Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Regency Letters

Nearly at the end of this story. Never mind I'll think of something else to post then.

I received a four star review in the Romantic Times for Bartered Bride, which came out in USA recently. Several new books in the pipeline. Love to all.

Now read the story:

May 1816
Dearest Mama.
I know you may never forgive me. I have shamed you and my family and if Melton carries out his threat Robert will be ruined. He says that Melton will find it harder than he thinks and is determined not to be bullied. You know now that Frederick has given up his career for my sake. His family were disturbed but he says they support him and he should not care if they did not, because he loves me more than his life.
Please Mama, do try to understand and to forgive me. In the end I had no choice but to leave England. My dearest Freddie says that you will always be welcome here and perhaps one day you will visit us.
I send you my love and hope you will not turn your face from me for ever.
I love you, Mama. Horatia

May 1816
My own dearest Robert.
How can we ever thank you enough for what you did for us that day? I think that if you had not stood between them Freddie and Melton would have killed each other. I know you have risked much for us and I wish it might have been otherwise. Forgive me for bringing trouble to your door.
You said you might sell the estate and come to us in Italy. How I should love that and I think the sun would be good for your health, but you might lose too much. Mama will be furious I know and my sister may not be allowed to receive letters from me, though I shall send them.
I shall not write to Melton. He may blacken my name as he pleases. I shall not defend myself. Freddie says he may pursue us but I think he will not trouble himself. Once he calms down he must see it is for the best.
Should you decide to visit us it would be a joy – and there is a villa for sale just down the hill from us. What happiness could be ours if you bought it – but the decision must be yours, dearest.
I shall tell you that I am as happy as it is possible for a woman to be and I owe much of my happiness to you, for without you I might not have had the courage.
Know that you have my love, dearest one, and write to me soon.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

200 Year Anniversary of Sense and Sensibility

Two hundred years ago this week, Jane Austen was staying with her brother Henry in London whilst she was editing proofs of her book, Sense and Sensibility. She wrote letters to her sister Cassandra from Sloane Street where Henry lived. Her brother and his wife were also busy entertaining friends, and I always think it must have been a most exciting time for Jane.

She'd been shopping: I am sorry to tell you that I am getting very extravagant, and spending all my money, and, what is worse for you, I have been spending yours too; for in a linendraper's shop to which I went for checked muslin, and for which I was obliged to give seven shillings a yard, I was tempted by a pretty-coloured muslin, and bought ten yards of it on the chance of your liking it; but, at the same time, if it should not suit you, you must not think yourself at all obliged to take it; it is only 3s. 6d. per yard, and I should not in the least mind keeping the whole. In texture it is just what we prefer, but its resemblance to green crewels, I must own, is not great, for the pattern is a small red spot. And now I believe I have done all my commissions except Wedgwood.
But, her book was never far from her thoughts: No, indeed, I am never too busy to think of S and S. I can no more forget it than a mother can forget her sucking child; and I am much obliged to you for your inquiries. I have had two sheets to correct, but the last only brings us to Willoughby's first appearance. Mrs. K. regrets in the most flattering manner that she must wait till May, but I have scarcely a hope of its being out in June. Henry does not neglect it; he has hurried the printer, and says he will see him again to-day. It will not stand still during his absence, it will be sent to Eliza.
She gives details of the party that Eliza and Henry gave: Our party went off extremely well. There were many solicitudes, alarms, and vexations, beforehand, of course, but at last everything was quite right. The rooms were dressed up with flowers, &c., and looked very pretty. A glass for the mantlepiece was lent by the man who is making their own. Mr. Egerton and Mr. Walter came at half-past five, and the festivities began with a pair of very fine soals.
Yes, Mr. Walter - for he postponed his leaving London on purpose - which did not give much pleasure at the time, any more than the circumstance from which it rose - his calling on Sunday and being asked by Henry to take the family dinner on that day, which he did; but it is all smoothed over now, and she likes him very well.
At half-past seven arrived the musicians in two hackney coaches, and by eight the lordly company began to appear. Among the earliest were George and Mary Cooke, and I spent the greater part of the evening very pleasantly with them. The drawing-room being soon hotter than we liked, we placed ourselves in the connecting passage, which was comparatively cool, and gave us all the advantage of the music at a pleasant distance, as well as that of the first view of every new comer.
I was quite surrounded by acquaintances, especially gentlemen; and what with Mr. Hampson, Mr. Seymour, Mr. W. Knatchbull, Mr. Guillemarde, Mr. Cure, a Captain Simpson, brother to the Captain Simpson, besides Mr. Walter and Mr. Egerton, in addition to the Cookes, and Miss Beckford, and Miss Middleton, I had quite as much upon my hands as I could do.
Poor Miss B. has been suffering again from her old complaint, and looks thinner than ever. She certainly goes to Cheltenham the beginning of June. We were all delight and cordiality of course. Miss M. seems very happy, but has not beauty enough to figure in London.
Including everybody we were sixty-six - which was considerably more than Eliza had expected, and quite enough to fill the back drawing-room and leave a few to be scattered about in the other and in the passage.
The music was extremely good. It opened (tell Fanny) with "Poike de Parp pirs praise pof Prapela"; and of the other glees I remember, "In peace love tunes," "Rosabelle," "The Red Cross Knight," and "Poor Insect." Between the songs were lessons on the harp, or harp and pianoforte together; and the harp-player was Wiepart, whose name seems famous, though new to me. There was one female singer, a short Miss Davis, all in blue, bringing up for the public line, whose voice was said to be very fine indeed; and all the performers gave great satisfaction by doing what they were paid for, and giving themselves no airs. No amateur could be persuaded to do anything.
The house was not clear till after twelve. If you wish to hear more of it, you must put your questions, but I seem rather to have exhausted than spared the subject.

