Sunday, March 27, 2011

Letter from Regency Lady

Have a better image of the latest M&B this time. Doing well in kindle but not as well as The Lord's Forced Bride. That was the second in the Melford series, this is the third. The fourth is Fugitive Bride and was also published this month in a double book - The Wayward Woman. Not sure that was a clever move by my publisher but they publish in the way they think best. I would rather it had come out as a single book but there we go.

Enjoy this month's letter. I think it is almost the last in the series.

April 1816

Letter from Lady Horatia to her lover.

My dearest love

It is with great haste and anxiety I write to tell you that Melton arrived last night. He caused a terrible row and threatened both Robert and I with ruin if I continued to defy him. Robert says I must remain staunch. He says I should go with you and go quickly. I fear it will mean your ruin too, my love. Perhaps it is best if I forget happiness and do as Melton demands, though Robert says he shall restrain me if I am foolish enough to agree.

I fear this means we should have to leave England, perhaps forever. How can I ask such a sacrifice of you? Robert feels certain it would be your wish. I shall resist for a few days longer. If you do not come to me by Thursday next in our usual place I shall know your answer. I will go there every day at the same hour.

If this is to be farewell know that I shall never blame you. My happiest hours have been in your arms.

Forgive me for the pain I must cause you whichever way you choose.

Your own for ever, Horatia

Hope you enjoyed it.

Love, Anne Herries/Linda Sole

By the way I have a twitter now as Anne Herries

Friday, March 25, 2011

Is this a portrait of the Austen Family in 1781?

The ‘Conversation Piece’.

Is this a portrait of the Austen Family?

Is this a portrait of the Austen Family in 1781?

Recently, the owner of the 'Rice' portrait, Mrs. Henry Rice, and her brother, Mr. Robin Roberts contacted me to ask my opinion on a little painting they'd found in an old Christie's catalogue.

Whilst conducting research into the ‘Rice’ portrait, Mr. Roberts discovered this very interesting picture, which seems to have gone unnoticed in a Christie’s catalogue. The sale of the property of Mrs. Robert Tritton took place at Godmersham Park, Kent, between Monday, June 6th and Thursday, June 9th, 1983. Elsie Tritton and her husband had bought the estate in 1936, and the catalogue notes how she and her husband had lovingly rescued the house, and how Elsie, a New Yorker by birth, wished that after her death, their wonderful collection of furniture and clocks, English Conversation Pieces, objets d’art and textiles should be available for others to buy for their own collections. This is a fascinating catalogue to see, and I think the fact that the painting came out of the sale of Godmersham Park is most exciting! Click on the pictures to see a larger image.

The painting is described in the catalogue as belonging to the English School, circa 1780, pen, and black ink and watercolour, measuring 15½ by 19½ inches. It depicts a family sitting round a table, the adults at opposite ends, with four children beyond.

I think what’s so interesting about the picture is that the more you study it; the more the details become fascinating. It appears to be a wonderful allegorical puzzle, full of the humour and charade that the Austen family loved, reflecting so much of what we know about their family history, and finances, with all the literary symbolism they would have enjoyed so much. There are some significant allusions connected with the Austen family, and I am thrilled to share Mr. Roberts’ thoughts with you.

Silhouette to commemorate Edward Austen's adoption

He wonders if it could possibly be a work by Ozias Humphry painted to commemorate the adoption of Edward Austen by the Knight family who were childless relatives, and executed at a similar date as the commemorative silhouette.

What could be the monogram symbols of Ozias Humphry appear to be scattered in several places about the painting, on the figures, in a curlicue above the mantelpiece, and there is a possible signature in the right hand corner, though it is difficult to be certain without seeing the original, and unfortunately, it is impossible to show all the small details on a blog.

If we assume that this is a painting of the Austen family, the central figure shows a young boy who is most likely to be Edward Austen. The family all have their attention turned towards him, and more importantly, their eyes are concentrated on the bunch of grapes, which he holds high up in the air, as if being presented to the viewer. You can almost hear him say, “Look at me, am I not the most fortunate boy in the world? Look what I have!”

