong, deep, educated. Forceful. Pulling her back.

Then a hand gripped her shoulder and shook it. Pain seized her, huge waves of pain in her shoulder and in her head. Pain that shattered her floating dream. She screamed.

‘Dear God! You are hurt. Let me help you.’

She opened her eyes at last. Darkness. A single light, from a lamp, low down. She was lying on the ground. Was she badly injured? How had she come here? How had—?

More agony as the man slid his arms under her body and lifted her. She groaned aloud, partly from pain, partly from loss. She did not want to leave her floating refuge.

He laid her on the open ground in the freezing rain. Instantly, the cold was attacking her again, intensifying the pain. He lifted the lamp to her face and stared at her. She lay still, transfixed by his gaze.

The lamp was moved away. ‘Trust me, ma’am. I will see you safe.’ A moment later, he was stripping off his heavy coat and wrapping it round her helpless body. The smell of warm wet wool engulfed her. And the smell of man.

‘Forgive me,’ he said abruptly. ‘I need a free hand for the lamp.’ Without another word, he picked her up and slung her over his shoulder. Pain scythed through her. And then the blessed darkness returned to claim her.


She seemed to be dreaming his voice. Words, questions. Sometimes soothing, sometimes sharp. But never strong enough to pull her back from the cocoon of warmth that now surrounded her and held her safe. She felt she was floating away all over again, this time for ever.

And then her cocoon was gone!

She was alone with her suffering. She forced her eyes open. She was propped up in a curricle. By the dim light of its lamps, she saw that the horses were hitched to a fence. Was there a house beyond?

‘You are come back to us, ma’am.’ His tall figure reappeared from the darkness. He had not deserted her. Perhaps she could trust him, after all. ‘Come, let me carry you in.’

This time, he was more mindful of her hurts, lifting her carefully into his arms and cradling her close to his body. She let herself relax into his reassuring strength. The scent of man and horse and leather surrounded her. For a moment, he stood still, gazing down at her with concern in his dark eyes. Then his jaw clenched and he started towards the house.

She saw a winding path through dark, dripping shrubs. Then an open doorway filled with light and warmth and welcome. And a small round man in clerical garb, hovering anxiously.

As her rescuer hurried towards the doorstep, a little old lady in a lace cap appeared from the depths of the hallway, followed by an even smaller maidservant. ‘Why, Master Jonathan! You are welcome, as always. But who is this you have brought us?’

‘Mrs Aubrey! Thank goodness!’ He shouldered his way past the old man and into the hall. ‘I have never seen her before, but I believe she is a lady. I rescued her from the woods by the old oak. She is hurt. And almost frozen to death.’

The old man gasped. ‘Dear God. Poor child. And at Christmas, too.’

His wife stepped forward in order to smooth back the wet hair and peer into the new arrival’s face. ‘What is your name, my dear?’

That came like a blow, worse than all the pain that had gone before. It was a terrible, terrifying realisation. ‘I…I do not know.’


The story will also be published in the UK in November, but in a double volume called Regency Mistletoe and Marriages along with a story by Annie Burrows. The cover is a fraction too pink for my taste. I have to admit to preferring the mistletoe green North American cover but you may prefer pink. Whichever you prefer, I do hope you enjoy my Christmas story.

Thanks also to all those who came up with suggestions about the phantom on the cover of my ebook Delight and Desire. The one I liked best came from fellow author Nicola Cornick. Since she already has a copy of my September story, Bride of the Solway, she will receive a free copy of The Earl's Mistletoe Bride as her prize.

Happy reading.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Where do characters come from?

One of the things an author is asked most is “Where do you get your ideas from?” In most circumstances, the answer is “All over the place.” One of the author’s first responses is “I can use that,” even in circumstances that are tragic.

At the moment, however, I have a character looking for a story. Freddy, Lord Thwaite, to be exact.
Freddy started as a jolly character, a round-faced, round-bodied counterpart to his cousin Richard, Lord Strang. But even before I’d completed the first draft of “Devonshire,” the book Freddy first appears in, I knew it wouldn’t work. Freddy had become a caricature, a cartoon character and he was about as thin as the paper I was writing on.

