Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bought for the Harem

Here is an excerpt from my book coming in August

HMB are moving to simultaneous publications here and USA.  Because of the digital age this will prevent crossover and readers buying the same book twice by mistake.  Good thinking.

Hope you enjoy this excerpt.

‘This is an assignment I would trust to no other, Kasim. Prince Hassan is very precious to me. He will soon be of the age to marry and I must find the right wife for him. He already has many beautiful women in his harem but none of them are what is needed. Hassan will take my place when I die…’ The Caliph waved his hand as Kasim would have protested. ‘It is as Allah wills, my son. All men must die to take their place in Paradise. I shall not shrink from death when my time comes – but I would have my son secure. He needs a woman of both exceptional beauty and intelligence but also spirit. She will produce his heir. His mother was such a woman and this is what I want for my son.’

Kasim looked at him thoughtfully. ‘Is there no one within the ranks of your fellow lords with a daughter that would fill your requirements? She at least would be a Muslim and trained in all the things she should know to fit her for her duties as the prince’s chief wife.’

The Caliph was silent for a moment. His eyes held a cold glitter as he looked at Kasim and his mouth formed a thin hard line. ‘If I chose a wife from one important family I should make an enemy of another. You know the jealousy of the tribal chiefs, Kasim. We are constantly having to suppress uprisings and small rebellions amongst the chieftains of the north. My own wife came from the country that gave you birth and I wish for an English wife for my son.’

‘You wish me to buy a woman from the slave markets of Algiers?’

‘Yes, that is my wish. Choose wisely, my son. The price is immaterial. I want a jewel beyond price for Prince Hassan.’

‘It shall be as you command.’

Kasim bowed to his royal master and took five steps backward, before turning to leave the presence chamber. He was frowning as he made his way towards his own apartments in the palace. The Caliph treated him with respect and even affection. A tall, handsome man with dark hair and deep blue eyes, he owed his position here to a man he knew to be ruthless and yet compassionate, wise and yet sometimes ruled by his ruthless nature. Kahlid was a just ruler of his province, which he held in subservience to the Sultan, but he gave no quarter to his enemies. To raise your hand against him and fail was to die. Kasim had recently returned from an expedition to crush a rebellious tribe to the north of the Caliph’s territory. He had done so efficiently and with as little wanton bloodshed as possible, but he knew that the prisoners the Janissaries had brought back would receive harsh punishment. There was nothing he could do to change that fact, and any interference would be frowned on.

However, he would not be there to see the punishments for he must leave as soon as he could provision his ship. A request from the Caliph was an order. Kasim must find a bride for the young prince – and an English girl of exceptional beauty and intelligence.

He smiled ruefully for it was not an easy task. Given the choice he would ride out to do battle against the mountain tribes and leave the purchase of slaves to another more inclined for it. The slave masters of Algiers would have many men, women and children on offer. Some of the women would be beautiful and might end up in the harem of the Sultan himself but the Caliph had been precise in his instructions.

The woman must be beautiful, spirited and intelligent – and English. Kasim knew that he might need to spend many months searching for such a woman.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reading Aloud

One year, when I was about fourteen and at boarding school, I won two bronze medals. The first was for a London Academy for Music and Dramatic Art exam, and the other for a public speaking competition (youth section) at the Cheltenham Music Festival. I’m not sure how, because I certainly can’t act for toffee, but I learnt that I was good at reading out loud. There was, I discovered, a knack to it. You had to be able to see a line or so ahead and anticipate which words need to be stressed and to have the confidence to convey the appropriate emotion.

It also helps if you can, somehow, put yourself into the background. You are not doing it to glorify yourself, you are doing it for the author whose work you are reading.

Recently, I was asked to read aloud in extraordinary circumstances.

I have just returned from holiday in Turkey with an archaeological group. We visited a number of classical sites: some famous, like Troy and Ephesus, others little visited, like the ruined city of Priene nestling on a wooded hillside overlooking the river M├Žander. I was asked to read an extract from Euripides’ Agamemnon in the theatre there. Greek theatres have fantastic acoustics – guides often demonstrate this by sending visitors up to the top whilst they remain centre stage. They then light a match - and you can hear it clearly. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity.

