Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!


This is my very favourite reason why we love writing - and reading - historical romance so much. Because it takes us to different worlds. We all hope to do a lot more of that in 2012.

Wishing everyone the New Year that you truly want.

Jan Jones

[This cartoon is by 'Bestie' and was allowed to be used by the Romantic Novelists' Association on postcards. I have never seen anything that better conveys the pleasure of reading and writing.]

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How exciting!

How fabulous! Two of our authors are in the Top 10 Historical Romances on Kindle.  Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange is at number 5 and Regency Pleasures by Louise Allen is at number 7. What a way to end the year!

Jane Austen, The Unseen Portrait

There’s been a lot of controversy recently about a portrait of Jane Austen which may, or may not, have been drawn from life. When I first heard about it I was sceptical for many reasons, the main ones being that the portrait is not mentioned in documents of the time, eg family letters, and that the inscription on the back reads Miss Jane Austin, not Austen. The consensus of opinion seemed to be that it was an imaginary portrait, ie one drawn by a fan who had never met Jane, and that it had probably been done many years after Jane’s death. But Dr Paula Byrne felt it could have been drawn in Jane’s lifetime, by someone who knew her, and a BBC programme, “Jane Austen, the Unseen Portrait”,  set out to investigate the theory.

I tuned in with the expectation of being entertained and nothing more. However, against my expectations, I found myself being won over to some degree by the arguments in the documentary. Whilst there is no direct evidence that the portrait was indeed drawn from life – no handy letter discovered which said, Dear Cassandra, This afternoon I sat for my portrait – I found the theory put forward interesting, at the very least, and surprisingly compelling. So much so that I would like to see further investigation undertaken because I think it is actually possible that the portrait was drawn from life.

Much of the evidence was circumstantial and I’ll briefly summarise it for those who didn’t catch the programme (which can be seen again here ) My own observations are in brackets.

1) The costume in the portrait is right for the period. (This doesn’t mean very much, since it would be easy for the artist to copy a fashion plate from the era, but if the costume had been wrong then it would have disproved the theory very quickly.)

2) The type of white ink used for the highlights was used as a matter of course in 1811 but had fallen out of favour by 1869. (This again doesn’t mean a lot but it helps the theory that it was drawn in Austen's lifetime rather than working against it.)

3) There is a family resemblance to other Austens of whom we have verified portraits. (Again, an artist drawing Jane from their imagination could have looked at these and made their portrait a good match. It’s another piece of evidence which doesn’t prove anything but seems to help rather than hinder the theory. However, one thing I found very interesting was that the woman in the portrait is noticeably very tall and slim, much more so than in the authenticated portrait of Jane by her sister Cassandra, and I see no reason for an artist drawing from imagination to do this. Yet it is accurate, because judging from a pelisse worn by Jane Austen – which has been authenticated – she was very tall and slim, about 5’8” and thinner than Kate Moss. So this fact seemed very suggestive to me and started to make me think that maybe, just maybe, the artist had met Jane.)

4) The misspelling of Austen as Austin (a big stumbling block for me to begin with) was shown to be a common misspelling of her name at the time by various people who knew the Austens. But the thing that convinced me absolutely that the misspelling was not a sign of inauthenticity was that her name was spelt as Austin on one of her royalty cheques. The cheque had been endorsed with the name Jane Austin (with an i) in Jane’s own handwriting. (Perhaps I should say, in what appeared to be Jane’s writing, as there were no tests done on the handwriting.)

5) The church in the background has been identified as St Margaret’s.

The St Margaret’s connection led to Eliza Chute, who knew the Austen family. She married at St Margaret’s, meaning the church had significance for her. She lived close to it in London – at one point in the programme it said that she had a view of St Margaret’s from her window, which means it is possible that Jane sat for her portrait in Eliza’s home – and she was a talented amateur artist. This led to the speculation that she could have painted the portrait.

And this is where, for me, the programme started to get really interesting. The Austen portrait is graphite on vellum, a technique which had fallen out of favour at the start of the eighteenth century. It was therefore a curious technique to use at the time the portrait was executed because it was already about a hundred years out of date, but it is known that Eliza Chute used this technique in a portrait of her sister. There are more details of this here: This link also has an image of the portrait – I didn’t post one myself because I know that some bloggers have been asked to remove the image for copyright reasons.

I was by this time so far persuaded that I thought it at least possible that the portrait was a genuine likeness of Jane, drawn from life, and to want to know more. Sadly, there were no conversations with art experts about the likelihood of it being by Eliza Chute, nor were there any definite datings of the vellum, ink and graphite. Both of these areas need further exploration.