Surely the grapes represent the good fortune and wealth that Edward is about to inherit, and the whole family who look as pleased as punch are celebrating with him.

George Herbert makes the connections between grapes, fruit, and inheritance in his poem, The Temple.

From The Temple by George Herbert, 1633

An extract from The Bunch of Grapes:

Then have we too our guardian fires and clouds;

Our Scripture-dew drops fast:

We have our sands and serpents, tents and shrowds;

Alas! our murmurings come not last.

But where’s the cluster? where’s the taste

Of mine inheritance? Lord, if I must borrow,

Let me as well take up their joy, as sorrow.

But can he want the grape, who hath the wine?

I have their fruit and more.

Blessed be God, who prosper’d Noahs vine,

And made it bring forth grapes good store.

But much more him I must adore,

Who of the Laws sowre juice sweet wine did make

Ev’n God himself being pressed for my sake.

The horseshoe nail at Edward's feet

If this is the Austen family, then it follows as we observe the painting, that the small girl with round cheeks to the left of Edward must be Jane Austen herself! This could also be one of the most significant parts to the puzzle. She appears to be clutching what could be a horseshoe nail in her hand, which she points towards Edward, her arm held high in the same way as he holds his grapes aloft. This is where it gets most exciting, and where Mr. Roberts makes another connection to Edward Austen. On the painting of Edward Austen at Chawton House, there is most distinctly, a horseshoe nail on the ground pointing towards Edward’s feet. Mr. Roberts tells me that this little nail is a symbol, an allusion to the fact that the Knights adopted him, and historically, a symbol associated with good fortune. Mrs. Rice found this interesting connection in one of Jane Austen's letters. Jane makes reference to the horseshoe nail in a letter dated Tuesday, 9th February, 1813. She is talking about Miss Clewes, a new governess that Edward has engaged to look after his children.

Miss Clewes seems the very Governess they have been looking for these ten years; - longer coming than J. Bond’s last Shock of Corn. – If she will but only keep Good and Amiable and Perfect! Clewes & (sic) is better than Clowes. And is it not a name for Edward to pun on? – is not a Clew a nail?

Jane was punning on the word clew (or clue) and the Old French word, clou (de girofle), which in its turn was derived from the Latin, clavus, meaning nail (of the clove tree). The dried flower bud of the clove tree resembles a small nail or tack. Of course, it was a name for Edward to pun on because of his own associations with a small horseshoe nail.

Painting from the Christie's catalogue of the Godmersham Sale

Now we turn to the gentleman on the left of the painting who is dressed exactly as Mr. Austen in the silhouette attributed to Wellings of Edward’s presentation to the Knight family. He is seated, hands clasped together as though offering up a grateful prayer for their good fortune. Within his grasp it appears he is holding a prayer book, or missal, the silk ribbon of which is draped over his fingers, an indication perhaps of his status as rector, and a man of the cloth. Interestingly, he is the only figure whose eyes are not concentrated on the bunch of grapes, but perhaps this is to indicate he is more concerned with offering grateful thanks in his role of clergyman.

In between Mr. Austen and Jane is Cassandra who rests her hand protectively on her sister’s shoulder, whilst also providing an excellent compositional device leading the eye along through to Jane’s arm to the tip of the Golden Triangle where the bunch of grapes are suspended. The painting follows the traditional composition based on a triangle for optimum placing of the main interest of the work. I also think it interesting to note that the girls’ dresses are of the simple muslin type usually worn by children at this time. Mostly white, they were worn with a ribbon sash, at waist height or higher as in Jane’s case.

On the other side of Edward, it is thought this child most likely to be Francis. James would have been at school at this time, and Henry could also have been away. Charles was too young to be depicted, and would still have been lodged with the family who looked after the infant Austens, as was the custom.