So when I completed the story, I did some work on Freddy and incorporated it into my first draft. As a result, I’ve received many letters asking me when I’m writing Freddy’s story. Then my editor at Samhain, Sasha Knight, said she’d love to see his story. That’s what you get for making a character more real. But now I want to know what happens to Freddy, too.

Freddy features prominently in “Venice,” and that’s where you get to meet him and go a little deeper into his character. He’s dark where Richard is fair, but as clever as his cousin (I made the relationship more distant, because I wanted Freddy to be in line to inherit a title). He’s taller than Richard, and unlike Richard’s dandy appearance, he often dresses carelessly. He’s a sportsman and a scholar, but again unlike Richard, he doesn’t wear his scholarship for all to see, although this, being the mid eighteenth century, isn’t an era that takes fools gladly.

Freddy learned how to cheat at cards in "Venice," and he’s even more clever than his cousin at it. But he’s rich enough not to use it to his advantage. Unlike many novels that indicate that a man was ruined if he cheated at cards, it was a little more complex. He might be despised, in an era that was gambling mad, he would be avoided at table, and his honour would probably be at risk. But it did happen, and people did survive it.

I’ve done a gambling story in “A Betting Chance,” and I gave Freddy and Richard cameos in that book. It was really enjoyable to have Freddy seen through eyes other than Rose’s (Richard’s wife, the narrator of the Richard and Rose stories) and it gave me more insights into Freddy. People think he’s happy-go-lucky, but while he has a cheerful outlook on life, he doesn’t get on with his father and there are currents much deeper than I at first gave him.

So I’m delving deeper. Freddy’s story will be in the third person, and will probably feature a brand new heroine. I want to give him someone he deserves, strong enough to stand up to him, but who has something that Freddy can help with. And for me, that has to come firstly from inside. External events might bring them together, but it has to be the internal life that makes them want to stay together.

In the first draft of “A Betting Chance,” I gave the hero, Corin, a different heroine to the one he eventually ended up with. I had to totally rewrite the story when I realised, half way through, that there was no chemistry between them. Oh, I could have written something engaging, something interesting, but it probably wouldn’t have been a romance. So I went back, did some research, some thinking and came up with Sapphira. And they burned up the pages together.

I’m at that stage now. I know a lot about Freddy and I’ve spent some time with him, but so far his heroine is eluding me. I tend to spend a lot of time at this stage reading contemporary records – diaries, court accounts, scandal sheets, and I’m currently reading cases from the Bow Street online site. A wonderful site, with little insights into eighteenth century life that you just couldn’t get anywhere else. If this goes as the others do, she will pop into my head at some point.

Sapphira appeared after I went with my friend and fellow author, Jean Fullerton, to the Denis Severs House in Spitalfields, London. I can’t recommend this place enough. It transports you right back to different times. As Severs was fond of pointing out, it’s not a museum, it’s a kind of theatre. And there, in the relative silence of the best bedroom, with the sounds of church bells and carriages filtering through, and the sound of someone moving in the next room, Sapphira came to me.

I know that Freddy’s heroine will come in the same way, a mixture of research and daydreaming. And then the fun will really start.

Lynne Connolly

Monday, October 11, 2010

Getting Married With the Fashionable Set

Welcome to Annie Burrows, author of The Viscount and the Virgin, the fifth in the Regency Silk & Scandal continuity, out this month.

Annie has set a wedding scene that is romantic and yet laugh-out-loud funny in that most fashionable of churches for Regency weddings, St George's Hanover Square. Over to you, Annie -

St George’s church in George Street, just south of Hanover Square has long been a coveted venue for society weddings, both in fact and in fiction. Since I gave the hero of my latest book, “The Viscount and the Virgin” a house in Hanover Square, it was the obvious place for him to get married, too!