There were / are some more problems, of course. Why would Jane sit for a portrait? And why is there no mention of the portrait in any family letters?

From a purely speculative point of view, the first question is not so difficult. Jane could have wanted to commemorate her success as an author. Or there could have been a more tragic reason. She could have suspected she was dying and wanted to give a portrait to Cassandra as a keepsake.

The second question is more difficult. Why, if it is a genuine portrait of Jane drawn from life, has there been no mention of it in family letters or other documents. What happened to it after it was drawn? How did it end up in the estate of an MP (my memory of the programme is a little hazy here, I need to rewatch it, but if memory serves it came from the estate of an MP).

Again from a purely speculative point of view I think it is at least possible that the portrait was mentioned in letters which Cassandra burned. In addition, if the portrait was drawn as a keepsake for Cassandra, then the sisters might never have told anyone else about it, and might have asked Eliza Chute not to mention it; or indeed Eliza might have mentioned it but this fact might never have been recorded, or been lost down the centuries.

So although I won’t go so far as to say that I’m convinced that this portrait was drawn from life, or that it was drawn by Eliza Chute, I’m no longer convinced that it wasn’t. Either way, it was an interesting programme and one which will not doubt keep Austen fans arguing for a long time to come.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hope you had a good Christmas

I myself had a lovely quiet Christmas, which was what I'd hoped for.  We've been so busy lately that many things have had to wait, including my writing.  I shall be glad to get back to it as soon as I can, but first we have to move, which should happen in the next week or two, fingers crossed!

I had hoped to put up a Christmas story for my readers but it did not get done.  However, I shall probably finish it once we're settled, because it is about other things than just Christmas.

On the Mills & Boon front there are lots of good things in the pipeline.  Hostage Bride was published at the beginning of December but a new Regency trilogy begins in paperback in February.  I think the 3 books will be coming out successive months or at least very close together.  It begins with The Disappearing Duchess. 

There are several other titles either in the queue or being read and most of them are Regency, though there is one more of the Melford Dynasty.  The Lord's Forced Bride was the most popular of the series up until now but I think the new one, set mostly in Cornwall may prove popular too.

I am looking forward to 2012, though I doubt I'll make new resolutions.  Does anyone ever keep them?  I've tried but I think change comes gradually when you want it.

I should like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year.  Also the other authors on this blog - success and good health and happiness to you all.

Love from Anne Herries (Linda Sole)

Monday, December 19, 2011


This Christmas I’m lucky enough to be plotting a Christmas novella for next
year and, as the hero is going to be snow-bound in the village alehouse, this has meant rather a lot of enjoyable research on festive drinks at the beginning of the 19th century!

The bell ringers from the church were apparently completely without discrimination in what they drank: one night before Christmas they would do the rounds of the village with a large bucket, knocking on every door and collecting – in the same bucket – whatever the householder chose to give them. Ale, beer, homemade wine, spirits all went into the brew which must have left them with the most dreadful headaches in the morning.

Much more appetising and excellent for cold weather, was Mulled Ale. To make this you take strong ale and bring it almost to the boil with soft brown sugar, cloves and spices to taste. When it is ready add 2oz rum or brandy per pint of ale. Serve hot with grated nutmeg and sliced toast on top. Quite a few recipes have toast added, possibly for the flavour, although it must have become rather soggy.

Another type of winter warmer involved eggs and was variously known as Ale Flip, Egg Flip or Yard of Flannel. To make this bring a quart of strong ale to the boil with nutmeg, lemon peel & ginger. Add 3 or 4 beaten eggs, 4 oz moist brown sugar and a double measure of brandy. Then pour the mixture back & forth between two vessels to produce a frothy head. Without brandy it was called Egg Hot and was considered suitable for children.

For New Year it was traditional to make a Wassail Bowl. Roasted apples were pulped with brown sugar, grated nutmeg, ginger and a quart of good strong ale. The mixture was heated until warm but not boiling and left to stand for three to four hours. 5oz of sherry were added for each quart of beer and, for a really rich version, eggs beaten in cream and a little spirit were stirred in before it was warmed up and drunk.

The lady at the top of the page is wearing the most wonderful Chrismassy "Hyde Park Carriage Dress" so although she has nothign to do with boozy drinks, I thought she was seasonal!

Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Louise Allen

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Feast Day

Feast day is an important date in Cornwall as it celebrates the founding of the parish church named for a particular saint. Our village is in the parish of St Mylor (originally St Meleor)  He was supposed to have arrived on a millstone. Celtic saints always seem to do things the hard way.  Though the church itself is Norman, there is a yew tree in the grounds that is far older and probably marks the original place of worship.  Anyway, the Feast. Preparations throughout the village differ only in scale.  The men were sent off to church or chapel in the morning to allow the women to get on with the cooking. In C18th and C19th farmhouses the farmer's wife and daughters, helped by those of the farm labourers, began preparations days in advance.  Fattened lambs were slaughtered and a maid was sent to the local brewery for additional yeast. Batches of loaves were made using wheat flour in honour of the occasion instead of the usual cheaper and coarser barley.  The spacious kitchen was fragrant with the scent of baking saffron cake, seedy cake, potato cake, gingerbread and scones.  Then into the range's oven went pasties, leek and pork pies, goose and parsnip pies, and fish and apple pies.  The special "lammy" pies required several huge deep dishes.  On a lining of thick pastry a layer of lamb, well seasoned with pepper and salt, was followed by a layer of shredded parsley; more lamb, more parsley, and so on until the dish was full. Thin cream was poured over to keep the filling moist and make a rich gravy, then the whole covered with a pastry crust glazed with beaten egg.
For dessert there were blackberry and apple pies served with clotted cream;  rice puddings flavoured with nutmeg; and perhaps an enormous buttermilk cake.

In smaller homes, where cooking was done over an open fire, a rump of beef, a couple of fowls and a piece of streaky pork would be cooked together in a large crock standing on a trivet in the hearth.  A cloam oven in the fireplace was perfect for baking a rabbit pie and a figgy pudding.  Turnips, carrots and other veg - in net bags for convenience - were cooked in the meat liquor and a pot of potatoes steamed over a few embers at one end of the hearth.  When ready the bags of veg were laid on crossed sticks above the crock to drain and keep hot.  The beef and pork were carved onto huge platters and the fowls dressed with a sauce of butter and parsley.

Feast Day was a time of celebration and no work (except for milking)  so second and third helpings were the order of the day. After a nip of brandy to settle the stomach, jugs of hot toddy were placed on the table along with a little tray of shag tobacco and long pipes.  In the scullery plates and cutlery were washed, crocks and pans put away. Leaving the men to smoke and yarn, the women withdrew to another room for a cosy chat.  Between 5pm and 6pm the big kettle would be refilled and placed on the trivet.  After plates of bread and butter, scones spread with jam and clotted cream, at least two different kinds of cake, and cups of strong tea everyone returned home.

Jane Jackson

Friday, December 09, 2011

Christmas at Hartford Hall

My latest book with Aurora/Musa was released on 2nd December. Here is a short extract for you to read. I've also included the 5* review - I think this is only the second one I've had with 5* Needless to say I'm delighted.

Elizabeth was lost in thought, recalling two Christmases ago when Grandfather had been well. From nowhere a horse reared up behind her. She had no chance to hurl herself to safety. Her last thought as she fell beneath the plunging feet was that she would be with her beloved relative at Christmas after all.

Her mouth was full of snow, her basket no longer in her possession, but she was not dead. She daren’t move. She was beneath a team of spirited horses. She could be trampled to death at any moment. Then two hands grasped her shoulders and she was hauled backwards through the snow in a most undignified manner and set firmly on her feet.

She spat the last of the white stuff from her mouth and glared up into the face of the most attractive man she’d ever seen in her life. He would have been even more handsome if he were not scowling back at her.

“What the devil were you thinking of? I could have killed you. Walking down the middle of a lane is the height of folly.”

This was the outside of enough. The wretched man had all but run her over and was now blaming her for his foolhardy actions. “That I am not dead is no thanks to you. Perhaps it has escaped your attention, sir, but the only place it is possible to walk at the moment is down the middle of the lane.”

He frowned down at her, his startlingly blue eyes unfriendly. “I do not intend to stand here bandying words with a servant girl, my cattle will freeze.” He raked her with an icy stare. “As you are obviously unhurt, I shall continue my journey.”

Good grief, what a ridiculous vehicle he was travelling in. She couldn’t help herself, her lips twitched and she hastily raised a hand to cover her smile. “I would think, sir, that driving in the depths of winter in that carriage might be considered even more foolish than my walking in the middle of the road.”

She thought he would suffer an apoplexy. His lips thinned and he seemed to grow several inches. Now he was even more formidable. His many-caped driving coat was snow-covered, his beaver equally whitened. If she thought of him as a rather cross snowman perhaps he would not seem so alarming.