To the far right, as we look at the painting is the formidable figure of Mrs. Austen dressed for the occasion with a string of pearls and a ribbon choker around her neck, complete with more than one ‘feather in her cap’, which must represent her pride and pleasure at the whole event, and by extension, the symbols of nobility and glory. She is further emphasizing Edward’s importance by pointing in his direction, and I think it would be hard to imagine a more pleased mama, in her elegant air, and her smile.

On the table is a further connection with Mrs. Austen. The pineapple, a prized fruit, representing health and prosperity, was first introduced to England in 1772, and the Duke of Chandos, Mrs. Austen’s great uncle, was the first to grow them. The symbolism of the pineapple represents many things, not least the rank of the hostess, but was also associated with hospitality, good cheer, and family affection.

Other dishes of food illustrate further abundance, wealth, and the spiritual associations of Christian values. There is bread and wine on the table: Christian symbols, which represent not only life, and the Communion, but also show there is cause for thankfulness and celebration. The glasses are not yet filled, but there are glasses placed before the adults for a toast. Nearest to us in the foreground, there is another fruitful dish, perhaps plum pudding, representing not only the wealth to come, but also a plentiful future. Placed before Edward, another dish, which also appears to suggest the image of a spaniel dog, may be an allusion to Edward’s love of hunting.

The background to the painting holds its own clues. It’s been suggested that the painting above the mantelpiece could be Zeus abducting Ganymede to the Gods, another reference to the luck of young Edward who has been adopted by the Knight family, and on the opposite wall, could this be a reference to the miniature portrait of George Austen, the handsome proctor, even if this appears to be a larger portrait? In the carpet, the patterns suggest the date may again be replicated, and also an M to symbolize the fact that the couple in the painting are married. Above the looking glass is a crest with what appears to be the date. It would be lovely to have a look at the original to see everything in more detail!

Unfortunately, there appears to be no record of the sale of the painting, and I know that Mr. Roberts, and his sister, Mrs. Henry Rice, would be interested to learn more about the painting. They've asked me to make an appeal on their behalf for any information, and if anyone knows of the painting’s whereabouts or can tell us anything about it, please do get in touch with me or with Jane Austen’s House Museum.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog as much as I’ve enjoyed hearing all about this little painting from Mr. Roberts and Mrs. Rice, and I'd like to thank them for sharing their discovery.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Jane Odiwe

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Judging the Historical Novel Award

Back in October, I had the unexpected pleasure
of being invited to be a judge for the Romantic Novelists' Association's Historical Novel Award, together with Diane Pearson, the president of the RNA, and Richard Lee, founder of the Historical Novel Society.

Although I'd reported on dozens, if not hundreds, of typescripts over the years, been a publishers' reader, read scripts for the Royal Court Theatre, and been a preliminary judge for the Harry Bowling Prize, this was my first time as a proper judge. I'd heard stories of horse-trading behind the scenes at the Booker and I was half-expecting it to be daggers drawn at midnight with furious arguments over clashing choices.

I've known Richard since he founded the HNS back in 1997 and I rather doubted that blood-letting was his style, but I introduced myself to Diane in some trepidation. Fortunately, she proved to be charming and intelligent and I felt confident that I could work with her.

Shortly before Christmas, the books arrived. There were six books on the short list, including Heart of Stone by our own Jane Jackson. The others were To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick, Trade Winds by Christina Courtenay, The Golden Prince by Rebecca Dean, The Wayward Governess by Joanna Fulford and The Jewel of St Petersburg by Kate Furnivall. They were all very different in style, period and content, which made for interesting reading.

So, what were we looking for? Historical accuracy with convincing period background and detail - without resorting to information dumps - was a must. We wanted well-rounded, interesting characters we could believe in and with whose problems we could identify; they, too, had to be of their period - no anachronistic 21st century behaviour. And we were after that most difficult thing: language that was convincingly in period without resorting either to archaisms which tripped up the reader or inappropriately modern language.