In order to be able to give an accurate description of the interior of the church, for the wedding scene, and to be able to stage the action outside convincingly, I needed to find out quite a bit about the appearance of the church, as it would have been in early spring of 1815. Since the church still stands today, and is still in use as place of worship, I was lucky enough to be able to visit their website.

St George’s became such a sought after venue for marriage, because of where it is located, right in the heart of the most fashionable part of London. London had grown rapidly during the eighteenth century, engulfing the surrounding villages and farmlands. Though the merchants and tradesmen tended to live and work as close to the centre as possible, the nobility and gentry moved westwards. Hanover Square was the first of the West End squares to be built, between 1716 and 1720. In 1711, Parliament had passed an act for the building of fifty new churches “in the Cities of London and Westminster or the Suburbs thereof”, to provide for the spiritual needs of those who dwelt in the new districts. Money to pay for the churches was to be raised by a tax levied on coal. The new inhabitants of Hanover Square successfully petitioned the Commissioners for Building New Churches for a convenient place of worship. General the Hon. William Stuart, Queen Anne’s Commander-in-chief in Ireland, offered a plot of land at the nearby junction of Maddox Street and George Street, and the contract for its design was awarded to John James, on the condition that it should cost no more than £10,000.

Compared with other churches of this period, St George’s is rather plain. James may have been influenced by his early contact with Sir Christopher Wren, under whom he served an apprenticeship. Wren thought visibility and audibility were of paramount importance when designing Anglican churches. James is certainly quoted as saying, “the Beautys of Architecture may consist with the greatest plainness of the Structure.”

St George’s is bounded on three sides by busy streets, and on the fourth by a narrow passage. There is no large churchyard to enable people to admire the building from any great distance, but James managed to make the west frontage look sufficiently imposing by having a portico jutting into the street. The pediment is supported by six great Corinthian columns, which I found extremely useful as a place of concealment for Stephano, the villain who turns up to try and wreck my heroine’s wedding.

In the 1870’s changes were made to the interior, but I did manage to find a sketch made of a wedding which took place in 1840, which shows the original box pews, the upper galleries on three sides, the canopy over the pulpit, and the huge, “double decker” reading desk to the left of the altar, which helped me describe the action which took place in the interior.

Only thirty wedding ceremonies took place in St. George’s first year, but numbers steadily increased until by 1816, which was a record year, there were one thousand and sixty three, nine of which were carried out on Christmas Day.

Joseph Grimaldi, the famous actor and clown married there in 1798. And again, in 1802! (After his first wife died.) The poet Shelley married Harriet Westbrook there on March 24th 1814, the novelist George Eliot (real name Mary Anne Evans Lewes) married John Walter Cross there in 1880, and on December 2nd, 1886, the politician Theodore Roosevelt, the future president of the United States, married Edith Carow.

Since the church was in the heart of fashionable London, many famous people must have attended services there as a matter of course. But the parishioner I was most fascinated to read about, was George Frederick Handel. He came to live in Brook Street in 1724, just before the church was consecrated, and was consulted about the suitability of the organ. He provided a piece of music to test the powers of the candidates for the post of organist, had a pew in the church, and was, apparently, a regular worshipper there. Handel became a British citizen in 1726, and it was in his house in Brook Street that he composed the “Messiah”.

I think any organist must have been extremely nervous about performing with such an outstanding musician in the congregation!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

New Covers

This month I thought I would show you a selection of my recent covers. It's hard to believe that all of them are representing exactly the same kind of frothy Regency romance.
It occurred to me that it would be interesting to discover if the cover of this sort of book actually makes a difference. I know that publicity departments at the big publishers spend weeks, if not months, designing and discussing the cover of a new release. However, I think that people who buy novellas and read in large print are not as influenced as someone who picks up a mainstream book.
My Weekly Pocket Novels and People's Friend Pocket Novels go out to 5000 subscribers and then a further 5000 are distributed to WH Smith, Tesco, Asda and, I think, Sainsbury's. Obviously if you subscribe the book comes anyway, this might account for the strange covers you get on both publications. I pick one up if I know the author, I don't look at the cover or the title.
As a reader it does irritate me if the cover picture of a mainstream book depicts a young woman with corn coloured hair and in fact she has black hair -- does this annoy anyone else?
best wishes
Fenella Miller

Thursday, October 07, 2010

A Lady of the Fancy!