The group scattered about the theatre. I drew a deep breath, told myself that this was for Euripides – a playwright I much admire – and walked onto the stage.

The passage I’d been given was the herald’s return to Mycenae to tell the queen, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus, that King Agamemnon is coming home from Troy, victorious. Of course, the original audience (and mine) knew that Agamemnon and his captive, the Trojan princess Cassandra, would be murdered: Clytemnestra had not forgiven him for sacrificing their daughter, Iphigenia, to get a fair wind to Troy. The herald’s speech, therefore, needed an undertone of dramatic irony.

I launched into a paean of victory: I proclaimed, triumphantly – with suitable gestures - that Paris was dead, Hector was slain, and Troy was totally destroyed. Agamemnon, King of Men, the son of Atreus, was victorious! (Boasting was obviously part of the herald’s job description.)

Then came my big speech. I raised my arms to heaven and called on Zeus, Apollo and Hermes to hear me. (I could hear my words ring round the theatre in such a way that I half-expected a thunderbolt from Olympus.) I ended with an exhortation: Welcome Agamemnon! Welcome the victor home!

You could have heard a pin drop. It was hugely satisfying.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Jane Austen House Museum, Chawton

I had a wonderful day at the start of June, giving a talk at the Jane Austen House Museum. The house is in the beautiful village of Chawton set deep in the English countryside and it was Jane's home for the last eight years of her life. She wrote Persuasion, Mansfield Park and Emma whilst living there, and she also revised her three other major works -  Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey - there.

The atmosphere of the house is amazing. Even standing outside I am immediately reminded of Emma: "A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer." Once inside, the atmosphere intensifies. For me, the highlight is the table at which she wrote:

I gave the talk in the new lecture hall, which is a light and airy building in keeping with the style of the house. It's in the garden and provides the setting for talks, concerts and other Austen-related activities. There is always something going on there and if you're planning a visit, then it's a good idea to see what events might be on at the time. You can find a list of events here The Regency Butler talk looks particularly useful for Regency authors, and don't miss Victoria Connelly's talk on 9th July!

I was surprised to see so many people there at my talk and had a lovely time, chatting about my Austen heroes' diaries and my love for Jane Austen. I signed books afterwards - the museum has a lovely shop - and thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon. I'm sure you will love it if you haven't been.The staff are very friendly and very knowledgeable, and their genuine love for Austen shines through.

Amanda Grange

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Waltz - From Outrageous to Acceptable in Six Years?

I recently acquired a print and text from the fashion journal la Belle Assemblee for February 1817 with a charming print of "A group of waltzers" and it was so different in tone from the other prints of waltzing in my collection that I did a little digging to see what I could find out about attitudes to the waltz.

The dance originated in Germany in the 16thc as a country dance and by the 1780s there are references to how shocking it is that members of the German aristocracy have taken it up. Even in its country of origin the holds and something about the rythym of the dance caused severe doubts about its morality. The image on the left is from the French publication Le Bon Genre and is undated, but it must be at least 1810 as the version below, an English print acknowledging the French original, is dated to that year.

Both versions are caricatures that make the dance seem dangerous and sexual. The couple on the left in both versions, seem to be anticipating quite another form of exercise!

Some authors say that the dance was introduced to England in 1816 by Princess Lieven, one of the patronesses of Almack's, but Raikes dates its arrival to 1813 and Gronow to 1815. In fact it must have been known here earlier as the prints show.

The Mirror of the Graces, a handbook on costume and female etiquette written by "A Lady of Distinction" and published in the UK in 1811 has this to say on the subject-
But with regard to the lately introduced German waltz, I cannot speak so favourably. I must agree with Goette,[sic] when writing of the national dance of his country, "that none but husbands and wives can with any propriety be partners in the waltz."
There is something in the close approximation of persons, in the attitudes, and in the motion, which ill agrees with the delicacy of woman, should she be placed in such a situation with any other man than the most intimate connection she can have in life. Indeed, I have often heard men, of no very over-strained feeling, say, "that there are very few women in the world with whom they could bear to dance the Grman waltz."