As this was an RNA award, naturally, we wanted the passsionate romance between hero and heroine to be central. and the book had to be nail-bitingly unputdownable. The bar was set high.

Not only was it sorted without bloodshed, Richard's and my list were exactly the same; and Diane's very nearly. Reading Diane and Richard's reports, I could see that we all agreed on the important points. We unhesitatingly awarded the prize to Elizabeth Chadwick's To Defy a King.

It was a very happy experience and the champagne reception at the Liberal Club where the prize was awarded was terrific, too!

Photos: Top: the judges: Diane, Elizabeth and Richard; centre: Jane Jackson and Elizabeth; bottom: Elizabeth and Elizabeth Chadwick

Elizabeth Hawksley.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Jane Eyre, Henry Tilney and new books!

Spring has officially sprung and I have so much to blog about I hardly know where to begin. I'm tempted to start with my two upcoming releases, Wickham's Diary and Henry Tilney's Diary, but instead I'm going to start with Jane Eyre. For some strange reason the film makers decided to launch it in the US, not the UK, so those of us over here have to wait until the autumn to see it. How unfair is that? Particularly as it sounds to be excellent.

The Washington Post talks about a war between Austen and the Brontes, but I love both and I suspect a great many other people do, too. However, in the interests of fair play, having mentioned the film of Jane Eyre, I'm now going to bring you a short film about Henry Tilney. No, it doesn't have a big budget. No, it doesn't have a cast of thousands. But yes, it is brilliant, and you don't even have to go to a cinema (or movie theatre!) to see it.

It's based on this hilarious Old Spice advert

and if you love Henry, it will make your day. And if you don't love Henry, just wait until you've seen this video. He has a puppy!

And now I'm going to mention my upcoming releases. Wickham's Diary is officially out in the US on April 1st, but already have it in stock. It's a novella this time, not a full length novel. It starts when Wickham and Darcy are twelve and it follows them up until the moment when Wickham tries to elope with Georgiana. So it's a prequel to Pride and Prejudice, rather than a retelling, seen through Wickham's eyes.

And last but not least, I will be giving a talk at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton on June 4th. It's a fascinating house, and one in which Jane spent many years of her life whilst publishing her masterpieces. Why not come along and celebrate all things Jane with me in Jane's own home? There are plenty of refreshments in Chawton, which has a cafe and a pub, and it makes a great day out.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Style Wars

France and England were enemies on the battlefield for large parts of the 18th and early 19th centuries, but even when they weren’t firing bullets at each other there wasn’t a great deal of love lost between the two nations.
According to the stereotypes on both sides the Rosbifs were unsophisticated and uncultured shopkeepers, the Frogs were flaky, unreliable and effete.

I was amused to discover this mutual distrust and dislike showing up even in the field of couture. The French considered themselves the arbiters of fashion in dress as in so much else, and even throughout the Napoleonic wars the English accepted this and kept on copying French fashion plates without apparently considering this in any way unpatriotic.

English fashion magazines such as La Belle AssemblĂ©e lifted plates from Le Journal des Dames et des Modes quite shamelessly and without acknowledgment beyond labelling them “Paris dress” or “French fashion”.
The print of the three people at a table was printed in La Belle AssemblĂ©e in 1807 captioned “Fashionable party at the Frescati in Paris” and is a straight lift from a French print.

On the other hand the French copied the style of the English dandies, adopting the restrained look promoted by Brummell and his followers and le reddingcote became highly popular.

It is interesting to look at French and English plates of the same years of the early 1820s when waistlines returned to their natural position after years when they were set much higher. Sometimes you can even find both on the same plate and see that the French were months ahead in adopting the new line with the English following. The print from Le Bon Genre shows French ladies with their new-style gowns on the right and the English, lagging behind, on the left.