My October US release, Whisper of Scandal, is in the shops now. In the book I have a scene at a prize fight, a setting I’ve never used in a Regency before. In part this is because, like my heroine, I don’t really like boxing but the scene was right for the story so I went with it and I did find the research fascinating.

Joanna, the heroine of Whisper of Scandal, is a Lady of the Fancy, one of the patrons of Regency boxing. In the Regency fans of the sport came from all strata of society. It was an age when sport was rowdy, riotous and sometimes cruel. Sport was also one area where the rigid ranks of society mingled; a duke would play cricket in the same team as his gardener and the Prince of Wales entertained a pugilist to dinner.

In 1750 an act of parliament reaffirmed that boxing was illegal largely because of the 18th century nervousness about big gatherings and unruly crowds. In legal terms boxing was considered to be an affray or assault, but from 1780 it was patronised by the Prince of Wales and the Dukes of York and Clarence and thus became both popular and fashionable. Wealthy patrons were vital to the sport, providing the prize money, which could range from £50 to £1000. As boxing was illegal the fights frequently took place on private land or landed estates outside London. Word would go out only a few days before a fight was to take place in order to avoid alerting the magistrates though often the magistrates themselves would come along because they enjoyed a mill. Word was spread via the boxing pubs – the Castle Tavern in Holborn, the Union Arms in the Haymarket and the Horse and Dolphin in St Martin’s Lane. Followers would set off early in the morning, travelling out of London armed with fishing rods to act as a decoy. Crowds of 20 – 30 000 were common and the roads became cluttered with riders, pedestrians, coaches etc. Sometimes bouts were held at racecourses where the spectators could use the grandstands. This occurred at Newbury in Berkshire.

The fighters, in contrast to their patrons, were usually from the working classes. Jem Belcher, a champion prize fighter, combined boxing with butchery, as did Tom Spring. John Gully was a coal merchant, Tom Cribb a sailor from Bristol. The most famous pugilist, Gentleman John Jackson, was the son of a builder. He set up a boxing academy at 13 Bond Street. “Jackson’s Rooms” were grander than other boxing academies and attracted a noble clientele. Jackson was known as the Professor of Pugilism and the Commander in Chief. He organised gloved exhibition bouts at the Fives Court in St Martin’s Lane. The Court could seat 1000 people and was packed for bouts. The general public paid three shillings whilst the elite paid a guinea and sat on their own balcony. Gambling on boxing was prodigious with stake money far outstripping the prize for the fight. £40 000 was gambled on one match and over £100 000 on another.

There was a special exhibition match in 1814 for the Allied Heads of State. The Pugilistic Club was also formed in that year. Members subscribed an annual amount to go towards bouts but this did not replace the funding provided by private patrons. The Pugilistic Club met at Jackson’s Rooms. It was committed to fair play and exposing corruption in the sport. It was also flamboyant for its members wore a uniform of blue and buff with yellow kerseymere waistcoats with PC embroidered on the buttons.

In Whisper of Scandal Joanna attends a prize fight at one of the boxing pubs in Holborn and afterwards experiences the raucous high spirits of the boxing fans. It must have been quite an experience for a gently bred female!

There is an extract from Whisper of Scandal on my website plus a contest and my history blog!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

History Unveiled: Attic Sale at Chatsworth

C.S. Lewis had it right. As he shows in Narnia, cupboards are the most fascinating things. You never know what’s behind them.

That’s certainly true of an item for sale at Chatsworth, one of the estates that has so many resonances for Regency buffs. Not only is Chatsworth the supposed original model for Jane Austen’s Pemberley, but it was also the Derbyshire seat of one of London’s leaders of the ton and Empress of Fashion, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, 1757-1806. Jane Austen wasn’t the only writer that found Chatsworth admirable, either. Some eighty years earlier, Daniel Defoe described it as “the most pleasant garden and most beautiful palace in the world”.

