Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Dark Satanic Mills......

July saw the UK publication of TO CATCH A HUSBAND, my latest Mills & Boon historical. This is a little different from my usual Regency romances since Daniel Blackwood is not a member of the aristocracy, but an industrialist, a mill owner from Yorkshire.  I have wanted to write a story about such a man since moving to Yorkshire over tweny years ago. 

I live in a very beautiful area on the south Pennines but the steep sided valley that carries the road from Yorkshire to Lancashire was once filled with mills.  Today there is very little left of the thriving industry that used to be carried on here - there were half a dozen mills just in the small area you can see here.  The mill in the picture was built late in the 19th century and was powered by steam, but you can see the chimney of a much older mill that was originally built in the valley to take advantage of the many streams that run down off the hills.  The older mill itself is disused now but the mill pond is still there. 

My heroine, Kitty, is a gently bred but impoverished young lady who needs to marry well, but she is drawn to Daniel and as they become better acquainted it is clear that they were made for one another. Daniel is based on an amalgam of industrialists of the time, like Samuel Greg who built Quarry Bank Milll near Manchester, and Robert Owen, who opened mills in Lanark; forward thinking men who knew that the welfare of their employees was important.

I have added a short extract below where Kitty learns a little more about Daniel.  She has come with Lord Harworth and his sister to visit Hestonroyd, one of Daniel's mills and while the others rest in the office, Daniel takes Kitty to see the apprentice house and nursery....

'Thank you for bringing me here,' she said earnestly. 'Is it very unusual to set up such a school as this one, Mr Blackwood?'

She was idly swinging her bonnet by its ribbons, too preoccupied to think of putting it on, or to consider the effect of the sun on her complexion.

'It is becoming more common,' he replied. 'Mill owners recognise the benefits of looking after their workers. This was my mother's idea. She visits frequently to assure herself the children are well cared for.'

'Yes, I can see that such a role might fall to the mistress,' murmured Kitty, frowning a little.

'Do you think men are so lacking in kindness?' he challenged her.

'I think they are more motivated by profit, and can forget the more civilised aspects of life,' she replied, thinking of Lord Harworth, poring over the ledgers in the office.

'It is not impossible for profit and philanthropy to go together, Miss Wythenshawe!'

Kitty stopped.

'I beg your pardon,' she said, her colour heightened. 'I did not mean to imply any slur upon you, Mr Blackwood.'

'I am well aware of what you think of me,' he muttered. 'I am hardly a gentleman in your eyes!'

He went to walk on but she caught his sleeve.

'Now what nonsense is this? I thought we had done with that misunderstanding. You know how much I regret ever thinking ill of you.'

He shook off her hand.

'That is not the point. Nothing can change the fact that I am a manufacturer.'

She was confused by his anger, and a little hurt, too.

'You told me you were proud of what you are,' she retorted. 'Do you think we came here out of idle curiosity, to look at your mill as one might look at a freak show? Lord Harworth wants to build a mill and has consulted you because your family knows more about the subject than anyone. That is why he came to Hestonroyd today.'

'And you insisted upon accompanying him,' he threw at her. 'Still toadying up to him, I don't doubt, showing him you are the perfect helpmate, entering into all his concerns!'

'No!' cried Kitty. What could she say? He was only repeating what everyone else thought of her. She moved a step closer, forcing herself to meet his eyes. 'That is not how it is. I wanted to come, I wished to see the mill. I wanted…I wanted to discover why it means so much to you, why you are so proud to be a manufacturer.'

The anger still smouldered in his eyes, his mouth fixed in a thin line.

'And are you satisfied?'

Kitty's anger melted. He looked so much like a sullen schoolboy that she wanted to reach out and brush the stray lock of hair from his forehead, to pull his face down to hers and kiss away his sulks. She dare not allow herself to do any of these things so she merely nodded.

'I think you should be very proud of what you have achieved here, Mr Blackwood.'

He continued to stare at her but she would not look away. She needed him to know she was sincere.

'You must think me a boorish fellow,' he said at last.

She smiled. 'I think you have a temper that is not always under control.'

His lips curved a little and the dangerous light faded from his eyes. The wind had whipped an errant curl across her face and he lifted one hand to catch it.

'You are right,' he said, tucking the curl carefully behind her ear. 'My mother despairs of me.' The touch of his fingers set Kitty's heart knocking painfully against her ribs, but when he dropped his hand the lack of contact was even more agonizing. She forced herself to stand still while every nerve screamed to reach out for him. The world no longer existed, she was no longer aware of the rumble of the mill, the sound of the stream or the singing of the birds, there was only Daniel, standing so close, holding her eyes.
His face softened, he lifted his hand again. 'Miss Wythenshawe – Kitty – I…'

'There you are!'

Lord Harworth's jovial cry echoed over them. Daniel dropped his hand and Kitty was filled with an intense disappointment. As one they turned, schooling their features to smile as Lord Harworth approached with his sister hanging on his arm.

To Catch a Husband.
Mills & Boon
July 2011 (Hardback) September 2011 (Paperback)


Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I really enjoyed 'To Catch a Husband'. And was there perhaps a touch of John Thornton, the scrumptious hero of Mrs Gaskell's 'North and South', in Daniel?

It's a great book. Good luck with it.

Sarah said...

Thanks, Elizabeth - and yes, I love North & South, not a man to be messed around! He needs a woman with a will to match. Before I decided upon Kitty's character I read the diary of Hannah Lightbody, who married into the Greg family, the owners of Quarry Bank Mill in Manchester. All her family were committed to the well being of their workers (still appalling conditions by our standards, but very good for the time).

Audi A6 Turbocharger said...

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