Yet at the same time as French fashions were coveted and copied, English caricaturists illustrated the French and their clothing in ways that made them look exaggerated, extreme and ridiculous in contrast to the elegant refinement of the English. The French meanwhile had no compunction about showing the English as provincial, awkward and dowdy.

Sometimes there is a twist to these caricatures. I recently bought a pair which showed English tourists in Paris. They are captioned in French and appear to be French, which was confusing because there is no doubt whose side the artist is on! When I got them out of the frames and used a magnifying glass I found they had an English publisher.
The illustration on the right reads “Voila les Anglais!” and depicts a pair of English tourists dressed with neatness and elegance walking, with perfect deportment, amongst a group of gawping French onlookers who are all ugly, stooping and either hostile or sneering. The print is dated March 1817 – we had been at peace for almost two years, but without, it seems, much love lost!

Finally, I can't resist adding a picture of the lovely Bettty Neels rosebowl and the sparkly star for the Romantic Novelists' Association Pure Passion Awards Love Story of the Year 2011 won by my novel The Piratical Miss Ravenhurst. RNA events are always wonderful parties and this one, for me, was the best ever!
Louise Allen

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Starting Over

Feedback I received from two of the judges regarding Heart of Stone made my trip to London and the Pure Passion Awards Ceremony infinitely worthwhile, despite the sore throat, cough, and Dalek voice resulting from a bug I picked up on the train. On their advice I’m changing genres for my new book, from historical romance where the relationship takes centre stage, to historical fiction where romance is only one thread in a larger and more complex tapestry. This means I’ve had to discard several months’ work already done. But I really liked the characters and plotline I’ve taken out. So they are saved in separate file and I'll definitely return to them.

Starting a new book always fills me with excitement, and ambition to make it better than the one before. But this time the mix includes a hefty dose of nerves as I’m taking a giant step outside my comfort zone.

I love walking. And here in Cornwall where I live there is so much beautiful and inspiring scenery within a short distance of my home. There are woods, rocky coves with secret caves, and winding paths that people have been using for hundreds of years. So on Sunday morning after a hectic week we drove out to Trebah and did our favourite coastal walk. It was early and we had the place to ourselves as most people come out for fresh air after lunch. As we made our way along the narrow path above a shingle beach lapped by clear turquoise water, ideas and possibilities for my new book were bubbling up. This what if stage is great fun as potential plotlines and character attributes and emotional baggage are considered, discarded, or expanded. Today I’m splitting my time between research and developing those ideas and characters. To achieve a powerful and emotionally-gripping story will take months of hard work. This will include moments of teeth-grinding frustration; flashes of inspiration, shock when characters start saying and doing things I hadn't planned for, and the occasional revelation that suddenly lifts the story to a new level. I'm off to get started.

Jane Jackson

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

1816 The Year with No Summer

The terrible events in Japan have shown us how puny we are when nature shows its power.

The horror of it drove me to research the Year with No Summer, 1816, which Nicola mentioned in her post earlier this month.

Back in April 1815, Mt Tamboro erupted in Indonesia. It was the largest eruption in recorded time; four times as big as Krakatoa, in 1883. Before the explosion, the volcano was 14,100 feet high. After it, the volcano was only 9,354 feet high. It’s hard to imagine the power that could do that, or the devastation that would be caused.

Sir Stamford Raffles was in Java, nearly 800 miles away. His memoirs record:

“The first explosions were heard on this Island in the evening of 5 April, they were noticed in every quarter, and continued at intervals until the following day. The noise was, in the first instance, almost universally attributed to distant cannon; so much so, that a detachment of troops were marched from Djocjocarta, in the expectation that a neighbouring post was attacked, and along the coast boats were in two instances dispatched in quest of a supposed ship in distress.”

In London, there were fantastic sunsets in June and July 1815, with brilliant oranges and red at the horizon and purple and pink skies above. It’s been suggested that we can see the yellowish effects in some of J M W Turner’s sunsets, like this one, Chichester Canal circa 1828.