But by the time of the Belle Assemblee (1817) print and article, the attitude seems rather different. This was an expensive journal, bought by the upper classes and read by matrons with daughters to launch onto the Marriage Mart - not a group likely to take kindly to the promotion of a dubious dance, although the whole article appears to be a puff for the book mentioned in the text.

The scene is rather odd - the ballroom has only three groups of dancers and the three young ladies appear rather out of place. However, from the accompanying text, this would appear to be a dancing class or demonstration. I found the text facinating with its description of a veariety of waltz styles, so I have copied it in full.

It is so well known that dancing, from the earliest ages, with persons of all denominations and in all countries, has been esteemed not only a species of polite amusement and recreative pleasure, but also a healthy exercise, so as to require scarcely any further comment to recommend it. Waltzing is a species of this amusement; and notwithstanding that it is capable, from the beautiful simplicity of its graceful movements, of affording to its votaries much pleasing and delightful practice, many prejudices have long existed agaisnt it, arising from the extravagant manner of performing it peculiar to those countries in which it was till lately so generally practised. By the more immediate and recent extensive communications with the Continent, waltzing has become a prevalent species of amusement in this country; and that it is equally chaste with quadrilles, English country dances etc becomes clearly obvious on the perusal of a late publication by Mr. Wilson, Dancing-Master, entitled "A Description of the correct Method of German and French Waltzing." The Embellishment to which this subject refers, represents a lady and gentleman performing the French slow waltz;  the lady having (what is technically termed) turned a Pirouette, and the gentleman performed a Pas de Bourie.

The three ladies in the centre are performing an Allemande waltz; the composition of which, in point of beautiful figure, attitude, and varied effect, affords ample opportunity to the dancers of displaying all the grace, ease, and elegance of which the human figure is capable.
The couple on the right are represented as performing the Jette, or quick Sauteuse waltz; in the perfomance of which the agility of the dancers may be fully displayed, as it can only be properly performed by "tripping it on the light fantastic toe;" it also afford pleasing, and occasionally desirable, recreation after enjoying the performance of the more easy and graceful movements of which the slow waltz is composed."
I can imagine the scenes in many a Mayfair drawing room as the young ladies of the house attempted to leap about on their toes and reluctant brothers were drafted in to assist as partners while Mama stood by, torn between worries over how respectable it all was and a desire that her daughter be in the forefront of fashion!

Louise Allen

Friday, June 17, 2011


Old cemeteries fascinate me. Apart from being havens for wildlife, they are a wonderful resource. The parish church for our village was founded in 411 AD and has been a site of worship for sixteen hundred years. St Melior was supposed to have arrived on a millstone. Other saints in Ireland and Brittany are also associated with this mode of travel. Perhaps it’s the nature of being a saint that you have to do things the hard way. But would people have believed any less in their preaching had they arrived in – say - a coracle? To have safely crossed the Irish sea, Bay of Biscay or English Channel in a tiny circular one-man craft made of animal skins stretched over a wicker frame would surely have been a miracle in itself, and far more believable.
In the older parts of the churchyard large marble or granite tombs are the final resting place for several generations of the same family. The surnames on these tombs reveal who was important in the area over different centuries. Sons were often given the same first name as their father and grandfather. These range from Alfred to Zephaniah.
The ages inscribed on the headstones tell their own stories. Many children died in infancy. Women died during or shortly after childbirth. Ours is a fishing village and many men were lost at sea.
Then there is a memorial commemorating men from the village who died in two world wars. A short distance away is another.

Erected in 1872, this lists the names of 53 boys aged between 15 and 17 who were training for a naval career aboard the wooden ship HMS Ganges moored for 33 years off Mylor Naval Dockyard (now Mylor Yacht Harbour) The majority of the boys died from illnesses like measles, scarlatina and ‘flu; preventable now but too often fatal then. But 8 died from falls (from the spars or rigging) or from drowning. As a mother with two sons and three grandsons I can never pass this memorial without a lump in my throat.