In celebration, I have a copy of Willoughby's Return to give away. Just leave a comment below, or on my blog telling me who is your favourite character from Sense and Sensibility and why, by May 1st.

Jane Odiwe

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Happy Birthday Charlotte Bronte, and thank you for Jane Eyre :)

Today is Charlotte Bronte's birthday. She was born in 1816 at Thornton, near Bradford in Yorkshire, a place close to my heart as I was born and bred nearby. When I pulled back the bedroom curtains every morning, I saw the same moors that the Brontes saw all around them during their lives.

If Charlotte had lived, she would be 195 today. A lot has changed in those years. Photography was only developed towards the end of her life, but how glad I am that it was possible before Charlotte died, because we now know what she looked like.

Contemporary sources describe her as plain, and portraits of her are not very attractive, but her photograph shows her to be a woman I consider pretty. Gone is the severe expression of the portrait, and in its place a softer face and expression. Charlotte's appearance, as well as her writing, it seems, was ahead of its time.

But although a lot has changed, a lot remains the same, and this is why we still love Jane Eyre, and the woman who wrote it, almost two hundred years after Charlotte's birth. We recognise our own inner lives and inner struggles in Charlotte's most famous heroine, our struggle to be ourselves no matter what the circumstances, and to find our own happy ending.

So what is about Jane Eyre that you love? Is it the romance, is it the mystery, is it the Gothic horror, is it Mr Rochester with his strong character, or is it Jane herself, with her indomitable will, or is it something else entirely?

Amanda Grange

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Turn for the Dramatic

I spent a week in Yorkshire recently and took the opportunity to visit Richmond because I had heard that they possessed the most complete Georgian theatre still operating in the UK. I had seen the lovely Regency theatre in Bury St Edmund's while I was researching for The Notorious Mr Hurst, but this one is older, and opened in September 1788. Samuel Butler had been managing a troupe of travelling players who were struggling, like other actors were, with the results of the Licensing Act of 1737 which forbade the production of plays for reward. The only way round it was to put on a concert and insert a "free" play in the interval. Only the big London theatres and a handful in major cities, had special patents to permit them to put on "proper" plays. But there was a breakthrough in 1788 with the Theatre Licensing Act which enabled companies to put on plays for up to sixty days at any one time. Butler seized the oportunity and took over a large barn-like stone building in Richmond, converting it into a theatre in four months. The theatre was in a "courtyard" form - rectangular with a pit, boxes and rows of galleries on three sides. The stage was raked and two dressing rooms - with fireplaces - were installed underneath. There was even an open fire at the back of the stage. Those three fires were the only heating for the shivering players. The theatre museum posseses a wonderful hoard of playbills that were found in a local home. I don't have any in my collection for Richmond, but the two illustrated, for Hull and Norwich, look identical and give a real flavour of the kind of entertainment these provincial theatres were providing. In 1848 the theatre closed and was used for a variety of purposes - an auction house, a wine store, a chandlers store - but by some miracle the galleries, boxes, stage and ticket office all survived with their original paint. Even the names of great actors painted benath the fronts of the gallery could be read. Beneath the best box - the one the Price Regent had used - was Shakespeare's name and this has been left unrestored. In 1939 the theatre was rediscovered and in 1963 it re-opened after restoration and is now a fully working theatre. Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside and the images in the guidebook are copyright, so I can only show you the original main entrance, tucked discreetly round a corner. You can see a little more at the theatre website Louise Allen

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Straw Ropes

During my recent research I came across a plan of Perran Foundry dating from 1860. Though that is 30 years later than the period of my new book, the plan was invaluable regarding the layout. At that time the foundry covered six acres and employed 400 men. Though the names on many of the buildings and sheds were self-explanatory: smith’s shop, engineer’s shop, milling shop etc. when I came across the straw rope shed it stopped me short. What on earth were straw ropes, and what would they be used for? I asked an engineer friend, and he had no idea. Then he spoke to his 90-year-old uncle who had been in marine engineering all his life and knew the answer.

Straw ropes were exactly what the name suggests, ropes made from plaited straw. Because each straw is hollow it holds air. Air has excellent insulating properties. So these straw ropes were closely wrapped around the boilers in early steam ships to form an insulating jacket, much like those we use today around our immersion heater cylinders. (It’s so obvious when someone explains.)