Nowadays, we know about volcanic ash clouds. We remember Mt St Helens, and the Icelandic volcano last year. In 1816, no one understood what was causing the extraordinary weather. It was like 3 winters in 18 months. There was twelve inches of snow in Quebec City in June 1816. There was a drought in North America that summer, followed by September frost that killed the few surviving crops. That caused a major migration of farmers from New England to the Upper Midwest.

In Europe, the problem wasn’t drought, it was cold and incessant rain. Harvests failed. There was famine in Ireland. Starving refugees fled from Wales. There were riots across Europe as starving people looked for the causes of their distress and someone to blame.

The hardships led to innovations, however. In Germany, the shortage of oats to feed the horses spawned ideas that eventually led to the development of the bicycle. In Switzerland, the Shelleys and their friends were kept indoors by the “wet, ungenial summer”. They amused themselves with a contest to write scary stories. The result, as we know, was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John William Polidori’s The Vampyre. The effects are with us still.

Nature, like Mt Tamboro, can be beautiful, but we underestimate its power at our peril. The people we write about in our books did not understand what was happening, but they certainly suffered the malign aftereffects. Not romantic, perhaps, but a true backdrop to what we write.

With all our sympathies to the people who are suffering in Japan, especially those who have lost family and friends.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Goodbye, Richard and Rose

The end of an era. Well, for me, anyway.

In 2000, I started writing the first words of a book that had been on my mind for some time. But when my children were little, I didn’t have the time for sustained writing. I’d written as a hobby all my life, and when my health deteriorated after the birth of my second child and it became obvious that I wasn’t going back to work as I’d planned, I started thinking about something I could do from home.

I’d never considered writing fiction seriously. I knew the money wasn’t good, but since it was a choice between earning something and earning nothing, I went for it. But not until my children had grown up enough to go to school and give me a few hours writing time every day. I gave up all but the most essential housework, and someone gave me a word processor.

That thing was a turning point for me. I’d never been a great typist. My work always ended up stiff with white-out. But the word processor meant I could correct my mistakes and increase my typing speed. And finally write about the couple I’d been planning for the last few years.

I’d been on a visit with my parents to Calke Abbey when it first opened to the public. Instead of restoring it to its pristine glory, the Trust had chosen to preserve what was there but leave it as a picture of a country house in decline. So there were rooms incongruously filled with stuffed stag’s heads and geological specimens from the estate, and the upstairs nursery was black with damp, the toys all spilled and abandoned. That nursery haunted me, and I knew I’d have to set a story in the house.

So Richard and Rose first met in the rough cobbled yard of the manor house which its owners had let to rack and ruin. There was a story behind that house, one I never told completely, and the reason why the Hareton brothers had turned away from the life of privilege they had been born to. There are hints in “Yorkshire,” and the clever reader can pick a lot of it up from clues dropped here and there, but I never told it. I don’t think I ever will, since it’s a very sad story.

My first shock was when Martha refused to be the centre of the story. I wanted Martha and James, Rose’s sister in law and brother to be the centre of a series of country house mysteries. The emphasis would be on the mysteries, not the couple. But I’d written a few chapters in their points of view, and the book refused to work. I needed someone less settled, someone who had a journey to make. So I settled on Rose, and I started to tell the story in the first person. I’d never written in the first person before, and I haven’t since. I find it a really difficult way of writing, but this story refused to be told any other way, and if I was going to get any peace and write more of the characters crowding my head, then I had to do this.

The second shock was Richard. I wanted a mild-mannered minor aristocrat, just enough to get him invited to the country houses where the mysteries would take place. A kind of Hercule Poirot of the Georgian age, without the moustache but with a wig. I wanted it accurate to the times, but reflecting the lack of a police force. I set it in the 1750’s deliberately, just after the creation of the Bow Street Runners, the first seedlings of what would become the Metropolitan Police force.