But though this graveyard holds stories of great tragedy, there is also unintentional humour. Near one of the main paths is the headstone of a man who drowned while fishing off rocks. The inscription reads:

His end was all most sudden
As if the mandate came direct from Heaven.
His foot did slip, and he did fall.
Help, help, he cried. And that was all.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How fashions change! The panier

I write books set in the Regency era, but my real love is the mid Georgian era, the 1750’s in particular. And of course one  of the big differences is dress. I can’t possibly cover all the differences in one blog post, but one of the most—prominent—differences was the panier. Or paniers, strictly.

The shape of the skirt changed drastically throughout the century. At the beginning, the bottom was padded to give an elegant shape to the folds flowing over the back. Then the skirts got fuller and fuller, until the sheer bulk of petticoats must have been too much, and the hooped petticoat was worn. Those of us who have been bridesmaids and forced into a meringue dress knows what that’s like. quite handy, because you can wear big pockets under it. it must have signalled freedom to the hampering, tangling, hot skirts.

In the 1740’s, the hoops became enormous. Women had to go through doorways sideways, and coming towards you they looked like ships in full sail, or walking sofas. As fashion developed the mantua went out of fashion, replaced by the sacque, the robe anglaise, and the robe a la francaise, but the mantua continued to be worn at court. and the huge size of the hoops continued, too, right through until the 1820’s.

But the hooped petticoat is cumbersome. Getting in and out of coaches, walking in high winds and just getting through doors can be a hazard. So eventually some bright spark developed the panier. It was a cage, usually made of cane or whalebone, that rested on the hips. It gave the necessary padding for passion, but were much more practical. They were collapsible, that is, they worked a bit like an umbrella and could be lifted to temporarily collapse them for doors and coaches.

By the 1750’s, everyday hoops and panniers were much smaller. Sometimes, especially on informal occasions, the lady might replace the panier with a quilted petticoat for some light padding. There was a brief fashion in the mid 1750’s among the younger set for leaving off the paniers in public. With gowns designed to be worn with paniers underneath, it made the wearer look a bit—deflated. But the panier continued to decline in size, until they disappeared altogether in the 1780’s and the bum roll made a reappearance. I love the look. Before the hair became stupidbig in the fashion of the 1770’s, the line was elegant and beautiful, as seen in the gorgeous portraits by Gainsborough and Reynolds.

It’s always the case that the younger generation despises the clothes that its parents wore, although that has sped up in recent times. The heavy brocades and sumptuous silks of the high Georgian era gave way to the impractical pale and thin muslins of the early nineteenth century, and they themselves gradually grew fuller until, inevitably, the hoop made a return. Only this time it was called the crinoline.

Lynne Connolly

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Jane Austen Handbook

It seems a long time since I posted here- my last post coincided with the blogger black out last month. I was going to talk about my new book but it is not being published until August now.
Therefore I'm going to tell you about a delightful little book I discovered called 'The Jane Austen Handbook' by Margaret C Sullivan -who is the editor of She lives in Philadelphia.
This book tells you what Jane would do. For instance:
How to behave at your first ball
How to ride sidesaddle
How to decline an unwanted marriage proposal
How to improve your estate
How to throw a dinner party.
It also includes thoughts on all Jane's books, film adaptions and Jane Austen related retellings.
There are sections on all sorts of regency related subjects.
For instance -acceptable men's professions were -the church/the military/the law and medicine.
How a lady might earn a living- governess/schoolteacher/companion/lady's maid/authoress
This is written with a light witty style and I will find it a useful addition to have on my reference shelf.
Next time I am due to post will be at the RNA conference- I shall have to borrow someone's lap top to do it as I'm sure you will want to know what's going on in Wales.
Fenella Miller

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Whisper of Scandal

This month sees the UK publication of Whisper of Scandal, the first in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series. This will be followed by One Wicked Sin next month and Mistress by Midnight in August. I am thrilled that the Scandalous Women are coming to the UK and I love the gorgeous covers that the books have! I hope you like them too.

Whisper of Scandal is set in London and the Arctic and was huge fun to write and research. I'll be talking about the book and my research at two forthcoming book festivals: The Burford Festival on 17th June and the Witney Book Festival on 19th June. At Witney I'll also be discussing "How to write the Regency Historical." All the details are on my website and if you are in the area I would be delighted if you would like to come along to say hello and join in the debate.