Then his expression changed, his anger gone, and he smiled. My word! He was far more dangerous to her composure when he did this then when he glared at her.

“I beg your pardon, miss. The relief that you were not killed has made me behave appallingly. Although my carriage is not ideal, allow me to give you a ride to your destination. It’s the least I could do.”

Flustered by his mercurial change and not quite sure she wished to be squashed between him and his manservant so high from the ground, she shook her head vehemently. “No, it would be most improper. You continue your journey. I have not far to go; pray do not worry about me.”

Rating: 5.0
Reviewer Name: DesireƩ Frazier
Review:I fell in love with this story during the very first scene. It is a lovely take on the classic Cinderella tale set during Christmas time and although I normally like a longer story, so I can get to know the characters better, I did not feel slighted in the least! The characters are well thought out and while reading you will find yourself lost in the story, almost able to smell the garlands and the holly! It’s a quick read and from start to finish you will love this book!
Happy Christmas Fenella

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Georgian and Regency Greenwich

This month I have a new book out in the US, Desired, book 5 in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series. Desired will be out in the UK next year. One of the geographical locations I used for the book was Greenwich. I love modern day Greenwich with its park, riverfront and Maritime Museum and as a place with a long and fascinating history it proved to be a very interesting setting for a book.

Here are a few of the things I learned about Greenwich in the course of my research:

At the beginning of the 18th century Greenwich was an impoverished fishing village on the Thames with no more than a collection of timber cottages on some dirty lanes and some very dodgy inns such as Fubb’s Yacht, a notorious “beer house” for the sailors. By the end of the century, however, planners were imposing order and geometry on the growing town, designing houses in the style of Bath or Cheltenham but on a miniature scale. Gloucester Circus was the epitome of this, two crescents of houses enclosing a central circle. Only one of these crescents was built and the twenty-one houses, completed in 1809, are still standing.

Greenwich was the place where the body of Lord Nelson was brought ashore after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar. It was Christmas Eve 1805 and crowds had gathered but the weather was so poor that by the time the ship carrying Nelson finally arrived in Greenwich at 8pm, everyone had gone home assuming that he would not arrive that day. The sailors carrying Nelson’s coffin had to leave it at the top of the riverfront steps whilst they went off to find someone to let them in to the Seaman’s Hospital.

Princess Caroline, wife of the Prince Regent, rented Montague House in nearby Blackheath from 1798 and was a fixture on the Greenwich party scene. One guest commented of her: “The Princess is grown very coarse and she dresses very ill, shewing too much of her naked person.”

The Blackheath caverns were a considerable tourist attraction during the Regency period. They consisted of four underground caves cut from the chalk. They appealed to the romantically inclined as dating from an age long past and there were wild theories about their origins and purpose. Visitors complained of the cold and the spooky atmosphere and suggested that they had been created in Anglo Saxon times as a hiding place from the Vikings. In fact they originated as a 16th century quarry but this explanation was not suitably gothic to satisfy people. During the 19th century candles were installed in the caves and masked balls held there. These were considered extremely indecorous.

I drew much of my research from “The Story of Greenwich” by Clive Aslet and “Greenwich” by Charles Jennings which are both great reads as well as being packed full of useful facts.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Henry Tilney's Diary - US paperback

Today I'm celebrating the release of the US paperback of Henry Tilney's Diary. I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction in seeing this book make it to the US in paperback, just as I felt a sense of satisfaction when the UK hardback came out, because it's the last of my Jane Austen retellings. I absolutely adore Jane Austen. I love her humour, her sharp eye for detail and her memorable characters and it's been a labour of love for me to look at her novels through the eyes of the heroes. Sometimes the results have been very surprising.

It all began back in 2005 when Darcy's Diary came out. The US rights were quickly snapped up by Sourcebooks, who brought out the US paperback (called Mr Darcy's Diary) two years later. Then followed the other books in the series, with beautifully romantic covers from Penguin in the US, and classic covers from Hale and Sourcebooks in the UK (also Mr Darcy's Diary in the US).

And now, to cap it all, the books are all out in ebook form, including Kindle. In fact, Captain Wentworth's Diary is out in a special edition combined with Jane Austen's Persuasion. There's an active table of contents to let you navigate easily around the book, and at a special price of 86p (yes, 86p!) it's a perfect treat.