What I got was Richard Strang, dandy, philanderer, destroyer of reputation, Viscount Strang, heir to one of the oldest and richest peerages in the country. And his twin, Gervase, only slightly less flamboyant than his brother. I honestly don’t know where these two came from. They just appeared on the page.

“From the first coach alighted a figure that made my mouth drop open in disbelief. A vision of male gorgeousness, a sumptuous feast of a man. Lizzie gasped, but I didn’t turn to look at her. I kept my gaze fixed on the mirage before us.

He wore scarlet velvet, dressed for the Court. He would be sadly disappointed here. His white powdered wig was set just right, his waistcoat was a dream of embroidered magnificence. He swung around to help a lady descend from the vehicle, and when I again glanced at Lizzie, I saw she had temporarily lost all faculties of speech. No doubt remembering her manners, she closed her mouth.

This younger lady was attired—dressed would have been too clumsy a word—in a French sacque of blue watered silk, embroidered down the hem and the robings in fine floss. Frills and furbelows seemed to take on a life of their own, romping over her petticoats. Pearls gleamed at her neck. “Dear God,” whispered Lizzie.

Behind these visions of fashionable excess, another man climbed down. He wore his fair hair simply tied back; his clothes were just as well cut as the other gentleman’s though not as extravagant, and his attitude far more natural. “They’re twins,” Lizzie told me, back in control of her voice.

“I know,” I said. “You told us. More than once.”

To see the Kerre brothers was a different experience to merely reading about them.

The only identical twins in polite society, they made themselves more conspicuous still by creating scandal after scandal. Lizzie’s information continued, “The younger went abroad after eloping with a married woman. He’s only lately returned, after twelve years away. I wonder which one it is?”

“The peacock.” It had to be. The other looked far too sensible.

They glanced at us. The gorgeously dressed gentleman turned back to the coach, and said something only his brother could hear. His twin spun on his heel, the gravel grating under his foot and stared at us for one impolite moment before he looked away. I guessed the popinjay had said something like “country bumpkins”, and I resented the comment while at the same time agreeing with it. We were in a hired coach, and hadn’t thought to make a stop to change into better clothes as the other party obviously had. I smoothed my hand over my worn, brown wool gown.

With a leisurely gait, the peacock approached us and bowed.”

And there he was. Richard Kerre.

I’ve just written the last sentence of the last Richard and Rose book. I want to go back one day and write some more, but I don’t know if the magic will still be there, or if they’ll be waiting for me to continue their story. Eleven years after I first made Richard’s acquaintance, I’ve finally said goodbye. And yes, of course I’m in tears.

If the book had never been published, if I hadn’t received all the kind letters of support asking me what was next for Richard and Rose, if certain people hadn’t believed in me, they would still have been there, and I would still have written the books. But it’s been my privilege to write them for you.

The seventh and penultimate Richard and Rose book is out on the 15th of March. You won’t see the last book for a little while yet. It has to go through the process, be polished by me, be read, and judged by my publisher. But you can find out what happens next. “Maiden Lane” is set in London, and sees them facing the most danger yet.

Life is cheap. So is death.
Richard and Rose, Book 7
With Rose expecting again, it should be a joyous time for her and Richard. Yet old enemies and new come out of the woodwork, seemingly intent on using whatever means possible to destroy their happiness. Not only is the legitimacy of their marriage called into question, a young man steps forward claiming to be a by-blow of Richard's dark, wild past.
Closer to defeat than he has ever been, Richard musters all his friends and allies to defend against this attack on his own ground. However, no amount of incandescent lovemaking and tender care seems to keep Rose out of harm's way.
Then a mutilated body turns up on their doorstep-and all fingers point at Richard. Rose has no choice but to emerge from his near-smothering concern to do what she must to save the love of her life. Even if she must appear to work against him.
As she lays her heart on the line, Richard fights to keep the violence that marks his past from claiming her life. For if he loses Rose, with her will go his humanity.
Warning: Rose gets her mad on, and Richard gets turned on. Contains married love, married sex and married fooling about. And pink coats with lace ruffles. And swords. And wicked goings-on.