But straw is highly inflammable and there was always a risk from stray sparks when more coal was shovelled into the boiler’s fire box. To minimise this risk, sacking strips - similar to the old-fashioned lagging used around water pipes to stop them freezing in winter - were wrapped over the top of the straw. This sacking was first soaked in a solution of borax then dried, as borax was commonly used as a fire-retardant in the early part of the C19th. Unfortunately, as a safety measure this was all too often ineffective.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Lady Eleanor's Secret and The Sweetest Love

My third book for Aurora Regency/Aspen Mountain Press , Lady Eleanor's Secret, will be released on 18th April. This is the cover - I think the house style is exactly right for the line. The fact that the author is involved all the way is another thing I
like about Aurora.
This is my first full length book for Aurora and it has a more complicated plot and a lot more romance.
Here is the cover blurb.

Lady Eleanor believes she will never escape from the misery of her life as an unpaid governess to her beloved nieces and nephews. On the advice of his mistress, Alexander, Lord Bentley, is seeking a suitable wife to take care of his children and remain in the country, leaving him to live as he pleases.

Mistakenly believing he has compromised Eleanor, he makes her an offer and she, puzzled but delighted, accepts. When she discovers the real reason for his offer, Eleanor is horrified. If she tells him she wasn't compromised, he will surely send her away. Her brother, Edward, is determined to separate them—he cannot live without his sister's inheritance.

Can Alex foil Edward's evil plans and save the woman he has come to love? Or will her secret ruin their relationship when it is revealed?

What a contrast the People's Friend cover is. The original title was Miss Bannerman & The Duke - which I must admit I prefer. However it's a lovely cover and although the costume is more Victorian than Regency it does fit the story which is about twin girls and their respective suitors.
This novella is still available so I hope some of you find time to read it. This book, with the original title, will be my next book for Aurora and will be released in June this year.
I've updated my web site ( and now have my own blog - do go an have a look.
best wishes
Fenella Miller

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Prisoners of the Parole Towns

I am very pleased and excited to report that my book One Wicked Sin is a finalist not only for the Romance Writers of America RITA Award for Best Historical Romance but also for the Colorado Award of Excellence as well!

The research I did for this book was fascinating, drawing on the experience of Napoleonic prisoners of war in Britain. A little while ago Louise blogged about the prisoner of war camp built at Norman Cross in 1797 and excavated recently by Channel 4’s Time Team. Thousands of prisoners of war were also housed in prison hulks and in medieval castles turned gaols such as Portchester and Edinburgh. But the background to One Wicked Sin looked at a different side of the prisoner experience, that of the officers who were accommodated in parole towns across the country.

There were 50 parole towns across Britain, ranging from Kelso in the Scottish Borders to Abergavenny in Wales to Wincanton in Somerset. Each town could house between 200 – 300 officers. One thing that struck me immediately about the parole town experience was that these were small country or market towns as opposed to big cities. What must it have been like suddenly to have hundreds of prisoners of war living amid the small local populace? And not just French prisoners but other nationalities as well - Danish, Irish, Spanish, American and many more.

Before any officer was permitted to reside in a parole town he had to sign up to certain terms and conditions including that he could not go further than a mile out of the town and that he had to observe a curfew. Perhaps the terms should also have included that he should not attempt to elope with a local girl – several officers did! The British authorities gave each French officer a half a guinea a week for living expenses and the more resourceful supplemented their income by teaching French or dancing or setting up in business. However half a guinea evidently was not sufficient for some of the officers. In Wantage, where One Wicked Sin is set, one French colonel wrote to his bankers, Coutts in London, asking them to transfer funds to the local bank because he simply could not manage on such a pittance!

The history of the parole towns is a fascinating one and the French prisoners of war have left surprisingly little trace in the written records of the towns where they lived amongst the population for a number of years. Their legacy lives on however in the businesses they started and thefamilies they married into. In contrast to the officers the non-commissioned prisoners have left their mark on the landscape. They laboured on many engineering projects of the early nineteenth century from canal building to docks. Putting together their stories and learning about their experiences has been a very interesting process. One of the few memorials that I discovered to the parole prisoners is this one at Leek in Staffordshire.

One Wicked Sin was published in the US last year and will be coming out in the UK in July from MIRA.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Austenesque extravaganza quiz

(Please ignore the date on this post. I was hoping to post the answers on my website but it's being updated and so I've had to improvise, removing an old blog post and using the space for the answers to the August 2011 quiz)

Here are the answers from the Austenesque quiz:

1) Darcy's Diary

2) Darcy's Diary (hardback) was renamed Mr Darcy's Diary for the paperback.

3) She gets married.

4) 1806

5) Henry Tilney's Diary

6) George Wickham

7) She is forced to marry his brother

8) Edmund Bertram

9) After

10) A Darcy Christmas

Thanks for taking the quiz. I hope you enjoyed it and that you have fun with the rest of Austenesque August!