You may wonder what this has to do with cupboards. I should really say bookcases, because one very famous bookcase is for sale at Chatsworth. This was the bookcase through which Prince George, later to become Regent and then George IV. The mahogany bookcase had a secret door and was used to conceal another door behind it through which the prince gained access to his mistress/wife Maria Fitzherbert. The location of the bookcase? Devonshire House in Piccadilly, often called “The Lost Palace of London”. Obviously the Prince must have been a frequent visitor.

The Prince's passion for Mrs Fitzherbert was described in this manner: “He cried by the hour … he testified to the sincerity and violence of his passion and his despair by the most extravagant expressions and actions, rolling on the floor, striking his forehead, tearing his hair, falling into hysterics and swearing that he would abandon the country, forego the crown, sell his jewels and plate and scrape together a competence to fly with the object of his affections to America.”-- Lord Holland.

The last words call to mind another British Monarch, Edward the VIII, who also wanted to defy the Royal Marriages Act to marry his mistress, a divorcee and an American, but was forced to abdicate. The parallel is interesting, as both women had been married twice before.
Despite all his excesses, the Prince's passion for Mrs Fitzwilliam must have outdated their separation in 1810, because after the King's death on 26 June 1830, they found that he had kept all her letters. It makes for fascinating speculation to imagine how history would have been different if either the Prince’s marriage had been accepted as legal, or if he had abdicated as his descendent had. Would marriage to her have curbed some of his excesses?

The bookcase, which didn't have the curtains originally, was designed by Thomas Hope and made by Marsh and Titham. It was relegated to the nursery when it was moved from Devonshire House to Chatsworth. I wonder if any of the children ever discovered the secret door and speculated on who could have used it.

The secret bookcase/door is not the most expensive item on sale at Chatsworth. The honour belongs to a chimney marble piece of carved marble, one of the architectural fixtures designed by William Kent estimated at £200,000-£300,000. The chimney piece was taken from the saloon at Devonshire House where Georgiana held so many of her famous evenings and where mourners came to bid their last farewell to her after her death. Picture marble chimney piece. I can’t help thinking of Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice when he raves about Lady Catherine’s chimney piece. Perhaps it, too, was designed by William Kent?

Other items for sale are chairs that belonged to Lady Georgiana and a snuffbox that features a miniature of Georgiana and her daughter based on the Joshua Reynolds painting that currently hangs in Chatsworth.

This fascinating auction is being held as we speak, from October 5th to 7th.

Meanwhile, I’ve decided that my next Regency or Jane Austen inspired novel will feature a bookcase similar to that belonging to the Regent.

Monica Fairview

Monday, October 04, 2010

When the Muse Strikes.....

Writers are often asked where the inspiration comes from, and obviously a great deal of it is due to an overactive imagination! However, once one has the outline of a story, all the ideas have to be organised into a logical sequence, and that's when I like to take a walk to get the story straight.

I have just returned from a week's holiday, where I was determined not to do any work, so I left the computer behind, didn't pick up any emails and just switched off for the week – only to come back with ideas for three new stories all jostling for supremacy in my head! So this morning I set off to walk from home down into the valley. After a weekend of torrential rain, the morning dawned bright and sunny up on the hill, but the valley was filled with cloud, like a huge milk-white lake.

It was lovely to walk in the clear sunshine, then to drop down into the mist. The ghost-like images will feature in a book somewhere, I am sure (and just to reassure you I do wear a high visibility jacket when walking on the roads int he fog - the poor drivers have enough to do following the winding hill roads without having the peer through the mist for almost-invisible walkers!)
The walk to the valley is about a mile and I find it a good time to sort out story-lines, plot ideas or just to wrestle with some of the fine detail. I especially love it at this time of the year, when the leaves are turning to gold and the moors glow almost orange in the sunshine.
So now, walk done, I had better get back to the writing!

Have a happy autumn.

Sarah Mallory/Melinda Hammond.