Life is cheap - so is death
ISBN: 978-1-60928-384-1

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A Cornish Maid and Sir John Betjeman

My second book for Aurora Regency - Aspen Mountain Press, A Cornish Maid was published on 5th March. I lived in Cornwall many years ago and loved it. We had a hotel, The Bodare Hotel, on Daymer Bay which is the best beach in Cornwall. Sir John Betjeman lived at the end of our drive, although he always said we lived in his garden. During the winter he would totter down to buy his gin and wine. He once knew a Dusty Miller who had given him some money so he could continue to write, so he got on well with my husband of the same name.
The two of them would vanish into the wine store for hours and sample the stock. He used to wear a tea cosy on his head and his over coat was worn half off his shoulders. My daughter, then five, asked him why this was and he answered, "It takes years of practice to wear a coat like this, my dear, and the tea-cosy makes me look Cornish."
On my birthday he gave me a signed book of his poetry - I still have it -well worn as it went to university with my daughter - he wrote "To Dusty's Wife" as he never remembered my name. He added "Fenella" when he arrived.
He never came in the summer as the lane down to both our homes was snarled with traffic from early in the morning until dusk. My husband used to go off to the cash and carry in St Austell at 7 o'clock because he couldn't get out of the drive if he went any later. He would get his breakfast there as no shops were open until nine. Coming back was fine as all the cars were heading down the lane.
I have fond memories of that beach and the freshly picked mussels we used to turn into moules a la creme for our guests. These would be served on the bar, free, in the huge pot they were cooked in.
We went back a few years ago but the hotel is now expensive flats and we couldn't go in. The beach is still as wonderful. We always visit Sir John's grave at the little St Enedoc church on the golf course overlooking the sea.
best wishes
Fenella Miller

Monday, March 07, 2011

Experiencing the Regency at First Hand

In a fascinating article in the BBC History magazine last month, the historian Stella Tillyard described the Regency period as “an altogether stranger time than we might think, haunted by the madness of the king, shadowed by war and wracked with uncertainty about the future.” The political tone of the period was conservative and cautious and there were high food prices and social unrest. Whilst many costume dramas have concentrated on the elegance and excess of high society, summed up by the extravagance and eccentricity of the Brighton Pavilion, there was also a different trend emerging, that of a growth in evangelicalism and a change in morality from the bawdy excesses of the past.

Stella Tillyard identified eight moments in the nine-year Regency period that caused consternation and amazement, including the assassination of the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, in 1812, the Luddite riots of 1811-12 and the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. This prompted me to browse through a Regency timeline and think about those events and experiences I would have been interested to see at first hand:

The publication of Pride and Prejudice in 1813 and of Frankenstein in 1819 and the poetry of Keats and Byron and Shelley.

1812 The waltz is introduced into London ballrooms and gas lighting is introduced into main London streets.

1814 The Frost Fair when the River Thames froze over. 1816 was also a year of exceptional weather after volcanic dust blocked out the sun and the harvest failed. It was known as the “year without a summer.” (Actually I might give 1816 a miss - we seem to get our own "years without summer" every so often!)

1817 – The death of Princess Charlotte, the heir to the throne, not only threw the country into mass mourning but also threw the succession into turmoil as not one of the Regent’s brothers had a legitimate heir. Not a highlight, but a moment of profound significance for the country.

1817 – Crowds attend the opening of Waterloo Bridge, a new bridge across the River Thames named in commemoration of victory at the Battle of Waterloo and opened on the 2nd anniversary of the battle. It was a toll bridge with nine arches. It was designed by John Rennie and the Italian sculptor, Canova, described it as “the finest bridge in all Europe.”

If you could go back and experience some of the events of the Regency period, which would you choose?