What a way to celebrate Christmas!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Sleeping in a four-poster bed

I am lucky enough to have inherited a four-poster bed. It dates from around 1850 and is 5 ft 6 ins wide, 6 ft 8 ins long, and nearly 8 ft high. Fortunately, my terraced 1820 house has high ceilings. Sleeping in it is like being on board a galleon – I have a canopy over my head and curtains like sails.

The oak roof frame has a walnut cornice elegantly curved and decorated on the outside and the two posts at the foot of the bed are also carved walnut. Walnut is a hard wood, difficult to carve and the barley sugar twists demonstrate that the bed, whilst not being of stately home status, was a classy one.

The whole bed comes apart (think IKEA 19th century style). The last time I moved it (from the first floor to the second floor), it took about four hours to dismantle and reassemble. The base oak timbers slot together neatly and are secured to the four upright posts by long bolts - with their own, specially-made screwdriver. When not in use, this hangs by a piece of string under the bed – as it has done for over 160 years. The bolt holes are cunningly hidden under small rectangular carved panels which you can lever out with a bent pin, and then push back into place.

The roof frame also slots together and there is a spike at the top of each post which the frame fits onto – this bit is fiddly (it’s 8 feet up) and usually entails a certain amount of cursing. Originally, it had a horse hair mattress. It was lumpy, the hairs came through the frayed 19th century ticking and it gave me asthma, so it had to go. I now have a comfortable modern mattress.

There are ten separate bed curtains: three roof pelmets, three valances to cover the legs, two side curtains, one head board curtain and the roof canopy. They are held up by either doweling or curtain wires. The annual wash, not to mention hanging everything back in the right place, is quite a chore – at least I have the benefit of a washing machine and a modern iron, unlike a 19th century housemaid.

It is also higher than most modern beds; the mattress is 2 ft 9 ins off the floor. When my daughter was little she wanted to live under the bed. It’s perfectly possible to crawl underneath and, doubtless, once upon a time, it would have housed a truckle bed for a servant or child. Nowadays, a number of suitcases, some boxes and my Christmas decorations live there.

I love sleeping in it, and I write whilst sitting comfortably propped up with a cushion against the headboard. And, of course, if I ever need to feature a bed in a novel (and which of us doesn’t!) then I only have to look at my wonderful four-poster for inspiration.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Saturday, December 03, 2011


Win a Kindle! 
The Harlequin Historical Authors Holiday Giveaway is back. In the spirit of an Advent calendar, the authors are giving away daily prizes and a Grand Prize of a Kindle Fire. Play every day for more chances to win.

Each participating author will have an activity planned on their website for their special day. You may be asked to comment on a blog, find an ornament, or visit a Facebook page. For each day you participate, your name will be entered into the Grand Prize drawing. At the end of the month on December 23, one day from the calendar will be randomly selected. One of the entrants from that day will then be randomly selected to win the Kindle. 
I shall be putting a competition on my Sarah Mallory website on the 19th December and giving away a special prize plus a copy of  One Snowy Regency Christmas (plus one copy of the book to a runner up)  so look out for more details on the day, but remember the more days you visit, the better your chances of winning !


Click here for full details.Good luck!
Sarah Mallory
Snowbound with the Notorious Rake
pub. North America Dec 2011
and as part of "One Snowy Regency Christmas"

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A launch with a difference

Yesterday I went to the launch of Beryl Kingston’s new novel ‘Off The Rails’ about George Hudson of York. Born in 1800, Lord Mayor of York for three terms and known as the 'Railway King' because of his assiduity in becoming chairman of as many Railway Companies as possible, he was a colourful and not always fiscally responsible character. Indeed, his creative accounting led to his being imprisoned later on in his career.

The launch was held in York's Holy Trinity Church with its Georgian box pews, giving a semblance of privacy to the worshippers - and as we discovered, cutting off the worst of the draughts! It was lovely for me sitting in the pews and imagining what my own characters might get up to in the semi-privacy. Certainly hands touching on sharing hymn books and feet rubbing against each other would not have been an impossibility.

Beryl Kingston with 'George Hudson'
Ahem. Back to Beryl's launch. The pulpit is a central one and the ‘difference’ in this launch was that a local actor used it as a focal point for a dramatic monologue by ‘George Hudson’ himself, romping entertainingly through his life story. I shall, of course, read the book, but the dramatic content brought it all vividly to mind and will enhance the experience.

And the mulled wine and sausage rolls that followed were more than welcome on a very cold day!

[Many thanks to Holy Trinity and Mike Jarman for photographs]

Jan Jones