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 www.hazel-statham.co.uk and her blog at http://hazelstatham.blogspot.com/

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 amazon.co.uk 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 www.british-cemetery-elvas.org

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

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Inspiration from Exmoor

I recently spent a very pleasant week on Exmoor, supposedly on holiday but no matter how hard I try to switch off, the creative side of my brain just won't go to sleep. As soon as we started driving over the moors I started thinking what a wonderful setting it would be for a book (or two, or three….). The old pack horse bridges are still very much in evidence. There were very few roads suitable for carriages until the 19th century and almost everything, people and goods, were moved about on horseback. Apart from a few cobbled streets in the towns and villages, most of the roads would have been pretty bad, especially after a hard winter. The picture below shows what most of the roads may have been like.
This is a dirt track across the moors, only possible now with 4-wheel-drive (you can see the bonnet of our car - I took this through the window!) imagine how uncomfortable it would have been in a carriage like the barouche below, which is part of the collection at the Arlington Carriage Museum

The little pack horse bridge at the top is still the only way to cross the stream at Allerford without getting wet.

We were staying in the pretty little village of Porlock, where many of the houses date back hundreds of years, and the church of St Dubricius is a real gem, the name showing that the area was influenced more by the old Celtic Christians than the later priests and missionaries who came from Rome.

This painting of the Ship Inn at Porlock added even more inspiration! The artist,
Maurice Bishop has a studio in Lynmouth (www.mauricbishop.co.uk) and I bought a print of his painting to keep the magic alive while I work on my latest book. I don't need to tell you that it is set on the moors in the winter!

Sarah Mallory

Disgrace & Desire
A tale of love and loyalty

UK paperback December 2010